Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Some Thoughts on the Scottish Referendum

by Paul Saveson
SCOTLAND is changing dramatically – and it will drag the rest of the UK along with it, one way or another.  The outcome of the Scottish referendum is that Britain will have changed, and changed quite utterly.

As a northern Englishman who spends some time in Scotland, it’s impossible not to be amazed by the political ferment north of the border. Scotland is buzzing with ideas and radical thinking, and most of that – all of it to be honest – is coming from the ‘yes’ campaigners.

In contrast, the ‘Better Together’ parties have relied on fear rather than any positive argument for Scotland remaining part of a reformed United Kingdom. The panic reaction of the last few days are more about politicians saving their skins than any meaningful commitment to change. But even then, it’s just more of the same 'we know what's good for you' politics.

Scotland will make its mind up this week. But what of radicals and democrats in England, and for that matter Wales: should we welcome an independent Scotland or see it as a slightly discourteous goodbye, consigning us to decades of Tory rule?

There’s no doubt that Scotland leaving the UK would result in a boost to the Tories, giving them an ill deserved boostal based on current arrangements. Wales has a degree of protection through its own (Labour-administered) Welsh Government and further powers are likely to be devolved.

The huge democratic deficit is in the English regions, particularly the North and Midlands which have remained staunchly anti-Tory.

An independent Scotland could, you may argue, mean that the Tory-voting South will consign the Labour-inclined North and Midlands to permanent political exclusion.  That’s the conventional ‘Labourist’ view which sees politics as being about seats and 'majorities' in Westminster.

But there is a broader issue for the radical democratic left. Scottish independence will send shock waves through the British political system resulting in consequences which we can only speculate upon. It would potentially open the way for an independent Wales – a nation which, if anything, is even more anti-Tory than Scotland. It would certainly strengthen the position of Plaid Cymru, whose politics are way to the left of Labour's.

A re-constituted Labour/Plaid coalition government which edges towards independence based on radical left of centre politics would further isolate England. And England is the big issue. It is not
comparable in size or power to either Scotland or Wales. It has a population of over 53 million, compared to Scotland’s 5.3m and Wales’ 3.1m.

Its economic and political power, increasingly concentrated in the south-east, is enormous. It’s laughable when the pro-English parliament lobby complains about ‘poor little England’ being bossed
around by the horrid Scots and Welsh. We’ve been bossing them around – and much of the rest of the world – for centuries.

Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of the end of John Bull’s Great Britain. This is something that radical socialists, be they English, Welsh or Scots, should welcome.

A ‘yes’ vote for Scottish independence would have forced the pace of change south of the border. We are already seeing it start to happen. The current centralised governance, with power concentrated on London and the South-East, would not continue indefinitely.  Change will come, and quicker than we imagined only a few months ago.

And that change, potentially, could lead to a democratic, federal British Isles in which not only England, Wales and Northern Ireland form part, but possibly Scotland and – who knows? - the Irish
Republic. And London would no longer rule the roost.

Fundamental change must come to England, based on directly-elected regional assembles and a reformed and re-energised local government.  The two are closely related and the last three decades have seen the withering of local democracy across the UK. 

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