“It’s the economy, stupid” is a famous phrase used by Bill Clinton in his presidential campaign of 1992. (In fact the phrase was first used by James Carville). It has had considerable influence and not just in America. It has been accepted uncritically by some as implying at the end of the day politics and elections are all, or mainly, about the economy.
It is seductive in its simplicity. It is also wrong. Despite my considerable interest in economic matters, I have never viewed the cause of Scottish Independence as primarily a matter of economics, however important it may be. Further, even on economic issues, most voters are not devotees of the latest fad from economists (or so-called economists). Their interest is driven by how they are experiencing the impact on their lives of government policy. Self interest as someone from Kirkcaldy once averred is a powerful motivator.
I would argue most countries gaining their independence over the last 50 years have been driven by much more than grand economic issues. Independence is a means of realising a very different future. It is fundamentally an aspirational cause. I want, and I am sure you want, a future Scotland to be freed from the grinding, inward looking, depressing lack of vision of the unionist cause. It means our cause must be one that inspires and brings hope for a better future.
This morning I read an essay by Gordon Brown that he wrote back in the 1980s. In it he explained Labour’s success in Scotland at the time as “a mood of depression which has so far forced Scots people to back Labour”. Precisely the opposite mood from the one which drives people towards the hopeful vision of independence.
So, other than economics, what are the factors that need to be stressed to maintain our more hopeful cause? In my view the following are important.
Democracy and engagement
I want to see Scotland characterised as a vibrant democracy. Where people see they have a strong interest in being engaged and where governments encourage participation in a meaningful way. It demands a high regard for freedom of speech and lively but respectful debate.
Ethics and Justice
I also aspire to a Scotland that gives greater importance to ethics and justice. This is no mere dreaming on my part; it has profound practical consequences. For example, I want to see a much more ethical financial system (hence my previous parliamentary campaign against SLPs mentioned in the guest blog by my colleague Michelle). I want to see access to justice made much easier for the individual with legitimate grievances. For me, democracy and justice are intertwined.
Internationalism and human rights
The cause of Scottish Independence I have always associated with anti imperialism. We want to escape from the clutches of a failing outdated imperial state, and become members of the modern international community with all the responsibilities that will bring. For that reason I have always considered my international work to also be part of Scotland’s cause. When I entered Mosul at a time of great conflict to see at first hand the devastation that can be created from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the hands of Daesh (ISIS), I felt in a real sense a need to examine what Robert Burns called “man’s inhumanity to man”. Accepting the need to be part of the international community, calls on us to be active global citizens and in my view to be concerned not merely about our own human rights but the human rights of all, including the injured parentless child in Mosul.
Fairness and inequality.
I know that most people in the SNP have a deep yearning for a future Scotland where fairness is a watchword for individuals and institutions alike, and where the kind of rampant inequality and greed that characterises too much of our society is addressed. We have a deep responsibility towards one another. That is too often lost in what used to be called the “rat race”. But as the late Jimmy Reid once famously opined, “The rat race is for rats”.
As I write I realise the list of issues could easily be extended, and I am sure most readers will be asking themselves why I missed out areas of particular interest to them. That makes my point. It is definitely not the economy, stupid.