Back in 2014 the question constantly put forward by the forces of British nationalism in Scotland was – can Scotland afford to become independent? With the implication that of course it couldn’t. As we face the inevitability of a second independence referendum, one which has been brought about by the lies and deceit, the shortcomings and failures of British nationalism, the question now facing Scotland is – can Scotland afford not to become independent?
The reality is that Britain costs us, and it costs us dear. For a Scotland that’s a part of the UK there is a heavy economic, political, psychological, and moral cost. Britishness costs. The British state and the Conservative ethos which dominates extracts a price. In return for the heavy price we pay, Scotland is belittled, ignored, sidelined, and taken for granted by a British establishment which has no interest in doing what’s best for Scotland.
The economic cost to Scotland of being a part of the UK lies above all in the inability of Scotland to develop its economy in the interests of the people of Scotland. A recent report from the Fraser of Allander Institute demonstrated that Scotland exports over £9 billion annually of Scottish produced wealth to the rest of the UK and abroad. The levers of macro-economic control rest firmly with a Westminster which jealously guards its power. Despite devolution, the UK remains one of the most centralised states in Europe, and that centralised power is used in the economic benefit of London and the south east of England.
Opponents of independence point to the GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenues Scotland) figures as “proof” that Scotland is subsidised by the rest of the UK and that we’d be unable to provide for ourselves as an independent state. But that argument rests upon a fundamental fallacy, the fallacy that an independent Scotland would make the exact same economic and political choices as are made for it by the British state. The entire point of independence is to enable Scotland to make different choices, better choices, economic choices which work to Scotland’s benefit, choices which Scotland cannot take as part of the UK.
When an opponent of independence claims that Scotland can’t afford to become independent, they are in fact admitting that the economic policies of the UK have impoverished Scotland. They are arguing that the way in which the British state has failed the people of Scotland means that Scotland must continue to depend on the state that has failed us. That nonsensical view is given huge amounts of airtime, its fundamental illogicality is almost never pointed out in a Scottish media which is overwhelmingly opposed to independence.
Brexit has made a bad situation even worse. We were told in 2014 that independence would cost Scotland £500 per year per household. Now we discover that Brexit is costing every household £900 per year. We are worse off than we would have been even under the worst case scenario promoted by opponents of independence back in 2014. What you can be certain of is that the economic cost of Brexit will not be felt by the Boris Johnsons and Jacob Rees Moggs of this world. It will be felt by you and me.
We are told that Scotland can’t afford to become independent because the majority of Scottish exports go to the rest of the UK. For starters it must be pointed out that this is an estimate, not an accurate figure, because as part of the UK Scotland is also deprived of the precise and exact economic information that is required to make detailed economic decisions. However it’s most certainly true that the bulk of Scottish exports go to the rest of the UK. The answer is – so what? The great majority of Ireland’s exports were once likewise destined for the UK, but as an independent nation capable of making its own economic decisions, Ireland now exports more to the rest of the EU. An independent Scotland could do the same.
Meanwhile the issue of the Irish border looms large in the Brexit negotiations. Ireland and the EU are demanding, rightly, that the UK abides by its commitment not to introduce any perceptible border within the island of Ireland. It is likewise politically impossible to introduce a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The UK cannot threaten a Scotland which is a member of the customs union, the single market and the common travel area with a border, when it has guaranteed no border with another state which is a member of the customs union, the single market, and the common travel area. And if there is no perceptible border, it matters not a jot if the majority of Scottish exports go to the rest of the UK until an independent Scotland rebalances its economy.
The political cost of the UK to Scotland weighs heavy on our shoulders. We were promised in 2014 that we’d be a valued and equal partner in a family of nations. That’s nothing more than meaningless cant designed to make Scottish people feel better about the subservient position of Scotland within the UK. The political price Scotland pays for being a part of the UK is that Scotland gets what England votes for. England makes up 85% of the population of the UK, an unassailable majority. Scottish votes can only make a difference when opinion in England is very finely balanced. Most of the time, Scottish votes are irrelevant.
As long as Scotland and England were on the same page politically, alternating between Labour and the Conservatives, Scotland could kid itself on that it was participating in a Union. Scotland got what it voted for often enough and we could pretend to ourselves that Scotland was an active agent in UK politics. The truth is that when Scotland got what it voted for, it was mere coincidence, not agency. We got it because England just so happened to vote the same way.
