Oil fires in Homs, Syria.

Democracy, War & Oil: Why Scottish Independence matters

There are just a few weeks until the big vote, and it’s heartening to see so many people getting involved in the discussion. It’s on everyones lips, and while I’m sure we’ll all be exhausted by the time it’s over, it is good to hear such a variety of views.

As I laid out in my last post I’ve come to the conclusion that i’ll be voting Yes to Scottish independence. But I don’t think I’m unpersuadable, so I was pleased to hear the views of clever and thoughtful friends like Kate Spence Bridges and Mikey Macintosh.

Mikey’s written a eloquent blog setting out his reasoning for deciding to vote No. It’s worth a read, but I’ll warn you, it’s best tackled with a mug of coffee and a biscuit.
He makes good points, some of which I find it hard to disagree with and some I do. I considered a blow-by-blow rebuttal, but he’s a quick witted lawyer, and I’m sure no one wants to see me sobbing in the witness box. A slow boring sob.

I’ll just stick to the bits that really got me thinking.

Localise and Federalise?

Both Mikey and Kate raise an interesting point on how far you go when it comes to separation, where should it stop?

“…maybe we should go for an east-west split? … We should divide it north-south as well — the republic of the Highlands and Islands. But wait — islands? Can’t get more separate than that. An independent Shetland. Wouldn’t that be local?”

Well the corollary to your point is how far do you unite and centralise? A united states of Europe? A single Africa?

It comes down to matters of equality. The further a people feel separated from government, unrepresented, or disenfranchised, the further they will disengage from politics; and this is where inequality thrives. And there are plenty of global examples of this having terrible consequences too. That’s why I’m an advocate for local democracy.

Naturally if you extend either in the extreme I guess you get total decentralisation and some sort of every-man-for-himself anarchy on the one hand, and you get and unwieldy, repugnant totalitarian system on the other. Of course you’d be crazy to advocate either of these, so there must be a sweet spot somewhere.

I’d say that on balance, an Independent Scotland has an opportunity of hitting that sweet spot, both in terms of the governability of it’s population size and it’s modern parliament with a good mix of proportional representation and constituent first-past-the-post. And what gets me really encouraged about this is how engaged people are getting with the politics of this thing. None of the “we don’t talk about politics in here mate,” it’s on people’s lips in pubs, town halls and round dinner tables. I’m encouraged!

And Mikey himself raises the opportunity of more “local-er” democracy via federalism. This strikes a chord. Interesting. Each member country having there own parliament and fiscal controls and turfing out the Lords and use their chamber as the UK Senate — brilliant!

But how do we get there?

In a way, some time ago, I’d considered a Yes to independence a Plan B. A more sensible option would have been a steady progression and transfer of powers via ‘devo-max.’ Plan A. Plausible route to a federation. But alas, we were denied that choice by Westminster. A nifty political play, or a risky gamble? Either way, I think a No vote will actually be a step further away from such a federation.

When it came to Salmond’s “mandate” to negotiate on currency in the recent TV debate, I was as perturbed as the next man, Gail may have even witnessed me muttering at the TV; but by the same token I am fully anticipating a No vote being trumpeted as a mandate to slow the rate of devolution — even claw back powers — or require Scotland to bear even deeper austerity.

However, the one part of such a structure that would still tip me in favour of Yes vote in this referendum would be the control over defence and foreign policy. Mikey touches upon the subject and complexities of international relations, and let’s be frank, Britain’s propensity to get involved in armed conflict. As I’ve mentioned before, in 26 of the 33 years of my life we’ve been involved in a conflict somewhere in the world.

Bloody Oil

I know it’s a well worn argument, but the technicalities of whether the Iraq war was legal are just that, legal technicalities. For what it’s worth, I’ve read the Attorney General’s advice and it is just that, technical legal-back-covering — where as moral arguments are totally damning.

Iraq, like nearly every armed conflict we’ve been involved in during my living memory, have been down to economic greed and control of natural resources, wrapped up in the feel-good glow of interventionism. And yes that includes even Kosovo; if you want some cheery reading, delve into the oily dirt of the Trans-Balkan pipeline.

