I was delighted to be asked to present one of the Stevenson Lectures on Citizenship at Glasgow University. The lecture text is below - and I'm assured there will be a YouTube video of the event available, which I will embed here. We had a near-full house of about 250, and I fielded a stream of excellent questions. If you attended the event, or not, all questions welcomed below in comments.
Stevenson Lecture on Citizenship
Scotland After Yes: A New State Facing a Challenging Century
March 19, 2014
What will Scotland be like after a Yes vote in the independence referendum? Tonight I’m going to give myself the opportunity to imagine that in some detail. My conceit is that I will use three obviously significant dates of Scotland After Yes, and one date of particular significance to me, to structure my lecture.
- 19th September 2014 - The day after a yes vote
- 24 March 2016 - Independence Day (the conclusion of the independence settlement)
- 5 May 2016 - First post-Indy Scottish General Election
- 10 March, 2039 - My 75th birthday
19th September 2014 - the day after a yes vote
In order to begin to imagine what it will be like - and more importantly feel like - the day after a Yes vote, I want to put this referendum in the context of previous constitutional referenda in Scotland.
1979: There was a numerical majority for a Scottish Assembly, 51.6% of votes cast for Yes, 48.4% for No. But George Cunningham (Scots born but a Labour MP for islington) and his "40% rule" prescribed a 40% majority of the total electorate voting Yes, than just a simple majority. Falling short ensured there would be no Scottish Assembly, no buffer or alternative source of power to the subsequent decades of Thatcherism. How different history would have been…
1997: A two-question referendum: “I agree/do not agree there should be a Scottish parliament”, and “I agree/do not agree that it should have tax-varying powers”. Again, this is an odd referendum in its formulation - given that the Scottish parliament has rarely used its tax-varying powers. But there was a resounding Yes to the first, and slightly less but still solid majority to the second. (It’s worth noting that if the current Scottish Government (SG) had their way, we’d be facing another two question vote in Sept: One, do you want Scotland to have more powers? Two, do you think those powers should be for independence, or devo-max/enhanced devolution?)
2014: Conceding their desire for a third question to the UK government, in order to get a legally watertight referendum result, the SG signed Edinburgh Agreement for the simplest possible referendum Q: Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No.
This IS a binary choice - indeed, a dramatic choice. A No to independence means that for a generation (15-20 years), the spectre of Scotland as a possible nation-state will not haunt either Holyrood or Westminster. Scottish power will still, essentially, be power devolved from Westminster - any changes in our status must pass through the political process in London.
A Yes to independence means that, for the forseeable future (unless we do a Crimea), all of Scotland’s resources - human, institutional and natural - will come under the full powers of an Scottish democratic nation-state. We, the people, the citizens, will have taken full responsibility for the direction and fate of our country.
And that’s what we’ll realise when we look blearily in the mirror, either painfully hung-over or not having slept at all, on the morning (maybe early afternoon) of September 19th, 2014. We will have stretched ourselves for a goal that looked achievable and plausible. And we will have believed that we were capable, that we possessed the strengths and the talents, to reach that goal.
There is also a branch of psychology called, funny enough, “self-determination theory” - where they identify the three conditions of a flourishing life as “meaning, mastery and autonomy” (see Daniel Pink’s book Drive). Meaning, being something bigger and nobler than ourselves that we can believe in. Mastery, being the sense that our capacities and capabilities are being put to good and satisfying use. And Autonomy, being the sense that we are profoundly free and liberated to choose any action we are involved in.
I don’t think the “meaning” condition is at issue in the Scottish referendum - on all sides, people are comfortable with being patriotic about the future of the country, and perhaps a bit proud about how we are democratically conducting this referendum (Catalonia and Ukraine being only two examples of how badly wrong it can go).
I think the “mastery” condition is being answered by the amazing civic and cultural vitality of the Yes campaign/movements. The indy referendum is reminding us what it is to be active citizens again - to feel we have the right to think about something more than home, work, lifestyle, holidays. As my colleague Blair Jenkins says, Yes Scotland has gone “out of control”, and in a really good way. Tens of thousands of ordinary Scots feel able to set up meetings and online sites, create artwork, do concerts and stunts, run seminars and workshops exploring the possibilities of an independent Scotland - you could basically fill your week twice over attending Yes oriented events. We are mastering our democracy again, via the referendum process - which is why I think a Yes vote is almost inevitable.
