'Independence,' quothed Nicola sturgeon recently, 'is the best way for Scotland to make a positive contribution to the world.' She may be correct, although when Scotland did make its massive contribution and, almost single-handedly, brought into being the modern world through its philosophers and scientists, it was in the 18th century and the Scottish Enlightenment was fuelled by the wealth of England and its colonies.
However, it is Sturgeon's world view that concerns: quite properly she stressed the importance of the caveat that globalisation had to be managed properly to succeed but, unfortunately, she did not describe what proper management would consist of or how it could be carried out.
'Globalisation' has several definitions, not necessarily conflicting, but the simplest is the Financial Times' description of globalisation being a process whereby national and regional economies, societies and cultures become integrated through a network of trade, communication, immigration and transportation. The FT also extends this definition beyond economic matters and brings in a broader range of activities including cultural, technical and sociological factors – and not excluding communal problems such as climate change.
As a definition it is completely neutral but Noam Chomsky, the American philosopher and sociologist, is probably more accurate when he defines the term as meaning as a 'specific form of investor's rights integration designed by wealth and power for their own interests'. Even with Nicola Sturgeon's reservations, the SNP's support for the process underscores how right-wing the SNP have become; a process that started when Alex Salmond cuddled up to business interests (and was eventually snubbed by Donald Trump).
Most SNP voters still believe they are voting for a left-of-centre party – a people's party that has replaced the ailing Labour party in that role – but that is not so: the SNP have swung to the right as they centralise more and more control around themselves (an example is that we now have a state police force). All parties have a tendency to move to the right when they take office (witness Tony Blair's Labour party) but, in her support of globalisation, Sturgeon misses the actuality of what is happening.
But let's get one canard out of the way first. It is claimed by the supporters of globalisation that the process has helped stabilise the world and is a factor of weight in keeping the peace; you do not go to war with someone you are trading with. That last statement is not quite true as Britain and Germany were trading prior to the second world war (as was America with Germany): but the general point is taken.
It is, however, common sense that has stopped wars between the major powers. And common sense is what the peoples of the democratic powers have mostly displayed over the past 60 years or so. We know we would all be losers in another major war. And trade has developed between nations as a result
of that peace, not as a cause
of that peace.
In truth, globalisation is about the spread of huge multi-national corporations and the increasing and undemocratic power they assert upon local and international affairs. The spread has been insidious. Look around Scotland and ask how many businesses are locally owned and how many are the long fingers of international companies. When we purchase from these companies, even something as simple as a cup of coffee, we have little idea of how much of our money is going abroad and being recorded in tax-free havens. The economic benefits of these businesses are being leeched from us. And us Scots once complained of English based companies taking over Scottish ones.
Globalisation has both allowed those international companies in to own our resources and permitted our companies to slide off to where labour is cheaper and where a compliant government will tax them little in return for the jobs they bring. This is good for developing countries as what used to be termed 'third world' countries take up the manufacturing processes via their cheap labour: China and India have been the big gainers but also Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and some of the Eastern European countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia and, oh, Russia have also gained.
No-one can begrudge them this improvement little though it be; but it is not at the expense of the Western owner class that these nations have picked up: it is at the expense of the poorest working (or non-working) classes in the West. Thus real earnings have hardly moved from the 70s (in fact, have gone back) whilst benefit payments of one description or another have mushroomed, as has the growth of charities, homelessness and food banks. A short time ago there was even a serious proposal for Britain to re-establish national kitchens. That latter actually makes economic sense but is it a world we want to live in? I would love to learn how Nicola Sturgeon believes we can control globalisation.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Caithness