Writing in The National today, Professor Gregor Gall refers to ‘independence first’ as if it were both a choice and an alternative to progressive radicalism (‘Independence first’? Or is radical the way to win hearts and minds for Yes?). It is not. Constitutional justice is the essential precondition for social justice. The latter can only be delivered and secured when the former is achieved. This is necessarily so because constitutional justice is about power. More particularly, it is about effective political power – the power to effect change. The change necessary to institute self-sustaining social justice can only be brought about if and when effective political power is appropriately relocated.
I can’t help but get the sense that Professor Gall is being dismissive in a way that suggests a certain lack of dispassion when he talks of what he labels the “independence first” position as a “campaign for independence as simply the right to national self-determination”. For those of us who maintain that restoring Scotland’s independence is an end in itself – even if not the only one – the campaign is not simple at all. And it is certainly not merely about the “right to national self-determination” – a very odd phrase. Surely a nation has the right of self-determination by definition. To characterise the fight to restore Scotland’s independence thus suggests that we are fighting for that which we must assume in order to want to fight for it.
Self-determination is the process by which the people choose how to answer this paraphrasing of Tony Benn’s questions about effective political power –
- Where does power reside?
- How is power acquired?
- How is power legitimised?
- What effect does power have?
- Whose interests are served by power?
- To whom is power accountable?
- By what means may power be relocated?
Considered thus, “independence first” is the most radical idea imaginable. It is the radical idea from which all other radical ideas flow.
The Union is an unjust constitutional arrangement. It is a device by which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of our ability to answer those questions about power in a manner that is informed by our needs, priorities and aspirations. The Union is an essential underpinning of the structures of unaccountable power, unearned privilege and unscrupulous patronage which define the British state and serve the few at whatever cost to the many. What more radical idea might there be than removing that oppressive burden from the backs of Scotland’s people?
There can be no progressive agenda while the Union persists. There can be no social justice without first restoring constitutional justice. To restore constitutional justice we must first dissolve the Union.
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