My identity, or identities, are made out of how I am related to other people. There’s no PRINCIPLE involved. I haven’t got a fixed hierarchy of “relationships.” I am part of the subset of “things that are alive” which is in turn a subset of “things that exist” if you want to get cosmic about it. I am also Tom and Gregor’s Dad. One relationship I have, one identity I have, doesn’t cancel out all the others. We’re all allowed more than one.
It depends on circumstance which one happens to matter most at that moment.
My circumstance on September the 18th this year is that I am one of the Scottish electorate who get to make a really important decision. A decision that I and the rest of the people voting that day have never been able to take before. And that a peculiar set of historical circumstances that seem unlikely to recur in the immediate future have accidentally conspired to affords me and everyone else I am voting with that day.
So what are “we” – that day’s accidental, contingent “we” going to do about it? Are we going to collectively decide to be “a nation” ? Not again, like in the song, but a functional, sovereign democracy for the very first time? Are we really going to reinvent ourselves and our relationships with our families, our neighbours and the wider world…by voting Yes?
What do we mean by “nation”?
For me, a nation is not a flag or an anthem or an accent. A nation is a way of thinking about ourselves and then organising ourselves. Most of all, a nation is a way of valuing people. And I think we need new ways to do that. I think we can do that better if we decide to be a nation, and decide that a nation is a way orf organising things for the good of the people who live there.
Oh, we can value people by how much they spend or how much they earn. Or how much they inherit. Or how much they manage to avoid paying in tax.
But a “nation” is a way of valuing people as people, just because they happen to be people.
It’s not the only way to do it, it’s not even the best way to do it, philosophically. But it is a way of valuing people practically, on an organisable scale. On a practical scale that is democratically accountable, for example.
Now, Scotland is no worse or no better than anywhere else. It’s just another place, probably more fortunate than most in terms of its economic and human potential, but not intrinsically or essentially different from our neighbours. I’m not voting Yes because I think we’re anything special. But I do think we’re a nation. Or, to be more precise, I do think that we could be.
I think that we might be offering ourselves the chance…just the chance…of re-designing the society we live in on the basis of a principle of human value. That if I value my autonomy, my health, my work, my place in my society, then I cannot logically deny that same valuation to anyone else. And that if i choose to pool my autonomy with those of others in order to get things done, then what those things are should be decided by those who will benefit from those things.
It’s not rocket science. It only sounds like a daydream because that is not the kind of country I live in now.
I think the country we’d be unilaterally breaking (which is another story), the UK, I think that was a nation once. I think that when we all together elected the Labour Government of 1945 and set in train the reforms we are all so familiar with – the welfare state, the nationalisation of essential industry and the NHS – that was Britain’s national moment. Perhaps its most important democratic national moment when we collectively decided that the dreadful poverty of the 1930s and the war of the 1940s were telling us that we had to re-organise “Britain” on the principle of the welfare and security of its people, on banishing the evil;s of ignorance and want. I think that was a moment of national solidarity.
I absolutely defy anyone to identify anything like that in the country we live in now. I defy anyone to describe it to me anything as like a nation. Scotland or Britain.
If Margaret Thatcher came to power to cancel everything that Harold Wilson ever did (as a clever and dear friend of mine in London said once) then this lot are in power to cancel 1945, to return us to the pre-democratic Downton Abbey world of the 1914 they seem so curiously keen on celebrating.
(Perhaps because it was in the war of 1914 to 18 that the Britain “they” cherish began to be taken from them, by, among others, the Labour Government of 1945.)
The UK really is a place of flags and parades. It is hardly a place where the welfare of the people just because they are people is a defining value of government or economy or dominant culture. And Scotland is locked into a distorted relationship with it, anomalous and clumsy.
I really believe that if we vote Yes we will be at least starting the project of the “nation” with an assertion of human value and of democratic participation as being the root of that value. Of the supreme autonomy of the individual, with all his or her complex of identities and relationships, being pooled for practical purposes with those same complexities and richness in everyone we meet.
This is not to deny anything to anyone else on these islands or this earth. It is just that, it seems to me, an independent Scotland is an exciting place to start a project of renewal of values that seem lost and even absurd in the country we live in now.
We used to call them British values. I’d prefer to call them human values. I will continue to share those values, as values, with my dear and clever friend everywhere else on earth
But I would like to stop dreaming about them as values and help to invent and organise a nation where they can at least aspire to becoming real. Where human value can be the principled basis of all policies, all political decisions. If that’s a leap in the dark, so be it.
That’s what George Washington called an Independent USA. I think we’ll be fine
Who’s with me?