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The UK Needs a Grand Remonstrance From Below

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Project Fear has had a temporary victory in Scotland but its legacy will not be a return to the status quo ante either in Scotland or elsewhere. The mind of the Scottish nation has stirred to new activity. Every single parliamentary constituency in Glasgow voted ‘Yes’. Henceforth the divide in Scotland will always be between the Unionists and those who want independence, and that will be the main issue in 2015: if Labour is dethroned by the SNP, say farewell to the UK state.

As for the rest of us, we live in a country without an opposition. Westminster is in the grip of an extreme centre that is the coalition plus Labour: yes to austerity, yes to imperial wars, yes to a failing EU, yes to increased security measures, and yes to the status quo. And its leaders: Miliband, a jittery and indecisive leader presiding over a parliamentary party (including his shadow chancellor) that remains solidly Thatcherite; Cameron, a PR confection, insolent to the bulk of his own people while repulsively servile to Washington and often to Beijing. Clegg barely needs a description. His party will suffer in the next election and we might soon be deprived of his presence.

All are flanked on the right by Ukip, whose policies each tries to pander to in its own fashion. Euro-immigration is becoming an English obsession, even though it was this country that carried out Washington’s orders to expand the EU so that it lost any chance of social or political coherence.

What of our local institutions? The neutered BBC that during crises at home (Scotland) and wars abroad (Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan) is little more than a propaganda outfit. The NHS? Crippled by Blair and Brown with their PFIs and privatisations and now well on its own way to privatisation thanks to the last Health Bill. The railway companies? Loathed by the bulk of their ‘customers’ they still receive state subsidies although the idea of renationalising them for the public good is rejected by the extreme centre.

Politically, we need a party to the left of this centre. The constitutional mess can only be sorted out by a constitutional convention that gives us a written constitution which sweeps away all the cobwebs (the antiquated and unrepresentative voting system, the unelected second chamber, the monarchy etc) and guarantees the right to self-determination of nations within the UK. This will not happen unless there is a grand remonstrance from below.

Here the Scottish campaign for independence offers a good model.

Tariq Ali is the author of  The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

This essay originally appeared in the London Review of Books.

 

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