Ken MacLeod, Scotland after No

Published: 12 February 2014

In an effort to broaden the debate, we've asked two prominent figures in Scottish arts and culture to address the theme How could a Yes or a No vote help Scotland cope better with the future? In this feature, sci-fi writer Ken MacLeod and musician Pat Kane will present their cases. Ken's argument for a no vote is below.

If September's verdict is No, the effect on Scottish life will be bracing. The distraction of a referendum that nobody really wanted will at last be out of the way. The SNP can get on with what most of its own supporters prefer it to do: be a reasonably competent devolved government. The other mainstream parties can go back to being a proper opposition, which they at the moment are not, and which the SNP government sorely needs. The non-mainstream parties -- what's left of them -- can refocus their efforts on far more pressing issues of economy and environment, liberty and property, citizenship and equality, that require the urgent attention of green and red alike (if only to bring them sharply to the attention of the parties that can actually do something about them).

These changes won't be smooth, and that's all to the good. The heavy weight of the mainstream parties, and the light weight of the others, will make sure of that. A frenzy of faction-fighting should follow, making Scottish politics interesting again. Out of this, new and much-needed alignments and divisions will have a chance. The authority of the Scottish Parliament, which relies on the threat of independence to give it teeth, will for a while be diminished. That too would be welcome. The real problems of life in the British state, in Europe, and on the Atlantic can then be faced by people with real and not imaginary differences and interests to unite or divide them.

Central to these differences is class. The Scottish working class and the poor are where support for independence is strongest. This is not a recommendation of the policy, but a condemnation of the political parties of the Left, which have failed to develop any credible response to the interlocking problems of capitalism and socialism.

The communities and regions of Scotland, which have more problems and possible solutions in common with their counterparts in other lands from England to Denmark than with the Central Belt -- itself divided between West and East by the uneven fates of industry and finance -- need no longer be flattened by the fiction that all of Scotland is one locality, and will be free to strike out in different directions.

Scottish art and literature, to say nothing of the wider culture industry, will be freed by a No vote from the possibility of dependence on the patronage of an invigorated national cultural apparatus itching to correct centuries of well-nursed grievance. Many will be freed from that dire fate against their will, but some liberations really do have to come from without.

Above all, the gloomy prospect of living in a country where all the important decisions are made in London, Brussels and Washington and having no say whatsoever in London and very little say in the other two capitals -- which is what independence would mean -- will lift. I'll be celebrating.

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