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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Reverberations of Scottish Independence May Shake U.S.

At The Nation John Nichols posts on “Scotland’s Referendum on Austerity,” with the theme of his argument well-encapsulated in the title. Nichols writes from Glasgow:

Thursday’s Scottish referendum vote is often framed in terms of the politics of nationalism–and the desire of a people for self-determination. And of course there have always been, and there still are, impassioned Scottish nationalists…But the reality that becomes overwhelmingly clear in the last hours before the referendum vote–which polls suggest will see an exceptionally high turnout and a close finish–is that this process is being shaped by the politics of austerity.
… [British Prime Minister David]Cameron has implemented an austerity agenda that threatens the National Health Service and broader social services, undermines trade unions and communities, and deepens inequality. Despite the devolution of some powers to a Scottish Parliament over the past decade, Scotland is still governed in many of the most important senses from London–even though less than 17 percent of Scots backed Cameron’s Conservatives in the last election, giving the Tories just one of Scotland’s fifty-nine seats in the British Parliament.

So, clearly, Scotland would be better off independent from a purely progressive standpoint, in the sense that it could get free of Tory economic austerity policies. He adds that the “Yes, Scotland” campaign will mean:

We can use Scotland’s wealth to build a fairer nation.
Scotland’s NHS [National Health Service] will be protected from creeping privatization.
We spend money on childcare instead of Trident missiles.
A lower pension age and higher pensions.
The end of Tory governments we don’t vote for.
Decisions about Scotland will be made by the people who care most about Scotland, the people who live here.

Even if the independence vote fails, writes Nichols, The Tory government will face enormous pressure to relax austerity policies. So the referendum will do some good for working people in Scotland, regardless of the outcome. Hard to argue with any of that if you are a progressive, right?
Hmmm. Maybe not. Michael Tomasky looks at it from a different angle at The Daily Beast. But first, consider that Scotland has a population of about 5.3 million, about the same as metro Detroit. England, however, has a population of about 53 million, about 10 times that of Scotland. Further, adds Tomasky:

The biggest implications of tomorrow’s Scottish vote are political, and they aren’t good for Labour in the long term.
Imagine with me for a moment that the states of New England left the United States of America. Yes, absurd–if anyone ought to leave someday, it’s the yellow-bellies who left the last time so that they could preserve their God-given right to keep other humans as property, not the patriots who founded the damn country. But let’s pretend.
Well, the implications would be many and weighty, both for the diminished USA and for the new entity. How would all the economic questions be sorted out? Would the New Englanders need passports? What would American higher education be without Harvard and Yale and the others? Would the Celtics stay in the NBA? But being a political person, I’d find the most interesting questions to be the political ones, and of the many that would arise, the bluntest would clearly be: Could the Democrats ever win a presidential election again?

Tomasky adds with impressive candor “I can’t say that I care about Scotland one way or the other, but I do care whether Labour can continue to win elections, and if you care about that too, this is the sense in which you have a stake in the outcome… You take away Scotland, you take a major base of Labour strength. No wonder Labour is making a huge “no” push, sending native son Gordon Brown up to campaign as the vote nears.”
Tomasky links to a nifty graphic representation of the political stakes of the vote on Scottish independence, which you can see right here.
No doubt Prime Minister Cameron doesn’t want to be the U.K. leader who presided over the final dissolution of the empire, but some of his fellow Tories are licking their lips at the prospect of purging Scotland’s Labour M.P.s. Cameron is also surely worried that a “yes” vote would restart the troubles in Ireland in a big way, and perhaps lead to the unification of Eire, and history would say it’s all his fault.
But it’s not an easy call for thoughtful progressives. Sure self-determination is a good thing from a liberal point of view. But millions of English workers — and the Labour Party of our closest ally getting politically-screwed — not so much.

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