On September 18th there will be a vote on Scotland becoming independent and leaving the UK. Many claims have been for and against the merits of independence for Scotland, and much of the debate has been around the question of social justice.
Christians on the Left is an organisation committed to social justice, something going to the very core of its values.
Christians on the Left recognises its principles do not lead automatically to one position or the other regarding Scottish Independence. Christians on the Left has a long connection with the Labour Party, the largest political party in Scotland to oppose Scottish Independence, and there are also Left wing Christians who support Scottish independence.
On September 19th Scotland will have voted. The main political themes of the Bible will remain the same and Christians on the Left believe God will still be calling us to a politics of social justice and peace in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, regardless of the constitutional arrangements between these countries.
Responses to Independence
The following piece considers the question of Scottish Independence and is written by one our members.
Other members’ pieces are published elsewhere: Bob Holman in the Guardian wrote on why he is voting for independence and David Smith offers the perspective of a Scot living in England, in “What’s in a name?”
Eric Stoddard, a practical theologian (not connected to Christians on the Left) has run focus groups with Christians on independence and shares his initial findings on their reflections here.
Some thoughts on a Referendum
The following article is by Paul Lugton, who represents Scotland’s Christians on the Left members on our Executive Committee. He has been involved in Christians on the Left, SERA (Labour’s Environment Campaign) and the Scottish Labour Party for about twenty years. He is also an active member of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Paul is intending to vote No in the Referendum but acknowledges the Yes campaign has a strong case.
Devolution: Nationalism Stone Dead
In 1997 Labour was swept to power with the promise of a referendum on devolution for Scotland (and for Wales). After a Yes vote in Scotland, power was devolved, in 1999, over those areas of Government which were already run by separate Scottish Departments, e.g. health, education, justice and policing. The electoral system featured constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and a Regional list to produce a more proportionate result. This was supposed to stop the SNP gain a majority and was to “kill nationalism stone dead”, said former Labour MP George Robertson.
Divergent UK voting patterns in the House of Commons elections
In any discussion on UK politics, it should be noted that Northern Ireland has a different set of Parties from the other areas. The Conservative and Unionist Party do run candidates there, but the other Unionist Parties dominate. The cross-community Alliance is aligned with the Liberal Democrats, and the nationalist SDLP is a sister party of the Labour Party. It is also reasonable to say voting patterns in Northern Ireland are affected by different factors from England, Scotland and Wales.
England is the biggest country in the UK. The four main Parties at the time of writing are the Conservative and Unionists (running as the Conservatives), Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP, although UKIP has no MPs whereas the English Greens have one. In Scotland, the main Parties are the SNP, Labour, the Tories, and the Lib Dems: the Greens have one MSP and UKIP has one MEP. In Wales, the main Parties are Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Tories and Lib Dems, where UKIP has one MEP.
One of the key factors of British politics since 1979 has been that Labour has had a majority of seats in Scotland and Wales, in all House of Commons elections, whereas the Tories had a majority of seats in England in the 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992 elections. In 2001 and 2005 Labour had majority across all three countries.[i] This meant the radical change delivered by the Thatcher and Major led Conservative administrations was done so in Wales and Scotland without majority support. The Yes campaign make the argument that these Tory Governments and the Coalition elected in 2010 were not elected by Scotland. The counter argument is that they were elected by the UK as a whole.
A Tory Minority at Westminster and SNP Majority at Holyrood, 2010 and 2011
In 1999 and 2003 Labour was the biggest Party in the Scottish Parliament and formed an amicable coalition the Liberal Democrats. The SNP formed the biggest opposition Party, and in 2007 became the biggest Party by one seat, forming a minority Government. The SNP had demonstrated its ability to win elections, having taken Constituency seats from Labour alongside an effective strategy to secure the maximum number of List seats. It also showed its competence to govern, but in a minority it could not deliver a referendum. 2010 saw the return of the Tories to power in the UK Government, entering a coalition with the Liberal Democrats adopting the main thrust of Tory fiscal policy. Ironically, in Scotland, Labour held all its seats and increased its share of the votes with a 2.5 swing to just over one million votes. Many of those voters didn’t vote or switched to the SNP in 2011 (in terms of Constituency votes Labour had 630,491 votes and the SNP 902,915), and as the Liberal Democrats collapsed and lost votes to the SNP also, the SNP won most Constituency seats in the Scottish Parliament and enough List seats to form a majority. Now the SNP had the majority needed to provide a mandate for an Independence Referendum on September 18th 2014.
