Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written an account of the Scottish independence campaign since the SNP launched its official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign in 2012 up until the last two weeks before the September 18th referendum. This is based on several contributions Allan has already made on this blog. It is also a contemporary update of his historical piece, The Making and the Breaking of the UK State (The Making And The Breaking Of The UK State). This article also looks at the possibilities beyond September 18th.
UP TO AND BEYOND THE SEPTEMBER 18th INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM – A socialist republican response
a) The Scottish independence referendum – not an exercise by the UK of the right of self-determination
b) The SNP leadership’s strategy
c) Cameron’s strategy pushes Labour into the frontline of the defence of the Union in Scotland, whilst he controls things at a UK level
d) Attempts to widen the political base of support for the Union
e) The new challenge to social liberalism and the ‘New Unionist’ settlement from UKIP, the Tory Right, the Ulster Unionists and Loyalists
f) Enter the unexpected – a new movement from below
g) The lack of class confidence underpins both official campaigns and the inherited weaknesses of the Left affect RIC too
h) After September 18th
a) The Scottish independence referendum – not an exercise by the UK of the right of self-determination
On 15th October 2012, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP Holyrood government, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg for the Conservative-Lib Dem Westminster government, signed the Edinburgh Agreement, allowing the Scottish independence referendum to take place on September 18th, 2014.
Under the UK set-up there is no constitutional right to national self-determination for the nations making up the UK – Scotland, Wales or England for that matter – nor for an Ireland split between the UK (6 counties ‘Ulster’ or Northern Ireland) and the 26 counties Ireland (which includes 3 counties of Ulster). Any decisions in this regard lie with the UK government of the day.
Constitutional reform only proceeds after extensive behind-the-scenes government consultation with those running the hidden UK state – senior civil servants, judges, military and intelligence officers, Treasury figures acting on behalf of the City of London – whose activities are all protected under the UK state’s Crown Powers.
Furthermore, whilst under the Edinburgh Agreement any SNP government led ‘Yes’ campaign has to abide strictly by the rules set down by Westminster, the UK state can resort to a whole host of anti-democratic measures hidden from public scrutiny, again under the Crown Powers. The Guardian revealed that the Ministry of Defence had been making plans to declare Faslane sovereign UK territory in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote. There will be much more going on that we will never know about.
Thus Cameron knew that any referendum campaign was already very much rigged in his favour and that he enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority of the British ruling class, the UK state machine and all the unionist Westminster parties – Conservative, Lib-Dem, Labour and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). He could depend on the BBC and the mainstream media to oppose Scottish independence. He had the backing of the US government and key EU leaders, neither wanting other political uncertainties coming to the fore in the context of the current economic crisis on both sides of the Atlantic.
Having looked at the balance of forces, Cameron decided to allow the SNP government’s request for an independence referendum to take go ahead. The thinking behind this was to knock the cocky Alex Salmond off his perch; to bring an end to the growing divergence between the shared Westminster austerity consensus and successive devolved Holyrood governments mild social democratic measures; and to kill off any hopes in Scotland that things could be any different – ‘There is no alternative!’
The SNP government is campaigning for ‘Independence-Lite’. The limits of this version of self-determination are determined by the SNP leadership’s desire to represent the interests of a wannabe Scottish ruling class and to build up a state that acts on their behalf. This means curtailing any wider notions of self-determination that could threaten Scottish business interests.
The SNP government’s desire to keep the monarchy disguises their wish to be able to call upon the inherited Crown Powers if need be. Their desire to keep the pound recognises that the City of London, and its Edinburgh banking satellites, would remain the main directing force in the Scottish economy. Their desire to keep Scotland’s military forces under the British High Command shows they still wish to support the UK’s junior imperial role in keeping the world safe for global corporate capital. The SNP government has supported British military attacks on both Afghanistan and Libya.
Therefore, the SNP government’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals are confined to ending Westminster’s political control over Scotland, including its profoundly anti-democratic House of Lords. Their proposals would also lead to independent representation for a new Scottish state in the EU and at the UN.
However, even this curtailed version of national self-determination raises some very worrying prospects for the British ruling class. It could result in the loss of a seat on the UN Security Council, following the UK’s diminished size and influence. Furthermore, the SNP government’s opposition to the Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland could lead to the UK state losing that symbol of British imperial clout – Trident. If the UK is to continue as the junior partner to US imperialism then the loss of a nuclear weapons capacity has to be thwarted – hence the secret plans already developed to meet such a contingency.
The issue of ‘Devo-Max’, as a possible second option on the referendum ballot paper, was also raised within SNP circles, and in behind-the-scenes informal talks. ‘Devo-Max’ offers the prospect of some further devolution of Westminster’s existing powers to Holyrood, but with significant exceptions, including control of currency, security, foreign and military affairs, whilst still keeping Scotland politically subordinate within the UK state.
