‘Labour should embrace independence as the only way out of austerity’
By Cailean Gallagher – a member of the Labour Party
SOME economists would have us believe that gloomy economic forecasts make the present a bad place to start working for a Yes vote next September.
Professor David Bell says that the timing of the Scottish referendum could hardly be worse for those promoting independence. But he is wrong to assume that bright prospects in personal life, and confidence in Scotland’s capacity to generate plenty of wealth, are the only important motives for voting Yes.
Another powerful driver is the fact that life is difficult and the belief that only independence offers a route out of austerity. If the weather is bad, you don’t take a day trip. But if the longer-term climate is bad you begin to wonder about what you need to do to tackle the root causes.
One course is to sit tight and hope things change eventually. But when people live with the reality of austerity in their own lives many turn to a political solution. They reject Tory austerity, and seek a better way.
Until this week, the hope was that a Labour government at Westminster would respond with a cure. Now Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have disclosed Labour’s response to austerity: more austerity. No use sitting tight and hoping for change at Westminster – even with Labour we get a party in thrall to austerity.
So people realise austerity is not just a Tory policy, but an inevitability of the Westminster system. Alternating Labour and Tory governments at Westminster are not a route out of austerity. After 13 years of Labour, Britain is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. It is on course to being the most unequal.
People value decent communities and public services. They realise that once institutions have broken down, they are difficult to rebuild. So they urgently begin to ask: Is there another way?
Here is an opportunity for those promoting independence. The debate on realistic steps a small country could take, with full powers, to govern based on those specific values that are used to defend society from austerity, is now beginning. This work should be done to encourage and release social aspirations.
The SNP will set out some plans, but these should not assume that people need to feel good before they vote; this can only garner so much support, as the economists are right to assume. Green arguments chime with certain social values, though without much current resonance; while the organised Left has yet to develop a plan, even if growing activism and demonstrations prove the sentiment is there.
Organisations and activists who document and challenge the impact of austerity have useful material, as well as key networks and organisations: the Poverty Alliance, SCVO, STUC. But will they translate this research into a demand for constitutional change?
This is where a Labour case for independence would be most effective: to drive the debate and promote change based on those values under attack from austerity: fair welfare, public services, the power of trades unions, social solidarity, community, equality, and social justice.
Independence is a viable route to building a country based on the common weal, if you will. If this is our purpose, the present crisis is not the worst place to start making a case for independence – it’s the best.
If we wait too long – if we let austerity “work” – we end up in a poorer society, where an acceptance of the inevitability of austerity could permanently damage social cohesion. If the economy eventually improves, and independence arguments sought to draw chiefly on economic arguments of economic security, market endorsement and self-confidence, these values would be the ones shaping a future nation.
Put them up against the values currently underpinning the movements across Scotland resisting the austerity agenda, values of a labour movement fighting for a better way, and I know which I favour as the founding values of a newly independent nation.
Cailean Gallagher is Researcher for Yes Scotland and a member of the Labour Party.