As a Philosopher and Classicist, I take a slightly different view on the Independence question. For many, the important matters are those of family income, the stability of the economy, and our chances of realising social justice. For me, on the other hand, those are perhaps important issues, but they are secondary to what is really going on. We are in the grips of the historic offer of bloodless constitutional change, and each time constitutions shift, we see a different societal group begin to have power over the decisions that are made.
For us, politics is generally about choosing who can rule us and how they will do so, from the parties and policies on offer. Usually, when we vote, we think about this choice in terms of the party that best represents our individual values. It is also thought of as rational self-interest. This is quite different from my reading of Greek political thought, where group identity and factional power-plays are the key. Each group will rule over the others, largely to benefit itself; however, if it is to be in power for long it must find some way either to mediate with or fool the other groups into accepting its rule.
The beauty of ancient political thought is that it is completely unapologetic about domination and exploitation. It therefore offers a purer way of looking at the power relationships in our own society. Politics for them was essentially a question of who had power over whom, and the process of politics in both Aristotle and Thucydides represents the often violent crossing from constitutional states where a rich élite are in power, in virtue of their wealth, to or from a situation where everyone but specifically the poor rule, in virtue of each citizen’s equal freedom (Politics, III,7-8; see Ste. Croix’s classic 1954 article for Thucydides). The result is that interest or power groups are constantly competing for influence, and this factional stasis between the demos and the élite is a central paradigm for ancient thinkers.
What is the situation now? 23 members of David Cameron’s initial Cabinet were millionaires, and 14 of the current 22 Cabinet members attended Oxbridge. Similar statistics exist for many Labour Cabinets as well. So too, there are nearly 90,000 constituents per Scottish M.P. under Westminster, sitting on the most important matters. At elections, only swing voters matter, and after them the same policies continue, benefitting the City, and failing to punish corrupt MPs like the Shadow Chancellor and the Chancellor, who both claimed outrageously for expenses.
Aristotle’s ideal democracy enfranchises farmers so only the rich may have a say, while his oligarchy maintains itself by co-opting enough poor that they feel involved, without offering them any major offices or powers (Politics, VI.4-8). This is exactly the system we see from Westminster, where only marginal constituencies matter and the NHS is sold to private interests. Reform is rare, and even greater devolution will not prevent the effects of budget cuts that undermine the Scottish Government’s ability to make its own decisions.
A vote for independence is a vote to be able to abandon this system, stepping closer to democracy. Even currently, Holyrood is more than twice as representative as Westminster, and in forging a written constitution we can make that even better. Even Aristotle admitted that collective judgements could draw on more diverse opinion and prove better (Politics, III.11). With leading economists on both sides, it seems fair to conclude that an independent Scotland is feasible, so long as it is well governed. The debate is not about Salmond or his party, as elections would follow independence. Thus the question is simple: do you trust an accountable and fully empowered Scottish government to make the appropriate decisions for this country, as approved by its electorate, or would you rather Scottish responses are determined by the priorities of a Westminster élite focused on London? If the former, then I urge you to vote ‘Yes’.
Aedan A Burt is a fourth year student of Classical Studies. He is also the President of the St Andrews Philosophy Society.