Some SNP figures hoped that ‘Devo-Max’ would be taken up by influential Labour or trade union figures. However, they found that neither the Scottish Labour nor STUC leaderships would play ball. They both thought that the SNP would still be able to claim a victory in the event of this second option being voted for. The SNP had already, by 2007, become the main beneficiary of the existing New Labour introduced Holyrood set-up, and ‘Devo-Max’ might not stop its onward march.
It also soon became very clear that the British ruling is very wary of another period of democratic reform, or any political focus on the workings of the UK state. Recent political scandals have revealed the corrupt and seamier side of Westminster to the public. Indeed, despite the exposure of MPs’ runaway expenses, and politicians being bought by business lobbyists, these political arrangements remain the preferred method of government favoured by corporate business, and accepted by most Westminster politicians. The prospect of democratic reform could draw further attention to some unsavoury features of the current UK state set-up.
The only significant constitutional reform the British ruling class is contemplating, is the implementation of US corporate promoted Transatlantic Trade and Investment Agreement. This would have the effect of entrenching corporate control over government. These negotiations are being hidden well away from any public scrutiny.
Although not as immediately threatening to the British ruing class as the SNP government’s ‘Independence Lite’ proposals, ‘Devo-Max’ could still lead to political uncertainty. This is why there is so little British ruling class support for further constitutional reform, unless this can be delivered on its own very strict, top-down terms.
The post-2008 economic crisis has also very much hardened the British ruling class’s desire to impose the austerity measures they see as necessary to revive British capitalism. This is why they are increasingly opposed not only to any liberal constitutional experiments, but also to the mild social democratic measures adopted or advocated by the SNP government. In this period of crisis, the time has come to batten down the hatches of UK plc.
Austerity has to be implemented across-the-board. If there are to be any local exceptions, then they must be paid for mainly out of locally raised personal taxes. They are not to be financed by revenues derived from a future independent Scottish government’s taxation of oil. That could remove a major income stream for the UK state. Thatcher used this revenue to underwrite the de-industrialisation of the UK and the switch over to a finance sector led service economy.
Nor are new reforms to be financed by slashing the UK’s state’s bloated arms budget, particularly its commitment to the new Trident. That would puncture the UK’s junior imperial role, and undermine the City of London’s profits from arbitrage across the globe, and the British armaments and security industries’ profits from war and other countries’ political instability.
This is also why the Conservative/Lib Dem government, with the support of the Labour ‘opposition’, is postponing any decision about whether or not to go for the even more diluted ’Devo-Plus’. ‘Devo-Plus’ amounts to a few further tax-raising powers being handed down to Holyrood.
The UK government has decided that the political balance of forces can be reassessed in the event of a ‘No’ vote, to see in what form of ‘Devo-Plus’ might be adopted. If the current Tory/Lib-Dem/Labour social liberal and pro-austerity alliance can be maintained after the 2015 Westminster General Election, then fiscal devolution could still be implemented. This would almost inevitably be alongside the scrapping of the Barnett Formula, and the imposition of further swingeing Westminster spending cuts. This would nullify any reforming potential for devolved taxes, and, in effect, further devolve decision making about where Westminster imposed cuts in expenditure would be implemented.
Therefore, getting no joy from the British government, or the ‘opposition’ Labour Party over ‘Devo-Max’, and being suspicious of any ‘promises’ of future ‘Devo-Plus’ from any of the unionist parties – Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour – the SNP government has had to settle for just one question on the forthcoming referendum ballot paper – Independence: ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. This was the contest that David Cameron and all the unionist parties also wanted, initially believing a large ‘No’ majority was a forgone conclusion.
b) The SNP leadership’s strategy
Even before the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, the SNP government set up a front organisation to win support for its version of independence – the official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign. The model for this campaign has been Barack Obama’s 2008 ‘Yes We Can’ Presidential campaign. It had deliberately sought wider non-Democrat involvement, particularly from naïve radicals. It was media-savvy and relied very much on the social media to attract young people. The corporate suits were in real control behind the scenes. As soon as Obama was elected, ‘Yes We Can’ was closed down, the corporate suits came out of the closet, radical ‘promises’ were quickly ditched. Then Obama’s real job of rebranding George Bush’s widely discredited US imperialism was begun.
The setting up of ‘Yes Scotland’ was put in the hands of SNP right winger, Angus Robertson. The launch in Edinburgh on May 25th, 2012, was carefully stage managed. The reliable Blair Jenkins OBE was put in charge to ensure that the official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign agenda never went beyond what was acceptable to the SNP leadership (The ‘Independence-Lite’ Referendum And A Tale Of Two Campaigns).