September 18th: Vote Yes for Social Justice?
The campaign between the Yes Scotland and Better Together (the No campaign) has spun around many issues, such as EU membership, currency, the environment, and much else besides. The Independence White Paper “Scotland’s Future” states “Independence is not an in itself” (page 3) and it is clear the Yes campaign believes an independent Scotland will be good for social justice. Certain social problems can be solved only by an independent Scotland they claim or, Scotland is more likely to see the election of a centre-left or leftist Government. Indeed, many of the promises in the White Paper depend on or assume, if not an SNP Government, at least a centre left Government, one committed to, for example, a minimum wage that keeps in line with inflation. That Scotland is more likely to elect a centre-left or left leaning Government would seem to have some logic. But this is not guaranteed in the long term (the long term being decades): the Conservative and Unionists had 50.1% of the Scottish vote in 1955. It seems unwise to decide the fate of 307 year old Union on the last UK election, or the next. Devolution didn’t kill Nationalism stone dead, but the centre right in Scotland isn’t stone dead either.
Another argument is that an independent Scotland would have a fiscal policy better suited to delivering policy outcomes to our needs. But, Fiscal policy is controlled by those in power, so fiscal policy is also contingent on who is in power. The Yes campaign argue that Scotland is a Net contributor to the UK, but Better Together has argued more public money is spent per head than England (these statements are not contradictory). However, in a socially just system, taxation should be based on ability to pay and expenditure prioritised need.
Another reason for voting Yes is that it will be an end to Trident, at least in Scotland. Will removing Trident from Scotland, but still having in it in the neighbouring country be a massive improvement? It would be difficult and expensive to re-establish Trident at an English base, on balance it could be, independence could lead to a significant step forward to nuclear disarmament. The SNP plans for Scotland to be a non-nuclear member of NATO, and Scotland would remain under the NATO and UK defence umbrella.
It seems to me there is no doubt an independent Scotland would become part of the EU. To suggest it can do so under the same terms as the UK at present is optimistic. The SNP also suggest Scotland will have a stronger voice in the EU because it will have a direct voice; existing members with similar populations, e.g. Denmark, have 7 Council of Minister votes to the UK’s 29. It could be Scotland has a stronger voice on issues where its interests genuinely differ from the rest of the UK’s: fishing is a popular example, but where our interests are the same, does it weaken us?
The SNP’s proposal is that an independent Scotland should retain the same currency as the Remaining UK, but to maintain this position when George Osborne and Ed Balls have rejected the proposal may appear as wishful thinking. I don’t doubt the SNP has a plan “B”, but revealing it now would possibly seem even weaker.
But what is a nation?
This Referendum is also about Nationhood.
There is a view of Scotland: that, in the lines of the famous song, “Flower of Scotland”, “we can still rise now and be a nation again”. Or, the idea that Scotland should govern itself, like other countries do.
Then there is the view that Scotland is a nation, with its unique customs and traditions, but it sits with the British family of nations with its shared customs and traditions and that sharing sovereignty with other these countries for shared benefits is a good thing.
The latter two views of nationhood are those which are in play, Scottish Nationalism and British Unionism in their mainstream, civic, democratic forms: both assuming parliamentary democracy and EU membership, both supportive of a multicultural society, both supportive of religious freedom, both largely comfortable with same sex relationships.
Indeed, there will be people who feel Scottish and not British voting No, because they believe it is on Scotland’s interest, and people who feel British voting Yes because they believe it is in Scotland’s interest.
The No campaign argues for the best of both worlds, for being British and Scottish. The Yes campaign argues we are basically Scottish, but British is a shared identify like being Nordic, as a pan-national /regional European identity. For many, it is possible to be Scottish and British and both national identities have been established. The idea that being British is a pan-national/ regional European identify like the Yes Campaign has argued, may be an honest attempt to accept British identity into the Yes programme, but it devalues being British as a national identity that has been and is shared by many.
Over time, the formation of nations is contingent on various factors, and over generations national identify is fluid. The Union between Scotland and England & Wales depended on a personal Royal union being in place first: but when Margaret Tudor married James IV nobody knew her brother (Henry VIII) would have no grandchildren, making Margaret’s Great-Grandson James VI and I. Although the personal Royal Union was in 1603, the Parliamentary Union was in 1707, so the formation of the Union is also contingent on other factors.