Brexit has destroyed any pretence that Scotland is politically relevant within the UK. With a General Election we could always tell ourselves that if Scotland didn’t get the UK government it wanted, there was always the election in five years time. We could hope for the coincidence of English votes going the same way as votes in Scotland and pretend to ourselves that Scotland was an active agent in its own destiny. Brexit has blown that out of the water. Brexit is forever. Scotland has no voice, no input, no say, despite the fact that in the EU referendum Scotland voted to remain a part of the EU by a considerably larger margin than it voted to remain a part of the UK in 2014.
You cannot delegate your political decisions to your neighbours and tell yourself that you live in a functioning democracy. There’s only one way in which Scotland can get what Scotland votes for. There’s only one way that Scotland can be anything other than a coincidental democracy. That’s to take the powers of self-government into Scottish hands.
There is a heavy economic cost to Scotland for remaining a part of the UK. There is a punishing political cost to Scotland for remaining a part of the UK. There is also a crushing psychological cost. It’s called the Cringe. The Cringe is a product of the cognitive dissonance that arises when you are a member of a nation that isn’t allowed to act like a normal nation. The mismatch between Scotland’s concept of itself as a proud and ancient nation, which is automatically to be compared with other nations like Denmark or Finland, and the reality of a part of the UK which the British state equates with a glorified English county, exerts a significant psychological toll. The Cringe is what comes of trying to reconcile two different realities, the reality of how you see yourself versus the reality of how you are seen by those with power.
The Cringe is what produces the Proud Scot But. I’m a proud Scot but … we cannae dae that. I’m a proud Scot but … we won’t be allowed to. I’m a proud Scot but … we’re too wee. I’m a proud Scot but … Europe wouldn’t want us. A person who tells you that an international organisation wouldn’t want their country is a person who has internalised the view that their country is a lesser place, that it’s not good enough, that it’s inadequate.
The Cringe tells us that we’re not good enough. The Cringe tells us that if something is Scottish then it must by definition be a subject of ridicule. That’s why British nationalists are happy with the Scots language being used in comedy but not with it being used in serious news reporting. It’s because the Cringe tell us that Scottishness is funny, a wall of laughter to hide the pain and insecurity that lurks within. The Cringe is responsible for the Great Scottish National Inferiority Complex, the deep rooted sense amongst so many of us that we’re not quite good enough.
British nationalism feeds on the Cringe. It nurtures it. It depends on it because the mental chains of the Cringe are what keep Scotland in the British state. The Cringe is the psychological cost of being a member of a nation that can’t act like a country. Scottish independence is the radical notion that Scotland could be normal. That terrifies and threatens those whose wealth, privilege, and preference depend on the Cringe.
Scotland pays a moral cost for being a part of the UK. We pay that moral cost in the deaths and injuries of young Scots men and women who enlist in the armed forces because they have few other options, and who are then deployed in the many wars that the British state engages in in its insane post-imperial drive to prove that a medium sized European country is still a global player. Scotland pays a moral cost in the deaths, the injuries, the displacements, the destruction, the refugees produced by British military adventurism. Scotland pays a moral cost by acting as a host for British weapons of mass destruction.
Scotland pays a moral cost in the treatment of refugees and migrants to our country at the hands of a Home Office with a policy of creating a hostile environment. As long as Scotland remains a part of the UK, the international shame of the UK is our shame too. It makes no difference that we voted against it. It makes no difference that we oppose it. We are perceived by those outwith the UK as being every bit as complicit as anywhere else. No one condemns the actions of the Russian state but makes an exception for the people of Yakutia or Mari El. When people abroad talk about and criticise the actions of “Inglaterra”, they mean Scotland too. We pay a moral cost by making ourselves invisible, by subsuming ourselves into a larger whole over which we exert no effective control. The first step to gaining moral agency is to find your voice. Only with independence can Scotland find its voice. Then we will be responsible for our own actions, and not complicit in the actions of the British state.
The costs of Britishness are heavy and burdensome. It’s a cost which empties our pockets, which destroys our agency, which crushes our confidence, which taints our soul. It’s a cost we can’t go on paying. Scotland can’t afford not to become independent.
Mapa Gàidhlig na h-Alba / Gaelic Map of Scotland
The Gaelic map of Scotland is now available, the cost is £15 plus £7 P&P within the UK. Please note P&P outwith the UK is more expensive. P&P to Europe is £10, P&P to the rest of the world is £15. If you require multiple copies of the map, you only need pay once for P&P, up to 4 copies of the map.
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