However, wider support for a ‘Yes’ vote was required, so former Labour and independent MSP, Denis Canavan, Patrick Harvie from the Greens and Colin Fox from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) were also invited on to ‘Yes Scotland’s Board. The fact that the SNP officials remained in full control behind-the-scenes was highlighted when Stan Blackley, its sole non-SNP campaign officer, resigned (http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/former-executive-stan-blackley-slams-yes-scotland-1-3382434).
Clearly, other parties participating in ‘Yes Scotland’ might still raise demands that are unacceptable to the SNP leadership. However, their wishes could be easily side-lined to a ‘wish list’ for the future. This would have no real effect on the policies of the incumbent SNP government. The SNP government spelled out its own policies in their White Paper, Scotland’s Future, published on November 15th, 2013.
The SNP leadership have also made some nods towards the think tank, Common Weal. Common Weal advocates a Nordic-style potpourri of social democratic policies. These are very much in the future ‘wish list’ category that the SNP government can live with. However, the SNP leadership has a better understanding of the nature of the current global corporate and US/UK imperial order and the UK state than Common Weal does. Feeling the very real pressures coming from these sources, and mindful of its job in building up a wannabe Scottish ruling class which knows its position, the SNP leadership has and will act accordingly.
Salmond already knew that his SNP government would need to go further to appease external powers. They would have to acknowledge their acceptance of the US/UK imperial role in upholding the current global corporate order, within which the new Scottish wannabe ruling class could then claim its place. The main mechanism for maintaining the current world order is NATO. Some time ago, Lisa Vickers, former US consul in Edinburgh, had warned the SNP leaders, that the US would not stand by and allow Scotland to leave NATO without “consequences”.
Therefore, despite getting elected to Holyrood in 2011, at a time when opposition to NATO was still formal SNP policy, the leadership worked overtime to ensure that this policy was overthrown at their October 2012 Conference. This was the SNP’s ‘Ditch Clause Four’ moment. The corporate suits had taken over.
One less appreciated aspect of Salmond’s campaign has been his overtures south of the border. He has spoken in Liverpool (see Alex Salmond tries to woo Liverpool – with help from a Labour heavyweight), seeking support particularly from those Labour-dominated areas in the North, outside of the City of London and Conservative dominated South East.
Salmond is aware that there is considerable resentment in the North over Westminster’s prioritisation of the City of London’s interests at their expense. The legacy of Thatcher’s de-industrialisation offensive is resented as much in the North of England as in Scotland. The massive government subsidies given to London (e.g. for the Crossrail Project) to maintain the City as a centre of global finance, and the wasteful expenditure on Trident needed to sustain the UK’s wider imperial role, are also questioned in the North.
Salmond has realised that New Labour, particularly since Gordon Brown became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997, has been as committed to the City of London as the Conservatives. (He has tried to downplay his own flirtation with Sir George Mathewson of the Royal Bank of Scotland prior to the 2008 Crash). Salmond has argued that after independence he wishes to maintain a ‘Social Union’ with the rUK to provide common welfare benefits. In addition, if Scotland were to become independent, it would no longer be competing with the North of England for government spending under the Treasury’s Barnett Formula.
Furthermore, Scottish independence would also give an impetus to the provision of increased powers for the Welsh Parliament, and for the resurrection of those proposed English Regional Assemblies, ditched by New Labour after 1997. In some quarters, this has been coupled to the suggestion that a new Westminster second chamber, with representatives from the remaining national and new regional assemblies, could replace the current unelected, oversized and over-privileged House of Lords.
Indeed, along with the proposals to scrap the costly Trident (a policy that enjoys some support amongst elements of the military top brass), Salmond’s proposals could be seen as opening the way to a wider modernisation strategy for the UK. These would counter the existing City of London finance and services model for the UK with the high costs involved in trying to remain a major imperial power in the world. It would be precisely because the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ Scotland had broken from the stultifying conservative (Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour) dominated Westminster, that it could provide the external impetus for such developments.
Salmond would also welcome the formation of Scandinavian-style Nordic Council, a beefed-up version of the existing British-Irish Council, possibly renamed the Council of the Isles. This could bring together Scotland, Ireland and the rUK and its remaining devolved assemblies.
Of course, such a strategy would be vehemently opposed by the City of London and those sectors still profiting from the UK’s current wider imperial role. Furthermore, Salmond’s acceptance of the monarchy and hence the Crown Powers, of the continued economic domination by the City of London through a currency agreement over sterling, and military subordination to the British High Command, limit the potential for an independent Scotland to play this wider modernisation role. These accommodations allow the very forces, which so strongly oppose such a modernisation project, to extend their influence into the heart of the machinery of state of an independent Scotland.
One reason for Salmond’s limitations in this respect is his concern to ensure that nothing is promised that would upset the interests of a wannabe Scottish ruling class. Those who have already signed up to the SNP version of Scottish independence want no more than a junior managerial buyout of the local branch office of UK plc, and its rebranding with Scottish icons – saltires and lions rampant.
