Mar 15 2014

ON HOW THE VESTIGIAL LEFT IS FAILING TO UNDERSTAND THE POLITICAL LIFE OF SCOTLAND TODAY

Murdo Ritchie (RCN) provides his response to the Red Paper Collective’s critique of the Scottish SNP government’s White Paper.

 

THE RED PAPER ON THE WHITE PAPER

or

HOW NOT TO UNDERSTAND CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

Red Paper on Scotland, 2014

Red Paper on Scotland, 2014

 

As moves toward Scottish national independence happen, the “mainstream” camps have presented their visions, but on the fringes lots of different illusions reveal themselves.  Over the years, there have been some who have painted a picture that national independence would inevitably turn into the dictatorship of the proletariat or, at least, the very first steps towards it.  On the other side, some see only tartan Toryism and the destruction of all the labour movement has historically achieved across the United Kingdom.

In the coming independence referendum, a ‘Yes’ vote would signal a clear vote for change, even if not as far as some of its supporters claim.  A ‘No’ vote, however, would be interpreted by the ‘Better Together’ campaign and political mainstream as approval for the status quo, even a modified version.  So it requires a highly elaborate self-justifying rationale to support it.

All objective assessments of the possible outcomes of the vote are unable to see a latent transition to socialism in either Scottish national independence or remaining within the UK.  But the political circumstances for both Scotland and the rest of the UK would undergo greater changes if a ‘Yes’ vote did occur.

The Red Papers Collective, made up essentially of the vestigial left of the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain, assemble a case that most of the Labour mainstream would quickly disassociate from itself.  Because of the enormous reliance of the ‘Better Together’ on alliance with big business, as well as the Tory and Liberal Democratic coalition government, this distances them from every leftward force that can be found in the UK.   Essentially a conservative campaign designed to keep the status quo, it lacks the initiative demonstrated by the supporters of national independence.  So leftward illusions have to be created to justify keeping in place a Westminster government that only returns Tories, Liberal-Democrats and a thatcherised Labour Party.

 

CONSTITUTIONAL AND INSTITUTIONAL ISSUES

One of the greatest ironies of the Red Paper Collective’s (1) response to the Scottish government’s White Paper (2), arguing the case for national independence, may be that it has compelled them to make some constitutional proposals.  These have been absent from their past contributions.  However, economic reductionism overwhelmingly dominates their thinking and there is a vacant hole where constitutional policy proposals should be.

The main flaws are that it:

1. fails to address the enormous political consequences of national, constitutional and institutional change;

2. uses economic criteria of assessment when political methods of judgement are required;

3. has too narrow a vision to see changes in mass consciousness;

4. proposes a “socialist” future with no tactical proposals on how to achieve it;

5. shares with the White Paper a “corporatist” outlook that does not fully appreciate the role of independent, non-government organisations such as trade unions, women’s groups and others.

The White Paper not only outlines the Scottish Government’s and the SNP’s perspectives, it also defines the parties who oppose it from the right or left.  At around 650 pages, it is the most substantial proposal for change ever presented by a “mainstream” political party in the UK.  The Red Paper understands the world from inside the ever decreasing circles of trade union officialdom, Labour Party membership and followers.  Traditional loyalties are changing and, outside the Red Paper Collective’s ever diminishing circles, a more of the same approach is increasingly not being seen as enough.

 

“GROUNDSWELL OF SUPPORT”

The Red Paper points out that there is no “groundswell of support from the Scottish people” for national independence.  However this only highlights the peculiarities of political structures in the UK.  It would be a mistake to believe that changes in individual and mass consciousnesses are not occurring.  In England and Wales, the Left talks about austerity cuts to discretionary public spending; in Scotland it attempts to give meaning to national independence by “generalising” a whole raft of issues and concerns, such as welfare reform, military policy, climate change, energy choices etc. under a rubric of national identity.  It is not only reacting to events but engaging with an alternative set of proposals, even limited proposals.  Undoubtedly, this is a quieter, less visible process than the strident demands of a more conventional separatist movement.

