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Two Post-RIC Contributions

So much stuff coming in post-RIC. Here are two interesting contributions we’ve received; George Campbell with an interesting take on how to develop some aspects of an economic agenda and Tom Coles with a philosophical overview

On economic sustainability in an Independent Scotland

The big argument put against Scottish independence for many, if not most of those in opposition to the concept, is economic viability and sustainability. We simply don’t have the industrial muscle, or North Sea oil etc. any longer, and with the rest of the world gearing up to provide R&D, insurance and financial services, we’ll find it hard to compete in the white collar/intellectual sector of the international economy, they say. One of the important economic concepts which give countries a boost is that of comparative advantage. In other words, a country should produce those goods or services where inputs are readily available at lower cost than competitor countries, and should avoid production of goods that can be produced more cheaply elsewhere. An example of the latter was the ill-fated Scottish motor industry and the Rootes plant at Linwood. The plant was simply too far away from sources of inputs and markets for finished cars. Transportation costs were too high for the products to be competitive when government subsidies stopped. The plant closed down. So economic sustainability will depend on exploiting any comparative advantage we can find.

We must look for sectors where we have an abundance of factors of production and exploit them for all they are worth. Two of the three basic factors of production of land, labour, and capital, are in abundance in Scotland. They are land and labour. We have simultaneously in our country, huge areas of under-utilised land and large numbers of unemployed workers. How could these be combined with enough capital to produce goods and services to fulfil home and world demand in the future? This is the challenge, and we must be far-sighted enough to recognise and identify areas where future demand will exceed future supply of these goods and services.

Simply watching the news on TV gives us an indication of what will be needed. World population keeps spiralling, and the consequent demand for food and water is ever increasing. The UK is a net importer of food, the price of which keeps rising due to increased demand from developing economies as sectors of their populations get wealthier. So food production should be increasingly more viable and profitable. Much of the land in Scotland will be unsuitable for the factory farms found in flatter lands and will therefore need to be labour intensive as a necessity, but the immediate obstacles are availability of land and the skills and determination of the labour force to embrace agriculture and other rural industry as a career. Scotland’s land ownership has always been a contentious issue and will need careful handling. Claims from those who see past consolidation of clan lands into private hands (of their chiefs mainly), as a continuing theft are in direct opposition to current owners who either inherited or purchased from others and would oppose any plan to return people to the glens.

So how do we proceed? The interests of the nations’ future must prevail against any other competing interests. Land needed for food production and nation building, not already in use for that purpose should be reclaimed either by tax procedures or nationalisation via compulsory purchase. It must be pointed out at this juncture that this paper is not advocating any kind of collective farm, or soviet socialist system. Such systems were proven to be wasteful and unproductive, having no incentive such as profit to motivate those involved. Rather workers should all share in the benefits of their labour in some type of leasing arrangement. To be discussed…

Which brings us to the labour force and the role of government in training and incentivising? Where suitable land is identified and reclaimed for crops or livestock, new communities could be established. There would be a need to train workers in building and maintenance as well as agricultural and other necessary skills. Schools, hotels and retail outlets will also be required giving opportunities to many. Unemployed people would be given the chance to retrain and relocate from the possibility of poor housing or dangerous environments and life on the dole, to a healthier, productive and nationally important industry of the future. New towns were a policy of the past, which while maybe failing at aesthetic excellence, nevertheless did liberate many people from poor city housing. New co-operative village communities (CVC’s or Civics for short) could go far to alleviate poverty, addiction and isolation in our hope-less cities. It would seem good quality fresh produce and jobs in the required infrastructure might be a sure bet as sustainable industries and a basis to move forward to a more profitable future for many Scottish workers who could have a tangible stake in their own future.

Then…there is water… Plentiful in Scotland, urgently needed south of the border last year. Great export potential. Although the current rainfall (2012) might argue against this. Consider too, electricity. We should be able to supply more than our own requirement from sustainable production where the means of generation are owned by the communities they serve rather than investors worldwide. Some examples of areas of comparative advantage which combined with the existing economy can sustain our nation. The key however is to grasp the nettle that is land ownership. Radical reform of who owns Scotland must be taken as an imperative.

