Allan Armstrong (RCN) examines the situation Socialists face across these islands in the light of the recent European election and the ongoing Scottish independence referendum campaign.





1. How the British ruling class sees their strategy for retaining control over these islands

i) The current position of the British ruling class in a global, European, all-islands and UK context

ii) The current position of the British ruling class after the 2008 Financial Crash

iii) The impact of global corporate capital on the EU and in the Euro-election results

iv) Disenfranchisement and the decline of political accountability

2. The decline of the ‘organised’ working class and the crisis on the Left

i) The decline of the ‘organised’ working class

ii) The Left, the ‘organised’ working class and the Euro-election results

iii) The challenge of re-organising the working class

iv) There is no social democratic road to economic recovery and no social democratic road to Socialism

v) The political impact of populism, whether Right or Left

3. A closer examination of the UK state and its effects on the politics of the Right and Left

i) The deeper significance of the unionist nature of the UK state remains largely unrecognised by the Left

ii) The post-1997 ‘New Unionist’ settlement

iii) The beginning of the end for the post-1997 ‘New Unionist’ settlement?

4. The Right, Far Right, different forms of nationalism and the role of ‘Britishness’ in support of the UK state

i) The wider impact of UKIP

ii) UKIP, conservative and reactionary unionism and their relationship to the UK state

iii) Civic national identity versus ethnic and unionist national identities

a) Scotland

b) Ireland and Northern Ireland

c) Wales, the most recent nation within the UK

d) Wales – the UK state response and the development of a new civic nationalism

5. The impact of UKIP

i) The impact in England and beyond

ii) The impact of the Euro-elections on the ‘New Unionist’ settlement in Ireland

iii) The ‘New Unionist’ settlement goes into reverse in Northern Ireland, anticipating new Right attacks in Wales and Scotland

iv) The European and Local Council election in Northern Ireland show a further Right slippage amongst the Unionists, and a mixed challenge to Sinn Fein and the SDLP

v) UKIP, the capture of an Anglo-Welsh Wales and a large chunk of the Welsh-British Wales and the current retreat of the Welsh civic nation

vi) UKIP and the Scotland independence campaign

vii) The SNP government in the face of Rightist challenges in Scotland

viii) The possible effect of UKIP on the current ‘New Unionist ‘ settlement in the event of a ‘No’ vote.

6. Labour and the Socialist Left Unionist traditions

i) The British unionist Labour and Socialist Left; the failure of Labourism and the abstract propagandism and fatalism of the Socialist Left

7. Conclusion


Election results only provide a brief snapshot view of political developments. It can be difficult to connect such results with a fuller understanding of more fundamental changes. However, at a time when there are no large-scale independent actions – demonstrations, strikes or occupations – by the exploited and oppressed, then election results do provide some indication of what is happening politically. This article on the recent European election (and the Local Council elections in England, Northern Ireland and the south of Ireland) is designed to provide such an analysis from a socialist republican and ‘internationalism from below’ point of view.

The Euro-election results displayed a marked rightwards trend in the UK (and in many other, particularly northern European states). In the current conditions of capitalist crisis, this benefits the British ruling class. This rightward move was only partially offset by some results in Ireland, Scotland and more locally within parts of nationalist Northern Ireland. The Euro-election, held on May 22nd, underlined the onward march of Nigel Farage’s right populist UKIP, in all parts of the UK – Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland included. In England, UKIP emerged as front-runner in the Euro-elections and also gained many new councillors in the local elections held on the same day, despite these being held under the First Past The Post (FPTP) system. There were no local elections in either Wales or Scotland though.

UKIP just narrowly failed to overtake the Labour Party in Wales in the Euro-elections, coming second ahead of the Conservatives. Plaid Cymru dropped from third to fourth position. In contrast, in Scotland, UKIP failed to dent the position of the main nationalist party, the SNP. The SNP remained the first placed party, despite having been in office in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood for 7 years.

However, by gaining fourth position and winning an MEP in Scotland, UKIP gained its first seat here at any level. In achieving this, UKIP has emerged as a force within the British unionist camp here, whatever denials the official Better Together ‘No’ campaign make.

In Northern Ireland, there was an overall increase in the Unionist vote compared to the Nationalist vote, in both the European and Local Council elections. The Unionist vote also showed a slippage to the further right, particularly in the local elections, with Traditional Unionist Voice and the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) increasing their number of councillors, and UKIP making a breakthrough, under the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system.

Both within Northern Ireland’s nationalist communities and in the South, there was some leftwards movement. However, it is only in the South, that you can include Sinn Fein as a party chosen by voters to express their disenchantment with the current political set-up and the impact of austerity. Here, they have adopted a left populist stance. This is in contrast to their position in the North, where they are in coalition with the Unionist DUP. At Stormont they both accept Westminster imposed austerity. Politics revolve around the issue of which community cuts should fall upon – Unionist or Nationalist.

In the South, the European and Local Council elections were held on May 23rd. Both were held under the STV electoral system. In addition to Sinn Fein, individual left populists also gained seats in both these elections. Socialists (with their own front organisations, the Socialist Party’s Anti-Austerity Alliance – AAA, and the Socialist Workers Party’s People Before Profit – PBP) made some definite gains in the local elections.

In the North, a PBP candidate gained a council seat in nationalist West Belfast. However, this is very much a local phenomenon. Three victorious dissident Republican candidates, who won council seats in Northern Ireland, have different approaches. So these councillors may not have a more generalised, as opposed to local impact.

The rest of this article will go into more detail in its analysis of these results and attempt to assess what they mean for the British ruling class and their current southern Irish ruling class allies. It will outline the history of the UK state and the ‘New Unionist’ strategy it currently promotes to hold together the various hyphenated components of the British ruling class – English-British, Scottish-British, Welsh-British and ‘Ulster’-British. It will show how the British ruling class and the mainstream unionist parties arrived at this shared strategy to maintain their rule and influence over these islands – the North East Atlantic Archipelago.

It will then go on to examine the responses open to the British ruling class and UK state, in the face of the ongoing economic crisis and the advances made by the Right and how will this affect their ‘New Unionist’ strategy. The article concludes by showing the implications of all this for Socialists in our struggle to achieve emancipation, liberation and self-determination.


i) The current position of the British ruling class in a global, European, all-islands and UK context

It is useful to understand how the British ruling class assesses the current situation, and the politics they are pursuing to achieve their aims. And, it is particularly important to understand this in the light of their long historical experience. By taking on board past lessons, the British ruling class have become particularly adept at preserving their position when faced with new challenges.

The British ruling class are fully aware of the continued decline of the UK and British imperialism in the current global and European pecking order. They no longer have the capacity to make major military or political interventions at a global level, but have to seek US support for any actions they are considering beyond the North East Atlantic Archipelago. This is the region allotted to them by the US State Department and NATO under the ‘Special Relationship’. In return for US support, the UK state acts as a completely reliable junior partner – economically, diplomatically and militarily – to a US imperialism underpinning the current global corporate order.

This so called ‘Special Relationship’ is very much a one way affair, which the US government can just ignore whenever it suits its purposes; but within which the UK government has to do what it is told, if it is to get any concessions. All the mainstream unionist parties – Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour – accept their subordinate position with in this imperialist relationship. They seek US approval, as the latest interventions of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in the Scottish referendum campaign show.

Furthermore, the Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour ‘Better Together’ campaign, not only runs to ‘big brother’, but courts other influential members for their ‘No’ gang, including the chair of the Bank of England, corporate CEOs, European bureaucrats and senior civil servants (making their contribution quite objectively, of course!). ‘Better Together’, or self-styled ‘Project Fear’[1]See Behind The Unionists’ ‘Project Fear’, The UK State Mask Slips, then goes on to relay these people’s messages, because when it comes to how things should be, they have no independent thoughts or policies of their own to put over. This is as true of ‘One Nation’ (now which one would that be!) Labour, as the Conservatives and Lib-Dems.

Nor does the latest right wing newcomer on the block, UKIP, nor the leaderships of the principal Nationalist parties – SNP, Sinn Fein or the SDLP – challenge this US imperial dependence, whatever rumblings there may be in their ranks. Plaid Cymru leaders have, to their credit, opposed the latest US corporate-led Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – TTIP.

However, there has also been a growth of anti-EU feeling amongst some sections of the ruling class including, more recently, some hedge fund holders based in the City of London. This again reflects the relative decline of the British ruling class’s position, this time in relation to key EU powers, particularly Germany. Both Thatcher and Blair pursued a strategy of trying to direct EU policy from within. They also sought US backing for their promotion of undiluted neo-liberal policies designed to undermine the social market policies, which then had some real substance within the EU.

Since the 2008 crisis, there has been greater divergence amongst the leading EU powers, and particularly between Germany and the UK, over how to address this situation. Angela Merkel has even come up with some modest proposals to regulate the bankers’ bonuses. The City of London is not pleased, and David Cameron has leapt to their defence. Thus, the British government’s inability to sustain its strategy in Europe, in a form that fully defends British ruling class interests, has led to a growing Euro-scepticism in these circles. This has permitted an older British chauvinist and ‘Little Englander’ politics to move closer to the political mainstream. Such thinking is no longer confined to the far right BNP, the right populist UKIP, or the Tory Right. It is eating away at the rest of the Conservative Party and now the Labour Party too. Only the Lib-Dems and the mainstream nationalists, the SNP and Plaid, are sticking their necks out in public support for the EU.

However, one arena in which the British ruling class still retains the initiative is within their own state – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – and increasingly within their Irish state neighbour too, i.e. throughout the North East Atlantic Archipelago. Therefore, any democratic challenges to the British ruling class’s agreed policy to maintain their control over these islands meets with a particularly virulent response. This was shown particularly in Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’ between 1969 and 1997.

Today, it is demonstrated in the unity and determination of the British ruling class and the Unionist parties – Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour – to derail the threat represented by Scottish independence – whether it be their relentless ‘Project Fear’ campaign, or those activities of the UK state, currently concealed by the Crown Powers, which we may get to know about in 30 years time!

Therefore, a significant theme in the recent Euro-elections was the concerted mainstream parties’ attempt to defend their ‘New Unionist’ political settlement for maintaining the British ruling class and UK state control – the Crown in Parliament with its Westminster supremacy over England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and ‘Devolution-all-round’. The ‘Peace Process’ extends this to maintain UK influence over the rest of Ireland too. This settlement was firmly established under the last New Labour governments, after nearly three decades of national democratic challenges, particularly from the revolutionary nationalist Republican Movement in Northern Ireland. The British ruling class and UK state had also faced lesser political opposition from the constitutional nationalists of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Beyond these parties, there have also been the extra-parliamentary challenges represented by the Anti-Poll Tax Movement in Scotland, and the Welsh Language Movement in Wales.

The continued commitment of the British ruling class to their ‘New Unionist’ settlement has been highlighted, after it was further refined in Scotland and Wales under the present Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition government. The Northern Ireland strand of this settlement has proved somewhat trickier. The Good Friday Agreement, and its successors, gives official recognition to the divide between Unionists and Nationalists. Recent events have shown a retreat from the original agreements.

However, for the UK state, these Northern Ireland agreements are a way of managing and making use of, rather than really addressing, entrenched national divisions, so challenges keep emerging. If anyone ever entertained the notion that a combination of growing prosperity and the ‘Peace Dividend’ would bring an end to these underlying problems, then the post-2008 economic crisis and continued Loyalist and Ulster Unionist opposition has put an end to that.

‘New Unionism’ now faces another challenge, though, and from a quite different political direction. The Scottish independence referendum to be held on September 18th is looming. However limited their nature, the SNP’s ‘Independent-Lite’ proposals represent a real threat, not only to post-1997 ‘New Unionist’ settlement, but to wider British ruling class interests in the world.

A democratic affirmation of even the SNP’s limited ‘Independence-Lite’ right to Scottish self-determination, the removal of a UK constituent nation from the control of Westminster, the prospect of even mildly social democratic measures in Scotland providing an example to counter Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour ‘slash and burn’ austerity, the uncertainty over Trident, and the possible removal of rUK from the UN Security Council, all represent a very real challenge to the British ruling class and the UK state – especially in conditions of ongoing crisis.

Therefore, in the light of the European and Local Council elections, the British ruing class and mainstream unionist parties are looking carefully to see what elements of UKIP’s policies could usefully be taken on board. The possibilities of a wider conservative unionist challenge to the UK state’s ‘New Unionist’ settlement could emerge from this. This will obviously also have an effect upon the UK’s relationship with the EU, but that will be set aside in this article. However, if the clamour for an EU exit referendum grows, in the aftermath of UKIP’s Euro-election gains, then this will impinge on the UK state’s ‘New Unionist’ settlement too.

ii) The current position of the British ruling class after the 2008 Financial Crash

A major concern of the British ruling class is – how can they best protect their economic, social and political position, in the situation they have faced since the 2008 Financial Crash? This banking crisis has been the most visible component of a multifaceted global crisis in capitalism. This remains very much a feature of the current situation. Today, the majority of the workforce is employed in the UK’s decidedly hierarchical service sector, with many on low pay, and in insecure jobs – and that is increasingly true of those in the public sector too.

There has been much talk, especially from Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne, of an economic ‘recovery’. From our class viewpoint, though, workers who have managed to get themselves re-employed, or who have obtained more hours of work; and younger people who have either just found ‘permanent’ jobs for the first time, or are on a tread-wheel of temporary or zero hours hours contracts, are now more likely to be in lower-paid, less secure jobs than those they held before the 2008 Crash, or than earlier young entrants to work could expect.

Workers often have to borrow money (on increasingly worse terms, especially with pay-day loans) to cover rising bills (with the largest increases for necessities like accommodation, energy and food); fall back on welfare benefits (which are also being cut-back) to top-up their low wages; or even resort to food banks, if they lose their jobs and have benefits withdrawn. None of the problems we face are of any real concern to the British ruling class, nor to the big employers. They have mostly managed to increase their personal wealth during the crisis. Some delight in the new social divisions, flaunting their wealth and showing open contempt for the ‘lower orders’. Others shed crocodile tears, backing charity schemes to show their ‘concern’. But, so we can fully appreciate their ‘generosity’, ‘the poor must always be with us’; and under the economic, social and political order the ruling class support, they always will be.

However, the slide in labour productivity in the UK throughout this ‘recovery’ will contribute to the continuing fall in the UK’s global economic ranking. This is more worrying for the longer-term prospects of the British ruling class. One thing is certain, the managerial offensive, which has characterised workers’ experience in employment for a number of decades, will be further stepped up to try to drive up productivity. Osborne’s recent much vaunted ‘recovery’ has been primarily based on rebuilding the economy around the activities of the City of London and the property market. This model massively contributed to the severity of the UK’s economic crisis in 2008.

In response to this, both Labour and Con-Dem governments converted private bank debt into public sovereign debt, whilst at the same time protecting those bankers most responsible for the Financial Crash and imposing harsh austerity measures on the working class – whether blue collar, white collar, unemployed, retired, infirm or disabled. These people are dependent upon wages, salaries or the declining pensions and benefits they receive from contributions to private and public employers, or which are paid out after state taxation.

The British ruling class has not only been able to weather the recent storm, but to temporarily strengthen its position and increase its room for manoeuvre. They see no major domestic political challenge to force any fundamental rethink, although political developments in Scotland are giving them cause for concern. This is why the British ruling class remains wedded to maintaining its imperial role and to the economic model that follows from this. The UK’s contribution to the global economy remains mainly based around the City of London’s extraction of overseas financial tribute, sales of domestic primary products such as oil and gas and of armaments abroad. Thus, although the rising economic and social costs of this UK economic model are more and more apparent, all the mainstream parties remain committed to it.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (once including the whole of Ireland) gives the British ruling class many layers of defence for their privileged and protected position. Since all the mainstream parties kowtow to British imperialism and the unionist UK state, along with its anti-democratic Crown Powers, they can offer no real challenges to the British ruling class. These parties’ shared purpose is to make sure that the increasing costs of maintaining this system fall upon the working class through continued austerity measures. They accept the City of London’s priority of paying off what is now sovereign debt, and the British High Command’s commitment to maintaining the UK’s imperial profile through continued wars, military occupations, political destabilisations and the upgrading of Trident. They also want the UK state to keep its seat at the imperialists’ ‘top table’ in the UN Security Council.

iii) The impact of global corporate capital on the EU and in the Euro-election results

Global corporate business leaders ensure that key decision-making bodies – e.g. the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the City of London – lie beyond any semblance of democratic accountability. The undermining of even nominal national government control was highlighted when the Troika (IMF, ECB and European Commission) imposed a banker-led government in Greece; whilst in Ireland and Italy, the main parties, social democrat included, voluntarily accepted Troika diktats. We are now facing attempts to ‘constitutionalise’ corporate rule throughout the USA and EU, including the UK, through the TTIP proposals. Those remaining formally democratic state constitutional mechanisms are being replaced by legally backed corporate financial and managerial controls. These are designed to outlaw any unwanted legal and popular challenges or government regulation.

For those of us employed before 1989, one of the ironies of the demise of Party-state bureaucratic regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe has been both private and public employers’ resort to some very similar managerial techniques. We face strict top-down managerial control, by means of constantly revised plans and target setting. The ‘outcomes’ are then given wider publicity through glossy publications. These bear as much relationship to the reality of the workplaces and quality of the products or services provided as did the old Soviet Weekly.

In the meantime, whilst politicians enforce austerity upon the working class, they hold on to and extend their own privileged incomes and perks of office. They also line themselves up for post-MP/MEP/MSP (Scotland)/AM (Wales)/MLA (Northern Ireland) sinecures in business, consultancies and think tanks. This, of course, contributes to growing feelings of alienation, powerlessness and resentment amongst the wider population. It also feeds into the wider disenchantment with mainstream politicians, who not only support the corporate offensive, but also resort to business consultants to promote their managerial techniques as widely as possible in the public sector too.

This is why, despite not currently holding government office, the British Labour Party failed to benefit significantly in the recent Euro-election. This follows from their commitment to a corrupt Westminster order, fawning before corporate business interests, especially the City of London and their support for austerity. In ‘opposition’ they still toady before the US State Department and NATO. Blair’s backing for Bush in the Iraq war is still remembered.

The resulting despair, amongst all those badly affected by the crisis and austerity, has had a considerable bearing on the Euro-election results. This is one reason why so many votes went to parties of protest. UKIP was the major beneficiary of this in the UK. This was not necessarily because of any deep commitment to such parties, but mostly because of a largely apolitical desire to give the incumbent government parties, seen as responsible for these voters’ plight, a good ‘kick in the arse’. Furthermore, such kicks become even more focussed, when there is a weaker junior partner of government, as the collapse of the Lib-Dem vote in Britain and Labour vote in Ireland has demonstrated.

iv) Disenfranchisement and the decline of political accountability

The longer-term political viability of UKIP (and the many protest parties elsewhere in the EU), and their ability to further undermine the mainstream parties, has to be considered along with an acknowledgement that the levels of electoral participation were low in the Euro-election. And this was so, even compared to the declining rates of electoral participation in Westminster elections and those for its devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This low participation rate is a further consequence of the growing disenchantment many people feel in the face of remote and unaccountable political institutions, with the EU being the focus in this election.

Ever since Thatcher and Blair, the mainstream parties have increasingly seen non-participation in the official political process as an acceptable step. They can then focus their attentions on the interests of the ‘middle class’. This helps to narrow down the political debate to parameters set by the ruling class. They only want an electoral base that supports, or sometimes grudgingly accepts, their principal proposals – especially cuts in social expenditure and privatisations. The ‘middle class’ they seek to woo are more easily persuaded that such measures would benefit them, at least until some individual members feel their impact. However, this can be dismissed as a localised problem of limited consequence, which will be remedied.

The key thing about this ‘middle class’ is not its meaningful existence as a coherent class, but its ‘reality’ as the sum total of individuals, who seek only personal advancement and consumer satisfaction. These people are the targets of market researchers and political pollsters. Just as people shop as individual consumers, so they are encouraged to mark their ‘X’ as individual voters. Atomised individuals are the audience for the mainstream parties’ political strategists. They all make use of professional think tanks, highly paid consultants, spin-doctors and focus groups. This way they can bypass any membership input. Instead they are wedded to the use of triangulation exercises to develop sound-bite policies. People are encouraged to take the existing order for granted, confining their choice to the political brands on offer – with about as much real political choice as that between Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola.

Representative political bodies – state, national, regional and local – are being of being gutted of any real democratic powers. These institutions have increasingly become fronts for bankers and other corporate predators able to buy politicians from all parties, as corruption reaches new levels. This has been highlighted by frequent Westminster scandals (and is just as prevalent in the Irish Dail). Old style politicians, who might once have seen their role as advancing the interest of their electors, whilst receiving some personal financial recompense and social prestige, have increasingly given way to career politicians. These people avidly seek the pay, perks and privileges of those found in the corporate business world. They see these through their everyday contact with professional business lobbyists.

