Friday, 14 February 2014

Scotland's Future

As an undergraduate I used to regret that people in history seemed so ideological while my generation were so cynical. Yet, suddenly, dozens of my contemporaries have been fired with the great ideological cause of Scottish independence – and it terrifies me. It is a disaster.

My problem is not the cause per se. I like the principle of subsidiarity – that people control their own affairs – although I believe this requires a level of political engagement which Scotland does not yet have.

My problem is now is not the time. The environmental crisis is not one of a list of important issues. It is the issue we must deal with, globally, immediately. The recent report about global temperature rise of 4 degrees by 2100 does not mean ‘things will start getting really bad around 2100’, it means, ‘things will get worse, faster, from today onwards, and within 85 years it will all be over for most of life on earth’. Mass extinction of life in the oceans is not an interesting piece of marine science: it is the most important event in world history since the dinosaurs died out, and life on land will not escape.

If Scotland votes for independence this year, what will happen?

1. Scotland would spend the next decade or so establishing institutions, realigning parties, finding its economic feet and its diplomatic place in the world.

It may or may not be too late to avert catastrophic environmental crisis. By the time we have spent years learning to be an independent country, certainly will be. Who do we expect will lead a global turnaround in environmental destruction in the meantime? America? Denmark? Kenya? England? To expend all our energies on political restructuring in a world which is all sliding to disaster together seems to me to be the opposite of heroic, idealistic freedom: it seems to me to be a gross misuse of Scotland’s talents, influence and (as the country that produced James Watt!) considerable historical responsibility.

2. All Scottish influence would be withdrawn from Westminster.

I can’t believe that the English Tories don’t know what they are about, with their appalling ‘Better Together’ campaign which, at every turn, drives more Scots to vote for withdrawal from Westminster. Because, make no mistake, that will be by far the most significant shift in power. The Tories must be rubbing their hands with joy. Scotland already has control over most of its internal affairs (education, NHS, law, banking, religious and ethical issues, etc), and control over economy and foreign affairs will in reality be marginal given our small size and the strength of international forces. The global economy will go down with the environment. English floods are far from the worst environmental disaster in the world today: look up California and Alabama, for example, and watch out for food prices going up.

Do we really want to pull out of Westminster and lose all our influence over a country which is on our borders, far larger, far richer, of dubious prevailing political principles, equipped with a large army, and already beginning to suffer major environmental catastrophe in its most densly populated areas? If Westminster is bullying Scotland now over the pound, how might they bully us when they have an army, a refugee crisis, and a government over which we have no influence, and are under dire environmental stress of their own?

Since the SNP have brilliantly appropriated the word ‘yes’ for their campaign for Scottish withdrawal from Westminster, it is very difficult to oppose them without sounding like a negative nay-sayer. It is doubly hard when politicians who know themselves to be obnoxious to Scottish sensibilities have hijacked the opposition. Yet I do not believe I am calling for a vote for ‘Negativity and the Tories’. This yes/no thing alone is a very powerful piece of manipulation: don’t fall for it.

The delusion of Scottish independence is like the delusion of heaven keeping peasants in their places in pre-industrial Europe. The only people who will unquestionably gain – the fat wicked clergy in the Marxist fable – are the English Tories and their friends, who will be rid at last of two hundred years of tremendous, world-changing, irritating, persistent, Scottish influence in British affairs. A yes vote is an unequivocal yes for English Toryism: for everything else it is a vote for uncertainty.

There is a bit of me that is, still, excited to see you get idealistic about something. Yet I think you are chasing a dream. In the environmental crisis, there can be no social justice or economic growth. This is not negativity or pessimism, it is simply the reality. If you don’t believe me, please spend some time reading some of the latest science on the environmental crisis. If you don’t want to know, maybe your hope and optimism is really a covering for fear?

What do I want instead? I want you to realise we are not just at the dawn of a new nation: we are at the dawn of a new geological era. There has never been a more terrifying or exciting time to be human, because for good or ill, our decisions will shape it. Nothing will ever be the same. All your future life, and the future of all life on this planet will be determined by our actions in the next few years. It sounds unbelievable: it is unbelievable: but unfortunately it’s true.

Today is the day, and you are the person, to change the discourse of fear and denial around the environmental crisis: to begin to stop burning fossil fuel and destroying ecosystems, and to begin sequestering carbon and fostering biodiversity, to begin making the noise, twittering, facebooking, graffiting, vox-popping, article-writing. Get engaged in politics: really engaged, joining things as well as protesting. Join our thing @earthbeglad or start something of your own. The technology, the science, the political mechanisms: everything is all there: all we need to do is stop being afraid, and turn into the hope.

