A response to the Red Paper Collective’s

Power for Scotland’s People – A labour movement view

The ‘Independent Scotland Debate’ was organised by the Edinburgh Peoples Festival on September 9th. 86 people attended this well-conducted event in the Out of the Blue Centre in Leith. The speaker supporting independence was Kevin Williamson of bella caledonia, who argued from a Left nationalist perspective. The speaker opposing independence was West Lothian Labour MSP, Neil Findlay. Neil is also a member of the Red Paper Collective [1] (RPC), which includes British Left unionists in the Scottish Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain [2]. Supporters of the RPC handed out their pamphlet, Power for Scotland’s People – A labour movement view [3], to elaborate on the points Neil made in the debate.

This website has already posted critiques of Left nationalist approaches to the SNP government’s 2014 referendum [4]. This posting is a critique of the British Left unionist approach outlined in the RPC’s pamphlet [5].

i) Attacking SNP illusions

Power for Scotland’s People – A labour movement view begins promisingly by stating that, “The ‘independence’ debate has been a sterile argument between unionists and nationalists” and that “the debate so far misses the crucial dimensions of class politics and the redistribution of income and wealth.”

Two key sections of the pamphlet address the problems that any independent Scotland would face in trying to address these two issues:-

“Scotland was not a colony [6]. Its capitalist landlords, merchant princes and employers continued to use the separate Scottish systems of law, religion and education to exploit their own people. The object of the Union with England was to secure a share of the profits of colonial empire. As a class, they continued to dominate Scotland’s economy and its politics and still do so today, though more indirectly, through the hedge funds and financial institutions of the City of London and its satellite centre in Edinburgh” (Economic Development and Scotland as a Nation).

“With few exceptions, all the biggest employers in Scotland are either UK-owned and controlled… or highly dependent on the whole UK market of 60 million, compared to the Scottish market of just 5 million for the sale of their goods and services… It is clear that even big business figures operating within the SNP’s own orbit like Sir George Mathewson, Sir Brian Souter, Sir Tom Farmer, Sir Angus Grossart, Peter de Vink and Martin Gilbert are all ultimately dependent for their business success on external institutions, not least the investment banking networks which operate from the City of London” (Big Business Power in Scotland).

These are arguments that most Socialists would find much to agree with. They lead to a questioning of any SNP illusion mongering through its official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign. The statement of aims drawn up by ‘Yes Scotland’ claims that, “We can build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society that is stronger and more successful than it is today”. It pretends that this can be done without any need to challenge those SNP big business backers with their links to the City of London. Their low-tax vision for Scotland is incompatible with ‘Yes Scotland’s stated aims.

It was has only a few years ago that Alex Salmond was promoting a ‘Celtic Lion’ economy for Scotland, with reforms financed by taxing the vast profits from those turbo-capitalist banks with headquarters in Edinburgh – the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBoS) and the Bank of Scotland (BoS). However, the 2007 Credit Crunch blew that pious hope out of the water. So, Mathewson, a leading figure in the RBoS, who had helped Salmond behind-the-scenes to draw up the SNP’s 2007 Holyrood manifesto, was quick to seek UK government help to bail out his bank.

Thus, instead of trickle-down social democratic reforms, we have witnessed a massive neo-liberal siphoning upwards of wealth, particularly into the hands of the banksters, under both New Labour and Con-Dem governments. And Alex Salmond and John Swinney at Holyrood have meekly followed Alistair Darling and George Osborne at Westminster, in jumping to those demands emanating from the City of London, and echoed by its Edinburgh finance satellites.


ii)            Illusions in the ‘actually existing’ [7] Labour Movement

However, having dismissed the “sterile arguments” of the nationalists, any reader will look in vain in this pamphlet for a critique of the “sterile arguments” of the unionists. This is despite both being criticised in the pamphlet’s introductory sentence. It is not openly stated, but the authors’ logic seems to be to vote ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum. That means maintaining a commitment to the UK state. The authors believe, somewhat naively, that the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement could then later fundamentally reform the UK.

The nature of this desired political reform is stated in the pamphlet’s concluding section, A Left Alternative. The first of its six demands is for  “an overall federal parliament that would have charge of the monetary system, macro-economic policy, foreign affairs and defence”. With its focus on a future reformed Westminster, there is little understanding here of the real nature of the UK state with its entrenched Crown Powers. These are fronted by a constitutional monarchy, which disguises the state’s formidable anti-democratic sanctions. Those powerful forces outside Westminster, who really control the UK state, can resort to these whenever they deem it necessary.

The pamphlet’s authors want to demonstrate the undoubted problems that those supporting the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ would have to confront. However, most of their own six demands, in A Left Alternative, would also be opposed, not only by the British ruling class, but by the very force the authors believe should bring them about – the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement.

In their  call for “an overall federal parliament”, they are resurrecting a Liberal Party policy, that has been long held, but without much effect. No attempt is made to explain where the effective forces can be found within the Labour Movement to actively promote their proposed “federal parliament”. So far, in this referendum campaign, we have seen nothing more ‘advanced’ from mainstream Labour ranks than a very half-hearted attempt by former Scottish First Minister, Henry McLeish, to raise a ‘Devolution-Max’ alternative – rightly dismissed in a useful section of the RPC pamphlet – Options for Scotland.

A “federal parliament”, though, is only a last ditch option, which the British ruling class can take out of its locker, whenever they feel the UK state is really threatened by any national democratic challenge. Such a ‘solution’ was last seriously considered at a Westminster Speakers’ Conference in 1920, in the face of the Irish Republican challenge.

It is hard to imagine, though, the present day Labour leadership ever arriving at the situation faced by the Liberal Party in 1914, when they faced a possible army officers’ mutiny at The Curragh in Ireland as a result of its attempt then to reform the UK constitution. Jim Murphy, Labour’s current Shadow Defence Secretary and former Scottish Secretary of State, announced to the recent party conference that, “Labour are the champions of the British Armed Forces”!

Yet, the authors still claim that their own more “devolved settlement” can be achieved “with political will and a united Labour Movement”. Which rather begs the question –  “united under who?” – Johann Lamont and Grahame Smith, backed by Alistair Darling and Jim Murphy!

So where does the Left alternative lie within the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement? The fact is that the Left inside the official Labour Movement is woefully weak – yes, weaker even than the Left outside of it [8]. In the 2010 British Labour Party leadership election, the Left candidate, MP John McDonnell [9], was unable to win enough support to get on to the ballot paper. Furthermore, the Left could not even find a candidate to stand in the Scottish Labour Party leadership elections in 2011.

Len McCluskey – talking left, walking right

Occasionally, those on the remnant Left inside the official Labour Movement point to certain Broad Left trade union figures, who  could reverse Labour’s continuing rightwards drift. UNITE General Secretary, Len McCluskey, and member of the union’s Broad Left, was cited as an example by Neil at the Edinburgh Peoples Festival meeting.  Yet, McCluskey was responsible for swinging his union’s block vote behind right wing, Ed Miliband, to prevent John McDonnell from standing for the party leadership [10].

One skill Socialists should have, is the ability to be able to distinguish between those who ‘talk Left’ and those who ‘walk Left’. Union officials supporting the Broad Left are usually able to do the former. But as McCluskey has shown, with his failure to back McDonnell, the actual ‘walk’ is often contrary to the showy talk.

And, when it comes to participation in the political wing of the official Labour Movement, even those two publicly better-known figures from the Broad Left – Bob Crow of the RMT and Mark Serwotka of the PCS – have found they have a freer hand outside the constraints imposed on affiliated trade unions when accepting the Labour Party link. The Labour leadership’s priorities (after their personal self-interest that is) include meeting the demands of the City of London bankers and successive US governments.

iii)            What a continued commitment to upholding the UK means

So, filling a major gap in the pamphlet’s arguments, what does a continuing commitment to the Union and its supporting unionist parties mean?

The key thing about the British Union, or the UK state, is that it has always been an imperialist power. This has led, not to only countless wars, with a staggering number of deaths, mostly amongst the many victims of British imperial aggression; but also the deaths of a not inconsiderable number of ‘economic conscripts’ recruited in the UK, British Empire and beyond [11]. It has also meant massive British government spending on arms, a continued commitment to obscene nuclear weapons, and a British arms industry with a vested interest in wars and repression worldwide. BAE is the world’s largest arms company.

