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By Jason Michael
Our “Yes Movement” is the synthesis of two distinct pro-independence movements, and despite our differences we are one force for change.
Independence, as a national political aspiration, arises chiefly from two distinct places in public thought; namely the accepted right of all nations to self-determination and the desire to protect our national society from social, economic, cultural, and political harm. While I subscribe to the former – that Scotland should be a state precisely because it is a nation, the latter too is important. Independence for its own sake does not guarantee a successful state. Failed states are a reality. Making a state of Scotland; transferring power over our country from Westminster back to the people of Scotland, will make us – the people of Scotland – responsible for Scotland, its future, and the well-being of all the people of the nation.
Since the 2014 referendum the unionist media has gone to great lengths to persuade us that our want for independence is little more than a consequence – like Trumpism in the United States and Brexit south of the border – of the rise of the populist right in the west. British nationalist journalists and commentators return repeatedly to this theme of a relationship between resurgent right-wing politics in Europe and the Scottish independence movement. Of course they are wrong, but not entirely so. The Scottish independence movement has been driven, from the beginning, by a sense openness and social justice – quite unlike the forces behind Trumpism, Brexit, and the so-called Verrechtsing (right-turn) in European politics.
At the same time, however, political change in Scotland does not happen in isolation from the wider British, European, and to some extent global political and social trends. Much of the independence movement, rather than springing from it, has sprung up in response to the lurch to the right we have experienced across the western world. It has been a rebellion against the machinery of right-wing Tory austerity and neo-Thatcherite New Labourism; the two faces of hard right neoliberalism in Britain for the past two decades and more. The want for an independent Scotland has been fed from both the desire for nation-statehood and from a politically awakened and awakening precariat learning to resist the forces that are systematically destroying our society.
In consideration of this latter notion of independence-as-resistence, rescuing Scotland from the jowls of London’s Grenfell style governance-to-obliteration demands that we must be prepared for and committed to the task of rebuilding a nation not built in the image of our soon-to-be former masters. We cannot underestimate the magnitude of this task. As independence will neither be, ultimately, an end in itself nor the end of our history, replicating Britain in the state we are creating will only be the mouth of the snake on the ninety-ninth square that takes us right back into the same trap from which we are right now trying to escape. With the want for independence satisfied our resistance to being like Britain will be weaker.
Gaining statehood, therefore, must not be seen as the end of the independence project. Independence is a process that begins in dependence and continues on to the very end of the life of the state. The problems we have now under British rule will for the most part remain after independence, with the only real difference being that we ourselves will have the freedom to provide Scottish solutions to Scottish problems – and the adversary then will be the same as we have now: International capitalism, neoliberalism, and the limitless avarice of the globalised plutocracy they have birthed.
Questions of poverty, inequality, labour relations, class, and so on will remain the same, and so the same forces of resistance will be necessary. My suggestion is that we address these issues – the very issues that have fed the political lurch to the right in the west – in the here and now. Ending poverty, fighting the mechanisms of neoliberalism that are stripping workers of their rights and reducing their earnings, putting a stop to the commodification of education, and addressing the causes of the debt-slavery economy must be integral components of our present struggle for independence. Without a serious commitment on the part of the independence movement to fight these injustices our independence will only prove to be a circular track – leading us back to where we do not want to be.
Over the past number of years the division between these two independence movements has become more apparent – and this is only natural, but the reality is that independence shall only be realised when these two movements come together as they did in 2014. As an unapologetic member of the “independence first” movement I will be the first to accept the vital importance of the demands of the independence-as-resistance movement. Divided, independence first will not ensure the socio-political transformation needed to justify the state and independence-as-resistance will never have the independence and dynamism to resist similar radical transformations in England. Only together can these two distinct independence movements be the Yes movement.
Our differences are real and cannot be ignored. The spats and squabbles we have had have often been necessary; one group must not be allowed to dominate and silence the other – which has been happening on the platforms of the so-called “radical” movement. Our duty, as we move towards another referendum, is to strive for balance in the one movement and work towards a situation wherein the needs of both factions are met. Paradoxically, the independence first movement seeks its own non-existence. Once independence is achieved it will have no reason to exist, but the need to radicalise – qua reaching back into the depths of our culture and history to fuel the ongoing independence of Scotland – will always be needed.
Tens of thousands march for Scottish independence in Glasgow