George Campbell


Scotland’s Continuing Globalization

The Radical Independence Conference: Organization, Imagery, Atmosphere

Firstly, its been a long time since I went to a meeting of progressives and radicals and had fun. It wasn’t that nothing was at stake, or that it was unserious – it was the feeling that we were here for a reason, we were here to work, and here to get something done. The few disagreements or confusions of the day were overcome with good faith, and even the inevitable time over-run (“lefty time-keeping” – Pete Murray) was greeted without a grumble. The conference simply felt necessary, timely, and the best way to proceed.

Secondly, the ‘professionalism’ of the practical organization on the day has been mentioned by many who attended. I was one of the stewards, I chaired one of the meetings (‘What is Real Democracy?’), and I contributed to some of the ideas from one of the groups (Unity’s piece at ‘After Fortress Britain) – but apart from that I had very little role in the gritty job of booking travel and accommodation for visitors, making and printing posters, taking money, building websites, tweeting, phoning and photocopying. I knew many of the organisers from previous political events – particularly the student protests of 2010 – and was astounded at how quickly we have all come of age

It wasn’t just the organization on the day, but the entire ‘feel’ of the build up. The design of the leaflets (no BIG CAPITALS, old socialist iconography, screaming faces or lists of demands) that were contemporary, understated but still striking, seemingly at every intersection in Glasgow, and sold out from the merchandise stall.
It may be simple, but sometimes the simple things are the most difficult step.

This is About More than Independence

An image for a future Scotland doesn’t work without an image for the future world, and here we are sitting on a fulcrum of two possible futures.
Firstly, we may have a world, a Europe, a Britain, a Scotland, that continues to restructure to solve the contradictions of free-market economies with ever increasing volumes of consumption. One that extends the commodification of social processes to the fullest extent; where health, education, leisure, sport and the environment all come under market forces. This can only be done by deconstructing the NHS or the education system (where in England Michael Gove is bribing schools to become private academies; where Lansley and now Hunt are creating new inroads into hospitals and surgeries), by delegating responsibility to every hand, but keeping power – and especially financial controls – in the hands of the few.

This is the obvious tactic, to give control of services with lower levels of funding to the service providers and users, and when we find it tricky to keep services running with 20% less funding we will be told that it is our own fault. The question is not whether or not we want more power, but about how much of the power we want. The answer is, of course, that we want all of it.

The second future does not look dissimilar. It has the same features of localism, it has similar delegation of responsibility, but it does not have the same monopolization of power. This distinction was brought out again and again, most notably by Patrick Harvey when he said that he did not want to see a new generation of power generation owned by multinational corporations. If Scotland is going to build new offshore wind or new infrastructure then it should be owned and controlled by the Scottish people – but the implication of this is that the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Greeks.. all peoples must do this. Similarly, when discussing the constitution and Sovereignty – should we have a Monarchy or an Elected Head of State – the choice seemed to be neither, that it was a false question, that sovereignty and power must reside with the people, and it must not be monopolizable.

There are global and historical networks of power relations and legislative and ideological tools that work against this.

The World is ‘Flat’: Globalization and Scottish Independence

There continue to be troubling signs from the radical left, manifesting itself in a belief that ending a ‘bad’ United Kingdom with result in a ‘good’ Scotland – hopefully this weekend’s conference has begun to work away from this position towards a creative pessimism. If Scotland gains independence under this simple programme – hit and hope – it will not be simple to retain the aspects we admire, relinquish those we don’t, and develop those we hope for. The symbolic desire to dissolve of the British State is potent; but it is easy for ruling elites to accept these sorts of symbolic losses if they have to. The danger is that the relentless negativity from pro-unionists means that pro-independence activists reflexively produce a thoughtless positivity. We should shrink away from any calls to ‘Unite for the sake of a yes vote!’
Independence is not a fetish for the left: it is an opportunity, but it is also a risk.