Given that the last New Labour government was involved in several wars, including the notorious ‘illegal’ war in Iraq, and that Blair insisted on the continuation of the British Arms Fair in London, on the day of 9/11 and after, this appears to be a bit of an oversight on the pamphlet authors’ part.

Of course, the British ruling class no longer has the power to enforce its imperial interests across the whole globe, as it was once able to do in the heyday of Empire. Instead, it has opted to prolong the UK’s imperial role by acting as a junior partner to US imperialism. Successive Labour governments and official oppositions have supported British military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; whilst Bush’s loyal ally, Blair, now a Middle East envoy, acts as a very willing and well-paid stooge, promoting US and Israeli foreign policies.

Yet, in the Trident & Independence section of the pamphlet, the authors criticise a policy of “waiting for independence”, because it “diverts the movement from the immediate campaign to change policy now in the face of a weak and divided Tory/Lib Dem coalition”. So, where is this official Labour Movement “immediate campaign”? Any future Miliband Labour government would be just as committed to replacing Trident, and signing up for NATO wars, as the current Con-Dem coalition.

The SNP’s ‘Defence’ Spokesperson, Angus Robertson, may be eager for his party to sign up to NATO at their forthcoming conference, but he will still face stronger internal party opposition, than has been seen at any recent Labour Party conference. Furthermore, Angus Robertson still has some way to go before he joins his namesake, George Robertson, former New Labour Defence Secretary, in becoming the general secretary of NATO!

Another aspect of the UK state overlooked in this pamphlet is its profoundly undemocratic nature. It’s not only the fact that there is a hereditary head-of-state, with a royal court, unelected House of Lords, bemedalled military officers, bewigged judges, and aloof senior civil servants, all surrounded by pomp and ceremony. They represent the public face of a costly, top-heavy political, judicial and administrative system, whose officials all declare their oath of loyalty to the Crown, not to Parliament, and certainly not to the people.

This is because the Crown Powers provide the British ruling class with the constitutional means to bypass any formal democratic procedures, including Westminster, whenever this proves to be necessary for them. It was under these powers, that Northern Ireland was effectively handed over to the British High Command and MI5 throughout ‘The Troubles’, under both Labour and Tory governments.

Furthermore, the British ruling class’s central economic institution, the City of London, has always been able to dominate any Westminster government and the Treasury. The City has insisted upon keeping sterling as the UK’s own currency, the better to garner international financial tribute.  The UK state has held on to various Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. These provide the British ruling class with tax havens beyond any effective government scrutiny. Labour governments, whether under Ramsay Macdonald, James Callaghan or Gordon Brown, have all bowed to the City’s wishes, and have pursued policies, which have enabled the bankers to continue with their profligate lifestyles, whilst holding the vast majority of us in contempt.


iv)             Confusion over the reality of the UK state

Yet, when reading this pamphlet, you get the impression that the purpose of the UK state is to uphold “the principle of redistribution of income from the wealthy south-east and City of London (currently the Barnet formula) to poorer areas like Scotland.” The defence of the current Barnet formula is the second demand  in their Left Alternative [12]. It seems to have escaped the authors’ notice that, since 2007, under both Darling and Osborne, any redistribution has been massively towards the bankers, living in “the wealthy {parts of the} south-east and {working in the} City of London.

The pamphlet appears to contrast the UK state favourably with “the EU {which} from its inception was designed to legally underpin, sustain, protect and develop capitalism in Europe.” The EEC (which later became the EU) was only formed in 1956. However, from as far back as the seventeenth century, the British state has also been “designed to legally, underpin, sustain and protect capitalism” within in the UK, British Empire and beyond when necessary. Furthermore, the UK state has been to the forefront of a global neo-liberal offensive, in alliance with the US, on behalf of corporate capital. And, of course, the official New Labour leaders, of the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement, have been very much part of that offensive.

After largely abandoning its earlier ‘Social Market’ model, the EU bureaucracy has certainly been entrenching neo-liberalism into its constitution and practice. But, neo-liberalism was first pioneered in Europe by that very British Tory leader, Thatcher, and pushed still further by those very British New Labour leaders, Blair and Brown.

And, has any official Labour Party spokesperson offered words of comfort (they have long forgotten the meaning of solidarity) for those Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, or Irish workers currently being crucified under the Troika of the EU, ECB and IMF? Silly question – since the City of London, whose interests current Labour leaders promote, has been right behind the Troika in ensuring that all these workers suffer and pay the bankers’ price. People can remember, though, Darling’s own ‘solidarity’ with the people of Iceland – when he invoked anti-terrorist legislation to enforce the Icelandic people to pay ‘their’ bankers’ debts in 2008!


v)            Scottish nationalists look to a rosy future – British unionists look to a rosy past

Given the acuity with which the authors are able to pinpoint the weaknesses of the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals, how do they end up missing such obvious limitations (for any Socialist that is) of the existing UK state and of the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement?

The SNP thinks it has a monopoly on ‘Scottishness’. However, British Labour Party members believe they represent the  ‘real Britain’. They lay claim to the Britain that defeated the Nazi threat during the Second World War, and to the ‘Welfare State Britain’ created by the post-war Labour government [13]. The authors of this pamphlet seem to buy into some of this British Labour myth-making.

If SNP members get all misty-eyed about Scotland’s ‘independent’ future, then many Labour Party members get equally misty-eyed about a past, stretching from 1945 (Attlee’s Labour government elected) to 1976 (IMF bailout under Callaghan’s Labour government). We saw an example of this recently in response to Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, Isles of Wonder [14]. This production nostalgically invoked the setting up of the National Health Service and the arrival of the first West Indian immigrants on The Empire Windrush, both back in 1948, at the time of the post-war Labour government.

Leaving aside the propaganda significance, for the Isles of Wonder’s commissioners, of the end packaging – the RAF’s Red Arrows at the start and the queen in the finale – what exactly has Labour’s recent contribution to that 1948 legacy been?

Blair and Brown continued Thatcher’s dismantling of the principles underlying the NHS, particularly with their promotion of foundation hospitals; whilst, under New Labour, Belmarsh and Dungavel were converted into brutal detention centres for asylum seekers. The two Eds – Miliband and Balls – have agreed that the Con-Dem’s recent NHS counter-reforms will not be reversed by a future Labour government; whilst New Labour, first inspired by Thatcher’s Tories, is now being challenged from even further to the Right by ‘Blue Labour’, with its acceptance of elements of the BNP’s anti-immigrant agenda [15].


vi)            A closer look at the history of the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement and its view of the ‘Tartan Tories’

The pamphlet’s authors ignore the last 35 years history of the of the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement, and have to go back to the 1970s for victorious joint British workers’ struggles “of the miners, London dockers and UCS shipbuilders that together, and only together, defeated the Conservative assault.” [16]

However, from the 1980s, first under Labour/TUC ‘New Realism’ then, since the 1990s, under New Labour/TUC ‘Social Partnerships’, official Labour Movement spokesmen (and they have nearly always been men) have been as prepared as any from the SNP to play the ‘nationalist card’ to set one section of workers off against another, whenever necessary.

Thus, during the epic Miners’ Strike, from 1984-5, the officials of the Iron and Steel Workers Confederation decided it was more important to ‘save’ the Scottish steel industry than to back the miners’ call to black coal going into Ravenscraig.  Whilst, in 1993, GMB union officials from Scotland and south-west England were involved in proposals for a competitive Dutch auction of pay and conditions to better persuade the then Tory government, which of two competing nuclear submarine bases – Rosyth or Devonport – should retain the servicing contracts.

Trapped in their 1945-76 time warp, the pamphlet’s authors make no attempt to examine the political trajectory of the Labour Movement since then. Yet, any success in achieving the demands of A Left Alternative depends entirely on this ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement.


vii)            Who are the social democrats today?

Back in the 1970s, a more confident official Labour Movement could castigate the SNP as ‘Tartan Tories’ [17], after their MPs opposed the Labour government’s shipyard nationalisation bill, and their councillors attacked local services.

Today, however, both Scottish Labour and the SNP confront each other on the common ground of social democratic politics. Social democrats believe that you can introduce meaningful reforms by having a buoyant capitalism, which can be taxed to provide a social wage. Prior to the rise of neo-liberalism, we had industrial capitalist economies in the West. These provided social democrats with the basis for their national welfare and other reforms. Now the finance sector has displaced the industrial sector as the pacemaker for corporate capitalism. So, it was probably inevitable that a new social democracy would emerge in response to this. Hence, Brown’s courting of the City of London and Salmond’s courting of the Edinburgh banks.

