Monday, 15 September 2014

It's political, not constitutional change we need

#indyref They say a Yes vote is a vote for freedom for Scotland. If freedom means casting off your chains, then it's as good a reason to vote No. Voting no to the chains that will tie down our economy. Voting no to the defeatism on the left that chains us into believing independence is the only way to win the policies of social justice. Voting no to the chains of insularity and nationalism.

Most of us have more in common with workers in Newcastle and Manchester than with bankers, big business and the landed gentry in Scotland. We have more in common with the Londoners who elected 20 Labour councils this year than the 900,000 people in Scotland who voted Tory, Lib Dem, UKIP and BNP in 2010. Social change will not come merely from reinforcing a squiggly line drawn north of Carlisle and Berwick.

Of course there is anger at the unprecedented austerity, privatisation, and the attacks on benefits and workers' rights emanating from Westminster. But it is political change we need to combat that, not constitutional change.

And lets get one thing out of the way at the start. Scotland could succeed as a country. But it depends what you mean by succeeding. What Business for Scotland and The Adam Smith Institute see as success is not social justice. It is an opportunity to capitalise on the White Paper's promises of cuts in corporation tax and a 'business friendly' Scotland. More of the same but written larger in a smaller pool.

Success for me would be a programme of investment in public services, a progressive national and local tax system, more public ownership and greater trade union involvement because that is where social justice comes from. The Scottish Parliament, if the will had been there to deliver, could have progressed some of that already.

We have never fully capitalised on the powers of our parliament. I continue to be astonished at how little people know about it, how accessible it is and what its range of powers is. How little people seem to be aware of the new tax and borrowing powers in the 2012 Act. I have even met people who are voting yes to win powers we have already got!

Our parliament has not used all the powers it has because, despite valiant efforts, the left has not won the arguments against austerity. It has not won the arguments about taxation as Johann Lamont was honest enough to tell the STUC Congress this year. If raising taxes is seen as political suicide now, why would it be different after 18 September?

But even if independence did magically create a mass radical vote, it would also bring more obstacles to delivering on it. In short, the figures don't add up.

So much rubbish is talked about currency on both sides but there are some uncomfortable truths. Claims like 'it's our pound as well as the yours' miss the point as to whether Scotland should want the pound at all.

The simple fact is Scotland can have the pound. It could always have the pound. It could have the bawbee or spondulicks if it wanted. Nobody can stop us. It has all been an invented argument. It is not what the currency is, it is what the effect on pay, jobs and public services will be that matters.

Why would you want all the upheaval of independence and then a currency union with Westminster or the EU deciding your main fiscal policies - all the things that really matter if you want social justice?

Or why would we want a shadow currency that, with no control over our own monetary policy, would initially force you to run a surplus through even more austerity for years to come as the STUCpoints out? Or even a new currency that would leave us paying billions to the banks that should have been spent on public services?

These are not just technicalities, they are mortgages, savings, earnings, pensions, benefits and services.

Even if you are prepared to ignore the currency and the economy, you cannot swerve the huge start-up costs of independence. New IT systems; customs control; probably other border controls (unlike Ireland) due to Shengen and/or the white paper's aim of different immigration policies; armed forces; surface ships; new security services; specialist NHS services currently shared with the rest of the UK (see OurNHS. Why the Yes campaign must destroy a UK-wide service); new passports; a new benefits system; a new postal service with fewer resources to subsidise the same price, same service everywhere principle; new regulatory bodies; a new shipping register; and a new DVLA, to name just a few. The money has to come from somewhere and the track record suggests that will mean more cuts.

All worth it perhaps if you have fought your way out of slavery and oppression but not if it is just because you've given up believing we can defeat the Tories.

The solutions are, as always, political not just economic. With the political will, many of these obstacles could possibly be surmounted over time, especially if there is a will to re-think how we manage economies. But we are talking years and years, not months. Is the pain worth it for the intended aim?

To the nationalists independence is and end in itself. But the aim for the 'Yes' left is that Scotland will elect a radical government some time in the future. We've a wee bit to go. We've got almost a million Scottish minds to change plus however many ex SNP voters shift to their true allegiance after the yes vote unity has gone.

And if we do face tough times - without Westminster to blame - who is to say the electoral response will not be a swing to the right as opposed to the left? It has happened elsewhere.

I'm told independence will facilitate the revival of 'old labour'. I'd like that. But if it does, what a hand we will have dealt them. Having to find billions more from the public purse just to stand still, let alone find the investment to build social justice.

I must mention Trident because it is a political, economic and most of all a moral issue. We can sort out the political and economic bits I suspect in time. Getting rid of Trident would be a political victory but would it be a moral one?

Shifting it to some part of England that is closer than some parts of Scotland seems like a bit of a hollow gesture. Not having it in Scotland but being prepared to be part of a nuclear NATO is hypocritical. I'm told when we elect our new government we can review NATO. But it's the white paper we are voting on and that's what's in it.

'No' always seems more negative than 'Yes' and Better Together haven't done much to counter that. But 'No' can be a positive position with a positive vision. One that eschews defeatism and seeks to rebuild the labour movement across the UK so that working people have the confidence to act and vote together for something better. For that we need radical policies that engage the disaffected who don't vote rather than watered down ambitions based on focus groups of swing voters.

We've done it before when we built the NHS and the welfare state, now to be split up if there is a yes vote. Does it not make more sense to have an NHS and a welfare system backed by the taxes of 64 million people than just five million?

The conflict is not between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The conflict arises from a class war and it is the privileged class that has been waging it. They exist in Scotland as much as anywhere else.

The solution is not borders. It is redoubling our efforts to give people the confidence and a reason to vote for social and political change across the UK.

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