It would be pointless, suggest Leigh French and Gordon Asher, in “’breaking’ the British state only for it to come back in multiple forms of itself, replicating the self-same interests/ powers/ privileges. So it’s not just a case of simply ‘breaking’ the British state, but of politicising the processes and realising the participatory potentials through beginning to do so, not postponing them due to a perceived/projected ‘fragility’ in the present. ‘Independence’ is not a ‘moment’ to vote for, but a process of state formation to participate in (or be excluded from) or to resist…”#  It is necessary to aim at a post-independence target. If the radical elements of the debate choose to simply follow the arguments of the SNP, wrapping them in a red/green/black flag we will end up with an Independent Scotland that is yet another neoliberal nation tied into a globalized world, however securely coated in tartan or warmed by a marginally progressive welfare-state. Rather than focusing on symbolic victories, we must find real points at which pressure can be applied to achieve concrete developments in the struggle against a political and economic system which is failing not just Scotland, but the world. That is the aim of this article.

The State of the Modern State

The question of independence for Scotland will also be an exploration of the function of nation-states in a modern globalized world. Ending one nation-state and forming a new one will take place in the context of an international politics – and international jurisprudence – just as we find ourselves in a time where international political structures have escalated longer-term attempts to dissolve aspects of the nation-state’s traditional coherence. This applies as much in Italy, Greece or Spain where the current governments are staffed by ‘technocrats’ – members of, or selected by, the international banking system. The UK establishment, subsumed into the same system by different means, is having great trouble finding a language to speak about the sanctity or importance its own nation, particularly after decades of violating the sovereignty of foreign nations.

The scaremongers who claim that Scotland will not be able to survive in the modern world of international markets, military alliances and so on have identified the right problem – global structures – but not the right diagnosis. The problem will likely be that Scotland, its politicians and its elites, will be very good at working within these forces and profiting from them – to the detriment of its own people. The disaster would be if Scotland were to survive in its current form. The general effect of the global and European financial crisis has been to allow elites to bypass or reform their social wage, labour and financial markets in order to allow capital to flow more easily. Neoliberalism has not failed, as French and Asher note, its is just consolidating.

At first this article will attempt to outline – in generalities – how a system of universal laws and power relationships combined with a modern and robust form of globalization means that the global capitalist system has little to fear from an independent Scotland. Firstly, international law arises largely from non-political and non-ethical motivations:
“…out of the world market there arose of itself a world international law which could overcome state sovereignty, and with it came a legitimacy and guarantee of the status quo that, unlike the French effort at preserving the international status quo [the League of Nations], had not only European but universal substance.” (‘Space and Greater-Space in International Law’, Carl Schmitt)

This overcoming of state-sovereignty by the international market/legal system is the motor of the ‘flatness’ so admired by journalists such as Thomas Friedman The ongoing rise of International Law – as opposed to the individual international treaty, which while still important are largely aimed at creating and supporting international legal systems and markets  – marked with other features the movement from many national capitalist economies to a largely homogenous globalized capitalist economy. Law as a foundation of capitalist economies, guaranteeing the enforceability of contracts, private property, and the efficient resolution of disputes, no longer stopped at borders but was able to generalize across nation states. The aim of reducing “uncertainty”, “complexity” and “bureaucracy” in international relations is – as with the same language in national debates – cover for the creation and enforcement of a good business environment.

Simply put, capitalism has a simple method of subsuming nations and peoples into its processes. Firstly it offers them the market’s hidden hand, if they refuse it threatens presses them with a legal bill#, finally if all else fails it unleashes the “hidden fist”# so admired by supporters of the administered world: interventionist wars and policing operations. Whatever method is used the result is potentially a ‘flattened’ world: this will be hard for Scotland to resist.

This set of interlocking tactics and institutions is a historical result. The last century saw the reduction (but by no means the elimination) of force and violence as the colonial epoch transformed into the globalized epoch. The standard narrative is that force of law replaced the force of arms – international law emerged from attempts to limit the destructiveness of conflicts from a mix of motivations, some humanitarian, some purely pragmatic. Whether it is laws of copyright, human rights legislation, the Vienna convention on embassies, the Westphalian model of nation-states, or liberal interventionist ‘policing actions’ (war under the name of law), international law has replaced prior forms of international relations as the primary universal arbiter when more informal relations in the markets have failed, or if markets need to be imposed.