Kevin McKenna in the Observer highlighted how the initiative seemed to be in the hands of the ‘Yes’ campaigners, “Two weeks ago, I visited the ‘Yes’ campaign website searching for an open event that I could attend, preferably off the beaten track. Between the end of January and 1 March, there were more than 200 happenings, a mass engagement that touched every nook and cranny of the kingdom. Seeking a similar event to attend on the ‘No’ campaign website, I could find only a handful.” (3)

Different signs of movement have to be used to understand shifts in mass moods.  Among these are election of two SNP governments in Holyrood; in 2011, the SNP won 106 out of 129 seats, in the 2012 local authority elections the SNP obtained the largest number of councillors so that an increase of 62 took them to 425. . Although national independence may be the surface purpose of the referendum, it is being approached as a way of rejecting the Coalition’s policies by voting ‘Yes’.

Around 56,000 copies of the White Paper had been ordered in its first two months – a remarkable quantity for sizeable government consultative paper.  Most importantly, the ideas it contains are being presented as an alternative vision of the political future.  It is possible to agree or disagree with it, but it is now no longer possible to ignore it.  Nothing comparable exists anywhere else in the rest of the UK.  Failure to recognise these shifts in mass moods can only create a contemptuous attitude to an enormous chunk of Scottish population.

 

AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND IN AN IMPERIALIST WORLD

Scotland is not a country oppressed by imperialism.  St Andrew saltires proudly fly from tanks and other military vehicles invading Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world.  Scottish nationalists are not demanding a denied right, but seek the “transfer of the appropriate legislative competencies” (4).  This highly administrative approach to nationalism may bear little resemblance to nationalist struggles of the past, but the highly reactionary structure of the UK stands strongly counter-posed by the programme of bourgeois modernisation that the White Paper presents.

The UK is a significant prop supporting global imperialism; but the UK component is weakening with respect to its competitors, even if the entire structure remains intact.  Salmond may believe that by dropping the SNP’s earlier policy of a referendum on NATO membership (5), and appealing for EU membership on the principle of “continuity of effect” (6), he has reassured global imperialism, but he still cannot convince them he has not opened a new era of instability that questions its role.  And, as for removing all nuclear weapons from Scotland, this terrifies the rest of the UK, which will have to find the cost of rehousing them elsewhere in communities that will be aware that if they can be removed by popular hostility from one location they can be removed from others.  Finally, the remainder of the UK will find it harder to justify holding onto its permanent seat at the UN Security Council continuing the weakness of British imperialism.

The Red Paper seems entirely unaware of how easily many features of British political life can unravel with only the smallest of changes.  Throughout their contributions they seem unable to present any strategy whatsoever that can connect their desired goals with any tactics on how to achieve them.

The Scottish part of the UK’s declining imperialism has become unhappy with regional imbalances that concentrate more and more resources around London and the South-East.  Although Scotland’s ruling capitalist elite want nothing to do with separation, the petty-bourgeoisie will make substantial promises to workers and the dispossessed in order to advance their position. Although it does not wish to challenge capitalism it is, nonetheless, unleashing class struggles. Holding them to the pledges takes on an immense importance. Long-term historical processes are approaching their moment when ‘carpe diem’ (seize the moment) will become more than a slogan.

 

POLITICS OR ECONOMICS?

The Red Paper’s criticism is economic rather than political.  Yet the main theme of the White Paper is that change in political institutions and behaviour is the driver of improved economic performance.  This is the Red Paper’s biggest failure. Indeed it displays the political sterility and economic reductionism that occurs when socialist demands are not joined to republican values that fights for a workers’ government.  Ironically, this stops it from addressing the types of economic and institutional structures necessary to meet the economic demands.

There are passing mentions to “federalism” but they are left undeveloped – whispers to be said as quietly as possible.  The Red Papers Collective knows how many difficult issues even these barely audible murmurs would raise.  Firstly, there is even less of a “groundswell” for any form of federalism than either the status quo or peripheral nationalism.  Secondly, the UK’s regime of “parliamentary sovereignty” could tolerate no meaningful powers being permanently located in any part of a federal structure’s components.  Fourthly, the Red Paper’s fragile coalition would shatter if specific concrete proposals were ever advocated.

In order to challenge the demand for national independence the Red Paper raises the bizarre demand for economic self-determination or independence.  This is an absurdity.  The logical outcome of such an approach is autarky, and withdrawal from all international economic activity.  While workers must build economic relations that are in their interests, no class can ever fully control the economy.  Very often workers and their governments will find they are in severely disadvantaged economic relations, requiring that they use every possible opening to strengthen their position.  In the words of the Communist Manifesto they must “wrest control” in a piecemeal manner.  Only constitutional, governmental and institutional structures that operate in the interests of workers can secure any economic gains.  Under capitalism, this is the dictatorship of capital; under workers control, this is the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is amusing that some in the Red Papers Collective claim to be the heirs of Lenin. Yet one of his major disagreements was with those who confused political and economic tasks.  ”For the question of the political self-determination of nations and their independence as states in bourgeois society, Rosa Luxemburg has substituted economic independence. … [S]elf-determination of nations in the Marxist Programme cannot from an historico-economic point-of-view have any other meaning than political self-determination, state independence and the formation of the national state.” (7)

However it is by its own criteria that the Red Papers Collective shows its failure.

