A response to Scot MacCreamhin’s Can Scottish Socialists and Irish republicans work together?

Scot MacCreamhin’s article, Can Scottish socialists and Irish republicans work together?, is a welcome contribution to what has often been a fraught debate. Scot concentrates on possible electoral cooperation in the 2007 Holyrood elections. He goes on to consider various options for the local elections, which will use proportional representation for the first time.

Too narrowly focussed

I think that Scot’s attentions are too narrowly focussed on electoral cooperation, without a full appreciation of the wider political context we are operating in. If Irish republicans (in the tradition of James Connolly) and Scottish republicans (in the tradition of John Maclean) are to cooperate, we need know why. However, before I go on to outline the situation we face, I had better declare my interest first. I am a Scottish workers’ republican and member of the SSP, who has also been involved for many years in trying to get wider support for Irish self determination and, in particular, for the best political demonstration held in my city – the annual James Connolly Memorial march in Edinburgh.

Comparative success

Readers of Iris are well aware of the difficulties faced by socialist republicans in raising such issues in Scotland, even amongst the self-declared revolutionary left found in the SSP. However, the SSP has succeeded in uniting the majority of the Left in Scotland for the first time. The reason for the comparative success of the SSP is that it had its origins in successful working class resistance – the anti-poll tax revolt, the campaign against water privatisation and the Glaciers occupation. However, there were also political weaknesses, many of which stemmed from an ex-Militant leadership schooled in the old British Left traditions of unionism. One notorious consequence of this was the welcoming of the loyalist PUP/UVF spokesman, Billy Hutchinson, as a genuine socialist, to the SSP’s Socialism 2000 event!

Since then things have moved on in the SSP. Left unionism is no longer in the ascendancy. Holy Cross has silenced the pro-loyalist elements in the party. Republicanism now has a considerably stronger voice, although much of this is sentimental rather than overtly political. There are also problems of a different nature – the debilitating effects of parliamentarianism in a period of continuing working class retreat; and the dangers of tailing Scotland’s equivalent to the SDLP, the Stoop Down Low Party – the SNP, the Sometime, Never Party.

The SNP has a leadership which supports the British army’s Scottish regiments; refuses to declare for a sovereign republic; and is a seeker after places in the House of Lords! It also wants to offer Scotland up as a cheap tax haven for the global corporations.

Greater cooperation

Greater cooperation between genuine socialists and republicans in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, stems from a much wider need than increasing the number of sympathetic parliamentary and council representatives, although this would help. The British ruling class has a strategy for dealing with any potential opposition, which covers the whole of these islands. In the early 1980’s, their strategy for defeating self-determination was quite clear – smash the Irish republican movement and ignore or ridicule the constitutional nationalists in Scotland and Wales. The Hunger Strikes and the rise of the vote for Sinn Fein put an end to their first policy. The defeat of the poll tax, first test-run in Scotland, put an end to the second.

Since then, the British ruling class has changed its strategy. After the failure of the Tories’ 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement to defeat the Irish Republican resistance, the outlines of a new strategy appeared. The Tory/Fianna Fail 1992 Downing Street Declaration opened up the prospect of a reopening of Stormont, with Irish Republican involvement. However, by this time, after the poll tax rebellion, the Tories were in free-fall in Scotland. Unionism had to be reformed throughout the UK, if it was to hold the line.

Your contributor, Edward Ingrams, has called the new strategy – ‘devolution all-round’, with assemblies for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These are all politically subordinate to Westminster and to the wider British state. As it turned out, it was New Labour which was better prepared to move from the old right to a new liberal unionism. As a consequence, most of the British ruling class gave its support to New Labour in 1997, something highlighted by the favourable press coverage Blair received at the time.

The Civil Rights Movement, although enthusiastic and militant, naively believed the British state was a potential ally
The Civil Rights Movement, although enthusiastic and militant, naively believed the British state was a potential ally

‘Social partnership’

New Labour also built upon the closer links developed between the Tory and successive Irish governments. They also appreciated the need to get the trade union bureaucrats on board, so they copied Fianna Fail’s ‘social partnership’ model. The effect of this has been to turn most trade unions into a personnel management service for the bosses and governments. The ultimate aim behind ‘devolution-all-round’ is to create a stable political environment throughout these islands, so that the global corporations can press forward with their privatisation and deregulation policies. The threat of water privatisation is now real in both the North and South of Ireland. Shell was quite confident it could depend on the Irish government to help it try to silence the Rossport 5.

