The event to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield this week was as moving and inspiring as it gets. The sight of those remarkable people gathered together to mark one of the defining events of my lifetime reminded me that for working people unity really is strength, that solidarity is the key to victory against seemingly insurmountable odds, and that regardless of race, creed, religion or nationality, the things that unite working people are much greater than anything that could possibly divide them.
And yet, as a Scot, I am being invited by an increasingly bitter and intolerant Yes campaign for Scottish independence to cast a vote on September 18 that will separate working people in Scotland from working people in Liverpool and every other town and city in England and Wales, and instead express an affinity with any number of rich and affluent Scots on the basis of nothing more than the fact I happen to live in the same part of this island as them.
How can this possibly be described as progressive? And how is it that so many socialists and progressives in Scotland have swung in behind a nationalist project that offers constitutional change but not the social and economic change required to transform the lives of working class people not only in Scotland but throughout Britain?
Fighting the Tories by vacating the field of battle, abandoning other working class people to their fate in the process, can be called many things but socialism is not one of them. Just as a border cannot keep out bad weather, it won’t keep out neoliberalism, and there is nothing progressive in pretending that the SNP – with its desire for an independent Scotland to reduce corporation tax to 12.5 percent, retain an unelected monarch as head of state, and join the nuclear-armed military alliance of NATO – offers anything better than the status quo.
Many on the left of the Yes campaign assert that the upcoming referendum isn’t about Alex Salmond or the SNP. But this is about as absurd as claiming that a tree is a lamppost in disguise. Scottish independence and the SNP constitute two sides of the same coin in the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people. It is the SNP’s vision that is dominating this campaign and whether socialists in the Yes campaign care to admit it or not, people in September will be casting a vote either for or against the vision set out in the SNP’s White Paper, launched at the tail end of last year.
As for the Better Together campaign, being led by Alistair Darling, this does not speak for me or for any Scot who knows better. The sight of Tories, Lib Dems, and New Labour dinosaurs preaching to the Scottish people as to why they should vote No is both unedifying and political manna from heaven for the SNP. Indeed, with every utterance these people merely increase support for a Yes campaign which by now has clearly lost the economic and political argument in favour of independence, and is now focused on accentuating a regressive emotional argument involving the painting of Scotland as victims of perfidious Albion.
To the simple minded it is compelling stuff, providing an opportunity to brush up on Mel Gibson’s speech to the troops in Braveheart. However to the rest of us it is transparent and reductive nonsense. The Scots are not and never have been colonised by England or the English. On the contrary, Scots played a key role when it came to forging a British Empire which stands to this day as a badge of shame to any right thinking citizen of this country.
No, I just won’t have it. Nor will I have being told that progress for ordinary people in Scotland means turning the people of Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester and London into the citizens of a foreign country on September 18.
While the emergence of nationalism as a viable alternative to the status quo may be rooted in understandable despair over one of the most vicious Tory governments we’ve ever seen, my hope for the people of Scotland and throughout this island remains with the kind of solidarity and unity we witnessed being displayed in Liverpool this week and over the past 25 years..
Ultimately, working people are only as strong as they are united, and as weak as they are divided.