Is it time for Labour to back independence?
Wynn Thorne isn’t a Labour supporter but is a regular commenter on Labour Hame and was moved to write this piece in response to recent articles by Robert Hoskins on the economic case against independence. Wynn supports independence and thinks there’s a lot more to that choice than economics.
For a variety of reasons, many socialists have been displaced from Scottish Labour and now look to independence as a way to achieve a fairer society, and with the party’s share of the vote having fallen from 45% in 1997 to 9% today, perhaps it is time for Scottish Labour itself to embrace a different approach to independence.
As an independence supporter it seems that unionists characterise a post independent Scotland as an apocalyptic world requiring ‘turbo-charged austerity’. This scenario points to a decade long, monochromatic nuclear winter for Scots, but is this what supporters of independence wish for? Is the independence movement a death cult led by the crazed Sturgeon? Or is there more to independence than this scenario allows? Is there something positive in independence that Labour should be striving toward?
I know that a major reason given by those wishing to retain the union rests on economic arguments and that “austerity max trumps any and every argument for independence”, but I do not believe that. Is GERS a picture of what is wrong with Scotland or an indictment of the gross mismanagement of the UK economy at every level during a period of unprecedented oil wealth? We can argue about that but look at how Britain, the 6th biggest economy in the world, distributes its wealth. It leaves the rich with their wealth and passes the debts of the country onto the whole population.
But there is more to being independent than not having to endure your economic decisions being taken by someone else who has repeatedly made a mess of it. And if only those decisions were confined to the economy; but no, they’re in everything.
In 1999 Tony Blair promised that the UK Government would reduce the number of poor children in Britain from 3.4m to 1.7m by 2010, and then eradicate the problem completely by 2020. In 2008 Gordon Brown re-iterated that the government would eradicate child poverty by 2020 but couldn’t meet the 2010 target. On the 30th of April 2009 UK forces lowered their flag over the city of Basra to signify the end of their combat operations. For 13 years, between 2001 and 2014, the UK was also involved in the conflict in Afghanistan. War? Child poverty? It all depends on how you choose to spend your money. With independence you can make those choices.
You can choose when to send your people to war. How many lives were lost for the sake of the UK interests in Iraq and Afghanistan? So far, 179 British service personnel and 3 UK Government civilian staff died in Iraq whilst 456 British Forces personnel and MOD civilians died in Afghanistan. These are the numbers of the dead; Erskine Hospital/House has had to deal with a barrage of new patients because of the bad decisions made by bad politicians at Westminster. In addition to the deaths on our side 111,000 Afghans and 116,000 Iraqis are estimated to have died in these conflicts – almost quarter of a million people.
Why were we involved in those wars? How many of us wanted that? UK foreign policy does not reflect the views of the population and certainly not the views of Scotland. I had no problem with the Afghanis, I didn’t believe there were weapons of mass-destruction in Saddam’s hands but, there we went ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the USA in our special relationship. Countries such as Norway, Spain indeed almost any country in Europe do not need to go to war to protect their national interests but the UK does. We have to ask ourselves what is this national interest? It seems to me to be the vested interests of the wealthy, the capitalist system, the ruling elite – just as it has always been in Britain. It certainly isn’t to help reduce inequalities. But it could be.
Independence allows you to choose what you want to do. Nuclear weapons for example. If every man and woman in Scotland wanted to get rid of Trident or did not want it replaced we could not do anything about it. Even Scottish Labour has had to compromise its position on these weapons of mass destruction to find a fit with the policy of the UK Labour Party. UK Labour itself has had to position its policy in line with what it deems will make it electable. Is this really the way to make moral decisions? In an independent Scotland Scottish Labour could make its own decisions and lead the electorate once more rather then follow ‘public opinion’, media bias and the vagaries of the UK Labour leadership debacle.
Social housing. Scotland traditionally had a high percentage of social housing stock compared to England and Wales. In 1981 public sector housing accounted for 55% compared with 29.1% in England and Wales. However, after the Thatcher, Major, Blair right-to-buy revolution 62.5% were owner-occupied homes in-line with figures for England and Wales. The result of this being a lack of available social housing. Devolution has given Scotland the chance to take a different approach to England with regard to social housing but the UK discourse still focuses on the ‘housing ladder’. “Aspiration”, “the first rung”, there is no escaping the unconscious propaganda emanating from the media controlled by a country that has a different social and political psyche to Scotland. With independence that can change.
Drugs. At a time when there is unprecedented number of drug deaths Scotland has to seek Westminster’s permission to tackle the problem in the Scottish context. The approach to law and order in England is markedly different to that in Scotland, the problems are different and so policy is skewed to that of England. In an independent Scotland we could adopt our own health and social approach to the problem to suit our needs and to help reduce the number of drug related casualties and deaths.
Foreign policy. The UK is the second-largest arms exporter in the world and in 2015 approved licences for the sale of £7.7bn of arms. The Department for International Trade’s figures suggest almost two-thirds (63%) of exports go to the Middle East. We know that British weaponry is being routinely used by our ally Saudi Arabia in Yemen killing thousands including civilians. During my lifetime my UK government has courted or supported people as despicable as Pol Pot, Saddam Hussain and Augusto Pinochet.
Still we occupy the Chagos Islands and in spite of a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote earlier this year we will still not permit Chagossians to return to their own homeland. This is the ethics underpinning UK government foreign policy. If every person in Scotland wanted to comply with the UNGA vote or halt arms sales to the middle east it would mean nothing if Westminster didn’t. Independence would allow us to create an ethical foreign policy.
An independent Scotland could also make its mark on the world stage akin to any other small nation. Norway has had an active role in world affairs, mediating between Israel and the PLO and between the government of Sri Lanka and Tamil insurgents. Scotland’s voice and interests are different to those of the UK government and this voice can only be heard through independence.
Scottish Labour used to be the voice of those who could not be heard – it is time for the party to adopt this role again. With an estimated 40% of Labour supporters backing Scottish independence Labour must look more seriously at the aspirations of the people of Scotland. Change creates fear and anxiety in some in the same way as it creates hope and excitement in others. If fear of short to mid-term problems is what defines you, try looking beyond those problems to the positive possibilities of a new independent state for the benefit of future generations.
Thatcher and Blair changed the UK once and for all, this is it. If you have a dream of a better society then independence is the way forward. Economics? As I have said before I find it strange when Socialists look at independence and say “Ach well the economics don’t stack up – lets stay in our box”. Scottish Labour could make a real difference to people’s lives by embracing hope through independence and lead us to a better, more equal society.