Enlightenment 2.0?

Why are we doing this vote? The vote in the Referendum is about taking ownership of our actions, and taking responsibility – Scotland has moved on (and grown up) from knee-jerk blaming others for its problems – and by implication blaming itself for its powerlessness and inability to do anything about it – so well exemplified by the Daily Mash’s article on ‘Scotland to blame Cats after Independence’.  The Referendum debate is not about that or ‘anti-English’ nonsense, so forget that stereotype right away.  As noted elsewhere, this referendum has resulted in a mass mobilization of people who would regard themselves as ‘apolitical’ and not party political, even greater than that surrounding the ‘common cause’ in the wake of the 1992 general election, miners’ strike and anti-poll tax campaigns of the eighties and nineties – the most powerful political engagement of people in a lifetime. So, the debate now is in a dimension where we think about what the different futures are that we could have AFTER independence (rather than ‘Yes’ or ‘No’), incorporating a rich vein of ideas and perspectives across a wide political spectrum, allowing us to see in stark lighting exactly what we don’t like about the British State, and how we would do things markedly differently.  In effect (as someone faster than me put it about a year ago) – a reboot called ‘Enlightenment 2.0’.

‘Enlightenment’ may seem like overegging the situation, and yet against a sea of neoliberal values and nations, it does not take much to stand out from the crowd and once again redefine political, economic and social thought. Indeed, some commentators have reflected on the fact that ‘nationalism’ is an extremely rare argument amongst those campaigning for independence, whereas a rejection of the Westminster political system, widely perceived to have failed not just Scotland, is absolutely dominant. This means that the scope of what is being campaigned for, in terms of building a new country, is far wider than simplistic cultural aspects.

Does this seem like a ridiculously overblown and preposterously inflated idea of what Scotland can achieve?  Well, not really – after all, we’ve done it before.  Scotland’s leading role in the Enlightenment (see quote by no less than Voltaire below) is widely acknowledged, particularly with respect to Frances Hutcheson’s role in Glasgow University.  And given the widespread emigration of Scots around the world, to help build both Canada (Shaw 2003) and New Zealand (for example), as well as their role in creating much of what we recognize as the ‘modern world’, we do sort of ‘have form’, where this is concerned.  It was noted that Scotland’s historical role was due to its emphasis on education – with 75% male literacy in Lowland Scotland, Herman (2001) has noted that ‘no other society was as broadly prepared for “takeoff” into the modern age as was eighteenth century Scotland.’  What is surprising is that Scotland still seems to have that leading edge, the Office for National Statistics recently showing that Scotland’s figure of 45% of those between 25 and 64 having gone into higher education, makes it the best educated country in Europe, and close to the highest in the world (The Independent, 6/6/2014).  So we are similarly well-placed again – if the level of education is what defines the limitations of a society.

Perhaps that is why much of the debate about the Referendum on the Yes side is less about the ‘whys’ and has moved on to the ‘what sort ofs’ – chief amongst them, considerations of equity, including a constitution protecting equity of rights and individual liberties that will be abandoned with the UK’s prospective EU departure, and removing the shame of foodbanks from what would be the 14th wealthiest country (based on GDP per head in the developed world) at the point of its independence. (To see the draft constitution, go to http://www.newsnetscotland.com/index.php/component/content/article/8725-the-constitution-of-scotland ). You did know the UK was the only country within the EU or indeed the Commonwealth without a written constitution, didn’t you?

Or, to answer the question ‘why are we doing this’ in another way: choose a Constitution, choose removing the shame of foodbanks from the 14th richest country in the world, choose redressing the democratic deficit, choose addressing growing child poverty, choose preserving education, choose new business opportunities, choose protecting the NHS as free at point of need to all, choose land reform.

Is that good enough for a starting point?

“we look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization” François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire)

“This is an opportunity not only of our lifetime, but of many lifetimes, because the journey to this point has been one of generations. It is the opportunity to be true to who we are – and that is the very essence of enlightenment.” (Brian Cox, August 2014)

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