Allan Armstrong reports on how republicans around the UK expressed their disloyalty to the Crown
So how did the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations go from a republican perspective? A quick survey of the three and a bit nations making up the UK shows quite a wide variation in response. Undoubtedly the best protest and republican celebration took place in Wales. Cymru Goch, the Welsh socialist republicans, took the lead in this. We provide a report from their paper, Y Faner Goch, of their Festival and the arrest, charging and acquittal of Tim Richards.
Perhaps the biggest surprise though was the lack of response in the Republican heartland of Northern Ireland. The Queen even ventured into County Tyrone, something that would have been unthinkable in 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee (see John McAnulty’s report in E&L 2). Leading Irish republican, Danny Morrison, spoke at the Radical Bookfair in Edinburgh on the 19th May and entertained us with an account of events in Belfast in 1977. However, when asked what sort of protest should be organised this year, he thought the Queen’s visit should be ignored!
This sort of attitude from the
official (for surely, with all the official recognition they get, they can no longer be considered provisional) Republican Movement prompted Fourthwrite contributor, Patricia Campbell, to ask why? After all,
the Queen’s union flag adoring supporters came out to catch a glance and greet her. All the ‘Establishment’ parties participated in the festivities (but) Sinn Fein stayed silent, which was considerably different with their stance on her last jubilee visit. Was it a matter of ‘silence giving consent’? Or was it that
in true imperialist fashion the ruling classes have extended privilege to enough natives to ensure their easy passage through the territory?
On Sinn Fein’s road to constitutional respectability a lot of
republican baggage has had to be dropped. If there had been any
unseemly protests, would Alex Maskey have been elected Lord Mayor of Belfast? Following a certain inexorable logic, Alex Maskey, laid a wreath on the British First World War memorial in Belfast during the summer – hardly the tradition of James Connolly! This prompted an interesting correspondence in the pages of An Phoblacht. But what are the political implications of all this? Do Republican leaders now believe that openly asserting their republicanism might be seen as sectarianism by loyalists. And do they believe they show they aren’t sectarian by joining in the Unionists’ imperialist commemorations. It is a sad day when the British state has managed to persuade Republicans they are indeed just one of two
Unfortunately, loyalists don’t respond favourably to such concessions. They took the Jubilee as an occasion to celebrate in the style they know best. The UVF launched its pogrom on the small nationalist enclave of the Short Strand in east Belfast (see Northern Ireland – Is the
peace process under threat?) Despite Scotland’s own republican tradition, tentatively beginning with the Cameronians, taken up enthusiastically by the United Scotsmen, the Chartists and of course, John Maclean, there remain many, including leading SSP members, who see the
R word as Irish, not Scottish. When the Republican Communist Network called for a republican protest against the Queen’s visit, at the SSP’s Dundee AGM, ISM and CWI speakers decried the use of the word
republican. Instead we had a
Citizens not Subjects party on Glasgow Green on June 3rd. Keef Tompkinson (ISM), the SSP youth organiser, didn’t take kindly to the RCN criticisms of the political limitations of this event. He protested in the SSP electronic debate. After all 350 turned up for an afternoon in the one-time
empire’s second city. Yes, there were nasty letters in the press, but the Scottish
establishment didn’t feel challenged. Quite different from the response to the 300 who turned up to Cymru Goch’s whole weekend event in the small Welsh town of Pontypridd.
But Scotland did see a bigger republican demonstration on June 8th in Edinburgh, where several hundred marched (see our front cover). Only this was organised by the James Connolly Society. However, they too were operating under a self-denying ordinance on the jubilee, only one imposed by the Irish Republican Movement, so there was no anti-monarchy protest, despite it being an enthusiastic and successful event (with solidarity for Palestine much in evidence). However, as in east Belfast, this sidelining of antimonarchism didn’t stop an attempted loyalist (and BNP) disruption.
Now, whilst Scotland has its own distinctive republican tradition, this has always linked itself in solidarity with Irish and English republicanism. The SSP is beginning to make some hesitant steps towards republicanism. The last time the RCN raised the issue of the parliamentary oath before the first Scottish Parliament elections, the idea of refusal to swear was poo-pooed. Tommy said he would take the oath with his hands behind his back.
In the event, he made a much more defiant and publicity-making gesture with a clenched fist. At our Dundee conference this year, Tommy even used the dreaded
R word three times. And he held a very good, impromptu
Citizens not Subjects street meeting, attended by 100, when the Scottish Parliament
went on tour to Aberdeen. This got good TV coverage. In Pontypridd Alan McCombes has even stated he supports a Scottish Socialist Republic. It could have been more helpful at the SSP’s Dundee conference, where many of his ISM comrades haven’t yet got the message!
The SSP is expected to do even better in next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections than in 1999. Clenched fist salutes won’t have the same impact the second time round. It is time for all our MSP candidates to openly declare they won’t be taking any loyal oath and to defy any attempt to remove them from the parliament. It is also time to bring the SNP and Labour’s hidden republicans out of the closet. And we can raise the SSP profile even more.
As well as standing for MSP’s on the average wage, we need to have MSP’s who publicly declare their loyalty to the people (who elect them).