There’s a common Unionist argument, most often espoused by those who fondly believe they’re supporting a progressive politics, that Scotland is not any more left wing than the rest of the UK. We’ve even got our very own Jibberjabber the Hutt, UKIP MEP for not doing anything at all except mouthing off, so we are clearly borderline fascists. It is peculiar that these self-described progressives appear to take a certain pride in the fact that Scotland has an elected UKIP politician, but that’s really a matter for those progressives and their therapist.
Even with independence, we are told, Scotland will still be run for the benefit of the rich and the well-connected. “They” will still be in charge. It will be every bit as shite living in a country run for the benefit of the bosses in the financial sector in Edinburgh as in a country run for the benefit of the bosses in the financial sector in London.
So vote No, and let’s just sit here in the shite and not bother trying to get out of it. It’s Great British Shite that you can rely on, it’s certain shite, not like the hypothetical shite of the nationalists. And at least we will have working class people in Liverpool and Newcastle as company in our misery, and then we can all have a jolly working class time of it being salt of the British earth types even though there’s a terrible smell. There may be some rocks we can all go and crawl under, but be quick, they’ll be privatised soon. There is no alternative, there is no escape. It’s solidarity as a suicide pact.
At its core, this argument wants us to believe that there is a better chance of a UK government espousing and implementing a set of progressive political policies than there is of a Scottish government doing so. And by progressive I mean genuinely left wing as opposed to the Labour leadership’s definition of “progressive”. Labour’s definition of progressive is “whatever happens to be Labour policy this week and assists in the progress of a Labour MP’s career”. Or in the case of Johann Lamont, “wanting to have a debate about whatever policy Labour would perhaps like to introduce at some point in the future after a newly appointed commission has reported back, if that’s alright with Eds Miliband and Balls”.
So we are invited to reject an independent Scotland because it might possibly be shite in order to remain with the certainty of UK shite. It’s not exactly the strongest argument in the No Thanks Little Red White and Blue Book of reasons not to be cheerful. The fact it’s trotted out at all, and with mind numbing regularity in the comments section of the more, ahem, liberal periodicals, is because the rest of their arguments are pretty crappy too.
And that’s the big flaw in this Unionist argument. What happens in an independent Scotland is as yet hypothetical, but we can actually see how the UK parties act.
Over large swathes of Scotland, the Conservatives effectively ceased to exist in the 1980s and 90s. Labour was the Westminster party supposedly capable of mobilising the populace to campaign for the Union. The referendum campaign has left Labour exposed and naked, its progressive union jack knickers have snapped their elastic and flap around their ankles.
The British Labour party began life as the political organisation of a grassroots labour and trades union movement, it was the Parliamentary manifestation of hopes and dreams of a better life. It was the head of a socialist heart. That’s why Labour still proudly claims to be the People’s Party. But over the years the Parliamentary party took over the movement, and the head began to direct the heart. Now British Labour has become the Party of Managing the People’s Expectations. It’s an instrument of rule, and no longer a grassroots movement. It’s a party which is prepared to accept unemployment and benefits cuts in order to brown nose the financial sector of the City of London. The certainty of shite, that’s the UK’s political and economic system – jobbieness and joblessness.
Labour is no longer the People’s Party, it no longer expresses the heart. Labour sold its soul and disconnected itself from the beating heart of hope. 18 years of Tory rule was followed by 13 years of Labour majorities, and nothing much changed as Tony Blair smiled his dead eyed smile. The heart was sold off in privatisations, blown apart in illegal wars, bled dry by troughers and politicians whose main concern is securing themselves a profitable portfolio of directorships and a made up pretendy title in the Lords.
For years the heart was quiet and muffled, pulsing slowly despite the weight of cynicism and alienation that threatened to crush all life and hope. The heart was imprisoned in PFI contracts, tied up in an ATOS interview. The heart was a small voice lost beneath the bluster of the politicians justifying war in Iraq. The heart marched in protests that went ignored. The heart was a flash of sunlight glimpsed beyond the grey clouds of crushed expectations. But the heart still beat, in late night conversations, in plans put on hold, in dreams unrealised.
But then the referendum happened, and the heart discovered a connection to a new artery of aspiration. Cautiously, tentatively, the blood vessels flush out the old cynicism, they clear the fatty blockages of careerists and miserabilists. There is no guarantee of success, there is no cast iron certainty – but hope is in movement again. There is a place to go, and it’s a space we can make for ourselves. Hope is alive again.
The heart beat is getting louder, it grows stronger every day. You hear it in the conversation between two women on the bus who wonder whether independence means their grandchildren can stay in Scotland. You feel it in the hope that fills the air of the public meeting. You see it in the Yes signs that sprout on windows like bluebells after the long cold winter. Hope will triumph over cynicism. The multicoloured diversity of yes will defeat the bleak grey monochrome of miserabilism.
Can you feel the heartbeat, can you feel the hope? The heart is pulsing to the beat of a different drum, a Scottish bodhran beating a new tune. There is another way, it sings. It’s the song that choruses a tune of accountability, of keeping politicians close by so their arses are within reach of our feet. It’s a reel that tells of a written constitution that spells out the rules for one and all and reels in those who seek only their own profit. It’s the Scottish air that sets the air free. No one knows how the song ends – but it’s a song we write for ourselves. And we will write our own destiny.
Scotland’s heart is unchained. It can’t be chained again.