The dawn of a new Scotland

yes posterAs everyone’s eyes look North for UK’s perhaps most debated and exciting political event this century, we are publishing our current front page story on Scottish independence. The result of the referendum will go to the wire next Thursday, but the Yes campaign has already changed the nature of Scottish democracy. Justin Kenrick reports from Edinburgh:

A year before the referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country, the average lead for No was 22%. By mid-July 2014 the No lead had halved. Why was there such a swing away from support for the status quo, and what might it mean for politics?

People like Jonathan Shafi of the Radical Independence Campaign think Scots are seeing a chance to move away from a Westminster system that seems only to benefit the rich. Shafi writes: “If Britain was not carrying out the austerity that’s leading to a long-term socio-economic crisis, there simply wouldn’t be the same thirst for independence as there is now.”

Some argue that Scotland has always been distinct from England. The respected commentator Iain Macwhirter says “Our political cultures are worlds apart”. Others, like Adam Ramsay,  Co-Editor of openDemocracy’s OurKingdom website, point out that in the context of other social democracies in Europe, “Scotland isn’t different, it’s Britain that’s bizarre.”

The conclusion that Scottish voters appear to be reaching is that if you can’t effect change within the system, then you have got to change the system. The two year referendum process has seen an extraordinary resurgence of democracy as people engage in intense and energetic debate on how to make a fairer, healthier, more caring society in town hall discussions the length and breadth of the country, which are amplified in online forums.

There are also many ‘working groups’ that people join to follow their passion, including the Common Weal project, which is designing a social democratic system for a society that “puts all of us first”, welcomes immigrants and persists with free education and health care.

The Radical Independence Campaign has been going door to door in the poorest parts of the country, encouraging those who have lost hope to register to vote. Opinion polls show that the rich are voting No, while those suffering under austerity are more likely to place their hopes in an alternative future.

“There has been an extraordinary resurgence of democracy”

Robin McAlpine of the radical political thinktank the Jimmy Reid Foundation points out that though the No side is fond of claiming that pursuing a social democratic path like Norway’s means paying far higher tax, they do not point out that Norway’s higher taxes are used to create a high wage economy which means that even after higher tax and higher prices, the average Norwegian is still roughly 43% better off than the average UK resident, while enjoying far higher social provision, and living in a much more equal society.

All but one of the 37 newspapers read in Scotland are against independence, many vociferously so. This is where the No campaign’s ‘air war’ takes hold, making far more media noise than the Yes campaigners’ engagement on the ground. Radio and television, especially the BBC, take their cue from the newspapers, amplifying their anti-independence stories.

With media projects like Newsnet Scotland’s citizen reporting and Wings over Scotland’s sharp exposures of media deception, with National Collective and Bella Caledonia’s online space to contribute to imagining a better society, and writers like Wee Ginger Dug bringing intense and poignant humour, whichever way the referendum goes something has changed in Scotland. The real challenge now is how the transformation can spread to England and Wales. Even if we become autonomous countries, we can be better together by declaring ourselves independent of a paralysing status quo.

Justin Kenrick is a founder member of PEDAL, Edinburgh Portobello’s Transition Town Initiative, and works supporting forest peoples in Africa to retain or regain self-determination.

Image: Bella Caledonia ran a competition asking entrants to design a poster that “inspires a nation.” Design by Ciaran Murphy

Read the whole edition on line here.

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