By James Marr
Campaigners against independence are keen to scare voters with visions of Scotland as an indebted impoverished hellhole that would be unable to defend itself from the hordes of Taliban and North Koreans only held at bay by the British Army.
The Yes campaign by contrast has strained itself to be overwhelmingly positive in its message. As a result, perhaps enough attention hasn’t been focused on the incredible stakes at play in the referendum, and quite how bad a No vote could be for Scotland.
The first key point to make is that the UK is a whole is about to be ravaged by the Tory led withdrawal of the social safety net. For generations we have prevented the worst excesses of destitution and homelessness by supporting the incomes of the poorest.
But now the UK government has declared war on the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
The Bedroom Tax and cuts to Housing Benefit will inevitably lead to evictions. In Scotland, we are campaigning for the Scottish Government to amend the Housing Act, to prevent evictions for Bedroom Tax arrears. This is a vital step that would allow the Scottish Government to demonstrate the possibilities of independence by using the powers we already have.
If successful, this means the struggle will be completely different up here without evictions to resist. But it’s only a stop gap measure, and without independence, the levels of debt that will result for tenants won’t be sustainable.
The introduction of Universal Credit also means sanctions being applied to working people, forcing people to apply online and more cuts to people’s incomes. The completely mad cap policies that are changed week in week out by Iain Duncan Smith point to where the UK is headed – the complete dismantling of the welfare state, and a return to a Dickensian Britain.
Without independence, this will be imposed on us as well.
The great hope of the Unionist left is that Ed Miliband will reverse some of these changes if Labour is elected in 2015. Of course, a Labour government then is far from certain. But even if that were a prospect of hope, is it really enough to pin all our hopes on a party that has dithered in the face of the Tory’s attack on the poorest?
Although Labour has attacked some aspects of welfare reform, they remain committed to cutting universal benefits and expanding workfare.
The UK as a whole is hopelessly unwilling to face off the power of the banks and finance industry to set government policy. Like the rest of Europe, this has led to the imposition of an insane austerity programme that kills people, is not supported by the population and will not succeed in its aims. The only possibility of a serious break with these economics comes with the establishment of a separate Scottish welfare state.
All the British parties have been avoiding talking about the future of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish democracy following a No vote.
It’s extremely unclear whether there will be any further devolution as some have claimed. It’s conceivable the Tories might want Scottish MPs out of Westminster, and cut a deal for greater autonomy on that basis – perhaps the worst of all possible worlds.
But there’s also been talk from some in Labour about creating powerful regions (which would likely be gerrymandered so as to ensure Labour control) in order to undercut the Scottish Parliament.
The basic truth is that, to Westminster, the Scottish Parliament is just another government department that will have to take its unpleasant austerity medicine and make cuts. This will ultimately remain the case under Labour as well, as they follow the austerity agenda in power.
In the ’70s, the Tories opposed the Scottish Assembly referendum because they promised to introduce better devolution. But in fact what we got was a decade of centralised power under a Thatcher government that Scotland never elected.
Ultimately though, the most powerful reason for breaking the British state goes beyond the current economic crisis and any particular party’s policy. When you’re greeted by headlines like “David Cameron says fight in North Africa could last decades” it’s good reason to fear for the future.
Britain has always been, and remains, one of the world’s leading imperialist countries. Our prosperity has been made possible by the looting of what is now the Third World.
As climate change shrinks the habitable land surface of the world, and natural resources become ever more scarce, energy, water and food wars are erupting across the planet. These are made far worse by the selfish policies of countries like Britain, which then use the ensuing chaos to intervene and use deadly force to ensure that international investors and British corporations remain able to extract profits from the rest of the world.
Writing in the New Statesman, Shadow Labour Defence Secretary Jim Murphy recently wrote of the need for Labour to “discover a new interventionism”. Whichever party is in power in Westminster, they both remain committed to Britain’s imperial mission to ensure “trade and prosperity” on the other side of the planet.
A great deal of the opposition to independence rests on fear and psychological inadequacy. Many don’t really believe we can be a proper country, and the No campaign ruthlessly promotes this self loathing. To try and scare people, they claim that Scotland couldn’t afford to defend itself.
Our answer is that surely we should be trying not to make enemies? A recent Unionist propaganda image featured two aircraft carriers, claiming these were indispensable for modern defence and Scotland couldn’t afford them.
But the truth is we only need to pay for aircraft carriers, or nuclear weapons, if we intend to use them to batter far away countries into submission. If we have a foreign policy that doesn’t aim at subjugation we can more than afford to keep our own land safe. If on the other hand we vote No in the independence referendum, we are facing a lost future of endless austerity and war.
Courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice