The Guardian, May 20th 2011
The Scottish vision of self-government is alive, vibrant and real.
To most Nationalists many things come to the forefront of their minds when they picture an independent Scotland. One is a proud, self-governing nation taking its own decisions. Another is an ethical nation in international affairs not engaging in ‘illegal wars’. A further strand is a society which better cares for its people, and addresses inequality and injustice in a way contemporary Scotland conspicuously fails.
Scottish independence has always been a kind of ultimate political fantasy: a blank canvas which people can project hopes onto. Many in the SNP have for long wanted to keep this prospectus suitably vague, for fear of offending any of their ‘big tent’. Yet independence has always been about this balancing act between constitutional politics, internationalism and economic and social issues. And now these issues are going to have to become more explicit.
This is a nationalist moment, a movement which has been generous, open, pluralist, modern, profoundly European and international. It might if one wants to be a little critical, have sometimes too much reflected the caution, conservatism and fear of radicalism, which pervades Scottish society.
This is a deep crisis of unionism, but it could be its greatest opportunity for decades. Scottish unionism and nationalism don’t sit as two separate, simmering tribes as in Northern Ireland; they cross-influence and cross-fertilise each other. A completely independent Scotland would be shaped by unionism, with the European Union, ‘social union’ with the rump of the UK, and some kind of institutional arrangements across these isles.
What the British political classes have to grasp is that it is their narrow, dogmatic account of Britain which is a huge part of the problem. They see Britain as a unitary state when it never has been. They worship parliamentary sovereignty as if we still lived in the divine age of kings. And then they have the cheek to lecture Scottish nationalists on not understanding the complexities of the modern age, globalisation and interdependence.
Scottish nationalists aren’t the separatists of old, or in any sense ‘little Scotlanders’. But the Westminster focused class, on left and right are ‘little Britishers’ and ‘little Englanders’, still hung up on defending the archaic rights of a political system which seems stuck in a time-warp.
Scotland’s journey to self-government will involve our country rethinking and repositioning itself internationally. Other nations have done this at points: Finland several times in the 20th century, modern day Turkey.
First, there is the British dimension. This is principally about England and how the English deal with change. There are also possibilities of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish co-operation (and maybe even the London Mayor getting in on the act) to challenge Westminster.
Second, there is the European dimension. Does Scotland remain part of the UK’s tortured, semi-detached relationship with the EU? Or does it aspire to be part of the core, integrated project, assuming it survives its current crisis?
Third, there is the world of the American-Atlanticist dimension. This can be seen in the defence and security concerns about Trident and the NATO military industrial complex which sits in Scotland. It is also about economic and social values and the American-style market fundamentalism which has disfigured British politics.
Finally, there is the northern European dimension focused on the connection between Scotland and the Nordic social democratic countries, many of whose characteristics we share. This is probably at the moment the weakest of all four dimensions, and the one with most future potential.
Whichever way Scotland expresses its political will all four of these dimensions will have a bearing on how Scotland sees itself, acts in the world, and is seen by others.
This is the start of something bold, exciting and liberating. A nation and political community beginning a journey to articulate a national mission, purpose and story.
Who knows where it might lead? We may need a different name for the space that was once called ‘the United Kingdom’? After the British political system we currently know, all sorts of new openings may emerge, and in particular, the issue of England’s lack of democracy and voice. We may even need a different name rather than ‘independence’ for the emerging Scottish statehood. Inter-independence, perhaps?