The corporations’ ‘new world order’ can not be created by political and economic measures alone. It needs a military and security force policy to beat down all opposition whether in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Colombia and later, possibly in Iran, Syria and Venezuela. The military forces at the disposal of SNP imperialism protect the interests of these corporations worldwide.

However, in the North East Atlantic, successive SNP governments have given the local policing franchise to its junior partner, British imperialism. This arrangement has the full support of a ‘neutral’ Irish government, which also lets NATO forces use Shannon Airport.

Under Bush, any hopes of pro-Irish American sentiment being turned into pressure on the British government, and bolstering a more pro-Irish unity stance by the Irish government, have evaporated. Bush fully backs Blair, whilst the Irish government echoes every ‘securocrat’ news leak, designed to weaken the Irish Republican opposition. Instead the Good Friday Agreement is continually amended to the Right, to accommodate Paisley’s viciously sectarian DUP.

Paisley has just been made a Privy Councillor. If things ever get too hot for the British ruling class, they can constitutionally suspend Westminster, and replace it with the Privy Council. It can then rule in the name of the Crown. All British military officers and senior government officials swear their allegiance to the queen, not to parliament or to the people! Yes, Paisley, that scourge of Westminster, would be as happy as his mentor, Edward Carson, who went on from encouraging mutiny against the government of the day in 1912, to loyally serving British imperialism in its hour of need in the First World War!

Quite clearly, the job facing socialists and republicans throughout these islands is enormous. If we want to fight for genuine self determination for the four nations and to campaign for ‘people not profit’, then only a republican and socialist strategy can provide the answer. You must know what you are up against. The early Civil Rights Movement was enthusiastic and militant. Yet it believed that, with sufficient pressure, it was possible to get Britain to reform its sectarian ‘Six Counties’ statelet. It was Republicans who pointed out that the British government (then led by a mildly reforming Labour leadership) was not a potential ally, but the ‘behind-the scenes’ guarantor of the Six Counties setup. Bloody Sunday proved them right.

Today we have a much more reactionary Labour government pledged to a ‘war against terrorism’ (i.e. a war for SNP/UK imperialism) and to ‘modernisation’ (i.e. an unremitting campaign of counter-reforms to break-up what is left of welfare provision and job protection). All the pressure is on reforming, radical and even revolutionary organisations to bow to these demands. Labour, Lib-Dem and SNP have long succumbed and only seek the grace and favour of ‘the high and mighty’. Nor, in the present circumstances, is it being disloyal to suggest that such pressures will also be felt within our own political organisations. We need to be prepared for this eventuality.

Worldwide struggle

Yet our potential audience and support is wide. As Jim Slaven says, Republicans have always viewed the struggle for national liberation in internationalist terms. (Iris, No. 1). We need to see our own struggles for national liberation as part of the current worldwide struggle against imperialist globalisation. We must offer active solidarity to the resistance in Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia and Cuba and to the antiwar movement demanding the ending of SNP/UK occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But we will also have plenty of domestic struggles, where we face the same enemy, whether it be Shell or the private water companies. How about a joint picket of the Irish consulate in Edinburgh to protest against Shell on behalf of the Rossport 5 and against the use of Shannon Airport for NATO flights, followed by a protest at the Scottish Parliament against the use of Scottish airports to transfer Middle East prisoners for torture? These are just suggestions, which I think would have an immediate appeal for both Cairde Na hEireann and SSP members and supporters.

However, the other side will ensure there is no shortage of issues for us to find common ground on. In the meantime socialist republicans are campaigning to get official SSP support for the annual Connolly March in Edinburgh.

Joint activities build wider confidence. Rather than being drawn down the road of a parliamentary routinism and narrow nationalism, which would ignore any progressive Irish links, such activities would also push the SSP into a more consistently republican and internationalist stance. This would better prepare the ground for the sort of electoral challenge that is really needed in 2007, and one in which I heartily hope the SSP and Cairde Na hEireann can indeed cooperate over.

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