The growing Scottish Independence movement

I asked Gus Abraham of to give us an inside view of the fast-growing Scottish Independence movement, a movement which has ever-increasing support, has become a mainstream issue, with an important election on the matter coming May 3.

From his About Page

1820 is the last time something really surprising happened in Scotland: the last uprising on British soil, intent on severing the Union, smashing the state and establishing a republic.

Gus sent this long, comprehensive post which gives an on-the-ground view of what’s happening.

Brown’s British Futures, by Gus Abraham

“The irresistible march of recent events places Scotland today at a turning – not of our own choosing but where a choice must sooner or later be made”.

– Gordon Brown, Red Paper on Scotland (1975).

“Britain” is a failed cultural putsch. It is wrecked on the rocks of historical fact, social reality and a new political optimism, all which consign it to ridicule. Last week it was announced that Scotland’s first ever all-Gaelic school will open in August. Scottish Gaelic Minister Calum MacDonald announced today when he awarded Glasgow City Council £250,000 towards the project. Mr MacDonald said: “This will be a flagship school for the whole of Scotland and I would like to congratulate, in particular, the parents who have shown such enthusiasm and support in the past. “An all-Gaelic school will provide a totally Gaelic environment for pupils but, as in Gaelic-medium classes in the rest of Scotland, they will be taught English too. By the end of their time at primary school, they will have the advantage of being able to speak both languages fluently.”

A quarter of a million pounds is a paltry sum in the wider scheme of things, but the announcement is emblematic. The Education Act of 1872 brought in English as the sole medium of teaching in Scotland, yet language and diversity persists. Banned, repressed and marginalised Scottish culture continues to re-emerge.

From a wider lens you might argue that this is a minor deviation of cultural enlightenment, but with the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the ascendancy for the first time ever within months of an election and the real possibility of a nationalist govt being formed, these things are anything but minor. It’s now clear that Blair’s real legacy may not be a descent into barbarism in Iraq, but the collapse of the credibility of the British state.

Holyrood, while ridiculed for its over-spend and its dodgy-roof, has gained respect as Westminster has been drained of it. Holyrood’s errors seem naïve not malicious. Henry McLeish or David McLetchie are no Neil Hamilton or Lord Levy. If Billy Connolly was right to talk of a ’pretendy-parliament’ the answer seems to be to stop pretending.

The emerging campaign battle for elections on May 3rd is one which – though characterised as a simple dichotomous choice between Union and Independence, Empire or Freedom – is actually multidimensional. Three obvious dimensions are can politicians still inspire? Will new voters vote and who widespread is the tarnish of governance? First, the most interesting figure form all the recent polls is not the SNP surge and hold, it is the 41% of voters polled as still undecided. Second, under the Scottish Parliament’s proportional representation voting system the role of smaller parties could still be crucial in holding the balance of power. What will happen to the zeitgeistful Green Vote? Will voters back the SSP or Tommy Sheridan’s new Solidarity party? Finally, can the Liberal democrats somehow avoid responsibility for their time in government and somehow benefit from an anti-government vote?

Gordon Brown’s efforts to assault the notion of Scottish independence remind one of Sartre’s comments against Marxist orthodoxy: “For years the Marxist intellectual believed that he served his Party by violating experience, by overlooking embarrassing details, by grossly simplifying the data, and above all by Conceptualising the event before having studied it!”

Despite Brown’s best efforts Scotland is on the verge of delivering a massive blow to the Labour Party, with consequences that will be far reaching for the British State, NATO and the world order in terms of the ‘special relationship’.

It’s quaint that Brown cleaves unhesitatingly to his default nationality, the curiously outdated ‘Great Britain’. This carapace, more redolent of the days when the maps were full of pink, the telly shut down at midnight with the National Anthem and restaurants offered ‘beef’ or ‘chicken’. But Britain never comes under scrutiny by Brown, it is the accepted norm, it is simply the world in which he resides, like a pair of comfortable old slippers: ‘G’ and ‘B’. Unquestioning: that is the dominant tone that comes over from his self-satisfied yet clumsy utterances. It’s an old man’s version of the world.

