Tariq Ali, interviewed by Bella Caledonia.
JF: Scottish Labour politicians claim they speak for internationalism, and often accuse independence supporters of parochialism and petty nationalism. As an internationalist living in London, why are you supporting independence?
TA: Because I don’t accept the claims of New Labour or their coalition lookalikes that they are the internationalists. Their internationalism essentially means subordinating the entire British state to the interests of the United States. They have made Britain into a vassal state: on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on various other things. This isn’t even a big secret.
So I would challenge very strongly any idea that the governments within the British state have been internationalist. They haven’t been, for a very long time. That is something that needs to be squashed.
The second point is this: an independent Scotland, a small state, has far more possibilities of real, genuine internationalism. That means establishing direct links with many countries and peoples in the world. The Norwegians, for instance, both in their media and in their culture, are attuned to countries all over the world. I was in Norway last week at a conference on the Middle East, chaired by a Norwegian diplomat. And she said she’d just come back from two years in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, and she knew all about it. So the fact that you’re going to be small doesn’t mean you’re going to be parochial. On the contrary, it can have exactly the opposite impact.
JF: Many Labour politicians will also deride the SNP as neoliberal populists, as anti-working class, and so on. What’s your views on Scottish nationalism?
TA: The Scottish National Party has been transformed. When it was first set up, it was small-C conservative, and a bit archaic. But that was changed by the ’79 Group. Although many of its members were initially expelled, including Alex Salmond, they are now in government. Also, the SNP have been recruiting a lot of people, including Labour supporters and former members of far-Left groups. I personally do not agree with their social and economic program, I think it’s too weak. On many other things, I would also have criticisms.
But I think I would definitely support a Yes vote, purely for the reason that the Scottish people have a democratic right to determine their own future. This is the first time they’ve been asked to actually vote on that. The Union that was pushed through opportunism, corruption, and bribery in 1707 was not the result of a democratic vote, as we know full well. Which is why they had to fight the battle of Culloden. That was a decisive episode of Scottish history, because that defeat at Culloden imposed the Union as we know it, something totally dominated by Britain.
The SNP is now trying to break with that tradition, and effectively to ask the Scottish people to declare the independence which they once had. And I think it would be better for Scotland, and I think it would be better for England. New Labour have become totally corrupt, in my opinion, on every social, political, and economic front. New Labour are the new Tartan Tories.
This doesn’t mean the SNP should not be argued with, debated with, and I’m sure people within its ranks will do that. And the Radical Independence alliance is a massive factor in this. I’ve been invited to speak to a Yes meeting organised by the SNP in Kirkcaldy in June, which I will do.
I’m very very strongly in favour of Scottish independence, and always have been, despite disagreements with the SNP. The idea that one can’t disagree with the SNP if one supports independence is just absurd.
JF: Could you talk a little about the potential global implications of a break up of Britain?
TA: I think, in particular, it would be very positive for England, which has always been the dominant factor in the Union. It will open up new political space. It may not benefit progressives initially, but it will at least allow politics to be discussed afresh and anew. That’s the first thing: it will be good for English democracy, which is in a very sad state.
The second thing is that it will help even the most rabid unionists in Britain to understand that the game is over, and that they have to move some way towards abandoning imperial pretensions. Those pretensions persist even though they’re a joke in the system, and they’re only leading courtesy of the United States. And who knows? Maybe it may open up space for British independence again. I mean genuine British independence, which hasn’t happened since at least 1956.
We shall see what happens, but I doubt the effects will be negative. And I think an independent Scotland , playing an independent role in world politics and in Europe, would have an impact in Britain.
The other thing that’s worth saying is that this can only be done with the consent of the Scottish people. No one can force it. So there can be no argument that arms were twisted. If anything, the campaign of fear and intimidation that has been waged by London is utterly pathetic, and I hope Scottish people will fight against it.
I remember when Tony Blair came on his last tour of Scotland, and he said, If you vote for independence, every family will lose £5,000 a year. Who dreamed up that figure? Some bureaucrat in Whitehall who wants something to frighten the Scots. And then I read, just a few days ago, that Danny Alexander is repeating these absurd figures. They do this because they want to frighten people, by saying your living standards will decline. But there’s no reason they should decline if the economy is properly handled.