Scottish independence and the new Enlightenment

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By Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp   

Scotland becoming an independent country represents an opportunity that goes way beyond just transferring a few powers to Holyrood. There is a far larger opportunity, that takes the form of an emerging global trend that Scotland can only really take advantage of as an independent country.

By Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp   

Scotland becoming an independent country represents an opportunity that goes way beyond just transferring a few powers to Holyrood. There is a far larger opportunity, that takes the form of an emerging global trend that Scotland can only really take advantage of as an independent country.

There is a growing realisation that environmental sustainability, and a fairer distribution of wealth and opportunity should be far higher up the global political agenda. This trend is driven by fears around climate change, rapidly growing social inequality and resultant social and health problems in western society. In the UK this is also coupled with an emerging realisation that the London and finance centric (neo-classical) economic model followed by successive Westminster Conservative and Labour governments has failed, for all but a privileged few.

Add to this the fact that governments seem impotent in the face of the economic problems that their own misguided monetary and fiscal strategies have created, and we have a rapidly growing requirement for a new enlightened approach to the creation of business, social, environmental, economic and monetary policy.

Some people are starting to call this trend a new global enlightenment. Recent technical changes such as the arrival of the mobile phone, the internet, even cable TV have been disruptive but what if the human race as a whole was considering a new way of thinking – of understanding the interconnectedness not just of economics but of humanity and the natural world?

It’s still hard to define, especially as an economic school of thought, however, there’s one thing for sure and that is that the Thatcherite/New Labour economic addiction to growth at any cost, wasn’t worth the cost.  

As always, recessions disproportionately impact on those who are less well-off in society. But could all of that damage be worth it in the long term, if it acts as a catalyst for Scotland to embrace the new business, economic, social and environmental enlightenment as a newly independent nation?

We need to ‘think big’, we need to raise the level of debate across the country.

Even a cursory, unbiased examination of the facts demonstrates that the British state has not worked in Scotland’s favour in my 46 years and it is hard to see how it ever will again. Fortunately, though, there is a positive alternative to more of the same and the perpetual cycle of greed-driven boom and bust.

The Nordic economies, in particular, are benefiting from a series of small, incremental improvements driven by a focus on localising and extending democratic involvement, improving quality of life, health, well-being, happiness, community and environmental sustainability and, crucially, a fairer distribution of wealth. Admittedly Nordic taxes are marginally higher but pensions are also massively higher and fully funded and economic growth is strong.

This provides stark contrast to the unreformed economic policies that emanate from the City of London, policies that have not only led to recession but that have, during the reign of the last Labour administration, seen the gap between the richest and poorest in our society widen to reach record distances. This makes Britain the second most unequal European nation, behind only Portugal.

The Nordic model shows us the way that small, independent northern European countries, such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark, are thriving, while larger countries such as Britain, France, Spain and Italy are struggling to keep their heads above water.  

Indeed, small economies work better in terms of the global quality of life index. The seven small independent European countries that are most similar to an independent Scotland are in the top 11 of the global quality of life index. Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark and Iceland are in the top ten and Finland is at number 11.  The UK sits in 21st place, also lagging well behind Ireland and Iceland in wealth per head (GDP) despite those two countries being described as having ‘basket case economies’ by some unionists.

On only a few occasions in history have global events and conditions aligned to facilitate an opportunity for societal improvement, namely, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

This is one of those occasions.

Are we really in danger of failing to take advantage of the biggest opportunity ever handed to a nation in modern history because we listen to scare-mongering and head-in-the-sand economic denial, from politicians that we would never elect as an independent country.

The choice is simply to remain part of a political union that offers nothing but a fading memory of successes from the past – or to see Scotland emerge as a leader in the modern enlightenment just as we were in the Enlightenment of the 18th century, and to design a country for a sustainable, fairer and more just future.

This article was first published on Business for Scotland, and is republished here with kind permission.