Owen Jones: What a fairer Scotland would look like

Despite its progressive rhetoric, the SNP would hand big business a mighty cheque

Share

Here’s a column I said I’d never write. The debate about Scotland’s future is one, of course, that the Scottish people alone have to determine, and there are enough London-based English journalists sticking their oar in as it is. But, as the September referendum on independence approaches, it is becoming impossible to ignore, and the implications involve all of us.

I have my own personal reasons for an interest: most of my family live and work north of the Border, and I spent two years of my childhood in Falkirk. In March 1990, my family went to the great Glasgow anti-poll tax march, just one visible expression of seething anger at a Westminster government that Scots did not vote for.

Scotland has changed dramatically. It was once a True Blue stronghold: more than half of Scots voted for the Tory sister party, the Unionists, in the 1950s. But as the grip of religious sectarianism weakened, and de-industrialisation hammered entire communities, Toryism imploded. By the early 1990s, the number of manufacturing jobs left in Glasgow was just a third of the number two decades earlier. A labour movement that once promoted at least some sense of solidarity across Britain’s internal boundaries began to disintegrate.

The disappointments of the New Labour era only compounded a sense of alienation. The Scottish National Party, under Alex Salmond, has – at least in rhetoric – skilfully captured a social-democratic space that was all but abandoned. No wonder nationalism has filled the void. If northern England had a national identity, it too would undoubtedly have a thriving movement in support of independence.

Although the No crowd still have the edge, recent polling suggests the Yes vote is chomping away at its lead. It is poorer Scots – those who have the least stake in modern Britain – who are more likely to advocate independence. Whether separation would improve their living standards is a debate to be had, but a cross next to Yes seems like the ultimate rejection of the status quo.

With independence at least a distinct possibility, corporate interests are warning Scots not to vote the wrong way. Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, said this week that his company would face higher costs and that “all businesses have a concern”. The much-loved financial lobby is warning it will have to pay more, too. It it looks like it should be filed under “Likely To Backfire”: an anti-Establishment mood, that is certainly not unique to Scotland, will not be cured by the Establishment appearing to close ranks.

The question is, what would a new Scotland look like? Despite its progressive rhetoric, the SNP would hand big business a mighty cheque in the form of cuts to corporation tax that would out-Osborne the current Tory Chancellor. That could well provoke a Dutch auction on corporation tax with the rump of Britain.

But others in the Yes camp are keen to emphasise that the SNP does not have a monopoly over the independence cause. The Radical Independence Campaign promotes a Scotland that would break away from the free-market status quo. More than 1,000 delegates attended its conference last year, with speakers ranging from representatives from trade unions to Oxfam. They are keen to emphasise their internationalist credentials. “A Yes vote opens up an opportunity for wider and deeper social change, and we are supporting a Yes vote for those reasons,” the RIC’s Jonathon Shafi tells me.

The non-Scottish left panic that secession would saddle them with an eternity of Conservative governments. It comes across as electoral colonialism, that Scottish territory must be preserved because of its left-leaning voting fodder. But the relative weight of the Tory core vote would undoubtedly grow, and Scotland itself may find itself economically dependent on an England whose political centre of gravity has shifted rightwards.

For some – not all – of the Yes camp, support for independence seems to be born out of a sense that the Union is the source of social ills. But it is neo-liberal dogma – which, to varying degrees, has swept practically all industrialised countries – that has given us a low-wage, low-rights, insecure workforce, privatised utilities and services, and a housing crisis. It would be striking, but rather unlikely, if, in the era of globalisation, a small, independent nation managed to break from this without building an outward-looking movement first.

There is something inescapably sad about this situation. Scottish nationalism is one symptom of the tragic decline of a type of politics: of movements based on shared economic interests – of people who really “are all in it together” – rather than national identity, striving to win concessions from those above. The NHS, the welfare state, workers’ rights: all of these gains – now under attack – were won through the joint effort of ordinary Scots, Welsh and English people. But it is just a symptom, and the reality is, for now, as uncomfortable as it is inescapable.

An alternative, of course, would be a loose federation, with the English regions granted substantial autonomy, too, breaking the hegemony of Westminster across the islands. Movements for a living wage, decent housing, publicly run and accountable services and workers’ rights would unite shopworkers in Glasgow with call centre workers in Manchester and Cardiff. An old dream, yes. But still one worth fighting for.

Read more
Dominic Frisby: Why an independent Scotland could become the richest country on Earth
Mary Dejevsky: If I were young and Scottish, I would vote yes to independence

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

Secondary Japanese Teacher, January 2015 - China

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Position: Secondary Japanese TeacherRequ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A study has revealed that 80 per cent of us underestimate the calorie content of a glass of white wine  

Aside from the crushing boredom, giving up alcohol feels pretty great...

Siobhan Norton
Jules and Delaney  

Disney needs a princess with Down's syndrome

Keston Ott Dahl
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes