Free Pie Supper in the Sky

Ken Macleod, the Scottish author of amazing SF novels such as Learning the World and The Star Fraction,  is probably almost as well known for his left wing politics as he is for his literary work. Especially as his novels often quite explicitly deal with elements of various left wing ideologies, be they communist, socialist, or anarchist, which is something that sets him apart from the gamut of, even ostensibly left wing, SF writers. I follow his blog, The Early Days of a Better Nation, as he often has interesting things to say and an overt left wing perspective is refreshing amongst the generalised well meaning liberalism of many SFF authors and fan sites. I obviously do not follow it as closely as I should as I seem to have missed the fact that Ken has a rather odd stance on the question of Scottish independence. That stance being he is against it.

Well, I say it’s an odd stance. It’s an odd stance to me in the way that I always find it a bit odd when a person with whom I share a great many interests and perspectives has a considered position that differs so greatly form my own. This is, quite obviously, a good thing as it works towards preventing me from becoming intellectually lazy with regards important issues such as the upcoming vote for independence. It’s very easy to simply dismiss the outpourings of right wing groups like the Labour or Conservative parties as a mish mash of odious lies and vindictive spite on account of that being almost exactly what they are. Anyone who has seen the pronouncements of the main Westminster parties and the No campaign will know what I mean with this. It isn’t referred to as ‘Project Fear’ for nothing.

I hadn’t realised that there was a particular left wing opposition to Scottish independence. The view from up here is that the left seem either united on this, via the broad left coalition of the Radical Independence Conference, or ambivalent, which seems to be the stance of most anarchist and ultra left groups and individuals.

In his piece this morning Ken refers to a number of sources, including Tom Morrison in the Morning Star and Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group at the University of Glasgow, which raise a variety of points with regards the independence question. He also references the Red Paper Collective who are “a group of activists: trade unionists, academics, politicians.” but they seem to be quite heavily linked to the Labour Party and as I’m interested in left wing opposition to independence I’m going to ignore them for brevity’s sake.

I would like to respond to some of the points raised by the Morning Star article and Greg Philo’s piece on Open Democracy and then outline a wee bit about why I, a Welshman living in Scotland with many, many friends in the South, will be voting Yes this coming September.

The Morning Star article trots out the usual line about Westminster elections.

There is a serious danger that in a matter of weeks the unity of the British labour movement will be gravely damaged and England and Wales (and by proxy Scotland) condemned to long-term Tory rule.

First off I’m not sure what unity within the British labour movement there is to be damaged. Unions are organised by trade rather than industry leading to ridiculous situations where cleaners, for example, within the RMT go on strike but the drivers, signallers etc… do not go out with them meaning that the strike is neutered and the workers have none of the negotiating power that you would expect had the other members of their union gone out on strike with them. Similarly we have multiple unions in a single workplace meaning that union scabbing is a very real thing. So no, Scottish independence will not damage any labour movement unity as it simply is not there to be damaged.

Secondly, no. Scottish independence will not have any real effect on Westminster elections. In all the elections since the 1945 Attlee administration the Scottish vote would have had an effect a mere handful of times. In general we get the Tories or Labour based on the way that England votes.

This point also ignores the fact that the Labour party, let’s be honest it’s a two horse race in Westminster with the Lib Dems for comedy value, is a right wing party that has attacked workers, both in Britain and abroad, has attacked benefit claimants, introduced the hated ATOS sickness benefit assessments, invaded two countries killing millions, begun the privatisation of the NHS, set up the field for the privatisation of the education system, established an immigration policy that would make the BNP green with envy, and all manner of other badness. So even if Scotland’s votes were needed to get the Labour Party back into power why would that be a good thing? Sure, the Labour Party may wring their hands and look apologetic, and they most certainly won’t guffaw, whilst they’re ripping apart the social infrastructure of the island but they will do it all the same.

Greg Philo raises the spectre of Anti-English racism which is, I have to admit, something of a fair point. Racism is a bad and terrible thing no matter who it is focussed upon. To back this up Philo quotes the Telegraph(2013) and the Scotsman(2006) -two very conservative and right wing papers- with articles on anti-English sentiment amongst Scottish school children and a 2% increase in complaints of racism from English people in Scotland.