The horror that is ISIS and its ruthless ethnic cleansing is utterly sickening, but why does our foreign policy dictate an intervention here (like it or not, there have already been boots on the ground and jets in the air) whereas Christians are butchered in Sudan and Nigeria, Muslims in Myanmar, and in countless other conflicts with barely an acknowledgement? The argument usually goes, “well, just because we can’t help everywhere, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help in this situation.” But could it be down to the billions of dollars of oil currently under ISIS control?

And it’s only a matter less than a year ago that we started shipping arms to the rebels to fight Assad, and now, only months later we are collaborating with the Syrian regime to fight the very people we have armed. Oh, and now we’re selling arms to the Kurds — see a pattern here?

Then there’s the horrors of Afghanistan; tens of thousands killed in the bombing of Libya; the renditions; the torture; detention without trial nor charge; the dragnet surveillance; the material corroboration with brutal dictatorships in support of our own interests or simply for economic experimentation; the arms trading; the politicians that end up on boards of corporations first in line to collect the spoils from lands torn apart by our wars … the list just goes on and on.

All of this is reported in the mainstream press, studied and scrutinised — it’s not just some fringe theorising. I’d urge anyone to read widely on it and think, really think, about what is going on here, and what led our country to this point.

Do I believe in a ‘just war’ and Mikey seems to make the case for? If I try really, really hard, maybe I can. Just. But as he says, it’s complex. Even World War Two (perhaps especially WW2) should prompt some critical moral reflection.

‘Just war’ and interventionism does make these kinds of conflicts, well, easier to sell to the public. And if I’m honest, it leaves just enough doubt over the real intentions for me to be able to live with the economic benefits of the suffering of others. It’s easier not to think about that too much.

How can we go on like this?

Trident, the great enabler

I get it. I understand why we have Trident and if we are to have a nuclear deterrent, then we may as well do it properly, or not at all. There’s no point in cruise missiles nor gravity bombs. If it has to be, then it’s just got to be a system of undetectable submarines ready to unleash intercontinental missiles into space, dropping a hammer-blow of unimaginable force onto a blissfully ignorant civilian population anywhere in the world, at just a moments notice.

This sort of system suits a small island nation with big ambition. I just wish they would call it what it is, it’s not a deterrent but an Independent Nuclear Seat-at-the-Top-Table.

It’s not just an abhorrent and mind-bogglingly expensive button-that-must-never-be-pushed, but it symbolically underwrites the military and economic muscle we are so ready and willing to flex. And flex it we do, with such unpredictable, far-reaching and often devastating consequences.

Maybe it’s the system and not just the people / Can’t we just change it from the inside?

Mikey, first off, consider your cotton socks very much blessed.

I do agree that many people go into politics with a vision to make this country a better place. But why is it that these scenarios keep on repeating and persisting over successive governments — of both the left and the right — for decade after decade? Perhaps it’s more than just a problem of people, perhaps it is the system.

It seems not to matter which party is in power, nor how we protest, the pattern keeps on repeating. Aren’t these signs of systemic problems?

The UK establishment is a complex, often unfathomable, system of systems. The Commons, The Lords, the lobbyists of Westminster, the Square mile, Whitehall, Fleet Street. It’s almost impenetrable.

How would one possibly go about disarming, and changing this balance of power?

Yes it is complex: a diverse, chaotic world of clashing priorities and all manner of shades of grey. But it is possible to be a country not at war. Difficult but not impossible, and something that takes some bravery.

When there are calls to “change politics be it a Yes or a No” then we applaud. Rightly so. But what does it mean to change politics if not to restructure power, and rebuild?

Of course you may say that Scotland may end up repeating some of the very same mistakes, but a Yes vote in the referendum and a no to Trident would, by nearly all accounts, signal a unilateral disarmament of the UK. It would fundamentally change the balance of power, and force some significant reflection on both Britain and Scotland’s place in the world, from the perspective of two significantly smaller states.

Call it democracy, call it direct action, call it nonviolence, but there comes an opportunity for change and I’m not sure in, good conscience, I can bring myself to vote No.

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