Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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Independence Day

It’s just over a month to the referendum on Scottish Independence.

Watching the news, listening to the debates, experiencing the sense of uncertainty in border communities about what it means, I’m drawn inexorably to Independence Day by Bruce Springsteen.

Now I don’t know what it always was with us
We chose the words, and yeah, we drew the lines
There was just no way this house could hold the two of us
I guess that we were just too much of the same kind

Independence Day is often seen, wrongly, as a song about Springsteen’s relationship with his dad. About the same time as it was recorded he was doing lengthy in concert monologues about his relationship with his father, citing incidents like the occasion when he was house bound after a motorcycle crash and his father had a barber come in and cut all his hair off. There’s a version of that monologue on the Live 1975-85 box set. It features as the intoduction to The River, a song ostensibly about lost love but also about the impact of the recession on families and relationships.

Whenever I hear that monologue, I think not about the angry dad who had his son’s hair cut off, but, at the end, the loving dad who says ‘that’s good’ when he finds out his son has failed his physical and won’t be going to Vietnam. That’s a sideshow though; let’s go back to Independence Day.

Independence Day is about a son and father who can’t live together, but the domestic setting (‘Pappa go to bed now, it’s getting late’) is offset by the chilling Steinbeck derived vision of empty rooms at Frankie’s joint, of deserted highways and people leaving town, alone and searching for something somewhere else.

The last couple of verses make the case explicit; these changes aren’t about maturity or a natural separation; the world is changing and not in ways the son likes or recognises.

Nothing we can say can change anything now
Because there’s just different people coming down here now and they see things in different ways
And soon everything we’ve known will just be swept away

The greatest force for Scottish independence is the sense of resistance to changes that are external, and in the face of which the British state seems powerless. A movement for independence became inevitable once the new gods of monetarism and neo-liberalism declared a British industrial policy unworkable and the welfare state unaffordable.

As an internationalist I don’t think Scottish independence will solve any of Scotland’s problems, and the majority of the arguments in favour of independence fail to address the central philosophical question of the day; is it possible to have a role for government that is interventionist, active and which shapes market forces, rather than being shaped by them?

The failure to answer that question is one of the reasons why the YES campaign is faltering; same shit different package isn’t enough to persuade voters to take a leap in the dark.

However, and it’s a big however, the problems won’t go away. In England we see a parallel insurgency by the major cities, demanding increasing shares of tax revenues and increased powers for themselves, at the expense of the shires and the smaller towns, to enable them to address the same issues of under-investment and lack of intervention that fuel nationalism.

The solution is not independence, but recognising inter-dependence and re-framing government as the provision of public benefits by intervention, transforming the dark and dusty highways into places of opportunity and safety. I’ve seen no evidence yet that either side in the Scottish debate recognise that argument.

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This entry was posted on July 31, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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