The Scots Poll Can Give Hope to the Left across Britain; at Issue Is More Than Independence This Is about the Genuine Modernisation of These Islands' Political Systems

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 24, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Scots Poll Can Give Hope to the Left across Britain; at Issue Is More Than Independence This Is about the Genuine Modernisation of These Islands' Political Systems


Byline: Irvine Welsh

SOMETHING strange and beautiful is happening in Scotland. The country is reinventing itself from the inside out. People are talking about their futures as if they actually have them. It's that exhilarating, intoxicating and occasionally exasperating phenomenon at work: welcome back participatory democracy. How these islands have missed you.

To recap what's happened in your absence: everything has been set up in favour of a small, transnational global elite. Most citizens are being or have already been reduced to the level of poorly paid, debt-ridden servitude. Yes, many are still unemployed, but many more are underemployed, overemployed and set to work on barely liveable wages.

Within this context, looking at traditional indices of economic prosperity like unemployment rates, inflation, GNP is severely limited, as those don't account for the reality of the past 35 years. The growing penury and financial instability suffered by everyone outside of society's elites is the true political narrative of our times. It needs to be addressed locally and globally.

This hasn't happened in the UK. The main political parties remain complicit in the transfer of resources from our citizens to this super-rich elite, under the advocacy of a private media, and through the constant lobbying of elected representatives. The "pragmatism" touted by politicians is one that solely addresses how to manage this movement of resources to the wealthy, through the constant rewarding of their corporate emissaries.

As a nation state the United Kingdom was an imperialist construct, and to this day it retains these undemocratic trappings: a hereditary principle, an unelected second chamber, no written constitution and a ruling elite drawn from a narrow, privately educated strata of society.

In Scotland, voters have traditionally sent a block of Labour MPs to Westminster to represent them. Labour originated in Scotland as the party of Keir Hardie and had a strong home rule ethos. As it grew from a party of protest to one of power, Labour changed its view: the best way to govern was to send representatives down to London. Thus a career structure emerged, whereby "ambitious" politicians could move from local council to a safe Labour seat, then perhaps become a minister. When the party lurched to the Right in the Eighties, it was usurped on the "Left" by the SNP, a bourgeois nationalist party which had taken on social-democratic trappings.

Since then we've seen the rapid deindustrialisation of Britain, the sale of national assets, the dismantling of the welfare state, the squandering of oil revenues on dole payments and breadand-circus foreign wars, and the steady erosion of the democratic, participatory spirit in politics.

Politicians changed. They were less likely to have trade union, industry or even professional backgrounds, more inclined to be career politicians, and people are now more alienated from them than ever. These changes took place under both Labour and Conservative governments.

Now Scotland, through the independence debate, is leading the way in the reassertion of the democratic ethos. The actual result of the referendum in September, while massively important, is less significant than the fact that this process has gained such traction. Whether Scotland votes Yes or No, its people have got used to having a say in how their lives are run, outside of the self-interested and morally bankrupt party system. …

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The Scots Poll Can Give Hope to the Left across Britain; at Issue Is More Than Independence This Is about the Genuine Modernisation of These Islands' Political Systems
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