Scotland cannot have a future in a world of environmental crisis. But it could do what it has done before: be the catalyst that changes the global discourse: that changes the world. And that, to me, is the idealistic, exciting, heroic, courageous course.

If we succeed – because we’ll succeed or fail in the next couple of decades – then let’s discuss Scottish and English self-government. And, then, I will support it.


  1. Interesting piece, however it assumes that our voice will continue to influence Westminster and therefore global politics. This is no longer the case. Westminster politics is broken, they serve only the elite and the corporate powers suck power, resources and the natural environment to serve their ends. Scottish independence is the dream of a new form of politics with justice and fairness at the heart. The green party backs it they know that Westminster does not want to address global warming. So I disagree we need to cut free from the old political elites in order to create a more sustainable future

  2. "Scotland would spend the next decade or so establishing institutions, realigning parties, finding its economic feet and its diplomatic place in the world."

    I agree that it may or may not be too late to avert catastrophic environmental crisis and based on the part of the research I do projections of how climate change and human population pressures will likely affect wild populations of plants is frankly depressing. We might spend year finding our feet as a nation but we are already on the way. The Scottish Enlightenment was a reaction to the massive political upheaval of the time. I believe that it is likely that independence would trigger the similar burst of energy.

    For me independence isn’t about a heroic idealistic freedom. We can’t affect real change constricted by Westminster. I’d argue that if the current political alignment in WM is overturned at the next election we then have a term of the winning side are likely to spend their political energies undoing what they didn’t like or resigning themselves to continuing what is happening now. Not engaging in the environment crisis.

    If Scotland does vote for leaving the UK we are not starting from scratch; we have the talents, skill and infrastructure already. Investment and research in renewables, green technologies and conservation will continue because the Scottish Parliament, not just the SNP, have shown that they understand how important this is. WM Government funded research budgets have been dramatically cut, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills who fund research councils like the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, have to find savings of £570m in the 2014-15 financial year and over £800m the following year.

    On leaving the UK we might just get a government that will create evidence based policy, unlike current and recent WM governments. The current environmental policy toward badger culling is case and point, pandering to Conservative voters not following the science. There was no evidence that the cull would make any difference and it hasn’t, but it went ahead. Just this week DEFRA released data showing that Wales’ no-cull, biosecurity, and vaccination policy, which was largely rubbished by pro-cull supporters as ineffectual, has reduced herd TB by almost 25%.

  3. "All Scottish influence would be withdrawn from Westminster. "

    True, but even if we stay part of the UK our political influence is about be diminished anyway with a reduction in Scottish MPs to 52 in 2015.

    The following is a historical look back at how the UK election would have different if there were no Scottish MPs.

    -1964 Scottish MPs have turned what would have been a Conservative government into a Labour one. The Tory majority without Scottish votes would have been just one MP (280 vs 279).

    - the second of the two 1974 elections Scottish MPs gave Labour a majority (319 vs 316) they wouldn’t have had from the rest of the UK alone.

    - in 2010 the presence of Scottish MPs has deprived the Conservatives of an outright majority, although the Conservatives ended up in control of the government anyway in coalition with the Lib Dems when Labour refused to co-operate with other parties in a “rainbow alliance”.

    Regardless of Scottish influence in WM it takes political will to affect change and there needs to be action and not reaction as is currently happening in England with the flooding. I believe that solutions to the current environmental crisis will be found locally, but that still needs the backing of the State. In Scotland that will be best served, by a Scottish government.

    The recent terrifying YouGov/ The Times poll that showed the only 52% of people believe climate change is responsible and only 30% believe is man-made, despite the evidence that climate change is contributing

    A case of the public believing climate denying politicians over science based evidence. It doesn’t help when Government ministers, people in positions of power and responsibility, rubbish the credentials of Environment Agency staff by calling them “so called experts”. They are the experts and they have been warning about extreme weather events, the effects and what needs done, it is chronic underfunding to the scale of the problem that is the issue and treasury rules regarding “return on investment” for infrastructure projects like flood defences.

    No one has a future in a world of environmental crisis. I agree that Scotland “could do what it has done before: be the catalyst that changes the global discourse: that changes the world.” But at the moment our voice is largely ignored, crowded out by the WM government and would be heard far more clearly around the world as an independent nation.