So, while “legal rules will always be overridden when important State interests are at stake” legality remains the preferred route for states to resolve internal and external disputes. It is no surprise then that as an attempt is made to dissolve the British state public arguments between Holyrood and Westminster (Salmond and Cameron) have taken place within a discourse of legal rights, rather than others, e.g. power, ethnicity, history or right to self-determination. Where other modes of discourse have emerged (e.g. force: bombing Scottish airstrips, history: Bannockburn/Culloden) they have caused discomfiture due to being outside the recognized debate.

This legalized discourse – ignoring the deadening effect it has on public interest in the process of independence – highlights the current mode under which further devolution of powers to Scotland will take place. I say further devolution, because it is apparent that just as the 1998 Scotland act reserved certain powers to Westminster, any agreement emerging from a 2014 independence referendum will reserve certain powers to international law, and the global market. I am not ignoring a related problem of the Crown powers/prerogative – if the monarchy is retained in 2014 – and more importantly, if the Queen remains head of state – it will be yet another power structure that can intervene in Scottish affairs (as Crown powers were used in the UK in 1974, in the Australian constitutional crisis in 1975, or as far back as 1926 in the King-Byng affair in Canada). The Crown powers are a special case for the UK – but every form of abuse wraps itself in a cloth of ‘exceptionality’.

We Cannot Ignore the Past

What are these ‘certain powers’? They are an interlocking set of institutions, some of which have already become controversial in the independence debate, primarily as James Foley suggests NATO’s status as the “informal empire” of the United States, the ECB and Scotland’s potential adoption of the Euro, and The Bank of England and the potential retention of the pound. The NATO debate is instructive, George Kerevan’s recent pro-NATO article claims that maintaining membership will “demonstrate that an independent Scotland will engage positively and responsibly with the global community”. Similarly the international community has been sincerely hoping that Greece will act responsibly, it is claimed the markets are applauding George Osborne for his responsible programme of austerity. To be “responsible” within the international community of institutions is a non-choice – by regulating laws and markets between and and across national borders they define what form of law and economy are possible within states. Foley is mostly right to say that under “the cover of “global citizenship”, the dominant ideology of American power has found a lever in Scottish politics.” American power is only an important part of a global power – granted, one produced largely by American foreign policy during the second half of the 20th Century – that is now, as a neoliberalism steadily mutating through the recent global crisis, finding itself increasingly autonomous of the needs of any individual nation. In short, to be a ‘global citizen’ has always been to play by these rules dictated by a global power that is largely self-serving – a national (American) power in certain ways, but ultimately a class power. To summarize Neil Davidson in his introductory essay to ‘Neoliberal Scotland’, there is a Scottish ruling and capitalist class – and Scottishness is not their defining feature.

These are the rules of international law and the international markets, laws and markets that Scotland had a large part in creating. Globalization did not need to find a lever to act within Scotland, because to a large extent Scotland was globalized from the very beginning. There is a radical claim to be made: that the 1707 Act of Union was one of the key legislative moments in the birth of globalization. The Union was not a colonization as they would be carried out in the 19th and 20th Centuries – it was an economic and legal arrangement, the primal scene of the modern globe in its first breaths. Scotland was not simply a victim of the British Empire, but a key example of how one state can expand its economic territory without straight-forward conquest. The disciplines represented by Adam Smith (economics), David Hume (philosopher)#, James Boswell (lawyer), Adam Ferguson (sociology) were born of the union, and of Scotland. Somewhere in the debate between Englishman John Locke, Irishman George Berkeley and Scotsman David Hume a new philosophical movement on which discourses of modernity and science would be based: ‘British Empiricism’ appears alongside the British Empire. The Act itself is interesting, out of the 25 articles 13 are concerned with matters of trade – guaranteeing a consistent market structure. The 1707 act was a legal obsessed with guaranteeing open markets, and notably the right for Scots merchants to take part in the slave trade – the 2014 debate focuses similarly on practicalities of ownership: Scottish international waters, rights to oil/gas on the continental shelf, the division of state assets and liabilities#; and membership of international organizations, heads of state and modes of sovereignty and currency. We are told that to refer back to 1707 is wilfully archaic, (like worrying about ‘The Queen’ – crown powers) but while the document itself has little impact on our tactics today, the historical developments it set going are key.