His thesis is that Scottish nationalism, and Scotland itself is a figment of our imagination (s). It’s as if you can conjure up enough opprobrium to just wish-away things you don’t like.

Frankly like many other hundreds of thousands of people living in Scotland in the 21st Century– I have no interest in Bannockburn, Atheilstane, William Wallace or Flora MacDonald. Instead, I, like hundreds of thousands am more concerned by nuclear waste, endemic poverty, a privatised housing ‘market’, PFI hospitals and PPP schools. Private capital has grown fat on public subsidy, repatriated its profits and then abandoned huge swathes of Scottish society making a desert of local communities. This is a disgrace born with little dignity by a Labour Party that had a sizeable enough majority and an economic climate in which they could have really transformed British society.

Globalism, increased confidence about being part of Europe and a healthy unease about a resurgent English nationalism conspires against the Unionist cause. Furthermore Douglas Alexander’s effortless mantra that they want to talk about ‘real issues’: education, health and jobs also smacks of dishonesty. In this sense the fact that the very concept of Britishness is losing any sense of vitality is less important than the reality that if you talk to people about ‘education, health and jobs’ and New Labour, they think of gambling and privatisation. It’s a lose-lose tactic and nationalists greens and socialists know it.

Nor is the bogey-man of independence working as a scare-tactic. ‘Divorce is a costly Business’ ran the Labour campaign of 1997 but the SNP vote has held up or strengthened under a concerted onslaught over the past three months. In Scotland we have seen the SNP and the Greens and the SSP in Holyrood. It’s not very scarey, some of it’s even quite inspiring.

As Michael Gardiner says: “…despite bourgeois tendencies remaining in place to this day, Scottish party political nationalism has its roots, not only in ethno-centrism, but also in socialist anti-imperialism, using Scottish citizenship to counter Greater British culture.” Citizenship, and a yearning to be part of something that isn’t about pure consumerism is another unpredictable element to Scottish cultural identity.

Little of this new. The fact is that the Scottish striving for independence is part of a continuity, an irrepressible force that has been almost continuous since the turn of the 19th C is clear and events may be converging to see it finally realised. When RB Cunningham Graham described Henry Campbell Bannerman saying: “He has all the qualifications for a great Liberal prime Minister. He wears spats and he has a beautiful set of false teeth” he could have been a Scot deriding Blair today.

Tom Nairn has written:

Modern Scottish Nationalism has led a fluctuating, intermittent existence since 1853. Now, quite suddenly, it has become a more serious political reality. In the past it has gone through many renaissances, followed by even more impressive and longer-lasting collapses into inertia; but the present upsurge looks likely to last longer than others, at least, and to produce more of a mark on history.

The fact that this was written in 1968 is testimony to the long slow death of British identity, but however much New Labour howls and Gordon Brown rages against ‘break-up’ and ‘separation’ the truth is, much of it is there fault.

While Alex Salmond has driven the nationalist cause with great panache on the airwaves, the SNP wouldn’t have landed on such fertile ground had the Neo-Thatcherite hordes of Blue Labour. For every carefully scripted appeal to the qualities of Britain and Britishness one has to recognise that many of the binding institutions have been systematically taken apart by this Labour government. From the quiet civic bonding of Post Offices, (rural and urban) to the pride with which the NHS was thought to be protected by the party which created it, trust has been destroyed. The initial populism of privatisation has subsided and collapsed in the face of overwhelming day to day experience. Labour’s inability to curtail or ameliorate the worst excesses of a private world may have been predictable to some, but they are deeply disappointing to the great masses.

In England a sort of political narcolepsy has settled over people. A world-weariness, apathy. Politically there’s a restlessness, a lack of direction, and despite simmering discontent, diminished expectations. There’s nowhere for the disaffection to go, unless you truly believe in your heart of hearts that David Cameron is a man of integrity, or that Menzies Campbell is a decisive visionary.

