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Why Salmond’s national conversation is important

August 16, 2007

Scottish Nationalist First Minister Alex Salmond has called for a ‘national conversation’ on Scotland’s future, appealing over the heads of his political rivals by addressing the people directly.

I’ve come out in favour of Scottish independence before, on the grounds that ‘breaking up Britain’ sounds like a great idea: “The SNP want to break up Britain”, is what Labour, the LibDems and the Tories have been saying. My response: excellent! The British State is an imperialist monster that has caused untold human suffering over the past 300 years. If it’s broke, it won’t be able to hurt anyone any more.

Where do I sign up?

I now realise that my opinion may have been a bit hasty and reactive, motivated by a visceral hatred of the British Empire and continued imperialism and war mongering from a little island that is, quite frankly, too big for its boots.

But, while the SNP is is to the Left of Labour on most issues (which isn’t difficult), and is more progressive on crucial issues – Iraq, nuclear weapons, the database state – there’s no evidence that an independent Scotland would automatically be more progressive than the current Atlantacist alliance.

Salmond’s conversation is a bold scheme: it’s clear what he wants out of it – to build the case for independence. Iain Macwhirter, a political commentator for the Glasgow Herald, addresses many of the issues really well here, and claims that “Scotland’s independence will come in small steps, not by a single bound”.

But I fear the dichotomy between independence and union is, if not quite false, a distraction from the real issues.

What do Scots really want? What, in fact, do the people of the UK, indeed the world, want?

They want accountable politics that makes a difference at the local level. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether we’re ruled from London or Edinburgh – it’s about the amount of input we have into the political process, our sense of having the power to act and make a difference, to be heard and listened to.

While common sense suggests that Edinburgh rule is likely to be more responsive to the needs of Scots, does it matter whether Scotland flies the Saltire or the Butcher’s Apron? Romanticism aside, what’s important is that people have the opportunity to enter a new narrative, to tell a new story about themselves and the sort of country Scotland wants to become.

Salmond is somewhat disingenuous with his national conversation, as there is little indication of the mechanisms citizens will have for taking part in the conversations, and more importantly, recording the outcomes accurately.

The outcome of the conversation is supposed to be a three way referendum, with people being able to choose between the status quo, more power within the UK, or devolution. Very few people seem to want the status quo, most want more power but are uncertain about independence – not least because of Labour’s scare stories about barbed wire and control towers at Gretna.

More importantly, and I think this is the heart of the concern that Labour and the other unionist parties have, how can we be ensured that the conversation is not one way? That it won’t just be an SNP hard sell of independence above all else?

People are rightly fed up with the lurch to the Right in the UK, but if Salmond thinks he’s going to ride this discontent into power, then the project is doomed from the beginning.

Reform of the United Kingdom is essential. The current state is an insecure hangover from imperialism. A republic would be a good start – let’s get rid of those inbred parasites, the royal family.

Next, real devolution is important: not just of the four countries that make up the UK, but a devolution that really puts decision making power in the hands of the people: I like, for example, to see crofters and islanders running their own communities. Instead of the UK, we might have a Federation of the Isles, which would coordinate what it makes sense to coordinate geographically, and devolve everything else.

It’s either about genuinely devolving power down to the people, or it’s not. Personally, I am in favour of devolving power all the way down: I want to see a society run by street and block committees, workers’ councils and other expressions of direct democracy.

So let’s have the conversation, but make sure we focus on the real issues and don’t get caught up in Eck’s spin.

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