Saturday 6 October 2012

A dilemma for left-wing nationalists

One of the reasons nationalists sometimes give for wanting independence is that it would make it more likely that Scotland would get a government reflecting the political views of the majority of Scots. The present situation where there is a Tory government ruling from Westminster, even though the vast majority of Scots did not vote for them, could never arise again. 

When confronted with this idea, I have sometimes pointed out that this implies that Scottish politics post independence would be dominated by a variety of parties expressing left of centre opinions. The two main parties at the moment, the SNP and Labour are both social-democratic, with the main difference being that Labour has traditional ties to unions and the Union, while the SNP’s main goal has always been independence. But post independence, in a Scottish general election, the issue of independence would no longer arise and so the Scottish people would really only be offered a choice between various forms of social democracy. 

This is unfortunate for a variety of reasons. It is not a good idea in a democracy if only one sort of party has a chance of winning. A continual diet of social democracy is liable to become awfully corrupt, with the same sorts of governments and politicians governing in perpetuity. One of the most fundamental necessities of any democracy is that it should be possible to kick out one political idea and give another political idea a chance. Most people recognise that it is a good thing that in Britain we sometimes have a Labour government and sometimes a Conservative government. Being in opposition gives a party a chance to reflect on where it went wrong and come up with new ideas. Being kicked out of government gives each party a chance to remember that they must respect the will and the desires of the people. Even as a Conservative supporter I would not wish to have a Britain, which was ruled permanently by the Conservatives.

By the same token I don’t want a Scotland, which is ruled permanently by a social democratic party, whether that party happens to be called Labour or the SNP. The reason for this is that social democracy makes its best contribution to politics when it acts as one of the checks and balances on right-wing ideology. Centre-right parties need parties of the centre-left in order to remind them that wealth creation and free-market economics must be tempered by social justice and societal cohesion, but centre-left parties likewise need centre-right parties in order that they don’t fall too far into the obvious economic errors of socialism. 

Many nationalists say that the politics of an independent Scotland would go through a period of readjustment and that centre-right parties would naturally develop. Some SNP supporters are probably more right-wing than their party leadership at present. They might well choose to join with other right-wingers to form a new right of centre party. But if a new centre-right party is a serious possibility for an independent Scotland and that party has a serious chance of government, Scotland could well end up with a government just as right-wing as the present Tory government in Westminster. But it was precisely to avoid this that we are being urged to vote for independence.

Nationalists can’t have it both ways. If the reason for voting for independence is to avoid centre-right government, such as that, which at present exists at Westminster, they can’t then claim that Scotland will avoid permanent leftist government, because new centre-right parties will emerge.