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Scottish independence is not a question of 'empathy', Mr Salmond

Scotland's SNP first minister Alex Salmond is basing his plans for the country’s future on the ideas of Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Smith. He told an American audience he would be looking to both of Smith's great works – not only The Wealth of Nations but also the less well-known Moral Sentiments.

In this, Smith notes that there is something in human nature that makes us care about others, feeling what they feel not in our senses, but in our imaginations. This "empathy" is, apparently what David Cameron lacks and what Salmond has.

Yeh, right, that's what they all say! Here's Cameron speaking in 2010:

There’s something else you need to know about me which is that I believe the test of a good and strong society is how we look after the most vulnerable, the most frail and the poorest. That’s true in good times, but it’s even more true in difficult times.

But as we all know, when financial crisis push comes to shove, the needs of capital win out every time. That’s why we are enduring austerity-plus from the ConDem coalition. The only sense of us all being in it together is the fact that most Europeans are suffering the same pain.

A recent leaked Scottish government paper showed growing concerns in Edinburgh about oil revenues and public spending projections. Under such pressures would empathy trump the interests of global capitalism, whether in an independent Scotland or not? No way.

Empathy is not some national quality shared by all Scots regardless of their class or politics. If it were, some of the most miserable conditions in any advanced capitalist state would not have been created and tolerated for so long!

The House of Lords economic committee this week called on both the Westminster and Scottish governments to publish detailed studies of what would happen to the Scottish economy in light of a “Yes” vote. In that way voters could consider the implications fully.

But neither Westminster nor Holyrood will do this, for two reasons. First, they are both of them incapable of producing a document that is not riddled with propaganda for their side of the independence argument. And second, neither of them have the least idea of what is going to happen to the economy in the short, medium or long term – not in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK.

They are aboard a floundering ship which they claim to be piloting but that is actually controlled by a phantom crew nobody dares name. These are not supernatural forces, but the invisible forces of corporate debt, junk bond investments and financial instruments whose real value, or lack of it, nobody can pinpoint.

The wreck is imminent in a fresh banking crisis on the horizon. What price empathy when that happens?

We no longer live in a welfare state, but in a market state where the private sector delivers public services for profit. This is just as true in Scotland with its "arms length bodies" with big budgets, big fat salaries for councillor/directors and big fat pay offs for executives.

A Scottish government operating the existing capitalist state form would neither change nor challenge this status quo. We live in a state where benefits can be cut, removed or changed – not because people's needs have changed but because capitalism's crisis has deepened, and this would remain the same in an independent capitalist Scotland.

Of course we must defend all benefits and public spending but we must not stop there.

The independence referendum gives us a chance to debate and decide on a very different kind of society. People’s Assemblies could come together in every part of Scotland to draft a revolutionary new constitution.

That would aim to transfers power from the ruling elite to the people alongside measures to achieve economic democracy through new forms of common ownership of the corporations and banks. That is the real essence of self-determination for the 21st century.

A campaign for a “Yes” vote that is not based on fighting for that kind of transformation, is simply leaving the ship in the hands of the wreckers whilst painting a big Scottish flag on the side.

Penny Cole
11 April 2013

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Your Say

Kim Scott says:

A very well correlated opinion with very pertinent points and questions we all in Scotland and the UK should be asking. Developing more community led opinion cores is vital for us all so we can come together and express our needs and opinions.

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