The Impetus for Independence

The independence movement is not a make-or-break gamble, but a break-to-make impetus for both Scotland and Britain

It was the last day in 2020, and when the clocks struck twelve, the Union eventually and officially left another Union. A year since then, the Prime Minister’s nostalgically forward-thinking Global Britain project has been well carried out, and now no one could question the competitiveness of Britain and its global standing in the number of daily new Covid-19 cases. 2021 was a remarkable year, it opened with crisis and ended with corruption. Would 2022 witness something different or be just another year of historic recurrence? Hardly could an optimistic prediction be expected. The entire country seems to have entered a new status quo of disorder, leaving any attempts to envision prosperity look meaningless; yet the Tory cabinet believes no crisis is permanent as long as they can hear the whirr of overloaded banknote printers.

God save the queen, but God knows not how to save the UK. Those kleptocrats in Westminster have disappointed the Scottish people and people living in the UK at large like Jenny McGee who cared for Boris Johnson in hospital but later resigned from the NHS; yet we all know electing a new Prime Minister with sanity nor even a new government would make no difference. The series of crises Britain faces are so deeply rooted and originate, to name a few, in an undemocratic electoral system that represents no voter but the party machines, and in a parliamentary chamber that is populated by narcissistic and incompetent politicians who were at the centre of disgraceful scandals during their time in Oxford Union and assume politics is all about overwhelming your antagonists by marvellous debating skills instead of looking for the common ground. Governments come and go, the problems remain, because it is not certain political figures but the long-established distorted political system that continues to rarefy integrity, responsibility, and competence in Westminster, without breaking which a real change cannot be made.

The shake-up does not come as we please; many people are boiling frogs and reluctant to wake up from their fascination with the toxic normality (of which some of the underlying social issues like health care, housing and inequality unfold unnoticed and are cynically considered to be accepted parts of the economic dynamics) and apoliticism until a ‘moment of exception’ occurs. To analogically put it in the rhetoric of ‘state of exception’, what the country has been waiting for is a moment of exception that breaks the accepted order of things and compels the society to institute a new one.
Was there ever such a moment? Yes, there was. Brexit, no matter how many times it has been retold and how ironic it might sound, was once the very moment of exception that could have overturned the isle’s political landscape. It failed to serve this purpose, and the cause lies in that the consequences of Brexit are borne unequally among the population and are not felt by everyone.

Indeed, the consequences of Brexit can be smelt in the tobacco smoke from lorry drivers stuck in Dover, read on the customs charges letter delivered together with the new coat purchased online, and heard in the complaints by Scottish fish farmers and hotel managers; and all of these are traced back to a Tory politician who thought he was lucky. Yet, if interviews were held randomly across England, most answers would be that Brexit has so far made no difference to their daily life. Supermarkets keep open, the Union Jack still flies, and tourists need to pass border control to enter the Schengen area as usual. So, the question that haunts Britain is once again asked, if not Brexit, then what?

People often say that what is going to happen in Scotland is a make-or-break second independence referendum. This sort of comment is far from accurate. The independence movement is not a make-or-break gamble, but a break-to-make impetus, even for Britain. It is not just unfair but also wrong to consider independence as a selfish pursuit exclusively for Scotland. Unlike Brexit, Scottish independence, once it comes true, will be the ultimate moment of exception that shocks everyone in England. Suddenly, the United Kingdom exists no longer, the trending hashtags in social media change completely, and the common sense written on textbook becomes invalid. All in all, it will be the time for every Briton to wake up and jump out of the boiling cooking pot, or more precisely, they are freed because the pot was broken; in other words, it will be the break-to-make turning point for England, for the first time, to seriously consider a renovation of its politics and economy. Unintentionally, the Scottish independence might push Northern Ireland to make the final decision over its membership in the UK and even trigger reform in the UN’s Security Council.

For Scotland, there is a ready environment to create a Nordic-style society awaiting, and what it needs is to simply break away from a contradictory regime that cuts necessary public expenditure to those in poverty and at the same time sells peerage in exchange for 3 million pounds to those in affluence. An interesting fact worth pointing out is Scotland possesses another quality that its Scandinavian neighbours do not have: Scottish nationalism. Nationalism is an exclusive ideology, and sometimes a synonym for xenophobia and superiority complex; but here in Scotland, a distinctive, if not unique, type of nationalism is observed. It is an internationalist and inclusive nationalism, advocating a Scottish nation that welcomes people from beyond the isle and appeals to global talents.

Surely, independence is not the magic wand that can solve all the social issues in Scotland overnight. Rather, it offers what the country needs most, an impetus. Some people claim that Scotland should not prioritise independence and the Scottish government should focus more on solving other social issues, for example, drug misuse. Such argument, though it tries hard to look statesmanlike, does not hold water at all. The issue of independence is a gate, without opening which you cannot enter the room to find a solution to problems inside. Just like the UK was unable to properly tackle domestic challenges before ‘getting Brexit done’ and the world cannot push other political agenda when the pandemic is not yet over, the independence question is so vital that no issue can be treated seriously by the Scottish people until they are allowed to go to the polling station for a second referendum. Imagine you are shopping at a supermarket but there is a giant elephant there, are you able to keep calm and concentrate on picking milk from the shelf when there is an elephant next to you? Likewise, deprioritising the independence agenda is like when the house catches fire, and your housemate shouts to you: “put down the fire extinguisher, now go to the kitchen, don’t you remember we haven’t washed the dishes?”.
Scotland has been waiting for too long, and it is time to move the elephant out of the room.
The second referendum is not a make-or-break gamble for the nation, but an opportunity to break the distorted UK politics and make a Scottish miracle. Having to bear a kleptocratic Westminster and campaign for independence amid a global pandemic might be merely a misfortune of the current generation, but if the next Scottish generations were to continue to grow up under the same environment, it would be undoubtedly the incompetence of today’s everyone.

Yifeng Zhao

yifeng.zhao@politics.ox.ac.uk

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