UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Scotland’s Future - Can We Have a Rational Debate?

“Society cannot share a common communication system so long as it is split into warring factions.” Bertholt Brecht
Even the most southerly reader of UNISONActive can hardly have escaped the recent pronouncements from the Scottish Government with regard to independence.

First there was the publication of their  economic case, Building Security and Creating Opportunity: Economic Policy Choices in an Independent Scotland (November 2013). Then last week came “Scotland’s Future Your Guide to an Independent Scotland”. Both are weighty tomes, the latter giving us six hundred odd pages of SNP prose.

Both take time to digest and UNISONActive will offer some commentary on both. What we won’t be doing is rushing into print with preconceived notions based on pro or anti independence rhetoric. The documents are both challenging and have in some respects ideas that are worth exploring. To provide a reasonable evaluation however requires careful analysis and investigation.

It would be fair to say that many of the pronouncements that accompanied this publication were of the instant sound bite variety, on both sides of the argument. Alex says we can still be in Europe, Alistair says we can’t. Look at our policy on child care said Nicola. Well why don’t you introduce it now because that’s already under the control of the Scottish Parliament, said the opponents, a tit for tat exchange not designed to illuminate the arguments beyond the converted on either side .

Since then however debate on one side at least has gone seemingly downhill. Those tempted to question the case for independence are now “intellectually incontinent unionists" according to one prominent columnist in one national newspaper. Given his own use of assertions rather than facts the “intellectually incontinent” description would seem to apply equally to him. Others seem to prefer variants (usually pejorative) on the notion of patriotism. Those not prepared to give unqualified support to the SNP case are unscottish, guilty of a failure to believe sufficiently in oor ain country, talking down the natural ability of the Scot. Either that or we are failing to believe enough in the “natural” radicalism of the Scottish people .

Even the commentariat are entitled to their opinions and indeed their chauvinism. They are entitled to expound on their view of the achievements or otherwise of the SNP government. Yet while they may praise the attitude of that government toward the Scottish NHS, it remains a fact that the services provided by local government in Scotland are withering on the vine.

Likewise they may well believe that the future of Scotland lies within the EU and Scottish accession is a given. There is another argument however, that the EU as currently constituted does not provide a future for the working millions of Europe. (well illustrated on the ETUC website www.etuc.org, hardly a bastion of progressive politics ) Similarly, whether an independent Scotland will have a currency union with Wales, England and Northern Ireland is one matter of argument; whether a Scotland within a monetary union could truly be said to have any kind of independent economic policy and so be an independent country capable of taking its own economic decisions is another.

Taking a decision on the future of a country should be based on judgement according to a given set of criteria. For some of us sentimental patriotism, “my country right or wrong”, has never been an appealing attitude, a feeling usually used to ensure unthinking compliance as we are marched into battle as cannon fodder for the wars of others.

Likewise as democratic socialists, used to arguing a progressive case, we have an awareness of the difficulties of that appeal and would question whether the options that the SNP have raised are really that radical. To be told that not supporting independence makes us less “Scottish” is to throw insults rather than engaging in rational debate. Let us hope that the standard of debate over the next months will rise above this.