The Democratic Case for Independence: Paddle or Drown?

by Elias Blum

There’s something that many people misunderstand. What’s on offer in the Scottish independence referendum is not a policy manifesto. It’s not an election for a new government. It’s a referendum for a new state. What is on offer is the proposition that instead of being governed from London, by Westminster politicians, under their rules, we should be governed from Edinburgh, by Holyrood politicians, under our (constitutional) rules.

We are already governed from holyrood in some respects. That’s how you know your health service and universities are going to be safe, that they roads will still be open and the courts will still function. Independence is not an abrupt change. In historical terms, it must be one of the easiest transition processes ever, because so much of the institutional structure is already in place. But we are governed from London in other, important respects – in our relations with the EU and the outside world, in our use of military force, in the whole of our tax system and most of our economic and social spending policies. It’s like trying to run with one leg tied behind our backs. But we can move forward on our own two feet.

The policies and the finances will be up to each successive government to decide, subject to the constitutional rules we put in place. It’s as simple as that.  It’s not about oil, taxes, exports, currencies or anything else. All those things are political and policy decisions. What is at stake is a far more important constitutional issue: how, and by whom, should our political decisions be made? To vote No is to imagine that the people of Scotland are incapable of governing ourselves successfully in a democratic way, and that Westminster’s understanding of what’s good for us is going to better serve the public interests of Scotland than the decisions made by our own people, our own parliament, and our own government, under our own constitution.

So question that those opposing independence must answer is this: How does having less than 10% of the votes in a government that is a long way away better serve Scottish interests? There are two options here. You can: (i) not care about Scottish interests – the moaning Jocks are expendable in the big picture of keeping the Empire Great, the Dover Cliffs White, or whatever gets; or (ii) believe that we are completely incapable of governing ourselves and should therefore be ruled, for our own good, in a semi-colonial way by members of the London/ Oxbridge/ Whitehall/ Westminster/ City elite.  That’s the choice. Anything else is profound self-delusion.

People ask about taxes or pensions, spending plans or defence, about this policy or that. Let’s not pretend there are no problems facing Scotland here . But there are no problems that are notalso  faced, with more severity and less room for manoeuvre, by the UK level – but there are no answers either. We cannot predict the future.

Two things, however, are certain. Firstly, if we turn this opportunity down, there is no safety. Voting No is not a safe option because the persistent structural flaws of the UK state, which has grossly mismanaged for half a century, are deeply engrained and almost certainly beyond fixing. Voting No it’s no safer than staying on the Titanic because the lifeboat doesn’t have a ballroom.

Secondly, we know that independence will mean more democracy, and with it more responsibility. No more shifting the blame or saying it cannae be done. It will mean raising our game. We have the opportunity to grow up and take charge of ourselves. What self-respecting person wouldn’t want that? Just think of the possibilities and the opportunities. Yes, there are also the risks and challenges – no one is denying that. But we would face those risks and challenges with the tools we need – a modern democratic state – to overcome them, rather than being locked out of power.

There are grave economic, demographic, cultural, social and ethical challenges facing us in the 21st century. If we want to solve those challenges in a way that is just, peaceful, compassionate, humane and democratic, then we need the institutional instruments with which to do so. That we can obtain if we vote yes and begin the process of forming a new democratic Scottish state.

No one denies we are up shit creek. The question is, do we want to paddle or drown?