In this article Professor Alfred Baird looks at recent policies of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the nascent ALBA party in relation to Scotland’s civil and constitutional rights. He finds the SNP severely wanting, and hopes ALBA will not stray from its core reason for existing. So long as Scotland is governed by Westminster, its taxes and oil profits sucked into the UK Treasury to be spent on England’s priorities, so long will Scotland be the immature adolescent neighbour living on pocket money.
The ALBA party’s inaugural conference in which its executives and members reaffirmed their total commitment to an autonomous Scotland made glaringly obvious how far the SNP had strayed from its core ideal. In the 1980s one could have attended Labour party conferences to hear speeches on ‘Home Rule’, Scotland later ‘granted’ a limited-power devolved assembly (removal of Scottish ownership in North Sea Oil taken as a quid pro quo) given the patronising title ‘Executive’.
This title reflected its status – a subordinate colonial administration. The comedian Billy Connolly was quick to cast Holyrood as a ‘pretendy parliament’. Though the remark was glib and crass, it touched upon the reality of the assembly being a fraudulant democracy. All the parties dominating the assembly were unionist parties – a phony choice – its election system composed to ensure the one independence party, the SNP, remained a minority contributer. As frustration with the inability to make real change to society’s ills grew, and the imposition of wars Scotland had never begun but were expected to support in troops and taxes, chiefly the Iraq fiasco, scunnered Scotland’s voters, the SNP was seen as a choice worth making. They were finally elected to govern, taking London by surprise and angering London’s power elite.
THE FUNDAMENTAL CASE FOR FREEDOM
The first ALBA Party conference re-affirmed the quest for independence as being the main priority. Thereafter the emphasis rather reverted to type, however, with energy focused on a wide range of the usual aspirational policy areas; alleviating poverty, removing nuclear weapons, developing clean energy, managing social security payments better, and so on. Whilst important, it might be argued these are all symptoms of the real illness, which relates to the fact that people in another country are still making most of the big decisions on our behalf.
Alex Salmond talked eloquently of ALBA’s priority ‘to inform our fellow citizens of the case for independence’. He declared that: ‘what wins people to the independence cause is the arming of the people with information’. He talked here about giving people ‘the facts and figures illustrating the fundamental case for freedom’ and referred to Wing’s Wee Blue Book which he believed helped shift significant numbers of people to the cause last time round, and the need now for a similar publication.
But, is the matter of Scottish independence really that simple? Will presenting a few ‘facts and figures’ really convince people of ‘the fundamental case for freedom’? And was that ‘fundamental case for freedom’ really defined or explored by the first ALBA conference? We talk about independence but do the Scottish people really understand what independence means and why it is necessary?
Neither the leader of ALBA nor any of its speakers discussed what Gareth Wardell (aka Grouse Beater) termed our ‘colonial reality’, as he addressed what he called ‘the indigenous people of Scotland’ at the ALBA conference. Wardell is the first person to be honoured by ALBA for his contribution to the cause as one of the leading thinkers and yes, philosophers on Scottish independence; so, let us duly consider his message.
According to the UN, independence and decolonisation represents the ending of the scourge of colonial oppression over a downtrodden indigenous people; is this not then the real justification and hence ‘the case for freedom’ of any people seeking national liberation? In this context Wardell reminded ALBA delegates of a key feature of colonialism, primarily that ‘the people who make decisions for us Scots are not in Scotland’; so long as that remains the case, our people will continue to feel culturally inferior and, moreover, internationally we will remain, as Albert Memmi said, ‘out of the game’.
So, fundamentally, we must address our colonial reality, and that begins by first acknowledging and understanding the deceitfu an mankit naitur of our colonial subjugation in the quest towards what Wardell rightly described as ‘reinstating Scotland’s liberty’; for that is what independence means.
The Independence movement
In addition to listening to politicians, we really ought to listen a bit more to what is a rapidly developing intellectual wing of the independence movement, which decolonisation environments always tend to produce; and not least because this is where many of our best ideas, concepts, theoretical perspectives and hence our deeper level of understanding comes from. It is no accident that an astute ALBA leadership laud the excellent work of leading indy bloggers, for their ongoing intellectual contribution is crucial to the cause of independence.
Unlike many other former colonies this intellectual wing cannot come from inside Scotland’s elite universities which are arguably the most status-conferring and conservative institutions promulgating a British and Anglophone cultural hegemony, and in which barely one tenth of the academics nowadays are Scots anyway. Rather, the intellectual ‘wing’ of the independence movement is epitomised by the extensive online writings and discussions of indy bloggers such as Wardell-Grouse Beater, Iain Lawson at Yours for Scotland, the now imprisoned Craig Murray, Roddy MacLeod at Barrhead Boy, and a few others. It is they who are the essential radical intellectuals and it is they who, to use the revolutionary metaphor, are ‘standing on street corners handing out leaflets to an oppressed people’. Why do we think it is they and other leading independence campaigners who are being so targeted by the forces of colonialism, and through legislation coming out of the Holyrood colonial administration?
