Even in the current era of global monopolisation, it would be wrong to argue that size alone stands in the way of a transformative independence, that is, a political independence that allows a country’s people to exercise progressively greater economic control over their lives.
There are independent countries smaller than Scotland, such as Iceland, that have shown remarkable resilience during the present crisis. There are many others, considerably larger, that have not. The decisive factors are not economic in any narrow sense but jointly economic and political.
To take the cases of Iceland and Ireland.
Despite the strength of Ireland’s radical traditions, its moneyed elite has over the past thirty years locked the country into politically and economic subservient relationships. On the one side, US monopolies control virtually its entire manufacturing sector. On the other, the EU has developed determining institutional influence. Worse still, social pacts deployed by populist but economically right-wing governments have largely succeeded in demobilising the trade union movement. When crisis struck, the government tamely accepted all demands from the ECB that the country’s population take full responsibility for the crashed loans of external bondholders, that is, of the European and US banks. Despite some limited protests from the trade union movement, this disastrous course still persists. Ireland’s publicly-owned infrastructure is being sold off to external monopolies. Its workforce is emigrating on a scale last seen in the 1960s.
Iceland had a moneyed elite if anything even more corrupt and piratical than Ireland’s. At the same time it also possessed a tradition of socialist radicalism that was still relatively strong. It had also remained outside the European Union. When crisis struck the balance of popular mobilisation and institutional freedom was just enough to force the government to impose capital controls, devalue the currency and refuse any immediate deal on external loans. Its volcanoes may also have helped.
In more general terms it might be argued that size is important. China was able to use its potentially vast market and labour reserves to oblige external monopolies to agree to technology transfer and intensive investment in what was originally a very poor and underdeveloped country. But it would not have been able to do so without a powerful state system with very clear governmental objectives. Similarly in Latin America, the successful implementation of developmental objectives have largely run in parallel to the level of socialist political mobilisation and the determination of governments.
What lessons does this hold for Scotland? In terms of independence as currently offered, Ireland seems to offer the closest analogy. At least up to a point. Institutionally the economy would be jointly controlled from London and Brussels – and in terms of ownership from the US, the EU and the City of London. The pro-independence moneyed elite, the bankers of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, would operate on terms set from outside Scotland, would rake in what they could from handling incoming mergers and acquisitions and would be unlikely agents for socially developmental policies.
At least up to a point. There would be two balancing factors. Compared to Ireland, Scotland has a somewhat better endowment of natural resources, particularly petro-chemical and renewables, which, in some political circumstances, might enhance its developmental leverage. But the dynamic of Scotland’s radical and socialist politics is also quite different. Ireland possesses an anti-imperialist tradition which might yet come to its rescue. Scotland’s strong tradition of socialist and trade union organisation has historically been largely the product of British-wide mobilisations targeting what was seen as the joint power of Scottish and English capital organised at the level of the British state.
The Scottish National Party, while recently adopting a social democratic patina, has always seen itself as a nationalist rather than a class party and its bid to secure majority support for independence is not being conducted on socially radical terms – largely the reverse. Moreover, the political form of this independence would ensure that its main components, the retention of Sterling, the monarchy and EU membership, would be written into any treaty of separation and a founding constitution. Going by experience elsewhere, this essentially neoliberal institutional orientation would be very difficult to shift.
So, to return to our starting point, size is not the only determinant. It helps. But it also requires a population mobilised for developmental goals that, at least to a degree, involve contesting the power of capital. In Scotland’s case it is difficult to see how such developmental and socialist class politics would emerge from the current politics of independence.
On the other hand, the class politics that have in the past driven demands for economic democracy, particularly in terms of a Scottish Parliament with developmental powers of social ownership and control, emerged – as in the 1930s and 1970s and 80s – as essential parts of united struggles against capitalist state power at British level. And it is just such a struggle we face now.
The SNP debate over NATO membership is an important debate for the Scottish left as a whole. It raises as many (possibly even more) questions for those who favour continued union as it does for those of us who wish to see Scotland develop a progressive foreign and defence policies to sit along side progressive welfare, health, tax and education policies.
We start where we are – and we are in the UK where defence policy is riven by denial and dysfunction. UK defence policy has two pillars, a wish to retain nuclear weapons and a wish to be able to play a significant role in future expeditionary wars when called upon to do so by the United States. Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy was abandoned as soon as Blair crossed the Downing street threshold. Even Cameron, in the run up to the last General Election, had no difficulty in spinning to the left of Labour on issues of war and peace though the substance changed not at all when he entered office. To sum up, a dysfunctional UK defence policy promotes insecurity and division at home, distrust and outright hostility abroad.
