The talking heads who appeared in the middle of and at the end of the debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond are there so we don’t even make up our own minds about what we had been watching. There was nothing new they said, but there was, if only because the debate format allowed the two sides to get to grips with each other as opposed to facing interviewers with one eye on ‘balance’ and decorum.
What we learnt was that, even with the certainty of being asked what plan B was in relation to a future currency in the independent state – should it not be allowed into a currency union with the rest of the UK – Salmond persisted in thinking he could get away without answering the question.
Of course Darling had his own moment of uncomfortable grilling when he refused to answer yes or no to the question of whether an independent prosperous Scotland was possible. However this is much less important – he says yes and so what? It’s the view of one person who thinks Scotland would still be better off inside the UK. He says no – so what? He’s already said that cuts in living standards will still be required by independence so you either believe that or you don’t and that’s the real question here.
The question of the currency however is important because it reveals what is meant by independence. The real issue with the SNP and the currency is not that they won’t tell everyone what plan B is but that they don’t actually tell us what plan A amounts to because to do so would tell us what the limits of any possible ‘independence’ would be.
Plan A, as Darling explained but the importance of which was partially lost in the shouting and Salmond’s discomfort, is to keep the pound sterling in a currency union with what will then be a foreign country. Salmond’s claim that the pound belongs to the Scottish people through years of hard work made him sound like a UKIP Neanderthal . His claim that it belongs as much to Scotland as to England and Wales is so stupid it has to rely on the widespread ignorance of much of the population about economics. If it really did belong to Scotland he would not be looking to the Bank of England to be the lender of last resort. That would be a job for the Bank of Scotland or, more likely, a joint Bank of the rest of the UK and Scotland. Then ‘independence’ might have some fig leaf to cover its modesty.
Not that ‘real’ independence is a worthwhile or achievable objective anyway. Independence would mean real autonomy, some sort of substantial self-sufficiency and separation from the rest of the world. The most developed countries of the world are so inter-dependent that real independence would mean turning the clock back centuries. Trade, investment, production of all sorts of goods and services, movement of people, creation and movement of ideas – all these are international. What we eat, inhabit, read, watch, play, think about and discuss are international. The nature and agenda in none of these is set in one country, not even in the USA.
As I have said before – small countries do what they are told by big countries and they join alliances to prevent this being too nakedly coercive, in other words they attempt to avoid the behaviour Scotland engaged in for centuries as part of the British Empire. A currency union with the rest of the UK would see broad economic policy set in London but without any input into electing its government. This was the real argument that Darling put but was largely ignored.
It was ignored because there is no nationalist alternative to the real decisions being made outside Scotland and not by the Scottish people. Joining the Euro would see the major decisions on economic policy being set by the biggest economic and political powers, particularly Germany. The advantage of the Euro is that it involves a much larger framework which mirrors more adequately the real international development of the economy and the social forces it unleashes.
In short Salmond, while he looked stupid over plan B, could not actually withstand much of an examination over plan A. Such an examination would reveal that all the honeyed words about a just and prosperous Scotland is dependent, not on the existence of an ‘independent’ state, but on the workings of an international economic system that has nothing at all to do with justice or democracy.
Trade, investment, movement of people, technological development, unemployment, poverty, job insecurity, working terms and conditions – all are the result, not of decisions by ‘London’, by the UK state or by any democratic or even undemocratic vote anywhere. They are the result of how the economic system works, by how the capitalist system functions at an international and global level.
Trade, investment and technological development are all the result of the pursuit of profit, not the pursuit of justice or prosperity. Unemployment, poverty, job insecurity, zero hours contracts and shit wages and conditions are all the result of this pursuit. Neither Darling nor Salmond stated that they were going to change this dynamic of the system one iota.
And this brings us to the big argument that Salmond used again and again and that really did have force. If Scotland were independent (no matter how real this would be) the Scottish people would get the government they voted for unlike now where, as Salmond said, they voted for only one Tory MP but got a Tory Government.
Of course there are people (a majority) within Scotland who did not vote for the SNP but are stuck with them as the Government, and places in England that did not vote for the Tories and are similarly stuck. Even with a proportional voting system the SNP form the Scottish Government with a majority of the seats (over 53%) but with only a minority of the vote (44%) on a turnout of just over 50% – that is a government based on less than a quarter of the electorate.
That the proper starting point of democracy is the nation, however defined, is obvious to those who are nationalist but is not obvious to those of us who are not and who think that nationalism is reactionary and a political viewpoint that belongs to a very unhappy history. For a socialist a Scottish state would be no more ‘ours’ than the British one is now.
An Edinburgh parliament would be no more an expression of the needs of working people than a London one. Both would be dependent on, and be in support of, an economic system that will produce inequality and insecurity no matter what its nationality. Scotland may have less Tories but it is no less capitalist, no less unequal and no less unjust. Many previous Tory supporters now vote SNP while others hide their fundamentally right wing views behind the hypocritical and dishonest posturing of the Liberal Democrats.
The real question is – what is the best state framework in which to unite working people of all nationalities to fight for a new economic and social system?
And the answer to this is undoubtedly one in which national divisions are reduced – not built up and increased. There should therefore be fewer borders, not more, which points to further unity not division – to a united Europe not a further divided state.
It therefore means not only rejecting Scottish separatism but refusing to accept British nationalism as the goal – rejecting Salmond and Darling.
It means seeking further unity among ourselves and not relying on the likes of Salmond to further divide us or on either Darling or Salmond to unite us in a Europe built to the demands of bankers and big business.
It means not relying on States to create a just, prosperous and fair society but realising that ultimately this depends on fighting and creating one ourselves.