Monday, November 19, 2007

A 'Scottish Spring' In The Step.

The cause of Independence gained a new and very welcome convert over the weekend. Writing in the Scottish Edition of the Sunday Times, Gerry Hassan – a mainstay of Scottish Labour sympathising policy groups; leading thinker; political 'futurologist', and prolific writer and columnist - has thought the previously unthinkable and completed a personal intellectual journey from unionist to independista.

Wendy Alexander once said famously in an email to Jim Sillars that the Scottish Labour Party had not contributed a single idea to the wider Labour movement in over a century. Although that was maybe a bit harsh, there was still more than a grain of truth in the observation. However, if anyone could be said to be putting some intellectual meat on the bones of New Labour in Scotland, it was Hassan. Although he has not endorsed any other political party, for such a progressive and enlightened thinker who was so steeped in the Labour Party (he was a member for 24 years) to have rejected such a central plank of their orthodoxy and political platform, is nothing short of a hammer blow, not just to Wendy Alexander's remaining credibility, but more significantly to the credibility of the UK.

If the UK can no longer command the philosophical support of someone like Hassan, it really is endgame for the British state. Putting aside a lifetime of belief to embrace that which you previously opposed and doing so publicly takes a hell of a lot more intellectual and personal courage than most of us realise. So welcome, Gerry, and well done. Great to have you onboard at last :-)

(I typed out his ST article on my flight into Gatwick this morning. As such, any typos in what follows are most likely to be mine...)

Alex Salmond this week made the prediction that Scotland will be independent by 2017 and set out to woo the waverers he needs to achieve this. He has made these sort of predictions before, but this time things are different with the Scottish National Party (SNP) in power in Edinburgh and the Union slowly cracking up.

The argument for independence and the merits of the Union has been going on for centuries, and in contemporary times since the breakthrough of the SNP in the 1960s.

Scotland has changed dramatically and in many ways for the better, while England and the whole notion of the UK has changed for the worse. This is why I have finally come round to the view that independence is good for Scotland, the UK and internationally.

Scotland has gained a degree of self-government. Edinburgh has become a capital city with a purpose. The nation feels a more thriving, confident place. It is less white, and more at ease with diversity and multiculturalism. The arrival of an SNP administration has played a part in this change. It almost feels like a Scottish spring.

Given that many of the arguments for Scotland remaining in the union were based on finances alone, and on Scotland being incapable of governing itself, where do their proponents turn to now?

In reality, whether Scotland becomes independent or not has never been about the money. This has always been a smokescreen. It was always the case that if unionist politicians were to find that Scotland could be viable independently, they are not going to turn around and say they got their figures wrong and change their views.

The same is true of SNP politicians. If the Scottish structural deficit, post-independence, proved to be a chasm, they would not change their positions and settle for the union. It is also not about what happened in the past. The rights and wrongs of the 1707 should have little bearing on whether Scotland should be independent. Instead, we should be looking to the future.

It is striking that those who now make the case for independence are internationalist and outward-looking, whereas unionists tend to cling to British insularism and the politics of fear. It never used to be so. Nationalists used to invoke couthy, romantic notions of Scotland, while unionists felt the UK was the future. Unionists such as Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander love to wax lyrically about the progressiveness and uniqueness of the United Kingdom. They talk of a land that is a great big melting pot of multiculturalism and international values and a force for good at home and abroad. This is the kind of British chauvinism which the Labour Party has bred since it was born, ignoring the other diverse countries in the world and turning a blind eye to how we look after our own people, let alone the consequences of how we act in the wider world.

One of the worst arguments made by unionists against Scottish Independence is to invoke the age of “globalisation” and “interdependence” and patronise nationalists with being out of time and out of tune with the modern world. This is a marvellously insular British argument that ignores what has happened beyond the shores of the UK.

