Independence Is Its Own Policy — 11 March 2020

by Xeno Albannach

Imagine if, during the fight for the abolition of slavery in America, some slaves had said, “Before we can be free, we have to decide what kind of free people we want to be. Will we be capitalist, or socialist? Do we want a republic or a monarchy? What style of clothes do we want to wear?”

Imagine if a person living with an abusive, violent, controlling partner would not consider leaving until they had decided exactly what they wanted to do with their life after leaving. “Before I can get away from being battered and belittled, I have to decide what job I’ll do, what I’ll read, what media I’ll watch, what I’ll wear, what I’ll do in my leisure time, who I’ll be friends with…”

If this seems absurd, it is. But it is a line of thinking that people in Scotland — including such writers as Gerry Hassan and Ewan Morrison — subscribe to.

In the 2014 Independence Referendum, Morrison switched from Yes to No, saying he had changed his mind because the SNP had offered no plan for Scotland after independence. Since then, Hassan has made the same argument, saying “Political and social change cannot just be about abstracts such as ‘independence’.”

Try replacing that with, “Ending slavery cannot just be about abstracts such as ‘freedom’.” It’s not really a replacement, because it’s the same thing.

And it’s an argument that misses the point in every way.

First, it would be presumptuous of the SNP to try to set policy for a country that might not choose it as its government. While at this point it is likely that the SNP would be re-elected, it would be antidemocratic to base a nation’s entire policy or constitution on such an assumption.

Second, and more important, independence is not an abstract, any more that freedom from slavery is an abstract.

In 1992, the late Alasdair Gray published a short book called Why Scots Should Rule Scotland. Some reviewers were surprised that the book never mentioned the answer its title suggested it would give, but instead gave a short history of Scotland. Some of us, however, understood that the history of Scotland was all the answer that was relevant or needed.

What will Scotland be after independence? Whatever Scotland decides to be. And that can only be decided when Scotland is independent. When asked, “What do you intend to do after I take my boot off your neck?” there is only one sane answer:

Take the boot off my neck.

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