Trident, new nuclear, Iraq and the symbolism of the 300th Anniversary of the act of Union may be grabbing the headlines in the coming months but the reason that Labour will be wiped out in Scotland in May is that they have destroyed much of the social fabric of Britain, its institutions and it’s culture. It’s been sold. From Major’s debacle of corruption through to Tony Blair’s recent travailles much of the political establishment has been exposed as a venal incestuous club for gangster capitalists.

Very little of the impetus for Scottish nationalism comes from historical oppression (gaelic revival aside). People don’t know their own history. Instead I there are vestiges of an alternative political culture submerged but visible, ironically some of which is inherited from Labour’s own political history.

The American socialist Michael Harrington wrote: “I think we are living through a “slow apocalypse”, a transition to a new civilisation that could occur before we are even aware of it. If that revolution, which is in progress, makes us, we will lose ourselves; if we make it, there is at least hope for freedom and justice and solidarity.”

An independent Scotland – or tentative steps towards it – is what will be taken on May 3rd. Steps towards the possibility of civilisation and away from the brutality of the British state overseas. Thirty years ago Brown argued that Scotland faced a great choice. Now as the ideological architect in New Labour’s refurbishment of Thatcherite neo-liberalism he will inherit a new choice, a divided kingdom, one of his own creation.

The question is – has New Labour’s abuse of power so dissuaded people that the disease of corruption is one of politicians in general, not the British Parliament? Will it have tainted people from believing in voting green or socialist? Will the dreadful disinterest in politics that such degradation induces mean that few will look at the complicity of the Liberal Democrats in office?

A new civilization would be one that welcomed the diversity of languages that new Gaelic promises, as the Scottish Executive slogan goes: One Scotland: Many Cultures. Is it possible to escape the all-reaching Anglo-sphere? Is it possible to step away from the treadmill of orthodox economics, to resist the ‘slow apocalypse’? Freedom or Empire, monoglot or multi-culture?

It’s too early to tell but a choice must sooner or later be made. Saor Alba.

[tags]Scottish Independence[/tags]

  • A fine piece of writing, but just two points. Why mention the Gaelic school, Gaelic has never been the language of Scotland, Scotland has never had a single language. The East spoke Doric, the west spoke Gaelic and the South and central belt spoke Scots. The other point is, if Scotland votes for independence from the British state, and our “honourable” Scots politicians pick up the reins in Holyrood, will the gangster capitalists leave and go south?

  • Dear John
    Gaelic was widespread throughout Scotland for hundreds of years – possibily reaching its peak in the 12th Century but was the main language of Scotland from the 12th to the 16th Century. I agree that Doric and Scots are also important, I dont mean to raise gaelic above all others. I think Scotland’s multi-lingual past and future is a strength. I mentioned Galeic because of its iconic status and the fact that even when a culture is oppressed it grows again.
    Gus @ http;//

  • Hi Gus,
    multi-language, multi-cultural, but that doesn’t answer the second point, after Scottish independence will the gangster capitalists migrate. The root problem still seems to be capitalism and the state system, with Scottish capitalists being no more compassionate than their brother capitalist in other parts of the world. Will the Scottish state legislate in favour of the people or the economy? If the former, will the gangster capitalists remain?

  • I agree John, that is a real danger. That’s why the real challenge is to fight for a republic and try and build a socialist and a sustainable society. This cant be done within the confines of the British State.

    However, nation states still have some choice in how they organise themselves. There’s a difference between Denmark and Texas, though both are part of the capitalist system.

  • Fiscal policy is more or less dictated by WTO, WB, and GATT, and those that don’t accept that will see their investments melt away. Denmark may have a higher standard of living than Scotland but it is still a country with a rich poor divide and at the mercy of the free market. The root cause of all our problems is a state/capitalist dynamic at odds with the needs of the people.

  • “The root cause of all our problems is a state/capitalist dynamic at odds with the needs of the people.”

    I agree but nation states still make important decisions. Venezeula just decided to complete the nationalisations of its oil fields:

    It as Denmark and Texas I was contrasting, but Im not sure what your argument is, that you shouldnt support the democratic wishes of Scotland? Or that a socialist Scotland is less preferable than an imperialist British state?.

  • I meant ‘It was Denmark and Texas I was contrasting…’

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