Cuts to corporate taxation remain a key SNP policy to attract inward investment. John Swinney’s support for flat rate income taxes has been set aside for the moment. If a ‘Yes’ vote were to be achieved though, the first thing the SNP government would do is try to persuade previously anti-Scottish independence business leaders and global corporate managers to come on board. The SNP government would also have much greater patronage at its disposal to win over such forces. This would then pull the SNP further to the Right. Swinney, and other Right wingers, like Mike Russell, hold prominent government positions. Angus Robertson would be found a new non-Westminster home. They would also feel less reticent, after any ‘Yes’ vote.
In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, the SNP leadership will fall back on its mandate as the elected Holyrood government under the existing Westminster system. The votes of those placing a ‘Yes’ on their ballot papers will just be used as a bargaining counter. The official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign will be wound up. Negotiations with the UK government will be conducted by SNP government approved people – with an invite to Alistair Darling to join Salmond’s team!
Negotiations with other bodies, especially NATO, will be conducted secretly, well away from any public scrutiny. Indeed, one of the consequences of the SNP government accepting NATO is that US security forces will now be working in several arenas, where they will be in contact with the existing devolved Scottish state and SNP government. Such arenas and their activities are protected under the UK state’s Crown Powers. Both Osama Saeed, SNP Holyrood candidate, now working for Al Jazeera, and Humza Yousef, SNP junior Minister for External Affairs and International Development, have attended the US State Department’s International Leadership Program. Thatcher, Blair and Brown were earlier ‘beneficiaries’.
c) Cameron’s strategy pushes Labour into the frontline of the defence of the Union in Scotland, whilst he controls things at a UK level
Whilst Cameron can call upon much more powerful forces, beyond the realm of official public politics, than the SNP’s official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign could ever mobilise, the British government also needed to provide a public political face for its campaign. ‘Better Together’, or the official `No’ campaign was launched in Edinburgh on June 25th, 2012, a month after the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign. Alistair Darling, former New Labour Chancellor became Chair. Nosheena Mobarik, former Chair of Scottish CBI was appointed Director. Blair Henderson, Labour Party employee, was appointed Campaigns Director. The political line-up is an alliance of the Conservatives, Lib-Dems and Labour. Behind the scenes its organisers have dubbed their ‘No’ campaign, ‘Project Fear’, something that, to their embarrassment, was soon revealed to the wider public (Behind The Unionists’ ‘Project Fear’, The UK State Mask Slips).
The first element of their ‘Project Fear’ campaign has been their attempt to personalise the issue of Scottish self-determination as being the product of one man’s craving for power – Alex Salmond. Hence their massive campaign of demonization, highlighted most recently in Alistair Darling’s finger-jabbing attempt to put Salmond down on the August 28th TV debate. The second is to characterise the SNP as ethnic (even ‘blood and soil’) nationalists and separatists. The third has been to create a climate of fear about Scotland’s future under independence, coupled with a concerted attempt to undermine self-confidence and reinforce dependence on and deference towards members of the British Establishment, the City, big business and their apologists, ‘who know better’ than us.
Cameron very deliberately chose the Labour Party to front the anti-independence campaign in Scotland. He has, though, remained in overall control at a UK level, to ensure that he could claim that he saved the Union in the event of a ‘No’ vote. In making his political calculations, Cameron knew he could call upon Ed Milband’s support.
Under the post-2008 conditions of generalised economic crisis within the EU, social democratic parties across the continent have undertaken a bonfire of reforms they had previously supported, and thrown their weight behind the imposition of the austerity measures necessary to revive capitalism. Miliband did not need much persuading that any new liberal constitutional experiments could undermine this, and that even a Labour initiated ‘Devo-Max’ alternative would create uncertainty.
Since 2008, a range of political strategies has been adopted by social democrats in Europe. When Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party government was elected in France in 2012, he started out by promising that big business and the rich should also make some financial contribution to the economic ‘recovery’. He has now abandoned this approach. Instead, he is beginning to fall back on the sort of ‘slash and burn’ austerity measures supported by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls in the UK. In Greece and Ireland, their two respective social democratic parties have given up all pretence that they offer a different programme to deal with austerity. They have entered government coalitions with the conservative parties.
In Scotland, the Labour Party is already considerably closer to the Greece/Ireland model. Not only is there a Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour alliance in ‘Better Together’; Labour is in coalition with the Conservatives in seven Scottish local councils. Both Westminster-based Labour in Scotland, and Holyrood and local council-based Scottish Labour wanted to join Cameron in giving the SNP a ‘bloody nose’.
