This week, the crowdfunder for our new book, Sorted: a handbook for a better Scotland, hit the £10,000 mark. An incredible feat given the circumstances around us as the UK collapses into its second recession of the 2020s. We remain profoundly grateful to everyone who has supported the project and hope that as many of you as possible can come along to our launch event next month.
A few folk have sent in variations of a very interesting question about the book. They generally come from folk who are inspired by the Common Weal vision of a better country but, for one reason or another, either don’t support independence or wonder if we should have to wait for indy to get what we’re asking for. A couple have accepted that the powers that Scotland currently has under devolution are not sufficient for what we want to see happen but wonder if devolution could be expanded sufficiently to get there.
I think that’s a reasonable enough question to address in my column this week because despite clear, visible and sometimes fraught divides on certain political issues I do truly believe that it’s possible to find common ground with folk on some issues even when we disagree on others and that everyone in politics has been pulled into this maelstrom from the basic principle that they desire to make this world a better place (no matter how they define “better” or who they are trying to improve the place for).
To be clear, while Common Weal is and shall remain unashamedly pro-independence we see that independence as merely a fulfilment of our more fundamental principles of localism, autonomy and democratic politics and that does beg the question, if we could do everything with the powers that Scotland has, would we?
The short answer is that we would and that we should push devolution to its limits to either complete as much as we can right now or to at least lay the groundwork ahead of gaining the powers to finish the job.
There certainly are areas of our book that can be done right now – Scotland could immediately legislate for better buildings, most of health, care and education are devolved and can be overhauled given sufficient political will, and areas such as energy – while largely reserved – can be improved in the sectors which are not (such as heat). Other areas are outwith Scotland’s power to transform unless substantially more powers are devolved (large areas of social security and energy fall into this category) and some areas (such as trade and defence) are unlikely to ever be devolved.
A major bottleneck in all of this is that one area that sits in the “unlikely to be devolved” category are the powers over tax, currency and borrowing. Without these, Scotland’s finances are severely constrained and it becomes extremely difficult to invest in transforming Scotland. A few hundred million pounds can be found here or there but the scale of the challenge is on the order of tens of billions.
With the power to invest properly lacking, the route to a Common Weal Scotland without independence essentially relies on winning a campaign for this kind of transformation across the whole of the UK. For someone who is pro-UK that might be a good thing but think of the obstacles in front of such a campaign. We are not shy when it comes to criticising the Scottish Government’s poor decisions but there is a world of difference between political parties who are at least nominally on the same political side as us but merely falling short of expectations and the main parties of the UK who are ideologically opposed to the changes we are campaigning for. Even UK Labour have completely ruled out what we are calling for in critical areas such as a public-led, written constitution, opposition to nuclear weapons, social security including Universal Basic Income and an economy based on Wellbeing rather than GDP Growth.
In short, if someone out there loves our plan for a future Scotland but isn’t yet in favour of independence then I’m afraid that I don’t think Scotland will be able to deliver that future any faster than the UK is willing to deliver it to (not with) us and I simply don’t think that the UK is willing to deliver it at all. Only with the full powers of independence can we hope to push ahead and lead the field in this transition.
However, doing so raises the other – somewhat more hostile – version of this question that I’ve come across – most often from those on the pro-Union Left with whom we probably share almost all of our policies outwith the question of independence. This is the one that says that an independent Scotland would be “abandoning” the Left movements and/or working classes of the rest of the UK and that this would be especially galling if we succeed and improve Scotland while they remain the target of Tory Austerity.
Our policies are aimed at Scotland rather than the UK simply because that’s where we are and where we have influence. However, we’ve always sought to build networks elsewhere where doing so can help others too – for examples, see the new Welsh National Energy Company patterned off our blueprint or our Head of Strategic Development’s upcoming trip to Bilbao to speak to autonomist movements from across Europe. We’ve often spoken about the need for solidarity and assisting progressive movements even when we are taking diverging paths towards our shared goal of equality.
If the politics of the UK as a whole does not yet allow for that kind of progressive politics then an independent Scotland could show how it could be done and the benefits of doing so, emboldening and charting a path for others to follow. Just as we cannot “Wheesht for Indy” and stop doing anything progressive in devolved Scotland until independence is delivered, we cannot settle for some kind of implicit “Socialism Nowhere Until Socialism Everywhere”. Both are at best merely delaying tactics to try to prevent change and at worst they are both actively trapping people in the systems of inequality that they claim to be trying to escape from.
It is just a couple of weeks now until Sorted is launched and I really hope it will be read by everyone who is interested in progressive politics regardless of differences of opinion on any single policy – including stance on Scottish independence. If our work can be picked up by those who wish for the rest of the UK to join Scotland in making that vision a reality then you, too, will have our solidarity, support and every possible encouragement. Scotland can lead the way to that future but unless we see a drastic change of direction I can’t see that future being delivered by the UK or even by a devolved Scotland trying to act despite the UK.