on 5 May 2014
This is the fourth book I have read recently relating to the issue of Scottish Independence (as opposed to its longer term history); the others being, Stephen Maxell's `Evidence, Risk and the Wicked Issues: Arguing for Independence," Gavin McCrone's economic assessment of "Scottish Independence: Weighing up the Economics," Lesley Riddoch's "Blossom: What Scotland needs to flourish" and I continue to slowly work my way through 649 pages of the Scottish government's "Scotland's Future."
The position taken by the authors of this book is very clear from the title of the book; particular emphasis being placed upon the word `radical.'
`Radical' used as an adjective meaning "(Especially of change of action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough." Oxford Dictionary Online.
The book was launched at the Centre for Contemporary Arts on Sunday 30th March 2014 by the authors, who are both members of the International Socialist Group and the Radical Independence Campaign.
James Foley has been working on a doctorate at Edinburgh University, whilst Pete Ramand is a founding member of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), which was established in 2012. According to Wikipedia, RIC is a "political campaign promoting Scottish independence and left-wing politics. It was established at the Radical Independence Conference 2012 and has been described as a "[bringing together of] the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialists, some of the more militant trade unionists, nuclear-disarmament campaigners and anti-monarchist republicans."
Clearly this book is an attempt to put into print and circulation the core ideas of the Radical Independence Campaign. My suspicions are that this is a book that people will either love or hate, since its position is certainly not moderate.
Whatever one's political views, providing you have an open mind, then this is a book worth reading. In addition to the hard core radical who has embraced all or most of the ideas in the book, it is valuable for people of more moderate political views to explore its ideas and reflect on their meaning for Scotland.
My interpretation of a central idea in the book is that Scotland should not simply try and follow the SNP led approach to independence that is significant in its relative lack of change to the status quo, but instead should think `outside the box' and adopt policies that help an independent Scotland become something more visionary. The content of such an agenda is laid out in the final chapter of the book, whilst the first five chapters explore important developments in the shared journey between Scotland the Westminster governments over the second part of the 20th century up to the present time.
Although the book clearly has a political agenda to promote, this does not detract from its ability to present some keen observations of the way in which Scotland has effectively been mistreated by successive Westminster governments, starting with Thatcher. However, most tellingly, the narrative traces how New Labour under Blair's premiership failed to deliver on past promises of helping Scotland's less affluent members of society gain a better quality of life. Indeed, whilst the authors are critical of certain aspects of the Scottish Government's White Paper on the future of Scotland, they are not dismissive. If anybody comes under criticism (apart from the Tories) it is New Labour, both in Westminster and Holyrood. The SNP is painted as being left of New Labour on many issues, but for the authors, naturally enough, it is not left enough.
The fifth chapter of the book therefore seeks to support the `Yes Campaign' but calls for a shift in emphasis that reframes the strategy of Independence, so as to disarm the `Better Together' campaign. The book emphasises the findings of MORI polling that illustrates support for independence is highest in ". . . deprived (58 per cent) rather than affluent areas (27 per cent)." It therefore calls for a rejection of the neoliberal capitalist model and to seek more radical solutions to the problems of those who are less well off in Scottish society.
These first five chapters therefore provide some relatively well argued and empirically supported observations of what has gone wrong with past policies governed from Westminster and to call an end to the belief and expectation of the false promises of New Labour to deliver; clearly, the Tories are never going to deliver, beyond their questionable model of `trickle down' economics. It is certainly not guilty of being a `rant.'
Of course, one might interpret some of these events somewhat differently depending upon one's outlook, experiences and political persuasion. Nevertheless, the overall conclusions do seem difficult to dismiss out of hand; they are therefore worthy of serious reflection.
The bottom line is that one is asked to consider whether Scotland should become an independent nation that is based upon a relatively gradualist approach to change and that in many respects will continue a `business as usual' approach to its political management. Yes, there are intended changes to current policies such as the scrapping of Trident, or an aggressive renewable energy policy. Yet the authors point to the lack of originality or innovation in many facets of the proposed future Scotland. This they argue is a missed opportunity and fundamental weakness in the Scottish government's current strategy, which could damage their chances of success in the referendum.
Hence, the final chapter moves to present a "Radical Needs Agenda." Setting aside the ideological stance in some of the ideas, they nevertheless present a refreshing vision of what might be possible if Scotland were to shift its governance towards creating a more egalitarian society. Of course, not everyone even wants a more egalitarian society and some will argue that the current mode of operation based upon traditional capitalist systems is working for them. That might be true: for them. However, what is clear to anyone reflecting a little more deeply or considering life beyond their leafy suburbs is the fact that for many people, things are not working well and need to change.
One need not agree with the agenda laid out in this book, but it has an important message for people from all sorts of backgrounds as they how to vote in the referendum. It is possible that some of the ideas are impractical and they may not work or are economically naïve. However, there is no denying that the overall vision set down in the agenda is far more radical and braver than anything proposed in the Scottish government's White paper and certainly more so than the moribund ideas of the `Better Together' campaign.
Like a walk in the heather on a windy day, this book blows away a lot of cobwebs and is well worth the time spent reading it and even more importantly, reflecting upon afterwards.
on 5 May 2014
This is a readable, well-argued manifesto for a new country. Its central ideas are that Britain has come to the end of its Empire, that Scotland's independence - "after Britain" - will thus create waves of change in England, and that there is an alternative to the neoliberal monologue-we-have-no-other-option of the three dominant parties in Westminster.
Foley and Ramond offer - it tells us on the cover - a radical future for Scotland. Their future is green, nationalised, fairly taxed, well-educated and free of that huge nuclear red herring, the £80 billion Trident programme. Some of their radical future is hard to believe - it would result in Scotland becoming a European Cuba cut off from friends and neighbours. But other parts are very welcome - their Green New Deal and their focus on fair taxation, on scrapping Trident and on the fight against poverty.
The best of the book is in the analysis that precedes their manifesto. It is a solid, carefully referenced inspection of how Britain works, or doesn't, and how much better Scotland would be if it were independent. There is particularly well-argued material on why Thatcher and Tony Blair were so damaging to Scotland. All in a well-written, easily readable 140 pages. I vote Yes for this book.
on 4 June 2014
This is more accurately described as a book about the UK. Recent UK history is THE crucial context for the question of Scottish Independence. Foley and Ramand describe the decline of the UK as a state, step by step. This involves an equally frank description of the responsibilities of Scottish political life for the parlous state of the Scottish economy, culture of inequality and political deficit. This malaise is set within a radical agenda laid out which challenges the SNP to a more egalitarian and ambitious plan for the massive inequalities, deprivations and inefficiencies in a region with huge promise for a beneficial shake up for all the peoples of the British Isles. Absolutely convincing reading.