As a young student I learned about the concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’ which referred to the settlement of the American continent, from east coast to west coast. Manifest Destiny put the self-serving spin of divine providence onto the matter of land and resource ownership – a fancy way of saying ‘We’ll just take all of it.’ No one would deny that the American landmass is a beautiful and bountiful piece of property. Manifest Destiny absolved us of the responsibility to honour our treaties with the existing populations of native tribal people, and mitigated our guilt for enacting genocide upon them, displacing survivors from their ancestral territories and isolating them on reservations of the poorest quality land. It was just meant to be, you know? Destiny.
Current indigenous political movements demonstrate that the United States still breaches its commitments by treaty (whether those treaties were fair play or not.) Various legal battles over traditionally sacred areas and development access to reserved land continue to struggle through the US courts. Nowadays we don’t cite Manifest Destiny to justify the continued appropriation of land from those whose people were here first – but it’s still doing its work on our collective imagination.
Land reform is of course a central concern in Scottish politics, and tied to electoral reform. Off-site landowners have shaped the country’s history for centuries, driving out local populations by claiming land for private property, and enjoying hereditary power in Westminster. Likewise the referendum involves ownership of resources – the most debated of course being North Sea oil – but also farmland, local business and the intellectual capital of the population.
My own view is that the future is going to be much, much harder for all of us everywhere. Our world’s natural abundance is seriously compromised by industrial civilisation. We have polluted and ‘developed’ and exploited our land and natural resources and driven unprecedented numbers of species to extinction. Climate change is underway, cheap energy will reach its limit and our complex global systems will collapse or decay. Social arrangements will revert to smaller-scale political structures with an emphasis on local survival. An independent Scotland could be a very wise preparatory step, putting the constitutional mechanisms into place to facilitate local transition economies.