Dougal Perman – Positive No for Radical Reform

Scotland is a nation that looks out at the world. We’ve given the world loads and readily absorbed external influences too. I think we work best when we interact and collaborate on a local, national and international level. When it comes to the UK, and our place – or not – within it, I want to rip it up and start again. I want us to become federalised, collaborative and cooperative.

The Yes Campaign’s positive optimism is infectiously impressive and evidently effective. As many people have pointed out, the No/Better Together Campaign have, for the most part, concentrated on a more negative and pessimistic approach, which is a much harder sell. However, there are, I believe, more positives to considering a No vote than for Yes.

I am a socialist. I believe in the power of society, of working together to help each other. I’m a massive fan of the welfare state, NHS and whatever might be left of the UK’s nationalised services (which I would one day love to see nationalised again – and if you can nationalise a bank that’s bigger than the whole country’s GDP, then anything’s possible). I am pragmatic about socialism, I think we should have a society which enables and encourages entrepreneurial enterprise, albeit tempered by a strong sense of responsibility and accountability.

As a socialist, I am not at all comfortable with nationalism. I believe we should be breaking down borders and thinking and acting as internationalists rather than separating ourselves. I have many Yes supporter friends who don’t like the SNP. (I would caution them to remember that while it may – or may not – be the case that the SNP don’t survive another election, and probably not with Salmond as leader, it is the SNP who will negotiate the terms of independence in the event of a Yes vote. That’s a lot of faith to put in the hands of a party you don’t like nor support.) My friends on the yes side support independence because they see it as a way to change what’s wrong with Westminster. I don’t think there are many people in Scotland who view the way Westminster has operated, and how it’s treated most of the UK outside of London, as being fair. But rather than turn our backs on the UK, leave our seat at the table and opt out entirely, I would rather we affect change from within. You have to be in the system to change it, I think.

I wish this referendum had asked people about whether they wanted independence or a form of devo max. However, that is pretty much what the choice is now. Whichever way the vote goes on Thursday, the UK will never be the same again. My hope is for a positive no vote and then the devo max dominos will cascade around the UK, bringing about empowering radical constitutional change.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales should all have devolved governments with maximum control over issues affecting our nations. There are suggestions that England should have a devolved parliament too, which isn’t a bad idea but for me it doesn’t go far enough. For me England has never sat well as a nation. People in the North East are very different from those in the South West. The Midlands, South East and North West all have their own distinct characteristics. And then there’s London, which operates like a city state anyway. The regions of England are more like individual nations. And each nation and region in the UK has its own character, but there is still a sense of Britishness that is common to everyone living on our group of islands. So to make that work efficiently and fairly as a country, each region in England should have its own devolved government too.

This has been suggested before. Now I think it’s essential. The UK would be comprised of a collection (nine, I think) devolved governments that all feed into a congressional government in Westminster where each of the devo gov representatives sits on an equal level and works together to make decisions that benefit everybody. Will this idea get any love from Yes? Possibly not, but I hope the undecided give it thought. The Yes side becomes negative when it comments on the opposition. There will be Yes supporters who decry these ideas as idealistic, unrealistic, uncertain and unachievable – all criticisms which can easily be made of the far from certain promises the SNP make for the pro-independence movement.

However, I believe we can all work together to bring about positive change. It is possible to do what’s best for Scotland and consider our fellow people around the rest of the UK. It’s possible to be proudly patriotic without being nationalist. I am excited about the prospect of real, radical reform. I hope for a positive No outcome at the end of the week and then I want us to set aside our differences, capture the positive enthusiasm for empowering change and work together to make it happen in a way that benefits everybody in the UK. That, to me, is an enlightened, Scottish way to act.

Dougal Perman is an entrepreneur and creative director of digital media production companies. 

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11 comments

  1. Your description of the disparate characters of different parts of England could equally be applied to Scotland and even, on a lesser scale, Wales (no one would want to consider the position in Northern Ireland) but you do not propose further devolution within Scotland.

    England has been, largely, a unitary state for over 1000 years (or certainly since Henry II). An English Parliament encompassing all areas of England is surely a better solution given that further sub-divisions which gain governance over wide geographical areas and would involve further cost and bureaucracy.

