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What We Talk About When We Talk About Security

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. Arundhati Roy

The pandemic is one of many portals, of the opportunities, great and small, to reset and remake our corner, our communities and our world. Another of these gateways is the possibility of Scottish independence, to say nothing of our current and under-exercised autonomy as a country - both of which prompt the key question: what do we what our community to be like?

That process has sometimes been hindered by the adoption of the conventional frameworks for imagining this new country – specifically the tendency to divide the areas of government into the usual boxes, such as finance management, education, international relations, and defence, as if these categories were immutable and validated by nature herself. In that discourse “security” means conventional military defence and nothing else. The equation carries the simple message: security depends on violence. The plan may not be to have violence on the psychopathic scale of nuclear weapons – it may be modest enough, just a few frigates, a handful of planes, and some gunboats for the fisheries – but the message to all our growing children is that the backdrop to your personal safety is lethal state violence.

The COVID-19 crisis has itself exposed the limited nature of the exclusive state violence approach to security. Positively, people have again seen their security as utterly dependent on their social bonds, on their basic needs for food, shelter and medical care, and on the workers who provide these services. It is also striking that the popular compliance with COVID-19 is largely rooted in an autonomous sense of personal and social responsibility, rather than on external enforcement. Folk have also noted that on the world stage it is frequently women leaders who have provided the most effective response to the COVID-19, e.g. in New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark. A response from a man, the elder statesman Michael Gorbachev, is to the point:

What we urgently need now is a rethinking of the entire concept of security. Even after the end of the Cold War, it has been envisioned mostly in military terms. Over the past few years, all we’ve been hearing is talk about weapons, missiles and airstrikes....The overriding goal must be human security: providing food, water and a clean environment and caring for people’s health. To achieve it, we need to develop strategies, make preparations, plan and create reserves. Source.

Recently the Australian Commission for the Human Future published its round table report “Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century”. In the section of the report dealing with security it points out that:

“The time is ripe to redefine ‘security’ to a concept that begins with the personal safety and well-being of all citizens. Unless we move away from the limited conventional definitions of ‘national

security’, we are not going to solve the threats that face us all which will be submerged in national self-interest.” - Report. The whole report will repay attention. The security issue is highlighted on pages 16 and 17

It is essential that we make use of and consolidate this fresh awareness, which may otherwise be merely temporary.

It's hardly a new idea. For decades the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, along with others, has been promoting human security at the UN and the need to address threats by meeting the needs of outsiders as well as insiders. Human security was a key theme at the 1995 4th UN World Conference on Women World. 2018 saw the publication of UN Climate Ambassador Mary Robinson's Climate Justice: A Man-Made Problem With a Feminist Solution,stressing the need to secure the world for women everywhere as a key to the response of the first world to the climate crisis. The difference now is that people may listen and experience a new awakening to these ideas as a result of their own experience of responding to the pandemic, as well as witnessing governmental unpreparedness for the real threat that we are dealing with.

We have seen the higher status that people are giving now to key workers in the pandemic emergency, eroding the traditional designation of so many as “low-skilled” workers. We can spread this re-valuation to include all those individuals and agencies involved in the nitty-gritty of human welfare, and in helping them to see themselves more and more as elements in a common human security fabric. We can embed the vital notion that our security depends on the security of others – to help us see that we can only be kept safe in Bearsden if folk are safe in Castlemilk and Lahore. Countries with great inequality of income are more violent countries, and their citizens have poorer health. We know that in the meanwhile of the pandemic the climate and the environment continue to fall apart, that the risks of global warfare and nuclear confrontations are intensifying. The pandemic has led to a reduction in emissions harmful to the climate and to the quality of the air we breathe. This change is marginal but shows that people are ready to act responsibly if they are given the whole picture. These all are issues to be tackled within the process of responding to the pandemic, not in an end-on manner.

We are well-placed to tackle this in Scotland. The lead-in to the 2014 referendum was marked by a fervent burst of good imaginings – and in particular the vision of a better, fairer Scotland that could contribute to the world with compassionate values and actions. These aspirations have survived and are being built on in diverse and numerous ways, however tentatively, in our semi-autonomous and distinctive condition. Although the constitutional position is unchanged (aside from the Brexit-related loss of certain powers), our sense of nationhood has been enhanced, as illustrated by our response to the pandemic.

Being a small country helps enormously with networking. Mutual support can be implemented quickly and effectively. Our parliament, elected by proportional representation, has offered the chance to create a political culture appropriate for the 21st Century. We have at least the inklings of a willingness to work in common across the political fences instead of the conventional adversarial style. It is essential that we establish genuine common ground for a shared vision on what sort of community we want.

In Secure Scotland this is the work we wish to put our hands to.


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