Mainstream parties and politicians in the UK have not yet descended to the level of the direct control by business oligarchs, which can be seen in Russia and Ukraine. However the British Conservative Party is very much a pliant instrument of the City of London (which also enjoys strong support from recent Labour Chancellors, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling). Lord Sainsbury bankrolls Labour’s Progress group. Wendy Alexander received funding from Paul Grey, an offshore-based property businessman, for her Scottish Labour leadership bid in 2007[2]An unnamed businessman also funds George Galloway’s ‘Just Say Naw’ campaign..

Meanwhile, the SNP receives a lot of money from homophobic Stagecoach owner, Sir Brian Souter. This is probably not unconnected to their leadership’s dropping of the party’s earlier commitment to end Tory bus deregulation. Under Salmond’s leadership, the SNP has followed the trajectory of Tony Blair’s New Labour and become the ‘New SNP’, promoting ‘Independence-Lite’, within a reformed United Kingdom and the existing corporate imperial order. The ditching of opposition to NATO in October 2012 was the SNP’s ‘Clause Four’ moment. The corporate suits took control. No wonder there was a political space for anti-establishment parties to emerge in the European elections, for those increasingly disillusioned with all this. What Socialists need to appreciate, are the reasons why, in most of the UK, it wasn’t the Left who occupied this space, but the Right.


i) The decline of the ‘organised’ working class

The political decline of all mainstream social democrat parties, accentuated by their failure to solve the problems of the current economic crisis, is recognised by those remaining sentimental ‘Old’ Labour Party members and the Socialist Left. However, under the banner of ‘Broad Leftism’, ‘Old’ Labour and the Socialist Left often adopt a shared approach to work within what they term the ‘organised’ working class – those in trade unions. This leads them to adopt a strategy of trying to capture existing union leadership positions or getting jobs as officials.

In reality, the working class has become thoroughly disorganised. With the ending of the post-war economic boom, this process started with ‘Old’ Labour’s ‘Social Contract’ under Callaghan, continued through their ‘New Realism’ phase in ‘opposition’ to Thatcher, and on to the ‘Social Partnerships’ under both New Labour and ‘One Nation’ Labour. ‘Social Partnerships’ ensure that official trade union responses to the ongoing employers’ offensive remain firmly within the restrictive legal guidelines set down by the state, and maintained by Tory, Lib-Dem and Labour governments alike. These partnerships allow union bureaucrats to concentrate their efforts upon maintaining their own privileges and advancing their careers, rather than protecting the interests of union members.

As a result, trade union membership has declined considerably, whilst active participation, amongst those members who remain, has declined even faster. This has been accentuated by many unions’ own de-politicisation and atomisation offensives. They have turned to individual legal casework, in a context when the state’s protective legislation is being continually eroded and financial support for industrial tribunal cases being withdrawn. Unions have often fallen back instead on providing consumer deals for their members (including private health in the Thatcher years, in the case of the old EEPTU).

When unions are mobilised today, it is usually as a stage army for others’ interests. This was classically demonstrated by the millions strong public sector pensions strike on November 30th, 2011; followed by an almost immediate climb-down, led by Broad Left UNITE leader, Len McCluskey. He followed this with another bout of sabre-rattling and then capitulation at Grangemouth in 2013. For McCluskey, these stage battles are just part of a strategy to get a Miliband-led Labour government elected in 2015. Any actions that threaten this have to be contained or derailed. McCluskey wants to ‘reclaim’ the Labour Party of the 1945-51 period; or at least build up a position of strength comparable to that the Left enjoyed in the 1970s and up to Tony Benn’s Deputy Leader challenge in 1981. Of course, even before the Social Contract, many trade union bureaucrats were primarily concerned with advancing their own interests. However, in the post-1945 period of capitalist expansion, it was still possible to combine this with gaining significant improvements for their members over pay and conditions. Collective bargaining and token strike action usually achieve little, though, in a period of deep economic crisis.

However useless the Labour Party is for the wider working class in today’s conditions, it still provides the best career opportunities for trade union officials, not only at Westminster, but in the devolved assemblies too. And this is still the case for most of them, no matter how much the Labour Party dilutes its trade union (bureaucrat) link. This explains the lengths trade union officials will go to in order to defend that connection. The main thing that Labour Party officialdom wants from trade unions is their affiliated members’ money. Labour officials appreciate that the trade union bureaucrats have become so distant from their members they are no longer able to persuade the majority to vote Labour. UNITE conducted an internal survey of their Scottish membership after the 2011 Holyrood election and found that more had voted SNP than Labour[3]This goes a long way to explain why UNITE, and other major unions in Scotland, have not come out publicly for a ‘No’ vote, despite behind-the-scenes pressure by the Labour Party. Well paid union officials fear a loss of membership., and hence union dues..

Beyond trade union officialdom, a ‘Reclaim the Labour Party through the trade unions’ strategy still enjoys some political support from the much-diminished ranks of the old CPGB, now constituted as the CPB and backed by the Morning Star. Others, in the Socialist Left, outside the Labour Party, concentrate their efforts on working within the bureaucratised trade unions, hoping in the process either to build a new revolutionary party behind-the-scenes; or to create a new trade union based ‘Old’ Labour Party in which they could take on the ‘revolutionary’ role of ‘Old’ Militant before Kinnock’s expulsions. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) front organisation, Build the Resistance, is designed for the first purpose; whilst the Socialist Party’s (SP) front organisations – the National Shop Stewards Committee and Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – are designed for the second.

In Scotland, where the political and organisational deterioration of the Labour Party has been particularly acute, these politics take on a different form. Labour for Independence also seeks to reclaim the ‘Old’ Labour Party, but within a narrower context – Scotland. A significant force amongst the original Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) leadership, having learnt its politics in Militant, hoped to create a new ‘Old’ Labour Party, again within a Scottish framework. This shared Scottish focus has led to these organisations giving their backing to Scottish independence. They hope this will provide a suitable state framework for further political advance.

ii) The Left, the ‘organised’ working class and the Euro-election results

One result of the ‘Old’ Labour and Socialist Left focus on existing trade unions, which are rapidly declining in influence, was highlighted by the limited impact of TUSC, compared to the Right, in the Local Council elections held simultaneously in England with the European elections. This was despite the much greater efforts of the SP, in putting forward more TUSC candidates this time (with the grudging participation of the SWP). When you look at the SP’s role in the Euro-elections, the results were even worse. The SP contested the Euro-elections as part of No2EU, not with the SWP, but with the CPB. This was because of the latter’s Broad Left trade union bureaucrat connections. Significantly, No2EU stood only in British Euro-constituencies (5 in England and 1 each in Wales and Scotland). The SP in England and Wales, and SP Scotland made no attempt to link up their anti-EU campaign with the SP in Northern Ireland or Ireland.

Furthermore, the SP and the CPB mounted no joint electoral campaign alongside their fraternal organisations affiliated either to the European Anti-Capitalist Left or to the ‘official’ Communist-dominated European United Left EU group. This emphasises the British national framework which dominates their thinking. The SSP was the last party to participate in an internationalist challenge at the Euro-election, standing as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance in 2009. Thus, No2EU came across as a version of ‘UKIP-Lite for the working class’. It got the least votes of all those organisations contesting the elections across Britain. And, not only did the already small No2EU vote fall back from that it had gained in the 2009 Euro-election, it was still well behind the far right BNP, despite the latter’s vote being in rapid decline. It was also behind Britain First, a BNP breakaway, which stood in Wales and Scotland (but which urged its supporters in England to vote either UKIP or English Democrats). The English Democrats are another BNP breakaway, which received more votes than No2EU.

iii) The challenge of re-organising the working class

The much shrunken and bureaucratised trade unions have lost most of their capacity to directly influence the politics of the wider working class. Unfortunately, though, they still retain the bureaucratic power to restrain members when sections show signs of wanting to take industrial action. This is when officials put in their greatest efforts; only directed at maintaining their control and preventing serious challenges from emerging.

In earlier historical periods, Socialists also faced the problem of low-level trade union membership amongst the wider working class, and trade union officials constantly blocking any effective action or suppressing members looking to more radical political alternatives. Therefore, Socialists devised strategies to deal with these problems. The most effective of these combined the extension of organisation to new groups of workers (e.g. to unskilled workers during the post-1889 ‘New Union’ surge); greater organisational unity (support for ‘One Big Union’ or general unions); increased worker control over their unions (emphasised by Syndicalists); and the linking of trade union organisation to a new vision of society (work undertaken by different Socialist organisations).

Today, any meaningful strategy to widen such worker organisation would combine a commitment to new independent unions covering non-unionised workers, or to replace those unions that have become little more than a personnel management service for the bosses. Where the opportunities still exist to organise within existing unions, then a rank and file approach can be mounted to reclaim them through vigorous democratisation, with officials regularly re-elected, holding term-limited office, and on the average pay of the members they represent. Today’s equivalent of the ‘One Big Union’ approach is Social Unionism, which links workplaces and communities. And Socialists need to openly put forward their vision of socialism, linking its relevance and possible achievement to the development of independent class organisation in the economic, social, cultural and political spheres.

Furthermore, despite the current disorganisation of the working class, especially when it comes to trade unions, we still exist. Indeed, at a global level the working class has expanded immensely. In the UK, it has been considerably transformed since the Labour Party and trade union heydays of 1945-51, 1964-70 and 1974-79. There has been a large-scale move away from secondary sector employment (e.g. steel) and primary (e.g. coalmining) to private and public tertiary sector (e.g. banking and retail, civil and local government service) employment, usually under less secure conditions, and increasingly without meaningful workplace organisation, or even representation, in the private sector.

Nevertheless, as workers, we still organise ourselves around a whole host of non-workplace and community, social and cultural activities. However, the traditional Left often displays a dismissive attitude towards these activities. They say that these can perhaps be useful, but they have nothing like the potential of ‘organised’ working class trade union action. Yet activities in other arenas can flare up and provide a real challenge. None of the actions undertaken by the ‘organised’ working class (including the truly heroic 1984-5 Miners’ Strike) stopped Thatcher. Yet the community-based Anti-Poll Tax Movement’s victory contributed to her downfall. One of the key strengths of the Anti-Poll Tax Movement was that it was not subject to trade union bureaucrat control and policing.

What is remarkable about the attitude of today’s Left towards the Labour Party is how closely it resembles those Radicals in the late nineteenth century. They squabbled over whether the Liberal Party could be captured, or had to be replaced by a new Radical Party. They were divided between those who upheld an old Radical Liberal tradition and those ‘Real Radicals’ outside the Liberal Party, who dismissed those still inside as ‘Sham Radicals’.

Today, we have those who still uphold an ‘Old Labour’ tradition inside the party, and those, now outside, who claim to be ‘Real Labour’. When global capitalism is facing its deepest crisis for eighty years, this Left still confines itself to advocating social democratic or neo-Keynesian reforms of capitalism, just as the old Radicals sought a new social liberal reform of capitalism. Failure to acknowledge the nature of the growing crisis enveloping the world under ‘High Imperialism’, led many ‘Sham’ and ‘Real Radicals’ either to support the First World War, or to retreat to the moralist pacifistic politics of ‘bearing witness’. Failure to appreciate the depth of the current capitalist crisis and the growing propensity for inter-imperial conflicts will lead to the same dead end politics.

We already have examples of such such a capitulation to imperialism. This can be seen by looking at the experience of the Communist Refoundation Party (CRP) in Italy. During the heady days of Anti-Globalisation and Anti-War protests in the early 2000s, the CRP adopted its most radical platform. It was part, not only of the old former official Communist Party-initiated European United Left, but also briefly of the Far Left European Anti-Capitalist Alliance. However, the trade union bureaucracy still dominated the CRP behind-the scenes, and ensured that it joined a governmental coalition in 2006 with the centre Left parties led by former Christian Democrat, Romano Prodi. Once in office, the CRP ministers gave their support to Italian participation in the Afghan War. CRP electoral representation was wiped out in the next Italian General Election.

iv) There is no social democratic road to economic recovery and no social democratic road to Socialism

In the French 2012 Presidential election, Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party advocated a more obviously social democratic and neo-Keynesian electoral platform than that which Miliband and ‘One Nation’ Labour now proposes for the 2015 Westminster General Election. The British Labour Party approach is closer to that of the Irish Labour Party in 2011, with its total acceptance of the bankers’ priorities and commitment to slash social spending.

As yet, though, ‘One Nation’ Labour has not publicly declared its willingness to go into coalition with the Conservatives at Westminster; unlike their Irish counterparts who have entered a coalition government with the Irish ‘Conservatives’ – Fine Gael. Nevertheless, in Scotland, a de facto Labour/Conservative coalition is already far advanced. This is shown in the ‘Better Together’ ‘No’ alliance against Scottish independence (with Lib-Dem participation too), and the fact that seven Scottish local councils have Labour/Conservative coalitions.

In the context of deep economic crisis, neither the French nor the Irish ruling classes have shown any willingness to tolerate social democratic measures that could benefit the working class. So, whether going it alone, as in France, or in coalition with the Right, as in Ireland, support for mainstream social democratic parties has plummeted, as the ruling class sabotages or dismisses their unwanted proposals. In France, the Far Right populist National Front easily outstripped the Socialist Party in the Euro-elections. In Ireland, the Labour Party MEPs were wiped out. In the unlikely event of a Milband-led ‘One Nation’ Labour Westminster government in 2015, the let down would be bigger and faster than under Blair’s New Labour government.

Some look to Scandinavia, where more social democratic reforms still survive. (These are a major influence in the Scottish independence campaign, with Common Weal being particularly significant in this regard). However, such people are only looking up from their low position on one escalator, to those higher placed on an adjacent escalator. But both escalators are going in the same direction – downwards. Norway currently has a Blue/Blue coalition government consisting of two Right wing parties, headed by Conservative Party leader, ‘Iron Erna’ Solberg (the nickname’s similarity to that of Thatcher, the ‘Iron Lady’ is not accidental). They are pursuing a programme of privatisation. Norway also produced Breivik, the worst fascist killer in Europe since the Second World War. All cannot be as well as those admirers of the ‘Nordic Model’ proclaim. The Right/Far Right populist Swedish Democrats are growing considerably too, shown by their gaining 2 MEPs for the first time. There are also the activities of the unreconstructed Fascists in the Party of the Swedes, heavily involved in street intimidation. The Far Right is also growing in Denmark and Finland, as the Euro-election results demonstrated.

Whether it is the UK, Ireland, France or Scandinavia, there is no social democratic road to a generalised economic recovery in the current conditions of deep capitalist crisis, and there is thus certainly no social democratic road to socialism. The continued failings of a social democratic approach can only reinforce the Right.

v) The political impact of populism, whether Right or Left

What the Euro-election results revealed was the greater impact of the populist Right and Far Right (with its neo-Fascist and Fascist connections), especially amongst those increasingly disenchanted, marginalised and disenfranchised. In the recent past, the Left has sometimes made its own populist bids for support, around such celebrity candidates as Arthur Scargill of the Socialist Labour Party (now a phantom organisation), Tommy Sheridan first of the SSP (now very much reduced in influence) and then Solidarity (now another phantom organisation), or George Galloway of Respect (now rapidly heading for the rocks).

When political organisations fail to develop an independent class base, but rely on celebrity candidates and the vagaries of populist electoral appeals within the existing constitutional order, this gives the ruling class much more freedom to decide when these parties are to be officially tolerated, when they are to be marginalised, and when they can be manipulated and used to buttress their control. At the moment in the UK, the Left is seen as marginal and is tolerated; the Far Right as embarrassing and unnecessary so is being marginalised; whilst the populist Right UKIP is useful, and is being actively promoted. Nevertheless, should UKIP prove too troublesome or embarrassing for the British ruling class, the media will turn on them, once key elements of their British chauvinist, ultra-unionist and sub-racist policies have been taken on board by the mainstream parties; or UKIP is absorbed into a revamped right-wing Tory Party that sheds its remaining liberal social policies.


i) The deeper significance of the unionist nature of the UK state remains largely unrecognised by the Left

A key weakness in Socialist analyses of the results of the European elections has been their unwillingness to view these in an all-UK or an all-islands (UK + 26 counties Ireland) context. Yet, as well as having a global and European perspective, this is how the British ruling class see things. They pay close attention to political developments, not only in England, but also in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland – North and South.

Most Socialists living in these islands have not countered the ruling class’s bureaucratic unionist ‘internationalism from above’ with a socialist republican ‘internationalism from below’ strategy. One of the costs of this has been the rise of UKIP, which organises its activities across the UK, the better to defend the UK state in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They make proposals that address the tensions in maintaining the Union, which are also of concern to the British ruing class and the mainstream parties. These tensions stem from ongoing economic, social, cultural and political crises, and the resultant challenges to UK state’s ‘New Unionist’ strategy.

Ever since 1707, the British ruling class have relied on their unionist, imperial and constitutional monarchist state – the UK, with its extensive anti-democratic Crown Powers. This state has allowed the ruling class to maintain their dominant position, even in the face of fairly severe challenges. Some characterise this state as archaic, emphasising its seemingly antiquated features – a monarchy, House of Lords, and much pomp and ceremony. However, this represents a misunderstanding of the role of the UK state.

There is no reason why some ‘unfinished bourgeois revolution’ has to be completed for the British ruling class to achieve their aims in a capitalist world. Thatcher was able to make considerable use of the ‘archaic’ features of the UK state to revamp British capitalism, allowing the City of London to become a leading player in corporate capital’s global Financialisation Drive.

Those technical features of the UK state, which require modernisation, e.g. the armed forces, police, security and surveillance, always receive whatever is needed for this purpose. And certainly the City showed no lack of ‘imagination’ and ‘creativity’ when it came to creating its new products and devising ways to remove itself from any public scrutiny. The ‘antiquated’ monarchy also fronts the political system and cloaks the reality of the anti-democratic nature of the state’s Crown Powers. However, this monarchy can be ‘updated’ too, as shown since the ‘Princess Di’ crisis. The royal family began to employ image-makers. They have worked to replace the monarchy’s old stuffy and socially remote image with a new-style, media-friendly, celebrity royal makeover. This has been highlighted by the ongoing publicity offensive to promote Prince William and Kate the Commoner.

However, one of the most important tasks faced by the UK state has been to update its specifically unionist set-up, in order to meet the changing needs of the British ruling class in the face of both domestic and international challenges. The reason why the UK state takes the form of a Union is to reflect the interests of the hyphenated components of this British ruling class – English-British, Scottish-British, Welsh-British and ‘Ulster’-British. The unionist form of this state provides cross-national support for these sections of the British ruling class. They do this through Westminster, the House of Lords, and beyond this through all the agencies of the state operating under the Crown Powers. In this way, any section of the ruling class facing a local challenge can draw support from its class ‘cousins’ elsewhere, using their UK state.

The ability of this UK state to protect the interests of very conservative forces was highlighted over the issue of land reform. This aroused mass support in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, particularly in Ireland and Scotland. However, even quite limited land reform was delayed in Scotland until as late until 2003, despite Scotland having the most unequal land tenure system in Europe. This reform could only take place once the House of Lords no longer had a veto, after the setting up of the devolved Scottish Parliament.

The unionist state also allows the British ruling class to pursue national divide-and-rule politics to counter any opposition, including from the working class in the different nations and regions of these islands. This unionist set-up also permits each of the British ruling class’s hyphenated components to exercise its own class-limited self-determination within its designated ‘regions’ – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – which they sometimes term nations, principalities or provinces, depending on the context. These unionist arrangements let them maintain such features as a separate legal and educational system in Scotland, and a sectarian police and paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland.

Over time, the various national middle classes in these islands came to accept this unionist state. They have also adopted their own versions of hyphenated British identities in the process. This followed their increased political weight as the franchise was gradually extended in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In recognition of these new national class forces, elements of the limited class-based self-determination, embedded in the unionist state, have been extended. This was first done through new administrative devolutionary measures (e.g. Congested Districts Board for Ireland in 1891 and the Welsh Board of Education in 1907), and later through political devolution (e.g. Home Rule for Northern Ireland in 1922, and Devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland again in 1997).

ii) The post-1997 ‘New Unionist’ settlement

After being elected in 1997, Tony Blair and New Labour implemented the most recent phase of unionist remodelling of the UK state. These ‘New Unionist’ reforms followed a period of rising national democratic challenges in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, dating from the late 1960s. The British ruling class-backed post-1997 settlement covers the whole of these islands, bringing in the Irish ruling class as junior partner. It has also drawn one time revolutionary nationalist, Sinn Fein, and the constitutional nationalist SNP, Plaid Cymru and SDLP, into the administration of their particular areas of the UK state, ‘domesticating’ them in the process.

