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Wings Over Scotland

Weekend essay: Choosing choice

Posted on June 23, 2012 by

For weeks now, if not months, the independence community has been bombarded with claims from Unionists that it’s not independence if you have a shared currency, cooperate on defence, keep the monarchy, share embassies or empower others to act on your behalf. There’s been a continuing drone to the effect that if you don’t do everything personally then you’re not independent.

This view, as any student of English will tell you, is flawed – doing everything for yourself is not independence, but rather self-reliance.

Self-reliance – Not requiring help or support from others while acting autonomously. Self-reliance is relative freedom from needing to rely on others for help with instrumental or task-oriented activities and is distinguished from independence as the latter is a pre-requisite to self-reliance and not predicated on its existence.

In other words, you need independence to act autonomously and to choose to be self-reliant, if you so wish. Yet it would seem, having watched various Unionist politicians and commentators struggle with the concept of independence, that it is necessary to provide a definition that can be easily understood. So I’ll have a go.

Independence – To be self-governing, unhindered by the vested interest, guidance, or control of others, and free to chart courses, make decisions and shape your future in ways that suit your own populace. Independence is the natural condition of a nation, country, or state in which its residents and population exercise self-government and sovereignty over its territory, its resources and its future. The opposite of independence is not a union but dependence, an unnatural condition for any nation to exist in.

When Unionists harp about currency, or the monarchy, or defence, they miss the fundamental point of independence. When independent, a country can choose to deal with any given issue by going it alone, by pooling resources with friends and allies, or by having the service they require provided for them by an external contractor.

(By the No camp’s definition, a householder who gets a plumber in to deal with a burst pipe rather than rolling up their own sleeves and getting the toolbox out, or calls the fire brigade when their house catches fire rather than running for a bucket of water, isn’t an independent adult. Indeed, anyone who lives in a house at all, rather than building themselves a shelter in the woods and killing their own dinner presumably isn’t really “independent” in Johann Lamont’s eyes.)

It’s the power of unrestricted choice that made independence such a desirable condition for the 150-odd nations which have become nation-states since the end of World War 2, and one of the most compelling reasons for achieving it is when a nation finds itself on the wrong end of an imbalance of power that limits the democratic will of the people, and leaves the nation begging for permission to make choices for itself.

Within the UK, Scotland is a nation but the UK is the state. This may seem confusing but it defines what independence seeks to achieve – that is to be a nation-state. But what do we mean by these terms?

Nation – A community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, history, and who share a common territory.

State – According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a state is “an organised political community under one government”.

Nation-state – Where a community of people who claim the right of self-determination based on a common ethnicity, history and/or culture establish sovereignty over a geographical region, thus creating a entity whereby political decisions are made solely within that nation, rather than being subjected to decisions made to benefit a multi-nation state.

Over the years many nations have sought independence from dominating powers and the right to become nation-states. The term “dominating” does not necessarily denote aggressive or oppressive, but a situation where the larger or more powerful entity holds undue control and influence over the rights and actions of the weaker or smaller nation in a situation that can never be balanced without independence.

We can see this in the UK today with the development of the democratic deficit between England and Scotland, whereby centre-right neoliberal policies are offered by all three main parties in the former and consistently rejected in the latter, yet due to the disparity in population sizes the UK government is elected on the back of English votes and Scotland gets a centre-right neoliberal government anyway. Only having the ability to choose its own parliament with full powers over taxation and defence can Scotland hope to end that deficit, and with no chance of those powers being devolved within the UK independence is the only available route.

To achieve independence, the most frequent route for nations is to issue a declaration; the earliest surviving example of which is the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, a document that still provides for the sovereignty of the people in Scotland to this day.

Sovereignty over decisions is guaranteed to legitimate nation-states and can only be violated in extreme circumstances. In other words, the sovereign state can act within its own borders unobstructed unless it infringes on another nation-state or on basic human rights, at which point external intervention may be permitted. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Du Contrat Social, ou Principes du droit politique” (1762), a philosophy known in English as “the social contract”, deals with sovereignty by saying:

“Sovereignty, or the general will, is inalienable, for the will cannot be transmitted; it is indivisible, since it is essentially general; it is infallible and always right, determined and limited in its power by the common interest.”

Imperialists hold a different view of sovereignty, where power resides with those states that hold the greatest ability to impose their will, by force or threat of force, over their own populace or other states whose military power or political will is weaker. They effectively deny the sovereignty of the individual in deference to either the ‘good of the whole’ or to divine right. This is the mindset of the Unionist politicians – preoccupied with power rather than governance, a culture of bullying that may bring about the final unravelling of the Union.

The most famous section of the USA’s Declaration of Independence covers the abuse of power. It’s a passage dealing directly with the ideology of imperialism and lays down the definition for independence from the perspective of the citizen.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Now we’re not arguing that the Westminster government is a despotic regime. It’s a democratically elected body, albeit using the least democratic voting system possible, and overlooked by a wholly-undemocratic second chamber. Yet there’s a ring of truth in the American declaration when it states that people are more likely to endure even bad existing governance if it is bearable than to aspire to better and rid themselves of their poor leadership.

The sentence “a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object” could be argued to quite accurately reflect the actions of Westminster towards Scotland over the last four decades, such as the use of Scottish oil revenues (their extent hidden by the suppression of the McCrone Report) to pay for the unemployment created by the Thatcherite restructuring of the economy to wipe steel, coal and manufacturing from the face of Scotland’s industrial landscape.

The “long train of abuses” invariably serve one purpose – the improvement of the South of England and the financial centres there at the expense of the rest of the UK (including Wales, Northern Ireland and the other regions of England).  In other words, numerous UK governments deliberately and knowingly used Scotland’s own resources to reduce that nation’s ability to provide for itself, in order to concentrate wealth and power as close to Westminster as possible.

Independence means regaining control over our own society, our resources and our destiny, being governed by those that represent us, and being free to choose to act and manoeuvre through the world as we see fit, free from undue interference from others. Independence is not doing everything for yourself, but choosing what you will do and what you won’t, and knowing that you can change your mind if the world around you changes.

Independence, it therefore follows, is not in itself a panacea; it is simply the ability to decide how to solve your own problems as and when they arise, rather than hoping that someone else’s best interests coincide with yours. It’s having your own phone to call a plumber or dial 999 with, instead of waiting for the neighbours to do it for you in the hope that they won’t decide the destruction of your house would improve their view.

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2 to “Weekend essay: Choosing choice”

  1. Juteman says:

    I think everyone knows what independence means, Scott.
    We are in the phony war at the moment, and each side is sizing each other up, waiting for the first big ‘mistake/slip-up’ of the campaign. Meanwhile, folk are simply playing games with words.
    Folk from each side are keeping their powder dry for when the proper war starts.

  2. MajorBloodnok says:

    Scott Minto said:
    This is the mindset of the Unionist politicians – preoccupied with power rather than governance, a culture of bullying that may bring about the final unravelling of the Union.
    That’s it in a nutshell.  And very interesting the points you raise with regard to Rousseau and the American Constitution.

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