Editorial: Looking Beyond ‘Really Existing Independence’

National Collective’s weekly editorial will be published every Sunday. 

Independence is stuck in the mud. The polls are currently sliding in the wrong direction, the Yes Scotland campaign has been burdened with a disappointing launch and a spot of minor cyber-controversy, and those who see the UK as better together are growing in confidence. The efforts of the pro-union campaign so far have been repeatedly panned by gleeful nationalists, but unfairly so. They’ve played to their opponents’ weaknesses, highlighting minor inconsistencies in the arguments of the Yes campaign and using those to imply that the entire idea is fundamentally flawed. They have preyed on the economic insecurities of the Scottish public, exploiting the currency issue at a time when people are all too familiar with the dangers of a malfunctioning monetary system.

The idea that the SNP are still framing the debate on their terms is losing credibility. The big, exciting ideas about independence are being sidelined by depressing statistical pedantry and questions of legality. Anti-independence campaigners know that if the idea of independence stays within the stale world of partisan political nitpicking, the uninspiring but safe status quo will triumph. They know, too, that if the debate is engaging and constructive, Scots will be tempted by the opportunity to put their newfound dynamism into practice with the creation of a new, independent state.

The SNP, in their scramble to answer questions over currency, NATO and the monarchy, have illustrated a vision for independence that currently lacks any kind of transformational potency. It’s easy to make the case that the SNP will not necessarily be in charge after independence – so does their vision matter? Yes, and to a greater extent than many on the Left like to admit. They will be the government that conducts post-referendum negotiations, and will have the strongest claim to overseeing the formation of a new state. That process of national creation is an enormous opportunity, and must not be sacrificed at an altar of caution that has claimed the lives of countless radical ideas.

During the 1960s, the USSR and its imitators behind the iron curtain began describing their economic and political systems as ‘Really Existing Socialism’. In his epic history of the 20th century The Age Of Extremes, Eric Hobsbawm defines this as ‘an ambiguous term which implied or suggested that there might be other or better kinds of socialism, but in practice this was the only kind actually functioning’. The term took on a sad, wilting irony as the oppressive, dysfunctional and disempowering nature of those regimes became clear; Communism’s utopian dream had failed.

A similar journey – from audacity to paucity of hope – can be seen in the ascendancy of the SNP’s modern-day leadership. The flowering careers of Salmond and his cabinet colleagues took many of them from the republican socialist ideals of the ’79 Group to their present-day position as arch-‘modernisers’, masterfully explained in Ben Jackson’s Renewal essay ‘The Moderniser: Alex Salmond’s Journey’. The independence issue was neutered by the promise of a referendum to make room for more populist policies, but the continuing lack of public support for the party’s central goal has led to that too receiving the ‘modernisation’ treatment.

Keir Hardie’s ‘home rule’ has been yanked from its roots in radical democratic socialism and planted in a shiny new pot of composted neoliberal ‘social unionism’. The monarchy, defence, sterling and tax cuts for big businesses have obscured the issues of equality, political reform and localism in an attempt to appease lingering affections for UK institutions. Polls stay the same, and show no indication of shifting. We are being offered ‘Really Existing Independence’, where any hope of radical change is consigned to the fringes. Which leaves many pro-independence and open-minded voters asking: what’s the point?

With the launch of the pro-union campaign tomorrow, support for independence will not grow without a new way of looking at what Scotland can achieve with a Yes vote. ‘Pragmatism’ and small-c conservatism cannot inspire; ambition and a vision for radical change can win. It’s time to change the debate.

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There are 3 comments

  1. PeterABell

    What is at issue here is the role of the Scottish National Party within the wider independence movement. There is a fine judgement to be made about the extent to which the party can articulate a more radical vision for an independent Scotland in a way that is consistent with its function as the principle driving force for fundamental constitutional change. As someone who’s politics tend towards the left, it is tempting for me to agree that the SNP could readily offer a vision with greater “transformational potency”. As a political pragmatist, however, I have to wonder if this is really feasible.
     
    We must accept that, at least until the embryonic YesScotland  campaign establishes itself, the fortunes of Scotland’s independence movement are intimately bound up with the fortunes of the SNP. We must also accept that the SNP is the party of government – and must act accordingly. The success of the independence campaign is to a significant degree a function of theSNP ‘s success as a quietly competent administration. And that success in turn both gives rise to and depends an expectation on the part of the public that the party will behave in a certain way.
     
    Opposition parties and campaigning movements get to be bold and radical. The SNP is now neither of these. If it was to disport itself as if it were, this would risk seriously conflicting with people’s perceptions of what a governing party should be. It may not be the role that many (most?) SNP members and supporters would want. But it may be that the party has no option but to seek to appeal to the broad, small-c conservative constituency while its Yes Scotland partners get to do all the fun stuff.

  2. Sion_Jones

    “Bitter Together” ? That should do it! It seems to me that considering the relentless onslaught of Britnat – UnionJack booted propaganda, the support for independence has stood up quite well.  What is clear is the the Devo-max option – so opposed by the Unionists – is the one that appeals to most Scots. Which way will they jump if they have to decide between the Status quo,  or deciding things for themselves?  And does Ali Darling command the respect of the people to the extend the NO campaign are depending on? 

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