So it’s all finally over. Scotland voted ‘No’ to independence. Well, 55 percent of Scotland voted no, which is going to leave the other 45 feeling pretty disenfranchised for a while. Then again, either result in such a close race as this would have been a bad one since it was so very nearly down the middle, meaning that whether the yes camp won it or the no camp, you would have had a situation where almost half of a country’s population felt themselves to be unrepresented.
For my own part, I am glad that the result was a no. This isn’t because I’m a Unionist or care in any way about the concept of nationality. Nationalities are basically stupid – not to mention arbitrary, insomuch as none of us have any choice about over which patch of gravel our mothers happen to push us out – and anyone who thinks that a flag symbolizes everything about who they are is basically a fool. Historically speaking, getting behind a flag – a bit of cloth with some colors on it – hasn’t often proved to be such a dandy thing for humanity, not for its numbers at any rate.
People talk of national characteristics; they talk of the British stiff upper-lip, of the Scottish temperament; they talk of what the ‘American people’ want and believe… But every individual is more complex than the narrow set of parameters set within the abstract concept of a ‘national identity’ and wrapped up in a flag. If there really were such a thing as national identity, we’d all be living in la-la-lovely-land, where nobody had a bad thing to say about anyone (because there’s nothing you could say about someone who, according to the dictates of national identity, was exactly the same as you). Fans of rival football teams wouldn’t kick each other’s faces in, because their shared sense of nationhood wouldn’t countenance it, and the rich wouldn’t crap on the poor because, for example, a Brit is a Brit and, as David Cameron and many other a global politician was fond of lying about at the dawn of this age of austerity, “we’re all in this together.”
It should be clear to most of us who aren’t living in gated communities that we are not all in this together; that disparity, however, has nothing to do with nationality. Of course, that won’t stop certain, unscrupulous folk (and we’ll talk about those folk in a minute) from using nationality as a great, massive smokescreen, as a handy huge distraction – in exactly the same way, as we have mentioned on these pages before, that race is used as a giant political distraction. Because nationalities, whatever romantic notions some might harbor about them, are divisive – they state categorically that there is a ‘me’ and there is a ‘you’, where the ‘you’ is a foreign, alien entity, if not feared, then certainly to be distrusted – and a divided people are a people more easily conquered.
Now, when I talk of being conquered here, I’m not talking about the threat to a way of life posed by an opposing nation’s army (although there is still plenty of that going on in the world). No, in the ‘developed’ western world, the threat we face is from the power of the wealthy free market ideologues of the neo-liberal credo who have, for the last three decades, sucked all the worth and sense out of the labor (what’s the point of work if you still can’t afford to eat afterwards and your employers can exploit the crap out of you?) and systematically dismantled or tarnished those aspects of society that really do bring us together and create a sense of shared experience, all in the name of profit and personal greed.
And this is why I’m happy that, for a while longer at least, the people who live in Scotland and the people who live in England – and Wales and Northern Ireland of course – remain as one, because together, perhaps, as one voice, we might finally force government to stop kowtowing to corporate interest and the myriad caprices of an arrogant financial sector, and remind the political establishment that they are there to serve everyone, not just multi-nationals. That would be something that reverberated around the world, because it is the world as a whole that has suffered the consequences the neo-liberal experiment has wrought.
So, though I am happy the Scottish referendum resulted in a no for independence, the inarguably inspiring political activism of the Yes camp is something to be embraced by us all, for at the heart of the desire for national independence was not a need for ‘Scottishness’ to be affirmed (some did take it that way, of course, but then that is exactly the danger of emphasizing nationality as something meaningful in and of itself and why, in the end, it would eventually have been of benefit to no-one but the free marketeers), but rather a desire to be free from the decisions of an out-of-touch political elite, corrupted by the philosophy of ‘profit over people’ and so far removed from the everyday experience of normal people as to practically invalidate their ability to govern equably.
Perhaps now is the time for the formation of a new UK-wide political party, one that could take power out of the hands of the mainstream elite (who have held on to it for so long they perhaps believe it now to be theirs by right) and really put it into the hands of the people. Neo-liberalism has run amok and the Ayn Randian nightmare we are living in, thanks to Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, and people like Thatcher and Reagan and Tony ‘Two-Face’ Blair, is killing us. Only by presenting a united front can we bring down the gold-plated gingerbread house.
As a divided, disparate people we haven’t got a chance to force change, which is exactly why the wealthy establishment wants us to remain divided and disparate by whatever means necessary, whether it’s down to differences in chocolate bar preferences (‘You like Twix? Die!’ scream the Snickers lovers), skin color or nationality. There is no independence in a free market economy, only financial enslavement, facilitated by global division and the encouragement of the petty prejudices that serve to keep the market puppeteers in power. In fact, you may as well forget nationality because, under the neo-liberal yoke, there aren’t really even nations anymore, just land-shaped portfolios.
National independence under the current economic model is a blind alley. What is needed to make life better for the majority and not just for the few is more cohesion. It is not nationality that separates us now; it is wealth. The mechanisms of democracy are still extant – the neo-liberal elite hasn’t succeeded in dismantling that much yet – and the vote can still be used to effect change. Scottish, English, American… none of those terms mean anything. What is important is basic human dignity (no-one’s saying you can’t be rich; just that being rich isn’t an excuse to treat the rest of the world like toilet paper). That is something we can all agree on, wherever we’re from, so let’s come together around that concept and use democracy to make fairness a reality.
Perhaps as a people joined not in loose stereotypes but in belief, not independent but inter-dependent, we stand a chance of forcing a change for the better. Divided, we will fall.