A Yes vote
So what happens if there is a Yes vote? In 2016, Scotland will become an independent country… but how should we react?
A call to No voters
My first call is to No voters. We will have lost and may need time to grieve, but we should still engage in politics, and do what we can to be good citizens and residents of Scotland and the World.
Realignment of Scottish politics?
Scotland will still be dominated by two centre-left Parties. Part of me thinks the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives should all disband in Scotland, if independent, and agree to form three new Parties, one affiliated to the Party of European Socialists, another affiliated to the Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe and another the European People’s Party (the Scottish Greens are already a separate Party from the rest of the UK). I don’t think this will happen, but think the question of centre left / centre right balance needs to play out. Or it could be we need more main Parties than four or five. Then again, the SNP, and to a lesser extent the Scottish Greens, will have promised much from an independent Scotland, and perhaps they should have to do something about delivering their promises.
An unbalanced Union? England, Wales and Northern Ireland without Scotland
For those of you in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you will also live in a very different country. My own observation is that the balance of the remaining UK will have changed and this will have to be reflected in the UK’s constitution.
A No vote
Then again, a No vote is the more likely outcome, according to the polls. So, if we are to remain in Union, what does this mean?
A call to Left leaning Yes supporters
If there is a No vote, I implore Left leaning Yes supporters to take stock, have a rest, but once they have done so, divert their energies into moving the UK to the Left. Help us move the entire UK, and with it the world a bit further, away from neo-liberalism.
Lessons for the UK
Boris Johnson recently raised they question what had devolution ever done for England? An odd question from the Mayor of London, because one answer could be “created your office”. There has been a worrying tone from Johnson and previously Ken Livingstone of squaring London’s interests against Scotland’s interests. This is not helpful, as stated before, tax should be based on ability to pay, public expenditure prioritised on need. One lesson of devolution is that services like education and health are well run when run for 5 million people, so English regional devolution makes sense. The UK also needs to be re-centred. We need more job creation and wealth outside south east England, we also need to replicate London’s Oyster card system in other areas. We also need to spread out our main shared cultural medium: why are so many TV shows made in London, why do panel shows routinely lack Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish voices? And the BBC needs to stop seeing Scotland as a ghetto: why not show River City across the UK? Why were shows like Burniestoun and Gary Tank Commander only shown in Scotland?
A wake up call for Labour and the Tories
In the wake of a No vote, Labour has to take steps to avoid this situation again. It has to present a positive, centre left socialist vision across the UK and adopt policies that will deliver social justice and address the imbalances of power within the UK
The Conservative and Unionist Party need to reconsider their continued slide to the Right. The rise of UKIP on the Tories’ Right flank may make this feel like a good idea, but the Tories haven’t won a majority since 1992 and one seat in Scotland simply isn’t good enough for a national UK Party. The Tories need to represent and reflect the broad range of conservative politics in the UK.
Both Parties, along with the Liberal Democrats, need to build a broad base of members across Great Britain, and properly engage the public with politics.
Northern Ireland has always had different Parties, and I don’t think it would be practical to address this here, but we do need to consider the problems this causes, in that voting in Northern Ireland does next to nothing to affect who enters Downing Street, unless a Northern Irish Party was to hold the balance of power in the House of Commons.
In the long term I think the UK needs to move towards some sort of Federalist structure, but for the English regions to have devolved power. I do not think a Legislative Assembly for the English regions would adversely affect Wales’ or Scotland’s status as a nation within the UK. I would also propose a Senate type body to replace the House of Lords, made up of delegation from the four nations, and where appropriate, their regions.
Yes or No, some things will stay the same. The Earth will still revolve round the sun; the sun will still “rise” in the East. Scottish rain will still mainly come from the West. People will still wish it was nearer the weekend, and there will still be an uphill struggle to engage more people in politics and overcome dominance of neo-liberal economic thinking. We will have major challenges to overcome, to deal with inequality and to protect the environment. And God will still love us, and still call us to build justice and peace.
[i] In 2005 The Tories were slightly ahead in vote share in England. The electoral system meant Labour received more seats in England.