And the “autonomy” condition - where we feel fundamentally free to act the way we choose, where we feel in full possession of ourselves - is what I think we will realise, as we walk up to the privacy of the polling booth. As my great mentor Jim Sillars has so brilliantly dramatised recently, between the hours of 7am and 10pm on Sept 18th, we will hold the full sovereignty of our nation in our hands - or at least, the hand we use to put a cross on a piece of paper. By that time, I hope that the arguments of the Yes side - as to the basic prosperity and resources of Scotland, the injustice of how poorly distributed that wealth is, and how much better we could use it to generate even more more prosperity and social justice - will be clearly in the minds of the voter, as she or he makes their choice.
And if you want to wake up to a new dawn, in both the literal and the metaphorical sense… you should know what to do. Just think how it will feel, to have voted “Yes”, with millions of others, for an independent Scotland. I think you’ll feel bigger, and more alive, than you were the day before
24 March 2016 Independence Day
This is the date that the Scottish government has identified in their White Paper as the preferred day by which to conclude their negotiations with the Westminster Government, as well as European and global transnational bodies, for the actual settlement of independence.
Now it’s obvious to anyone attending to the referendum campaign that what might happen during this period is actually the central battleground, right now, of the Yes and No camps. And I think it’s a fair critique to say that citizens are facing a battle of assertions as to how it will go.
You’ll know the key stooshies. On currency, the SG say there will be a currency union or sterling zone - its in the interests of both sides, for the sake of mutual economic stability; the Westminster Government (WG) say there won’t be - it’s an unbalanced arrangement that opens them out to moral hazard. On European membership, SG (and its range of experts) say we will negotiate from a position of already being harmonised with EU law, and welcomed as enthusiastic Europeans: WG (and its range of experts) say that we’ll have to enter from the outside, and undergo the same waiting procedures and conditions as any other state that’s entered. There are similar arguments around energy markets, the status of national debt, whether NATO membership is conditional on possessing Trident, where we will (or won’t) have the same access to BBC channels as Ireland currently does, and so on.
This can make your head hurt - but it also raises the game of citizenship, at a very basic level, and can only be a good thing. Yet one of the interesting consequences of having voted Yes, in the face of this miasma and cacophony of options and scenarios, is that we will have voted for calmness, confidence and patience, in the face of complexity, detail and negotiation.
This is quite a remarkable thing to do. We are actually in an age of governance dominated by behavioural economics, or what’s been called “nudge” thinking - the idea that we are all really 35,000 year old hunter-gatherers ill-fitted for the modern world, weak-willed and over-optimistic Homer Simpsons at heart.
These thinkers advocate that we should be governed by “liberal paternalists”, who can help us make the right choices by nudging us in one direction or another, because we’re unable to make fully conscious decisions about our future. If you believe this theory, then you’d expect “Project Fear” - the No campaign’s private self-description of its guiding philosophy - to win hands down. Always keep a-hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse.
Yet if they’re wrong - and intellectually, I think they are, though that’s a whole other academic discussion - then our Yes vote will show something quite remarkable. But also, at the same time, extremely Scottish. We will have argued, examined, considered and then voted our way to independence, in a climate of what John Sturrock calls “civil discourse”. We won’t have based our case for independence on language, or cultural purity; nor on our ethnicity, or on our sense of being “oppressed” by a coloniser or dominant power.
In a great historical irony, given the post-Union conditions under which the first Scottish Enlightenment appeared, we will vote for independence in a largely “Enlightened” way. The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas puts it well when he talks about “constitutional patriotism”. Yes supporters are loyal to the idea of good governance, fully representative democracy, and the social justice that enables all to participate in that.
So will the Westminster Government respond in an equally Enlightened way to our Enlightenment-style negotiating style, post a Yes vote? The Edinburgh Agreement, signed by Cameron and Salmond, does state that both governments “are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is”. So there’s both constructiveness and light, in that sentence at least.