One thing hasn’t changed though. Whenever capitalism enters a period of deep crisis, whether it was in its industrial phase in the past during the Depression, or in its financial phase today after the ‘Credit Crunch’, the first job of social democracy is to resuscitate it. Such attempts at rescue have largely been done at the expense of those reforms, which the social democrats once supported. These have been done at heavy cost to the working class. There is a clear austerity drive trajectory from Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden to George Brown and Alistair Darling [18].

However, such as been the gallop to the Right under New Labour, that the SNP has clearly been able to outbid it as the party that retains more of Scotland’s social democratic reform legacy. Two events have highlighted this more than anything else. When students mounted their massive protests in 2011 against the Con-Dem government’s imposition of tuition fees, Miliband, despite being in opposition, would not pledge a future Westminster Labour government to cancelling these. Salmond, in office, pledged to continue Holyrood’s opposition to any such tuition fees.

Johann Lamont – In the Bleak Midwinter

And now Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, through her initiation of the Scottish Labour Party’s Midwinter Review [19] (aptly named!) into public spending has threatened a bonfire of social democratic reforms. Previous Scottish Labour and SNP Holyrood governments had been responsible for maintaining free student tuition and for introducing free prescriptions for all. These are now being targetted for abolition.

Lamont has shocked many commentators by her resort to the sort of words usually found in the Daily Mail. You “can’t live in a something for nothing society.” But, she certainly doesn’t mean taking back the £15 billion not being paid by rich tax evaders – after all, as Lord Mandelson has said, Labour is “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

Lamont has also called the current council tax freeze into question. There can be little doubt that, despite the appeal of this measure to voters currently facing significant cuts in their living standards, the real purpose behind this SNP-initiated, and later Scottish Labour-supported policy, has been to create the financial pressure upon councils to force them to privatise their services. Lamont has no intention of replacing the existing unfair council tax with something more progressive, either by creating higher bands to make the rich pay more of their share, or by introducing an incomes-based alternative.

Indeed, you can get some idea of Scottish Labour’s attitude from Glasgow Labour council’s earlier decision to set up Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMO) to run their services. One purpose behind this move was to provide large payments to those councillors heading these bodies – before the SNP government at Holyrood ended this policy [20].

However, another reason for setting up ALMOs was to prevent any legal, cross-service, industrial action by council employees, by  breaking-up their previous single employer. The implications of this should be thought about, whenever we hear glib statements about how the official Labour Movement unites the British working class. Here we have its political wing, the Labour Party in Glasgow, disuniting trade unionists, not only in one city, but sometimes working from the same office!

Not surprisingly then, a growing number of people have started to label Scottish Labour the real ‘Tartan Tories’ today. They are already in coalition with the Tories in six Scottish local councils [21]. Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, has welcomed Johann Lamont’s recent open acceptance of their economic thinking [22], allowing SNP Depute Leader, Nicola Surgeon, to label her “a poster girl for the Tories”!

Therefore, it is quite understandable why many Scottish Labour voters, who retain some social democratic hopes, deserted the party in 2011, and voted instead for Salmond and the SNP in the Holyrood election. Nor is it surprising that Angus Labour Party member, Alan Grogan, has formed ‘Labour for Independence’, starting out on a similar political course to that already taken further by Dennis Canavan, Brian Cox and John McAllion.


viii)            The political consequences of voting ‘Yes’

So, what exactly would a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ vote mean in 2014. Despite the arguments being promoted by Kevin Williamson of bella caledonia and others, a ‘Yes’ vote would not clear the way for some completely new independent parliament unconstrained by the UK state.

The SNP leadership does not entertain any notion that a majority vote for Scottish independence means getting a mandate from the people in Scotland to summon a truly independent Constituent Assembly. Instead, even after a ‘Yes’ vote, the SNP government will consider that its mandate comes from already holding office in the UK’s devolved Holyrood parliament. The SNP has just accepted David Cameron’s and Michael Moore’s enforced restrictions on the nature of the referendum questions. It will also accept other limitations being imposed behind-the-scenes under the Crown Powers; as well as those made under duress through out-of-sight US diplomatic and ‘undiplomatic’ pressure [23].

The SNP government’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals are for an upgraded Holyrood, or a ‘Scottish Free State’ [24]. The queen would remain the head of state, and the many of the political constraints of the UK’s Crown Powers would be still be in place. The City of London would continue to dictate economic policy, in conjunction with the Edinburgh banks and other financial satellites located in this city. Scottish regiments would continue to serve under the British High Command, and therefore be at the beck and call of NATO, i.e. the US. The SNP government wants to hardwire some very unpleasant features inherited from the UK state into its proposed ‘Scottish Free State’ right from the start.

A ‘Yes’ vote’, under the continuation of the present political circumstances (although these could still change dramatically by the time of the referendum), would be for the UN recognition of a Holyrood parliament with increased powers. The one positive gain would be the ending of Westminster control with its unelected second chamber and archaic practices. However, the abolition of those other remaining UK constitutional powers over Scotland, after 2014, could only be achieved in defiance of any likely incumbent SNP government and, of course, of any remaining Scottish Labour, Tory or Lib-Dem Holyrood opposition.

Furthermore, if a ‘Yes’ vote were to be achieved, then mounting such a post-2014 struggle would have to be done in the context of a triumphant SNP government, bowing to the demands of its big business backers. And, after the setting up of a ‘Scottish Free State’, many former unionist business figures would turn nationalist too. That is what happened when the Irish Free State was formed. Under such pressure, an SNP government would be just as prepared to resort to those retained UK Crown Powers, if they were to face any serious challenges.

Those Scottish businessmen who are constantly pushing the SNP leadership to dilute further any democratic, economic and social content to Scottish self-determination, are waging their own class war. They clearly understand, particularly in the present deep economic crisis, that Scottish bosses and those they exploit can not both be victors after the 2014 referendum.

Possession is nine parts of the law. These bosses already own a considerable chunk of the Scottish economy; have more influence on Holyrood through their lobbying than the electorate does through voting; and certainly call the shots as far as the SNP leadership goes. If these bosses are the only ones fighting now to make their class vision of Scottish self-determination real, it is clear that our side will not be the beneficiaries of any Scottish ‘independence’. We need to take a leaf out of their book and start fighting back on all fronts.


ix)            The political consequences of voting ‘No’

Although the pamphlet’s authors recognise some of the problems we would face after any ‘Yes’ vote, they ignore the even greater constraints imposed under the existing UK constitutional and British socio-economic order, if a ‘No’ vote prevailed.

When it comes to implementing A Left Alternative, the authors acknowledge that, “these measures would require a challenge to EU law and changes in UK company law.” Yet they do not advocate a withdrawal from the EU, and they support the continuation of the UK.

The problem, which we have already seen, is that any meaningful level of support, to make such “changes in UK company law”, is not likely to be found in the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement. The most likely “challenge to EU law”, from any immediately forseeable UK governing party or official opposition, would come from the Right of the Conservative Party (possibly aided and abetted by UKIP in the future) [25], to ensure the UK becomes a low wage, low taxation, low regulation economy, hoping  to take advantage of its European offshore location.

Therefore, both before or after the next Westminster general election (depending on when it is called), any ‘No’ vote in the Scottish ‘independence’ referendum would just give succour to either a Conservative/UKIP, Conservative, Con-Dem, Lab-Dem, or a still thoroughly pro-neo-liberal and pro-imperialist Labour government. These parties would all be determined to end much of the remnant social provision and to privatise public services. Beyond these parties, it would also give a boost to the Orange Order, BNP and SDL, whose notion of British unity is either for Protestants and/or for those with white-skins!

‘Better Together’ – Labour/Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition – a sign of the future?

Labour would just continue with the same economic agenda it promised us in the run-up to the 2010 Westminster general election, if it were to be re-elected. Darling admitted then that, “Labour’s planned cuts in public spending will be deeper and tougher than Margaret Thatcher’s in the 1980s.” Meanwhile, Mandelson was preparing plans for the privatisation of the postal service. Given the current cooperation between Labour and Tory, in several Scottish local councils, and Johann Lamont’s and Ruth Davidson’s attack on universal services, these are just a foretaste of what we can expect if the Labour/Tory  ‘Better Together’ campaign is able to get its desired ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum.

