Ahead of Scotland’s Referendum Mark Perryman has just put up his ‘Yes’ poster in deepest England
OK, votes from East Sussex for Scottish independence are going to amount to eff all next Thursday. But its the thought that counts. I’ve never had a problem with Scottish independence. The sooner the better in my book, I’ve written several articles on the subject, because when Scotland becomes what it always has been, a nation, England will have the prospect of doing the same. A welcome step forward from inhabiting the majoritarian status in an anything-but-United Kingdom which creates the English national identity crisis. Are we Ingerland? Team GB? Or a bit of both?
England ducks these questions, muddling on in a state of somewhere in-between. Meanwhile a large part of Left-Liberal opinion runs scared of ever addressing England's own version of the national question. Anything resembling a sense of who we are defined by many by what they like to think we’re not. Any challenge to such reaction restricted to intellectuals and activists on the margins, while Billy Bragg provides a soundtrack. Fed up being in this kind of non-state I've been enthused listening to friends north of the border. They fill me with envy. A campaign that has electrified their nation, pushed political debate into living rooms, supermarket aisles, pubs and just about every other nook and cranny that voices can be heard, positions argued. In this way the ‘Yes’ campaign has already won.
Scotland now enjoys a political discourse entirely different to the non-politics of the Westminster bubble. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out this not only revolves around independence but an agenda that unlike Britain’s neoliberal consensus is fundamentally social-democratic. With or without a Yes victory, Labour, the SNP, the Scottish Greens on one side, for social-democracy. On the other the Tories in the margins, UKiP scarcely present and the Lib Dems living on electoral borrowed time. And the cost of Labour's support for the union could well be a dynamic young Scottish left party emerging to help shift Scotland's progressive-nationalist mainstream further leftwards while leaving Labour Unionism behind.
Would Alex Salmond’s Scotland be some kind of paradise? No, of course not. He’s a politician trying to satisfy all he hopes he can persuade to vote Yes. But the point is once that majority has been won on 18 September all manner of possibilities will emerge. Opportunities, and threats of course remain ever-present. The ‘No’ campaign tried to dilute any such positive thoughts with their scare stories. And when that failed their only alternative was to offer as many increased powers to the Scottish parliament they could get away with without calling it, independence. But what the No-ers don't understand, refuse to countenance in fact, is that a majority, or near as damn it to not make much difference, in Scotland isn’t casting a vote in ignorance of their threats. It is voting instead for a better, Scottish, tomorrow.
The Z-team of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband travel north to damp all this expectation down. ‘Stay with us’ they plead. Bankrupt politicians who have helped in their different ways to fuel the cynicism and apathy which have served to disconnect the rest of us from politics. up and down the rest of the country. Backed to the hilt by the financial establishment. Gordon Brown given the special responsibility of delivering Cameron's plea to the vast parts of the Scots electorate he could never reach. Labour Unionism in cahoots with the Tory-Lib defence of their self-same version of the Union. And they expect Scots to believe that they should entrust their futures to this trio of parties, so they can help ensure it will be alright on the night, and never mind the unknown of independence. What lack of ambition all three choose to wear as their shared badge of dishonour.
Cameron, many suspect, would be half-minded to cast off Scotland anyway with its legions of Labour MPs and hardly a Tory vote to be too bothered about losing. Miliband of course fears the loss of those self-same MPs and the constitutional crisis any 2015 Government he might lead depending on their support would muster.
This is when my envy starts turning pea-green. Scotland gets to shape its own destiny, mighty England can only look forward to any kind of progressive future with the help of another country’s elected representatives. Is this really what all of Labourism’s ambition amounts to? England is mired in a neoliberal discourse, any sense of independence defined largely by attitudes to the EU and immigration. A pretty toxic mix but that's for us to sort out not Scotland. And if we really don’t believe we can then what does this say about ourselves, a Left that dares not say the word, English.
Independence is for the Scots to choose. South of the border the three parliamentary parties despite their united message to Scotland represent a divided nation. Some of the English hanker after the Union. Most simply continue the age old habit of equating Britishness with Englishness and never mind the Celtic fringe. A decent chunk for all manner of reasons, happy to see the Scots make up their own minds.
What is certain is that the old order, the Union, is finished. With their fall-guy frontman Gordon Brown, all 3 parties are promising all manner of additional devolved powers to Scotland. This may or may not be enough to buy off the waverers but what it will do is entrench Scotland’s already growing independence. No mainstream politician suggests any kind of reversal of this process. And if this is good enough for Scotland, how long before Wales gets a measure of the same. And England? Before you know it there will be the most almighty backlash, Farage must be rubbing his hands with glee. What’s all this special treatment for Scotland, what about the left behind parts of England he hopes to lead in his self-styled Peoples Army?
Envy in that sense is not nearly enough. We have to learn too. That a politics of nation doesn’t have to be reduced to blood, kith and history. It can be about inclusion too. England will be defined by the multicultural far more than Scotland, is that something we gift to the right or find creative and ambitious ways to knit into our own national expectation. How to generate a political discourse that matters, where the stakes, yes, no, or in-between actually mean something. To shape conversations that are rooted as much in their cultural expression as political representation.
On 19th September I want to wake up to a Britain no longer shaped by the failed politicians of yesteryear. I want to wake up to a Scotland, independent, bold and brave enough to sort out its own future. And once it begins that process, the rest of us prepared to follow suit. Breaking up Britain? An independent Scotland will only be the start.
Mark Perryman is a member of both the Labour Party and Momentum. Co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football, he has also edited numerous books on the politics of the Left. The latest is The Corbyn Effect and is published by Lawrence & Wishart, available to order from here.