The ‘Peace Process’ for the whole of Ireland, and ‘Devolution-all-round’ for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, provides the optimum political conditions for corporate profitability throughout the North East Atlantic Archipelago. The role of finance capital has become more important in Scotland and Ireland, highlighted by the activities of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and the Anglo-Irish Bank in the 2008 financial crash.

Furthermore, in Ireland, first under Fianna Fail, then later in the UK under New Labour, trade union bureaucrats have been thoroughly tamed and brought into subordinate positions within the ‘Social Partnerships’ made with their respective governments and employers. The TUC, ICTU (including its Northern Committee), STUC and WTUC all threw themselves behind the British (and Irish) ruling class backed ‘New Unionist’ political settlement. ‘Social Partnerships’ and the various ‘New Unionist’ political partnerships go hand in hand.

Overall, this reveals a somewhat different picture, compared to the situation that led to the failure of the 1979 Devolution Bills in Scotland and Wales. Then, the majority of British ruling class abandoned their earlier acceptance of liberal constitutional reforms, in the context of growing economic crisis and instability. They opted instead for a conservative unionist ‘battening down of the hatches’ of UK plc under Thatcher. This went even further in Northern Ireland, where consecutive UK government Northern Irish Secretaries, Labour and Tory, with the backing of local Ulster Unionists provided political cover for a British military and security force led offensive against the Nationalists, and particularly the Republican resistance.

In contrast, today’s ‘New Unionist’ settlement involves the constitutional nationalist parties and is flexible enough to allow further development. Recent examples of the further devolution of powers include the 2011 Welsh Assembly Act and the 2012 Scotland Act (based on the Calman Commission). These have been implemented since the 2008 financial crash.

Under the post-1997 ‘New Unionist’ settlement, there has been an exception to further devolutionary reform, though. In Northern Ireland changes have to be approved by the local Unionist/Nationalist coalition government, as well as by the government at Westminster. There is no agreement between Unionist and Nationalists over further reform. This is one reason why further reforms have largely stalled there, and indeed, under the pressure of Unionists and Loyalists, have begun to go into reverse. The significance of this has not been lost on UKIP, which has gone to some lengths to establish a base amongst the further Right Unionists and Loyalists there.

All of the post-1997 devolved assemblies have become the focus of intense business lobbying. The devolved bureaucracies have adopted corporate managerial methods to advance local neo-liberal accommodations. Therefore, it is not likely to be too long before the type of business/politician corruption that is now endemic to Westminster appears in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly at Cardiff Bay too. In Northern Ireland’s Stormont, where the vast majority of business is conducted behind-the-scenes through the Northern Irish bureaucracy, because of the non-existence of a real DUP/Sinn Fein coalition government (as opposed to a pre-arranged sharing out of the government departments), this corruption has already arisen in a number of cases, highlighted in the case of Ian Paisley Junior of the DUP.

Provided the mainstream Unionist parties can maintain their overall shared approach (despite marginal differences emphasised by the mainstream media), then their next step could be Fiscal Devolution, with an emphasis on the devolved parliaments’ income tax raising powers. Fiscal Devolution displaces any unpopular decisions downwards to Holyrood (and then also perhaps to Cardiff Bay and Stormont). These bodies can then pass the consequences of such decisions on to individual taxpayers. Fiscal Devolution is, of course, an alternative to taking some control of resources such as North Sea Oil. Thatcher and her successors shamelessly squandered North Sea Oil to bankroll deindustrialisation and the Financialisation Drive in the UK. This had particularly uneven consequences for the industries of North of England, Scotland[4]The City of London though also has a Scottish financial satellite in Edinburgh. This satellite status is highlighted for three weeks every August, when Edinburgh holds the Official Festival The London-based media decamp to review the kind of artistic fare they can get all-year at home. This year, anything based on the theme of the Scottish independence referendum is taboo; the First World War being the most favoured theme!

The elite orientated nature of much of the Official Festival fare was contested by the Edinburgh Peoples Festival from 1951-54 (which preceded the Fringe), and was relaunched in 2002 by SSP members upon the death of Hamish Henderson, one of the founders of the original EPF.
, Wales and Northern Ireland, compared to the financial centre of London and the more service sector based South East.

The restraints upon devolved assemblies under Financial Devolution would be massive given the mainstream unionist parties’ commitment to paying off sovereign debt by imposing austerity. They also want to update Trident, in order to maintain a military capacity to match UK global imperial pretensions. The UK’s bloated state machinery and all its attendant pomp and ceremony are also expensive to maintain. Therefore, the announcement by ‘Better Together’ that they are prepared to devolve some income tax powers, in the event of a ‘No’ vote, is based on the cynical calculation that straightened workers will opt for tax cuts to maintain their real living standards (the rich can also easily evade taxes if they are raised). This liberal unionist strategy would then contribute to ruling class pressure to further slash social spending, accompanied by whipped-up attacks on ‘benefit cheats’ (but not rich or corporate tax dodgers) and ‘foreign immigrants’ (but not low wage, lousy conditions employers). At local level, Labour has already refined this divide-and-rule approach, e.g. Walsall Council, by inviting the electorate to consider which cuts they want (although councillor allowances, senior officials bloated pay packages and costly management consultants have not been suggested!)

Thus, the current Conservative and Labour Fiscal Devolution proposals for Scotland are designed with this approach in mind. The squeeze on public expenditure is also likely to be accentuated by the curtailment of the Barnett Formula, which favours Scotland. Challenging Westminster over its payment of sovereign debt through continued austerity, its funding for Trident and the bloated British imperial military forces, and its financing of the overblown UK bureaucratic state machine, are all firmly rejected. Blair’s ‘toytown parliament’ is to be upgraded to the Cameron, Clegg and Miliband ‘pocket money parliament’.

Of course, the political conditions necessary to impose Fiscal Devolution depend on the outcome of the Independence Referendum on September 18th. Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, has already made a public plea for the SNP government to join ‘Team Scotland’, so such a strategy could be implemented in Scotland, in the event of a ‘No’ vote. Furthermore, given the pro-capitalist nature of the SNP government, and following the precedent of other constitutional nationalist parties, such as the Parti Quebecois in Canada (after the narrow defeat of its independence referenda), or Catalan Convergence and the Basque National Party in Spain, it is more than likely that this is the road the SNP leadership would take. Such an approach would lead to intensified attacks, as Westminster austerity is stepped up and transmitted through Holyrood.

However, in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, the SNP government intends to create its own ‘Team Scotland’, by bringing Labour, Lib-Dem and Conservative Scottish politicians, and other hand-selected individuals, into its negotiations with Westminster. The net result of this could only be the hardwiring of some Crown Powers, the City of London and British High Command into Scottish affairs. We would still be facing corporate capital imposed austerity, but with the removal of the Westminster tier.

iii) The beginning of the end for the post-1997 ‘New Unionist’ settlement?

The results of the Euro-elections and UKIP’s major breakthrough point to another possibility. There could be mounting pressure on the British ruling class to retreat from its current ‘New Unionist’ approach. They are already retreating in Northern Ireland, in the face of the combined Loyalist and Unionist offensive there. In Wales, UKIP remains openly contemptuous of the Welsh Assembly. Such was the shift to the Right in many areas of England and Wales, that the combined vote of UKIP and the Conservatives gave them an overall majority. More people will vote in a General Election than the Euro-election and Westminster elections are run under FPTP, so this pattern could change. Nevertheless, the possibility of a future UKIP/Tory alliance and government can not be entirely ruled out in 2015.

But, even if a split in the Right wing vote allows a Centre coalition of ‘One Nation’ Labour and the Lib-Dems (they are shameless when it comes to wanting the perks of office!) to win the next General Election, this could well be with a smaller total vote than that of the combined Right. That would all provide grist to the mill of a concerted British chauvinist, racist, misogynistic and homophobic extra-parliamentary offensive, backed publicly by the right wing press and behind-the-scenes by key elements of the British ruling class and their UK state. Indeed, Cameron’s defeat would almost guarantee a Tory Right wing take over of the Conservative Party.

One of the capacities UKIP has, is to draw upon the support of the most reactionary forces in UK politics – the Orange Order and Loyalism. Furthermore, one end of their ‘bridge’ from Northern Ireland connects them to the other end found in Scotland. The weekend before the Independence Referendum, the Orange Order have given notice of their intention to hold a mass ‘parade’ in Edinburgh on September 13th to oppose Scottish independence and to support the Union. It will be interesting to see if and how UKIP in Scotland reacts to this in public; although you can be fairly certain that some office bearers, and their hard-core supporters, will be there. So too will supporters of Britain First, led by Jim Dowson (Northern Irish Loyalist, now based in Scotland, ex-NF, ex-BNP, Protestant fundamentalist, Islamophobe and homophobe). He offered ‘protection’ for Nigel Farage’s attempted UKIP rally in Edinburgh on May 16th.

In Scotland, UKIP find themselves placed right at the centre of the two forces pulling the ‘New Unionist’ settlement apart – a) the Ulster Unionists and the most bigoted Loyalists with their supporters in Scotland; and b) the rise of the movement for Scottish self-determination. The SNP is currently the leading element in the latter, but there are now other more radical forces, such as those organised in the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC).

RIC has already organised two successful conferences, the first 800 strong, the second with 1100. RIC sees the struggle for genuine Scottish self-determination in an internationalist context. It has sent speakers to England, Ireland and Catalunya. RIC has branches and organises activity throughout Scotland. It also has a political perspective that would take it beyond September 18th in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, when the SNP will close down its official ‘Yes’ campaign.


i) The wider impact of UKIP

Nearly every political commentator has focussed their attention on UKIP’s surge in the Euro-elections. Some have also pointed to the major decline in the BNP vote. Although the overall effect of this on the Far Right vote is masked by the appearance or advance of other competing organisations such as Britain First, English Democracy, and the longer term Popular Unionist Party (PUP) in Northern Ireland (which emerged out of the UVF Loyalist paramilitaries).

When examining the politics of the right populist UKIP (as well as the Tory Right, from which it inherits so much of its politics), the aforementioned Far Right, and the English, Scottish and Welsh Defence Leagues, it helps to be able to distinguish between various forms of nationalism. The old ‘blood and soil’ nationalism, based on perceived physical differences in ‘race’, promoted by the ultra-Nationalists and Fascists of the 1930s, has largely disappeared, apart from among a small group of unreconstructed Fascists. Far more common today amongst Right-wingers (e.g. US historian and political commentator, Samuel Huntingdon, in his Clash of Civilisations) including Right (e.g. UKIP) and Far Right populists (e.g. BNP), and neo-Fascists (e.g. PUP and the English, Scottish and Welsh Defence Leagues) is a resort to ethnic nationalism, based on differences in culture.

However, for some Right-wingers there is still a slippage between the two. A predominantly ethnic or cultural nationalism can sometimes provide cover for sub-racist thinking. Hostility towards Muslims, for example, is often associated with a combination of racist assumptions about physical appearance and ethnicist assumptions about visible cultural traits such as dress. The fact that Islam is a religion, not a race nor a people of a shared ethnicity, is often overlooked in such thinking. It can therefore be useful to use the category, ethno-religious, to describe such thinking. This would include Loyalist views of the Irish, often equated with Catholicism.

The main policies giving UKIP their support across the UK have been the scapegoating of migrant workers and ‘welfare cheats’. They have successfully linked these to their campaign to take the UK out of the European Union. These policies are mainly associated with UKIP’s British chauvinist approach. Their hostility to asylum seekers, often seen as ‘welfare cheats’, or Gypsies often portrayed as criminals, is linked with a sub-racism, hiding not far below the surface of UKIP’s public politics.

Farage has had to juggle carefully with this aspect of UKIP politics. He does not want to be seen publicly as an out-and-out racist. Yet, he still wants to make dog-whistle calls to both open and closet racists. UKIP is also opposed to social liberalism, although again they do not want this to be fore-fronted too much, other than where it might have local resonance, e.g. Protestant supremacists and fundamentalists in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland, and the Tory shires. The overlap with the Tory Right is very apparent. This is why many Tories have welcomed the rise of UKIP, seeing it as external pressure group to get their party to ditch socially liberal Cameron. Scottish Conservative leader and lesbian, Ruth Davidson, would be another obvious target for the Tory Right.

Ensuring that UKIP puts forward a number of token Black, Asian, gay and women candidates provides it with some useful cover for the racism, homophobia and misogyny, which frequently surfaces amongst its office bearers and political candidates. UKIP falls between two stools. First there are very public resignations when some of their more naïve members become unnerved by some prominent figures’ unacceptable political traits. Secondly, Farage has had to publicly expel outed holocaust deniers, other rabid racists and woman haters. However, Farage’s public declaration of his willingness to expel members should be seen more as a tactic to force such people to keep shtum, at least in public – not always an easy job though! However, to hold on to a firmer core of support, and not just rely on protest voters, such people are going to be a continual presence within UKIP.

ii) UKIP, conservative and reactionary unionism and their relationship to the UK state

A key characteristic of UKIP is its British chauvinism. This takes on various forms in the different nations and regions of the UK. In England, UKIP acts as an English nationalist party, and adopts a ‘Little Englander’ colouring. This draws on a deep well of conservative sentiment. One reason why this English nationalist sentiment is conservative is that, for many, Englishness is an ethnic identity. To compensate for this, though, some people give themselves an extra ‘British’ identity. This gives those born in the UK, or those who become naturalised, a broader non-ethnic identity, which they can share and celebrate. Indeed the existence of such hybrid identities as English-British, Scottish-British and Welsh-British leads some to deny that ‘Britishness’ represents any form of nationalism, since the latter is equated only with ethnic identities or even ‘tribalism’.

‘Little Englander’ nationalists find it difficult to conceive of Irish-English or Asian-English identities. Settled Irish and Asians in England are more likely to consider themselves Irish British or Asian British. This is because of that dominant ethnic nationalist belief, that being English confers definite English cultural traits, whilst being British permits a wider range of identities to be accommodated. However, state-promoted, top-down ‘Britishness’ is still another type of nationalism. Often it is linked to open support for the Empire, Union and Crown, particularly, but not exclusively, on the Right. Its resort to endless union jack-bedaubed, armed forces-paraded and royal family-attended ceremonies and celebrations is in a similar league to those of the petty dictators so often derided by a British media – but with no sense of irony.

By promoting the UK and ‘Britishness’, UKIP is also able to project itself beyond England. They can claim that the UK is an overarching state, within which other approved ethnic (cultural) groups, e.g. Scottish, Welsh, ‘Ulster’/Northern Irish can find their home. To do this, though, these groups must accept the existing UK state and ‘Britishness’. People from other ethnic groups, with a one-time UK or British Empire background, who have become naturalised, e.g. Irish, West Indians and Asians, can also be tolerated, provided they assimilate to ‘British values’. Tory Education Minister, Michael Gove, has attacked the values of recent migrants or descendants of migrants, because of their failure to adopt ‘British values’. The problem of what constitutes these values soon becomes apparent. However, fawning before ‘our’ Queen, lauding the exploits of ‘our’ Armed Forces heroes, and praising ‘our’ wonderful bobbies seems to figure prominently amongst them. The link between the mind-set of traditional Right Tories and UKIP is obvious.

Should anyone not fit the UK state definition of ‘Britishness’, the multicultural façade is soon stripped away. And should anyone not fit UKIP’s (or much of the Tory Right’s) narrower definition of ‘Britishness’, then their even less accommodating British ‘toleration’ is withdrawn – the official state ideology of ‘multiculturalism’ already being dismissed as ‘political correctness’. In Northern Ireland, where Loyalism dictates the politics of the largest party, the DUP, Peter Robinson, First Minister already behaves like a UKIP Prime Minister. He has publicly backed hostility towards Muslims and the hounding of a Nigerian man trying to move into East Belfast.

UKIP’s ability, though, to extend its appeal beyond ‘Little Englanderism’ to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland depends on buttressing the reactionary aspects of the UK state, which relate to being Welsh-British, ‘Ulster’-British or Scottish-British. These in turn are a reflection of the politics of those hyphenated components of the British ruling class. In the case of UKIP, being Welsh, Scottish or from Ulster are seen as subordinate ethnic identities, which can either be tolerated or, within certain circumscribed conditions, celebrated, provided they still uphold the Union and Empire.

When people in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland claim to be members of a Scottish, Welsh or Irish nation, or question aspects of the UK’s British unionist, imperial and monarchist heritage, then UKIP, other Right unionists and Loyalists feel threatened. They begin to react. Therefore, whenever the UK state, or the Right, feel challenged by national democratic movements, the Right falls back on the particularly reactionary elements of the UK state. Furthermore, liberal and left unionists can get sucked into this too, since their British ‘internationalism’ is a top-down bureaucratic affair, set by the limits of the UK state, or more often just Great Britain.

In Northern Ireland and Scotland support for the Union quickly ends up defending the UK’s imperial and military legacy, its royal succession, state-backed Protestant ascendancy, and the role of ‘gallant Ulstermen’ or ‘Scotsmen’ in all this. This is where the Orange Order and the Loyalists find succour. In Wales, many Anglo-Welsh and Welsh-British treat Welsh language speakers as second-class subjects of the Crown, with frequent disregard even for the legal status the language has achieved. Like all laws enacted at Westminster, these remain conditional, are given no substantial constitutional basis, and and to be put in practice involve costly court actions, beyond the ability of many to pay.

We live in a state where its ‘unwritten constitution’ is based on the principle of the Crown in Parliament, with its extensive Crown Powers. These powers allow the City of London, the Cabinet (and if necessary a hand-selected Privy Council), the Armed Forces, MI5 and MI6, the Judiciary and Civil Service, to act beyond any parliamentary scrutiny. All their senior members give an oath of loyalty, not to the people, nor even to the Westminster Parliament, but to the Crown. This enables these people to conduct much of their activity in secrecy, and to continue to govern, even if Westminster government is suspended, and rule transferred to the Privy Council. This rules out the need for messy coup d’etats if ever there is an extreme crisis for the British ruling class.

When it comes to Ireland, the role of the UK state in backing deep reaction has long been very clear. The aristocratic unionist, Anglo-Irish Ascendancy (which had a Scottish component too) was transformed through the nineteenth century into an Irish-British unionist and imperial ascendancy (which could admit Catholics in a subordinate role).

The UK state ruled Ireland through Dublin Castle, British Army garrisons and the militarised Royal Irish Constabulary, with frequent suspension of habeas corpus. When challenged, senior British Army officers were prepared to defy Westminster at The Curragh in 1913, in the face of a Liberal/constitutional Nationalist backed Irish Home Rule Bill. These army officers were supported by the anti-democratic House of Lords, and by Tories prepared to launch a civil war to get their way. From 1848, the Orange Order, and after 1913, the unofficial paramilitary UVF, have been tolerated. The UVF was a proto-fascist organisation, which made its appearance before those in either Italy or Germany.

When challenged by Irish Republicans, during the 1918-21 Irish War of Independence, Irish Unionism was forced to abandon 26 counties. With UK state backing for local Loyalist pogroms, Unionism walled itself up in the ‘Six Counties’ of a partitioned Ireland and Ulster – its 9 counties also had to be partitioned. Pogroms were launched against Catholics and industrial militants, mainly Protestant, in Belfast’s shipyards. Ireland was divided to ensure a permanent Unionist majority in their new Northern Ireland, maintained as a semi-detached statelet, the better to have some continued hold over ‘26 Counties’ Ireland[5]This process is very well illustrated in a new book by Pat Walsh, From Catastrophe to Resurgence, 1914-68, Volume 1: The Catholic Predicament in Northern Ireland..

Northern Ireland, with its devolved Stormont regime, was again buttressed by some of the most reactionary elements of the UK state – the Crown with its official Protestant status. Given responsibility by the UK state for controlling and policing, Ulster Unionists were allowed to exert their control over a substantial Catholic Nationalist minority. This was done through draconian Special Powers, the gerrymandering of Stormont and Local Government constituencies, and the establishment of a sectarian Royal Ulster Constabulary, backed by A, B and C Special Forces drawn from the Orange Order and other Loyalist organisations.

Northern Ireland’s reactionary set-up was financed by Westminster subventions. However, successive British governments – Conservative, Labour and Coalition – did not want to be held accountable for the situation of entrenched discrimination, oppression and sometimes repression, which existed under Ulster Unionist rule. This denial of responsibility is a useful feature of devolution for British unionists[6]Although, taking a quite different and less oppressive form, the current Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour support for Fiscal Devolution in Scotland is based on the same denial of responsibility stance, only in a situation where most government finance still remains in the hands of Westminster..