Therefore, it is vital that Socialists do move beyond the “sterile arguments between unionists and nationalists”. If, as the pamphlet’s authors state, Socialists should be more interested in the “crucial dimensions of class politics and the redistribution of income and wealth”, then voting ‘No’ for a follow-up onslaught on what remains of social provison, and public sector workers’ pay and conditions is not very sensible.

As Socialists, though, surely we have aspirations beyond those social democratic concessions, which are being continually pared-down, which were once supported by the Scottish Labour Party, and are still ‘promised’ by the SNP. Although, of course, the SNP’s electoral promises are only ever partly implemented, e.g. their failure to return bus services to public control, to abolish the council tax, or to improve teacher/student ratios in schools.

Social democracy has no long-term answers when capitalism is in deep crisis. It can only hope for another ‘upturn’. This doesn’t look very likely, especially as the current economic crisis is locked into other burgeoning crises – the continuous, murderous and destructive wars to maintain imperial ranking and to corner vital resources, and the mounting environmental degradation. There surely has never been a better time to make a case for socialist transformation of society.


x)            The democratic issue of Scottish self-determination – Labour, SNP and republican socialist approaches

For any sincere democrat, the underlying issue, in the current referendum campaign, is self-determination for Scotland. And all genuine Socialists should be sincere democrats. This understanding has often been lost, ever since socialism became equated, in many people’s minds, with rule by a bureaucratic and often despotic Party/State (official Communist version), or by state officials administering ‘the commanding heights of the economy’ and paternalistic welfare provision (official Social Democrat version).

Democracy for genuine Socialists should be about more than the limited representational system which fronts the current UK state with its Crown Powers. We should be able to decide how our economic, social and cultural needs can be met, rather than have these decided for us, above our heads, by state officials. We need direct forms of democracy that extend to the workplace and the community too.  Therefore, genuine Scottish self-determination means a thoroughgoing extension of democracy in all areas of our lives.

Scotland is also involved in a many international institutions and networks. These involve relationships with people of other nations in these islands, in Europe, and throughout the wider world. However, the most influential of these institutional relationships are to be found in particular concentrations of largely unaccountable power  – e.g.  the UK state, the EU bureaucracy, NATO, and the IMF. They constitute an anti-democratic or bureaucratic ‘internationalism from above’, which stifles popular self-determination in many aspects of our lives. This is why we need to extend democracy on an ‘internationalism-from-below’ basis, in opposition to these exploitative and oppressive bodies. We need to consider the issue of Scottish self-determination in this wider context.

However, members of the Scottish Labour Party, along with the Scottish Tories and Lib-Dems, appear to think the democratic demand for Scottish self-determination can be met within the existing UK, despite all the constraints of Westminster, the Crown Powers, the City of London [26] and the British High Command. Furthermore (along with the current SNP leadership) they accept the current US/British imperial, corporate capitalist dominated world policed by NATO.

A ‘Yes’ vote would end the first of these formidable obstacles to genuine self-determination – Westminster control. However, under the SNP’s current leadership, every other aspect of meaningful self-determination is being trimmed back to meet the much more limited political aspirations of a Scottish wannabe ruling class. That is the real significance of the SNP government’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals. What the SNP leadership hope for is a local Scottish junior managerial buy-out and a rebranding of the existing UK political machine and British socio-economic order north of the border. This leaves Scotland’s other unaccountable international relations untouched  – apart from getting a seat in the UN [27].

So, can we conceive of an alternative Socialist view of Scottish self-determination? John Maclean, the Clydeside Socialist, was the first person to help form a political organisation, which linked the exercise of self-determination with political independence [28]. His proposed Scottish Workers’ Republic was to be set-up in the context of the International Revolutionary Wave, which took place from 1916-21 [29]. The key thing about Maclean’s approach, though, was that he was no nationalist. He campaigned on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis, developing the struggle to break-up of the UK state and British Empire by strong support for the ongoing Irish and Indian struggles for self-determination and for the ‘Russian’ Revolution.

One effect of the defeat of this International Revolutionary Wave was to marginalise such thinking and to reinforce the notion of  ‘a British road to socialism’. Labour’s Red Clydeside MPs, who left Glasgow Central station in triumph for Westminster in 1922, soon abandoned their support for Scottish Home Rule, as a practical measure. Westminster became the Labour Party’s focus for reforms in Scotland.

The authors do point out “the leading role”… “the STUC has played… in the campaign for Home Rule and a Scottish Parliament since the 1930’s”. However, the STUC’s recommendations for Scottish self-determination accepted, first the overall control of the Imperial, then later of the UK, parliaments with their Crown Powers, monarchy, and House of Lords. So the notion of Scottish self-determination then held by the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement was, from a democratic view, quite limited in its scope.

Furthermore, as you move to and beyond the 1960s, you are left with a distinct impression that, no matter how sincere certain Scottish Labour Movement spokespersons were in their support for a greater exercise of political self-determination, it was only the pressure of the SNP, which forced the reluctant wider official Labour Movement to adopt Scottish Devolution as a concession.

The Calton Hill Declaration – the republican approach

For a brief period, after 2003, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP)  (which gained 6 seats in Holyrood, at the expense of both the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party), made an impact over the issue of self-determination for Scotland. The SSP linked this once more with political independence, and in particular with a Scottish Republic. The Declaration of Calton Hill and the successful demonstration, held on 9th October 2004, to protest at the royal opening of the new Holyrood parliament, highlighted this. As far as the issue of genuine Scottish self-determination goes, this represents the highest political point we have seen recently.

But, of course, as already accepted in this article, if the decline of the Labour Left, to a position of marginal influence, has been long-term and continuous, then the post-2004 collapse of the SSP, representing the non-Labour Left in Scotland, has been even more spectacular than its meteoric rise. So, it has not only been amongst former Scottish Labour supporters that there has been a drift towards an accommodation with the SNP’s much more limited notion of Scottish self-determination and their ‘Independent-Lite’ proposals.

Yet, it remains the case that the deeper democratic issue of Scottish self-determination will not go away. British imperialism continues to decline. This has led to ever more desperate military adventures in alliance with the US. There is also weakening support for the Unionist state, leading to ever more costly public ‘circuses’ to whip up British forelock-tugging loyalty. And, this is all in the context of a severe capitalist economic crisis and the resultant relentless austerity drive.

This is why the starting place today for genuine Scottish self-determination has to be that socialist republican, ‘internationalism from below’ approach, so briefly recognised back then in 2004 [30].  And, it is from this vantage point that Socialists have to consider our approach to the 2014 referendum. So, how can the issue of genuine self-determination for Scotland be best advanced?

Should we throw our weight behind the RPC’s A Left Alternative [31] and chase after a non-existent, official Labour Movement campaign for its realisation? The pamphlet’s authors are aware of the limitations of the SNP’s self-determination proposals. But, they are unable to break from the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement and its ossified institutions. Given the rapid rightward political trajectory of Balls and Lamont, and the strong social democratic legacy found in Scotland, even the SNP can adopt a pose to the left of these people (and, of course, their Tory and Lib-Dem allies in the ‘No’ campaign).

However, we don’t want to tailend the SNP’s ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign either. This is being manipulated behind-the-scenes to ensure that any exercise of Scottish self-determination never strays too far beyond the requirements of the SNP’s big business backers.

What we do need to do, in pursuing a Socialist approach, is to relate to that larger republican opposition, that greater questioning of the City of London, and the bigger anti-NATO and anti-Trident opposition, currently found in Scotland (even within the ranks of the SNP in the latter case). This is the movement that Socialists in Scotland need to encourage and help to build. Then we can appreciate the need, not to passively wait for the ‘actually existing’ British Labour Movement to save us, or for the SNP to deliver the political goods (a bit like South Sea islanders waiting the arrival of ‘cargo’!), but to organise independently [32] and go out beyond Scotland to win wider support in England, Wales and Ireland. And, of course, an open hand should be extended to any rank and file Labour and SNP members who are prepared to join such an undertaking.


xi)            Looking beyond Left Scottish nationalism and Left British unionism

The RPC’s pamphlet does have the merit that it draws readers’ attention to those concentrations of corporate (including the City of London and Edinburgh) and state power [33], which the working class and Socialists in Scotland have to confront. The issue of genuine self-determination for Scotland can not be resolved without confronting the global corporations, including those in the  City of London, or the US/UK imperial alliance and the Troika. This is why we have to think internationally right from the start, seeking allies and developing wider solidarity.

