Always one to look for the silver lining I’m taking some comfort from the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has at least put a stop to the inane “never closer to independence” drivel we used to get from Alyn Smith. I was curious to see what replacement drivel he’d come up with (Partly joking, Alyn!) so I checked out his column in today’s National. Imagine my surprise when I found him talking about independence in defiance of Nicola Sturgeon’s strictures on the matter. He appears to have picked up on the developing theme in Scotland’s political discourse which acknowledges that the restoration of Scotland’s independence must have its place in the discussion about shaping a post-pandemic world. Jonathon Shafi has authored a fine introduction to what promises to be a lively and productive debate.
This is, of course, quite contrary to the tone and content of Nicola Sturgeon’s infamous cease and desist message to independence activists. It is gratifying to see that her ill-thought instruction to stop all campaigning may not have had as much influence as I feared. On reflection, it never could. As if I needed further cause to condemn the foolishness of that statement, I now realise that it was pointless and silly for another reason. There was never any way that independence could be excluded from discussion of what we seek to build once we can regard the pandemic as over. Imagine if someone suggested that all campaigning on the climate issue had to stop. Imagine trying to discuss the future without taking account of what environmental campaigners are saying. It would be nonsensical.
It is just as nonsensical to exclude Scotland’s constitutional issue. Or, indeed, any constitutional issue. Because, as I have noted many times before, the constitution is fundamental. Constitutional politics directly addresses issues of power, legitimacy and accountability. You cannot deny the primacy of constitutional politics without dismissing the matter of sovereignty. You cannot sensibly discuss decisions relating to sweeping reforms without considering the question of who ultimately makes these decisions; how the decisions are made; who is responsible for implementing the decisions; who has the rightful authority to enforce the decisions. All of this comes under the heading of constitutional politics. It is never not the time to be talking about such things.
Those who say, “Now is not the time!” have an agenda. You can be fairly certain that it is not entirely about human suffering, the tragic loss of life and the grief of the bereaved. There are those who will insist or imply that to think and talk of anything other than the pandemic and its human cost is to be heartless and inhumane. You don’t need a powerful memory to recall a time when there was a different reason for now not being the time. And one before that. And before that. The fact is that those who have power will always find a justification (or rationalisation) for deferring discussion of who has power; how that power is acquired; in whose interests power is exercised; to whom is power accountable, and by what means or process is power transferred.
Alyn Smith says something that is definitely not drivel.
All the problems we face are global, be it climate change, organised crime, the migration crisis or indeed a fight against a pandemic. We need an organised structured co-operation to do that. Of the bodies available to us – the UN, G20, World Trade Organisation, Nato and the EU – we’re not eligible for G20, the WTO is creaking from crisis to crisis, Nato is about defence and the UN in the absence of agreement has no teeth. The EU is it, and if it didn’t exist we’d want to invent something like it.
This is, in its essence, a potent statement of the task facing all of us – and I do mean all of us – as we deal with the damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic. In terms of the broad sweep and relentless flow of history, the deaths will be the least of that damage. There is nothing we can do for the dead but mourn them and remember them. There is much that we can and must do for the living of this and future generations. As Alyn Smith notes, accomplishing any meaningful part of the task we face, and achieving so much as a fraction of the potential it presents, will require structures capable of cooperating on a global scale. Where I part company with Alyn is his tendency to think at too large a scale. What he says about the EU is undoubtedly true. It is a bold and largely successful experiment in post-imperial international association which may well hold lessons for us – good and bad – as we strive to build those new structures. But it’s the wrong scale.
Jonathon Shafi recognises the importance of scale.
In a word gripped by a pandemic, economic crisis, climate change and intensifying geopolitical rivalries, the whole conversation around the veracity of small, independent, self-sustaining nations will transform. Local control will, I suspect, gain in popular support – especially as transnational institutions fail to deliver the solidarity their populations expect, and as free-market capitalism lies exposed and undermined even by the American state whose hegemonic position in the world was key in bringing about globalisation as we know it.
Small, independent, self-sustaining nations! That is the scale at which we should be thinking. Nations can be problematic. But they work. They are the evolved solution to the seemingly insuperable difficulties of unnaturally large communities. They are the largest unit of socio-economic organisation with which people can identify. A nation is a community of communities. At its best, the nation can emulate – though rarely if ever replicate – the cohesiveness of smaller communities. The nation has to be the default base unit of global cooperation because, if one maintains that the formation and management of those structures should be done with the informed consent and willing participation of the people, then that cohesiveness is essential.
The UK, as presently structured, fails abysmally to meet the criteria for the kind of small, internally cohesive nations which can be the building blocks of global cooperation. Dismantling the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state must be a priority. That starts with the abolition of the Union.
Now is the time to be talking about independence. Now is the time to be planning the restoration of Scotland’s independence in order that we may be the small, independent, self-sustaining and cohesive nation that the new world demands. As I wrote in an earlier article,
We are told that we will emerge from the pandemic into a world that is significantly, if not massively changed. It is an undeniable fact of life that if the forces of democracy don’t manage the change then other forces will. And we may not like the society that they create.
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