Both articles are troubling, especially concerning racism amongst school children. I would like to live out my dotage in a place where I’m not surrounded by swivel eyed bigoted young people as I’m sure most people would. One point that Philo misses however is that a 2011 study, reported here in the Times Education Supplement, showed that 83% of teachers in English schools had

witnessed offensive behaviour among children, including name-calling, racist comments, jokes, stereotyping and “a tendency to use asylum seekers as scapegoats for a wide range of problems in society”.

Now I’m honestly not saying that English kids are more inherently racist than Scottish kids. Kids are kids and respond to the climate in which they live, just like adults. What I am saying however is that racism is a very real problem and one that is not confined to Scotland. That there should be an element of anti-English racism in Scottish schools is unsurprising given the Londoncentric bias of the mainstream media. Something that has been a bugbear for many people in Scotland for a long time. That and, you know, the whole history of the English government enacting policies that are hated throughout Scotland.

Not that this excuses it but I don’t think that using this as an example is all that great. Racism appears to be on the rise throughout the island. Something that should be of no surprise to anyone on the left given that the mainstream media have been fostering and promoting rabid British Loyalism, anti-Islamic, and anti-immigrant bigotry almost non-stop since late 2001.

There has, in fact, been a rise in the number of racist incidences recorded in Scottish school. Nearly 1300 over the last two years. However, English school recorded 87,915 racist incidences between 2007 and 2011(apologies for the Daily Mail link). That’s around 21,000 a year. Something like 30 times the amount of racist incidences reported in Scotland. England has 10 times(ish) the population of Scotland. Not 30 times so the disparity here is quite astounding. A disparity not mentioned by Greg Philo.

On a more personal note, I have lived in Scotland for most of the last 13 years and in that time I have directly experienced 3 incidences of anti-English racism. I may be Welsh but my accent is mostly English, and sounds entirely English to most Scots, due to the amount of time I spent living in England as a young(er) man. Three incidences in 13 years. In England however I experienced many, many incidences of anti-Welsh sentiment including being attacked on the streets of Brighton by a drunken Londoner who called me, if memory serves, a “cunt from the provinces”.

Now this, again, doesn’t imply that English people are inherently more racist than the Scots. It just shows that there are wankers everywhere and the existence of these wankers should not be a deciding factor when making big decisions.

Philo then moves on to the factors that are often touted as evidence of Scots being more progressive than the people south of the border. Factors such as the asylum seeker support initiatives and long standing socialist traditions. He rightfully points out that there are equivalents south of the border too.

The truth is we are like a lot of other places, and we would do well to remember that when people speak of Scotland or the Scots as having a “will to socialism” or write that “social democracy is hard- wired into Scotland’s soul”.

The myth of the naturally socialistic Scots is, obviously, bunkum. Working class people are, in general, quite far to the left of the Labour or Conservative parties, this is quite clear from this piece in the International Business Times, whether they are in Scotland, England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. The assumption of the Scots tendency to socialism is, however, a great failing on the part of the ‘radical left for independence’ and is a fantasy that they would do well to sideline. An independent Scotland will not be a socialist paradise. It will have the same, more or less, class structure as in the UK, it will have workers being exploited by employers and tenants being exploited by landlords. Anyone, aside from the pie supper in the sky nationalists, will realise this.

Strangely though Philo then goes on to say

The radical left, as we understand it, is not represented in the Scottish Parliament, even with proportional representation.

Which I find extremely odd. Where are the radical left in Westminster? Has there ever been a radical left in Westminster? Why should it be expected that there be one in Scotland? This is ignoring the presence recently(2003-2007) of members of the Scottish Socialist Party in Holyrood. Not that I consider the SSP to be especially radical but compared to the Labour Party they are rabble rousing firebrands.

There is a lot more in Philo’s post that I disagree with but I’ve passed 1700 words already, and I still need my morning coffee, so I’ll just get to why I will be voting Yes in September.

