Thursday, 18 September 2014

From an English socialist to a Scottish one: five reasons to stay




This is why I think you should stay. Fraternally yours, an English socialist
Judging by the opinion polls, most people have already decided how they are going to vote in the Scottish independence referendum today. For those who haven’t, this is for you.
Britain flag ncrjThis will not, I hope, come across as an attempt to bully or scare you into voting No, as has happened all too often with the Better Together campaign.
Rather, I hope it will be taken as a fraternal attempt to persuade, rather than a sternadmonition.
Socialism is about solidarity, coming together and uniting through common struggle
Or at least it should be. The nationalism of ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups should be anathema to anyone on the left, for it creates arbitrary divisions based on nothing more than where a person happened to be born. Claiming that the true road to socialism lies in erecting more borders is like arguing that the way to stay clean is to avoid taking a shower.
Self-determination is one thing and nationalism, which is propelling the Yes campaign, is quite another. Nationalism is never cuddly and always seeks to divide. Socialism should be about uniting people through common interests, not pulling people apart through arbitrary ideas of nationhood. Breaking things up into smaller and smaller units is surely the method of the right. The smallest unit after all is the individual, and when there is only the individual there is, as Margaret Thatcher famously put it, ‘no such thing as society’.
Britain is in fact two countries
Under the surface we are two countries: one of empire, monarchy and the class system, but also a multi-ethnic society at ease with itself and which cares for the sick regardless of how much money they have in the bank. We are the land of top hats and the Bullingdon Club, but also the home of George Orwell, Aneurin Bevan and Sylvia Pankhurst. England may often be too centrist and even too right-wing for many Scottish Labour voters, but remember that there are people on the left in England – millions of people – who despise the Westminster establishment just as much as you do.
As an English socialist, I ask you not to abandon us in our fight to throw out the Tories, but to stand alongside us in trying to create a Britain that no longer resembles the family with the wrong members in control. As mentioned already, socialism is about solidarity: please stay and together we have a far greater chance of creating a just society both north and south of the border (which really will be a border, with all the nasty things that go with it, if Scotland votes Yes).
The best lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity
You may scoff, but Britain is one of the few examples of a successful and democratic multi-faith and multi-ethnic state. Help to break it up if you must, but do not kid yourself that you are doing something progressive in the process. In Yeats’s poem the Second Coming, he famously noted that the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Britain is a country of status quo politics and evolutionary change. But it is also a country of ‘tolerance’ – or to put it slightly differently, of complaining about everything under the sun but of rubbing along with each other regardless. It is certainly not the country where ‘traitors’ have bricks thrown through their windows.
Ignore the noisy Englishmen who bemoan immigration to these islands, and instead ask yourself why people flock to Britain – yes Britain – in the first place. As a writer in theWashington Post put it last year, ‘We [Britain] may not always be your cup of tea, but you know – and so often love – our culture nonetheless’.
We need you
And take that as a compliment. The stuff about the Conservatives having a ‘permanent majority’ in a Britain without Scotland is overblown, but having your good sense come General Election time helps to ensure that we English have rulers that are a bit more compassionate and a little less capitalist in tooth and claw than might otherwise be the case.
There are plenty of us in England who don’t like being ruled by a lineal descendant of King William IV either. I don’t want to live in a country where the best I can expect from government is a bunch of half-baked centrists. Help a comrade out and stay, will you?
The SNP will sell you down the river
I can see the left-wing books about the ‘great betrayal’ already. Salmond and the SNP have persuaded many that, provided they get a Yes vote, they will build Scandinavian-style social democracy using the profits from North Sea oil.
But instead of listening to the SNP’s rhetoric, why not look at a few of the things that Salmond has actually done when in power. Salmond has slashed away at corporation tax and mooted his own welfare cap. Those who view independence as the beginning of a transition to Scandinavian-style social democracy ought also to remember that Salmond’seconomic sympathies lie firmly with Ireland, the ultra-low tax regime lionised by George Osborne as a “shining example of the art of the possible in economic policy-making”. And you don’t get a Nordic welfare state with Irish levels of taxation.
As for equality, Salmond gushes over Vladimir Putin and will happily stand on a platform with homophobic stagecoach boss Brian Souter (and take his money) if it benefits the SNP and the Yes campaign. Even David Cameron would find it difficult to get away with that.

So in sum, that is why I think you should stay. Fraternally yours, an English socialist.