“The Red Paper has argued all along that constitutional questions have to be measured against their potential to:-

  • challenge the power of capitalism by enabling democratic control of the economy;
  • introduce a variety of forms of public ownership;
  • build a stable and secure economy;
  • redistribute wealth.

“Members of the Red Paper Collective believe that enhanced devolution within a federal arrangement has the potential for a more radical change than the independence … [of the] … White Paper.” (8)

 

CHALLENGING THE POWER OF CAPITALISM

The White Paper has many contradictions and evasions, almost all of them with respect to future international, military and currency relations. It cannot make clear which proposals are part of a constitutional settlement and why others require a future independent government to tackle. Consequently it is a bizarre claim that it requires “any political party to make [changes to the continuation of the monarchy, or leaving the European Union or NATO to] first have to win support to do so in an election” (9) when in the White Paper itself it calls for an end to the welfare reform changes, military policy and many other changes. Yet it is still the most far-reaching prospectus of proposals ever presented by a “mainstream” political party in the UK.  The Red Paper identifies some of its weaknesses but approaches most of the issues contained within it in too offhand a manner for a balanced assessment to be presented.

Politics should always dominate over economics.  Building socialism is, firstly, a political task and, only secondly, an economic, social, military or cultural activity.  But the Red Paper continues the sterile approach that the ever advancing increase of public ownership is a strategy for building socialism.  It says nothing on the required political structures or changes in popular consciousness that are required.  Its approach is essentially a Fabian “administrative” approach.  There is no mention of building popular support for socialist change.  By some unstated method of metamorphosis, economic changes will alter the political structures; spontaneously, a democratically controlled economy will give birth to a democratically controlled government and state.  Essentially, it is another model of building socialism by inserting lego bricks in the correct order according to a designed plan.  All human action, consciousness and motivation are missing.

“A Yes vote in the terms of the White Paper will leave the commanding heights of the economy owned and controlled from outside Scotland … the key levers of economic policy will be exercised from London or Brussels.” (10)  However, the Red Paper’s authors ignore how that would be true even if a ‘No’ vote occurred.  But government is still a powerful economic force regardless of location.

During the Independence Referendum discussions, the transition to socialism is on the agenda only insofar as the proposed changes alter the political, legal, and cultural terrain on which workers’ struggles take place.  The White Paper is not a socialist document.  Intentionally or unintentionally, it proposes a perspective of capitalist modernization that conflicts with many of the existing and absent features of the UK’s “unfinished bourgeois revolution.”  These include the creation of legal rights; inalienable rights within the UK’s absent written constitution; a transfer of the locus of sovereignty away from parliament towards the people or the nation; the recognition of the importance of public ownership of the postal service; the creation of a sovereign wealth fund that would prohibit government arbitrarily grabbing oil and gas revenues to use as tax cuts for the wealthy; as well as putting on a legal basis the rights of trade unions, local authorities and other public and private bodies.  Of course, there is no guarantee of any of this progressing further.  That depends on raising the level of political consciousness of workers and many other interested groups in Scotland as well as improving the strategic and tactical acumen in their handling of political engagements.

Another major failing of the Red Papers Collective’s approach is that it abstains from the current constitutional turmoil.  It would love to believe that it is not even happening.  Consequently, it proposes a remote, distant advocacy of a socialist future that ignores possible immediate political and social gains or growths on consciousness. This detaches it from the real forces currently engaged today.  It has become a political world they cannot understand.  Traditional loyalties are evaporating as the concerns they believe are important become “generalised” into features of national identity ) this is a bit cryptic) .  Undoubtedly, they (what?) are distinct and separate, but they failure to understand that new solutions are being sought, even mistaken ones.

No social gains are ever achieved with struggle; all struggles require risks.  Taking the White Paper at face value, it will bring about significant changes that strengthen working people’s positions in future engagement.  The terrain of future struggles will be made different from at present.  Some of these will be resisted early with pressures to abandon them as we have seen with referenda on NATO and EU membership as well as on the continuation of the monarchy.  So it will place the Red Papers Collective in the position of being unable to demand of Salmond, the SNP or the Scottish Government that they implement the promises they earlier made.