What is independence about?
Is national liberation and ‘the case for freedom’ not about rather more than political policies on this and that, some ‘facts and figures’ about the economy, the poond in oor pocket, or how we might better use our resources – if and when we ever get control over them?
Of course, we are doing the right thing here in exploring policy options for this and that and aw thing else for ‘efter’ independence; however, this is not the same thing as presenting the real ‘fundamental case for freedom’ and independence, and especially the ‘why’ of independence, as well as the ‘how’ of independence. In other words, we need to ensure the Scottish people really do understand why independence is necessary and how independence will be delivered, in addition to how they might benefit personally and collectively afterwards.
Arguably the vast majority of the Scottish people today do not yet know what independence really is, what it actually means, or even why it is necessary. This results in ongoing confusion and misapprehension which a few ‘facts and figures’ will not necessarily overcome. Many Scots appear to think independence is merely about a change in governance and in political ideology and policies, perhaps a wee shift from right to left.
The people do not yet understand that independence is about a downtrodden people removing an oppressor and reclaiming their culture, their land, thair ain braw langage, their very soul and hence their very being; in other words, yes, their ‘freedom’. Independence is also about preventing a people from losing their national identity and their existence through ongoing colonial exploitation, oppression and the cultural assimilation, the latter facilitating our domination and with that creating and perpetuating structural societal inequalities.
ALBA versus SNP
ALBA appear to be going about setting up its organisational structure in much the same way as that of traditional political parties. We see created a ‘youth’ wing, a ‘woman’s’ wing, and an ‘ethnic/Asian minorities’ wing. Whilst admittedly this represents an important feature of today’s politics, we should not forget that independence is fundamentally about the liberation of an entire oppressed minority ethnic group and nation – i.e. the Scots and Scotland – contained within the context of a ruling British state and Anglophone hegemony.
The SNP has previously gone down the route of prioritising, elevating and legislating for the ‘rights’ of numerous minority interest groups, and we see where that has gone – shifting the independence movement in a very long diversion from the core aim, and arguably resulting in the replacement of that core aim, in addition to often questionable legislation being brought forward to ‘protect’ the interests of minority groups (and lobby groups!).
The next part of ALBA’s development strategy is to contest local government elections. Whilst again this is a normal feature of traditional political parties, the reality is that no matter how many ALBA councillors may be elected this will not secure independence either. Some may say the experience as councillors stands people in good stead to become career politicians, but do we really want or need career politicians?
The ALBA strategy, structure therefore appears similar to the development process of any other mainstream political party. However, securing national independence is not about mainstream party politics, nor is it about political ideologies of left or right. Independence is far more important than this, being primarily about the national liberation of an entire people. The quest for independence therefore requires and depends on a different approach to the standard party political strategy or organisational structure.
An independence movement does not need another political organisation that thinks and behaves like a mainstream political party; we saw what happened with the SNP as it followed that same developmental process. What an independence movement requires is a political leadership, a focus, a strategy and an organisation structure that reflects and can deliver on the fundamental goal, which is independence and the liberation of an entire people.
Questions to ask
In this respect there are clearly questions to be asked on ALBA Party strategy and structure, which are matters that link back to the vision and strategic planning that takes place in any major organisation. In the context of national independence, that primary objective is often confused by mainstream party political factors and influences and the perceived need to focus attention on a range of other factors. Here ALBA to some extent seems to be mirroring the old SNP approach, an approach which admittedly got close but failed to deliver independence, and an approach which also arguably failed to convey to most Scottish people the real reason for independence. The fundamental philosophical rationale for independence remains a political void because the people still have limited understanding about what independence really is about and why it is necessary.
The Scots must first begin to understand the root of their inequality, their subordinate status (within the UK union charade) and their oppression. The people must also understand why they still hold and value a Scottish ethnic identity – though it is ebbing away – and why they exhibit a Scottish national consciousness which is what provides the primary motivation and desire for independence and national liberation. This national consciousness, as with any ethnic group, is based on our Scottish culture and Scots language – a langage oor bairns dinnae e’en lairn in schuil – such is the inferior regard for a native mither tongue under colonialism, despite being a fundamental part of who we are.