There have been arguments amongst Socialists about whether or not this Orange statelet was a form of institutionalised fascism. Those reluctant to follow this course highlight the differences between the situation in the ‘Six Counties’ and those classic fascist regimes in Italy and Germany. A comparison could be made, though, between Northern Ireland and post-Reconstruction US South, Apartheid South Africa and present-day Israel. These have all maintained parliamentary forms for the dominant ethnic group, whilst oppressing and denying democracy to others. Something else also needs to be highlighted when a distinction is made between fascist and apartheid-type states. The latter have been able to maintain their domination and oppression for considerably longer period than the former. Therefore Socialists have even more reason to address the problems these regimes have brought about.

iii) Civic national identity versus ethnic and unionist national identities

However, as well as racist and ethnic (cultural) nationalism, social analysts often now describe another form of nationalism – civic nationalism. This form of nationalism is prepared to accept anyone from whatever ethnic background they come from, who chooses to become a citizen of the state they are living in. There are still debates amongst those upholding civic nationalism, over whether migrants should assimilate (take on the majority’s cultural traits) or merely integrate (get on with their neighbours) before they become naturalised citizens. Furthermore, in the UK, the concept of civic citizenship is more difficult for the UK state to accept, when legally we are all subjects of the Crown.

a) Scotland

Civic nationalism can usefully be used to describe the thinking of many people in Scotland, including the majority of SNP supporters. Adopting this viewpoint means that anybody who chooses Scotland as their home is entitled to call themselves Scottish and consider themselves a member of the Scottish nation.

A qualification has to be made with regard to the Irish-Scottish. Both the preceding Labour/Lib-Dem and current SNP governments have shown some reticence to accept this particular hyphenated identity, demanding assimilation, rather than integration as a condition of wider acceptance. Like several other conservative features of official SNP thinking this derives from its leadership’s acceptance of considerable parts of the UK legacy – a partitioned Ireland, Scotland’s military role and the celebration of Scottish regiments, the Crown, and tacitly its official Protestant status.

In contrast to the dominant view of what having an English identity involves, those in Scotland who uphold a civic national identity, do not need ‘Britishness’ to provide them with an overarching non-ethnic framework. Sean Connery, Tom Conti and Shireen Nanjiani are all seen to be Scottish, whatever hyphenated prefix they may choose to use, Irish, Italian, or Asian. Apart from some on the cultural nationalist fringe, being Scottish does not involve any attempt to claim this depends on being of Gaelic descent, or being a speaker of Lallans language-derived dialects and accents. The SNP government has insisted that the Independence Referendum is to be extended to the widest possible legal franchise, including other EU citizens resident in Scotland. The ‘Yes’ campaign contains ‘Asians for Independence’ and ‘Africans for an Independent Scotland’. There are many English-born supporters of Scottish independence.

Some Scottish-British unionists also conceive of themselves as being part of a Scottish civic nation, but within a multi-nation UK. Compared to the situation in Northern Ireland, where Nationalists and Unionists usually consider themselves to belong to quite different nations or ethnic groups – Irish or ‘Ulster’-British – the divide in Scotland is not ethnic/cultural, but political. Those who emphasise the British side of their hybrid Scottish identity want to defend their position within the UK, and the position of the UK in the world. Those who have broken, or are breaking, with the British pole of this identity, want to create a new Scottish state and a new relationship with the rest of the world. They often want a new society too. This divide is accentuated on a class basis. In broad terms, the more privileged you are, the more likely you are to support the UK state, the more exploited you are, the more likely you are to support an independent Scotland.

However, although civic nationalism is indeed more progressive than reactionary racist or ethnic nationalism, and worth defending against any challenges from these quarters, Socialists need to go beyond this. In Scotland, we should consider ourselves not to be civic nationalists but Scottish internationalists. Looked at from an internationalist perspective, the limitations of civic nationalism can clearly be seen in the thinking promoted by the SNP government. Any internationalism that subordinates us to the UK’s Crown Powers, the British High Command, NATO and possibly the Troika, is very limited – constrained by the international interests of powerful ruling classes.

The internationalism Socialists seek extends to the exploited and oppressed of the world. It is expressed in the form of having our own international independent class organisations, and promoting active solidarity and cultural exchange. This is one reason why RIC has brought across speakers from outside Scotland to its conferences, and why branches have given their support to the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, James Connolly Society events, the Popular Unity Candidates speakers from Catalunya, and to the actions organised by Greek and Spanish migrant workers in Scotland protesting against the Troika’s and their own governments’ austerity measures.

b) Ireland and Northern Ireland

It is worth examining the only and partly successful breakaway from the UK – ‘26 Counties’ Ireland – to see how this has impinged on particular types of nationalism and national identity found there. Furthermore, doing this reveals the ways in which the UK state is able to sustain its control in the face of national democratic challenges. One of the UK state’s most consistent themes has been the promotion of divide-and-rule ethnic politics. Such politics also gain their sustenance from the reactionary features of the UK state already examined in the last section (ii) of this chapter.

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the majority of people in Ireland considered themselves to be Irish-British. This was true whether they were Irish Unionists or constitutional Irish Nationalists pursuing Home Rule. Indeed, before and during the First World War, a clearly pro-British imperial Irish Nationalism emerged, centred on John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), with the support of Joe Devlin, and his ‘Faith and Fatherland’ Catholic Nationalist Hibernians (with their stronghold in West Belfast).

In 1914, Redmond and Devlin threw themselves in to the recruitment of Irish volunteers for the British Army. In the midst of that war, the Liberal government’s term of office, elected in 1911, expired. There had been IPP support for this government. They were looking forward to the eventual enactment of the Third Irish Home Rule Bill, which had been suspended for the duration of the war. However, in the place of the elected Liberal government, a new non-elected government coalition took office in 1916. Furthermore, it now included virulent anti-Home Rulers, such as Irish Unionist, Sir Edward Carson. From then on, following this new British government’s vengeful response to the Easter Rising in 1916, its attempt to impose compulsory conscription in Ireland, and Sinn Fein’s crushing of the IPP in the 1918 British General Election, the numbers of those claiming an Irish-British identity, went into rapid decline. Those Irish Unionists, who had been quite happy to call themselves Irish-British, so long as they were in control of Ireland, decided to retreat to the six counties of Ulster, and began to think of themselves as ‘Ulster’-British and Ulster Unionists. And, they continued to be buttressed by all the most reactionary elements of the UK state.

However, in Ireland there had been an alternative national identity to that of Irish-Britishness. There were also the Irish-Irish (sometimes dismissed as the ‘mere Irish’, particularly by the Anglo-Irish), many of whom had not been integrated into the Irish middle class-led, Catholic ‘Faith and Fatherland’ nation. They frequently took action, particularly over land, but later over labour issues too. They were strongly opposed, not just by Irish Unionists, but often by Irish constitutional Nationalists too. When given political expression, this Irish-Irish nation was Republican. It sought to unite people of a Catholic, Protestant (Anglicans) and Dissenter background into a single Irish nation. This tradition began with the United Irishmen in 1792, passed on through Young Ireland from 1846-8, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians) founded in 1858; to the social republicanism of Michael Davitt in the Irish National Land League, and the socialist republicanism of James Connolly and Jim Larkin, shown in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and the Irish Citizen Army, between the Dublin Lock-Out of 1913 and the Easter Rising of 1916.

When Partition was imposed, and an Irish-British identity gave way to an ‘Ulster’-British identity north of the border amongst the majority, the Irish-Irish identity gave way to the official Irish identity, south of the border. However, the defeat represented by Partition in 1921, followed by the UK-backed Irish Free State attack on Republicanism in the Irish Civil War between 1922-3, allowed an older Catholic ‘Faith and Fatherland’ Irish Nationalism to reassert itself once more. Indeed, the pull of the counter-revolution was so strong, that this ‘Faith and Fatherland’ nationalism was eventually given constitutional expression by Eamonn de Valera’s Fianna Fail government, in the Bunreacht na h’Eireann of 1937. Fianna Fail was a breakaway from Sinn Fein, which had clung on to Republican politics for a longer period.

The UK government’s decision to hand over the control of Northern Ireland to the Ulster Unionists, ensured a perpetually divided national politics, in which two ethnic (or ethno-religious) nationalisms – ‘Ulster’-British and Irish Nationalist confronted one another. In the North, the UK’s official Protestantism, and in the South, the Irish Free State’s constitutional Catholicism underpinned this divide. This divide made it easier for the British ruling class to maintain its influence throughout Ireland.

Irish Nationalism and Irish Republicanism were not confined to two exclusive groups of people. There has been a slide between one and the other, with Republicanism gaining more political purchase when it was seen to be leading a sizeable resistance to the Unionist order; but with Nationalism reasserting itself, when Republicanism was in retreat. This happened in both the South and North. It occurred after the British-backed Comunn na nGeadheal defeated the anti-Treatyite Republicans in 1922. It happened when a new Irish Parliamentary group was reconstituted in the North in 1925, after the anti-Partitionist challenge there fizzled out. And it was not just the old IPP’er, Joe Devlin, who followed this political course, so too did Northern Sinn Feiner, Cathal Healy. This has happened again today, following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Sinn Fein has abandoned any meaningful Republicanism, in order to take its now official place as Irish Nationalists, representing only one of the two officially recognised national/ethnic communities in the North.

Furthermore, the fact that Irish Republicanism has historically attempted to encompass Protestants as well as Catholics, has led to another variant of political retreat in the highly pressurised conditions prevailing in Northern Ireland. Instead of trying to promote Catholic/Protestant working class unity, as earlier social and socialist republicans had attempted, sections of the old Official IRA went over to support the Ulster Unionists. Lord Bew, who ended up as an advisor to David Trimble, UUP leader, is one example. In effect, Bew adopted a new British identity. Whilst not yet taking on a personal British national identity, Southern-based former Official IRA member, Eoghan Harris, has turned his back on the Irish War of Independence, placing himself in that old imperial Irish-British constitutional Nationalist tradition. This played a key part in the promotion of the First World War. Therefore, it was not too surprising that, during the Iraq War, Harris became an active agent for US imperialism, providing media training to Ahmed Chalabi, the man who concocted the stories of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction”.

c) Wales, the most recent nation within the UK

The politics of national identity in Wales lie someway between that described in Ireland and Scotland. There has been a conflict between ethnically based Anglo-Welshness (English speakers) and Welsh-Welshness (Welsh speakers). In addition, there has been a Welsh-Britishness, which can accommodate a subordinate ethnic Welsh language component within a broader state-promoted British nationalism. However, this relationship has often been strained. More recently, though, there have been attempts to create a new civic nationalism in Wales. Civic nationalism seeks, not only the equality of Welsh and English language speakers, but also for the new immigrants who adopt Wales as their home. The origins of this approach are to be found amongst Welsh socialist republicans.

In 1536 Wales was absorbed into England. There was no unionist settlement, such as occurred later in Scotland (1707) and Ireland (1801), to protect the interests of their local ruling classes. Wales was divided up on the English county model, with English laws and courts in place, and a subordinate established Anglican Church of Wales. MPs from Wales were elected to Westminster, just as if they were MPs from England. Indeed, the border between Wales and England was considered to be of such small consequence, that it wasn’t until 1974 that Monmouthshire was officially allocated to Wales.

Those involved in running the affairs within Wales were, in effect, the Anglo-Welsh. They had their equivalents in the Anglo-Irish in Ireland, although in Wales, a far higher proportion were descendants of old Welsh families, rather than settlers. The nature of Anglo-Wales has changed over time. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was very much associated with squires, parsons, the Anglican Church of Wales and the Conservative Party. Like, the Anglo-Irish, the Anglo-Welsh saw English ‘upper class’ culture as that to be emulated. The gulf between the Anglo-Welsh, and particularly Welsh speakers almost entirely from the ‘lower orders’, was considerable. To the Anglo-Welsh, these people were equivalent to those the Anglo-Irish termed ‘mere Irish’, i.e. ‘mere Welsh’. These people were meant to look up to their ‘betters’, and not become involved in politics, except on terms dictated by their masters. They were invited to come along to local fetes, or celebrations of Anglo-Welsh officered Welsh regiments in imperial exploits. When the Anglo-Welsh showed any interest in Welsh language, culture and history, it was usually within the framework of Antiquarian Studies, much as the same people might have approached Greek or Latin.

Nowadays, Anglo-Wales has a wider social basis and has become secularised. It currently has majority support in the Welsh Borderlands. People cross the border in both directions to work. There are far better communications with Bristol, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool than with Cardiff. Much of the media is indifferent to the border, especially British newspapers and most TV and radio channels. Welsh speaking has retreated further westwards into the less populated upland areas. There are also Anglo-Welsh cultural extensions along the coast of North Wales, and from Monmouthshire, through the Vale of Glamorgan, then leapfrogging South Wales, to southern Pembrokeshire[7]From the late eleventh century, Norman-French lords and adventurers, bringing English and Flemish settlers with them, seized southern Pembrokeshire. This area is sometimes known as ‘Little England beyond Wales’. This colonisation offensive was carried on over to County Wexford in Ireland, where English language speakers dominated the baronies of Forth and Bargy. However, the majority of English speakers in Pembrokeshire followed most others in England, and joined the Church of England. The majority of English speakers in County Wexford remained Catholics, and as such became ‘mere Irish’.. Meanwhile, there are far more people from England moving to Wales, whose cultural orientation remains English. Many of these people are not necessarily hostile to Welsh culture, but are perhaps more likely to see it as contributing some local colour, or provide a marketing niche for tourists. However, when Welsh people make demands for government support for the Welsh language, especially in times of austerity, then Anglo-Welsh opposition can be expressed in strident terms.

In contrast to English-speaking Anglo-Wales, throughout the period from 1536, large numbers of Welsh-speaking small tenant farmers, and later shopkeepers, artisans, slate quarriers and other workers remained in the rest of Wales. Indeed, Welsh speakers formed a majority of the population up until the end of the nineteenth century. They were often members of Nonconformist or later non-established churches. They played little or no active part in the official Anglo-Welsh political set-up. These were the Welsh-Welsh (or ‘mere Welsh’).

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as the franchise was extended downwards, a new Welsh-speaking middle class began to assert its position within the existing political order. They developed a new Welsh-British identity in the process. Also contributing to this Welsh-British identity was an English-speaking working class, located mainly in the South and North Welsh coalfields. Some were one-time Welsh speakers; others came from England and Ireland. The main political representative of this new Welsh-British identity was the Liberal Party, which came to enjoy massive support in Wales. There has always been a tension amongst people adhering to this Welsh-British identity though. Most of the Welsh-British, who spoke Welsh, wanted social and state recognition for their language and equality for their non-established churches within the UK. Many also wanted state intervention directed against the landlords, who were often Anglo-Welsh.

The ending of political discrimination against Nonconformists in 1828 was seen as a model by later Welsh-speaking Liberals, in their campaign to end the official state hostility towards the Welsh language. The disestablishment of the Anglican Church of Ireland in 1869 was seen as the precedent to end the establishment of the Church of Wales. However, some became involved in the land struggles, with the Irish Land League providing an inspiration, whilst the formation of Charles Parnell’s Irish National League had an influence over Welsh politics, contributing to the formation of Cymru Fydd/Young Wales within the Liberal Party[8]See From Davitt to Connolly, ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Challenge to the UK State and British Imperialism (1879-95), by Allan Armstrong (BOOK LAUNCH: From Davitt to Connolly – ‘Internationalism from below’ and the challenge to the UK state and British imperialism from 1879-95)..

However, a minority amongst the Welsh-British believed their Welsh language background was now a hindrance in the new capitalist world, politically centred on London. They were prepared to adopt the English language, or at least ensure that their children did. The British pole of their hybrid identity offered them career prospects, not only in England or elsewhere in the UK, but throughout the British Empire. These people did not necessarily lose a continued feeling of being Welsh, hence their hyphenated Welsh-British identity. There were still features of Welsh culture that could be celebrated by the English speaking Welsh-British, even as they lost their Welsh language, and their adherence to Welsh non-established churches fell away. Welsh rugby, literature and song, for example, contributed to this alternative Welsh-British identity.

The displacement of the older traditional Welsh language and chapel culture proceeded much faster in the South and North Wales coalfields, aided by English speaking immigrants. However, many descendants of these immigrants also adopted the newer forms of Welsh-British identity, highlighting its socially vibrant character. The greatest numerical strength of the Welsh-British was to be found in industrial South Wales, which developed rapidly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Already by 1895, the English speaking section of the Welsh-British had won out over the Welsh-speaking section within the Liberal Party. This divide had been reflected in the two separate sections of the party, one in the largely Welsh-speaking North Wales Liberal Federation (NWLF), and the other in largely English-speaking South Wales Liberal Federation (SWLF). The NWLF had adopted the Cymru Fydd/Young Wales programme of Welsh Home Rule. They tried to promote it at a united SWLF/NWLF conference in Newport. It was roundly rejected. Recent Cymru Fydd/NWLF leader, Lloyd George, decided that it was, “as a British Liberal not a Welsh nationalist that his future was to lie”[9]Kenneth O. Morgan, Rebirth of A Nation, Wales 1880-1980, p. 33.. From then on, the Welsh-speaking Welsh-British were a clearly subordinate element in Liberal Party politics.

Furthermore, as in Ireland, a definite strong imperialist trend emerged, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, amongst those with a hyphenated British identity in Wales. Only, unlike Redmond and Devlin, with whom British Liberals had formed a political alliance, the leading Welsh Liberal representative, Lloyd George, not only survived the change over to a new non-elected War Cabinet in 1916, but also soon led it as British Prime Minister.

Nevertheless, by the end of the First World War, the Liberal Party had exhausted itself, and alienated many of it supporters, particularly those from the working class. Therefore, the Welsh-British largely transferred their allegiance to the Labour Party in Wales. This displacement took place faster amongst the English-speaking Welsh-British of the South and North Wales coalfields, than it did amongst the Welsh-speaking Welsh-British of North and West Wales. However, the Labour Party was able to win a base there too, holding the Carnarvon/Caernarfon seat at Westminster between 1945-1974, the Merioneth/Merionnydd seat between 1951-74, the Anglesey/Ynys Mon seat from 1951-79, won again and held since 2001, and the Conwy seat on and off in 1950, 1966 and 1997-2005.

Furthermore, as in the case of the Liberal Party in Wales since 1895, there has been no doubt which pole of the Welsh-British identity has been in the ascendancy. The populations of the Labour-voting South and North Wales coalfields far outnumber the population of the Welsh-speaking Labour North. The Labour Left, based in the South, e.g. Aneurin Bevan and later Neil Kinnock, usually opposed even the most limited forms of Welsh political self-determination. Their British ‘internationalism’ accommodated itself to the state’s British imperialism, a continued feature of so many of those who celebrate this particular identity. Bevan, the darling of the British Left, opposed British unilateral nuclear disarmarment at the 1957 Labour Party conference; something Kinnock repeated in 1988. Kinnock later went on to support the first Iraq War in 1991, and ended up as Baron Kinnock of Bedwelty in 2005.

The tensions within a wider social Welsh-Britishness can be seen in the case of Welsh diva, Shirley Bassey, born in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay of mixed Nigerian and English parentage. Welsh-Britishness gave her the ability to fit into Welsh society. In 1999, she performed with Bryn Terfel, draped in a Welsh flag, at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, before the Rugby World Cup. She was going to perform at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday tribute, and sang at Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80th birthday gala. However, she also performed at concerts for the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth, and attended Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

The Welsh Nationalist Plaid Cymru was founded in 1925. They promoted an alternative to the older Liberal and Labour Party Welsh-Britishness. This was partly because Welsh-language speakers were increasingly marginalised, both within the Liberal Party they had originally supported, and within the new Labour Party, whose primary appeal was to English language speakers. Nevertheless, their new Welsh language-based Welsh-Welshness did not break completely from Welsh-Britishness. Plaid’s politics amounted more to a cultural rather than a political challenge to the UK state. Plaid was more concerned about getting increased UK state recognition and protection for the Welsh language, than promoting an independent Welsh state. Indeed, there was greater fear of the English-speaking South, both on cultural and class lines, than of the more distant British ruling class or Westminster. Westminster had already made some cultural concessions under the state’s administrative devolution mechanisms, so Plaid could hope for more.

