Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written an article for the Word Power site (see http://www.word-power.co.uk/viewPlatform.php?id=583). He is author of the book, From Davitt to Connolly and co-author of the pamphlet, ‘Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy’, puts the case for using the opportunity provided by the British unionists’ two year Royalist ‘Britfest’ to seriously begin developing a socialist republican alternative around ‘internationalism from below’ principles.
2011 – What They Don’t Want Us to Remember
2011 brings the tenth year of the US/UK imperial war in Afghanistan and the third year of the ongoing economic crisis, brought to us initially by the US and British banks (with both the Royal Bank and the Bank of Scotland contributing to the mayhem).
Horrific levels of Afghan civilian casualties continue to mount (nobody officially bothers to count their actual numbers), whilst over 350 British soldiers have already met their deaths in continued government military attempts to help the US prop up the corrupt stooge government of Karzai and the warlords.
Meanwhile, in the UK, official estimates of unemployment and inflation (which underestimate their true extent) have reached 8% and 5% respectively. Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, is pushing for an £81 billion reduction in public sector expenditure this year. He hopes to cut whole swathes of welfare provision, in preparation for further privatisations. These follow on those already planned under his New Labour predecessors.
So what good news do the Tories want to bring us? Well, we are all very pleased that bankers are once more flavour of the month. Senior managers increased their salaries last year by over 50%, just in case their bonuses were going to be taken away from them. However, after pouring money into Tory coffers, Osborne says the bankers can now pocket most of their bonuses too. Bank profits are on the up. After all, we pay any debts the bankers accrue through their reckless gambling, whilst the government lends them money at 0.5% interest, which they pass on to us at 8% – it’s a hard job but somebody has to do it!
A Two Year Long Royalist ‘Britfest’ to Help Us to Forget
Well, perhaps even the Tories realise that it is hard to sell banksters as the people’s friends in today’s economic climate. What we all need to keep our minds off endless wars, disappearing jobs, falling real pay and pensions, worsening conditions and slashed services is – wait for it… a two year long Royalist ‘Britfest’. This will be fronted by that lovely, homely family – the Windsors. It will be orchestrated by the Con-Dem coalition, cheered on by not so New Labour, with the loyal SNP loudly proclaiming – “Oh, and we support the monarchy too, but give us a few less union jacks and a few more saltires”.
So the royals have kindly agreed to provide us with two weddings this year to keep our minds off other things. We can either cheer wildly in the streets or, failing that, watch it all on TV, or listen on the radio, thanks to the planned wall-to-wall media coverage, still led by good old Auntie (although this may be BBC’s last big outing). Oh, and by the way, this royal jamboree will continue into 2012 with Elizabrit’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. Could you ask for more!
First off is the royal wedding for Prince William and the commoner (but still not short of a bob or two) Kate Middleton. We can’t deny Scotland’s role in this. They first met at St. Andrews University (what would former student, John Knox, make of it) and their respective families may even have paid their tuition fees. Since then though, we have contributed countless thousands to William’s courtship by paying for all those RAF helicopter trips to take him to their love trysts. So why not spend a few million more on all the pomp and splendour, not to mention the massive security costs (there is always someone who wants to spoil a good party), on the wedding itself in London’s Westminster Abbey.
Just to ensure that we are all free to join in the fun, we are getting an official holiday on April 29th. However, whether our generous royals will compensate those who lose out financially, through a lost day’s pay, is another matter. Maybe you just have to position yourself close enough to the passing royal wedding coach to catch some coins tossed out of the window. Although that open window option may no longer be possible, thanks to those terrible students taking unfair advantage of the opportunity presented by that car conveying Charlie and Camilla on their way to the Royal Variety Performance last December.
Now, just in case you are not able to make it down to London, we in Scotland are generously getting our very own royal wedding opportunity here in Edinburgh. On July 30th Zara Phillips (she’s the daughter of Princess Anne – the horsey one) is marrying another commoner, England rugby player, Mike Tindall. (The Windsors seem to have cottoned on to the problems of royal inbreeding.)
This wedding is being held at Canongate Kirk, conveniently located on the Royal Mile (which will be closed down for three days) near to Holyrood – one of the Windsors’ several palaces dotted around Britain (for some reason ‘the Six Counties’ missed out on one). It is also close to the Scottish Parliament, built on a site specially chosen by the late Donald Dewar, the first First Scottish Minister, to be next to royal Holyrood. See that New Labour – still Loyal Labour!