    I can imagine a theory developing that “local” control could solve local problems but are the problems of poorer regions so dissimilar that they need unique solutions? Surely the main problem that certain parts of England have is that they are former industrial areas and that those industries have ceased to be economic in those areas and that the local conditions that caused them to flourish originally and draw in population are now irrelevant. Economic change is constant and I do not see how creating smaller regional authorities will cure that.

    The only way it might work is the competitive jostling of different systems (as lauded with excessive optimism by Mr Hannan) so that, say, a socialistic North East might prove less successful than a more free market North West and then the people of the former might switch their approach through their local elective representatives, but I am doubtful. Most people seem reluctant to switch positions. The more likely result would be a slow draining of population and a trapped rump. I do not imagine that that is the process you envisage.

    If smaller political units are to be formed from where are the resources they apply to be drawn? I assume that relatively poor regions would not be expected to rely on their local population for resources therefore are you positing the continuation of transfer payments between newly created regions, in other words a central government that, effectively, distributes a federal tax. Clearly such a central government is going to have develop a policy or policies to justify such a distribution. How then do you avoid the centralisation that you oppose?

    I am not a socialist and so cannot share your optimism about a society working together to help each other by a repetitive collective act of will involving thousands to maximise production for the benefit of the maximum number (which is surely what free market capitalism largely does). I can imagine a sort of voluntary collectivist group that could function on a small scale by mutual agreement e.g. a kibbutz (although I have read somewhere that even that system is now in decline). I cannot imagine how a group of hundred of thousands or millions can make collective detailed decisions effectively. All such groups can do is indicate vague preferences the execution of which is then left to elected politicians and a permanent bureaucracy both of which will develop their own self interests. Your proposal does not overcome this problem but simply imposes a new cumbersome layer between central and local governments.

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  2. Seems to me that the gist of your argument is that you feel nationalism is a dangerous road for scotland to go down. I think you are conflating ethnic nationalism with civic nationalism. There is nothing un-socialist about communities organising themselves along national lines….as you say so yourself with regards to the English regions. It’s all about shared identities coming together to work towards a shared goal (in this case; better and more representative governance) Big change happens through small actions – Think globally, act locally and all that. Scotland’s population is a manageable size to make this change happen rather than the 65 million odd of the UK. I don’t think socialism and civic nationalism as I have seen are mutually exclusive in any way. In fact, both sides have been wholly inclusive from what I’ve seen which makes me certain that Scotland will remain an open, welcoming and outwardly looking nation in the event of a yes.

    With regard to bringing about radical constitutional change – we have seen that the whole British establishment has been absolutely un-willing to effect any such change. Two recent examples being voting reform and lords reform. This will continue to be the case whilst they make the rules. A No vote (especially a resounding No vote) will just mean more of the same once this latest bout of political engagement dies down a bit – they won’t let go of power.
    A yes vote on the other hand will mean negotiating as equals to enact treaties and agreements with any country we so desire and co-operating with said countries to the mutual benefit of both our populations. Maybe this will spur on the other nations to demand either their own form of devolution or even better – independence, and rip up the UK and start over again.
    For socialists, this should be a dream opportunity. A chance for the little person to push back for once and help re-write the rules this time round.

    As an aside and in the event of a No vote , any additional devolved powers for Scotland should not be countenanced without an English parliament first being established and even then, a model like this can only work if each parliament has equal standing lest we come back to this independence question again. We know that a Scottish parliament side by side with an English one will not be its equal which is why I feel this question won’t go away – we are merely kicking the can down the road, a fudge will happen and then it’ll be deja vu all over again.

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  3. I agree broadly with much of what the writer says: I will be voting No for solidarity and in the hope that by preserving the union we can bring about change for the better for the entire UK.

    The mob antics,the zealotry and the Utopian promises of the Yes campaign are deeply disturbing.

    The crude dismissal of any questioning or opposing viewpoint is not something which inspires trust or confidence.They are like apparatchiks or cadres:one almost expects to see a Scottish version of a Little Red Book.

    However,I do take issue with the writer’s view of England.

