LibLink: Sam Ghibaldan: Put people, not nations first

Sam Ghibaldan was Special Adviser to Jim Wallace and Nicol Stephen throughout the Liberal Democrats’ 8 years in coalition with Labour at Holyrood from 1999 and 2007.

He’s written an article for the Scotsman outlining the importance of liberalism in securing us the rights we hold for granted and comparing it with nationalism in the context of the Scottish independence referendum.

First he outlines what liberalism has done for us:

But at their core is the liberal belief that gradually took root during the 19th century, and was brought to fruition in response to the lives squandered during two world wars, that every individual mattered. Once that dangerous, radical idea became established, so did the concept that the state should nurture people, equipping them with education, healthcare and other support. As it turned out, these were just the things needed to promote personal liberty, which exploded into the 1960s as deference fell out of fashion and choice became an expectation instead of a luxury.

Liberalism’s contribution to human wellbeing, in the form of happiness and self-fulfilment, has been immense. We are free. Free to make our own career choices, to enjoy ourselves as we wish, to believe – or not – in whatever we want, to live comfortably regardless of our sexuality without fear of society’s censure.

Personal choice, freedom, liberty – however you describe it – is more important than nationality, religion or any tribal identity. It allows us to be who we are, and who we want to be. People may choose allegiances, identities, whether related to football teams, musical tribes, religions or nations. But in a society that allows and facilitates such diversity, the important thing is that people can do just that – choose – and the state does not define them, or their rights, by those choices. First and foremost, they are human beings, individuals and fellow citizens.

Compare and contrast with nationalism, based on where you come from:

Nationalism inevitably ends up defining people by where they live, not who they choose to be. To an extent, that is true of any state, but actively imposing new borders goes against the trend that geographic boundaries are becoming less relevant. We are individuals amongst the European Union’s 500 million citizens. The modern European political mantra focuses on people rather than states. National barriers are being smoothed over, worked around. Why would we put a new one up?

Liberalism recognises that different layers of governance are necessary to meet people’s needs effectively (and, for that matter, to avoid over-concentration of power). Take climate change. It affects everyone, everywhere on the globe. What happens in China affects people in Wick. So international governance is required. But it is also essential that carbon-reduction initiatives have the drive and focus of national and local governments to make them happen, and ensure solutions fit local circumstances.

He goes on to look at what a liberal approach means for the governance of our islands:

 Liberalism holds that decisions are best taken as close as practical to those affected. It makes sense, therefore, that the Scottish Parliament takes decisions about providing services like education and health. For that matter, it should raise most of the money needed to pay for them. Responsible government is more likely to breed efficient government.

But some things are best organised at a further remove; to be effective, ensure quality or offer security, the resources and interests of a wider group need to come together. In our context, as fellow residents of a small group of islands, speaking – almost universally – a common language, sharing cultural connections and with a highly integrated economy, logic suggests that a federal structure of governance would answer our needs. That is not so much patriotic as pragmatic.

You can read the whole article here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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