Dr.Dawg

Things fall apart: or, Scotland rising

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[NOTE: Be sure to read co-blogger Mandos’ succinct and trenchant post on Iraq just below this. We finished our pieces at about the same time. ~DD]

Good grief, here they go again.

Any nation roughly east of the Oder-Neisse line that wants its sovereignty, it’s all Bravo and full steam ahead from the Western politicos and their media flacks. The fissioning of Yugoslavia? All good, except of course for Serbia’s bloody intransigence. NATO tore a gaping hole in that, of course, and ethnic nationalism finished it off, to rounds of Western applause and recognition, and new seats in the UN.

Independent Ukraine? But of course. Georgia? Certainly (but no such luck for Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ajaria—even Western support for national self-determination in the East has its elastic limits). Moving even further East, don’t get me started on Tibet, currently in the throes of a deliberate policy of colonization through internal Chinese immigration. If it had a shot at independence, or even “devo-max,” I’d be all for it. And no argument, I think, from the Globe and Mail or the Prime Minister.

Does anyone recall nervous yammering from the pundits about what currency would be used in the Ukraine, what Georgia’s share of Russia’s national debt might be, the short- and long-term economic viability of Montenegro, und so weiter? I must have missed it.

But somehow the entire paradigm gets scrubbed when nations closer to home express separatist longings. Suddenly the notion is anathema to any right-thinking person—no pun intended. Quebec, for example, whose Parti Québécois’ advocacy of sovereignty-association with The Rest of Canada was loudly sneered at. And now Scotland, facing the possibility of regaining the independence that it lost in 1707 with the Act of Union, a measure passed by bribery and other stratagems against the will of the majority of its people.

The “Och, aye” vote is possibly now ahead of the “Naw, hank ye” vote (where did they get this “Yes” and “No” from? Some Sassenach Clarity Bill in play here?) and serious fussing has broken out. The flutterings of the punderati, politicians and corporate elites are indeed wonderful to behold. Will the virtually dormant Quebec separatist movement be re-energized? Will prices in Scotland go up? What currency will an independent Scotland have? Is North Sea oil running dry? Will Scotland be able to join the European Union? One overwrought fellow, Kenan Malik, even claims that retaining the Queen as head of state, as the Yes side’s Alex Salmond proposes, is anti-democratic. (Canada, be very afraid.)

Natter, natter, natter.

But Malik does put his finger on something, if maladroitly:

The problem…derives from the same kinds of trends evident throughout the UK, and indeed throughout Europe - the disengagement of people from the political process, the breakdown of more universal movements for social change.

The challenge we face is to build new social mechanisms that can overcome the fragmentary character of contemporary politics, reverse the replacement of broader political and cultural identities with more narrow, parochial ones, confront the shift from the politics of ideology to the politics of identity. Scottish independence will not help achieve any of this. In fact, it will only exacerbate those very problems.

Indeed there are two contending forces visible around the globe, if not precisely as stated. Governments, too, are facing increasing “disengagement from the political process,” in thrall to corporate globalism with its overriding authority over sovereign states, enforced by unelected, unaccountable, secret tribunals. If I might divagate, the FIPA just signed with China by PM Stephen Harper effectively turns over a large chunk of our energy sector to Chinese investors. We can’t even enforce Constitutional responsibilities to First Nations, or observe provincial authority over natural resources, without the threat of billion-dollar lawsuits, which will be heard in camera, with taxpayers only learning after the fact how much they’re on the hook for. You’d think we might have learned from NAFTA, under which Canada almost invariably gets the short end of the stick, forced to pay out millions to private foreign corporations. Nope.

Against this backdrop, indeed imbued with a “politics of ideology,” but one of neoliberalism rather than social justice, various moves in the opposite direction, everything from “buy local” to sovereignty, are entirely understandable. Historical memories of oppression are reawakened by the new global economic realities: the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, while “austerity” is imposed upon increasingly immiserated populations. In addition, the central control of states over various minority populations/territories is weakened by the centrifugal impulses of world corporatism, making local counter-moves by those peoples more and more effective. The world over, those dis-placed by global trends, unable to be heard, unable to make those who decide on their fate accountable to them, are seeking new place in the comfort of their imagined communities, with accessible governance.

The centre cannot hold. But “new social mechanisms that can overcome the fragmentary character of contemporary politics” are in no way precluded by that fragmentation. Quite the opposite. Any such mechanisms, at this point highly theoretical (international solidarity is oppositional in character these days), can arise only from consensus among nations, and be maintained through continual processes of accountability. Knee-jerk opposition to the self-determination of nations on the one hand, and the hemorrhaging of national sovereignty on the other, are hardly conducive to the creation of those mechanisms. The positive international solidarity implied by such a concept is completely at odds with the global corporate hegemony in place today.

Put a different way, Scotland’s Yes side is plumping for a kind of subsidiarity, a concept with which more people should make themselves familiar. Malik bemoans “the disengagement of people from the political process, the breakdown of more universal movements for social change.” But a move towards local control, in which people do not feel helpless and are hence encouraged to become more politically and socially involved, is a step towards building those wider links. Solidarity, as the appalling history of the USSR should have taught us all, cannot be imposed from the top down: under that paper-thin crust, the national populations seethed with inter- and intramural antagonisms.

Does any of this mean that the Scottish National Party is leading its people to the socialist promised land? Hardly. If anything, the SNP leans to the right, and no doubt has its share of Scottish Thatcherites. But the point is, it’s easier for Scots to dislodge Scottish Thatcherites than English ones. Independence means new political possibilities, where all parties will be more readily held accountable when they presume to speak for them, and be held directly responsible for what they do in their nation’s name.

The Scottish people can open up opportunities and democratic potentials this week, without the Battle of Bannockburn or, more recently, the bloody uprisings and guerrilla war that gave birth to Eire. But voting No means to foreclose any such thing for generations to come. The choice seems clear enough. Take the leap, remembering the perfect self-description of the founder of the SNP’s precursor. the National Party of Scotland, major Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid: “Wrang-heidit? Mm. But heidit! That’s the thing.” Better by far than running on the same barren spot forever.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on September 14, 2014 6:31 PM.

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