Left Unionists are fond of saying that working people in Scotland have more in common with working people in England than they do with Scotland’s landowners and millionaires. Indeed they do. And the biggest thing they have in common is that the Union keeps both of them in their place.
Tommy Sheppard clearly gets it. How gratifying it is to at last see an SNP politician explicitly acknowledging that the Union is the problem and at least hinting that Scotland’s cause is not gaining independence but escaping a political union which serves none of the people of these islands well, but serves Scotland particularly ill. A political union formed in a different age entirely for the purposes of a ruling elite whose successors continue to be the sole beneficiaries.
The effect is rather spoiled when he says things like,
Will this next election be about independence? You betcha!
Maybe he hasn’t quite completely got it. Or maybe it’s just that old habits of thinking die hard. Let’s be glad of whatever we get. Even if Tommy is no more than half way to the realisation that we need to be campaigning against the Union rather than for independence, he’ll still be some distance ahead of the SNP leadership.
We must campaign against the Union because the Union denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty which is ours by absolute right. It really is as simple as that. It is from this denial of a fundamental democratic right that all of Scotland’s constitutional issues derive; along with most of our political, social and economic issues. Independence doesn’t resolve those issues. But even if you don’t accept that the Union is a major cause of Scotland’s problems, it is impossible to sensibly deny that it prevents us from addressing them as deemed appropriate by the people who actually live in Scotland.
It’s not even as if the Union is required. As I wrote during the 2014 referendum campaign,
Alex Salmond addressed this issue back in July 2013 when he spoke of the six unions that “govern our lives today in Scotland”. The political union of the UK; union with Europe through the EU; the currency union, the Union of the Crowns; a defence union based on Nato and a social union among the people of the UK.
The First Minister talked of these six unions in terms of their importance to Scotland, making the point that only the first of these – political union with the UK – works against Scotland’s interests. The others serve us reasonably well and are generally valued by the people of Scotland.
The political union between Scotland and England is not necessary to the maintenance of all those other unions. All that is needed is the consent of the people. So long as we consent to a currency union, we can have a currency union. It is the political union which forces on us a currency union which is not freely negotiated.
We can have a defence union. But, if democracy prevails, it must be a choice made on the basis of what the people of both Scotland and England consider best serves our mutual interests; not what serves the narrow interests of those who have inherited the status and power of the cliques the Union was designed to benefit.
Nowhere is the deleterious, anti-democratic impact of the Union more evident than in the matter of the “union with Europe through the EU”. Do I really have to elaborate? We are all painfully familiar with the fact that Scotland is being wrenched out of that union against the will of the Scottish people. The point I want to make here is that it would be perfectly possible for Scotland and England to share that union with Europe in the absence of a political union between our two nations. It is the grotesque asymmetry of the Union that destroys the possibility of a symmetrical arrangement whereby each nation makes its own choices.
The Union is the massive bluebottle in the ointment of harmonious coexistence and cooperation. It is the Union that prevents us developing a form of association between Scotland and England – and among all parts of these islands – which is fit for 21st century democracy rather than the conditions that existed over three centuries ago.
Kindly bear with me as I quote again, and at length, from that article published in November 2013 under the counter-intuitive title ‘Vote Yes to save the Union‘.
…if we get past the self-serving politicians of the British parties whose sole priority is the preservation of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which benefit them and their clients; if we address those who have been lured by the simplistic slogans of the anti-independence campaign and induce them to really think about what it is that they value about the Union, it is highly probable that they will come up with much the same answers that Alex Salmond did. They would surely place the highest value on the social union. And, while they might vary in the way they prioritise the others, there would still be general agreement with pro-independence campaigners on the list as a whole.
We all, nationalist and unionist alike, tend to value the same things about the Union, differing only in the emphasis that we put on each. Where we part company is principally, if not solely, on the matter of the political union of the UK. I would urge unionists to think long and hard about whether we do not have a common interest in that regard also.
I fervently hope Tommy Sheppard’s article signals a shift in emphasis away from campaigning for independence and towards campaigning against the Union. Because that is where we find common ground across the independence movement, and very possibly beyond.
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