Despite the authors’ warnings about the EU and European Directives [34], they propose no international Labour Movement solution to deal with this problem. The reason for this is, of course, no such European-wide Labour Movement exists. This means that the RPC has to fall back on a kind of ‘Little Britain’ nationalism.  Yet, this separatist nationalist approach is exactly what the authors quite correctly criticise in the SNP’s own social democratic thinking.

So, how do Socialists address the conundrum of not wanting to be subjected to the dictatorial demands of corporate capital, the City of London (and its Edinburgh satellites), the Troika and NATO; and also wanting genuine self-determination and finding the suitable international organisational framework  required to achieve this? The RPC, quite sensibly, has no confidence in the existing EU’s bureaucratic machinery. However, as this contribution has shown, the UK state, locked into junior imperial partnership with US imperialism, is no candidate for any reforming role either. And the official British Labour Movement is taking us backwards not forwards. It has no vision or capability beyond the UK.


xii)            The seeds of a Scottish internationalist alternative have already been planted

Where do the seeds of a possible internationalist alternative lie? Despite decades of working class retreat there has been one major victory; one that contributed to the ditching of Thatcher, just as the miners, in 1974, led to the electoral defeat of Heath’s Tory government. This was the Anti-Poll Tax campaign from 1988-91. This campaign united workers across Britain too [35]. Only, it was not the official ‘united’ British Labour Movement that achieved this important victory.

The Scottish Labour Party and STUC soon threw in the towel, and Labour councils fell over themselves, first in Scotland, then in England and Wales too, to impose the Tories’ hated tax, even when it meant poindings, warrant sales and jailings. And a certain lawyer, Cherie Blair, took briefs from local councils to jail those opposing the tax.

Trafalgar Square – poll tax seen off

The poll tax was defeated, not by the official, but by an independent, working class movement. Furthermore, it organised on active ‘internationalism from below’ principles to counter official Labour’s bureaucratic, top-down British Left unionism. This independent campaign began in Scotland (which Thatcher had chosen as a testing ground to highlight Scottish Labour’s impotence, following the defeat of the miners). After a year of active resistance in Scotland, and campaigning in England and Wales, the poll tax was effectively seen off at Trafalgar Square on 31st March, 1990.

Furthermore, the Anti-Poll Tax campaign led many Labour Party activists to realise that retaining their party membership was quite incompatible with the kind of open political opposition and the public resistance needed to mount any effective campaigns in defence of the working class. Under Blair and New Labour, many thousands more deserted the party, as it pushed the Thatcherite neo-liberal agenda even further.


xiii)            The resistance is already global in extent

Although, the ‘actually existing’ British Labour Movement has shown no capacity to organise any coordinated large-scale international action with others, this failure has begun to be transcended outside the official movement. First, there were the massive international anti-globalisation protests of the late 1990s and early 2000s; then, on February 15th, 2003, the largest international demonstrations ever seen, to protest against the imminent Iraq War. More recently, we have seen the Occupy Movement.

Many, amongst both the Labour and non-Labour Left, sniffily dismiss these movements, first, because they have no coherent political programme. This leads to an absence of positive demands around which to build longer-term organisation. Secondly, these movements make a virtue of spontaneity, which often means, after a spectacular rise, they fall back again.

However, the wider political import of such international actions is that the Labour Movement (in either its official Social Democratic or former official Communist colours) offers no effective international political alternative. In this respect, the Social Democratic Second International was discredited for many as long ago as the First World War, although in the post-Second World War Social Democratic heyday, the British Labour Party was still able to mount an impressive protest in London against the Suez adventure in 1956; whilst, whatever the date chosen by different people on the Left to show when the Third International (or its Cominform successor) failed – 1921, 1928 or 1956 – official Communism no longer exists after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

So, it is not too surprising that all those major international protests no longer look to the official Labour Movement, the Social Democratic or former official (or even dissident) Communist Parties and organisations. And, if Socialists want these wider international movements to consider the issue of programme and longer term organisation, we will need to offer a much more relevant and attractive alternative, than the unaccountable, bureaucratically driven social service provision, or the nationalization of key economic institutions that only really empowers state officials.

Furthermore, all these official organisations are so bureaucratised and opposed to any genuine rank and file democracy, they are decidedly unappealing to the supporters of the new movements, including the growing number of young workers facing only precarious jobs and periods of unemployment.  The official organistaions  are also patently opposed to any real change that challenges their officials’ status and privileges.


xiv)            Learning from the past –  beyond Liberalism and Lib-Labism to Socialism and the ‘New Unions’; beyond Labourism and Broad Leftism to republican socialism and new forms of union organisation

In Scotland (as elsewhere in Britain), we now face a similar job to Socialists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They spent their time patiently weaning the working class away from Liberalism, Radical-Liberalism and ‘Real Radicalism’. Today, the counterparts of these political forces are called Labour, Left Labour and ‘Real Labour’.

Looking back to the Liberals’ distant past, its working class supporters then could remember their party’s backing for the extension of the franchise, for the right to organise in trade unions, and for the extension of educational provision. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, Liberal leaders were on the retreat, with many passing over as Liberal Unionists to the camp of the Conservatives.

Today, those remaining working class Labour supporters remember the post-1945 Welfare State and the 1970s equal rights legislation. However, more and more workers can see Labour is now following a similar rightwards path to that adopted by the Liberals in the past.

The long-term experience of imperialism and its consequent wars have made many people today more aware of these dangers than they were in the past, before they had any direct experience of the First World War. Hence the large scale international protests against these phenomena, which we have already seen.

Yet, despite the massive size of some of these protests, they have not propelled Labour to the Left, and that internal opposition which did develop over the Iraq War, has largely evaporated, as Labour leaders give a carte blanche to every latest US imperial venture. Their concern seems to be that British bosses, especially in the arms industry, will receive some contractual crumbs. Of course, this is dressed up as the need to save workers’ jobs. On the basis of such arguments, their nineteenth century  equivalents would have argued against the abolition of slavery, because of all the jobs provided in shipping, provisioning and ‘guarding’ slaves!

But, looking back to the political situation at the end of the nineteenth century, which allowed Socialists to sink deeper roots, we are still waiting today for the type of direct working class upsurge in the UK that led to the wave of New {Trade} Unionism [36] in 1889. Furthermore, with the huge extension of precarious employment and cuts in living standards and deterioration of working conditions for the vast majority, the preconditions for such an upsurge are clearly present. The official Labour Movement, locked into ‘Social Partnership’ with government and employers, is no more able to meet most workers’ needs today, than were the old Model Trade Unions, which dominated the scene, before the New Unionism.

The period, before New Unionism erupted, saw the tentative creation of various organisations, e.g. the Labour Protection League, the Eight Hour League, the Scottish Land and Labour League, and the Scottish National Miners Federation. Some of these fell away, others changed their initial form. However, they left behind a legacy which contributed to the later 1889 breakthrough. These new organisations had first to contend with the leaders of the old Model Trade Unions, with their support for the Liberal Party or, in its lefter version, for Lib-Labism.

Needless to say, the recent New Labour governments (from 1997-2010) did nothing to abolish the anti-trade union laws [37], whilst Miliband has never declared his opposition to the relentless growth of precarious work (he no doubt thinks that we should just be thankful to get any job!) At the EPF meeting Neil Findlay condemned those SNP MSPs who crossed the picket line put up by some Labour MSPs at Holyrood on November 30th, 2011, on the day of the public sector Pensions Strike. He remained silent about Miliband getting up at Westminster on the same day and publicly attacking the strike. Yes, we do need to get beyond the “sterile arguments between unionists and nationalists”.

The sparks – independent action shows the way forward

Today, we have the seeds of a possible rank and file revival in the unions in the aftermath of the recent Sparks’ dispute, and the production of the Site Worker paper, and the emergence of the Grass Roots Left in UNITE [38]. We have seen the tentative development of independent unionism amongst migrant cleaning workers in London. The Independent Workers Union in Ireland, which organises on both sides of the border, has raised the issue of social unionism, extending beyond the workplace. This approach could represent the ‘industrial unionism’ of the twenty first century [39]. But we still have to contend with trade union officials’ support for the existing Labour Party, or in its lefter form, some members’ and officials’ support for Broad Leftism.

