“Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense.” ~ Robert Frost
Context: post the Scottish Independence Referendum. Given that we are on a shifting carpet and no one actually knows anything very definitive yet, no matter what they say, this is just an intuitive, rough response to the last few days:
Unionists, Independents and Federalists, eh?
Over Europe, everyone complains that currency union is self-evidently impossible without civic and political union, as was similarly stated over the recent Scottish Independence campaign. European technocrats are accused of wanting one primary government with devolved powers bestowed to each member state and most, bar the technocrats are against it due to issues such as sovereignty and the obvious economic disparities. To me, the US epitomises such devolution: where State law is constantly at odds with Federal law – where the tax system looks a competitive mess; where you can get an abortion easily in one region but not another; consume cannabis recreationally in some states but not others. You can’t seem to find decent democracy in either, not for love nor money. To me, the US and the EU are democratic jokes but it seems that some here, in the still-UK, are bent on ignoring their farcical inconsistencies.
There are cries that the centralised state has failed us. But is that really true or is it that the good things the centralised state has achieved and has the power and potential still to achieve, have, in fact, been consistently undermined by career politicians in their pursuit of domestic regional one-upmanship, reckless foreign policies and economic illiteracy, all of which insist, symbiotic as they are, on profit and growth, to the detriment of social prosperity, cohesion, respect for law and democratic engagement?
Decentralisation, devolution and localism: they sound lovely and freeing but they are rather nebulous concepts that mean different things to different people. In reluctant, ignorant, partisan hands, each pretty little concept could turn out to be as destructive and divisive as yesterday’s capitalism that became neoliberal, libertarian ideology. I like the phrase ‘think globally; act locally’ but it’s a poetic abstract that can mean anything from ecologically aware sourcing to selfish individualism.
You can’t eliminate bureaucracy with further concentric circles of bureaucracy. Furthermore, it’s like red-tape and regulations: the issue is not so much, or just the amount of it but rather, whether it is actually necessary, useful or beneficial in its purpose. We’ve been sold and outsourced over and over to private profiteers by consecutive regimes. Just look at who increasingly runs our public services and the over-dependence on Charity businesses. To me, these are the vehicles by which a central government absolves itself from responsibility, and accountability. I can’t help thinking that this post Scotland knee-jerk rush to fix everything with yet another ideological wheeze is more about their abdication than our civic empowerment; that it will morph into a sneaky backdoor concretising of neoliberal, libertarian dreams that ‘they’ can then say we demanded when we complained about the democratic deficits and lack of accountability. (Like the way we let them further ‘shrink the State’ every time we complain about paying tax.) The current postcode inequality potentially exacerbated – and by consent!
So, anyway, it’s not democratic reform or debate that bothers me – I’m excited about that – but rather the localising/decentralising direction that it’s being automatically assumed, not only as necessary for any reform to take but as though it were the panacea for democratic ills. Of that, I am sceptical, suspicious, even.
On a wider, deeper level I am all for the idea of an all-inclusive, UK-wide Constitutional Convention. Gods know we do need constitutional and democratic reforms! And we will need a common platform by which to gain good information and ideas and on which to build exploration and discussion. One of the lessons of Scotland is how important it is to engage with the arguments. A convention through which to access ideas on a UK-wide level is years overdue and I hope time is taken and that options are kept open long enough to sufficiently distinguish between mere ideological herding and genuinely practical suggestions.
I want we, the people, to be empowered and our civic leaders and institutions to be made to be accessible, responsible and accountable. Thing is: although we are justifiably frustrated – furious at how we’ve been wholly short-changed and are right to want more democratic power, I suspect that ultimately, most of us also just want to be left alone to get on with our lives as we see fit. What I, personally, want is a state which functions to provide infrastructure that makes it possible. I’m always banging on about how we, the People are the State but now I wonder: of which state will I be a part? Over which one will I have an experientially valid voice and which one or just how many of them will have power over me? Now I am torn: I know that top-down diktats both assist and constrain lesser authorities and that grass-roots participation is vital to reform but, being politically engaged at a local-local level, a City level, a regional level and a national level such as is claimed would truly empower me and sixty-plus million people, sounds like a frenzied full-time job with no guarantee. It’s hard enough keeping up with Westminster and County Councils and I keep up better than many I know outside of the ether. I’m not sure, from here, how many Russian dolls of power I’d want to or could do that with.
I think, though, that the coming dialogue and analyses over our entire situation and psyche are going to make a welcome mockery of all manner of Westminsteresque and general mainstream bull. The light that will be shed on the level of hypocrisy, cynicism and dissemblance is going to make us better educated as a collective citizenry and probably very angry. More than now. It will hopefully shine on everything from sovereignty to finance to trade treaties to war and defence to health to housing to inequality to the corruption of Authority. You name it. Ev-ry-thing.
And poor Scotland! What a mistake she has made! Give it a few months and her noes will be full of regrets and what ifs, if they are not already. The usual elite suspects have stitched us all up. No currency union for an independent Scotland but if England gets her own Parliament or whatever we arrive at and Wales and NI get further devolved power, might it not be a currency union anyway? How long before everyone is cross with Scotland for opening this can of worms? I am not, by the way but I can see what an uncertain period awaits us when one starts to really absorb the legal/practical complexities so I don’t expect that the emotional searching will be any less of an upheaval. It could get really messy and pretty high-octane from now on and we will all be tested hard, I think. I’m not afraid of a bit of chaos but, after watching Scotland, I am worried about the misinformation and frames of bias that we will be spun by those who, however much they say that we, the people, will be the power and the voice of change, will engineer to get an outcome that suits established order.
I started off, a year or so back, wanting Scotland to stay as part of the UK because of stuff like sentimentality, laziness at the thought of the difficult post-yes negotiations and the same strategic belief in strength in numbers that made me look favourably on Europe. But as the campaign advanced and I read wide and deep, I became more and more convinced and hopeful that she should grab her chance while she could; seize the opportunity to escape neoliberal entropy and create a new social-economic model (albeit I was imagining her with a public central bank and a new currency). That it would ultimately be better for her people and better for the rest of us than a load of unequally devolved powers. Now we are looking at how to make devolution fair and available to all, I wonder if there will be calls down the line from some that Scotland be forced to go independent, whether she wants to or not. I would understand this because really, either we are the United Kingdom as one ‘country’ with one central government (notwithstanding some powers that could/would be devolved to all countries/counties/regions/cities – whatever. Makes me tired, thinking about it) or we are all independent, ‘sovereign’ nations who just happen to share a lot of history, mostly by virtue of geographical proximity but who must learn to negotiate and co-operate with each other just as we have to do with the rest of the world.
The whole thing is enough to make a head spin and we’ve barely started! Oh, well, we’re on the roller coaster now. Better buckle up.