The Radical Independence Conference represents the biggest gathering organised by the Left, so far, around the issue of Scottish independence. For Socialists the political issue we confront is that of self-determination. This is a broad democratic concept. It involves our collective and individual attempts to overcome the exploitation, oppression and the alienation we feel under capitalism. Genuine self-determination is part of the broader struggle for emancipation and liberation. It is about gaining control and creating a society
where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
The very idea of self-determination sits uneasily with ‘Rule Britannia’ and our subject status within the UK. The Labour/Tory/Lib-Dems’ Better Together campaign shows us that upholding the UK and ‘Britishness’ can not be separated from support for Empire, Union and the Crown Powers; or from jingoistic triumphalism and forelock-tugging subservience in a class-divided society.
The UK is a profoundly undemocratic state, with an arsenal of repressive measures sanctioned under the Crown Powers, as political activists, particularly in Northern Ireland, know only too well. The UK plays a key role in propping up the global corporate order as a junior partner to US imperialism. Therefore, Socialists should welcome the chance provided by the 2014 referendum to challenge this.
However, we need to be quite clear that the SNP leadership’s notion of self-determination is also very limited. Indeed, in practical terms, it does not extend beyond the ‘self-determination’, or the narrow class interest, of a wannabe Scottish ruling class. We are meant to be satisfied with the pious aims of ‘Yes’ Scotland, and with vague SNP social democratic election ‘promises’. Yet, these are soon withdrawn when the SNP’s business backers demand it, or when their first priority is paying the tribute demanded by the banksters.
This is why the SNP leadership’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals keep the British monarchy, and hence those anti-democratic Crown Powers. This why they want to keep sterling, giving the City of London, along with its Edinburgh outriders, a controlling role over the economy. This is why they now support NATO, and back continued Scottish military participation in imperial wars. Ditching opposition to Trident bases will almost certainly follow the latest SNP climb-down.
Far from opposing the current economic and military imperial order, the SNP leadership seeks no more than a junior management buy-out of the UK’s Scotland branch, with permission to rebrand it with saltires – and then to continue with business as usual. They want an increased slice of the corporate imperial cake for their business backers, with only crumbs remaining for us.
What would a vote for the SNP’s independence proposals amount to? Salmond has recently claimed victory in negotiations with Westminster, now that Holyrood can draft and conduct the 2014 referendum. However, by accepting the limited constitutional arrangements permitted under the Crown Powers, any ‘Yes’ vote will not lead to the setting up of an independent Constituent Assembly, drawing its mandate from the people of Scotland in the making of a new democratic constitution. Instead, Salmond accepts that his mandate comes from holding office in the UK’s devolved Holyrood parliament. He sees his Scottish government as the inheritor of Westminster’s powers.
So, a ‘Yes’ vote can only lead to negotiations between the SNP and the Con-Dem (if still in office) governments. ‘Independence-Lite’ forms the opening negotiating gambit. A whole host of decidedly unsavoury practices would be hardwired into any ‘Scottish Free State’. And this is before any further concessions are imposed, as undoubtedly they would be – either openly or secretly. Salmond has shown a considerable penchant for secrecy.
The wider Scottish Left does not enter this contested field from a position of political strength. ‘Tommygate’ has ensured that. Yet, as recently as the 2004 Holyrood election, the then recently unified Scottish Socialist Party was able to take members, votes and seats from both Labour and the SNP. Furthermore, with the SNP already making its first serious moves to the Right under John Swinney, the SSP was able to win considerable support for the openly declared, republican, Declaration of Calton Hill, based on the principles of genuine Scottish selfdetermination. It was able to organise a well supported demonstration in protest at the royal opening of the new Holyrood building.
Events can still quickly change the political climate. The 2014 referendum is two years away. To the credit of the RIC organisers, they have been able to bring together many on the Left – some of whom had become disillusioned, whilst others had retreated into various sectarian ghettoes. The RCN has outlined elsewhere the political conditions needed to bring about principled socialist unity once more.
This process can only begin, if we come together on a genuinely open and democratic basis, not only within our own organisations, but also in those wider coalitions such as the RIC. We must get beyond those shadowy behind-the-scenes controlling bodies. We need to build a coalition with accountable and democratic national structures, and with functioning and democratic local branches.
Can the RIC seek to build a real coalition designed to unite a variety of political groups, trade unionists, community and cultural activists; or will it end up as a front for another Left group attempting to put a radical gloss on the official ‘Yes’ campaign? Can participants in such a campaign resist the urge to impose their views on others, or to try to hide their real political colours? Debating political differences should make a valuable contribution to arriving at an agreed shared higher practice. Fundamental disagreements may still emerge, but these should be highlighted through their working out in particular courses of action, when greater numbers can appreciate their direct consequences.
The undoubted political precondition, for achieving such unity, is a commitment to taking the leadership of the campaign for Scottish self-determination out of the hands of the SNP leadership. SNP and Labour members, who support this should be welcomed in such a campaign. The recent resignations of prominent SNP representatives and the formation of ‘Labour for Independence’ highlight the possibilities.
The SNP leadership is in the process of abandoning any meaningful concept of Scottish self-determination. This provides Socialists with the opportunity to champion genuine self-determination. And this can only be achieved in the context of supporting every struggle against exploitation and oppression, and for popular cultural celebration, whether or not it results in conflict where the SNP holds office, nationally or locally. It also means Socialists being prepared to advocate our alternative vision to transform the existing crisis-ridden capitalist society, within a new Radical Independence coalition.
Furthermore, just as the British ruling class, and the SNP with its wannabe Scottish ruling class backers, have their own international links, both above our heads and behind our backs (e.g. Murdoch and Trump!), so Socialists need to seek out wider class allies in England, Wales and Ireland, as well as in Europe and beyond. This should be done on a socialist republican ‘internationalism from below’ basis.
If the Radical Independence Conference organises itself on open and democratic principles, and adopts such a course of action, then Socialists will be able to place ourselves at the very centre of the struggle for genuine Scottish self-determination. This could help us to contribute to opening up the door for the transformation of society we so desperately need.