At present, the UK’s tradition of custom and practice create no legal basis for the maintenance of gains that have been won.  Solid constitutional and legal foundations must first be sunk or every social achievement will blow away with every change of political wind.  However, these should only be understood as signposts of achievement in a longer more profound advance.  This will require strong independent trade unions, political parties, independent women’s organisation and social organisations to fight for issues that concern these groups and advance working class interests.  The best institutional structures can never substitute for the energy, motivation and consciousness of these movements.  Currently, enormous areas of social and workers’ life is even criminalized, e.g. through many anti-trade union laws.  Gains under capitalism may never substitute for workers’ government, but they are still gains nonetheless requiring mechanisms for their preservation.

Any challenge to capitalist rule requires that it be made as difficult as possible for any gains to be reversed and as easy as possible for a political consciousness to be built by making it easier to organise and populations to realise they have rights for which they must fight.

 

PUBLIC OWNERSHIP

“The biggest disappointment of the White Paper is its failure to give any role to public ownership in industrial or economic regeneration.” (11)

In the next paragraph it then mentions the proposal to return Royal Mail (postal service) back into public ownership.  It asks the bizarre question why this is better executed at a Scottish rather than a UK level.  The meanness of the Red Paper’s response is very clear because it ignores how far nationalised and publically owned industries and services have been removed across Europe and the world.  In this context, the commitment to take a significant industry into public ownership is a rare example that should be supported.  It is a symbol that others elsewhere can point to as a way of advancing public ownership to reverse this trend.

Both coalition parties fanatically promoted privatisation.  It is also a demand of the European Union.  Labour, earlier, attempted a first stage privatisation of twenty per cent of Royal Mail, but found after an unsuccessful share offer that the only remaining bidder was only interested in obtaining the company’s massive land, property and asset portfolio.  Although it intended to sell off more, that type of buyer would simply have caused mail service chaos so it withdrew. At a UK level, there is no major political force wishing to make this kind of proposal, nor does one seem likely to appear.

To carry through this kind of policy in the face of opposition from all major political parties, business and the EU will require real support.  To stand apart would make it difficult to demand this policy be implemented but, most importantly, would inhibit the fight to stop this becoming just an exceptional policy but a movement to reverse the trend of several decades.

One important constitutional proposal that should be considered during a future Scottish Constitutional Convention is that it should be made more difficult for any government to dispose of sizable or important public assets without some form of public consultation or referendum.  At present, no restrictions can be placed on any Westminster government that can stop it selling off “the family silver.”  For the first time, it may be possible to protect public assets from external raiders.

But it is not only publically owned assets that have been the subject of governments looking for quick pile of cash, but the pension funds of many public companies.  Again the Royal Mail is a good example.  Throughout the company’s history the pension fund has grown enormous reserves, undergone employer contribution “holidays,” though not the workers, only to be continually plundered by the government until an enormous deficit appeared.  This was then passed over to the “taxpayer” so that it could be privatised.  Currently, no legal prohibition exists to stop this kind of activity because it would threaten Westminster’s “parliamentary sovereignty.”

The Red Paper Collective may demand more public ownership, or even more varieties of public ownership, but this is worthless if there is no solid constitutional or legal foundation on which it can exist.  Without this it cannot defend itself from predatory assaults from powerful bankers, businesses, asset strippers and speculators.  The fights for establishing these reforms only becomes possible by the opportunity of a Scottish Constitutional Convention while for the Red Paper Collective can only see its demand in the far-off, distant future.  Again while there is never any guarantee of success coming out of any opportunity; but support for the status quo is a very certain guarantee of no change ever occurring.

 

WHY THE UK CANNOT CREATE A SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUND

It is one of the oddest features of the “constitutional” arrangement of the UK that by placing the locus of sovereignty in the Crown-in-Parliament that it cannot establish a sovereign wealth fund to handle the revenues coming from oil and gas revenues.  Even absolute monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi as well as fully constituted republics can establish them.  Most absolute monarchies can easily pass the management over to financial advisers who use their revenues to carry out programmes of “modernisation” as form of personalised, discretionary spending.