For those making it to the top, the Labour Party has usually been about the pursuit of personal careers, whether through the party machinery, trade union officialdom, local councils or Westminster. In the long period of capitalist expansion, experienced after the Second World War, such careerism could be pursued alongside Labour’s promotion of economic and social reforms. These benefitted the working class, and hence ensured their electoral support. Now, under conditions of capitalist crisis, these reforms have to be jettisoned. All that is left is the pursuit of careers.
From 1999 to 2007, the new devolved Scottish Holyrood provided another layer of careerist advancement, as the devolved Welsh Cardiff Bay parliament continues to do for Labour to this day. Holding office at Westminster from 1997 to 2010, and in many Scottish local councils up until 2004, Labour had considerable patronage at its disposal. This ensured that Labour enjoyed business backing too.
However, the 2004 reform of Scottish local government, which introduced a form of proportional representation, and the elections of two SNP governments at Holyrood since 2007, has brought an abrupt halt to much of Labour’s patronage and hence limited the prospects for further career advancement. This has infuriated the Labour Party machine in Scotland.
As result, a huge national party effort was put into defending Labour’s control of Glasgow City Council, one of its last bastions of patronage, in the 2012 Scottish local government elections. This was an indication of just what was at stake. Despite facing a strong SNP challenge, and being divided between ‘Old Corruption’ Glasgow First Labour and ‘New Corruption’ official Labour, Labour held on. This is the successful campaign that the Labour Party wants to repeat in the current referendum campaign. This is why they are so keen to provide the frontline troops in Scotland for the official ‘Better Together’ ‘No’ campaign.
The desperation of this, though, is highlighted by the fact that, at the UK level, the Conservatives would be the main beneficiaries of any ‘No’ vote. Having saved the Union, they would then feel no pressure from Scottish Labour, only from the increasingly restive Tory Right and UKIP. It would only be in Scotland that Labour could hope to gain from any putative ‘No’ bounce. But with so little Conservative representation in Scotland at Westminster – famously one less MP than the two pandas at Edinburgh Zoo – there is little more to be gained by Labour in Scotland in electoral terms.
Scottish Labour needs to follow any ‘No’ vote in September 2014 with a Miliband victory at Westminster in 2015. A majority Labour government is not very likely, especially given Labour’s current standing, and Miliband’s very low popularity ratings in the polls. But even if a Miliband Labour or Labour-led government were to be elected, Labour voters’ disillusionment would mount far more quickly than it did under Tony Blair after 1997. Miliband’s very modest ‘reform’ measures, far from representing a clever accommodation with the City of London and corporate business, are so limited that they would only give these forces all the more confidence to derail them. Austerity would be intensified.
The last link in Scottish Labour’s ‘grand plan’ is to oust the SNP from Scottish government office in the 2016 Holyrood election. This would open up the road to reinstating Labour controlled patronage and hence promote career advancement once more. A ‘No’ vote would certainly set back the SNP government’s immediate hopes to be able to dispense much greater patronage, and their attempt to build up a new wannabe Scottish ruling class. Yet the SNP could still remain better placed than Scottish Labour in the run-up to and after the 2016 Holyrood elections.
Indeed, there will be people voting ‘Yes’ on September 18th, who although they voted Labour in the 2010 Westminster General election, then voted for the SNP in the last 2011 Holyrood election. This is because they see the SNP as better than Labour in protecting their interests in Scotland within the current UK set-up, which they still accept.
So, if Labour fails to win the 2015 Westminster election, or is indeed elected and continues with Osborne’s austerity offensive (itself initiated by the last Gordon Brown Labour government, with Alistair Darling promising harsher cuts than Thatcher had imposed), then this would greatly increase the SNP’s chances of holding on to office at Holyrood in 2016.
When ‘Better Together’, and particularly its Labour spokespersons, attack the ‘Yes’ campaign, it is not by resorting to the arguments of working class voters or even trade union officials wanting an end to austerity. ‘Project Fear’ just recycles the propaganda coming from the Bank of England, big business figures and the right wing Institute of Fiscal Studies. Such sources often also attacked New Labour’s Scottish Devolution proposals before the 1998 referendum. This speaks volumes in whose interests the Labour Party now speaks.
At Westminster, Labour’s Ed Balls and Rachel Reeves have given their full support to the George Osborne’s slashed government spending targets and to Ian Duncan-Smith’s welfare cap. But in Scotland, party leader Johann Lamont, cheered on by Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, has gone further. She has declared war on universal benefits in today’s “something for nothing” society (Lamont calls for end to ‘something for nothing’ culture).
This doesn’t just mean opposition to the SNP’s mild social democratic policies, but is also an attack on some of those Holyrood reforms initiated by the first Labour/Lib-Dem Scottish government between 1999-2004. Lamont has set-up the well-named Midwinter Review to ‘rethink’ the provision of universal benefits. It is likely to follow in the steps of the Labour’s Lord Adonis reviews, which have also inspired the Conservatives.
