Read the other half of ‘The Conversation’ on Scottish independence here
I am not a nationalist. I am neither a British nor a Scottish nationalist. I merely believe that independence is the best way to create a fairer, more socially conscious, more democratic society in Scotland.
Thus, as a Yes voter, I don’t view myself as breaking Britain. The truth is – Britain is already broken. We live in a state with a deepening chasm of inequality – the top 1% of earners now own 10% of the wealth, compared to 7% in the 90s, while the bottom 50% own just 18%. We live in a state where one in six children grow up in poverty and where the number of people using food banks has increased 400% over the past year. And we live in a state where an inward-looking and racist nationalist party just won the European elections on the back of popular discontent at the professional political class. This is a state where over a quarter of MPs went Oxbridge, and where even a catastrophic financial crisis wasn’t enough to loosen the stranglehold of the city of London on the economy.
You see, the Yes campaign isn’t a blood-and-soil nationalism fueled by hatred of the English. Rather, it is civic nationalism, driven by fury at the Westminster elite and its regime of austerity, by a desire to create a more equitable, internationally-minded Scotland. No wonder then a recent poll found 64% of Scots Asians are planning to vote yes. Compare the open-minded pro-immigration Yes campaign to the unionists. British nationalism is not a cuddly, conveniently neutral identity – just look at EDL marches, or UKIP, or the BNP, or the Orange Walks that flood the city of Glasgow each and every summer weekend.
Voting yes to independence is not anglophobic – it is a statement that the people who happen to live in Scotland deserve better than Westminster. Voting yes means voting no to nuclear weapons, no to the bedroom tax, no to the all-out assault on the welfare state which has become almost axiomatic within the London parties. And voting yes doesn’t even necessarily mean a vote for the SNP. The wider Yes Campaign is the most vibrant grassroots movement in the UK today, dominated by young and idealistic Scots who shun Westminster’s callous ideology of cuts. While the unionists have the three parties of the status quo plus a ragtag band of quasi-fascists, we have the Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Radical Independence Campaign, National Collective, Women for Independence, Farming for Yes, Scots Asians for Yes, Yes Alba, Yes LGBT…
The point is: people can rightly criticize Alex Salmond for being an ex-banker, for getting into bed with Donald Trump, for wanting to slash corporation tax in Scotland. And we can slam the Scottish people for voting in a UKIP MEP. But at least the SNP, and the Yes Campaign, and the massive chunk of the Scottish electorate that voted the nationalists in, work to defend the classical, compassionate British welfare state. The harsh reality is that Scots still wish to elect a progressive government, but we are denied this right at Westminster and ruled by Tory governments we never voted for.
Scotland would prosper with independence. We are not subsidy junkies. Scotland contributes 9.9% of the UK’s tax revenues, while receiving only 9.3% of spending. Besides oil, the country is resource-rich, particularly in renewable energy and fisheries. A report from the Office of National Statistics last week showed Scotland is the most highly educated country in Europe, a good sign for key hi-tech industries like IT and life sciences. Yet Scotland is constantly belittled by Better Together’s Project Fear and by a national media of unionist propaganda, almost wholly owned outside Scotland, with only one (broadsheet) newspaper actually supporting independence.
Devolution has allowed Scotland to diverge politically from England, better reflecting the views of the people. Independence is the next logical step, with Scotland’s separate legal, education and health systems implying Scotland is just a nation in waiting. Scotland has a cohesive history and a culture beyond tourist-shop Tartanry, with three indigenous languages – Gàidhlig, Scots and (of course) English – plus the myriad of languages spoken by the ‘new’ Scots. Compare this to the stale Britishness of those still wet for Empire. Indeed, personally, as one of the few remaining first language Gàidhlig speakers, I abhor Britishness as an identity of colonialism and forced Anglicization.
It is not the Yes Campaign, with its vision of remaking an engaged social democracy, that is parochial. Rather it is the United Kingdom that is parochial, with its perpetual imperial hangover, obsessed with punching above its weight and sticking one up at Brussels. It is an arbitrary state whose governance works to benefit only folk like us – to advantage the wealthy, the well-educated, the future politicians and bankers and wonks and wankers.
I make no apologies for arguing for independence on the premise that fighting for fairness and undoing oppression are key policy goals. But others on the Left will likely question why I want to entrench imaginary geographical boundaries, why I want to curse the people of the rest of the UK to perpetual right-wing government? But in only three of the eighteen general elections since WWII did the Scots vote matter a jot, demonstrating that a London-centred first-past-the-post-system of parachute candidates and middle England swings voters disenfranchises Scots. Moreover, a United Kingdom is just as much of a construct as a separate Scotland, and indeed independence does not preclude the creation of a positive trans-national Britain à la Scandinavia.
So when I vote Yes on September 18th, I do it not due to some vague feeling of national pride or resentment. I do it because the UK has failed the protect the weak, the poor, the alienated. I vote for an independent Scotland because that is the only way people living in Scotland can gain back their independence, their dignity, their hope for the future.