This year, Scotland may break away from Britain. Now David Cameron has called on English, Welsh and Northern Irish nationals to urge the Scots to stay. He’s right that the referendum matters to everyone in Britain, not just the Scots. A Yes vote would deliver an existential blow to the British state and challenge the dominance of London and the City. Anyone who cares about social justice, democracy or breaking the austerity consensus, should be watching Scotland. The debate is wrongly portrayed in the UK media as a matter of blood, soil and freedom (if anyone else compares Alex Salmond to Mel Gibson in Braveheart I’ll hurl a Morrisons haggis at them). This allows the Westminster establishment to frame it as emotive, irresponsible, and plain bad policy. Meanwhile, the English left cry ‘traitors!’ and say borders should never trump class solidarity. This misses the point. Independence is about economic and political realities that affect ‘us’ just as much as them. Here’s why independence matters to those who live in the rest of the UK:
1. It may really happen.
You might not be paying attention, because you think the game’s up. That would be foolish. The latest poll puts the Yes vote at 37% and the No vote at 44% – the highest (credible) pro-Independence result so far. While it’s true that referenda tend to swing against the ‘change’ option in the immediate run-up to the vote that is almost always because No campaigns tend to shower the electorate with negativity and pessimism in those last, crucial days. But the Better Together campaign is not called Project Fear for nothing. Many think they’ve shot their miserable load, and simply can’t get much more heavy before September 18th.
2. It’s a class war.
Marxists who see Scottish “nationalists” as the great betrayers of the international proletariat should take heed. Working-class Scots are far more in favour of independence than the privileged. It’s no wonder that the Yes Campaign is centred in Glasgow, the jobless capital of the UK. They want to give the boot to Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the Tory toffs who Scotland never voted for and who care nothing for the vulnerable. Politically disenfranchised and hence switched off from elections, they are hard to get to. But if this section of the electorate does go to the ballot box , it will be the working-class that deliver independence.
3. Empire end-game.
Ever wonder why the Conservatives so badly want to hold onto a country with only one Tory MP? Cameron sees himself as the lord protector of the United Kingdom as an imperial state. Of course he sees the fight to “save the Union” as “personal“. Losing Scotland will be an existential blow to a Westminster establishment still in denial about their diminished role in the world, particularly for the Tory party and their stubborn faith in the British bulldog. Scotland may keep the Queen, but the foundations of Britannia as a pompous, blue-blooded colossus would be shaken to the core.
4. An alternative to austerity on the doorstep?
No-one thinks the SNP are out to bust the bankers. They may also win less economic autonomy than they claim (there is terminal disagreement over the fiscal powers possible under a currency union). But Alex Salmond is only opening the gate: in the long-term, Scotland will slip the grip of UK plc under the sway of London and the City. There is more support for the welfare state north of the border than in England, less loathing of Europe and immigrants, and more political will to engage in economic ideas that challenge the orthodoxy of austerity: the creation of green jobs, a sovereign wealth fund, nationalizing public services, clawing back money spent on nuclear and foreign aggression to invest in stimulating the domestic economy.
5. Free education!
It’s very possible that Scotland will have to bow to EU law and let English students study there for free just like their Scottish counterparts. This is not so great for Scotland maybe, as they’ll struggle to cope with a huge influx of fee refugees. But for everyone who believes in free education, and despairs of the repression and closing down of intellectual space at English universities…. head north….
Ultimately, don’t be fooled by the UK’s media obsession with the ‘nitty gritty’ of Scottish independence. They want you to think it’s all about what a RUK flag might look like (that’s New Scots for “the rest of the UK”) or whether or not the Scottish could still get Doctor Who. Project Fear and Project Yawn are well-established forms of political assault. In reality however the independence referendum is a genuine chance for Scotland to win its freedom and begin to do things differently, creating an alternative to Cameron’s ‘common sense’ austerity that will only benefit those working for the same in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If the Scottish vote to stay, the struggle for independence will carry on, as they are likely to stick with the SNP. In the meantime, Wales is asserting increasing power and difference, while northeners wonder how much they have in common with the interests of London and the South. The break-up of Britain is already happening. You should care, whether you’re ‘British’, ‘English’ or none of the above.