Sleepwalking to separation?
John Campbell is a long-time Scottish Labour member who successfully campaigned for a No vote in the independence referendum but says this simply isn’t enough.
The United Kingdom is sleepwalking into separation.
Scotland is on the road to independence. One of the key reasons for this is that the United Kingdom is less understood today than it’s ever been, and the Labour Party has added to this confusion.
The future of the United Kingdom is in question, but socialists must not allow themselves to be convinced that its existence has been lost.
This future of the Union lies not in the hands of nationalists, either north or south of the border, but rather in the hands of those who believe in it and want to see it continue. The SNP in Scotland have so far managed to steer clear of the xenophobic criticism which nationalists south of the border (for example, UKIP) have had attributed to them. But there is a bond of unity between these two nationalist parties: each have a positive vision of what they want Britain to be. Unionists (and most notably the leadership candidates in both of the party’s elections) must learn from their success story.
The people of the United Kingdom have in recent years, most particularly in Scotland through the referendum period, been forced to open their minds to the possibilities and opportunities of separation. What has been lost, in posing this question, is what potential possibilities and opportunities lie within the future of a truly United Kingdom. Better Together was too restricted by its cross-party structure of competing ideology to paint any meaningful picture of what this would look like.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for unionists in the twenty first century is that the sharp growth in Scottish nationalism not only diverts from the focus of the Union, but actually erodes at it. To put it simply, if the Union as an economic, political and social structure is compromised, there becomes less for unionists to fight for and defend; and less to lose for those currently un-swayed by independence. Therefore full independence becomes the next logical step. Let us be under no illusion: this is the path we are currently on.
What is truly remarkable is quite how short-term and shallow the arguments behind both the ‘Yes Scotland’ and ‘Better Together’ campaigns were. The avoidance of truly meaningful debate during the referendum did the United Kingdom a great disservice.
The constitutional set-up of the United Kingdom is somewhat confused, even more so with what is effectively parliamentary devolution for England, and the aggressive (and arguably rushed) further devolution for Scotland. The muddying of Britain’s waters in this way has not quelled the calls for Scotland’s independence in a way in which so many said it would. It has fueled them.
Therefore, Unionists may wish to stop attempting to mitigate the narrative of nationalism. It is time to reestablish the potential of the United Kingdom’s existence, and understand and reaffirm why it in itself is a cause worth fighting for. The unity of the United Kingdom requires us to fight for it now. Constitutional change across the whole of the UK will have to be clarified and slowed down for Scotland’s investment in the UK as an institution to continue to be worth anyone’s while.
The swell in support of nationalism is not because people have sought to choose nationalism over unionism: those undecideds have defaulted to choose a vision over a mess.
Nationalists want all of the advantages of the United Kingdom and all of its global influence without any of the cost. But the UK is the world’s success not in spite of its unity, but because of its unity, and separating it is anti-socialist. This time it is not only a tremendous opportunity for a mainstream party, but a moral obligation, to unite the UK on an programme of social justice throughout Britain and the world.
The Labour Party, if it works together, can deliver this agenda.