Credit where credit’s due: I’ve been enjoying Adam Ramsay’s strategic, arch-cynical updates on the current Westminster debacle around the independence referendum. I agree with his basic analysis that Salmond may well be trying to draw out Cameron and co. into a fight they are unlikely to win, at least north of the border, while positioning himself as an alternative to a parliamentary system that has lost much of it’s credibility. I also agree with his point that “We do need to stop talking process and start imagining what independence might mean.” This article is an attempt to suggest three important issues that should be part of the conversation.
Coming as no surprise to people that know me, I think land ownership is one of Scotland’s most enduring historical problems. For more about it see here. But, the cut a long story short, 969 people own around 60% of the privately held rural land, in a country of 5.2 million people. On average, their holdings are around 9 735 acres each, most of which will never be on the market. What’s more, they generate absurd revenue via vast subsidies paid to landowners by the Common Agricultural Policy, while the remaining countryside economy tends to deteriorate around them.
Officially, there is nothing in the current situation that would prevent Scottish ministers from, tomorrow, taking steps to address the problem. During the first session of the Scottish Parliament there something approaching a flurry of Parliamentary Acts related to the land situation. Abolishing Feudalism (in 2001!), creating the right to roam and giving communities the right to buy in some situations were all progressive steps but, somehow, the momentum has collapsed. The unequal distribution of land also throws up a number of issues, related to house building, tax evasion, the environment, land use and community self-determination, and will shape an independent Scotland whether it is a addressed or not.
Land Ownership is also important in the context of Scotland’s ‘green economy’, at least on the subject of how the benefits accrue. I would certainly be disappointed if projects like Lord Roxburghe’s became the face of the green revolution. The benefits of nationalizing critical resources, or making them the property of local communities, should be part of any discussion on our collective economic future.
Crime and Punishment (Or, wee scallies and gettin’ the jail)
It’s a well established but little known fact that the prison population in the UK has massively expanded in the last thirty years, trailing only the United States in penal expansion among the western states. In England and Wales, the population is currently 87 945, an all-time high. In 1993, according to this BBC chart, this number was 41 600, meaning that numbers have more than doubled in under 20 years. This has come alongside an explosion in criminal offences under new Labour – around 3605 new offences over three terms, according to Loic Wacquant – draconian limitations on the freedoms of expression and a heightened sense of Orwellian terror in our discussions about ‘security’. Remember ID Cards? What’s more, like the United States, the UK has embraced private prisons, outstripping Europe in terms of the number build. According to the Guardian, there are eleven privately run prisons in England and Wales, alongside 9 developed under PFI contracts, and accounting for around 10% of the prison population as a whole.
I believe that it’s important to take seriously the issue of crime and prison populations because, as Loic Wacquant aptly points out in the long but highly impressive lecture cited above, carceral expansion is not linked to the levels of crime. Rather, as he argues, prison is the principal strategy for dealing with marginaility in the modern neoliberal state.
In Scotland, there are mixed signals. Prison populations have grown in line with England and Wales, and private prisons are not an anomaly, as HMP Addiewell demonstrates. As Lesley McAra points out, before devolution Scotland was marked by the contradiction between rising prison populations and an emphasis on welfare. Since devolution, at least under Labour and the Lib Dems, there was a consolidation of penal power with the vast creation of new institutions, increased central control and the deployment of crime control to a number of other problems.
A quick glance at this BBC page on the parties approaches to crime indicate little difference among the major parties, all going for varients on ‘toughness’. How we think about and act in response to crime is one of our deciding features as a nation, and I think it should be part of any debate about Scotland’s future.
We should also be talking about the relationship between Scotland and military. There are two aspects to this. First, as detailed by Scottish CND in their excellent ‘Fortress Scotland’ (you can download it here) Scotland has long been a crucial place for housing military facilities for both the UK government and NATO. The most obvious example are the Trident Nuclear submarines at Faslane, but this is far from all.
As the report states:
“Despite the strategic nuclear weapons based at Faslane and Coulport, and the large RAF bases on the east coast of Scotland, the main conclusion drawn from this pamphlet would be that Scotland has become increasingly important as a training ground for the troops, sailors and air-crews of both Britain’s and NATO’s military forces and as a testing ground for their new weapons. With Cape Wrath in the north and Dundrennan in the south, over the last decade the air, waters and land of Scotland have become increasingly used for major exercises and weapons testing. At Dundrennan the US are testing their ‘super-gun’; at Cape Wrath, the US Navy come to test their crew’s live-firing skills before becoming operationally ready. The Highlands is covered by the largest and most often used low flying exercise area in Europe. The Joint Maritime Course, held three times a year off the North and West coast of Scotland, is the largest combined forces exercise held regularly by NATO countries. Increasingly, as the strategic importance of Scotland’s position declines, its relatively low population density, its distance from Westminster (and, as importantly, the voters of Middle England) and its large MoD estate has made Scotland one of the most important military play-grounds in the Northern hemisphere.”
In addition, as Corporate Watch point out, Scotland is heavily embroiled in the arms trade, housing a number of factories and facilities operated by everyone from Thales to BAe to Raytheon. Scotland’s military facilities are valuable resources for some and, certainly, serious questions need to be asked about their future in an independent Scotland, alongside the questions of whether we would continue down the aggressive foreign policy frequently adopted in Westminster.
I have tried to outline what I consider three areas pertaining Scotland’s future as an independent country, if and when this takes place. These are issues which, unlike tuition fees and prescription charges, do not indicate a comfortable ‘liberalism’ north of the border. Moreover, the sit at the centre of what the state is and how the nation functions. For these reasons, I believe they are debates worth starting.