Like many Canadians, I'll be watching the Scottish referendum very closely. And, like many progressive Canadians, I'm hoping to see a yes vote. I’m hoping to see an independent Scotland.
The Scottish vote is important for many reasons. A Yes vote is a vote against the storage of England's nuclear missiles. It's a vote against the imperialism and war mongering of the United Kingdom.
A Yes vote is a vote in favour of devolving democratic power, placing it fully into the hands of Scottish people.
A Yes vote is a vote against the austerity policies of the United Kingdom. It's a vote against Thatcherism and the hold it has had over politicians for 30 years.
A Yes vote is a vote against the rightward slide of the Labour Party; the ultimate statement that people are fed up with and reject a party that is progressive in name only.
A Yes vote is a vote against the Westminster system of parliament, a system where a minority of votes can make a prime minister.
And, regardless of the outcome of the vote, the campaign has demonstrated how important it is that something change; that the status quo isn’t working.
Many of the themes that have arisen during the campaign are reminiscent of our own referendum in 1995. Many of the arguments are the same. Many of the grievances are the similar. The source of frustration, the Westminster system of government, remains at the heart of the problem.
Sovereignty isn't a silver bullet. For an independent Scotland to be able to deliver the many promises of the Yes campaign, dedicated, progressive activists are going to have to resist and struggle to fulfil the campaign’s promises.
The fact is the status quo is unworkable. To argue that progressive reform of the current system is possible ignores the fact that it’s the very system itself that’s rotten. It's like climate change: no amount of hours spent rinsing and separating our plastics is going to stop climate destruction.
Defending unity under these conditions can only come from two places: money and nostalgia. As to be expected, the capitalist elites in the United Kingdom (and Canada) are opposed to an independent Scotland. But for progressives, there is no substantive argument in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom.
Of course, such a stark analysis is easy to do from afar: my family left the British Isles in the early 1800s. I have no relationship to the outcome. So, how does the analysis hold up when we instead talk about Canada?
There are important differences between Canada and the United Kingdom. For one, Canada's system of federalism has evolved with the demands of provinces. Over the years, provinces have sought more control over various public policies. Devolving power has been an important pressure valve used to ease tension between provincial and federal governments.
But hinging the unity of Canada on a pressure valve, at the political whims of Canada's elites, is both unsustainable and undemocratic. Québecers know this. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know this. Most people who live in a region that is routinely ignored by Canadian politicians know this.
The Canadian state re-colonizes, re-oppresses people with every right-wing decision that its government makes. The degree to which it affects people varies: from maintaining a parental relationship over Indigenous people, to ignoring scientific expertise in policy making.
So, while some people would argue that the solution to this is to just vote out Stephen Harper, their wishful thinking that the alternatives would be much better hinges on two assumptions: either that people aren’t paying enough attention to see that the current state of Canada has been created by both the Liberals and the Conservatives, or we’re too nostalgic to imagine a new federal arrangement that could restore democracy to the people of this country.
When thinking in these terms, progressives find themselves divided: on one hand, there are folks who believe that the NDP is the party that can break these patterns and put the measures in place to soften capitalism’s grimy death hands.
On the other, there is a very fractured, unorganized left.
The good news is that there are communities across Canada where this fracturing isn’t insurmountable; where the good work that is being done mirrors the good work being done elsewhere. It wouldn’t take too much to bring people together.
If we take anything from the Scottish independence movement, it's that a project that rejects neoliberalism can unite people. It has to be progressive. It has to be bold. It has to be romantic. It has to reject politics of division and involve all people.
The lessons for Québecers are obvious. We have to wrestle the narrative from the old guard péquistes who are more interested in petty political powerplays than building a new, progressive Québec. We have to be the face of the new independence movement. We have to show the rest of Canada that a new Québec necessarily means a new Canada and that we can be in this campaign together.
We also have to solidly reject the line that independence isn’t a question of left or right. A new Québec cannot be a mini Canada.
The lessons for the rest of Canada are obvious too. The NDP, in its current form, will not make the changes that Canadians need. We need to imagine a new arrangement among the provinces, where power is devolved and people have the resources they need to engage in democracy.
Canadians have to realize that Scots are voting Yes for many of the same reasons that Canadians would vote against Harper. The main difference is that we have so narrowly defined our alternatives that, under our current system of government, voting against Harper won’t change all that much.
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