Lamont has also defended the role of the “remarkable international city state of London” (Lamont claims London is good for Scotland). This is very revealing about Labour’s real allegiances. This support for the City of London places her at odds with many of her Northern English Labour colleagues, who are less than enamoured with the privileged role the City enjoys and with Labour’s obsession with meeting its demands. It also shows that, unlike Salmond, who offers some prospect of a modernisation of capitalism which covers the rest of the UK, especially Wales and the North of England, Scottish Labour is entirely in the pockets of Miliband and Millbank House, who prioritise the interests of the City of London. London is the city with the greatest class disparities in the UK, yet it is Labour’s model for the rest of the UK!
However, the most amazing statement to have emerged yet from Lamont’s mouth is that “Scots are not genetically programmed to make decisions”! (Are Scots genetically incapable of making political decisions? With Labour attempting to portray the democratic demand for much greater Scottish self-determination as an Alex Salmond bid for a personal dictatorship, based on an SNP campaign of ‘blood and soil’ nationalism, Lamont’s resort to racial stereotyping certainly reached a new low, even by Scottish Labour standards.
d) Attempts to widen the political base of support for the Union
One big disappointment for both British and Scottish Labour has been their inability to get the STUC to fall in behind ‘Better Together’. The STUC has not given its public backing, since ‘Better Together’ is so obviously an alliance with the Tories, which many of their members detest. Some union officials in Scotland probably appreciate that a neutral stance over Scottish independence could also permit them to jump ship, and advance their political careers within a Scottish framework in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote.
Furthermore, Miliband has tried to further marginalise the official trade union ‘movement’ (which in reality is the Labour Party link to the trade union bureaucracy), so relations are cool. However, Labour is still anxious to receive funding from affiliated unions, so Miliband can not break the link completely. Instead, behind-the-scenes deals have to be made reminding union officials of the continuation of possible future political career options at Westminster and all-UK state level, if they don’t rock the boat in the lead-up to the 2015 election.
However, even Len McCluskey, who has pledged a lot of UNITE members’ money to Labour in the run-up to 2015, has not risked large scale member defections by having UNITE coming out publicly for ‘Better Together’. UNITE is an all-islands union (including members in 26 Counties Ireland). This ‘internationalism’ is not used to organise wider, more effective trade union action, but to provide a larger financial base for a privileged officialdom. When it comes to collecting members’ dues, McCluskey does not seem to have the same problem as Alistair Darling in dealing with two currencies!
Looking beyond Scotland, Cameron and Miliband also know they can depend on Welsh Labour to crawl obsequiously in defence of the existing order. Labour’s First Minister at Cardiff Bay, Carwyn Jones, even offered Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire as an alternative site for the Faslane submarine base, if it were to be forced to close down as a result of Scottish independence (Carwyn Jones under fire over offer to host Trident submarines in Wales). Obviously Pembrokeshire is not on Welsh Labour’s electoral hit list! When Falmouth in Cornwall was suggested as an alternative for the Trident base, even the sitting Conservative MP objected strenuously (Falmouth’s rejection of Trident echoes Scottish opposition).
Jones has also thrown himself fully behind ‘Better Together’s attempt to deny an independent Scotland the use of sterling. “If you remember the banking crash, what we needed was swift decisions to stop our economy from going under” (Carwyn Jones: ‘Political divorce isn’t the best solution for Scotland’s future’).
Well its very doubtful whether Carwyn Jones, never mind the people of Wales, took any part in that decision. If they had been asked, it is most unlikely that they would have backed Alistair Darling’s “swift decision” to let the banksters off scot free, and to offload the cost of the bailout on to the hardest pressed in society.
Cameron also has the backing of all wings of Unionism in Northern Ireland for a ‘No’ vote, despite the Ulster Unionist Party falling out with the Conservatives after their 2010 Westminster general election alliance. The problems Cameron could face with the Unionists and the Loyalists would only really emerge after any ‘No’ vote, when they would move to block any further devolution for Scotland.
The British ruling class, and the Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem parties, have all come round to supporting the once much-contested ‘New Unionist’ political settlement covering these islands. This settlement followed the renewed challenge to the UK state made by national democratic movements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the 1980’s.
‘New Unionism’ began with the John Major’s Conservative government’s Downing Street Agreement in 1993. This was designed to woo the Irish Republican opposition into sharing responsibility for the running of a reformed Stormont. This initial ‘Peace Process’ stage of ‘New Unionism’ was extended by Tony Blair and New Labour with the introduction of ‘Devolution-all-round’, not only for Northern Ireland, but for Scotland and Wales too. Thus ‘New Unionism’ was developed over a decade to provide the optimum political framework for continued corporate profitmaking in these islands. The Conservatives eventually came round to an acceptance of the devolved Holyrood and Cardiff Bay components of the deal too.