For what it’s worth - and I am only “a man o’ independent mind, who looks and laughs at ‘a that” - I believe that issues like currency and Europe will be resolved in a fair compromise between all parties. One reason is that the eyes of the world will be upon both administrations, post-Yes - international politicians, and financial markets, and social movements, and the world’s media, and many others.
In a globalised world, where a national reputation for stability, rule of law, and pragmatic behaviour is a key "soft power" asset for any country , the way the independence settlement is handled has the potential to show both nations acting at their best - and not just these islands, but actually Europe too can bolster its reputation for good, stable governance.
This may be the quiet, thoughtful way we do things in Scotland - and something we have in common with the Nordic and Scandinavian neighbours we rightly compare ourselves to. Does anyone, of a certain age, remember the 1997 referendum? No fanfares, no street demonstrations, not even very much bunting - but a quiet, determined stroll to the voting booth, to express the “settled will” of the Scottish people. I have perhaps a slightly idealistic faith, that this is the spirit that will prevail, as we distribute the assets and liabilities, the full powers and the shared powers, of the post-Yes settlement between Scotland and the remainder of the UK.
5 May 2016 First post-Indy Scottish General Election
Less than two months after the proposed Independence Day, and according to the fixed-term rule of Scottish Parliaments, we are due to have the next Scottish General Election - and all going well, the first one as an independent nation.
I could have easily chosen the date of the second Scottish General Election, four or five years later, in 2020 or ’21 - because I think it might take two parliaments for the full political possibilities of independence to realise themselves, in terms of the parties - whether old or new, or alliances of old and new - that will be available to us, as voters.
I should cut to the chase and say that I hope there will be a new “left” alliance, probably not a single party, contending for power (and at least coalition status) in the 2016 Scottish parliament elections, and beyond. One model could be the “Left Front” lead by Jean-Luc Melenchon in the 2010 regional and 2012 Presidential Elections in France, which brought Green, socialists and other civil society actors together to contend for seats.
This has always been, for me, the most exciting prospect of independence. That, shorn of the ties of Westminster, and the electoral calculations made by Westminster-oriented parties, Scottish politics could morph into new forms of expression of the popular will.
The term “tribalism” is often used to describe the relationship between the SNP and Scottish Labour - and I think it’s accurate. It’s a continuing irrational absurdity that two social-democratic (never mind democratic socialist) political parties should be at each others throats, tearing lumps out of each other, in the main chamber of Holyrood. The acute absurdity was highlighted in the 2011 Holyrood General Election - where the SNP went in defending policies (like no prescription charges or student fees) which were the achievements of previous Labour and Lib-Dem coalition governments!
My great hope for a Yes vote is that - eventually, and perhaps accompanied by the sound of twisting metal girders - the democratic left in Scotland will find a way to turn towards each other. I want them to amass their talents, experience and enthusiasm, and start to push policies and create institutions that “get us” to Denmark, Norway, Finland, in terms of social, economic, cultural and environmental indicators of progress - and beyond those nations too.
I think this democratic left exists in both the SNP and the Labour Party, and can find alliance with the Greens, and perhaps with whatever political forces emerge from civil society movements like the Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project, or the many groups “for” independence (like Women For Independence, Academics for Independence, Third Sector, etc), or the artists and creative movement National Collective, or the Radical Independence Campaign, out currently mobilising and vote-registering the schemes of Scotland.
I must admit, I angst a little about the Scottish Labour Party post a Yes-vote - so much so that I’ve joined two Labour groups in the last 12 months, Labour for Independence up here and Compass in London, in order to explore my angst. Based on many conversations with ex-Labour and some current Labour figures, I simply don’t believe that the entire party, and certainly not its electoral support, is so robotically opposed to the possibilities of independence as their party whips would like to think they were.
There is a fabulous collective of young Labour activists and thinkers who gather around the blog Mair Nor a Roch Wind, who believe that independence provides an opportunity for a party that is clearly and rigorously about the improvement of working people’s conditions and prospects in Scotland - and that it should be called the Labour Party. I wish them all the best with that… Watch them closely.
