“Independence must explain its purpose” is the guiding aim of this book and more specifically must explain its purpose for the left. As many have noted, one of the big gains of the referendum campaign has been its role as a catalyst for new thinking and fresh talent on the left. The one thing we can be sure of is that things will not revert to pre-2014 politics. But equally it is not yet clear what structures of political action will emerge. It is, however, rather clearer where the direction of change is going in policy debates. James Foley and Pete Ramand are two of the bright young activists who helped start the Radical Independence Campaign and have gone on to contribute to the left independence case. At this stage a situation of fluidity and openness is where we want to be to encourage dialogue and lower some of the sectarian intellectual barriers. Although coming from a strong left position, ‘The Radical Case for Scottish independence’ takes a broadly-based stance in its analysis.
It is strongest in its critique of the UK political and economic settlement. The two chapters on future policy are lighter and that does tell us that the left has work to do(it is happening) in order to put sustained in-depth analysis into the development of viable policy alternatives. Foley and Ramand are right to question the failure of the Yes campaign to promote a sharper analysis of what is wrong with the UK economy and polity, apparently because they don’t want to be seen as anti-English or too negative. But since the central No argument on the Tory side is that Britain is good for us and on the Labour side that Britain can be made good for us, taking on the Great British myth needs to be part of the campaign. They present an incisive attack on the Britain of “financial speculation, public relations and the arms trade” and conclude that “we have linked the UK’s neo-imperial project – as financial haven, arms manufacturer and leading American client – to neo-liberal morality, privatisation policy and social regression.” They also take on the lack of scrutiny of British nationalism which the Better Together members strongly promote while attacking Scottish nationalism as somehow deviant. The ‘punching above our weight’ military chauvinism, the enthusiastic royalist street parties, the ‘best in the world’ sentiments around the Olympics reflect commonplace attitudes over generations and yet we have Scottish Labour enthusing about Great Britain while attacking the much more modest and progressive claims for a political and cultural identity for Scotland. There is a chapter on the experience of Holyrood politics, recognising some achievements but attacking the marked drift to the right under Jack McConnell and the continuation of this under the supposed left leadership candidate, Johann Lamont. They accept that the SNP has benefited from being more to the left but with neo-liberal elements in their leadership.
Since the mainstream Scottish press have acted overwhelmingly as agents of British establishment opinion, this is why we need to turn to books like this and to social media for alternative analysis and debate. They conclude; “What Scots can unite upon is the unsustainable direction of British capitalism. If we vote No, we all but guarantee more decades of austerity, privatisation and warfare. We will miss our chance to contribute a working model of environmental sustainability.”