A talk given by Allan Armstrong (Republican Communist Network Platform in the Scottish Socialist Party) at the G8 Alternatives Summit on July 3rd 2005 in Edinburgh

Earlier today, Eamon McCann, leading SWP member in Ireland, introduced a session entitled, Making Northern Ireland Safe for Neo-liberalism. It is revealing that such a prominent SWP member should concentrate on economic policy and focus on just part of the partitioned Irish nation. I want to look at the wider political picture, locating Ireland as a whole, along with Scotland, England and Wales, in the current imperial plans for this part of the world. Therefore, the title of my talk is Making the North East Atlantic Safe for Global Capitalism.

One consequence of this approach is that it highlights the role of US and UK imperialism in the world. In contrast, the SWP‘s general approach emphasises the US link with global corporations and its imperial policies, particularly in Iraq. It downplays British imperialism. This is highlighted by their electoral intervention in Northern Ireland, where Eamon McCann, who stood as candidate for the SEA in the General Election, called for US and British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. However, the SEA platform failed to even mention the larger number of British troops occupying Ireland – a remarkable oversight! The old Militant, now the Socialist Parties in England and Wales, in Ireland and their platform in the SSP, have a similar blind-spot.

Of course, the neo-liberal economic policies being pursued throughout these islands are important. Their aim is to create the economic environment necessary for the global corporations to maximise their profits, particularly through the policies of deregulation and privatisation – something I’m sure will have been dealt with well at a number of sessions today. However, a wider political environment is needed for these economic policies to be pursued successfully. I will argue that this is the aim of the current British imperial New Unionist offensive, particularly its policy of trying to establish devolution-all-round. This is being done with the full cooperation of the Irish government.

Furthermore, the shared British and Irish governments’ policy of social partnership with the trade union bureaucracies isn’t confined to advancing the neo-liberal economic agenda. These partnerships are mobilised to win wider support for the Peace Process, the Good Friday Agreement and the devolution settlements, all key to the New Unionist political strategy.

It is perhaps helpful, before outlining the US/UK government and global corporations’ plans for the North East Atlantic region, to briefly outline some better known imperial projects in the world. A good place to start is South America, because this is the current epicentre of resistance to imperialism.

The US state has developed a range of strategies to deal with this opposition. These started under President Clinton. Perhaps the best known is Plan Colombia. In Colombia imperialism faces opposition from the peasant-based guerilla movements of FARC EP and the ELN, and also from independent trade unions fighting Shell-Amoco and Coca Cola. The US state, with the support of the British government, is giving full-backing, with both financial and military training, to the right-wing Uribe government, the Colombian army and the local death squads. As a consequence Colombia is one of the most oppressive states in the world.

In the case of Venezuela, the US state is continually trying to destabilise the elected radical Chavez government, through attempted coups, economic sanctions and a media offensive. Fortunately, so far, they haven¹t been successful. However, they have overthrown the elected government of Haiti, by backing the ex-Batista supporters.

However, there is another country, where a different approach has been tried, which is closer to the model being pursued here. That is Brazil. The Brazilian people, particularly workers and peasants, elected Workers Party leader, Lula, as President with great expectations. However, he has pushed the World Bank and IMF‘s economic policies, with the support of most trade union leaders there. His commitment to US imperialism’s neo-liberal agenda has even won him IMF approval. Lula’s commitment to the US imperial project has been further demonstrated by Brazil sending its armed forces to Haiti at the request of UN – read US imperialism. This is closer to the plan being pursued here.

US imperialism has other regional plans, most notoriously, the Republican Neo-Conservatives’ Plan for the New American Century. It is being currently tested out in the Middle East, particularly Iraq. Control of oil is obviously a major aim.

So what is the imperial and global corporate plan for our part of the world – the North East Atlantic? First, the UK is itself one of the members of G8. This reflects the fact that it is home to several major global corporations itself. Nevertheless, the UK is much less powerful than the US, and New Labour know that the UK can not act as an independent imperial force in the world. This is why they seek to have UK imperialism working as junior partner to US imperialism.

In return for this support, British imperialism, has effectively been given the US imperial and global corporate license or franchise for the North East Atlantic region. This license is political and military, as well as economic. The UK¹s key role in NATO, with former Labour War Minister, George Robertson, being trusted as President, highlights this.

Ireland, however, is not a major economic player in the world. It has no independent global corporations. It is not represented on G8. Therefore, the Irish state is forced to act as infant partner to the junior partner – British imperialism. There is much pressure on the Irish state from both the US and UK to force it to abandon its policy of neutrality. US/UK success in this has been highlighted by the use made of Shannon Airport in the war against Iraq. Shannon now plays a similar role to Leuchars and Kinloss RAF stations in Scotland. Scotland, of course, also has the Faslane RN nuclear submarine base.