This ‘New Unionist’ political settlement soon received the backing of the official trade union ‘movement’ throughout these islands, including the TUC, STUC, WTUC and ICTU (and its Northern Irish Committee). Long accustomed to their subordinate role to both government and employers allotted to them under ‘social partnerships’, they quickly signalled their assent.
One of the real gains for the British ruling class’s ‘New Unionist’ strategy has been the winning over of the Irish ruling class as a subordinate partner. The British government used the opportunity of the 2008 banking crisis to play hardball and force the Irish banks (with their large British shareholding) to bow to the City of London’s dictates. With Ireland having been very much wedded to the neo-liberal finance and property-led ‘Celtic Tiger’ model, the 2008 crash hit its economy particularly hard. Not wishing to defy the City of London or the Troika of the EU, ECB and IMF, successive Irish governments – Fianna Fail/Green and Fine Gael/Labour – have imposed drastic austerity measures.
One consequence of this has been the Irish government’s preparedness to fawn before the symbols of British power, including the monarchy. And it was not only Michael Higgins, Ireland’s President, who was invited to dine with ‘Elizabrit’ at Windsor, on April 8th. Northern Ireland’s Depute First Minister, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness was also there.
In relation to Sinn Fein, the British government is following a ‘carrot and stick’ strategy. Whilst McGuinness is getting the ‘carrot’, Gerry Adams is facing the ‘stick’. He has been subjected to a continuous political and media campaign designed to discredit him, and to ensure that Sinn Fein adheres to the British government script laid down for them. Turning a blind eye to continued Loyalist intimidation and the PSNI’s blatant Unionist/Loyalist partiality also helps the British government to keep Sinn Fein in line.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s public support for the royal visit to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising (!!!) in Dublin in 2016, highlights its retreat way beyond ‘Republican-Lite’. Sinn Fein has become a thoroughly house-trained constitutional nationalist party. How long will it be before Sinn Fein takes on the role of the British imperial supporting, Irish Parliamentary Party in 1914, and comes out in public support of today’s US/UK imperialism?
Thus Cameron knows he can rely on the public silence of Sinn Fein with regard to the Scottish independence referendum. Sinn Fein is eager to hold on to its UK state allotted role, acting as the chief Nationalist representative within the existing Stormont set-up. Sinn Fein is not going to rock the boat by giving its public support to Scottish independence. Sinn Fein’s once wider international vision has been trimmed back to match its more limited 6 Counties and 26 Counties ambitions within the ‘New Unionist’ settlement covering these islands.
Both the EU President, Jose Barroso from Spain, and European Council President, Herman von Rumpoy from Belgium, have publicly opposed Scottish independence, saying it would threaten its continued EU membership. They, of course, have their own very definite reasons for opposing any Scottish exercise of the right of greater self-determination. They have been used by the ‘Better Together’ campaign in their support for a ‘No’ vote. The key power in the EU, Germany remains more detached, ready to take best advantage of either possible referendum result.
Cameron attempted to cultivate Russian premier Vladimir Putin’s support before the Ukraine crisis. Chinese premier, Li Kequiang, has also come out against Scottish independence, although not yet demanding a return of the Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote! And, of course, both Russia and China have such good records over the exercise of national self-determination within their states!
Since then the new Pope Francis has warned against Scottish independence (Pope enters Scottish independence debate with warning against division). Not to be outdone, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has said the 1707 “Treaty of Union secured the Protestant religion… and any change would be a provocation of God” (Scottish independence: Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland warning). To be fair, this is only “hell and brimstone” advice, and those ignoring it will not be consigned to the cutty stool on Sunday September 21st!
Another Presbyterian, Jim Dowson, former BNP, former Britain First and Loyalist flag protestor in Belfast is representative of a much more violent Loyalism that wears its ‘love thy neighbour’ Christianity rather lightly (What next for Dowson?).
However, once you reach the Orange Order, other Loyalists, BNP, Britain First and EDL/SDL/WDL, all giving their support to the Union based on the UK’s monarchist and Protestant supremacy constitutional principles, then this is a cause of some embarrassment both to Cameron and ‘Better Together’. Although contacts between certain of these groups and UKIP exist, and UKIP has dealings with the Tory Right, the official’ ‘No’ campaign tries to distance itself from them. Any direct contacts with these forces will be through the UK state security services, their activities hidden under the Crown Powers. It is only after the ending of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, that the use of such collusion began to emerge in wider circles.
Yet, when “a senior ‘No’ source says ‘we are worried there is going to be absolute carnage’ at polling stations when rival campaigners gather outside polling stations on referendum day” (Warning of polling station clashes as tensions rise), it does make you wonder what is being contemplated by the state.