To many of those from a Welsh-British background, this Welsh-Welshness seemed inward looking. Welsh-Britishness opened up vistas beyond Wales. This was even more the case, when immigrant families from outside the UK moved to Wales. Polish-Jewish descended Leo Abse, a campaigner for Gay Rights, became a Labour MP for Pontypool. He campaigned strongly against the British Labour government’s proposed Welsh Assembly in the run-up to 1979 Referendum, seeing this as an unwarranted concession to ‘parochial’ Welsh-Welshness and to Plaid. However, the limitations of Labour’s top-down, bureaucratic, Welsh-British ‘internationalism’ have been highlighted in the case of Peter Hain, a South African immigrant to Wales. Once known as a prominent campaigner against Apartheid, he ended up, in his campaign to be elected Labour Depute Leader in 2005, taking a donation from Isaac Kaye, who also gave money to the National Party of South Africa. Once known as supporter of a united Ireland, Hain became Labour’s Northern Ireland Secretary. Hain voted for the Iraq War and against any subsequent enquiry into it[10]Hain also became a prominent advocate of welfare benefit counter-reforms, at the same time as being politically compromised by his personal campaign funding. He has now decided to retire from politics to concentrate on his business affairs. Amazingly, the SWP keeps him as a supporter of their front organisation, Unite Against Fascism..

d) Wales – the UK state response and the development of a new civic nation

Over time, the UK state’s response to the desire for a greater measure of self-determination in Wales was to extend the unionist model from Scotland and Ireland. This began with separate legislation, such as for the creation of a distinct University of Wales in 1893, followed by administrative devolution mechanisms from 1907, and the creation of a Welsh Minister of State in 1954. Throughout this period, Wales retained its subordinate Crown status of being a Principality. It was not until political devolution was granted through New Labour’s Welsh Assembly in 1998, that Wales was finally considered to be a constitutive nation of the UK, alongside England and Scotland[11]Northern Ireland’s status remained ambiguous. It superficially appeared to have a similar national status under ‘Devolution-all-round’; but continued to be treated by the UK state, not as a united nation, but a constitutionally nationally-divided province.

This cultural divide between the English-speaking and Welsh-speaking Welsh has proved very useful for establishing and retaining British ruling class control over Wales. Between 1831 Merthyr and 1839 Newport Risings, Wales was in the front-line of a wider struggle against the UK state. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Welsh language has continued to contribute to a ‘culture of resistance’ (in contrast to its better-known contribution to a more religiously based accommodation to the UK state) has been it continued subversive role. This has been recognised by the UK state. The British ruling class’s vindictive 1847 government report, following these risings, and termed the ‘Treachery of the Blue Books’ by its opponents, attributed the unruliness of Wales to the continued use of the Welsh language.

During the 1979 Welsh Devolution referendum, ‘No’ campaigners in the South claimed that a ‘Yes’ vote would lead to compulsory Welsh language instruction. Many, particularly on the Left in the South had little sympathy for Welsh language speakers. At the same time, ‘No’ campaigners in the North argued that a numerically dominant South Wales, run by a Labour Party, would be more hostile to the North than distant Westminster.

In the 1980s The Conservatives moved from their traditional Anglo-Welsh stance to promote a more Welsh-British divide-and-rule approach. Keith Best, a Welsh language learner, won the Ynys Mon Westminster seat. After pressure, exerted by Cymdeithas yr Iath Gymraeg/Welsh Language Society (WLS/CyIG), and a hunger-strike by Plaid’s Gwynfor Evans to protest against Thatcher’s decision to scrap the proposed SC4 TV channel in Wales, the Conservatives came round to an acceptance of cultural devolution. Cultural devolution was seen as an alternative to political devolution; a way to accentuate the division between North and South Wales; and to provide a wedge into Labour and Plaid support. This culminated in the 1993 Welsh Language Act, which gave the Welsh language equal legal status to English in Wales. However, since these cultural measures were not matched by any economic measures to sustain the economy, both of a deindustrialising South, and a deindustrialising and agriculturally declining North, this strategy could not halt the Conservatives’ decline. Their Westminster representation in Wales was wiped out in 1997.

By this time, a new civic nationalism was beginning to emerge in Wales. The division between Welsh-Britishness and Welsh-Welshness began to be challenged. In the 1980s Welsh Republicans sought a Welsh nation that could unite Welsh and English language speakers without the need for the UK, British unionism and the Crown link. A welcome was also given to other new migrants inWales. Cymru Goch/Welsh Socialist Republican Movement pioneered this approach. Other Welsh Republicans within Plaid took up economic and social issues and adopted a more social democratic approach to undermine Labour. This was to have some impact in the South Wales coalfield area. Merthyr Tydfil became an important centre in this battle. Welsh folk and pop groups and the Red Poets Society provided cultural backing for these moves.

The main battle between this alternative vision of a united Welsh nation and the defence of Welsh-Welshness took place within the WLS/CyIG and Plaid. Initially some traditional Welsh Nationalist culturalists tried to promote a more strident Welsh-Welsh approach. During the 1970’s, Welsh journalist, Clive Betts, wanted to carve a specifically Welsh-speaking territory out of Wales – Y Fro Gymraeg. Later, more militant campaigns arose which specifically targeted at the holiday homes of English incomers in Welsh-speaking areas.

However, within sections of the WLS/CyIG, a different approach began to be advocated. This attempted to extend Welsh language learning to English-speakers, including English incomers to Y Fro Gymraeg. Other Welsh nationalists began to advocate bilingualism, either throughout Wales, or outside Y Fro Gymraeg (where it was thought that Welsh language signage should prevail to counter the massive cultural impact of the media and English language labelled commodities). Thus a concerted attempt was made to win over English language speakers to a new Welsh civic nation.

When the Welsh people very narrowly voted for New Labour’s Welsh Assembly in 1998, the divisions between the Welsh-Welsh, Anglo-Welsh and Welsh-British were still very clear. Welsh-Welsh majority areas voted ‘Yes’. The Anglo-Welsh majority areas all voted ‘No’. However, the Welsh-British majority areas were split, most voting ‘Yes’, but some voting ‘No’. As during the failed 1979 Labour government Welsh Devolution referendum, there were still Labour politicians who participated in the ‘No’ campaign, in defiance of party policy.

Nevertheless, by providing a single Welsh Assembly at Cardiff Bay for the first time, and uniting Anglo-Wales, Welsh-British Wales and Welsh-Welsh Wales, territorially at least, a considerable step was taken in the formation of a new civic Welsh nation. Plaid built on that by winning its highest percentage vote in the 1999 Assembly elections and taking 17 seats. They broke through in Rhondda, Islwyn and Llanelli, previously Labour dominated Welsh-British areas. They also won control of Rhondda Cynon Taff and Caerphilly councils in the local elections.

In the 2003 Assembly elections, Plaid fell back in the percentage vote won, losing their South Wales seats, and leaving them with 15 AMs. This time they faced a Socialist (Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance, and Socialist Alternative – Militant) challenge. They also faced Left populists (John Marek-Independent) and Cymru Annibynol, a republican Plaid breakaway and the populist Greens. Marek (former Labour Party MP and then AM) won a seat.

Plaid recovered in the 2007 Welsh Assembly elections, winning 15 seats, and also regained Llanelli. Although they had also lost control of Rhondda Cynon Taff and Caerphilly councils in the 2004 local elections, they made overall gains in the number of council seats. Furthermore, in an indication of Plaid’s widening Welsh civic nation appeal, it had more ethnic minority councillors elected than all the other parties together. And this was followed up, in the 2007 Welsh Assembly elections, when Plaid candidate, Mohammed Ashgar, became the first ethnic minority AM in Wales. This represented a blow to the internationalist pretensions of Welsh-British Labour.

However, this 2007-11 Welsh Assembly marked the highpoint for Plaid and its Welsh civic nation appeal. The newfound confidence of Welsh-speaking Wales had even had an effect on Welsh-British Labour. People like Ron Davies and Rhodri Morgan were much more confident in their Welshness[12]Nevertheless, they were both still made Privy Councillors, which means they are seen as reliable by the British establishment., and saw the creation of the Welsh Assembly as an opportunity to put some clear red (or at least pink) water between Cardiff Bay and blue New Labour Westminster. After Ron Davies was forced to resign as Westminster Welsh Secretary and First Secretary of the new Welsh Assembly in 1998, a division opened up between Labour Welsh First Secretaries at Cardiff Bay and Tony Blair’s appointed Welsh Secretaries at Westminster, who acted as mere transmission belts for British New Labour. Indeed Blair’s attempt to promote Alun Michael as his poodle in Cardiff Bay backfired, resulting in Rhodri Morgan becoming Welsh First Secretary (soon renamed First Minister).

The new wave of Welsh Labour leaders did not hold the same hostility towards Welsh language speakers as the previous generation. The current Welsh Labour leader, Carwyn Jones, is a fluent Welsh speaker. The balance between the Welsh and British poles of Labour’s hyphenated identity was recalibrated to accommodate the growing confidence of Welsh language speakers. Indeed the 2001 census had recorded the first increase in the number of Welsh speakers. Perhaps, this contributed to the decision, eventually taken by Welsh Labour, to enter into the One Nation coalition with Plaid in the Welsh Assembly in 2007, when Labour did not win an outright majority. Such a move in Scotland, involving Labour and the SNP, would have been inconceivable at this level, under a succession of ever more pliant Westminster and Millbank Tower approved, Scottish Labour leaders.

Plaid saw its prime purpose as being to campaign for the Welsh Assembly to get the same powers as the Scottish Parliament. And in this they sought the widest Welsh-Welsh and Welsh-British alliance yet, bringing in, not only Welsh Labour, Welsh Lib-Dems, but Welsh Conservatives too. The newly incumbent Conservative/Lib-Dem Westminster coalition even backed a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2011 Welsh referendum. Clearly, this was still seen by the mainstream unionist parties as the continuation of their now shared ‘New Unionist’ ‘Devolution-all-round’ strategy.

The referendum results showed a considerable advance upon the vote for the weaker 1998 Welsh Assembly devolutionary proposals. A ‘Yes’ vote was achieved in every area of Wales except Anglo-Welsh Monmouthshire, although again with a higher percentage in Plaid voting Welsh-Welsh Wales and the Labour voting Welsh-British South. However, this did not stop the formation of unofficial opposition in Wales, True Wales, with both Tory and Labour supporters. They campaigned for a ‘No’ vote. Therefore, any future growth of the kind of Welsh civic nationalism, promoted by Plaid, was going to face continued opposition. This could once more open up the divisions, not only between the Welsh-Welsh on one side and the Welsh-British and Anglo-British on the other, but also amongst the Welsh-British, over the best way to respond in the new political situation.

With the new challenge posed by the Scottish independence campaign, the Welsh-British were about to be pulled in a more centralised pro-UK direction though, both by Labour and Conservative Westminster leaderships. This was just as true of Welsh Labour at Cardiff Bay, despite the fact that there is now a Conservative/Lib-Dem government in office at Westminster. Yet, the more British orientated Welsh-British and the Anglo-Welsh were to be given a new pro-UK inspiration, beyond the somewhat jaded voice of Labour/Tory True Wales. This was to be provided by UKIP.


i) The impact in England and beyond

The impact of UKIP’s vote in the European and Local Council elections England has been extensively covered by the media, including the Left press. The more general reasons for this have also been dealt already with in this article. UKIP rose from 13 to 24 MEPs, and also gained 161 new councillors in the Local Council elections in England. Only a relatively small percentage of this increase was due to the drop in the far right BNP vote. UKIP were able to make gains at the expense of the Conservatives and Labour. In London, Labour did do better and made some gains at the expense of the Conservatives. Elsewhere, Labour’s very modest gains were probably at the expense of the Lib-Dems. Some of the Lib-Dem vote would also have gone to the Greens. The Greens also attracted Socialists not wishing to give their support to the British chauvinist ‘No2EU’ candidates.

UKIP in England won most of the anti-establishment, anti-mainstream party protest vote, despite its leader being an ex-public schoolboy and a former rich commodities trader in The City. Nigel Farage, putting aside the usual toff’s champagne and cigars for beer and cigarettes (at least in public), has been able to take-on a populist man-of-the-people persona. The media go along with this charade.

Up until the Euro-election, the thinking of British Labour Party strategists was based on electing a Miliband-led government in 2015, through UKIP splitting the Tory vote and not by winning over a majority, since this was now seen as an impossible task. Thus, UKIP’s arguments were left unchallenged by Labour in England, Scotland and Wales. However, after UKIP’s electoral triumph in England (and despite their second place, effectively in Wales too), the British Labour Party immediately reacted to its pretty dismal performance (outside London) by publicly taking on board elements of UKIP’s anti-immigrant agenda.

UKIP’s electoral surge represents a considerable gain for the British ruling class. Anti-immigrant scapegoating is a useful mechanism for the ruling class. This has helped to divert many people’s attention from the real causes of the crisis. Linked to growing opposition and scepticism towards the EU, such scapegoating can also be used cover the British ruling class desire to eliminate the last remaining social market and human rights aspects of the EU, and to protect the City of London from Angela Merkel’s threat to subject the banks to some minimal EU regulation.

The immediate reaction of the Conservatives and Labour has been to hype up the anti-migrant agenda, already being pursued by the state, also goaded by rabid attacks from a Right wing press. The BBC has been more than prepared to give UKIP a public airing way beyond its actual support on the ground (especially so, with regard to Scotland). The heightened British chauvinism and semi-racism can be seen in Gove’s campaign to uphold ‘British values’ in education. The Conservatives are pledged to the EU referendum, whilst Labour is increasingly leaving open the possibility of such a move open. This is to hold on to possible defectors, now that UKIP has emerged as their principal challenger in most of the Midlands and the North, taking large numbers of former Labour votes.

UKIP’s British chauvinist, pro-monarchist, pro-imperialist, sub-racist, misogynist and homophobic politics are tailored to meet local reactionary requirements, but can still be coordinated across the whole of the UK. The sad thing is, that so far, the Left has not raised its sights not just to the all-UK level, but to the all-islands level needed to properly counter this.

It also looks as if an Islamophobia, which has quite different roots to the traditional anti-Catholicism/Irish politics of the Right, Far Right, Loyalists, Fascists and neo-Fascists in Northern Ireland and Scotland, is being taken on to a much greater degree in these circles. In the 1930s, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and Blackshirts found it quite difficult to spread their Anti-Semitism (Judaeophobia) to Right, Far Right and Loyalists circles in Scotland. Hatred in the more plebeian Scottish Far Right circles was largely directed at the Catholic Irish. John Cormack’s Protestant Action Society (with its inner sub-fascist core of Kormack’s Kaledonian Klan) won 31% of the Local Council vote in Edinburgh in 1931. In May, Britain First, led by Protestant fundamentalist and Loyalist, James Dowson, mounted a provocation in the Glasgow Central Mosque, whilst another, James McConnell, has been ramping up hatred towards Muslims in Belfast, to such a degree that DUP First Minister, Peter Robinson initially offered his backing.

It remains to be seen whether UKIP will pick up on this, but given the current Tory campaign against Muslims in Birmingham schools, it is unlikely they will turn down such an opportunity to push British unionist politics even further to the Right. Furthermore, what has not been addressed by the mainstream media, or the Left press, is the likely impact on the British ruling class’s ‘New Unionist’ strategy to maintain its control over the North East Atlantic Archipelago. And, to do this, it is necessary to start with the one continued bright spot from the British ruling class point of view, where UKIP has no direct influence, and that is Ireland.

ii) The impact of the Euro-elections on the ‘New Unionist’ settlement in Ireland

The UK state’s ‘New Unionist’ all-islands strategy has faced some challenges in Ireland in the present conditions of ongoing crisis. This crisis has impacted more severely in Ireland, due to the Irish ruling class’s wholehearted devotion to financial and property speculation, which underwrote the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy before the 2008 Crash. The European election results throw some light on this.

A key component of the ‘New Unionist’ strategy has been not only to maintain the ‘Peace Process’ in Ireland, but to consolidate the UK’s economic position there, by pressuring the Irish government to bow to its interests. Thus, it was not only the Troika that loomed large over Ireland after the 2008 crash, but the UK government with the City of London’s particular interest in the Anglo-Irish, the Royal Bank of Scotland subsidiary, the Ulster Bank, and the Bank of Scotland (Ireland).

In Ireland, in contrast to the UK, the Euro-election results showed some leftward shift. This was revealed in the growth of the Sinn Fein vote, both in the Euro-elections and the Local Council elections held on the same day. Sinn Fein presents itself as a Left populist party in the South. It is also affiliated in the European Parliament to the European United Left Group. However, there can be little doubt that Sinn Fein’s leadership is looking to a future coalition government deal, most likely with Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail made some recovery at Local Council level. Even the Irish Greens, wiped out in the 2011 General Election, because of their ignominious role in the previous Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat/Green coalition government, managed to make a small comeback in the local elections. This proves that, if ‘you can’t fool all of the people all of the time’, you may be able to fool some of them again later!

Social campaigner, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan became an MEP on an anti-EU platform. Nessa Childer adroitly resigned from the Labour Party (she had done the same earlier from the Green Party when it was compromised) to retain her Euro-seat as seat as a ‘concerned’ independent. However, the strongest move Left was shown in the Local Council elections. Both the SWP front organisation, People Before Profit (PBP), and the SP front organisation, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, won 14 council seats in Dublin and other Irish cities, with the United Left (which the SWP and SP had helped to sabotage with their sectarian manouevring when they jointly ran it) winning 1 seat too. Furthermore, the SP gained the Dublin West Dail seat in a by-election on the same day. However, the SP lost the Euro-seat it has held since 2009, probably not helped by a competing PBP candidate.

So far, this opposition has had little effect upon the Irish ruling class’s decision to prioritise meeting the demands the international bankers, and of drawing ever closer to the British ruling class. Former Labour Party, Irish President, Michael Higgins was invited to a state banquet with the Queen at Windsor Castle on April 8th. He thanked the British government obsequiously for its assistance in making arrangements to help Irish government pay back the banks. Yet, this is something they clearly did, not for the benefit of the Irish people who will have to pay up in full, but to ensure that the City of London banks did not face any unwanted defaults.

However, greater media interest was focussed on the other royal guest, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuiness, Northern Ireland’s Depute First Minister. Clearly, the British ruling class see the benefits of continuing their ‘taming’ of Sinn Fein. They don’t appear to be too worried about its growing south-of-the border electoral success. The ‘Republican-Lite’ ‘New Sinn Fein’ may yet gets its united Ireland – united under the Crown, the Commonwealth and the City of London! Some people termed the Good Friday Agreement, “Sunningdale for slow learners”. It would certainly be “history repeating itself as farce” if, over a century later, Ireland ended up in a similar position to that envisaged in the original 1913 Third Home Rule Bill (without the Ulster exclusion clause), firmly under the control of the British ruling class.

Meanwhile, Socialists and independent Republicans are organising to resist the proposed Water Tax, to be implemented by the Irish government in 2014. Historically, payment for water has had some quite dramatic effects on building up a wider resistance to corporate capital. The Quechua Indian’s protest against water privatisation in Cochabamba in Bolivia in 2000[13]See Even The Rain, demanded by the World Bank, is an obvious example. However, the Irish state could, if necessary, still resort to the kind of conciliatory moves made in Scotland, to head off opposition to the ‘bedroom tax’.

Another campaign, with clear ‘internationalism from below’ potential, is directed against the Bank of Scotland (Ireland) and its successor, Halifax Bank of Scotland, now owned by Lloyds TSB. They are currently involved in potentially thousands of evictions of lower income homeowners, no longer able to pay their mortgages, after the 2008 Crash[14]See Bank of Scotland in Ireland. Banksters.. Ascendancy landlords took part in the eviction of Irish tenants in the nineteenth century, now it is Scottish registered banks.

Irish Socialists and Republicans will need to ditch their propensity (like Socialists over here) to form their own exclusive party-fronts, diverting potential resistance into purely electoral channels. They will also need to raise their sights a little higher than their own state’s borders. However, so far the British ruling class can feel that in the South of Ireland its ‘New Unionism’ remains on course. Current Fine Gael Taoiseach, Enda Kenny has come up with the ultimate measure to show the ‘New Ireland’s distance from its revolutionary republican past. He is inviting ‘Elizabrit’ to the Dublin 1916 centenary commemorations. Will Martin be there to take a bow!

iii) The ‘New Unionist’ settlement goes into reverse in Northern Ireland, anticipating new Right attacks in Wales and Scotland

Therefore, it is not currently in the South, but in the North of Ireland, that the UK state’s ‘New Unionist’ settlement faces its biggest challenge – but that is from the Right – not from the Left or Republicans. The initial spin surrounding the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was that it represented ‘parity of esteem’, or a partnership of equals – the two ‘equals’ being the Unionists and Nationalists. However, the original territorial partition of Ireland was designed to ensure that there could never be equality, and that the Unionists would always outnumber the Nationalists.

