The Political Studies Association recently recognised both Alex Salmond and David Cameron for their respective roles in the signing of the historic Edinburgh Agreement. That is, the document which paved the way for the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
Those on the Left in Great Britain should welcome the Scottish independence debate, regardless of whether they live north or south of Hadrian’s Wall. In fact, social democrats and socialists alike should enthusiastically support the Yes campaign and the establishment of a sovereign Scottish state.
Orthodox thinking maintains that Scottish independence will mean fewer Labour politicians in Westminster. This will mean perpetual Conservative rule (or worse, Tory-UKIP coalition) in a rump United Kingdom. The traditional Left – including the Labour Party in Scotland – therefore paint the independence movement as a pariah campaign that plays into the hands of those who would impose free market fundamentalisms throughout the land. The traditional Left states that we are Better Together (the dubious name of the No campaign) as partners within the United Kingdom. This line of thought is, however, as misguided as it is unimaginative.
Granting full powers to the Scottish Parliament is a necessary ingredient for achieving social democratic goals throughout Great Britain – as a geographic rather than political entity. Already with limited powers the Scottish Parliament has safeguarded free higher education; promoted free personal care for the elderly; abolished NHS prescriptions charges; passed legislation on the minimum pricing on alcohol (much to the annoyance of the Drinks Industry); while maintaining relatively high levels of investment in health and education despite austerity measures emanating from the ConDem Coalition in London.
This social democratic package – largely achieved by the Scottish National Party (SNP) – reflects a general egalitarian consensus in Scotland that we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns (translation: we’re all God’s children). Scottish electorates have long rejected the neo-liberalism offered by Conservative politicians, and more recently, by the Scottish Labour Party. The clear electoral majority granted to Alex Salmond – in a system of proportional representation designed to prevent one party rule – reflects the punishment dished out to politicians who betray social democratic values. Notably, Scottish Labour introduced backdoor university fees and condoned their Westminster counterparts’ role in the illegal invasion of Iraq. Soon they were reduced to a much depleted ragtag grouping in the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish LibDems, meanwhile, have been reduced to a mere five members in the Scottish Parliament. This owes in large part to their betrayal of Charles Kennedy’s social democratic vision in favour of the Orange Book free market liberalism of Nick Clegg.
A fully sovereign Scottish state could do much more to cement this social democratic platform and to realise a Scandinavian-style welfare model. Buttressed by oil revenues within a sovereign wealth fund; a vibrant renewable energies sector; innovative IT and gaming industries; solid agricultural and fisheries sectors; and lucrative tourism revenues, an independent Scotland will invest in the future of its citizens. The SNP government has already promised to abolish the Bedroom Tax; to slash energy bills; to end racist asylum and immigration policies imposed by the Westminster system; and to renationalise the post office (and most likely, the railways too), if they were to form the first administration of the independent Scottish state. Moreover, they promise to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons and to forego costly and illegal wars of choice in the Middle East.
It is clear, therefore, why the progressive Left ought to support Scottish independence, regardless of whether one live in Leeds or Linlithgow. An independent Scottish state – supported by the nation’s wealth and the people’s desire for social justice – will demonstrate how government can protect its citizens from free market follies. The Scottish state will routinely embarrass Westminster politicians – starkly illustrating to the electorate in England and Wales the need for a genuine alternative to neo-liberal impositions. An angry and frustrated electorate south of Hadrian’s Wall will turn on politicians who betray their economic interests and demand a similar social democracy to the one that they see the Scots enjoying in their independent state across the border. One would hope that this electorate would also view the independent Scottish state’s more conciliatory foreign policies as an attractive alternative to the militarism evident in Westminster circles. The Scottish state’s opposition to illegal wars, and the arms trade, will do much to embolden public opinion against the hawks roosting within the Mother of Parliaments. The geographic entity of Great Britain would well benefit from Scottish independence both in terms of the pursuit of social democracy and of more peaceful relations with the rest of the globe.