Pat Kane: A ‘Yes’ vote is not just for independence, it can let us find our own direction
“IT’S not just about taking Scotland’s side, it’s about taking sides in Scotland.” Jim Sillars’ axiom has been rattling round my head a lot, in these opening weeks of the referendum campaign.
For those independistas who still can’t quite believe they have a clear run at the big prize while in their prime (waves hand furiously), there is an understandable hesitation about exactly how to go forward. And in order to make an authentic, resonant case for Yes, both parts of Jim’s wise words have to be reckoned with.
Natural and satisfying, of course, simply to take Scotland’s side. Indeed, Scottish politics has been running off the fumes of a consensus patriotism since the referendum that instituted the Scottish Parliament in 1999. We might deride Jack McConnell’s “best wee country in the world” slogan (those billboards at Glasgow Airport were replaced, let us recall, by paens to RBS), but we have an SNP administration which is no less unrepentantly boosterist about this wee country than the man in the dull grey kilt.
In his circuits through China, the Middle East, Northern Europe and recently California, Alex Salmond trails clouds of glorious joint-projects in his wake, simulating a Scottish economic diplomacy that already has its feet under the top international tables in Brussels and New York.
From playing the straight man with Craig Ferguson and Brave’s Merida, to swapping sustainability tips and tools with the oligarchs of Qatar and China (and the social-democrats of Scandinavia), the Salmond brand is partly about quelling the Scottish cringe. The First Minister and his Cabinet are modelling what it would look like to act with confidence and competence on a world stage. Even Kenny MacAskill’s Megrahi ruling, however controversial, was partly about reinforcing Scots law’s global status.
Taking Scotland’s side in this way – that is, prosecuting “the Scottish interest” at the highest available levels – is intended to make voters feel more secure about a clear vote for statehood. An independent Scotland is not a shivering youth stepping out into a demanding adult world, but already one of the grown-ups in the room of geopolitics. But it’s possible to be, as it were, too “grown-up” – so transfixed by the “credibility” questions around Scottish independence that, at least around the edges, you begin to lose the radical and transformative point of the whole exercise. Then it becomes difficult not to start taking sides in Scotland.
Salmond and Murdoch, for example. The least of our concerns should be the question of a “quid pro quo” between Salmond’s support for the BSkyB takeover, and the Sun’s turnaround in support for the SNP. I’ve no doubt that, in the chambers of the FM’s mind, he felt perfectly able to divide and rule his interests: a Scottish “jobs jobs jobs” justification for privately lobbying for the bid on one side; the need to get some independence propaganda into the heart of a traditionally Unionist commercial press on the other.
But down the middle is the kind of policy gap that we’ll have to raise a stramash about in the next two years, if independence is to be anything more than an abstract aspiration to self-determination. For example, is any measure that justifies “jobs jobs jobs” in Scotland to be uncritically accepted? All jobs in the military industrial sector, to any customer on the planet? Will there be a tension between a government that commits to a “living wage” for all employees, and a Scandinavian-style welfare system – but which also holds out a full repertoire of low-tax flexibilities for visiting corporations?
And on the other side, what kind of media environment should we have in an independent Scotland? It’s not enough for Salmond to say that media regulation is a reserved matter, thus debarring him from taking any critical position on the BSkyB merger. Into such a vacuum rushes all manner of fevered speculation – for example, a Scottish state welcoming News International into a specially deregulated kailyard, like our ain wee McBerlusconi.
But on topics like this, and many others (potential Nato membership, or car-centric capital expenditure, being the obvious examples), it’s the job of a somewhat noisy independence movement – and particularly the Left and green side of it – to keep the radical-reform instincts of SNP government ministers alive, lurking just beneath those lush pashminas and worsted lapels.
What we should be assenting to in this campaign is the possibility of taking Scotland’s side through taking sides in Scotland. A Yes vote is not just about the self-evident truth that resident Scots, of all shapes and stripes, are the best people to fully determine their own future – it’s also a vote in our ability to come up with a progressive direction for our society – and a confidence about that emerging from honest and robust debate about economics, health, defence, education, housing, welfare, media and everything else.
Deep down, I enjoy Alex’s combo of sonsy gladhanding, and fluent statesmanship, as much as the next independista. But if we’re modelling behaviour, we also need to model the diverse engagement, the grass-roots energy, the democratic intellect that we wish to see in the everyday life of an independent Scotland.
That’s what I hope for YesScotland. And as the ultimate contrarian, I’m sure Jim Sillars would agree.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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