Having lived most of my adult life as one of the majority of world citizens who take no active part in politics, it has been my privilege to over the last couple of years spend a lot of time in the company of those who are campaigning for an independent Scotland. I have learned that it is a given with the people of this movement that it is a liberal, socially democratic ideal which unites them. Their vision is inclusive, egalitarian, even internationalist.
This is perhaps unexpected, as ‘nationalism’ has a bad name. In many cases, it is a banner under which racism, xenophobia, isolationism and parochialism parade their ignorance. For many who have set themselves against independence, this is an easy target. However, anyone who cares to take a proper look at the debate set forth by each side (not the mainstream media coverage, but the actual arguments) will quickly find that it is the ‘No’ campaign peddling the politics of fear. When Scottish Labour stands on the same ground as the Daily Mail, we should all be ashamed. The ‘No’ campaign have bet big that most voters will only take in the headlines, and so they focus on controlling the news cycle rather than actually exploring and settling substantive issues. So far, it’s paying off.
With the ‘Yes’ camp having seemingly signed up to ‘Salmond’s First Rule of Politics’, namely that the positive campaign wins out, they are vulnerable to being undone by their own determination to raise the level of public knowledge and debate. They also seem to have underestimated the forces ranged against them. A running theme in ‘Yes’ circles is that Independence is not the goal, but rather the fairer, more equitable, more optimistic country and society that we could build. And of course, they are right. That is exactly why the campaign against independence will be (and is) so determined, pervasive, and devoid of standards. The establishment is not concerned that an independent Scotland might fail. They are afraid that it would succeed.
Having a first world, rich, successful Western nation with history, global standing and deep friendships in the international community that is actually run by its people for its people is a terrifying prospect for those who run things now. If you can see it work in Scotland, what’s to stop the rest of Britain’s people turning their aspirations that way, away from the offensive and manufactured ‘strivers vs. skivers’ debate? And if Britain was to go to the people, who knows where it would stop?
At every turn, the people of Scotland are being told to be afraid, that this is not a small step but a huge turning point. The Yes campaign should embrace and promote the message that this is a huge turning point. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Invite the people to conclude that the only thing we should fear is the prospect of more inequality, more unrestrained profiteering, more austerity, more perpetual war. We can do better.
We should not kid ourselves: this is an opportunity to do something truly good, and truly important. The significance of the decision Scotland will make next year is not being missed by the No campaign, or by the powers that be. Our country has the chance to prove to the world that a western, Anglophone, business-friendly nation can succeed as a fair, liberal and socially democratic society; to be a beacon, a sustainable model of real progress in a world where most capitalist economies have lost their moral compass and the trust of their people.
Or, we could settle for more of the same.