Voltaire said of Enlightenment Scotland:  “We look to Scotland for our idea of civilisation”. What was the nature of the civilization to be learned from Scotland? As these ‘great men’ redefined worlds of thought, a society of 2,000 Glasweigan poor was formed to save the bodies of their dead loved ones from Enlightenment body snatchers pushing the boundaries of anatomical understanding. Scotland was born out of the slavery it imposed on others, of exploitation, of primary accumulation of property, of the dispossession of its own and other peoples. It took part in atrocities overseas – and still does – and was not spared atrocities back home. This process produced key features of modern capitalism: the British state and globalization, and modern Scotland. Just as a crisis of Scottish finances were used to consolidate a nascent British Empire, the current crisis is being used to consolidate the gains of Neoliberalism.

To gain Scottish Independence will to be entering the world that 300 years of Scottish activity as an essential part of the British state has created. Scotland may make its history, but many of its choices have already been made and will be impossible to revoke. History, a history that includes Scottish, has provided a globalized world.
‘Think Global, Eat Local’: Flattening

Globalization does not demand an independent Scotland, but it knows what to do with one. There is a crude analysis of global capitalism that goes like this: it wishes to ‘flatten’, to make everywhere the same. Globalization has no interest in such things, it doesn’t care what we do, say, think, or how we present oursleves. It merely asks that we act in certain ways. We should be wary of any attempt to suggest that independence will be able to retain Scottish identity or values. David Cameron and George Osborn are merely implements of the logical of international forces. Global capitalism relies on difference, it relies on being able to continually find something extra – surplus resources, surplus space, surplus labour, surplus profits. In a world without difference this would be impossible. It requires constant crisis and change, it especially requires national differences that can be used to discipline governments and populations, whether it is setting governments against each other to achieve subsidies or de-regulation, or using the threat of ‘offshoring’ to push down wages.

This is contrary to the normal sense in which we understand the term ‘globalization’, ‘universalization’ or the ‘flattening’ of an increasingly connected, networked, communicative and shrinking world. It simply is not the case that a largely homogenous globalized capitalist economy will result in a monoculture.
NATO, for example, does not ensure American monoculture, but a market where all cultures and interests are made equivalent. Economic globalization and universalization finds its natural supplement in fixed cultural identities. Even if they are mixed, they retain identity. In a global universe, we will not be eating hamburgers, each of us will stick to a traditional identity giving us a falsely secure position to fight in the global market. This is why it is catastrophic to fight globalization with a reference to particular identity, because globalization is strengthening particular identities in certain strategic ways.

We Cannot Ignore the Future

The heroic tool of globalization, the Internet, Patrick Ness recently said “instead of bringing us all together in an omnipresent, multifaceted discussion, the internet instead has made sectarianism an almost default position”. The correlate of simpler communication is more nuanced and absolute individualism, through new technologies the traditional ‘mass-culture’ has become a individually filtered culture. As Burger King says: “have it your way”. The problem is that while you can customize your consumption, you are still obliged to consume along certain formal lines. A Scottish politics may emerge that looks authentically local, but its form – a market economy – will likely be assured by a globalized world.

The only reason that we can still hold that Scottish Independence is a radical demand is because of context – because the only real independence for Scotland is an independence from the formal constraints of a globalized capitalist system of laws, markets, and power. However, perhaps independence is the wrong word. As peoples around the world – from French and British student uprisings, from the slow changes to USA hegemony in Latin America, the ‘Arab Spring’, the Greek ‘finance war’, there is a new world coming. Perhaps rather than independence the real idea is ‘liberation’ – we cannot simply wriggle out of our dependence on these networks of money, power, influence, we have to break and reform them.

Even if independence is not achieved in 2014, the process of fighting for it must teach us not just that a Scottish left can re-unite after years of infighting (a process that will require far more blood and sweat than a day-long conference). We must learn that a European, moreover a Global movement towards new democratic, internationalist, forms and collaboration is more necessary in the 21st Century than it has ever been. In this economic crisis, independence is another ‘crisis machine’, a way we can unsettle and radicalise the staid, deadening situation we find ourselves in – when building a new identity, we must learn to identify with others across the world.

Tom Coles