For many years I thought that the chances of there being an independent Scotland were slim, to say the least. I said, back before the referendum was announced, that if there ever was a vote I would vote Yes just “to watch the Daily Mail combust in a fit of apoplectic rage.” The thought of which still gives me warm fuzzies. Obviously I didn’t consider that there ever would be a referendum.

However as the referendum was announced and the austerity attacks upon society began to bite I was forced to reconsider my stance.

I have a family. I want what’s best for my family both in the present and in the future. What is best for my family, a rational and egalitarian society, is unlikely to happen any time soon therefore I want what’s better for them and to mitigate the impact of negative things upon us.

Independence will not bring about what’s best but it will act to stymie the more immediate and rampant affects of the austerity attacks upon us.

There are certain things that have been won from the ruling class over the last century or so. These things, the DWP, the NHS, free education, and so on, make up the social safety net that mean that whilst our society is extremely unfair and slanted in favour of the wealthy there are these things that mitigate this unfairness. Even if you are unemployed you are, supposedly, unlikely to starve. You should be able to get a roof over your head at night. If you become sick you will be nursed back to health.

All of these things are vital for us to even make a pretence of being a civilised society. As flawed as the education system, NHS, DWP and so on are they still make life more bearable for working class people. They keep us alive and feed our minds. I look south towards England and I literally shudder.

I do not, for a minute, think that whichever government is elected to Holyrood post-independence will be ideologically any different to the government in Westminster. It will be a neo-liberal government just the same. I do, however, feel that whichever government is in Holyrood will have a greater pressure upon them to maintain the social safety net of the welfare state and to put in place some progressive policies that will maintain, if not improve, the quality of life for those of us north of the border.

When X leaves school in a few years time I want her to have the option of going to university should she wish. For free. When we get ill I want us to be able to access medication. For free. If C or I lose our jobs I don’t want us to be made homeless. I want these things for all people but I especially want them for us. For these reasons I will be voting Yes in September. I’m not voting against England or English people. I’m not voting so that they can’t have these things. I’m voting because if I don’t I feel that we will, almost certainly, lose these things.

I also have little doubt that should the referendum return a No vote then Scotland will be shat upon intensely by a triumphalist Westminster. If the Tories are still in power after the next Westminster election, and I see no reason to doubt that they will be, then they will want to punish Scotland for its temerity to think that it could challenge the hegemony of GBPLC. Remember, these are the same vile human beings who cheered the £81billion cuts to public spending which have driven millions into gut wrenching poverty. Do you not think that they will miss the opportunity to twist the knife once more?

A Yes vote is self defence.

Following are a few issues I’ve heard raised by various friends either in England or in Scotland with regards independence.

But, what about solidarity? Aren’t we saying “I’m all right Jack” and leaving our friends and families to the south to suffer the degradations of the Tory Party? If you are lying on the floor being kicked then is it solidarity to lie down next to you and allow myself to be kicked too? Of course it isn’t! Insanity is what it would be.

But aren’t borders bad things? Why would we want more? Yes, borders are bad things. They are used to control the movement of people for the benefit of the ruling class. They are arbitrary lines on a map and in the case of the Scottish/English border that is exactly what the border will remain. There are no plans, outside of the delusional imaginings of the Project Fear campaign, to establish border controls north of Carlisle. The movement of people will not be inhibited by the ‘new’ border so it makes no real difference.

Isn’t it all about nationalism? No. Nationalism is, along with racism, sexism, homophobia and so on, on my list of things that are both absurd and contemptible. There are, of course, many, many people who will be voting Yes for reasons of nationalism and I think that they are wrong to do so. Not that I think they should vote No, just that they should be voting Yes in self defence rather than in celebration of some imagined heritage that is separate from the heritage of the rest of the island.

So, there you have it. That’s why I’ll be voting Yes. I want to ensure that my family are, however temporarily, shielded from the excesses of the austerity attacks and I have seen absolutely no reason, from left or right, that has convinced me a No vote can do this. Post-independence will not be all ‘free heavy ale and pie suppers in the sky’ but it, for a while at least, won’t be dragged screaming back into the Victorian era by the viciousness of the Westminster establishment.


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