However, Cameron’s Tories don’t want all that good feeling to get lost between July and the launch of the Golden Jubilee next year. Indeed, whilst we ponder over which country the UK can invade next (we will have to wait for the White House to tell us the actual one), and whilst we continue to tighten our belts, wouldn’t it be good to have another holiday – a UK Day. Isn’t it just great to have a Royal Family and to be British too!
October 21st is the proposed day for this holiday. It is to be held on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Unlike Cameron’s choice of Germany to announce the end of multi-cultural Britain, he did not choose France to declare his proposed UK/Trafalgar Day. New Labour brought us Armed Forces Day in 2009 (not a raging success, given no actual holiday and yet another failing war). The Tories, though, do intend to give us a day off (and maybe a free union jack to wave too). Generous eh! Well not exactly – they intend to take away the May Day holiday. The official new UK annual calendar must not be marred by anything so working class or international.
Back to the Union of the Crowns – Official Scottish Nationalism Adopts the British Monarchy
Will there be any mainstream political opposition to all this? Although there are still some socialists in the Labour Party, and undoubtedly some republicans in the SNP, both of these groups are ineffectual. There will certainly be no official lead from either of these parties, and any member openly rocking the boat can expect to be firmly dealt with. Salmond, following the always-loyal British Labour Party, has turned the SNP into a pro-monarchist party. He achieved this with less protest from members than when New Labour ditched Old Labour’s totemic Clause 4.
The SNP is now pursuing the path of those other constitutional nationalist parties in the world, such as Parti Quebecois, Catalan Convergence, the Basque Nationalist Party, and the SDLP – followed by the one-time not-so-constitutionalist parties, Sinn Fein and probably soon, Sortu (previously Herri Batasuna). These parties largely accept the current global corporate capitalist order. They hope to gain the best possible deal for local businesses, seeking their market niche through servicing the big business giants in the nationalists’ proposed corporate low tax havens.
When Salmond announced SNP support for the monarchy, he also signalled to powerful vested British unionist interests, that he would play any future referendum by ‘Westminster rules’. These allow UK governments to resort to the anti-democratic Crown Powers, including the partisan use of the senior civil service, secret resort to the security services, and the dismissal of devolved governments – and, if necessary, far worse, as the recent experience in Ireland showed. The SNP’s forelock-tugging political strategy limits any political possibilities to Devolution-Max – but only if the British, US, and burgeoning Euro ruling class can be persuaded of this first.
The SNP Moves to the Right as it Chases After the Scottish Establishment
and Bows to Continued Imperial Pressure
In 2007, the SNP gained office at Holyrood by winning support from disillusioned Labour voters. They offered the sort of mild social democratic reforms, which Labour would once have promised. How were these reforms to be financed? Certainly not by any encroachments on the powers of big business, nor by any new taxes upon the rich (Swinney has now quietly jettisoned those powers) – but from the small change dropping from the pockets of Edinburgh’s seemingly ever expanding financial sector. This much Alex Salmond and Sir George Mathewson of the Royal Bank of Scotland agreed upon before the 2007 election.
To win their support, Salmond would show big business that an SNP government could be trusted to run things in their interest. He gave them ‘a nod and a wink’ by appointing ‘flat tax’, Swinney as Finance Minister. Now achieving social democracy and Scottish independence, courtesy of Edinburgh’s finance sector, was always going to be a somewhat pious hope. However, the 2008 banking crash, with Mathewson, and later Fred the Shred, very much at its centre, certainly put paid to that particular illusion.
Those bank leaders who had flirted with the SNP in Edinburgh quickly returned to the London fold, as they begged for Westminster bail-out money (or rather money wrenched from the public, first by Alistair Darling, then by George Osborne and Vince Cable). The SNP government now also meekly accepts that its role is no longer to introduce reforms (e.g. goodbye smaller class sizes), but to administer Westminster’s devolved cuts in Scotland to pay for the bankers’ bail out. Those local councils, which the SNP help to run, have got the message. Some have even tried to outdo Labour (no mean feat) in making cuts. Aberdeen City Council has been particularly diligent in this regard.
The extent of SNP toadying before powerful business figures was also highlighted by their dropping of the abolition of bus deregulation to satisfy the homophobic Stagecoach owner, Brian Souter, and by the SNP’s attempt to outbid Labour in their support for that despicable US tycoon, Donald Trump. Along with SNP-supporting Anne Gloag, Trump looks for the Scottish court’s help to keep those nasty ‘peasants’ out of sight. These courts can usually be relied upon to uphold the interests of big property owners.
