One year ahead of the independence referendum, Scotland is modern, wealthy and competent enough to embrace the prospect of independence, says writer and musician Pat Kane.
Scotland has an extraordinary opportunity, as a nation of citizens, workers, aspirers, creators and carers, on 18 September 2014. With a simple cross on a ballot paper, in the empty box next to “yes”, we can begin a powerful, exciting journey into the rest of the 21st century.
And we can do that under near-perfect conditions – the envy of any country that has previously sought the full sovereignty of a nation state in order to properly connect up democracy and power.
The basic condition is that we are thoroughly modern. Indeed, via the ideas of the Scottish enlightenment and the innovations of scientific industrialism (from Watt to Clerk Maxwell, from Kelvin to Dolly the sheep’s creator), we are one of the birthplaces of modernity itself.
There are dark sides to that modernity too. Scots under the union also participated both in the conceptual forging of an American constitution and the oppression of its slave populations. The dignity of labour expended was often in the service of, and benefiting from, an iniquitous British empire (which Scots also administered adroitly when needed). A future independent Scotland will do well, and maturely, to begin a reckoning with all that.
But at the very least, what this history indicates is the sheer preposterousness of the notion that Scotland was ever “too wee and too stupid” to take on the full responsibilities of a fully independent nation state.
The performance of the revived Scottish parliament since 1999 has restored Scots’ faith in their own capacities for government.
The behaviour and performance of the revived Scottish parliament since 1999, even with the hobbled and asymmetrical powers devolved to it, has restored Scots’ faith in their own capacities for government, over a remarkably short period of time.
Indeed, it is that growing competence than an SNP government – now in a majority second-term, and thus able to bring an independence referendum to being – finds itself using as an argument for full powers. How else to defend our consensus about universalism in public goods and welfare against its unravelling by Westminster, pursued in a cross-party way by both Labour and the Tory coalition?
Yet it would be wrong to imagine that Scottish independence is merely about defending social gains and civilities – incidentally, ones that mostly of our Nordic and European national neighbours would regard as background assumptions.
It is also about how to gain control of our national resources – human and territorial, cultural and material – such that we properly found this “common weal”, in fiscal and structural ways, but then, just as importantly, use as a platform for higher aspiration, both domestically and globally.
Domestically in Scotland, there is much that the full powers of independence need to address. The macroeconomists can argue on details, but there’s essential agreement: Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, when not only its standard economic activity is taken into account but its actual (and potential) energy reserves in renewables, oil and gas.
Yet Scotland also suffers under extremes poles of inequality between rich and poor that are somewhere in the OECD top 10, most starkly measured in the Scottish central belt’s appalling postcode lotteries of life expectancy.
If we can act to reduce this misery, by means of a polity that we can control fully, we should. And certainly for those on the left like me in Scotland, any party which contends for power in the first Scottish independent parliament of 2016 will be primarily measured by its effectiveness on this issue.
Yet the glory of Scottish idealism at the moment finds its wellspring in the thoughts of characters like the late Clydeside radical Jimmy Reid. Jimmy would defend the rights of workers to the nth degree. But he would also gaze at the thousand windows of a Glasgow high-rise, and dream of the undiscovered human potential sitting behind each one.
There has to be a greatness about the desire for Scottish independence – and that greatness must be rooted in the notion that we can arrange a society here that can maximise human flourishing.
Greatness about the desire for Scottish independence must be rooted in the notion that we can arrange a society that can maximise human flourishing.
There are, of course, big-ticket items in that plan. An independent Scotland free from Trident not only has a few hundred extra million in the state coffers, but has also made a statement about its peace-oriented ambitions to the wider world – an act of “soft power” that could bring benefits, along a range of inputs, to our prosperity.
An independent Scotland which could harmonise and integrate its currently scattered functions could embark on innovative new initiatives – policies and institutions to inspire the world. How could we address Scots’ “quality of life” agenda by being able to bring back powers over welfare, labour markets and macroeconomics, and weave them in with housing, education or health?
How could the extraordinary vitality of our artists and creatives benefit from copyright law and public broadcasting brought fully under Scottish national control? What might we do with more powers over Scottish landownership, to fuel a community and civic resurgence in Scottish life? The list could easily go on.
My final message to my fellow Scots – those of all sizes, colours and backgrounds, eligible to vote in the Scottish referendum – is that you should pinch yourselves. You’ve got the chance to stand on this earth and say: I built a better society. I decided to do that, for myself, for my children, for future generations. And all it needed was a cross in the right box.