A popular argument has it that independence for Scotland is an intrinsically left-wing and noble cause. Bill Blackwater, a British left-wing writer, counters this view.
A response to those on the left who were in favour of Scottish independence, written by a British left-winger.
transform! published an article recently on the Scottish independence referendum. The author, Murray Smith, had been in favour of a Yes vote for independence. I didn’t happen to agree with that view, but would have read his piece without comment – if it hadn’t been for the assumption in it, that all true left-wingers were sympathisers of Scottish nationalism.
Many on the left in Scotland and throughout Britain were opposed to Scottish nationalism, and thought the arguments of left-wing Yes campaigners were misguided.
Now the Yes campaign was inspirational in the way it led to a political awakening among many of those who felt disenfranchised. But it was also full of contradictions. Common Weal, a group which dreamed of turning Scotland into an ideal Scandinavian social democracy, thought independence would make the Scots much richer. The Greens wanted to leave the oil and gas in the North Sea bed. The Scottish Nationalist Party tried to appear left-wing while advocating cuts to corporation tax, in a beggar thy neighbour strategy.
There is every likelihood, in fact, that independence would have made Scottish politics more right-wing. A Yes vote would have translated into an economic squeeze – as capital exited to other countries, subsidies from the UK were cancelled, and the new state sought to reassure investors and comply with the rules for retaining the pound or adopting the euro. It’s no surprise that right-wingers such as the Adam Smith Institute were supporters of independence.
There was a naïve utopianism about the Yes campaign. Independence was a blank canvas on which people could project whatever they wanted. It was also a narcissistic movement; supporting independence was for many people a means of asserting their own sense of self. There was little consideration from the Yes campaign of the social divisions which would have followed independence, not just in Scotland but throughout the rest of the UK.
It is a measure of both the naivety and the utopianism of nationalist campaigners that so many of them said they weren’t being nationalistic, and didn’t see how breaking up the United Kingdom would upset the relationships among the peoples who live within it. But a successful Scottish nationalism is likely to have unleashed nationalist resentments in England, destabilised the peace process in Northern Ireland, and led to national angst in Wales.
There was plenty to admire in the Yes campaign. Its basic premise was right: the Scottish people are oppressed. But what they are fundamentally oppressed by are the forces of neoliberalism – in common with so many other people. Breaking up the UK was not in itself the answer.