The UK’s peculiar structure, however, creates the worst of all possible situations.   The establishment of a UK based sovereign wealth fund would require rules and regulations that state that its revenues must only be spend on designated activities such as infrastructure or education. These would be designed so that they cannot be arbitrarily grabbed and spent by successive governments.  But the peculiarities of the British “constitution” make this impossible. Because no other institution can put in place rules that “bind” parliament or encroach on parliamentary sovereignty, one of the most important forms of global institution cannot arise in the UK.

A sovereign wealth fund is one of the most important types of public ownership that exists.  It may be privately managed but the real owners are the government and state. This is because the “money generated by these countries doesn’t belong to the companies, its workers or its shareholders …  Instead most of the money from these companies and investment vehicles rolls up to the state giving the government the power to determine how to deploy the bulk of capital generated by the economy” (12)

While the Red Paper response omits any mention on the importance of establishing a sovereign wealth fund, the White Paper’s advocacy is ambiguous.  Rather than using it to fund economic re-industrialisation, infrastructural improvements to create more environmentally friendly energy schemes, or other democratically chosen goals, it takes a timid perspective.  The Scottish Energy Fund will be set up to “manage short-term fluctuations in oil revenues and to promote long-term fiscal sustainability” (13).  Another timid feature of the White Paper’s approach is that it fails to see how the revenues from the Crown Estate could also be placed into a sovereign wealth fund assisting it become a major investor.

Sovereign wealth funds have become enormous global institutions with an asset value of around $2.5 trillion.  Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global the largest with assets of $737.2 billion   The combined power of the Treasury, and the UK’s financial sector have also resisted the creation of a unified fund that could hold enormous power over its ability to manage monies.  In this way, the UK’s selective policies only work in the interests of the capitalist, financial elite while policies promoting greater public ownership of capital are obstructed.  Undoubtedly, sovereign wealth funds will have recurring issues about where they derive their revenues and the location of investments.  As the head of strategic relations at the Norwegian fund, Dag Dyrdal put it, “ [T]o be successful it has to have legitimacy at home.  It has to aligned with the broad standards of the country’s population.” (14)

Unless capital is democratised, any national progress will be impossible.  Both the White Paper and the Red Paper’s response fail to address control of capital in different ways.  The absence of a democratically controlled sovereign wealth fund is only one aspect of how the UK is run as a dictatorship of capital for capital.

 

THE INDEPENDENCE CONSTITUTION AND INDEPENDENT ORGANISATIONS

 a) INDEPENDENT TRADE UNIONS

The White Paper and the response from the Red Paper view trade unions with a very restricted outlook.  In both cases they see them as tools of economic management, rather than as organisations that enable workers to achieve their aspirations.  There is a recognition from both papers that a Convention on Employment and Labour Relations involving all relevant “social partners” including trade unions as well as enhanced consultative measures and, even placing union representatives on company boards would be step forward.  Both see little wrong with this type of “tripartite” corporatism.  Ironically, it is the Red Paper that condemns the lack of a legislative framework that would underpin unions’ ability to effectively bargain.   Undoubtedly, a written constitution guaranteeing freedom of association and assembly as well as a legal right to strike would be a stronger set of rights than currently exists.  However, legislation that goes beyond this has dubious merits.  Independent trade unions cannot rely on protections from any government, even workers’ governments, but must build their strengths on the highest levels of workers’ conscious, experiences, skills and motivations.

Tripartite corporate capitalism can very quickly confirm Karl Marx’ observation that where there are “equal rights, force prevails” (15).  Behind the appearance of equality as social partners, real power is rarely held by workers or their unions.  More worryingly, all corporate structures only “incorporate” privileged groups of workers who are entitled to a share of the benefits but rest upon the systematic exclusion of “outsiders” that are often the most severely exploited and least able to gain admittance beyond token representation into the privileged groups.  Frequently, these are comprised of excluded racial groups, women, youth and disabled people.  Germany’s gastarbeiters are a frequently cited example of corporatism’s excluded.

Changes to constitutional, institutional and legal structures matter; but levels of class and political consciousness matter even more.  Trade unions across Europe have far too often created artificial differences between different levels of skilled workers and the unskilled, made it difficult for minorities with differences in race, sex, and political outlook.  Far too often they have seen their proximity to government institutions as an achievement while failing to rigorously guard their independence from interference by these capitalist institutions.  As a result of this, they have often becomes government’s and employer’s playthings, only to be discarded later.  Failure to hold their independence has an even bigger problem, it makes it harder for union members to develop a high enough level of political and class consciousness to learn lessons from encounters with employers or governments.

