Tommy Sheppard

MP for Edinburgh East

In the coming election we must tackle Unionist myths

Conference-Spring-19

And so the parliamentary summer recess draws to a close. This week Westminster opposition parties meet to plan their autumn attack. The week after, battle commences in the palace by the Thames. The parliament and the premier, each with a death wish on each other. The question: who will get the killer blow in first?

What is clear is that a General Election is coming. Either the government will collapse parliament and head for the polls, or parliament will collapse the government and do the same. Will it be October or will the Tories drag a deal from somewhere and crawl through the winter in the hope of leaving the Brexit Party behind?

In Scotland the coming election gives us a chance to take a big step away from the chaos and crisis now permanently engulfing the UK. The threat of a hard Brexit and a harder right government has tipped the balance in favour of pursuing an alternative independent path.

 

Will this next election be about independence? You betcha! It will give people a chance to signal their support for pro-independence parties. And it will encourage execution of the existing mandate to call a referendum.

We should be clear that the decision for Scotland to become a politically independent country is not a matter for Westminster, but for the people who live here alone.

This election is first and foremost about defending that principle. That the people who live here have the right to choose how they are governed. The only thing Westminster needs to do is negotiate and agree the terms of departure. It must not block the Scottish Parliament consulting the people of Scotland on their constitutional future.

This election will not make Scotland an independent country, but it may well enhance the political and legal conditions where that becomes unstoppable. Crucially it will be about building confidence amongst people here in taking that step.

More people than ever are now open to the prospect of independence, but some still cannot get past some powerful ideological arguments deployed against it.

Too many of our fellow citizens who want to change the world are seduced by our opponents. They do not view independence as a contemporary progressive alternative to the status quo. The coming campaign gives us the chance to convince them.

And to do that we need to take head on the twin shibboleths deployed by our Unionist opponents: separation and solidarity.

Unionists are fond of using dysphemisms to castigate independence supporters. Hence the desire for political control of our own affairs is described as separatism - portrayed as a desire to cut oneself off from others, build barriers and live in isolation. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

It is those now in charge of the UK's future direction who seek separation from the European mainland, looking inward and backward to some mythical bygone age before child abuse and immigrants.

The bad news for them is that we are going nowhere - Scotland will still occupy the northern half of the island of Britain after independence. The difference is that the people who live here will be in charge. And we will use that power to build a new country with open borders which welcomes the world.

Independence will be the means of our engagement with not separation from the rest of the world. A place at the top table will allow us to build outward-looking positive relationships in Britain and in Europe but on terms that work for us and which we can control. It will enhance not diminish our character and standing in the world.

An associated argument is that independence rejects the notion of solidarity, turning our backs on those who need our help. Again, quite the opposite is true. Solidarity isn't just about supporting a cause. It means using political power to make real changes to the lives of people other than ourselves. And the more power we have the more solidarity we can give.

Left Unionists are fond of saying that working people in Scotland have more in common with working people in England than they do with Scotland's landowners and millionaires. Indeed they do. And the biggest thing they have in common is that the Union keeps both of them in their place. That's why political independence for Scotland will be a catalyst for change in Britain. If people see that we can build a more equitable and just society when we have the power to do so, they'll want some of that power for themselves.

We can use the powers of an independent country to pursue progressive policies on the environment, transport, or climate in future intergovernmental structures. That will demonstrate real solidarity with those arguing for change across Britain and beyond.

Written for the Sunday National - 25th August 2019

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