We had planned that this issue of the Scottish Left Review would have a sort-of ‘utopia/dystopia’ theme linked to one year to go to the referendum. The idea had been that by asking different sides in the debate to talk about the best and worst outcomes they can imagine and by asking them to talk about how these outcomes (in their views) can or would occur, it would help people to think about the potential – both bad and good – to change Scotland’s future through their referendum vote.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that. This is a shame – if for no other reason than that it rather scuppered the concept for our cover art…
But there is a strong reason not to dismiss utopias altogether. As George Bernard Shaw famously wrote, “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at”. Utopia may quite literally mean ‘No Place’, but while it is no place that exists, that most certainly doesn’t mean it has no place.
Yes, these are utopian questions. Yes, they ask us to predict a future. But you are in politics – predicting a future better than today is your purpose. Or at least it should be.
This is because we need to be able to think about the best possible outcome if we want to think about our path forward. That you do not achieve everything you’d like to is the curse of humanity’s ability to imagine things that do not exist. Of course we fail in our biggest ambitions, but in the process of failing, hopefully we manage to create something better than had we not tried.
Or, to put it more lyrically (in Samuel Beckett’s words): “Go on failing. Go on. Only next time try to fail better.”
Promising an ideal future is patently ridiculous, but debating it makes us think about what it would look like and how we might get there. These are both important questions – too many in the left have become adept at finding the failure in everything but have not properly engaged with the questions ‘what next? What now?’.
Whatever the independence debate has done it has put those questions to us in stark terms. What next? What now? If we want to make our best choice we need to think about what happens after that choice. If there is no consideration of what actions we take after 2014, we cede the future to others. All sides in the referendum campaign have a responsibility higher than winning. They have a responsibility to the future.
So, to the Radical Independence Campaign, to the pro-independence groups advocating a ‘Common Weal’ future; how do we achieve it? If there is a Yes vote, what practical, realistic and effective steps can be taken to make an independent Scotland something different from the neoliberal mess in which we find ourselves? Can you mount a serious argument to counter the allegation that an independent Scotland would be neoliberal by default?
To those who pose a federal solution to Britain and to those who believe that only class politics at a UK level can change lives, how is that going to happen? What mechanism leads to a federal Britain or to a radical reforming Westminster government? What does a radical Westminster look like and what would it do?
Yes, these are utopian questions. Yes, they ask us to predict a future. But you are in politics – predicting a future better than today is your purpose. Or at least it should be. ‘It cannae work’ or ‘trust us, somehow it just will work’ are not good enough. Allowing some time for wounds to be licked, by the start of 2015 we need a way forward in Scotland. If all that remains is fragments of everyone’s hopes lying useless around us as we have deconstructed every possibility in a fit of cynicism, replaced only with sage comments about why we should all lower our expectations, who then is victorious?
At the Scottish Left Review we will keep pressing both sides to talk us through their versions of the immediate future and how this takes us to the land they believe we deserve. We take our idealism with a dose of reality and visa versa. Surely we deserve nothing less than an answer?