It was only during the recent ‘ Troubles’ that the British ruling class abandoned first its previous unquestioning support for Unionists, and then Direct Rule. The running of the province was handed over to the British Army and Security Services. The purpose of the post 1998 ‘New Unionist’ agreements has been to move beyond that earlier UK state policy of upholding Unionist supremacy (backed by Conservative and Labour governments alike), and to place itself in a mediating role and hence controlling position over both Unionists and Nationalists. The Good Friday Agreement represents a new form of partition, an internal social partition, where both Unionists and Nationalists are officially recognised as the upholders of a new devolved Stormont administration, still financed by Westminster subventions.

However the Unionists remain a majority, and have made it clear that they intend to take advantage of that fact to impose their own version of the agreements (which they had already been able to water down considerably), with a much diminished and subordinate role for Nationalists. They certainly do not tolerate any notion of a ‘parity of esteem’. Right from the start, both the DUP and UUP have backed provocative Orange Order ‘parades’ (openly accompanied by the display of Loyalist former death squad banners) through Nationalist areas. Successive British governments’ attempts to deal with these, through the Parades Commission, have been treated with complete contempt by Loyalists, backed behind-the-scenes by most Unionists. There was also no clean out of the old RUC (or UDR) officers responsible for running death squads. Some of those retired reappeared in the PSNI in new ‘consultancy’ roles.

Furthermore, the post-2008 economic crisis has killed off any prospect of a ‘Peace Dividend’, and also hit Loyalist working class areas hard. In the absence of much evidence of the old Protestant Unionist and Loyalist material privilege they once held over Catholic Nationalists, symbols of supremacy have become even more important – coat-trailing through Nationalist areas, flying the Union Jack, painting kerbs red, white and blue, and displaying provocative Loyalist images. The Loyalist flag protests were initiated in December 2012 when Belfast City council agreed to limit the display of Union Jacks to a certain number of days. Nationalist councillors backed by the moderate Alliance Party took this political decision. The Progressive Unionist Party, the political wing of the old Loyalist paramilitary UVF, fronts the flag protests. They have also been manipulated behind-the-scenes by the DUP. The DUP wanted to win back the East Belfast Westminster seat from Naomi Long of the Alliance Party. Loyalist rioters burnt out the Alliance offices in the constituency. Loyalists have also targeted East European immigrants, Muslims and Africans. The level of racism has risen to such an extent as to prompt long time Northern Ireland resident and Chinese born, Anna Lo, Alliance Stormont member for Belfast South and Euro-election candidate, to stand down from politics and consider emigrating.

The Euro-elections saw a plethora of right and far right populist, and neo-fascist candidates in Northern Ireland. In response to this, DUP Northern Irish First Minister, Peter Robinson, got into the spirit of things by giving his support to a Protestant fundamentalist preacher who dismissed Islam as “pagan” and “satanic”[15]See Racism: Break the bounds of liberal outrage!. Robinson was subsequently forced to apologise. This is unlikely to be the end of the racism or the homophobia, which the DUP encourages to maintain its position amongst Loyalists. Indeed, Robinson has gone on to support Loyalist intimidation of a Nigerian migrant allocated a house in East Belfast.

The UK state response to this Loyalist and Unionist offensive has been to retreat well away from any idea of ‘parity of esteem’. The Unionists in Northern Ireland are always going to remain more reliable allies than the Nationalists. Right from the start, Tony Blair tried to reassure the leading Ulster Unionist, David Trimble of the UUP, that he was fully committed to Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. He would ensure that the Republican Movement (soon to fragment, with the Provisional IRA standing down, leaving its political wing, Sinn Fein, in the controlling position) stuck to the ‘New Unionist’ script he had prepared or them. As Loyalist and Unionist intransigence has grown, the British government has turned to the USA for backing, initiating the Haas Talks. Despite the fact that Sinn Fein was itself prepared to retreat to accommodate the Unionists, the latter soon fell back on their old certainties – ‘Not an Inch’ and ‘No Surrender’. So, even the diluted Haas proposals were rejected by the Unionists, as he returned to the USA.

If your powerful US imperial backers can not sort out the situation for you, then it is time to start abandoning key features of the ‘New Unionist’ agreements. So, on March 7th, Conservative Northern Irish Secretary, Theresa Villiers flagged up at Westminster that there was going to be no more investigation into the activities of state forces during ‘the Troubles’. Instead Villiers said was going to ditch the last Labour government’s Weston Park Agreement, which was a key component of the ‘Peace Process’ and the ‘New Unionist’ settlement. This amnestied Republicans over the period of ‘the Troubles’, if they abandoned armed struggle. Loyalists were also amnestied, whilst it was always the case that no action would be taken against members of the UK state forces, or the British politicians who sanctioned their activities. The Bloody Sunday enquiry had already ensured that.

The recent background to this British government volte-face had been the jailing of dissident Republicans, such as Marian Price and Martin Corey. They were not deemed to be covered by any agreements, However, the next target was Ivor Bell, leading former Provisional IRA figure (from a Protestant background), who was arrested on March 18th. The ageing and infirm Bell had come out of retirement to give his verbal support to a dissident Republican candidate in the Northern Ireland local elections. He was now deemed to be a Republican on-the run, but Blair’s Labour’s Western Park Agreement with Sinn Fein should have covered him. Sinn Fein’s Dublin-based Vice-President, Mary Lou Macdonald, welcomed the arrest of Ivor Bell on radio. This appears very much like what Republicans call felon-setting. However, this is very likely to be counter-productive for Sinn Fein, as the arrest of such a senior figure as Adams on May 1st highlights. The British government has now decided to move on to much higher placed targets. So, as well as the royal banquet ‘carrot’ for Martin McGuinness, there has been the three day detention ‘stick’ for Gerry Adams. Getting Sinn Fein completely ‘house-trained’ when it comes to the upkeep of UK state’s Northern Irish abode at Stormont, is a continuing process.

However, it is perhaps UKIP’s electoral breakthrough in Northern Ireland, that will provide a bridge between the local Right wing Unionist and Loyalist challenge to the Good Friday and later Agreements in Northern Ireland, and those Right wing unionists elsewhere in the UK who want to challenge the ruling class’s overall post-1997 ‘New Unionist’ settlement, now that it is facing some strains following the post-2008 economic crisis.

iv) The European and Local Council election in Northern Ireland show a further Right slippage amongst the Unionists, and a mixed challenge to Sinn Fein and the SDLP Nationalists

The politics of institutionalised inter-community competition ensures a higher participation in elections in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK. 51.2% voted in the Euro-election. This higher participation rate is because the UK government’s Stormont financial subventions are divvied up between Unionist and Nationalist communities on the basis of their electoral strength.

It is significant, though, that in the Euro-election, the Nationalist proportion of the vote (Sinn Fein + SDLP) fell back from 42.2% in 2009 to 38.5% in 2014, compared to the Unionist rise from 49% to 52.6%. The Nationalist percentage vote fell back further in the Local Council elections too. Sinn Fein’s long-term strategy for winning a united Ireland, has for some time been based on changing demographics, which they argue are moving inexorably in the Nationalists’ favour. Such thinking is set within the ‘sectarian’ mind-set, which the new Stormont set-up underpins. There is also the problem that the initiative for any future Border Poll, lies with Westminster’s Northern Irish Secretary.

Therefore, the fact that Martina Anderson, Sinn Fein’s Euro-candidate still topped the Euro-election poll was due to the fact that the Unionist camp offered a plethora of competing candidates. However, the DUP and UUP still easily managed to retain their Euro-seats. What is more disturbing is the sharp move to the further Right (as if the DUP were not already right wing enough!) shown in the Local Council elections. The Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) wants to re-establish Unionist/Protestant supremacy by ending the Good Friday and its successor agreements. The TUV’s Euro-election percentage vote did fall back, out of a fear that a 3 way Ulster unionist split vote would let the Nationalist SDLP take the third Euro-seat. However, in the local elections TUV increased its percentage vote, and its number of councillors from 6 to 13.

Before the elections there was talk of a pact between TUV and UKIP. This link gives some idea of the sort of politics UKIP is prepared to promote to maintain the unity of the UK. In the event, UKIP stood alone in both the Euro-election (not making much impact in a well-established and cluttered local right wing field). However UKIP gained 3 councillors in the local elections. All these councillors have strong Orange Order connections. Elected Carrickfergus councillor, Noel Jordan, thanked TUV and PUP supporters for their transfer votes; whilst elected Portadown councillor, David Jones, was the Orange Order spokesman during the notorious Drumcree events from 1995-8. He offered lame apologetics for the Loyalist killing of an of a RUC constable, when Loyalists were defending their traditional ‘right to march’ and intimidate.

The PUP, with its former Loyalist UVF paramilitary and death squad credentials, represents the oldest face of British fascism in these islands, with the worst record of violence, including killings. It is still involved in community intimidation, both for territorial control within Unionist areas, and against Nationalists. Although the UVF handed over its arms under the Good Friday Agreement, their flags are still prominently displayed on Loyalist parades. PUP members have been to the forefront of intimidatory actions, such as the attacks on Catholic primary school girls and their parents at Holy Cross School in North Belfast from 2001-2, and the recent Belfast flag riots. On the back of this, they increased their number of councillors in Belfast to 3, whilst gaining another in Coleraine (with its own recent record of Loyalist murder). Like UKIP’s attempt to link up with Unionist supremacist TUV, the far right BNP, (having been preceded by the openly fascist National Front), have tried, for some years, to link up with these Northern Irish based neo-Fascists, whose ‘successes’ they envy. In the event the BNP had to stand alone in the European and Local Council elections and made no impact, in an already crowded far right and neo-fascist field.

The last party to enter a crowded unionist election field were the Conservatives. The British Conservatives, under David Cameron, had been in an electoral alliance with the Ulster Unionists for the 2010 Westminster General Election[16]This should make some people question the politics of leading Scottish composer, James Macmillan. He urged Catholics in Scotland to vote for the Conservative Party (in alliance with the Ulster Unionists) in the 2011 Westminster general election. He opposes Scottish independence – as does Pope Francis….and George Galloway, the Orange Order, the Ulster Unionists, and the BNP and Scottish Defence League!, but they have subsequently fallen out. Unlike UKIP, they made no impact in the recent Northern Irish European and Local Council elections.

As a consequence of the constant slippage to the further Right amongst Ulster unionists, the much hyped new moderate Unionist Northern Ireland 21 party only gained one councillor, and is not likely to survive recent scandals. The moderate Alliance Party (loosely tied to the British Lib-Dems – not something they make much noise about!) lost a considerable number of council seats, leaving them on 32.

However, the range of electoral choice given to Ulster unionists reflects their continued concerns about the British ruling class’s ‘New Unionist’ strategy. Hence their further right alternatives. Ulster unionists and loyalists are exerting pressure to make that the British government fully takes on board their attempts to undermine the original agreements. UKIP only made a limited electoral breakthrough in Northern Ireland, but coupled to its much greater success in England and Wales, and given its strong links to the Orange Order including in Scotland, it will be able to transfer these concerns to the rest of the UK, to increase the pressure.

There were some electoral challenges to the drift to the Right in Northern Ireland, but these were confined Nationalist areas. There was growing disillusionment with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, in either retreating in the face of Unionist intransigence, or in implementing austerity. Dissident Republicans won 3 seats. Barry Montieth was elected in Dungannon. He has broken away from the continued militarism of some other Republican dissidents. As a member of the 1916 Societies, he supports a citizens’ initiative, All-Ireland Referendum. This returns to Republican principle of attempting to unite Catholics, Protestants and others around immediate economic and social issues, to develop a political campaign to overcome both the original Partition of Ireland and the post-1998 Good Friday Agreement official partition of politics in Northern Ireland.

In addition, the SWP front organisation, People Before Profit, had a councillor elected from West Belfast, but largely on the ‘gas and water’ type municipal socialist politics, which downplays wider constitutional issues. There was no organised link between the PBP candidate in Northern Ireland and those standing in the South. This was also the case with the two Socialist Party candidates, standing in the party’s own name in East and South Belfast, and those SP candidates south of the border, standing as part of the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Unlike in the South, the SP candidates made no impact in the North.

However, beyond the election clash, there was recently a 5000 strong demonstration of Irish language activists in Belfast, on April 12th. They were protesting against the Unionists’ refusal to implement an Irish Language Act, giving similar powers to those enjoyed by Scottish Gaelic and Welsh language speakers. However, when Sinn Fein leaders tried to join the demonstration, they were sent to the back and were not allowed to speak. This is because Sinn Fein Stormont Minister, Caral Ni Chuilin, agreed to changes in support for the Irish language which would not involve any increased Stormont spending commitments. Now the Irish language in Belfast developed very much part of the ‘community of resistance’. It was originally based amongst the ‘Jailtacht’ (e.g. The Maze, Magilligan) prisoners during ‘The Troubles’. However, in post-Agreement Northern Ireland there is now a new official Gaeltacht in West Belfast. There is tension between Sinn Fein, who appear to see this more as part of money-earning tourist development, to match Belfast’s new arty Cathedral Quarter and the East Belfast Titanic Quarter; and those who would continue with the ‘community of resistance ‘ tradition. Aodh O’Corcain, a young Irish language activist and youth worker, said the Irish language is used by those young people he worked within West Belfast to express their opposition and resistance to the existing order, and their desire for a new world. These ‘cultures of resistance’ often precede political resistance in many oppressed communities.

The fact that so much of the Right, BNP, Britain First, Loyalists, Orange Order and UKIP think in all-UK (or at least Northern-Ireland/Scotland) terms, gives then an advantage. The best way, any new seeds from the ‘communities of resistance’ in the North can grow, is by trumping the Right’s ‘international’ connections, by more effective ‘internationalism-from-below’ links across Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, and indeed beyond into Europe.

v) UKIP, the capture of an Anglo-Welsh Wales and a large chunk of the Welsh-British Wales and the current retreat of the Welsh civic nation

The immediate political impact of the massive surge in UKIP’s 2014 European vote in Wales, where Labour had been dominant for so long, has been even greater than that in England. When UKIP first appeared in Wales, they were largely considered to be a continuation of the old Thatcherite Tory Right, who could not accustom themselves to the rise of the new Welsh civic nation, or to the liberal social values, now accepted by all the mainstream parties, David Cameron’s Conservatives included. UKIP ran for Local Councils in Wales, but even by 2012, they had gained no seats. In the 2010 General Election, they only received 2.4% of the vote in Wales. They only stood in the regional top-up list for the 2011 Welsh Assembly elections and failed to get anyone elected. However, building on a their anti-EU niche market, they increased their voting percentage in the Euro-elections from 3.1% in 1999, to 10.5% in 2004, and 12.8% in 2009, enabling them to win their first elected position in Wales. UKIP’s MEP came in fourth and won the last Welsh Euro-seat by ousting the Lib-Dem MEP.

In the 2014 Euro-election there was a small increase in voter participation in Wales from 29.5% in 2009 to 31.5%, something that benefitted the Right. Labour did come first, winning 28.5% of the vote (a 7.9% increase on 2009), but UKIP came a close second with 27.5% of the vote (a 14.8% increase on 2009), the Conservatives third (a 3.8% decrease and drop from first place in 2009 – a historic high for Conservatives in Wales, when New Labour in Westminster were on their last legs after the 2008 Crash). However, the very moderate nature of Welsh Labour’s recovery in 2014 is highlighted by the fact that their 2009 vote was their worst election result since 1918, its vote dropping by 12.2%, with the Conservatives topping the poll – a fairly shocking event in Wales. The 2014 vote did not even take Labour back to its 2005 level, despite the party no longer holding Westminster office with all the problems faced by incumbency. In the 2014 Euro-election, Labour was in opposition to an unpopular Conservative-led Westminster government.

If there had been simultaneous Local Council elections in Wales in 2014, even under the First Past the Post system, UKIP would also have made gains, although recent opinion polls show that potential UKIP support could well be smaller outside of their chosen Euro-election niche[17]See ICM poll: Labour support slides as Plaid grows. As it was they took a council seat in Flint, which Labour had held for over 60 years, in the a local by-election held on the same day as the Euro-election. UKIP was first in 6 Euro-constituencies, second in 11 constituencies, and only forced into third place in 1; whereas although Labour was first in 10 constituencies, it was only 2nd in 3, and was 3rd in 5 and 5th in 1. In other words UKIP drew upon more evenly spread support in Wales than Labour.

Plaid Cymru came fourth, a drop of 3.3% (more than wiping out its 1.1% increase in 2009) and dropping from 3rd place. This was a very bad result for Plaid and for the Welsh civic nation they have been attempting to develop. Perhaps the seeds of their decline date from Plaid’s One Wales coalition with Labour in the Welsh Assembly between 2007 and 2011. Previous to this, Socialists and the wider Left faced a less well known political debacle in Wales, to that which overtook the Scottish Socialist Party in 2004. The Socialist Alliance in Wales was divided mainly between the dominant Socialist Party of England and Wales (ex-Militant) and the minority Welsh socialist republican, Cymru Goch. Left populist Respect (backed by the SWP) also entered the scene. However, celebrity left populist leader, George Galloway’s ultra-unionist politics meant he was hostile to the Welsh language. He prevented Respect from taking any stance on Welsh self-determination. Meanwhile another populist, ex-Labour John Marek, won a Welsh Assembly seat in 2003 as an Independent, with the backing of Cymru Goch. Marek then went on to form a new party, Forward Wales, along with Labour’s disgraced Ron Davies. Both were defeated in the 2007 Welsh Assembly elections. Davies joined Plaid Cymru, whilst Marek went on to join the Conservatives!

The net result of this was Cymru Goch joined Plaid, but dissolved their organisation in doing so. Their attempt with others to maintain an independent forum, through a magazine, Seren, fizzled out[18]The only independently organised Left today are to be found in the Left unionist, CPB, led by former Welsh Republican, Robert Griffiths, the SPEaW, and the SWP. The new Left Unity Party in Wales seems to be following an earlier British Left tradition of not having anything to say on the issue of Welsh self-determination.. Nevertheless, the point at which Cymru Goch joined Plaid Cymru, appeared to be when Plaid were on the up. However, Plaid’s decision to join the One Wales coalition with Labour, with the intention of getting more powers for the Welsh Assembly, has proven to be a double-edged sword.

For this was the period when the growing economic crisis, and Westminster Labour government imposed cuts, increasingly impinged on people’s lives. This had a knock-on effect on Plaid controlled Local Councils. Plaid lost control of Gwynedd, which had long been a stronghold, after it began to impose rural school closures as part of a cuts programme. A local party Llais Gwynedd was formed, which gained council 12 seats in 2008. Proving this was not a flash in the pan, Llais Gwynedd won 13 council seats in 2012.

Plaid’s Welsh Assembly coalition party, Labour, had faced similar problems. Former Labour MP, Peter Law, successfully stood as an Independent in Blaenau Gwent in the 2005 Westminster General Election. This led to formation of the Left populist, Blaenau Gwent Peoples Voice (PV). PV held both Law’s Westminster and Welsh Assembly seats, in by-elections, after his death in 2006. PV went on to win 8 council seats in 2008. However, unlike Llais Gwynedd, PV has not survived, and Labour has recovered its position in this area.

Plaid support dropped from 12.6% in the 2005 Westminster General Election to 11.3% in 2010. They dropped from 22.4% in the 2007 Welsh Assembly election to 19.3% in 2011. Having just achieved their main immediate political objective, a Welsh Assembly with increased powers, Plaid appeared to have reached its political limits. Any further moves over Welsh self-determination were in the hands of the Labour Party, which after 2011, had abandoned the One Wales coalition, and formed an exclusive Labour government.

As growing doubts began to emerge in Plaid, following these electoral setbacks, Leanne Wood was elected as the party’s new leader in 2012. She is from Rhondda in the South, and was a Rhondda Cynon Taf councillor from 1995-99. She has been a MA for the South Wales Central constituency since 2003. She is not a native Welsh speaker but a Welsh language learner. So in many ways she represents a real break from earlier Plaid leaders. She is also an avowed Republican. Leanne has had to try and project Plaid’s Welsh civic Wales, in the face of the party’s shrinking base of support in the Welsh-British areas dominated by Labour, and with little support in Anglo-Welsh Wales. It also became clearer in the run-up to the Euro-election that UKIP was going to make a considerable impact, and that Plaid’s vote was falling back. Leanne reacted by characterising UKIP as a non-Welsh party. The problem with taking this approach became clear, when UKIP not only overtook Plaid in the Euro-election, but won nearly double the percentage vote obtained by Plaid in Wales!

Not being able to implement its own independent strategy, the Plaid leadership has oscillated between two approaches. It has publicly given its support to the official SNP controlled ‘Yes’ campaign, hoping that a ‘Yes’ vote would create a precedent that Plaid could take advantage of. Plaid benefitted from the large ‘Yes’ vote won in Scotland in the 1998 Devolution referendum, which Labour deliberately held prior to the one in Wales. Since then, Plaid have used the example of the Scottish Parliament to press for more powers for Welsh Assembly.