Comment sections don’t lend themselves well to extended analysis and thus my comments got stuck into the meat of the subject immediately. I felt your article was fairly comprehensive and attempted to be balanced and objective. It was important to be so as socialists and Christians do have divergent opinions on the subject matter.
the main message of the old testament is who owns the land. This lends itself well to discussions on ownership of the means of production and nationalisation. The message of the new testament , especially the gospels, is love…..and from this flows social justice as an act of love.
Intriguingly you suggest that the political system of the UK is inherently more democratic than Rome, to a degree I agree that we have a democracy in the UK but it is a democracy that delivers Tory policies from a predominantly Tory government that the Scots overwhelmingly did not vote for ie pandas and Tories.
Undoubtedly this is the kind of democracy any dictatorship, like Rome, would like!
Isaiah 40 15 to 17 is about asserting that the power of YHWH is greater than all the nations be they England, Scotland or ancient Lebanon with its very fertile land and massive timber resources.
Isaiah 40 onwards has the major theological theme of looking forward to the return of the Jews from the Exile and the restoration of the destroyed land and the restoration of Jerusalem which acts as a symbol of divine favour. This undoubtedly links well to Scottish independence, the restoration of the people to their own land and the restoration of the destroyed Scottish land…….. destroyed by Westminster taking its natural resources and subjugating the weak and the vulnerable within its borders. Hopefully an independent Scotland will be equally blessed by God.
Keep up the good work as I enjoyed reading your article.
Sorry, in retrospect, I didn’t make it clear enough I was working under the assumption social justice is the main message of the Bible.
I am aware the article is a bit Bible lite and agree this is a drawback, but I did make it clear that I was working under the assumption that social justice is the main message of the Bible. Also, some of my thinking about nationhood is based on Isaiah 40:15-17.
I think your comparison of the Roman Empire to the UK is an exaggeration, though. The political economy of the Roman Empire was far more regressive than the UK’s; the political system in the UK is inherently more democratic.
Having said that, I am grateful for a Christian socialist perspective from someone who is pro-independence.
Jesus lived in a country ruled by another…namely Israel by Rome ie Italy.
The average Jewish person had little say in how things ran although the Romans ran a patron client society with the more powerful elites, both religious and political, as they had local knowledge, collected tribute for the Romans and ran the Palestinian areas in a way conducive to Roman sensibilities. Christ railed against such rule both at the patron ie Romans, and the client level ie Antipas scribes and Pharisees level. He subverted the tax system by converting tax collectors and cleansing the temple, he brought love to those whose lives had been affected by the tax and debt system. He criticised power that took no account of the lowly.
Therefore as a socialist I come to look at how Christ’s life speaks into the Scottish independence debate which is what I thought Christians on the left would do.
Scotland has a modicum of self rule but is ultimately ruled by a Westminster parliament. Scotland will never elect enough MPs to Westminster to fully run their own affairs. The relationship is most certainly patron client. Westminster rules financially as the oil wealth of Scotland is taken to Westminster coffers. Such behaviour smacks of the raid on the Jerusalem temple coffers by Pontius Pilate to pay for an aquaduct for the Roman baths without having to use any Roman money.
To ensure tiny taxes for rich people in the UK, Scottish people suffer. Scotland was the experimental proving ground for the poll tax and has borne the brunt of the bedroom tax and disability welfare reductions which, until recent independence election bribes from the south, Scottish MPs could not control. This smacks of the exploitative tax collection from the ancient Palestinian peasants to pay for Roman tribute so the rich Romans could live life in the way to which they were accustomed.
Rome based some of their military might in Israel so that it acted as a buffer between Rome and the powerful middle eastern countries and the might that was Egypt.. Scotland is no different as Westminster’s military might in the shape of trident is based unwanted in faslane just as much as the peasant Jews saw the Roman garrisons as being unwanted in Palestine. trident represents so much that is wrong. The money saved by not updating trident would build how many Scottish hospitals, how many Scottish schools, pay for how many destitute and poor people in a welfare system that gave people dignity, …….as well as paying for a good nationalised postal and energy system and a rail system that we all owned.
When the romans crucified Jesus they tried to control the propaganda over his predicted resurrection by posting guards at his tomb. Truth will out….you cannot fool all the people all the time…. christ was resurrected and we all know. The controlling propaganda from Westminster that uses fear but offers little but further cuts, divisiveness and misery will also in the end be seen for what it is. Westminster….like the Romans….is trying to rule another nation and is creating misery for many, especially the poor. Jesus spoke into this and as christian socialists should we do anything less?