To a left-wing Scottish nationalist like me, there’s nothing dafter than Ed Miliband trying “to rebuild Britain as One Nation, where everyone plays their part.” I do appreciate One Nation politics is about reducing inequality, but in the context of a campaign for the 2015 Westminster election, the term One Nation is worryingly loaded. For, in September 2014, Scotland – a constituent nation of the UK – will vote on whether to become independent. And, though the polling data is mixed at best, I’m still convinced that the notion of One Nation will be out of date by the next General Election.
Between Alistair Darling, Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander, the case for the Union is being repeatedly made by Labour politicians north of the border. Yet, as the party’s upper echelons campaign with the Tories and Liberal Democrats for a no vote, polls suggest one in every eight Labour supporters will vote yes, while one quarter are not yet committed. A grassroots movement called Labour for Independence has even sprouted up to give them a voice.
This is representative of the sheer diversity of the broader Yes Campaign. Besides the SNP, we have the Greens, the Radical Independence Campaign, National Collective, the Common Weal, Solidarity and the SSP, all pitching themselves as left-wing nationalists, asking Scots to vote for independence to preserve good old fashioned social democracy in the face of austerity. As I see it, the activism which in England is channelled towards anti-cuts campaigns seems to have been transferred towards independence. Typical is Stephen Campbell, 19, Vice-President of Strathclyde University Yes Campaign, who told me: “We’re the progressives who want to rebuild our nation on the foundations of equality and social justice, and we’ll win because we have the grassroots campaigns and passionate volunteers dedicated to convincing Scots of this cause.”
The UK’s shared radical history within the Labour movement would seem to discredit the ideas of leftwing nationalism. Owen Jones wrote in 2011 that “these struggles […] could form the basis of a radical, inclusive form of Britishness.” Working people in Preston and Paisely have more in common with each other than with the bankers of London, or the oil-barons of Aberdeen. The SNP have been slammed for disavowing solidarity with their desire to slash corporation tax in Scotland, unconcerned about what this might do to the economy of the already-atrophied north of England.
But Robin McAlpine, Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said “Britain has the second lowest pay of any advanced nation and has the highest level of geographical inequality of any developed country. […] That doesn’t look like solidarity, it looks like extreme neglect.” If the best way for Scots to escape this broken Britain is to literally break away, then why should the Left in the wider UK oppose that? Especially given the people of the North East roundly rejected devolution when given the chance in 2004.
Do we just fear that without Scotland, the rest of the UK would be cursed to perpetual Tory government? That the once-united Labour voices of Scotland, Wales, northern and urban England will be drowned out by England’s natural Tory majority? Yet in reality, only in 1964 and 1974 did the election of Scottish Labour MPs actually turn what would have been a Tory government into a Labour one. In just two of the last eighteen elections did Labour’s electoral fate rely on Scotland. So no wonder then that the claim the UK is fundamentally undemocratic is central to the case for independence – even today, Scotland is ruled by a right-wing Tory-led government it didn’t vote for.
But do geographical inequalities in political and economic clout really trump issues like the Bedroom Tax, which affects the disenfranchised all over the UK? When Boris Johnson quipped money is better spent in London over Strathclyde, he demonstrated the entitlement that sees the capital as somehow deserving (and getting) more public cash for transport and health per head than anywhere else. While one in twenty-nine Londoners are dollar millionaires, one in five Scottish children are born into poverty, 29% of Scots languish in fuel poverty, and Scotland contains the places with the lowest male life expectancy of anywhere in the UK – Glasgow, and where I grew up, the Western Isles. Yet Scotland generates 9.9% of the UK’s tax revenue, receiving just 9.3% of spending!
This is why Scottish nationalism is left-wing nationalism. This is why campaigners for independence talk about creating a universal welfare state, about participatory democracy, about land-reform and channelling the money from Scotland’s abundant natural resources towards local needs. This is why we’re having a referendum without recourse to racism or romanticism. In September, the UK – a hangover state from the days of Empire, now little more than the back-garden of the greedy financiers living in the tax haven that is the City of London – could well be gone. And then the rest of the UK will be able to look north to a fairer, social-democratic Scotland as their viable alternative to austerity.