However, Plaid has also been trying to nudge the Labour-led Welsh Assembly into further extending powers. They have proposed an alternative Fiscal Devolution approach to that being advocated by the Scottish ‘Better Together’ coalition as their alternative to Scottish independence. In this endeavour, Plaid has highlighted a major drawback of the Scottish Fiscal Devolution proposals. There is no provision for the creation of any higher Income Tax bands for the wealthy. Plaid has also challenged the Barnett Formula, as being biased against Wales.

Should there be a ‘No’ vote in Scotland, and should there still be a pro-further devolution government at Westminster after 2015, these two policy areas will bring Plaid into conflict with the SNP at Holyrood and Westminster. The SNP government, which has considerably more big business backing than Plaid, does not want higher Income Tax bands. They could have introduced higher property tax bands for the local Council Tax, but haven’t. Indeed, SNP’s Right wing Finance Minister, John Swinney, is known to favour highly regressive Flat Rate Taxation, but has been told to keep shtum in the run-up to the referendum. Furthermore, any reassessment of the Barnett Formula, which would cut the Westminster financial allocation to Scotland, would be strongly opposed by any SNP government at Holyrood, where they hold office until 2016.

Welsh Labour has also become less responsive to Plaid pressure. As in Scotland, the local arm of the British Labour Party has thrown its whole weight behind the Scottish ‘No’ campaign. Indeed Welsh Labour First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has issued public statements, every bit as crass as those emanating from his Scottish Labour leader counterpart, Johann Lamont. Both have fallen over themselves in the rush to relay their London Labour bosses’ scare stories. Jones said that the Welsh government would oppose an independent Scotland sharing the pound. He “would be uncomfortable with competing governments trying to run {a currency union}”[19]Welsh leader attacks shared pound – just leave it then to the ‘big boys’ in the City of London, who have done such a wonderful job! He also said British nuclear weapons would be “more than welcome in Wales”[20]Carwyn Jones: Wales would welcome nuclear submarines if Scotland closes down Faslane – obviously writing off Welsh Labour’s possibility of taking the Pembrokeshire constituency, where he would have Trident sited instead!

In the event of a ‘No’ vote on Scotland, the possibility of further devolution for Wales, except in a highly ambiguous or plainly reactionary form, looks more unlikely. It is likely that UKIP will make more impact in the Welsh Assembly elections in 2015. They would then attempt to join up with others in enforcing austerity, rolling back any progressive social legislation, whilst taking the lead in scapegoating migrants and calling for cuts in government spending on the Welsh language and culture. This could revive the fortunes and influence of those Welsh-British Labour ‘No’ advocates from 1997 and 2011. Furthermore, many of those with Anglo-Welsh politics could take things even further than UKIP. The English Democrats contest elections in ‘Anglo’-Wales. In the 2007 and 2011 Welsh Assembly elections they stood for Monmouth on a platform of annexing Monmouthshire to England! Although, they only win just over 2% of the vote, Plaid only managed 7% in this area, so their version of civic Wales is not strongly rooted here either, and in nearby more working class Newport East and West, Plaid’s vote has fallen to similar low levels.

However, perhaps the most disturbing thing for united Welsh civic nation has been the response of Dr. Simon Brooks[21]Academic says UKIP success is game-changer in Wales. He has argued that, if it is now legitimate for UKIP and the British government to insist on the use of the English language by migrants, then a similar law should be passed to ensure the Welsh language is used in the Y Fro Gymraeg. This represents a turn back to the politics of some Welsh-Welsh advocates like Clive Betts in the 1970s that many Welsh Republicans and Plaid members were trying to replace with Welsh civic nationalism. And, perhaps a wider cultural indicator of another approach, involving the slippage of some Welsh language speakers back into Welsh-Britishness, has been shown by the example of former Catatonia singer, Cerys Matthews. She has emphasised the importance of the Welsh language in her musical work. However, this year she accepted an MBE, a silver medal inscribed, ‘For God and Empire’[22]Cerys accepts pat on the head from British Empire. In the meantime, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymgraeg/Welsh Language Society (CyIG/WLS) has had to mount a series of protests to stop the Welsh Labour government backpedalling on its Welsh language commitments. Whether or not this can contribute to a new ‘culture of resistance’ remains to be seen.

On the industrial front, back in the 1980s, mainly English-speaking miners from South Wales, and mainly Welsh-speaking slate quarries of North Wales, were able to see their mutual connection, after their two extended strikes, despite their defeats[23]Quarry Workers Support Group, Sadyn Gydan Gilydd/We Are Together, Blaenau Ffestiniog, 1885-1986, Syith Micary Llechen/Seven Months on the Slate.. This helped to overcome the antipathy between the South and North, which Welsh-British Labour politics had encouraged up until then.In the absence of significant industrial struggles today, it remains to be seen if any new social struggles can contribute to the defence of a civic united Wales. So far, those opposing the ‘bedroom tax’ in Wales have not been able to pressurise the Welsh Assembly to mitigate its impact, in the manner chosen by the Scottish Parliament.

The irruption of UKIP into Welsh politics is producing a reactionary unionist pull. This is in addition to the conservative unionism represented by Welsh-British Labour, in its efforts to support the British ruling class and other mainstream unionist parties in their opposition to the exercise of any meaningful self-determination in Scotland.

vi) UKIP and the Scotland independence campaign

In response to UKIP winning its first seat in Scotland, at any level, in the Euro-election, much of the official media has pointed to a shared Scottish and English legacy of racism. This undoubtedly exists in Scotland given the UK’s longstanding imperial role. However, what this media and the Left press failed to notice was the significance of the fact that UKIP managed to gain 3rd place in Falkirk, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian. It also overtook the Conservatives in Glasgow (although here the Greens beat UKIP into 4th place). What these areas still have is a quite large Orange Order presence. They also gained 3rd place in the Western Isles, where their opposition to social liberalism would attract Protestant fundamentalists, making an analogous appeal to that UKIP has in the English Tory shires.

In the run-up to the Euro-election, UKIP’s Scottish chair, Arthur ‘Misty’ Thackeray posted a Facebook message claiming, “Glasgow City Council stands for gays, Catholics and communists”. Jim Dowson of Britain First also promised “armoured vehicles” to defend Nigel Farage at the UKIP-organised European election rally in Edinburgh on May 9th. It is clear in which political quarters these people want UKIP to make its appeal. And, in looking at their council electoral victories in Northern Ireland it is also clear that this message will not be lost on some UKIP supporters in Scotland.

In the face of a 500 strong protest organised by the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), very few attended UKIP’s rally, whilst the dozen or so Loyalists were kettled by the police. UKIP’s candidate and now MEP, David Coburn, who attended this rally, is clearly a carpetbagger from London, more interested in advancing his career south of the border. Coburn is also gay, something that the media have picked-up on. However, with Farage organising UKIP’s campaign in Scotland almost entirely organised for the media entourage which follows him, Coburn’s own gayness helped to disguise the real nature of UKIP’s local organisers and more devoted local supporters in Scotland. They are Loyalist bigots, who also push Islamophobia and homophobia. With Cockburn back in London, it is people like ‘Misty’ Thackeray who will be running the show in Scotland.

UKIP’s relatively small surge in Scotland could still impact on the Scottish independence referendum on September 18th. It has enhanced UKIP’s capacity to act as ‘legitimate’ voice within the unionist camp. UKIP’s support from members of even more right-wing organisations like the Orange Order and neo-fascist Britain First and SDL, fell largely below the media’s radar. These organisations draw their sustenance from all the most reactionary features of the UK state and British nationalism – especially the state’s imperial, unionist, monarchist and official Protestant status (now mainly used to buttress state anti-Irish racism). As has been seen, UKIP is helping to generalise the wider reactionary opposition to the current ‘New Unionist’ settlement in Northern Ireland and in Wales. UKIP’s rise will give succour to those in Scotland, who see the possibility of a ‘No’ vote, not as an opportunity to introduce Better Together’s ambiguous Devolution-Plus ‘promises’ but to undermine the current ‘New Unionist’ settlement here.

The broadcaster, Andrew Neil, said at a Conservative fund-raiser in Paisley, held on 26th October, 2012, said that “if you vote ‘No’ you massively change the balance of power and they will not only give you nothing but probably take powers way from the Scottish parliament.” Labour’s veteran maverick unionist, Tam Dalyell, on the August, 2013, said, “It is fraudulent to give the impression that if there is a ‘No’ vote, Scotland will get greater powers. The prospect of further powers is ridiculous” (Sunday Times, 4.8.13).

Now, there are very good reasons why a Cameron or Miliband-led might want to further devolve fiscal powers, in order to devolve decisions about the implementation of Westminster imposed austerity budgets (alongside cutting the Barnett Formula). However, Neil and Dalyell are not wrong to point out the possibility of this other road being adopted. In particular, as Neil appreciates, the fact of a ‘No’ vote, in itself, will shift the whole focus of official politics, both within the UK and Scotland to the Right. And there are indeed forces within the Labour Party in Scotland that think very much along their lines. Michael Kelly, former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow, has said that “The dream consequence of a ‘No’ vote should be a steady erosion of Holyrood’s power until they can be abolished” (Scotland On Sunday, 10.8.14). Now, whilst his influence may have declined, there are others still in office who think very similarly, including Ian Davidson and Jimmy Hood.

Far right and right populist unionists are more likely to step up their activities in the run-up to the independence referendum. The Orange Order is planning a major anti-independence, pro-Union ‘parade’ in Edinburgh on September 13th. The official SNP-run ‘Yes’ campaign will once again just try to ignore these unwelcome developments. RIC can not afford to, if we want to promote a radical (i.e. social and secular republican) agenda.

vii) The SNP government in the face of Rightist challenges in Scotland

Until the last week before the Euro-election, the SNP leadership pretended that the people who might vote for UKIP did not exist in Scotland. The SNP do not want to address the poisonous social legacy left by particular forms by British unionism in Scotland – continued racism, including anti-Irish racism (wrongly labelled residual sectarianism). Again these features of Scottish society can not be airbrushed away in a bland campaign of happy-clappy optimism. Those Right political forces, prepared to swim in these murky pools, do have some capacity to undermine and derail Scottish independence, especially if these issues are not addressed.

Instead, the SNP leadership still gives succour to the UK state’s reactionary legacy through their support for the British monarchy (and hence the anti-democratic Crown Powers). They do not challenge the state’s official Protestant nature and they deny the existence of anti-Irish racism. This is seen instead to be a legacy of a purely Scottish religious sectarian tradition, which can be addressed through a combination of a strengthened centralised police force, ‘anti-sectarian’ laws – the Offensive Behaviour Act – and education programmes in schools.

However, one area where both wings of the SNP leadership (social democratic and neo-liberal) do oppose the unionist parties is their public support for immigration, albeit on pragmatic economic grounds. This does mount to a real challenge to the British unionist parties, including their now most strident force, UKIP. Unlike the SNP leadership, the Scottish Labour leadership’s response to the issue of immigration has been ambiguous. They did not challenge earlier comments by their own former Scottish Labour leader contender, Tom Harris. He often sounds like a UKIP spokesman when it comes to East European immigration.

When Alex Salmond attacked the official Better Together ‘No’ coalition for pandering to UKIP over immigration after the Euro-election, Gordon Brown protested. However, Gordon doth protest too much. At the British and Westminster level, powerfully positioned Scottish MP, Douglas Alexander, joined with others in the party’s upper echelons to push Miliband into making significant concessions to UKIP, over immigration and the EU. Furthermore, back in 2009, it was Brown who resorted to the BNP slogan “British Jobs for British Workers”.

The Blairite Progress group and the Blue Labour group (UKIP for the working class) both support concessions to UKIP’s reactionary politics. They are much more powerful voices in the British Labour Party than the few remaining Lefts, or even the trade union bureaucracy (some of whom are not immune to UKIP-type arguments on immigration and the EU anyhow). Whenever Scottish Labour have made even the most tokenistic attempt to adopt a more Leftist approach, in order to hold on to voters lost to the SNP, the British Labour Party leadership has stifled these moves. Miliband seeks advice from the Scottish-British mouth of Douglas Alexander in the Palace of Westminster. Miliband gives instructions into the Scottish-British ears of Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, in her Holyrood toytown parliament.

In the face of the continued slide of voters towards ‘Yes’, the mainstream Unionist parties are stepping up the pressure. Gordon Brown has initiated a ‘Labour Says No’ campaign. The purpose behind this has been to put some backbone into those Scottish Labour politicians and longstanding recipients of Labour patronage, whose careers and privileges are threatened by the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals. We only have to remember the battle royal mounted, against the odds, by Labour to defend such prospects, in Glasgow, in the 2011 Local Council elections, to understand what is at stake for these people. It is a moot point, though, whether Brown has much appeal beyond the Labour apparatchiks, patronage dependents and the remaining Party faithful.

Therefore, not depending upon Labour to hold the unionist fort in Scotland, David Cameron has called on Barack Obama to publicly declare his opposition to Scottish independence. Some years ago, Lisa Vickers, US consul in Edinburgh, bluntly told the SNP leadership, that no US government would ever tolerate Scotland withdrawing from NATO. Yet, despite the SNP leadership jumping to order, and getting the 2012 party conference to narrowly overthrow its longstanding anti-NATO policy, and go on to support NATO wars in Afghanistan and Libya, the US government has pushed on relentlessly. The ending of opposition to Trident is their next objective. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have piled on the pressure,

Behind the scenes, there are people in the SNP leadership who would go along with this – e.g. Angus Robertson and Michael Russell. The dissident SNP member, Jim Sillars, is also on record as supporting such a move to get US backing for Scottish independence. Just as Kenny MacAskill provided ‘left’ cover for the party to ditch opposition to NATO, such moves can not be ruled out after the Independence Referendum, whatever the result. Other figures could emerge to provide similar ‘Left’ cover over Trident. It remains to be seen whether Obama’s velvet-gloved threat is seen as such by the Scottish electorate, or whether he still has wider ‘liberal’ appeal than Brown. Will people be scared off by the implications of US opposition to Scottish independence, or will such tactics anger them?

The official media has been almost totally dominated by the ‘No’ campaign. The radical wing of the ‘Yes’ campaign, including Bella Caledonia and the National Collective have had to concentrate their efforts upon informal social media. RIC has also been organising large meetings and activities in the meeting halls and on the streets, and through door-to-door canvassing, with the largest mass canvass organised on June 22nd. In the absence of mass demonstrations and other signs of collective resistance, it is this face-to-face contact, which has been able to win over people on the ground to a ‘Yes’ vote. You don’t hear of people moved over from ‘Yes’ to ‘No’, but the numbers moving in the other direction are considerable.

The best way of marginalising UKIP, and the whole wider unionist agenda over the future of the UK, is to win a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th. Of course, then another battle opens up to challenge the SNP government’s ’Independence-Lite’ proposals, and their accommodation to the UK state and global corporate capital. This is why RIC organised a National Forum in Glasgow on May 24th to organise beyond September 18th.

viii) The possible effect of UKIP on the current ‘New Unionist ‘ settlement in the event of a ‘No’ vote.

UKIP has tuned in to the Right wing Unionist and Loyalist opposition in Northern Ireland to the current ‘New Unionist’ settlement, and could reinvigorate the opposition to the current devolutionary settlement in Wales, particularly with regard to Welsh language rights. So, in the event of a ‘No’ vote in Scotland on September 18th, this will likely strengthen the Tory Right and ensure that no more significant constitutional concessions are made in Scotland either. Thus, the tap provided under the current UK state-policed, ‘New Unionist’ settlement, which allows for some drip-by-drip devolutionary concessions, could be switched off. Even the earlier mentioned Fiscal Devolution ‘promise, made by the official Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour ‘Better Together’ campaign, could well be ditched, in the event of a ‘No’ vote.

A ‘No’ vote will, in itself, strengthen the Conservatives, who will be seen by the majority of British-orientated voters to have ‘saved the Union’, despite the fact that Labour have done all the spade work for this in Scotland. Here the Conservatives have only one seat to possibly lose in the intra-unionist electoral competition for Westminster office in 2015. They have far more seats to defend in England, and it will be to the more reactionary unionist sentiment they will appeal..

If the Conservatives win the 2015 General Election, the continued strength of the Right, both within and without the party, could lead a Cameron-led government to downgrade even the minimal devolutionary concessions currently ‘promised’. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that in the less likely event, after a ‘No’ vote, of a Labour Westminster government being elected in 2015, this would lead to any significant devolutionary concessions either. The present Scottish Labour Party leadership is not the tail that wags the British party dog, but the cur that meekly accepts its Westminster and Millbank masters, who may not always choose to throw it a bone. Miliband and Balls will face far greater pressure from the Right, including the party’s own ultra-unionists.


i) The British unionist Labour and Socialist Left; the failure of Labourism and the abstract propagandism and fatalism of the Socialist Left

On the British Left, continued support for maintaining the UK state and for upholding the internationalist nature of all-British party and trade union organisations stems from their understanding of the British ruling class and the United Kingdom. They view these as having played a key historical role in replacing the older feudal order in these islands, and other pre-capitalist societies in many parts of the world. In this Left Whig version of history, the Victorian notion of Britain as ‘a beacon of progress’ is joined to the UK’s role in uniting the peoples and working class of these islands, or at of least of Great Britain. This is then projected forward in the British Left’s support for various ‘British roads to socialism’.

For the Labour Left and the CPB[24]For those from the old official (i.e. USSR backed) Communist Party tradition, this is supplemented by the celebration of the CPs’ role in the Spanish Civil War, particularly in the International Brigades. This struggle is quite properly seen as an antecedent to the wider struggles of the Second World War. However, the intervening gap of 22 months, when the Soviet/Nazi Pact was in force tends to be forgotten., a key part was played by the UK in defeating German Nazism (with the emphasis sometimes as much on the ‘German’ as the ‘Nazism’). The post-1945 Labour government, with its introduction of the Welfare State, is also central to their thinking. Nostalgia for these days is often to the forefront of current left unionist attempts to prevent the break-up of the UK state. The period of the 1945-51 Labour governments was indeed the point at which an acceptance of the UK and ‘Britishness’ gained their widest levels of support amongst the working class. However, this Welfare State remained a social imperialist state. The Attlee Labour government intervened with British armed forces to prevent the liberation of Greece, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaya. It made no break from British imperialist divide-and-rule. Hence it helped to leave behind the mess we still see today in India/Pakistan and Palestine/Israel. The UK also remained a social monarchist state. King George VI opened the Labour government’s Festival of Britain (which also covered Northern Ireland). Special royal crowns (five shilling pieces) were minted to celebrate the occasion.

This is the political background ignored in Ken Loach’s otherwise compelling Spirit of 45. However, the Labour Left very much downplays the role of the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown led New Labour governments in dismantling this Welfare State legacy. They blame it on Thatcher and the Tories; or argue that New Labour was a mere historical blip, which the Left can reverse, reclaiming the party in the process. Yet it was New Labour that handed over direct control of the economy to the City of London (Gordon Brown), introduced Foundation Hospitals to undermine the NHS (Alan Milburn), City Academies (David Blunkett) to end comprehensive education, and flagged up Royal Mail privatisation (Baron Mandelson) and the ‘Bedroom Tax’ (Lord Adonis), later introduced by the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition.

Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ Labour is but an update of New Labour. The Left is even more marginal inside the party today, and Miliband has further weakened the trade union link. In Scotland, the Left could not even come up with a candidate for the last Scottish Labour leadership election. The choice was between Miliband stooge, Johann Lamont, Blairite, Ken Macintosh and UKIP-Lite, Tom Harris. It is harder and harder to find examples of where the Labour Party have promoted working class unity in Britain and the UK. Indeed, in Glasgow City Council, the Labour Party introduced semi-detached Arms Length External Organisations to run council services. This was partly to prevent any legal solidarity action by their employees. Far from uniting a British working class, Labour here has broken up the unity of workers, often working out of the same office building!

So, in steps the British Socialist Left. Their ‘internationalism’ is ‘proven’ by the continued existence of their own all-Britain parties/sects – with the added embarrassment that this is not even orthodox Leninist policy, otherwise these would be would be all-UK organisations. Both the Labour and most of Socialist Left attempt to defend the role of bureaucratised trade unions and the TUC. These have also been unable to provide effective working class unity in the face of the current employers’ offensive. They have sometimes contributed to disunity too. Unions at Rosyth and Devonport dockyards, both with Labour Party supporting officials, have, over a number of years, tried to compete against each other. They have sanctioned Dutch auctions of pay and conditions to save ‘their’ dockyards.