The SNP’s kowtowing to the Scottish legal establishment was further demonstrated when Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, released convicted ‘Lockerbie bomber’, Megrahi, on ‘compassionate grounds’. In return, he insisted that Megrahi drop his legal appeal before being released, thus avoiding any clash with Scotland’s senior law figures, heavily implicated in the US state stitch-up at the trial in The Hague.
Meanwhile, at Westminster, SNP Defence Spokesperson, Angus Robertson, has gone considerably further than showing traditional party support for Scottish regiments (all loyally serving British and US imperial interests). He is at the forefront of the campaign to defend threatened NATO bases at Lossiemouth and Leuchars. He has no doubt taken heed of the warning given to the SNP by former US consul in Edinburgh, Lisa Vickers. “I don’t think you just wake up one morning and say ‘we are going to pull out of NATO’. It doesn’t work like that”!
Big Business Pushes the SNP Government Into Kicking the Independence Referendum Into Touch
However, even before the banking collapse, powerful business interests were already putting pressure on the SNP to drop its 2007 electoral promise of an independence referendum. Sir Tom Farmer, Kwik-Fit magnate, (who recently praised the Con-Dem cuts) told Salmond to ditch his referendum. Salmond has since obliged. He is now asking voters in the forthcoming Holyrood election, this May, to believe that next time it will all be different, so vote SNP once more for an independence referendum. However, it’s now a moot point whether or not the SNP will get that second term at Holyrood.
However, former SNP Left-winger, Kenny MacAskill had already joined with prominent Right winger, Mike Russell, now the Culture Minister, in calling for the postponement of any independence referendum. They have also announced their support, not for full political independence, but for a renegotiated Union. Just as the 1974-9 Labour government had prominent figures who opposed the then official Scottish referendum policy, so any likely SNP government will have members who are less than committed to a full break from the British parliamentary Union.
That one-time SNP firebrand, but now marginal, Jim Sillars, still supports an independence referendum, but calls for any SNP government to abandon every other policy that offends the rich and powerful in Scotland, the UK and USA. So nothing would really change under his proposed independence scheme, other than every existing governmental institution getting a good lick of tartan paint.
Resisting the Unionist and Royalist Offensive
So, although the Tories, Lib-Dems, Labour and the SNP will all be supporting the royal wedding celebrations (with the latter two perhaps murmuring their ineffectual indignation at the Tories’ proposed UK Day holiday arrangements), what will be the extent of popular opposition?
A Daily Record poll recorded 56% support for an independent Scottish republic amongst its mainly working class readership in 1997, after the defeat of the poll tax through mass popular action in the 1990’s. The successful Declaration of Calton Hill protest against the royal opening of Holyrood on October 9th, 2004, showed there was still considerable support for a republic.
However, battered by Blair’s and Brown’s subservience to US imperialism and neo-liberalism; betrayed by union leaders locked in social partnership with the bosses and government; mildly reforming hopes shattered by an SNP on the retreat; and with a seemingly hopelessly split Scottish Left, our class has lost a good deal of its confidence since those earlier days. Nevertheless, growing anger at the desperate economic and international political situation is palpable. The basis for mounting a real opposition to their two year Royal ‘Britfest’ certainly exists.
It is the very comprehensive nature of the current British ruling class offensive which demands something more than just another ‘Stuff the Jubilee’ or a ‘Kate – Don’t Do It, remember Lady Di’ protest. We need to counter their attacks by building a republican movement – one that is consciously against the UK state’s anti-democratic Crown Powers. These Crown Powers can be used to send British troops anywhere in the world, including our own streets, without even parliamentary sanction. They can also be used to suppress any serious move to exercise genuine self-determination.
Nor should we be afraid to seek support beyond Scotland on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis. The British ruling class will certainly draw on its supporters across these islands, either openly, or clandestinely, if necessary. When Nick Griffin spoke during the Glasgow North East by election, he offered the British ruling class the BNP’s support during any Scottish independence referendum. He hopes to cultivate the sort of backing from British unionist politicians, which the Loyalists received from the Unionist parties in ‘the Six Counties’.
Most importantly, we must not dilute our class’s economic and social demands to win over the rich and powerful – that is just inviting more attacks on our jobs, conditions and services. As a famous Scottish-born, socialist republican, James Connolly. once said, “We are modest, we only want the earth.” Therefore, we need to be ambitious, and like the British ruling class, think strategically. If we do this, then their triumphalist two royal weddings could lead to an altogether different outcome – a republican funeral for the UK.