It’s been pointed out by a few fellow activists how much the SNP’s own program of power, very much represented in their White Paper, will be in the driving seat of the negotiation period. The general position on the Yes Scotland board is that the SG has the "mandate" to try to get their plans for independence through a settlement process, at least as opening negotiating positions. But, as they seem to be aware, the SG will be operating in the context of a diverse indy movement, which has its own varieties of "Plans B, C, D...", in a number of policy areas. For what it’s worth, I don’t wish to see Scotland as a full member of NATO - the SG’s proposed policy - and I do think there is a fundamental inconsistency between removing Trident submarines and joining an organisation which operates under a general “nuclear umbrella”. So when it comes to any election, I will be seeking to support parties who hold a non-NATO position.
But to give the SG its due, it makes very clear, and at regular points in the White Paper, that positions on NATO, or the monarchy, or a currency zone may well be negotiated by them post-Yes, but will always be subject to revision by future governments of whatever composition.
There may also be pressure needed to be placed on the SG during their negotiating period, in order that their settlement does not close down possibilities for the new constitution of an independent Scotland, which the SG currently suggests should be formulated after the 2016 election. What gets written into that constitution, particularly around questions like defence, social and employment rights, and principles of consultation, is of paramount importance to the progress of the country.
Yet again, we must remember to catch the spark of a Yes vote, and bring it to flame as much as we can. The integration of all powers under democratic Scottish sovereignty is the most exciting prospect for people who believe that institutions can be better, and can serve the public better, if we only had the opportunity for radical reform, or completely new invention.
That opportunity is right upon us. How can we fashion a welfare system that supports people into purposeful, productive and contributory lives, than simply demonises them for being failures in Cameron and Osborne’s “global race”? How can we use our broadcasting institutions, our media regulatory powers, to amplify the undoubted power and diversity of Scottish culture, and create conditions where our citizens get the information and news media they need and deserve? How can we begin to enact a revolution in land use in Scotland, not just addressing old dispossessions, but building a new story about local control, sustainable communities, progress shaped by a love of nature?
Integrate these prospects with the powers we have already deployed - and education is probably the best example, from our top universities to Curriculum For Excellence, of how a Scottish genius can spring from substantial powers - and it begins to really feel like that line on the inside page of Alasdair Gray’s book. We won’t be working as if we were in the early days of a better - we will be working in the early days of a better nation.
10 March, 2039 - My 75th birthday
I was 50 this year, and I’ve been active in the politics of independence for about 25 years, so 2014 is something of a watershed year for me. Yet like most post-punks and Gen X’ers - I just about qualify on both counts - we feel in a state of perpetual youth (horrifying no doubt to many of the actual youth in the audience today). We frankly deny the validity of any statistics when it comes to age or maturity. I don’t think independence will change that somewhat sad mentality one little bit.
But if the title of this lecture is Scotland After Yes, I wanted to take a little imaginative license and speculate on where the country might be after my next quarter-century. Certainly what I hope to be doing on that day is receiving my genetically-customised cell-regeneration pill from the Scottish NPS - National Potential Service - and beginning my bodily journey back from 75 to about, ooh, 35 would do. That was a very good age…
One of my jobs is actually working as a futures consultant for the innovation agency Nesta in London - so I’m reasonably aware of some of the long-term trends and changes that any national polity will have to deal with in the next 25 years. How would independence actually help Scots ride these torrents?
Undoubtedly, the impact of global warming upon all societies and economies will be much greater than it is today. And one of the great missions of national governance over the next 25 years will be to help people towards a much less consumerist, carbon-generating lifestyle, without them feeling that the quality, richness and sense of progress in their lives has reversed in anyway. Not easy (and I muse over this at my Radical Animal site).
I do think Scotland is something of a “Goldilocks” country when it comes to this issue. We all know by now how our wind and tidal resources put us in an ideal place not just to supply sustainable energy to the world, but to develop, export and sell the enabling technology for that as well. But the black gold sits at the heart of the Scottish energy debate.