 

 b) LOCAL AUTHORITIES

Unlike much of Europe and the United States, local government in the UK did not grow up and develop independently of central government.  Apart from the City of London Corporation, central government has always used local government as an extension of itself.  Consequently, it has arbitrarily interfered in its operations, structures and conduct.  The unexpected announcement in the early nineties that local authority boundaries would be reorganised into single tier authorities was made without any planning or investigation, but arbitrarily so that the Tories could create a “flagship” council in Scotland.  This unnecessary disruption to funding and work of councils caused enormous problems for councils such as Glasgow and Dundee.  Better known is the abolition of the Greater London Council simply because it had become a pole of attraction opposed to the then conservative government of Mrs. Thatcher.  Constitutional protection restricting central government would be an enormous achievement, especially if it gave councils the right to exist within clearly defined boundaries.  The UK’s constitutional arrangement makes this impossible.

If any institution needs to be securely underpinned with a strong legislative framework, it is local authorities.  The White Paper is vague on this point. Its emphasis is on the provision of public services but makes no clear statements on who should provide them.  Nevertheless, there is a statement committing itself to fight for a commitment to establish on a constitutional basis “the existence and status of local government” (16).  Although the Red Paper points out that the White Paper rarely mentions local authorities, it is hardly surprising that there are no mentions of social work, another complaint.  The Red Paper assumes that existing local authority boundaries should be left intact.  Yet, the existing boundaries were not created for the benefit of electors or services, so it would be unsurprising if another reorganisation is necessary.  It is unlikely that it would remain unaltered in an independent Scotland.

The Red Paper complains that the SNP administration has removed the Police and Fire & Rescue Services from local control,  placing them in one national organisation.  Both services have always required national structures for training and various kinds of specialised support as well as pension and other types of provision.  Nowadays, it operates under a form of national accountability which may be far from perfect but is hardly an example of unchecked power.  Moreover, there is no reason to assume this is any less effective than so-called local accountability which was often of limited ability.

Interestingly, the reactionary aspirations of the Red Paper are revealed by their hostility to the “regressive Council Tax freeze” (17).  The Council Tax replaced the Community Charge (poll tax) and was introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine in 1994.  The anti-poll tax organisations were exhausted and lacked the strength to oppose the substitution of one reactionary measure with another.  A process of political and psychological adjustment occurred and the benefits of the Council Tax were imagined into existence.  The Red Paper makes no attempt to put forward any alternative to this method of funding local authorities.

All variants for funding the shortfalls in local authority budgets have had profoundly reactionary consequences that have been deliberately ignored by Labour politicians and the so-called left.  Pushing up domestic rates to cover the withdrawal of central government has been used to protect services, but put enormous burdens on low-paid workers, and those not on means tested benefits.  In the mid to late noughties, low paid workers increasingly became aware that it would not be long before the single largest deduction from wages would be the Council Tax as it would overtake Income Tax.  The White Paper makes no attempt to propose an alternative way of funding local government.  A centrally set and collected local income tax that “incentivises” local authorities to increase employment in their area should be considered.  It is regrettable that neither paper displays any fresh thinking on this issue.

With respect to local authorities and education, neither paper makes any mention of the need to establish primary or secondary education on the basis of secular principles.  Neither papers choose to engage with the division between non-denominational schools (de facto Protestant) and mainly Roman Catholic “faith” schools.  This division, apart from being wasteful of resources, makes it difficult to promote meaningful sex education and awareness in young people. It prohibits the creation of an atmosphere where honest discussion of contraception choices including abortion can be discussed.  It also stops building a supportive framework for homosexual people that values their lifestyle choices and informing young people how to sexually express themselves free of guilt and shame. In some cases, education that opposes the best scientific knowledge by rejecting geological and biological evolution has been uncritically taught without objection by local government and educational authorities.  Even worse, teachers who do not hold the correct religious point-of-view have been dismissed or not promoted in publically funded schools.