The Socialist Left tends to draw upon what they see as an ‘orthodox’ Marxism. This is, in reality, an updated version of the abstract and fatalistic Marxism, which came to dominate the Second International, in the run-up to the First World War. This became even more ossified in the ‘official’ Communist Party Marxism of the Third International. This Socialist Left begins with an abstract model of capitalism. They point out that the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals do not threaten this capitalism. However, the British ruling class do not base their actions on such thinking. They judge each situation they confront politically. They have a shrewder understanding of the balance of class forces involved than much of the Left.

From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, in the face of mounting democratic challenges in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the British ruling class was prepared to consider liberal constitutional reform; hence the initial momentum behind Labour’s Scottish and Welsh Devolution Bills. However, during the subsequent period of mounting economic crisis, the majority of the British ruling class changed their minds, and decided to take turn their backs on any constitutional risks. They gave backing to a new Tory Right instead. In the process, a section of the British Left, which also opposed Devolution, helped to bring down the Callaghan Labour government. The SWP, raised the slogan, ‘Revolution not Devolution’. Well they played their small part in the ditching of Devolution, but instead of Revolution they got Thatcher! The liberal unionist momentum for constitutional change was brought to a juddering halt. A ‘No’ vote on September 18th would give the British ruling class the same sort of boost, that the defeat of the 1979 Devolution referenda gave them.

In today’s political conditions of multi-faceted crisis, the British ruling class and the all the British unionist parties are just not prepared to countenance what, in the abstract, are the SNP government’s mild ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals. These could lead to the removal of a constituent nation of the UK from the control of Westminster; the prospect of even mildly social democratic measures in Scotland providing an example to counter Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour ‘slash and burn’ austerity; the uncertainty over Trident; and the possible removal of rUK from the UN Security Council. These all represent a very real challenge to the British ruling class and the UK state.

Much of the Socialist Left takes the formal appearance of constitutional politics at face value. Thus, they claim that by conceding the September 18th Independence Referendum, the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition has democratically conceded the issue of Scottish self-determination. However, any deeper examination of what is going on soon reveals that the British ruling class and its UK state do not recognise the right of Scottish people to exercise any meaningful self-determination. The Edinburgh Agreement, signed by Alex Salmond for the SNP government at Holyrood and by David Cameron for the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government at Westminster, has not led to some genuine democratic debate conducted under a political version of the ‘Queensberry Rules’. ‘Project Fear’ has only been the most visible component of the ‘No’ campaign. The blatant manipulation of senior state officials and officers, whether from the Treasury (with its close links to the City of London), or the British High Command’s plans to seize Faslane nuclear base in the event of independence, are just some of the aspects of a more hidden ‘No’ campaign, which have surfaced. Many other aspects will remain well hidden, covered up by the UK state’s Crown Powers.

The SNP government’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals are trying to address, appease and head-off the growing popular democratic demand for self-determination. However, there are now many active groups, beyond the effective policing capabilities of the SNP front, the official ‘Yes’ campaign. The largest of these is the Left-led Radical Independence Campaign (RIC). This is another reason why, with their memory of the successful 1988-91 Anti-Poll Tax resistance, which remained beyond the control of Labour and trade union officialdom, that the British ruling class, UK state, City of London and all the unionist parties are so opposed to Scotland’s independence. Thus, the British ruling class do not judge any major constitutional change by its compatibility with an abstract capitalism, but to what extent it challenges their immediate political needs. Changes have to be at their discretion and on their terms.

What are the deeper politics that prevents so much of the British Socialist Left from seeing what is happening before their very eyes? Large sections fall back on a deep-seated economism. This claims the working class is only really, or mostly, concerned with economic or ‘bread and butter’ issues. They share this view with the Labour Left. This patronising view is a leftist variant of how the ruling class and their ideologues also see the working class. When workers take an interest in democratic political issues, they are thought to have been duped by others. Only the ruling class, or middle class careerists, could possibly be interested in how the state is run.

When the issue of oppression and democratic struggles do come to the fore, especially over national self-determination, then the British Labour and Socialist Left tend to tail-end what they see as the most ‘progressive’ option on offer from the political representatives of the liberal wing of the ruling class (Devolution under Labour) or of a wannabe ruling class (‘Independence-Lite’ under the SNP). This, of course, follows their view that such issues are not of direct concern to the working class.

There are times and places where state repression does force the British Labour and Socialist Left to adopt a more political approach, e.g. the brutal UK state response to the Civil Rights Movement, and later the Republican Movement in Northern Ireland. However, Labour and the Socialist Left often end up pretty as much ‘Johnnie-come-latelies’, when it comes to giving support to such struggles. This is because they have downgraded democratic issues in their thinking. They only react to the more blatant cases of repression. Yet, repression arises from a situation of oppression, or the denial of democratic rights. Oppression has to be opposed. Furthermore, this is far better done, before it reaches the point of repression.

There is a further problem with much of the Socialist Left’s abstract and fatalistic ‘Marxism’. If the role of democracy in the struggle against all forms of oppression often gets side-lined, because of their emphasis on economic struggles, then when it comes to alienation, the third prop of capitalism, which buttresses exploitation and oppression, the Socialist Left’s shortcomings become even more marked[25]See Exploitation, Oppression And Alienation: Emancipation, Liberation And Self-Determination.

This can be seen historically in some of the British unionist Left’s attitudes towards minority languages. George Galloway is one example. Minority languages, such as Gaelic or Welsh are seen as backward and holding back the unity of the working class. This view is very much based on the early years of Marx and Engels thinking, which they moved on from, but which were taken on board by Karl Kautsky and the ‘orthodox’ Marxism of the Second International[26]This is dealt with in my forthcoming Internationalism from Below, volume 2, The World of Nation-States and Nationalism between the Communist League and the Early Second International (1845-1895), and volume 3, Revolutionary Social Democracy and Nation-States and Nationalism in the Age of High Imperialism and the Second International (1889-1916)..

This is why it is important to recognise the alternative legacy of people like James Connolly, who adopted what was, in effect, an ‘internationalism-from-below’ approach to counter the both the state and British unionist Left’s approach to the Irish language. He wrote, “It is well to remember that nations which submit to conquest or races which abandon their language in favour of that of an oppressor do so, not because of altruistic motives, or because of the love of the brotherhood of man, but from a slavish and cringing spirit. From a spirit which cannot exist side by side with the revolutionary idea.”[27]James Connolly, Socialism and Nationalism in James Connolly – Collected Works, Volume 1, p. 307 (New Books Publications, 1987, Dublin)

Following their abstract and largely propagandist approach, the British Labour and Socialist Left, can only conceive of a reactive bureaucratic ‘internationalism’ locked in a framework set by the British ruing class and its UK state. They are completely unable to conceive of an active internationalism where Socialists can take the initiative. The British Left’s defence of a British ‘internationalism from above’ (which does not even extend to the full boundaries of the UK state) represents a political dead end. This needs to be countered by an active, democratic ‘internationalism from below’. This has a long tradition, going back to those English Levellers who resisted Cromwell’s attempts to send them to Ireland; the alliance of the United Irishmen, United Scotsmen and the London Corresponding Society in the 1790’s; the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English Land (and Labour) Leagues from 1879 to the 1890s (which the Socialist League briefly saw the significance of); and the emergence of John Maclean’s Scottish communist and workers’ republican alliance with the Irish revolutionary movement from 1919.

When it comes to practical alternatives to supporting ‘Yes’ on September 18th, 2014, the British Left looks ahead to the Westminster General Election of 2015 instead, and the prospect of a Miliband-led Labour government. Yet, all the government options on offer at Westminster in 2015 – Conservative/UKIP, Conservative, Conservative/Lib-Dem, Labour/Lib-Dem or Labour – are committed to much the same austerity politics. Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls has promised that a future Labour government will stick to Osborne’s government spending limits. Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves, has promised to stick to Ian Duncan Smith’s ‘welfare cap’. All potential governing parties are committed to prioritising the bankers’ pay-off, updating Trident and the never-ending circus of state promoted pomp and ceremony, including the forthcoming First World War ‘celebrations’.

The unreality of the Left having any influence over the 2015 Westminster election is highlighted by George Galloway. He bases his alternative to Scottish independence on the prospect of reclaiming the Labour Party. Yet, the party won’t even let him back in, no matter how much he crawls. Meanwhile, most other Socialists and trade unionists are moving away from Labour. Furthermore, it will not be the Left, but the Right, which will be strengthened by a ‘No’ vote on September 18th, just as it was in 1979.

Some on the Socialist Left hold out the prospect of a vote for their own marginal political organisation in 2015. Once their candidates are in place, this will go along with a heated debate over the degree of support to be given to Labour, or other Far Left candidates, in the seats they are not contesting themselves. This may salve some consciences, but it will offer no real challenge to the existing set-up. This is why Socialists throughout these islands should support Scottish independence on September 18th, 2014. Even the mildest form of Scottish self-determination being pursued by the SNP government, offers the much more radical alternative of opening up wider constitutional change. Waiting for the Tweedledum and Tweedledee ‘choice’ between the existing British unionist parties offers no such prospects.

However, there is no need to tailend the SNP government’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals. There is a significant movement beyond the official ‘Yes’ campaign. RIC is planning to extend its activity beyond September 18th, to mount a challenge over the future of the Scottish constitution. RIC is proportionally a much larger component of the wider ‘Yes’ campaign, than the few remaining Scottish Socialists and other British Left members in England are inside the ‘No’ campaign. Indeed, they are publicly almost invisible. When the constitutional future is up for grabs, this offers Socialists far greater opportunities than deciding which party or sect we should vote for at Westminster in 2015. A ‘Yes’ vote will not only weaken the UK state, but all the mainstream unionist parties that give it succour. Socialists who have been part of this process will achieve far more.


The success of UKIP in the UK-wide European and English Local Council elections should be a wake-up call for Socialists in these islands. This is not because UKIP is necessarily on the march to victory in the 2015 Westminster election. They will be hard-placed to make a big enough breakthrough to demand a Tory/UKIP governing coalition. However, if UKIP does not become part of a governing coalition, but establishes itself as the third party, it has already shown that it has the capacity to pull others to the Right, including the Labour Party. If the combined split Right wing vote in 2015 is greater than a Centre vote which delivers either a Labour (unlikely) or Labour/Lib-Dem government (also less likely in the case of a ‘No’ vote in Scotland), then UKIP’s rise could well place the Conservative Party in the hands of a new Tory Right, as Cameron and his social liberal allies in the party are unceremoniously dumped. Backed by the Right wing media, they would do all in their power, including taking extra-parliamentary action, to eject the incumbent government. If successful they would intensify the current austerity attacks even more. They would end any new social liberal legislation, and possibly even reverse some existing laws. British chauvinism and racism would be ramped up.

If you look to Peter Robinson and the DUP in Northern Ireland you get some idea of what Nigel Farage and UKIP would be like in a governing coalition. Furthermore, in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, UKIP has shown that it can get Orange Order and Loyalist support. These organisations (and other on the Far Right) would also exert their own pressure, and expect results, just as they are currently doing in Northern Ireland. However, the starkest lesson for Socialists is shown by the greater ‘international’ ambitions of UKIP. They organises across the full territory of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. UKIP’s ‘internationalism’ mirrors that of the UK state. It is top down. However, instead of being modelled on the bureaucratic model of the UK state, Nigel Farage acts as a celebrity leader manipulating his forces in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

UKIP does not give its support to the current mainstream unionist parties agreed ‘New Unionist’ deal to maintain their control over these islands. UKIP have seen in Northern Ireland that this deal can be picked apart. If the British ruling class agreed to abandon key elements of ‘Devolution-all-round’ and the ‘Peace Process’, they would have to reassert more centralised control, even if the formal trappings of devolution remain in place. However, since the whole trend of neo-liberal politics involves the gutting of formally democratic institutions, whilst leaving them still in place, they could find ways of getting their way by stealth.

The biggest current challenge to this de-democratisation process is the demand for Scottish self-determination. This is linked to the demand for a democratic constitution. With its ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals, however, the SNP government is trying to maintain as much as possible of the very powers that undermine democracy – the monarchy which fronts the UK state’s anti-democratic Crown Powers; sterling which puts control of the economy beyond any democratic reach, leaving it in the hands of the City of London: and the British High Command and NATO, which ensures that any formally independent Scotland continue with massive military expenditure and would be dragged into further wars.

However, even the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals are a bridge too far for the British ruling class and its global allies. This is because of the uncertainty they bring, particularly in a situation of continued economic, social, cultural and political crisis; and where more and more people are being drawn into the campaign for genuine Scottish self-determination beyond the policing capacity of the SNP government.

Socialists should be placing themselves to the fore of this struggle for Scottish self-determination. The first year of the Anti-Poll Tax struggle took place in Scotland (because the then Tory government tested the hated tax out in Scotland first) before it was spread to England and Wales. Now, the struggle to break-up the British imperialist, unionist, and monarchist state (with its established Protestant religion) UK state, has also started in Scotland. However, there are other fault lines in this UK state, which could also open up, if Scotland paves the way.

Therefore, the best way of marginalising UKIP, or the wider unionist agenda over the future of the UK, is to win a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th. Of course, then another battle opens up to challenge the SNP government’s ’Independence-Lite’ proposals, and their accommodation to the UK state and global corporate capital. This is why RIC organised a National Forum in Glasgow on May 24th to organise beyond September 18th.

Those on the British unionist Left, who can not see beyond the possibility of electing a Miliband-led ‘One Nation’ Labour Westminster government, have a very blinkered outlook. A ‘No’ vote on September 18th will very much reinforce the position of Cameron’s Conservatives, who will claim to have ‘saved Britain’. Labour could not even be certain of receiving a few more consolation seats in Scotland, for their role in assisting the Conservatives in keeping the UK plc on the road.

The official media has been almost totally dominated by the ‘No’ campaign. The SNP leadership do get coverage, but usually of a cynical unionist and disparaging character, with emphasis on Salmond, so that support for independence can be portrayed as support for the SNP, or even for a potential Scottish dictator. The radical wing of the ‘Yes’ campaign, including bella caledonia and the National Collective, have had to concentrate their efforts upon informal social media. RIC has been organising large meetings and activities in the meeting halls and on the streets, and through door-to-door canvassing, with the largest mass canvass organised on June 22nd. In the absence of mass demonstrations and other signs of collective resistance, it is this face-to-face contact, which has been able to win over people on the ground to a ‘Yes’ vote. You don’t hear of people moved over from ‘Yes’ to ‘No’, but the numbers moving in the other direction are considerable.

However, those on the Scottish Left, who see independence as nothing but a way of achieving a Tory-free Scotland, also have very limited ambitions. It is not the Tories who are at the forefront of maintaining the Union in Scotland. It is Labour, and to all intents and purposes, they are already in coalition with the Conservatives and Lib-Dems, not only in opposition to Scottish independence, but in their support for austerity, nuclear weapons and all the costly British pomp and ceremony associated with the UK state. They are in coalition with the Conservatives in seven Scottish local councils.

Therefore, we need far deeper changes than just getting rid of the last few Tory politicians in Scotland. We need massive popular involvement in the making of a new constitution. And, just as UKIP seeks allies throughout the UK, we as Socialists should be building our own ‘internationalist from below’ alliance, covering Scotland, England, Wales and the whole of Ireland (to finally overcome the ethno-religious divisions promoted by the British ruling class, with the support of their Irish junior partners).

The social forces already exist to introduce democratic, secular and social republics throughout these islands. Still missing are the political organisations that could achieve this. However, the very process of building independent class organisations – economic, social, cultural and political – provides our class with the confidence to go beyond these immediate aims. The ongoing multifaceted crisis shows that increasing barbarism is global capital’s only ‘solution’. Each much-vaunted economic recovery leaves the vast majority trapped in lower paid, less secure jobs and greater debts than the previous one. The downward pressure is relentless. There is a pressing need to show, not only that ‘another world is possible’, but that our class, once more making its own international links, has the confidence and capacity to bring it about.

24th June 2014


1 See Behind The Unionists’ ‘Project Fear’, The UK State Mask Slips
2 An unnamed businessman also funds George Galloway’s ‘Just Say Naw’ campaign.
3 This goes a long way to explain why UNITE, and other major unions in Scotland, have not come out publicly for a ‘No’ vote, despite behind-the-scenes pressure by the Labour Party. Well paid union officials fear a loss of membership., and hence union dues.
4 The City of London though also has a Scottish financial satellite in Edinburgh. This satellite status is highlighted for three weeks every August, when Edinburgh holds the Official Festival The London-based media decamp to review the kind of artistic fare they can get all-year at home. This year, anything based on the theme of the Scottish independence referendum is taboo; the First World War being the most favoured theme!

The elite orientated nature of much of the Official Festival fare was contested by the Edinburgh Peoples Festival from 1951-54 (which preceded the Fringe), and was relaunched in 2002 by SSP members upon the death of Hamish Henderson, one of the founders of the original EPF.

5 This process is very well illustrated in a new book by Pat Walsh, From Catastrophe to Resurgence, 1914-68, Volume 1: The Catholic Predicament in Northern Ireland.
6 Although, taking a quite different and less oppressive form, the current Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour support for Fiscal Devolution in Scotland is based on the same denial of responsibility stance, only in a situation where most government finance still remains in the hands of Westminster.
7 From the late eleventh century, Norman-French lords and adventurers, bringing English and Flemish settlers with them, seized southern Pembrokeshire. This area is sometimes known as ‘Little England beyond Wales’. This colonisation offensive was carried on over to County Wexford in Ireland, where English language speakers dominated the baronies of Forth and Bargy. However, the majority of English speakers in Pembrokeshire followed most others in England, and joined the Church of England. The majority of English speakers in County Wexford remained Catholics, and as such became ‘mere Irish’.
8 See From Davitt to Connolly, ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the Challenge to the UK State and British Imperialism (1879-95), by Allan Armstrong (BOOK LAUNCH: From Davitt to Connolly – ‘Internationalism from below’ and the challenge to the UK state and British imperialism from 1879-95).
9 Kenneth O. Morgan, Rebirth of A Nation, Wales 1880-1980, p. 33.
10 Hain also became a prominent advocate of welfare benefit counter-reforms, at the same time as being politically compromised by his personal campaign funding. He has now decided to retire from politics to concentrate on his business affairs. Amazingly, the SWP keeps him as a supporter of their front organisation, Unite Against Fascism.
11 Northern Ireland’s status remained ambiguous. It superficially appeared to have a similar national status under ‘Devolution-all-round’; but continued to be treated by the UK state, not as a united nation, but a constitutionally nationally-divided province
12 Nevertheless, they were both still made Privy Councillors, which means they are seen as reliable by the British establishment.
13 See Even The Rain
14 See Bank of Scotland in Ireland. Banksters.
15 See Racism: Break the bounds of liberal outrage!
16 This should make some people question the politics of leading Scottish composer, James Macmillan. He urged Catholics in Scotland to vote for the Conservative Party (in alliance with the Ulster Unionists) in the 2011 Westminster general election. He opposes Scottish independence – as does Pope Francis….and George Galloway, the Orange Order, the Ulster Unionists, and the BNP and Scottish Defence League!
17 See ICM poll: Labour support slides as Plaid grows
18 The only independently organised Left today are to be found in the Left unionist, CPB, led by former Welsh Republican, Robert Griffiths, the SPEaW, and the SWP. The new Left Unity Party in Wales seems to be following an earlier British Left tradition of not having anything to say on the issue of Welsh self-determination.
19 Welsh leader attacks shared pound
20 Carwyn Jones: Wales would welcome nuclear submarines
21 Academic says UKIP success is game-changer in Wales
22 Cerys accepts pat on the head from British Empire
23 Quarry Workers Support Group, Sadyn Gydan Gilydd/We Are Together, Blaenau Ffestiniog, 1885-1986, Syith Micary Llechen/Seven Months on the Slate.
24 For those from the old official (i.e. USSR backed) Communist Party tradition, this is supplemented by the celebration of the CPs’ role in the Spanish Civil War, particularly in the International Brigades. This struggle is quite properly seen as an antecedent to the wider struggles of the Second World War. However, the intervening gap of 22 months, when the Soviet/Nazi Pact was in force tends to be forgotten.
25 See Exploitation, Oppression And Alienation: Emancipation, Liberation And Self-Determination
26 This is dealt with in my forthcoming Internationalism from Below, volume 2, The World of Nation-States and Nationalism between the Communist League and the Early Second International (1845-1895), and volume 3, Revolutionary Social Democracy and Nation-States and Nationalism in the Age of High Imperialism and the Second International (1889-1916).
27 James Connolly, Socialism and Nationalism in James Connolly – Collected Works, Volume 1, p. 307 (New Books Publications, 1987, Dublin)