The more serious environmentalists tell us that the key problem isn’t the fact that a country has oil reserves - but that it has to try and keep them in the ground, rather than burn them off as energy. This is often presented as an uncomfortable fact for independence supporters - our declarations of global-standard wealth subverted by our fossil fuel contribution to an over-cooked planet. However, as the GERS national statistics show, even without oil and gas, Scottish GDP is currently 99% of UK GDP. Small European nations can grow and prosper without the giant but problematic bounty of fossil reserves. But what do we do with the oil and gas?
In an example of the kind of lateral thinking I think we’ll see in an independent Scotland, leader of the Scottish Green Party Patrick Harvie has pointed out the range of industries that need hydrocarbons, beyond those that burn them off for energy - plastics, chemicals, feedstock, paints, etc. A Scottish Left under independence would make an argument that we create public oil companies, like StatOil in Norway, which could begin to shift the emphasis of the usage of oil from energy supply to other production processes.
And on the lifestyle end of the low-carbon society question, I think there are a number of assets in Scottish society that could quite excitingly come together on this. We know we are blessed both with sublime landscape and bountiful nature, but also a powerful and diverse cultural sector, both in terms of makers and audiences (which often are generating each other). So from very Scottish and available resources, we do not lack experiences of beauty, intensity, sensuality, self-expression and fellow-feeling - all the things that status consumption and advertising are constantly drawing on.
There is a “Scottish eco-lifestyle” that could easily become mainstream in Scotland, that could go with the grain of Scotland’s landscape and traditions, if we were able to think through the kinds of welfare, housing, labour markets, economies and infrastructures that could support it. I hope we can start that thinking from Sept 19th.
Yet another track of the future, coming at an independent Scotland from another angle, is what’s now often being called the “Third Industrial Revolution”, probably best symbolised by two machines. In a live competition a year ago, IBM’s Watson computer beat two all-time human champions of the American quiz show Jeopardy - using natural language, answering in real time. Think about the consequences of that for tens of millions of service jobs throughout the developed world.
The second device is Google’s self-driving car, abetted by their massive buy-up of robotics companies — or alternatively, Amazon’s package-delivering drone, dropping objects at your door. Think about all of that and the consequences for more tens of millions of retail, transportation and other infrastructure jobs.
The question for all societies will be: do you submit passively to these trends, particularly if they are driven purely by the profit and productivity motive, which will subvert itself by removing wages from the very people who could buy these robotically delivered and produced products and services? Or do you have a constant “national conversation” about these futures, track them, and try to anticipate, mitigate and even benefit from their effects?
I hope an independent Scotland, by the time I’m 75, has long seen the writing on the wall here. I hope we’ve made a sustained attempt to move most of the population in the direction of jobs that can’t be automated - those involving imagination, creativity, invention, or empathy, care and attention. That requires some radical thinking about working hours, about citizen’s income, about the quality of public spaces and public facilities - some of which thinking is beginning to arise, in the writings of people like Lesley Riddoch, Alex Bell, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, and other places.
But the virtue of a small, highly-developed independent nation, particularly in a networked and information-rich age as this, is that we can inform ourselves, then turn to each other, give ourselves the time and space to discuss the issue properly, and then act in a way that is much nimbler, quicker and has more legitimacy than larger, more encumbered nations - like, dare I say, a Westminster-dominated United Kingdom. In a beautiful phrase, Micheal Keating of Aberdeen University called this “social concertation” - a symphony of voices and perspectives, a collective intelligence and alertness, that can allow small nations to be adaptive and resilient, in the face of great and grand international and global changes.
Those are only two futures that an independent Scotland of 2039 will be grappling with - there will be darker and more intractable ones, I am sure. But as the great computer scientist Alan Kay once said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.
A Scotland After a Yes vote - and I absolutely believe this - will be a place where invention, or the ambition to create, will be a daily thrum, in the streets, communities, workplaces, public spaces and laboratories of the country. Isn’t this a place you’d like to live in? If so, then I ask you to consider voting Yes on the 18th of September 2014. And enjoy waking up to a new country the next day.