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  4. Mr. Perman forgets to mention his family history with the Daily Record and we should question why a supposedly working class paper supports a party that has aligned itself fully with neoliberal austerity. However, regardless of Mr. Perman’s claims of being an entrepeneurial socialist, it is something of a juxtaposition and one that rings false unfortunately.

    English backbencher MPs and many frontbenchers also have said they will oppose any new powers for Scotland in the event of a No Vote, so this late promise of devo max is pie in the sky.

    Furthermore, how much longer must Scotland suck the dark effluence of the corporate teat, whilst fighting wars for fossil fuels on foreign soil?

    Not in my name and not in my children’s name. A No vote is simply a vote borne of fear, borne of the fact that we’re so use to being subjugated, we actually expect it now. Only a Yes vote can deliver the socialist utopia you crave Mr. Perman – as England drifts further to the right politically, the idea that we can maintain a political union with them is nothing short of farcical.

    Finally, I know full well that you are aware of the fact that the civic nationalism of Scotland is a far cry from the ethnic nationalism of England and tabloid tactics such as this that attempt to bamboozle people on ideology only go to demonstrate the hidden agenda you and others like you have.

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  5. I very much agree with the central point of this argument. Any socialist who claims that division of working people in the UK into smaller units as a progressive measure needs to go back and do some reading.

    Quite frankly, the nationalist case for independence on offer is the same failed neo-liberal system that the UK is struggling with. Making your country smaller increases the influence and impact of large corporations on social and fiscal policy.

    For those still in any doubt, think about what that means for a smaller trade union movement. And the pressure it would be under in trying to fight off attacks from big business.

    And so to redistribution, there is one proposal in the white paper, to take money from working people and give a 3% corporation tax cut to some of our richest businesses. Now I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I have gone back through my memory of Marx and don’t remember that being a central idea of his.

    I will probably avoid saying much on ‘civic’ nationalism. Just that the SNP have always focussed on blaming ‘the other’. There is nothing civic about that.

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    1. The progressive measure is to take power away from the powerful few and re-build the democratic structures. Anyone that thinks these powerful few will readily give up the power they hold needs to go back and do some reading and inject a bit of realism in to their thinking. The best opportunity we have is through independence whereby power is taken away from them in an instant rather than having it drip fed to us by themselves as they see fit.

      Some form of corporatism in a smaller state to include the trade union movement and other major stakeholders can only be a good thing. Who knows, it might even be an opportunity for Labour to do some soul searching and rediscover what they’re really about. Independence is a means to an end – the end being a fairer, more equitable society. To paint each independence voter (or even SNP voter) as some sort of neo-liberal free-marketeer is so wide of the mark. The system as it stands is rotten to the core and beyond saving – that’s what independence is about, not creating divisions.

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  6. Excellent article, which very much reflects my own position. I’ve spent my whole life to-ing and fro-ing between northern England and Scotland: I see no significant differences in the socio-economic situation, in the people. As a socialist and internationalist, I have been disturbed to see a number of people I’ve worked with hitching their wagon to ‘Yes’ – when it involves making borders and divisions, and ‘othering’ people. There should be no borders on social solidarity. I’m voting No because the current system is screwed, but independence isn’t good enough. We need to work together for federalism and devolution all round. We already have a parliament here in Scotland; the democratic deficit is now in the English regions, and I’m not prepared to cut and run. It would be sticking 2 fingers up to them, and to family members I love, because of an anachronistic line on a map. We should be taking down borders and dismantling nation states, not making more of them.

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  7. Thank you all for your comments. Considered replies all, except I’m afraid Craig (not Craig McH).

    Craig, your over the top comments are aimed at the wrong person, I have no family connection with the Daily Record. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about or who you mean. We are all entitled to our opinion. I’ve expressed mine and you yours. But you also have me mixed up with someone else.

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  8. Mr. Perman, I am deeply sorry for my mistake. I was given this information by someone I thought to be a trusted source. I should have personally checked for sources myself.

    I openly and sincerely apologise and I hope you can accept this, though will understand if you cannot.

    Sincerely,
    Craig

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  9. Craig, thank you very much for your open apology, which I accept readily. I think your point here is a good lesson for all of us. We should all interrogate and check facts. I very much appreciate your second comment and would welcome your input in further discussion. Let’s all work towards something good, valuable, positive and fair.

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