An ersatz English existence
As Gareth Wardell reminded us, an oppressed people are lacking in confidence and opportunity; this is because their culture and language and hence their ethnicity is rendered an inferior status under colonialism. The scourge of colonialism is not predicated only on class but on status which reflects an ethnic and cultural division of labour, and hence institutionalised ethnic oppression, i.e. racism. And here we can be sure that colonialism always involves racism.
The Scots must therefore understand that independence is about decolonisation, which reflects the desire and human right of any people to bring to an end their colonial domination by another people and another culture, and its language and ‘values’. They must understand that colonialism involves: racism, prejudice, and worse; that colonialism depends on force and lies at the root of fascism; that colonial oppression involves ethnic discrimination which is culturally and linguistically driven; and that colonialism is the root cause of inequality among a subjugated people in a bountiful though economically exploited and plundered land.
Here, inequality is reflected in an ethnic and cultural division of labour which favours the dominant culture and language, which is Anglophone. In Scotland the indigenous Scots language is intentionally marginalised, is not taught, and is considered invalid; yet most Scots remain ignorant of their cultural oppression and the critical importance of language in the context of national identity.
As Wardell said at the ALBA conference: ‘it wasn’t until I came into contact with the people who made decisions, and they weren’t in Scotland’. This in large part reflects an imposed ethnic and cultural division of labour that lies at the root of inequality and the lack of opportunity too many Scots still face, and will always face under colonial and cultural domination.
Independence is people power
Independence is inevitably about a people taking control (and from whom must control be wrested from, other than the colonial usurper?) over their nation’s affairs, as well as its land, seas, borders and population. Independence is necessary to ensure and maintain the sovereign integrity of a people and their nation which may all too readily be diminished and ultimately extinguished through imposed cultural and population change. Colonial driven demographic change can result in the loss of a peoples’ sovereignty – as reflected by major changes over time in the national identity and sense of belonging of a population; this process may continue to occur as each year passes under colonial domination.
The wholly negative effects of colonialism are not therefore well understood in Scotland, yet this is a fundamental aspect of nationhood and a key determinant of independence which was not even discussed during the ALBA conference, and is never explored in any SNP conference. This reflects an institutional and political failure to understand and appreciate even the basic desire and motivation for independence and the critical importance of protection of a peoples’ sovereignty, the latter arguably the highest political priority.
If those advocating independence never mention, never mind analyse the C-word – colonialism – then how do we hope to ever address our predicament and the rationale for independence and hence decolonisation?
The ‘why’ of independence is always the same – which is to bring about decolonisation and the ending of the oppression of a people. Yet Scots never talk about independence in this way, despite repeated and blatant disrespect and deceit by the colonial power, Scotland’s enforced Brexit and rejection of successive electoral mandates in favour of holding another independence referendum being merely the latest examples.
The ‘how’ of independence
A National Party with the aim of national liberation must plan and set out its proposals to liberate the people. Instead, with ALBA and also previously with the SNP what we see is much discussion and debate of policies on this and that, which may or may not be developed and implemented after independence. This focus on policy factors as rationale for independence is largely superfluous and premature and often assumes the main challenge – which is to secure independence – will somehow be achieved at some point in time. Such focus also still ignores the lack of essential comprehension by the people of what independence is and why ‘their’ independence and liberation is necessary.
In this sense the proposed ‘Wee ALBA Book’, while no doubt informative, is primarily going to tell folk how better off the less well-off sections of society might be in an independent Scotland and how life might look in a ‘socially just’ society; but it will be unlikely to expand on or explain the fundamental truth of the matter behind our longstanding institutionalised inequality and oppression, which is to do with our colonialism and the forceful subjugation and exploitation of a people, their culture and language, and the theft of their resources. Neither will it explain to the people the fundamental purpose of independence nor the reasons why independence is necessary in the first place.
Without this basic understanding of what independence is, and why Scotland is not independent, or what independence really and actually means and why it is necessary, we will always be left with a mostly mis-informed people and a confused cause lacking strategic direction. It is this lack of focus which then gives rise to a reliance on inappropriate traditional British political party structures and strategies, as was and remains the case with the SNP, and stands to be so with ALBA unless a different approach is considered.
Independence is about civil and constitutional rights
So let’s think about this, about how we can better communicate to the people what independence really is about and why it is necessary. Once we tell the people the true story of their wretchedness, their exploitation and culturally enforced inferiority they will surely move to support the cause, which is a just and right cause that must prevail.
And let’s develop a political party – ALBA or otherwise – that is structured and focused only on delivering that essential message and objective – to return sovereignty and yes, freedom, to the Scottish people.
NOTE: Professor Baird has written an analysis of Scotland’s colonial straight-jacket in his publication: ‘Doun-Hauden: The Socio-Political Determinants of Scottish Independence’. The article is also published in the blogsite of ‘Barrhead Boy’.