I’ve just listened to playwright Kieran Hurley’s forthright and energising Aye! Talk in which he lists 25 reasons why he’s voting Yes in September’s referendum on Scottish independence.
Most of the 25 reasons relate to Kieran’s own political and moral preferences, things that he dislikes about the UK that he hopes can be done better in an independent Scotland.
He’s anti-nuclear weapons, anti-imperialist. He’s worried about climate change and the future of the welfare state. And he sort of likes David Bowie but he likes Hamish Henderson more.
So far so predictable. There are many independence enthusiasts who like to believe that an independent Scotland will become a non-nuclear bastion of social justice by virtue of our natural inclination to the left.
Not only am I deeply skeptical of this notion, I also see no coherent set of proposals coming from the Yes camp that will make these things happen if enough of us vote Yes in the referendum. As I say in my previous post inspired by the Aye! Talks series, we’re being asked to take it as a matter of faith that these things will come to pass, and I’m not one of the faithful.
But Kieran injects a welcome note of realism throughout his talk. He knows that he’s presenting a wish list of things that will be difficult to deliver and he admits that we will probably fail to do get some of them done. He tells us that “it will be messy” and “there are no guarantees” that what he wants to happen will happen.
I am clear that the success or failure of any political entity depends on how it does economics. I don’t see any point in Scottish independence unless it brings radical reform of our financial and fiscal systems so that they work with, instead of against, our common interest. As far as I’m concerned Kieran’s wish list is pie in the sky unless we get the money thing to work properly.
The pragmatist in me knows that independence will result in years of tedious, expensive wrangling over how to rearrange the deck-chairs of state. The process of disentangling Scottish institutions from the remainder of the UK and setting up new ones north of the border will suck much of the energy for reform out of those who step forward to put their shoulders to the wheel.
Does the pragmatist want to wait for a decade while all of these arguments over housekeeping are done to death before we start paying attention to the stuff that really matters. No it does not. It would prefer to vote No and pursue financial and fiscal reform in a UK context without further delay.
But then we come to Kieran’s reason number 23.
“Because UK politics is trapped inside its own sense of helplessness.”
By “UK politics” I suspect that Kieran means what goes on in and around the Palace of Westminster, but I immediately took it to mean what happens throughout the UK – in our councils, in our Scottish Parliament, in Westminster, in our relationship with the European Union, in our own heads.
Westminster cannot claim a monopoly of political woefulness. Our democracy, our systems of government are dysfunctional from Shetland to Scilly. Our lack of faith in them is dragging us down into a foul cauldron of apathy and cynicism which will poison us all in the end.
If you’re looking for one good reason to vote for Scottish independence then here it is: to set UK politics free of it’s own sense of helplessness.
Scotland going indy would be seismic. It would shake the political foundations of Westminster and the tremor of possibility would extend into every disaffected corner of the British Isles, including those in Scotland that have already endured the dead hand of centralised government and are in desperate need to escape it, not see it further concentrated in Edinburgh.
The island communities of Shetland, Orkney, and the Western Isles are already anticipating the hubris of Holyrood in the event of a Yes vote and demanding that they be given more power over how things are done in their archipelagos, and how their share of government spending is spent. The shock of independence would energise other communities across Scotland, and the remainder of UK, to demand similar powers. To insist that they take responsibility for and control over more of their own affairs.
The only way for Kieran to see some of the things on his wishlist become reality, and the only way that I will see radical financial reform, is for our politics to break free of its sense of helplessness and realise that it’s capable of doing whatever we decide needs to be done.
Nothing worthwhile ever gets done unless people get off their backsides do it. And people won’t get off their backsides unless they feel that what they’re trying to do has a chance of success. Our current political system does not give us a chance. Scottish independence might just change that.
Even the pragmatist in me can see the possibility. And it quite likes it.