 

THE MYTHS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

Both the White Paper and the Red Paper are in denial about the nature of the European Union.  The current strategy of Alex Salmond, the SNP and the Scottish Government to obtain EU membership by using the argument of “continuity of effect” is unlikely to succeed (18).  If this was to happen, it would allow every secessionist movement to gain unobstructed entry to EU membership by-passing the existing entry criteria contained in the Copenhagen Criteria and other rules.  Neither the Commission nor the Council of Ministers would ever let this happen. But neither do they want too many countries outside the orbit of its control either.  Hence it will become necessary to go through the motions of being assessed as suitable for EU membership.  The most important condition is that is that a vote will have to be performed in order to obtain membership.  Salmond, the SNP and the Scottish government want to avoid this happening because it may not produce the result they want.  Although they may not need to worry too much because, in characteristic EU fashion, the population will get the chance to vote and vote again until they get it right.

This produces the irony that the EU’s strongest supporters will be forced to bring about a vote on membership that they do not want and fear they may lose; while the EU’s vocal opponents are terrified about bringing into existence an electoral challenge to continuing in membership.  Even a defeated large minority in such a vote would weaken the EU’s authority not just in Scotland but across Europe.  Far too often declared opposition to EU membership is only used as an excuse for fatalism and inertia with almost no activity carried out to challenge these laws and rules.   It has become part of an established repertoire of evasions for inactivity and maintaining the status quo from union officials, politician and others.

EU supporters often ignore the scale of the conditions placed on financial, spending, and deficit policies.  They drastically understate the bias against public ownership while over-emphasising the scale of the so-called protections given to workers.  Many of them also fail to appreciate how the implementation of the Lisbon Agenda has hammered the final nail in Europe’s social model.  In this sense, the Red Papers Collective is correct.  However, many EU rules are more honoured in their breach than their observance.  This means long periods of laxity, followed by periods of heightened enforcement but, most importantly, forms of selective enforcement that are only beneficial to the most powerful groups.  Slipping between the cracks has become a national sport in some countries.  These ambiguities should be used to prepare and educate on the real nature to the EU until membership becomes impossible.  It is this type of resistance strategy that is currently being pursued by SYRIZA in Greece.

The establishment of a Scottish Constitution with Government policies will inevitably place it in conflict with many existing and future EU rules.  This tension, even conflict, provides enormous opportunities for the development of popular consciousness.  However, both the White Paper and the Red Paper share the same outlook on the EU accepting its governance and rules as a fait accompli that have to be reluctantly accepted and left unchallenged because of its enormity. Instead of embracing mass, popular aspirations to challenge these institutional prohibitions by means of mass mobilisations to raise political consciousness in order to bring about real political changes.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS, NATO AND FOREIGN POLICY

The claim of the Red Paper that the White Paper “guarantees neither an independent foreign or defence policy, not a nuclear free Scotland” is misleading.  It is mean and small-minded because it fails to recognise the enormous political and international significance that would occur if the nuclear submarine base at Faslane and the nuclear weapons storage dump at Coulport both on the Gareloch were to be closed.  It would be the first occasion in history when an established nuclear weapons state had the weapons removed from a part of it.

The message sent from Scotland not just to the rest of the UK but the entire world would be that if it can be done in Scotland it can be done elsewhere.   It will also make it difficult for the remainder of the UK to justify it seat as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. The Red Paper is wrong to minimise the importance of these changes.

Also the proposal for a “triple lock” on future military deployments having to be in agreement with the principles of the UN Charter, properly agreed by the Scottish Government and approved by the Scottish Parliament is step forward (19).  NATO membership was seen by Salmond, the SNP and Scottish Government as a means of calming the fears of a collective imperialism that it may weaken its global power.

When the original SNP policy of intense opposition to NATO membership was dropped in favour of a referendum, many were not prepared to see even this position later ditched. However even this was not uniform, SNP Westminster representatives Angus Robertson and Angus MacNeil claiming that “[j]oining NATO would certainly be a privilege.” (20) The policy continually changed until it recommended joining NATO .   Membership of NATO has undoubtedly changed it from being a highly disciplined force to being a pool from which coalitions of the willing can be assembled to be operated at different levels of war-fighting.  NATO’s Partnerships for Peace have become only the lowest form of unit mainly designed to keep criticism of NATO practices limited and to mobilise PfP members for low level activities such as post-conflict peace-keeping missions.