Broad Leftism concentrates its main activity upon replacing existing trade union officials with lefter trade union officials. These people nearly always enjoy pay and privileges way beyond that of the members they claim to represent. They soon get sucked into the old routine – so much so, that new Broad Left candidates increasingly have to contest earlier Broad Left candidates, who have, in their turn, become the privileged incumbent officials.

In key respects, today’s Broad Leftism, and its support for ‘Real Labour’  resembles the politics of the nineteenth century ‘Real Radicals’. They sought to replace the ‘Sham Radicals’ among the leadership of the Liberal Party, or by building a new Radical Party, which still retained many of the features of the original Liberal Party, but outside its ranks. The RPC appear to have chosen the former path, whilst the Socialist Party’s Campaign for a New Workers’ Party wants to recreate a now lost Labour Party, but still dependent on trade union officialdom.

In contrast, a Rank and File approach fights to democratise unions, by giving effective control to members in their workplaces, with any elected officials on strictly time-limited contracts, receiving the average pay of the members they represent. And there may well be cases where existing unions have become so corrupt, or fail to organise whole sectors of workers, that new independent unions should be considered.

And just as the political logic of Broad Leftism is Labourism in some form, so a politically developed Rank and File movement is an expression of ‘industrial republicanism’. Sovereignty lies with the membership, and not with the official leaderships and their union HQs. Clearly, it also necessitates wider, consciously socialist republican, political organisation designed to encompass all those resisting exploitation and oppression.

Rank and File approach also undercuts the divisions that can appear over whether an existing transnational union should be split up on national lines. The real issue isn’t whether a particular national flag can be found hanging outside the union HQ, especially if it still remains under the effective control of a union bureaucracy. It is whether the members in their workplaces, wherever they live, enjoy genuine collective sovereignty within their unions.


 xv)            Conclusion

It is not the UK state, and its existing territorial organisational and political framework, which the British Labour Movement largely reflects and accepts, that provides us with effective working class unity in these islands  – and certainly not beyond. The ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement may oppose the Scottish nationalist politics of the SNP, but it is thoroughly imbued with British nationalist politics and, on its Right, with imperialist politics too.

However, Socialists today should feel confident in their approach to the 2014 ‘independence referendum’, and in their support for genuine self-determination for Scotland. We know that the UK-wide ruling class is in the slow process of dissolution, and their UK state faces mounting challenges. If the debate, though, is confined to propping up the Union through support for the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement; or helping the SNP establish a wannabe Scottish ruling class in their hope of undertaking a junior managerial buy-out and rebranding of the Union in Scotland, then Socialists will miss a golden opportunity to put forward an independent class perspective. Therefore, we need to advance our vision of self-determination for Scotland now, and link it with every democratic, economic, and social struggle that arises.

Furthermore, just as those Socialists (organised in the Scottish Rank & File Teachers Group) during the 1974-5 Teachers’ strike action, and in the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation from 1988-91, took their campaigns to England and Wales, in the teeth of opposition from the leaders of the ‘actually existing’ British Labour Movement; so we need to take our campaign today for the break-up of the UK state to the exploited and oppressed in England, Wales and Ireland.

Hopefully, the forthcoming Radical Independence Conference [40], being held in Glasgow on November 24th, will provide Socialists with the possibility of advancing our cause, and of developing a campaign, which is independent of the “sterile argument between unionist and nationalists.” The issue of voting ‘Yes’ in 2014 then becomes a tactical rather than a strategic issue. Voting ‘No’, alongside Darling and Lamont, Mundell and Davidson, Moore and Rennie, and the Orange Order, BNP and SDL, is not an option.

Furthermore, given the grave consequences for us all, of the current ECB initiated (and City of London backed) brutal attacks on workers in Greece, Spain and Ireland, we do need to lift our sights higher still, and see how effective solidarity struggles can be created and extended across Europe. The fact that the RPC’s pamphlet doesn’t even consider the current wider European situation highlights that, for many in the British Labour Movement, ‘internationalism’ seems to stop at the English Channel and Irish Sea.

This is just one good reason why Socialists need to conduct our campaign for genuine Scottish self-determination on the basis of independent working class politics, socialist republicanism and  ‘internationalism from below’. This would also provide us with the best context in which to make a renewed socialism relevant.


Allan Armstrong. 5.10.12


[1]             The Red Paper Collective (RPC) gets its name from the influential Red Paper on Scotland, published in 1975, and edited by then Left wing Labour member and student rector of Edinburgh University, Gordon Brown. Vince Mills, a member of the Campaign for Socialism within the Scottish Labour Paper, edited a follow-up 30th anniversary Red Paper on Scotland in 2005. One writer for the RPC, John Foster (former CPGB and current CPB member), has written articles for both books.

[2]             The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) represents a continuation of that wider Left unionist tradition inspired by the CPSU with its creation of another Union state – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. However, with the break-up of the USSR in 1991, the CPGB split into the CPB, which has continued with the British Left unionist tradition (which, in effect, means adapting to the British Labour Party) and the CP of Scotland (CPS) which has become part of the Scottish Left nationalist camp. After 1991, similar national splits developed within the national sections of the former CPSU (and Yugoslavia).

[3]             This pamphlet can be also found at:-


[5]             Critiques of other British Left nationalist writings can be found at:-


[6]             This perhaps underplays the internal colonial status, within both Scotland and the wider UK, of the Gaelic speaking Highlands and Islands.

[7]             ‘Actually existing socialism’ was the term used by Left supporters (especially in the official Communist parties) of the former USSR and COMECON to describe these states. Here it is used, in a more critical sense, to describe the ‘actually existing’ Labour Movement in the UK and in Scotland.

 [8]             This statement is not made without an appreciation of the current weaknesses of the Left outside of the Labour Party. However, it is true to say that, ever since the Anti-Poll Tax struggle through to the Anti-War Movement and beyond, the non-Labour Left has been able to mobilise greater numbers in action than the Labour Left. For a fraternal critique of the non-Labour Left’s biggest recent political challenge, the Scottish Socialist Party, see:-


[9]             And this has nothing to do with the quality of the candidate. John McDonnell has an impressive record as a Socialist, but given the party’s rightwards gallop, he has had a decreasing impact inside the Labour Party.

[11]              Army recruiting offices have proliferated in working class areas of the UK, during the current economic crisis; whilst poor Fijians and Ghurkas from Nepal have plugged gaps in British army ranks.

[12]              And this writer once had to march through the streets of London with one of the placards handed out by an EIS official declaring, “Rectify the anomaly now.” I’ll give that “Save the Barnett Formula now” placard a miss!

[13]              Such thinking can underplay the role of the Red Army, US forces, and the various Partisan and Resistance Movements in helping to defeat the Nazis. The setting up of Welfare States in western Europe was also accepted by Christian Democrats, whilst even the Tories grudgingly accepted the British Welfare State. This contributed to the political phenomenon know as ‘Butskellism’ (after leading Tory and Labour government Ministers – Butler and Gaitskell). Indeed, European Christian Democratic governments were prepared to defend a welfare legacy, under the guise of the ‘Social Market’, for longer than New Labour governments. Under Thatcher, ‘Butskellism’ was ditched, but she set the tone, accepted by Blair, for neo-liberal ‘Blatcherism’.

[14]             The one discordant note on the night of the EPF debate came from Labour spin-doctor, Simon Pia. Waiting till after the chair had closed the question and answer session, so that his arguments couldn’t be effectively challenged, Pia claimed that the London Olympics had seen off the Scottish nationalists’ referendum challenge. He said that most people here now appreciated the value of being British – a sentiment he shares with Boris Johnson!

[15]             Although, even here, a precedent was first established by Gordon Brown, when he took up that old National Front and BNP slogan – “British Jobs for British Workers”!

[16]             However, even this has to be qualified. When massive independent (unofficial) strike action was launched by Scottish teachers in 1975 (which eventually culminated in their most successful pay deal), the strongest opposition to spreading the action to England and Wales, came from the Labour and CPGB leaders in the Educational Institute of Scotland, the main Scottish teaching union. Furthermore, there are miners who claim that the area-by-area payment systems, pushed by then Labour Energy Secretary, Tony Benn (1974-9), contributed to the divisions amongst miners in the 1984-5 strike.

[17]              There was indeed a sound basis for this accusation, although even then social democratic and Left populist currents were influential in the SNP. Despite the leadership’s expulsion of Group 79 (which had involved Alex Salmond, Kenny MacAskill and Jim Sillars) in 1982, the social democrats, headed by Salmond, eventually became the dominant element in the SNP leadership.

