The Scottish Independence debate is in full swing. The 'yes' vote is closing on the 'no' and the outcome on the 18th September 2014 is only a few months away. The Independence debate – more correctly a debate about Scotland’s constitutional future – has opened up wider and more important issues about the type of society we want Scotland to become. Constitutional change in and on its own will not deliver that, but as a supporter of Scottish Independence it is the possibility of building a different kind of society that is driving my vote and those of hundreds of thousands of other voters.
In important respects what is at the core of the debate is not whether Scotland should remain part of the UK nation state, or become an independent nation state. Another kind of state is being envisaged – a Scottish welfare state.
A fairer society?
The idea of a distinctive Scottish welfare state should be understood in its widest sense – not only as a set of institutional arrangements and relationships – but imagined more deeply as a core part of a new Scotland – a fairer, socially just and more equal Scotland.
While much of the media and many of the politicians focus on issues that can be seen perhaps as more abstract – will Scotland need armed forces? Will there be border posts between Scotland and England? What about Nato and EU membership? – on the streets and in the communities across the length and breadth of Scotland, large audiences are being drawn to meetings that explore how Scotland could become a fairer and more egalitarian society – a society which is markedly different in important respects from the type of UK society being built by the UK coalition government.
The prospect of a Scotland with no more Tory governments is hugely attractive and something that the pro-Union Better Together campaign struggle to combat – not least its Labour Party elements who find themselves vulnerable to attacks from socialists and the SNP for working alongside the Tories in defence of the UK. Labour is being outflanked on the left by the idea that a new Scotland built around what might have been seen as ‘old Labour’ values and policies.
The slogan – More Giant Pandas than Tory MPs – is not only about the ‘Democratic Deficit’ that many feel characterises the political landscape of Scotland – with the country ruled by a UK government whose two partners came a poor third and fourth in the last general election in Scotland – but also is used to distance ‘Scotland’ from the policies pursued by the Tories and their LibDem allies that appear widely out of step with the views of the majority of people in Scotland.
The punitive, anti-welfare and anti-immigration political atmosphere which appears to be rising in parts of England seems very distant to the dominant political landscape in Scotland.
Realism not romanticisation
This should not lead to some kind of uncritical romanticisation of Scottish society, as a unified nation, a homogenous land of consensus and shared values – even if the myths of ‘Scottish egalitarianism’ and ‘Scottish social democracy’ remain hugely potent today. Scotland is a deeply divided, unequal and unfair society – as are the other countries in the UK. But the potential of Independence has enabled the possibility of a Scotland in which such problems would be addressed.
Imagining a different kind of Scotland had involved numerous activists, campaign organisations, trade unions. Support for Independence has grown in the first half of 2014 – but negative campaigning by the Pro-Union side – termed ‘Project Fear’ by its opponents – means that there is still plenty of work to be done to win a majority to the pro-Independence case. However, evidence from the ScotCen Social Research and others has found that support for independence is highly uneven across the country – and is markedly shaped by class. Poorer voters in the most deprived parts of Scotland are much more likely to vote for Independence. ScotCen found that 40% of those on incomes below £14,300 supported Independence with only 27% among households on £44,200 and above.
Nation and class
However, class has largely remained on the side-lines of the debate – even if victories over the Bedroom Tax in Scotland very much reflect the mobilisation of working class organisations across the country.
While the pro-Independence campaigns have largely shied away from claims about ‘Scottishness’, the idea of Scotland as a nation exerts a powerful pull on people – especially when Tory politicians and a range of celebrities outside of Scotland ‘lovebomb’ Scotland with their ‘please don’t leave us’ messages. But it is the interplay between nation and class which is shaping the referendum debate and the future direction of Scottish society. Arguing that Scotland should be free of nuclear weapons – something that the vast majority of Scots support – and spending money on welfare and public services indicates this only too well.
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This article is part of the Scotland's Future collection, exploring the debate and national identity as the country prepares to vote on independence.