The past decade and a half has seen an unprecedented springtime for national across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. From the Adriatic to the Baltic and Black Seas, an astonishing 23 new independent nations have come into being. Indeed, only days after the recent Scottish parliamentary elections, the small, former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, which voted for independence in June 2006, became the 47th member state of the Council of Europe.

Small countries around the world and particularly in Europe, whether newly independent such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or nations which became independent earlier in the 20th century, such as Ireland and Norway, have all managed to be successes, economically, socially and culturally. When unionists talk about these nations – and cite the Irish success story or what has happened in Estonia – they want to talk about every factor (church v state, public investment) bar one; the fact that they are independent.

Independence has had a significant impact in bringing about change in all these countries. It may have taken the Irish several decades to embark on the road to prosperity, but the Baltic nations and many others, starting from a more rocky place than Scotland have succeeded in the transition from being part of a transnational empire to independent states.

The road to independence is as much about culture and psyches as it is about economies. Independence provides the Scots with an opportunity to develop a new national narrative, a story which motivates and inspires us, and includes most elements of Scottish society, with a sense of purpose and mission.

This would be exciting and emboldening for most people in Scotland and not without some risk. However, the opportunities are so much more. Scottish independence would be good for Scotland, good for the United Kingdom, dealing a crucial blow to the deformed nature of Westminster and British politics, and good internationally, weakening the Atlanticist nature of British foreign policy.

I would like to contribute a small part to this.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff from Gerry. Few have thought harder about post-devolution Scottish politics. Westminster self-importance, complacency and intransigence have meant there is not much room left for those who would seek a more logical, sustainable arrangement within the UK. Gordon Brown thrives on political pork and keeping voters dependent on the British state. But most Scots visiting the rest of the EU don't see anything left to be frightened about.

Richard Thomson said...

Spot on, Anonymous, whoever you are.

Dougthedug said...

Having had a several goes at Gerry Hassan over the years for his unionist views it's good news that he's come out for independence but I'll keep the party hat and streamers in the drawer till I'm sure his rejection of the union is going to last.

To reject the union is to reject what has become the main and perhaps the only plank in the raison d'etre of the Labour Party in Scotland.

For such a long time supporter of Labour I think he's going to find it difficult to change to nationalism and keep on good terms with his labour supporting colleagues.

Richard Thomson said...

For such a long time supporter of Labour I think he's going to find it difficult to change to nationalism and keep on good terms with his labour supporting colleagues.

You may be right, Doug, but I'll still welcome every sincere convert who joins the independence cause along the way. We still need a lot more like him, from all sections of opinion, if we're to achieve the legitimacy we'll need.

Brian Hill said...

"....unionists tend to cling to British insularism and the politics of fear."

If only to break free from the 'Politics of Fear' which is killing the very essence of the people of Britain then Scottish Independence would be well worth it.

Only today we read about the McCann factor as being another reason why parents should keep their already unhealthy, socially inadequate kids indoors.

Independence will force the English into a complete re-think and help them to break free of this stranglehold of fear which is leading them dreamlike towards a police state, dragging us behind them.

The conversion of someone of Gerry Hassan's stature is a major boost to the Independence movement. Yet another indicator that we are on the right track.Welcome aboard Gerry, I have no doubt you will bring many more in your wake.

Thanks Richard for your heart warming article.

Richard Havers said...

Before you get too excited Gerry Hassan also said.

"The SNP is policy-lite, and its cupboard bare on education, health, social justice and other areas. Populism and not being Labour will only get it so far. "

v-ch said...

Richard Thomson said...

Fair enough, Richard. But is anyone seriously going to try and argue that the SNP is somehow 'policy lite' in comparison to other parties? I'd have thought that, if anything, the last 6 months would have shown just how dependent our supposedly 'policy rich' Labour party really was on the civil service. Without the officials to advise and the press officers to highlight their triumphs and gloss over their mistakes, they really are floundering.

In any case, we're talking here about one's commitment to a state and set of institutions - something which you might expect to be a bit more lasting and substantial than a party manifesto.