[18]             Although as George Papandreou, Greek PASOK leader, has shown, social democracy can still sink even lower.

[19]             SNP Finance Minister, John Swinney, commissioned Scottish Enterprise Chief, Crawford Beveridge, to undertake a similar public spending review. Not surprisingly given the author’s background, he claimed that, “Many will find this report uncomfortable reading” – although presumably not the SNP’s current big business backers. Indeed, it was probably with some knowledge of this report’s contents, that Lamont astounded most commentators by her open advocacy of ditching universal social provision. Scottish Labour desperately want to win back lost Scottish business support – far more important for them than addressing the needs of its remaining working class voters.

[20]             However, prior to this, Glasgow SNP councillors were just as happy to take those ALMO payments. Given the fact that former Glasgow SNP leader, Allison Hunter, went into the 2011 council elections claiming she had no new policies to implement, perhaps we can see why, in the absence of a credible Left alternative, Glasgow’s electorate returned Labour to office on the principle “better the de’il ye ken”!

[21]            Only on Edinburgh City Council, is Labour now in coalition with the SNP, but only because the Tories declined Labour’s first coalition offer!

[22]             We can assume this public Scottish Labour U-turn has also been very much welcomed by British Labour HQ at Millbank House. Simon Pia has certainly welcomed it (see http://www.newsrt.co.uk/news/simon-pia-middle-class-will-have-to-live-without-freebies-819359.html). Here he claims that, “Lamont has brought the issue of class back into politics.”

He is right, but as everyone else from Ruth Davidson to political commentators, Ian Bell and Ian Macwhirter, have recognised, it is the politics of the British ruling class Lamont has adopted. They are more than happy to see Labour telling voters the issue is ‘unaffordable public services’, and turn people’s attention away from massive tax evasion by the rich, the grossly inflated government military expenditure, the overpaid public service managers and business consultants, and the billions spent on ‘circuses’ like the Olympic Games and Royal Jubilee.

The traditional social democrat complement to universal benefits has been support for a more progressive income tax, in order that there can be a real redistribution from the better-off to the less well-off. Far from Lamont’s proposed abolition of universal benefits leading to any such redistribution, the money ‘saved’ will be more than eaten up by costly bureaucratic means-testing, and even more so by state’s resort to the kind of tax-farming to the private sector, which has allowed ATOS to simultaneously deprive the terminally-ill of disability benefits, whilst lining the pockets of the company’s directors and shareholders.

[23]               We are probably seeing the results of such US pressure with the SNP leadership’s decision to overturn policy in opposition to NATO. A few years ago, Lisa Vickers, the US consul in Edinburgh, attacked the SNP’s formal anti-NATO policy.  “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” – a not so veiled threat!

[24]             The Irish Free State was created from 26 counties of the former Irish province of the UK, under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1922. This followed the British government’s backing for the pro-Treaty forces in suppressing the Republican opposition in the 1923-24 Civil War. The Irish Free State remained in the British Empire, with its elected Dail representatives having to give an oath of allegiance to the Crown, to accept a royal appointed Governor General, and two British naval bases, and with its business backers agreeing to adopt an Irish punt directly tied to sterling.

[25]             Although Shadow Cabinet member and Blue Labour supporter, Jon Cruddas, backed by British Labour’s Scottish gauleiter, Jim Murphy, have suggested that their party should adopt of UKIP’s and the Tory Right’s demand for a referendum on continued EU membership. The Labour Party’s rapid rightwards trajectory had already astounded even former Right-wingers like Dennis Healey. However, in response to Crudas’ suggestion, it has been former Left-baiter, Neil Kinnock, who has been dismayed by his party’s latest turn.

[26]              The authors do raise the issue of parliamentary control over “the monetary system”. But, this doesn’t go as far as the Labour government’s nationalisation of the Bank of England in 1946. Nationalisation, however, is not the same as democratic control. Therefore the effect of this was only to give the City of London direct access to the Treasury and to successive Chancellors of the Exchequer. The Bank was given privileged Royal Charter status and protected from effective public scrutiny under the official Secrets Act. This highlights the UK state’s constitutionally embedded backing for the City of London. Of course, it was Gordon Brown, who removed the last pretence of government control, and handed monetary policy over to the officials of the Bank of England, who are closely tied to the City of London.

[27]              And, of course, the UN is another profoundly undemocratic body, dominated by a Security Council, whose membership is essentially determined by the US. As pointed out elsewhere, a Scottish seat in the UN’s General Assembly would have about as much influence as Auchenshuggle Community Council does on Westminster!

[28]             This argument is further developed in Freedom Come All Ye by Allan Armstrong, in the forthcoming book, Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence, edited by Scott Hames, to be published by Word Power Books in Edinburgh.

[29]             This final date of 1921 could only be recognised in retrospect. Many Socialists had high hopes of a German revolution up to 1923.

[30]             The SSP International Committee did go on to organise a well-received Republican Socialist Convention in Edinburgh on November 29th, 2008, which brought together activists from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland (North and South). However, this progress could not be sustained whilst the SSP was in the process of falling apart.

[31]             Ironically the last four out of the six demands raised here would have a greater chance of being realised, even under the SNP’s proposed Scotland constitutional set-up, than under the constitution of the UK and Westminster.

[32]              And, of course, an open hand should be extended to any rank and file Labour and SNP members who are prepared to join such an undertaking.

[33]             Although it puts an overemphasis on the undoubted power of European Directives, as compared to direct UK state and Westminster ‘directives’, which still impinge upon workers lives far more.

[34]            When these Directives were designed to undermine existing workers’ conditions, New Labour rarely opposed them. Indeed, Blair was often to the forefront in pursuing such Directives, either having already implemented them in the before they were enforced elsewhere, or making sure they were quickly put into place. It has been the residual EU ‘Social Market’ protections, which both Tories and New Labour have opposed. The main difference between Thatcher and Blair, was over whether their neo-liberal agenda could be better advanced from outside or inside the EU bureaucracy. Both formed part of the US-led neo-liberal offensive.

[35]             Even the Tories weren’t stupid enough to impose this measure on Northern Ireland at the time. A sheriff officer or bailiff would not have been a very safe job on the Falls Road or in the Bogside!

[36]             The orthodox SDF, under Henry Hyndman (the first ‘marxist’ advocate of a ‘British road to socialism’), failed to relate to ‘New Unionism’, allowing a non-Socialist, or weakly defined Christian/Ethical Socialism, to dominate the Independent Labour Party, and the later Labour Representation Committee, which based themselves largely on the trade unions.

[37]             Blair did lift the Tories’ ban on trade union organisation at GCHQ, but this was largely a token measure (although obviously important for those directly involved). This concession was designed to disguise New Labour opposition to effective trade union organisation and to the repeal of the Anti-Trade Union laws. Their main concern was to promote ‘Social Partnerships’ between the government, employers and trade union officials. These had the effect of converting many union officials into a free personnel management service for the bosses. Even New Labour’s much-vaunted minimum wage was set at such a low level, that the state has had to subsidise low wage employers through benefits provision. Some employers even lowered their pre-existing wages to the new levels.

[38]             see http://www.grassrootsleft.org/

[39]             See the proceedings of the third Global Commune event – Trade Unions: – Are They Fit for Purpose? at:-


[40]             The Radical Independence Conference can be found at:-




    Gawd, that slogan “Rectify the Anomaly” is imprinted on my memory too

    When I’m stuck without reading material waiting for a bus or a train, I try to figure out what it meant, if anything at all!