However, in order to pursue US and UK governments’ political and neo-liberal economic policies successfully, it has been necessary to establish a New Unionist political strategy for these islands. This is needed to create political stability. Since the defeat of the Miners’ Strike in 1985 and Labour’s full commitment to New Realism, there has been little for the capitalist class to worry about, either from trade union or Labour leaders. New Labour now has the full confidence of the US state and the British employers. The employers here are even prepared to accept the trade union bureaucracy committed to social partnership, as a very junior partner. Social partnership was pioneered by Fianna Fail in Ireland in 1987, at a time when the Tories were running the UK and were very hostile towards trade unions. Now social partnership is a shared policy of British and Irish governments.

The real opposition the New Unionist project is designed to deal with has been the national democratic movements in Ireland, in particular, but also in Scotland and Wales. The strongest resistance, of course, came from the Republican Movement in Ireland. Now Des (Dalton – previous speaker from Republican Sinn Fein) has already outlined very well the history of Ireland’s Republican resistance and the role of British and UK imperialism in trying to suppress or contain it. What I want to emphasise is how long it took for the British state to find a strategy to marginalise this and how the resulting strategy covers both islands.

Labour’s Northern Ireland Minister, Roy Mason’s original Criminalisation policy was effectively defeated by the election of Bobby Sands during the Hunger Strike. Then Thatcher was forced into a very reluctant U-turn, abandoning her total support for the Ulster Unionists. She looked instead for assistance from the Irish government and the SDLP through the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However, this too failed to defeat the Republicans so the Tories, under Major, put the first building block of a New Unionist political settlement into place – the Downing Street Declaration. This was designed to bring the Republican Movement on board and pave the road for a reformed Stormont.

However, Ireland wasn’t the only place where there was opposition to the unionist status-quo. The attempted imposition of the hated poll-tax in Scotland in 1987, relit the dormant Scottish democratic movement too. The widespread opposition and mobilisations resembled the early days of the Civil Right Movement in the North. Jim Sillars was elected MP in Govan and Militant had six Councillors elected in Glasgow. National and republican sentiment grew in Scotland. The liberal wing of the Scottish establishment reached again for the old devolution solution, but unfortunately for them, the Tories held them in little fear. Nevertheless, the continued cull of elected Tories at all levels in Scotland, and the possible rise of the SNP, converted Labour into much more ardent devolution enthusiasts than they had been in 1979.

Therefore, as New Labour came closer to office, unlike the Tories, they realised that any New Unionist settlement would have to cover the whole of these islands and not just Northern Ireland. They developed the policy of devolution-all-round and a closer alliance with the Irish government.

In Wales things were different. The main impetus behind the Welsh national movement had been cultural, particularly the Welsh language movement. Indeed, the division between English and Welsh speakers had formed part of the British state’s divide-and-rule strategy for Wales. However, in the 1980’s, when there was still militant action over the Welsh language and Plaid Cymru’s leader, Gwynfor Evans, threatened to go on a hunger strike over a Welsh-speaking TV channel, the Tories developed a new strategy. This has become another thread of New Unionism.

They decided to give state backing for approved Welsh language projects, with the aim of building up a British state-supporting, Welsh-speaking, middle-class, dependent on government subsidies for their cultural projects and incomes. A similar approach was later used in Northern Ireland, where Catholic Church and SDLP-backed Irish language and cultural projects received state-funding, rather than those run by Republican ex-prisoners, who had learned and used Irish to better resist the prison authorities.

Now, however, under the global corporations¹ New World Order, culture is playing a much wider role. The politics of self-determination is being marginalised by the politics of consumer choice. People are free to choose any cultural identity they want. They just have to buy the right ethnic commodities, eat in the right ethnic restaurants, drink in the right themed pubs or go on the right cultural and historical courses. Under New Unionism there has been considerable funding for many cultural projects. In Ireland we have the Cultural Traditions group, whereby Orange marches just become one more quaint folk custom in the rich tapestry of Irish life!

It is important to emphasise, that the UK and Irish governments are now pursuing a joint and agreed strategy. Yes, in the face of some local difficulties the UK regularly breaks the international treaty with Ireland, suspending the Northern Ireland Executive, without any prior notification to the Irish government. However, like the UK in regard to the US, the Irish government knows its junior position in regard to the UK. It knows its place in the world pecking order. Relations with the British government continue to be very good. There is even a Council of the Isles, with joint parliamentary representation from Westminster, the Dail, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Stormont.

What does this mean for socialists? First, it means a clear understanding of the imperial nature of the UK state, both overseas, where it acts as a junior partner with the dominant US imperialism, and at home, where it continues to deny genuine self-determination for the constituent nations of these islands. This means socialists must pursue a break-up of the UK state strategy and also oppose the crony capitalism of its Irish government junior partner. However, just as the capitalist class has an overall strategy for these islands, this means that we too must have an overall strategy. We need a strategy of internationalism from below, which links socialist republicans in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. At the very least we need our own socialist republican Council of the Isles.