by John Wight
It was already the case that the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon was the only political leader to emerge from the Brexit debacle with any credibility. During her initial public statement after the result of the EU referendum was confirmed on June 24, she extended the hand of friendship to EU migrants and other immigrants living and working in Scotland, assuring them they were welcome and would remain so. It was a powerful statement of solidarity with people who’d found themselves reduced to the status of ‘the other’ during the course of a political campaign over Britain’s membership of the EU that plumbed new depths of indecency and mendacity. Strip away the embroidery and Brexit was driven by a tidal wave of xenophobic and British/English nativist hysteria, whipped by the the right wing of the Tory Party and UKIP.
Now, four months on, Sturgeon has placed the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence back on the table, at the very point at which Brexit starts to make its presence felt economically and politically. In this the SNP leader’s hand has been forced by a Prime Minister, Theresa May, who is no mood to compromise when it comes to wrenching Scotland out of the single market, regardless of the fact she has no mandate to do so.
As someone who opposed Scottish independence in 2014, writing numerous articles and appearing in public debates to put the case for unity across the UK on the basis of class, rather than division on the basis of nationality, I now believe that independence for Scotland is not only desirable but necessary. Not only is it necessary in the interests of people in Scotland, but even more significantly it is necessary in order to lift the banner of progressive politics out of the mud, where it currently lies, and raise it as a beacon of hope across a European continent engulfed by the ugly politics of racial and national exceptionalism to an extent not seen since the 1930s.
It is now inarguable that the dominant political culture in Scotland is at odds with its counterpart in England. Even while opposing independence in 2014, I did so while acknowledging the progressive character of a Yes campaign that was a tribute to political engagement, progessive ideas, and discourse. It was inclusive, idealistic, and driven by hope and the expectation of something better, more humane and just than the Westminster status quo. Compare this with the ugliness of Brexit and how it unleashed a poisonous anti-immigrant and triumphalist white British nationalism, legitimising xenophobia as a political current.
If anybody had allowed themselves to believe that this explosion of right wing reaction was merely an aberration, the Tory Party conference in Birmingham confirmed it is the new normal. With their verbal broadside against immigration, Theresa May and the Tories have aligned themselves with the working class rump that constitutes the British jobs for British workers crew — a demographic won to the fallacious argument that dwindling public services and the assault on jobs, wages, and conditions of the past six years is due to immigration and free movement rather than Tory austerity. The Tory Party conference confirmed that Brexit Britain has set sail for the 19th century, back to a time when Britain ruled the waves and Johnny Foreigner knew his rightful place as a lesser breed of a lesser culture.
Whether we care to admit it or not, the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence raised and awoke a national consciousness that is not going back to sleep anytime soon. It dictates that politics in Scotland is now viewed through this national prism, with Brexit likewise raising its British and English counterpart. The result is that politics across Scotland and the UK has been distilled into a choice between two competing nationalisms.
Who in their right mind, either north or south of the border, could possibly argue which of the two is the more progressive? When the late Jimmy Reid said, “Nationalism is like electricity; it can kill a man in the electric chair or keep a baby alive in an incubator,” he could have been describing the fundamental difference between the nationalist current that has taken root north of the border and its counterpart south of the border.
As for Jeremy Corbyn, his attempt to return the Labour Party to something approximating to its founding values has only served to confirm that it is a party doomed to disunity and internecine war for years to come.
But even if that were not the case, it is too late for Corbyn to have any serious impact on politics in Scotland. The test of political leadership is one he failed during the EU referendum, fighting a dispassionate and lacklustre campaign of a type consistent with allegations that he wilfully sought to sabotage Remain and in truth supported Brexit. And even if he did not sabotage Labour’s campaign to remain, he inarguably failed to understand the true character of this Brexit beast, which is unforgiveable for someone widely considered the most progressive leader Labour has ever had.
The question now, then, is not if there will be another referendum on Scottish independence, but when. The case made in the 2014 White Paper was nowhere near strong enough and will have to be reconfigured in light of the proven volatility of oil prices and the need to rethink the issue of a national currency. Overall, the vision needs to be more radical and bold, signifying a clear break with the status quo politically, economically, constitutionally, and, not to be underestimated, also morally and ethically. Key, too,will be the role of the EU in supporting the prospect of an independent Scotland as a member of an EU that is long overdue for reform. If the Scottish government receives a pre-guarantee in this regard it will be game on.
Scottish independence is now the last redoubt behind which everyone across the UK who believes in human solidarity, internationalism, and a multicultural society must gather to stem the rising tide of Brexit poison that threatens to drown us all.
This article originally appeared at the Huffington Post