  • Comment from Leigh at Variant


    I’m mostly in agreement with section 1.

    however, “Alex Salmond and John Swinney at Holyrood have [not] meekly followed Alistair Darling and George Osborne at Westminster, in jumping to those demands emanating from the City of London, and echoed by its Edinburgh finance satellites”, as it wrongly situates the demands and the aspirations of the political class as distinct and subordinate in being led and not leading, whereas the relationship is akin to a revolving-door (David Miller et al)


    I’m also mostly in agreement with section 2:

    as above, “Those powerful forces outside Westminster, who really control the UK state, can resort to these whenever they deem it necessary”, I don’t think it’s necessary to see powerful forces as “outside” but unpacking how they’re conjoined


    section 3 is where we begin to differ a bit more, in that UK militarism through a largely privatised industrial complex and enforced expenditure at the state level via EU / Nato is where US national interests are interiorised as the UK’s own

    the question of Nato is not one of internal party democracy for the SNP, but of the limitations of sovereignty under international treaty/co-joined membership obligations as a new small state

    if, as you say, “the British ruling class no longer has the power to enforce its imperial interests across the whole globe”, or such that its interests have for a long time been subordinated into those of US state/corporate power, what I’m stumbling on is what exactly the imperial role is which oscillates between UK interests and those of an immemorial British ruling class — e.g. how does Blair’s background fit this construct?

    re The City (finance capital) – again I’m confused as to who’s doing what to whom : The City is the British ruling class’s central economic institution, which dominates any Westminster government and the Treasury, yet the UK state doesn’t have to bow to the City’s wishes as it’s a revolving-door of mutual yet still competing self-interest… question is how this revolving-door is maintained?


    I’m mostly in agreement with your section 4, though RPC’s critique of the EU is an important otherwise omission for a Scottish state seeking full EU entry — an EU which the UK is not an aside to nor is corporate capital, these are all intertwined in their mutual development / inter-dependencies


    I’m in agreement with your section 5 – re Scottish nationalists look to a rosy [neoliberal] future


    I’m in agreement with your section 6


    I don’t think today Scottish Labour and the SNP do actually confront each other on the common ground of social democratic politics — as I take even social democracy without the promise of socialism on the horizon to be something more than this

    and not just fiance (FIRE sectors) doing the displacing, but debt/rent including ‘intellectual’ propertisation and greater precaritisation — the introduction of both has been overseen by the SNP as ‘entrepreneurialism’

    other than as a shallow discourse drawing attention to some limits as others are erased, social democracy has not re-emerged to any greater extent than mid-1980s North Sea oil delivering 10% of Treasury revenue to offset Tory expenditure (including welfare)

    I’d agree that the SNP has successfully positioned itself as retaining the image of a more nationally bounded social democratic reform legacy — e.g. the tactical defence of some targeted universal benefits at the actual expense of other areas — that is, constructing moments of opposition precisely as points of differentiation between Holyrood & Westminster — Lamont’s invocation of scarcity and ‘something for nothing society’ is utterly appalling but is situated in that context — as is the Council Tax freeze as a tool for ScotGov exerting influence over LAs, in drawing them towards a centralising ScotGov. GCC’s ALMO’s were precisely to remove actives from public oversight, with culture done at rapid pace under fear of losing overall control of the council to SNP. So in some ways it’s a tussle over subsidiarity, technocracy and Scotland’s appalling record on local democracy. The SNP have done well in re-imagining for a public the crisis of democracy as a crisis of bureaucracy!

    But I don’t think it follows that the SNP’s the inheritor of social democratic ‘hopes’ — social attitude surveys repeatedly show few UK differences, so I think something else is going on, which Jonathan Hearn starts to get to regrading status via Weber — and I think it has to do with the effects of the displacement of risk and managerialism that the centralisation of state power seemingly has such emotional appeal — I guess I’m seeing the heights of Blairism as the middle-class’s desired plateau rather than anything prior


    I’m in agreement with your section 8 — except again I think it’s already more of a lobbyists’ revolving-door (as David Miller etc wrote of) than “Scottish businessmen who are constantly pushing the SNP leadership to dilute further any democratic, economic and social content to Scottish self-determination”, as you go on to say


    I’m in agreement with your section 9 — yet, as you go on to say, the SNP propose a low wage, low taxation, low regulation economy, hoping to take advantage of its European offshore location — a still thoroughly pro-neo-liberal and pro-imperialist (pro-US white diaspora) government, which is why Jonathon Shafi is wrong to dismiss very central concerns over competing capitalist nationalisms — which I see as something other than moving beyond the “sterile arguments between unionists and nationalists”

    re the rise of the popularist Right as a structural effect of political life, not a great interview with Rancière but I thought it held a couple of useful insights:http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1936-jacques-ranciere-the-front-national-s-useful-idiots


    I agree with your assessment of the SNP’s political aspirations of a managerial buy-out and rebranding, but again I don’t think the SNP are being manipulated behind-the-scenes to ensure that any exercise of Scottish self-determination never strays too far beyond the requirements of the SNP’s big business backers, I think that’s its dominant position (as we see from the now unspoken resignations from the party on points of principle ahead of the referendum) which the SNP leadership actively pursues

    I agree that it’s all about democracy — the extent to which genuine self-determination is possible and achievable in the immediate & wider contexts — what linking the exercise of self-determination with political independence might mean today not 100 years ago, in accounting for all those contingent shifts in capitalist relations…!?

    I’m not convinced that as “British imperialism continues to decline” it leads to “ever more desperate military adventures in alliance with the US” — which seem to exclude the deep post-war interconnectedness of security & corporate interests — as explanations of change I’m not fully convinced by narratives of catastrophism and decline, and I’m concerned with the limitations of ‘imperialism’ as the frame of understanding to explicate the last 40 years of ‘neoliberal’ discourse

    what I’m looking for in RPC’s criticisms of the SNP’s ‘independence lite’ (amounting to not-so-self-determination proposals) is precisely how to break from them

    I disagree about a strong social democratic legacy to be found in Scotland as some sort of inherent value or trait, as UK social value surveys consistently show little difference and this seems to be more about making a nationalist identitarian mark of distinction, but I do agree that the SNP’s is a pose — what we don’t seem to be doing, however, is account for the emotive power of national sentiment as what this pose sells and is being bought (the why & how it gets traction) and I worry that folk might be (deliberately or not) translating expressions of national sentiment and rooted-belonging as ones for social democratic desires

    I disagree that it involves greater questioning of the City of London, as this seems like a spatial fix of proximity & location, but involves the greater questioning of capitalist relations and affects per se — the danger being precisely constructing nationalist scapegoats for managerial rebranding

    and it is not that an open hand should be extended to any rank and file Labour and SNP members who are prepared to join such an undertaking, but that actual pursuit of democracy needs an undertaking to allow for critical difference & conflict, not the pursuit of consensus — as in section 11’s attention to confronting those concentrations (and contradictions) of corporate (including the City of London and Edinburgh) and state power


    I agree that the conundrum of a separatist nationalist approach is exactly what RPC correctly criticise — whereas empire and imperialism often appear as abstractions allowing an uncritical opening for competitive nationalism — the irony is that we then see internally contradictory proclamations of “Scotland supports Syriza”


    I’m not convinced Thatcher chose Scotland as a testing ground to highlight Scottish Labour’s impotence, following the defeat of the miners — we now know it was Scottish Secretary George Younger who pushed to “trailblaze” the poll tax in Scotland to help find “undetected gremlins lurking in the proposals” as a further rating revaluation loomed “in a significant part of the country” — and Nigel Lawson opposed it internally as “unworkable” and “politically catastrophic”, and we shouldn’t wipe from Scottish history the St. Andrews/ Glenrothes-centred group of Tories who first cooked up the idea as very much an internal not solely external political force resonating back to its 1950s height of popularity


    I’m in agreement with section 13


    official Labour Movement locked into ‘Social Partnership’ with government and employers, whereas the SNP propose a still tighter concertation and an absented labour movement — I appreciated the criticisms of a citizens income as the abandonment of labour power and capitulation to full state oversight

    I really appreciated your example of (cross-borders / transnational) independent unionism


    if states and their existing territorial organisational and political framework don’t provide effective working class unity, the question remains what do?

    how is ‘internationalism’ addressed in the extent to which we see a retreat into national protectionism — I’m not interested in ‘Scottish’ self-determination (as I think it’s ideologically opposed to socialism) but democratically I am interested in self-determination of Scotland — how the ‘we’ is constructed is crucial and not incidental for me

    I don’t think it is a campaign for the break-up of the UK state but for what can overcome it, as the former doesn’t in and of itself necessarily contain anything progressive and could equally describe the reorganisation of state competencies of ‘independence lite’ (what you describe as being a managerial take-over)

    but I worry the need “to take our campaign today for the break-up of the UK state to the exploited and oppressed in England, Wales and Ireland” is a little disingenuous of the actually existing Left networks which ironically do not conform to the national territorial boundaries being pursued — it’s this transparency of organisational networks that the UK Lefts have done so badly at — as against that, we see different kinds of formations and relations emerging between parties and movements in europe…