The Scottish independence movement is a broad church but at its heart it has an internationalist, green, social, forward-looking agenda that is very much part of the new global enlightenment. Scottish nationalism is not about believing our country and its people are better than anyone else’s but just the wish to allow ourselves to believe we are at least equal to anyone else.
British nationalism, the key motivation of the Brexit and Better Together campaigns, is an inward looking, isolationist, superiority driven, aggrieved and small minded retrograde step backwards from the historic journey of humanity towards a world with shared prosperity and values.
The EU referendum revelled in little Britain mentality but the bigger picture is that the twin existential challenges of our age are the failure of economics and the failure of the ecosystem to cope with the poisonous outputs of that failing economic system. We find ourselves at a pivotal moment, a global breaking point. We need big ideas and big minds and a big conversation, but in the UK we must first battle the out-of-date mentality of Bygone Britain. We desperately need the best minds working on the new forces and unparalleled dangers that face the human race and and control our lives. Yet all we get is petty, politicians manipulating people, manipulating data and manipulating the press to justify a political prospectus that no longer fits with the modern world.
The mainstream press in the rest of the UK are part of the problem. The dominant tabloid, mid-market and broadsheets in England – The Sun, The Mail and The Telegraph – have all become champions of the British dumbocracy. It isn’t foreigners or immigrants that are causing the UK’s problem, it’s the fact that Westminster’s twin mantras of Great Britain and its place in the world and its devotion to neoclassical economics have become as relevant to the modern world as steam power and typewriters, but they refuse to see it.
The wealth gap is increasing at an unparalleled rate and creating alienation in populations across the world. History tells us that alienation, the opportunity gap between the haves and the have-nots, has a tipping point where society begins to crumble, and that can’t be too far away. That alienation has been misfiring, manipulated by opportunist politicians with the Bygone Britain mentality telling us it’s all the fault of others – those foreigners. But that’s the wrong target. The real source of inequality is the broken financial system and if increasing environmental instability combines to make global resources scarce at a time when wealth is so polarised, then we have the perfect storm.
Can Westminster politicians not make the alienated and disenfranchised a better offer than racism and old-fashioned British nationalism? “Putting the Great back into Great Britain” is as crass as “Making America Great Again”. We have to decide if we are unevolved, Trump-like wall builders or enlightened citizens of the world. Are we Bygone Britain isolationists or Big Scotland internationalists?
The history of the world shows us that the enlargement of society and civilisation has created a liberal unfurling of centralised power towards freedom and individualism. The progress is from tribal chiefs and kings who declared themselves gods to kings who needed the support of nobles and land owners to rule, to emergent democracies involving first land-owners, then all men, then universal suffrage in the most forward looking societies. Centralising power in Westminster, be it over Britain, or in denying the need to share regulations with our European neighbours to trade and partner more effectively, is a retrograde mentality.
Every new economic age has thrown up a new set of ruling elites but their hegemony dominates us in ever-decreasing cycles. Those elites are those who have adapted best to controlling the resources of the day, from aristocracy to landowners to industrial owners of the means of production to financiers and technology gurus, but their power is temporary as it is diminished over time by the relentlessly slow passage of enlightened democratisation.
Power devolved is a continuation of this movement away from centralised power but power can be devolved in many directions. From Westminster to the Scottish Parliament and (when that is complete) then from the Scottish Parliament to councils and from councils to communities. Since the Second World War, we have witnessed the emergence of supranational bodies such as the UN, Nato, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and the EU which have power devolved horizontally to them in order to facilitate shared prosperity and security.
This evolutionary osmosis of power and sovereignty dividing efficiently among the supranational, national, sub-national, local and even at the individual level is the process through which we are creating the democratic mechanism to address the coming economic and ecological crises that face not just our nation but all humanity.
The EU is an unwieldy and often intrusive and wasteful body but so is every form of national and supranational governance that exists outside the pages of a utopian fantasy. The EU doesn’t rule over us: we share in real terms less than 10 per cent of our sovereignty with them to create a common market and I would happily make that offer to rUK after Scottish independence.
The UK is a nation out of date and out of time that binds us, controls and rules over us. The EU is trading and economic alliance that helps distribute shared prosperity across a continent – same scaremongering but a different kind of union. The UK holds us back, the EU helps us prosper and even protects is from some of the worst of Westminster centralisation policy.
How does short-term laissez-faire capitalism solve the environmental crises? It doesn’t, but global agreement between nations and supranational organisations such as the EU can. How can one country stop multinational companies transferring profits across borders to avoid tax? It can’t, but the 28 nations of the EU can make a start with the common consolidated corporate tax base, or CCCTB policy. But the UK announced, stay or leave it would reject the EU’s plans – Bygone Britain again.
Current devolutionary thinking remains upside-down. We don’t just need downward Westminster devolution of those powers that Westminster is not afraid to share with Scotland, we need to start with local sovereignty, then have upwardly and voluntarily shared power until you give unto Westminster only that which Westminster is best placed to serve. Thus all power resides at the level of governance best suited to the effective use of that power.
The relationship Scotland needs with Westminster is not grudgingly top-down but willingly bottom-up. If we have learnt anything from the EU referendum it is that Britain as a whole is a nation with a self image that is out of step with modern reality. That frantic cheering from the Leave Camp as Brexit was announced – it was really just the sound of Great Britain breaking.
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