However, the pledges on removing nuclear weapons should not allow the evasions of the White Paper to be ignored.  Though the nuclear missiles in the submarines may go, much else still remains. Moreover NATO membership would attempt to “lock it in place” so that could more firmly resist popular pressures for their removal.   It “would mean keeping Cape Wrath as the only ship-to-shore firing range in Europe used by NATO forces because it is the only location in Europe where military aircraft can drop 1,000lb bombs. It would also mean keeping another bomb site used for smaller munitions at West Freugh in Luce Bay, Galloway.    Also retained would be the open air depleted uranium testing range at Dundrennan, again the only site of its kind in Europe. It is also the location for the so-called energy supergun that is expected to be the US’ weapon of the future.  And there are storage bases for various forms of conventional weapons at numerous locations that have been regularly activated for many conflicts.” (21)

NATO membership would compel an independent Scotland to assist on the movement of nuclear weapons across or in close proximity to Scottish territory.  In the eighties, the New Zealand government would not allow any US ship or aircraft that refused to declare that it was not carrying such into its territorial waters or airspace.  A confrontation of this kind seems unlikely because Salmond has already signalled that he intends to adopt a “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy. (22)

 

AN ALTERNATIVE FOREIGN POLICY

Though the Red Paper notices the absence of any foreign policy issues, it does not put any forward itself.  This area has been massively ignored by both sides during the run-up to the independence referendum.  Probably this because the room for an independent foreign policy is always limited by the scale of imperialist power and the seeming unattractiveness of many alternatives, although this may be exaggerated.  Although a large number of organisations and institutions exist, some even holding firmly anti-hegemonic views, there seems a deep reluctance to engage with them by much of the left anywhere.  An independent Scotland may consider it worth joining the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC), something that the imperialist connected UK would tenaciously oppose.  Instead of NATO, the Organisation of Non-Aligned States could become a mechanism to assist further de-colonisation and unwillingness to bolster militaristic projects.  But the UK and Scottish left is too insular to consider these possibilities.

However, it is almost always foreign and military issues that destabilise complacent politicians who wrongly believe that “economic” or “bread-and-butter” issues as Tony Blair’s governments discovered.

IN CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the “left” that rejects exploring the new constitutional areas arising from Scottish national independence, becomes so risk averse that it is too “conservative” to be credible when it claims it wants meaningful social change.  Indeed, it may be seen as little more than a prop for the UK’s highly reactionary political system, institutions, and structures.  Perhaps that is always because conservative is as conservatives does.

References

1.         http://redpaper.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/20131129redpaper_pamphlet.pdf

2.         Scotland’s Future. Your Guide to an Independent Scotland.  The Scottish Government. Scotreferendum.co

3.         http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/08/scottish-independence-alex-salmond-nationalist-juggernaut

4.         p50, Scotland’s Future, op cit.

5.         For more on the consequences of this change of policy see: http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/11/11/the-slippery-slope/ and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/07/30/why-the-independence-referendum-is-being-turned-into-one-on-nat/

6.         On why I doubt Salmond’s argument that it is possible to obtain European Union membership by sneaking it under wire through “continuity of effect”: http://murdoritchie.blog.co.uk/2012/12/06/the-good-news-scotland-needs-to-re-apply-for-eu-membership-15289735/

7.         http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/self-det/ch01.htm

8.         http://redpaper.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/20131129redpaper_pamphlet.pdf

9.         p.xi, Scotland’s Future, op cit.. Preface by the Right Honourable Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister.

10.       http://redpaper.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/20131129redpaper_pamphlet.pdf

11.        http://redpaper.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/20131129redpaper_pamphlet.pdf

12.       p.11, Eric J. Weiner, The Shadow Market.  How Sovereign Wealth Funds Secretly Dominate the Global Economy, Oneworld Publications, 2011

13.       p/116, Scotland’s Future, op cit..

14.       pp.193-194, Weiner, op cit..

15.        Capital, Volume One
 

16.        p.353, Scotland’s Future, op cit..

17.        http://redpaper.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/20131129redpaper_pamphlet.pdf

18.       http://murdoritchie.blog.co.uk/2012/12/06/the-good-news-scotland-needs-to-re-apply-for-eu-membership-15289735/

19.       p.251, Scotland’s Future, op cit..

20.      http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/07/30/why-the-independence-referendum-is-being-turned-into-one-on-nat/

21.       http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/07/30/why-the-independence-referendum-is-being-turned-into-one-on-nat/

22.        http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/26/alex-salmond-snp-stance-nato-nuclear-weapons

 

 

(This is a slightly edited version of the article, which first appeared on:- http://murdoritchie.blog.co.uk/2014/03/11/the-red-paper-on-the-white-paper-17941711/)

also see 

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/02/01/alex-salmond-and-the-written-constitution/

and

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/10/08/scottish-self-determination-and-the-actually-existing-labour-movement-2/

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,