Sorted – But Only Scotland?

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.

5 thoughts on “Sorted – But Only Scotland?”

  1. I very much look forward to reading the book. However, I am just about out of hope for any progressive change in Scotland when our “Independence” party of government is just another pack of neo-liberal money-followers. Wasn’t it back in the 1960s that the SNP were slated as “Tartan Tories”? As a resident of Inverness, I can’t see much difference between our high-profile MSP Fergus Ewing and his Conservative counterpart Edward Mountain.

    I would love to imagine see a progressive, socialist-ish Independent Scotland spur on progressive movements South of the border (where I was originally from) but the SNP establishment seems like a complacent dead weight blocking the road to true social and political change.

  2. That’s a very informative article, and it raises several important issues. Many of my friends raise these points, so I will circulate it among them in the hope that it provides some enlightenment. Sadly, neither government, and few of the current opposition parties has provided such, nor do I think that they are likely to. So thanks.

  3. I always find it interesting when ‘pro-Union socialists’ argue that Scotland gaining independence would weaken the international solidarity of the working class and that the working class in Glasgow have more in common with the working class in Liverpool than with wealthier Scots. I reply that I assume they support political union between the UK and France since this would build more solidarity between the working class in each, and of course the working class in Glasgow have more in common with the working class of Paris than they have with wealthier Scots….
    …and at this point it is amazing how often the self-described ‘internationalist’ actually reveals himself as a British nationalist who regards the UK as his country, wants it to be self-governing, and doesn’t want it part of a larger political union.

  4. Ian Davidson

    Obviously will wait until I have read the book but..
    a. Unless and until we have either: a progressive govt at Westminster and/or an indy Scotland, we have to focus on what we can do now, i.e. push Scot Gov and Holyrood Parl to maximise progressive policies and actually implement;
    b. Resources is a limitation under devo; hopefully the book will identify what we could do now but are not, eg.
    -Can we legislate and implement a wealth tax in devo Scotland and/or a tax on land value?
    -Can we use Council Tax powers to at least have a more equitable system for raising local Council revenue via CT and reduce reliance on Scot Gov grant (I would argue that the power relationship between SG/local councils is as unequal and inbalanced as that between W and Holyrood)?
    -What can we do to actually stimulate real economic activity in Scotland and thus generate more income/wealth?
    c. Whether we have it now under devo or after indy, there is still a fight to be fought between progressive and regressive forces in Scotland? We may have a smaller and less wealthy “ruling class” than London/SE but they still exist. We clearly have a middle class political/bureaucratic elite with unhealthy links to financiers etc. We have a Parliament which is nowhere near representative of the Scottish people in terms of class, gender, disability etc equalities and which spends an inordinate amount of time discussing issues of limited interest?
    Starting with the current public sector pay disputes and the Scottish Budget on 15.12.22, we need to start pressing for real change in devo Scotland now, a real change in the distribution of power and resources, irrespective of our views on the indy issue. If we wait for “rescue” via indy and/or a new W government we may wait a long time and we may also be disappointed again even if these things happen? As a life long indy supporter I am happy to work with any non indy supporters/parties/groups in the furtherance of economic, political, social change within the present context of devo Scot. Otherwise, we are letting all of the 129 MSPs off the hook and in particular those who are receiving a Ministerial, Cabinet Sec, FM salary enhancement; ditto the Presiding Officer (s). They are not serving our interests, as anyone who actually follows what goes on at Holyrood will see. Look forward to the book; this will replace my usual “Broons” annual for Xmas!

  5. What happened to Corbyn and his manifesto for reform should really be enough for anyone on the left to know that the U.K. establishment and media will move heaven and earth and use any means to avoid the slightest change of course towards working people or left policies. In the meantime they are sanguine or entirely on board with the lurch towards being a proto fascist state. We do see the odd sign posting article from the very media who helped to destroy Corbyn so what does this all mean? It means no good change is realisable within the union and it is the main reason I “crossed over” to supporting independence. That and the fact that Brexit could be done to us regardless of how we vote and I say that as a serious EUsceptic. I would like to have seen CW talk about a job guarantee instead of UBI which cannot solve the problem it seeks to address like a voluntary Job guarantee can whilst being a naturally self stabilising, anti inflationary policy.

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