Neo-liberalism’s end and our future

Neo-liberalism is at an end: the future must be ours

The politics of SNP are, as might be expected from a ‘national’ party, representative of politics more broadly, both in Scotland and throughout Western Europe. We are at a point of rupture between neo-liberal consensus and several competing programmes for the future.

In 2014, the SNP-led Scottish Government produced a white paper that set out a vision of continuity: an independent Scotland would be slightly better in every regard than a devolved Scotland, but would not be in any way different (we would keep the monarchy, Sterling, the dominant economic model etc.). As such, it was a manifestation of the dominant politics of that period: all changes proposed were in continuity with the prevailing system rather than seeking to change it.

It now appears that this was one of the final acts of that period of neo-liberal consensus: the Scottish independence referendum opened up a new, radically different space for politics in which the old certainties had truly melted into air. A referendum that was supposed to change nothing but the constitutional status of Scotland appears to have changed everything but the constitutional status of Scotland. We have ended up with an ever more energised public making their opinions felt on issues as diverse as fracking and the renewal of local democracy. An SNP Government most comfortable managing a neo-liberal consensus has been pushed into all sorts of uncomfortable positions as the rupture in our politics opens up the earth beneath them.

In the last couple of years, I have found Gramsci’s analysis that ‘the old world is dying, the new world cannot yet be born’ becomes truer by the day. And this brings us to the Growth Commission: it is an attempt at reclaiming ideological space, and the commander of this political venture in revanchism is former SNP MSP, Andrew Wilson.

It is hard to separate Wilson the author of the Growth Commission from Wilson the PR man at Charlotte Street Partners, whose company’s clients include the fracking firm, Cluff Natural Resources. In the SNP, as in our politics more generally, we see a contest between the dying ways of the old world and the attempt to create a new world.

We are familiar, whether we know it or not, with the way in which neo-liberalism weaves its story: things that are opinions become truth; things that are possible become impossible; choices are constrained before the debate has even begun. As Noam Chomsky outlined in The Common Good: ‘the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum’. It is telling, therefore, that Wilson’s attempt to recapture the ideological direction of the independence movement has not been accepted as an unproblematic truth but has been cast into the public realm for debate.

The first victory for the radical independence movement has been to deny this report the veneer of being uncontested. That Nicola Sturgeon was unable to accept the report but had to insist that it was ‘starting a debate’ shows how far politics has come since the White Paper in 2014. It is important that we recognise and claim this victory and use it to start building our own project for an independent Scotland that creates a new world of genuine equality and social justice, and in which we deal with the urgent economic and environmental crises.

Predicting what will happen in politics is a mug’s game. But, there is the strong likelihood that there will be an independence referendum soon. We need to take Nicola Sturgeon at her word: the Wilson report must start a debate. The approach we took in the first referendum since devolution charts a course for this. Ideas like Universal Basic Income, the creation of an industrial strategy to create a zero-carbon economy, and the case for a Scottish currency have become widely accepted in the popular imagination. We need to build on these and develop new ideas to shape the debate and make the case for an independent socialist Scotland.

Our focus must be on ways to harness Scotland’s renewable energy industry for social good, and to democratise the economy. The Scottish National Investment Bank should capitalise renewables projects for all public bodies. We should give workers the right to buy their own businesses to be run as cooperatives. We must build new housing to end the housing crisis to be owned through councils and cooperatives. We must find ways to create a publicly owned, zero-carbon public transport system that makes the most of the shift to electric vehicles and automation. And, we must have a debate that brings these ideas and others into the public imagination. I was proud of the role Green ‘Yes’ forces played in helping to create this debate in the referendum four years ago. And I will ensure that it does the same thing in the next referendum.

Maggie Chapman is Co-Convener of the Scottish Greensand and Rector of the University of Aberdeen.