It was intellectually exhilarating during two trips to Scotland this summer to witness and participate in the serious debates taking place in meeting halls, kirks, streets, pubs and homes. What a contrast to dreary old England where all three parties and every single media outlet are against Scottish independence.
The ‘No’ campaign lacks both sense and subtlety, being based exclusively on fear. But it is the forces of pessimistic conservatism in Scotland that appear shallow and parochial. The SNP, and even more the Radical Independence Campaign, look at a detached Scotland through international spectacles. Their gaze is fixed on the Norwegian model and beyond. A few months ago, in an open letter to the people of Scotland published by the Herald, some of Scandinavia’s leading writers and intellectuals encouraged the birth of an independent state, reminding Scots that Norway’s break from Sweden in 1905 was also preceded by fear-mongering but improved the quality of life and politics in both countries.
The remarkable growth of the pro-independence movement is the result of Thatcher’s dismantling of the welfare state and Blair-Brown’s admiration for the same. Until then the Scots had been prepared to stick to Labour regardless of the corruption and chicanery that categorised its party machine in Scotland.
When large numbers stop believing that they can exercise political self-determination within the existing social order they begin to look beyond traditional governing parties. On the Continent (and in England) this has led to the growth of the right. In Scotland what is being demanded is national, social and political self-determination: in concrete terms this means a humanistic social democracy.
Even if fear results in a Unionist majority, all are agreed that things will never be the same again.
And if Scotland wins, perhaps the tired lull of English politics will also be disrupted.
Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).