On the other hand the referendum debate allows, for the first time in 50 years, all on the left to talk about what a progressive defence policy should look like. Moreover the referendum campaign allows the left that is aligned to the Yes Campaign an opportunity not only to discuss the issue but the opportunity to lay out in a practical step-by-step fashion how it can actually be achieved. All of this with, which is rare in British politics, with an attentive and engaged media looking on.
Interestingly the arguments of the pro-NATO camp within the SNP is very similar to that proposed by the unionist left. That is, there are, they claim, other, pragmatic priorities. Like the unionist left the pro-NATO nationalist case does not quite understand that there is no so-called pragmatic option, that the ridding of nuclear weapons cannot be parked. Independence will only be won with a positive vision of Scotland’s future way in the world.
Developing a fearful vision of Scotland’s place in world is part and parcel of the basic unionist case of ‘Better Together’. It is a case that has relied on bogus polling usually paid for out of Atlanticist coffers rather than funds provided by the SNP Westminster Parliamentary Group! So let us spend a little time, possibly for the first time, quite literally considering Scotland’s place in the world.
Some people in life, or so it is perceived, have all the luck, whether in terms of work, long life and even romance. If it seems sometimes true in terms of life’s journey it is certainly true in terms of the geopolitics of a country. Some countries, like Bangladesh in relation to flooding, seem perpetually cursed due to their climate and geography. Others, who share a common border with Russia, are on the edge of geopolitical tectonic plate that grinds bloodily and constantly almost without respite.
Some like Iceland find themselves in a geopolitical position where divergent interests converge. Yet Iceland confidently and skilfully plays one side off against the other. For instance Iceland is a member of NATO but has never been expected to pay the US military industrial complex the normal membership tithe.
Indeed when the UK threatened to use anti terror legislation to hunt Icelandic banks during the crisis, the then PM of Iceland went on Newsnight and mentioned, in passing of course, that the Russians were interested in leasing an old NATO airfield.
This quickly silenced a belligerent Brown and Darling. Having spotted this an apparently Trump-style Chinese initiative emerged. The Icelandic government politely noted the advance but did not bite.
This is a tactic the Prime Minister of Scotland will not need to employ because of where we actually are in the world rather than where some scaremongers pretend of imagine we are.
Scotland, like Ireland and like New Zealand, has all of the luck. Unlike in the 13th to 18th Centuries, we are in the back yard of no one very important. Twenty first century Spain and France have no designs on England so Ireland has retreated into the geopolitical background, we can happily join them.
This is not to say that Scotland will play an Albanian card, though the unionist media may try to present it as such. As I have said publicly a long time ago, I would be completely relaxed about CIA trainees overtaking internships in the Scottish Parliament. Scotland, outwith NATO will continue with its own special cultural relationship with the USA the way a non-NATO Ireland has.
Just as the resurgent Russian bear has no designs on Ireland neither will it have designs on Scotland. If Russian has any territorial ambitions on the British Isles, they are entirely focused on expensive postcodes in London. And Scotland will continue with its own special cultural relationship with the USA the way a non-NATO Ireland has.
Even plucky Denmark, that seems to be able to pick a fight anywhere, anytime at the US request, does so not because of a threat from Russia. The basic driver of Danish geopolitics is its relationship with Germany. The Danes are NATO’s most active ally, not because of any Russian threat to them, but rather because they perceive NATO membership as a US guarantee against any possible future German designs.
However as all NATO cheerleaders point a shaking finger at the resurgent Russian Bear the issue needs to be addressed and put in its real context. If the threat from the bear was real France would not have been allowed to bid and win contracts to build four Mistral Class assault ships for the Russian Navy.
No one seriously, not even the arms salesmen, expect top-of-the-range French-made mini carriers to tussle with top-of-the-range kit from the USA purchased by Norway. It really will take a good chunk of the Norwegian oil fund to pay for the 42 fifth generation fast jets they intend to purchase. What they will eventually cost no one yet quite know, but the current price tag is 200 million dollars, each!
There is also the new geopolitical hotspot with principally environmental dimensions that is wilfully being portrayed as a geopolitical hot spot with principally military dimensions, the so called High North. The name is a bit of a give away; it is in the high north and Scotland (in geopolitics positioning sometimes is everything) is not in the High North. Are we to invest large sums to be bystanders in a bun fight between Gazprom and Exxon Mobil?
As I hope I have shown, even when NATO membership is considered from the perspective of its cheerleaders, it is very expensive option that does nothing for Scottish national security and locks Scotland into acceptance of the Trident system, probably for its lifetime, and if the experience of Germany, Holland and Belgium is anything to go by, for much longer than that.