Away from the world of overt political campaigning, or covert dealings with the UK state, Cameron has been able to make use of number of events, beginning with the royal wedding (April, 2011), followed by the royal birth (July, 2013); and the London Olympic Games (summer 2012); Armed Forces Day held in Stirling (June 28th, 2014); and the official Commemoration of the First World War, held in Glasgow (August 4th). These have been used as part of a media backed pro-British, pro-UK state propaganda barrage. The Commonwealth Games, held in Glasgow (summer 2014), with its separate Scottish participation, was heavily controlled and policed to prevent any overt manifestations of support for Scottish independence (Flags, hypocrisy and propaganda).
e) The new challenge to social liberalism and the ‘New Unionist’ settlement from UKIP, the Tory Right, the Ulster Unionists and Loyalists
However, the original political calculation made by Cameron, in allowing the independence referendum to go ahead, has been questioned by the Tory Right, UKIP and Northern Irish Unionists as the gap between the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns has narrowed. They have become very unhappy about the uncertainty and raised expectations this has conjured up. In the event of a ‘No’ vote, they want to clamp down vigorously on any possibility of further constitutional reform. They also question the whole legacy of the ‘New Unionist’ settlement shared by consecutive Conservative, New Labour and Conservative-Lib Dem governments.
Until recently, UKIP was largely seen as a political expression of traditional Tory Right ‘Little Englanderism’. This had become more marginalised, but far from extinguished, within the Conservative Party, after the Cameron leadership tried to project a more inclusive, social liberal image, and accept the ‘New Unionist’ settlement – Scotland and Wales included – which the Conservatives had previously opposed.
UKIP has now managed to become the first party to project itself and win political representation in all four units of the UK state – not only England, but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has an MP in England, the majority of MEPs in England, an MEP each in Wales and Scotland, an MLA in Stormont, and councillors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has done this by adopting a particular form of Britishness in each of these places. These draw their sustenance from the most reactionary aspects of the UK state – British unionism, the monarchy, a Protestant establishment – and by the promotion of cultural divide-and-rule.
UKIP’s three new councillors in Northern Ireland have strong Orange Order backgrounds. They give their political support to those trying to unwind the Good Friday Agreement. Northern Ireland provides a launch for UKIP’s anti-‘New Unionist’ politics. In Scotland UKIP is trying link up with Loyalism, making their greatest headway in the recent EU election in those areas of Scotland that have an Orange Order presence. In Wales, they have built their support amongst those opposed to the existence of a Welsh Assembly. Following on the Ulster Unionists’ Stormont precedent of sabotaging the local devolved branch of Westminster rule from within, they could use the Welsh Assembly, after the next election in 2016, to promote divide-and-rule tactics and attack Welsh language rights.
UKIP have taken note of the stalling tactics of the UUP and DUP. Sammy Wilson, DUP former Stormont Finance Minister has attacked Salmond for “sticking two fingers up at Westminster”. Strongly supporting the Union, Wilson has gone on to attack “any kind of extended devolution of powers”. This would be a “disaster” (No vote ‘will spell disaster’ for Stormont power sharing). The DUP holds the most Northern Ireland seats at Westminster. Beyond the DUP and UUP lies Traditional Unionist Voice and the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), which fronted the former Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) paramilitaries. Their aim is to restore Unionist supremacy. The PUP has publicly backed the Loyalist Union-Jack bedecked street protests. The other Unionist parties have provided the apologetics.
UKIP is trying to create a wide enough political and geographical base to be taken seriously, either as a political force in its own right, or as part of an attempt to move into a Right-led Tory Party. This would mean forging an alliance with the Tory Right to ditch the social liberal policies that Cameron took on board. These new policies are greatly resented by the Tory Right. In Scotland, they also have to suffer the ‘indignity’ of having Ruth Davidson as the Conservative Party’s openly lesbian Scottish leader, put in post by Cameron as part of his social liberal Conservative makeover.
To break out of their more limited anti-EU ghetto, the Right needs to win the support of a significant section of large scale capital. This does not look like coming from the CBI, given British industries’ needs for European markets. However, the City of London has strongly opposed Angela Merkel’s mildly reforming EU banking proposals. The City of London has already been able to carve out ‘offshore status’ for itself, beyond any UK government regulation, so opting out of the EU could yet represent an extension of this strategy.
If being outside the EU enabled the City of London to protect itself from any European threats from the European Central Bank, then important sections could well consider backing the UKIP/Tory Right anti-EU project. The City shows little concern for the maintenance of an industrial base in the UK. Its profits here are made from its global banking role, massively underwritten by governments both Labour and Conservative/Lib-Dem. These parties remain committed to imposing whatever level of austerity is required to service the City’s needs.
UKIP and the Tory Right’s rampant anti-immigrant, anti-welfare dependant politics would also prove useful as the necessary scapegoating for a stepped-up austerity offensive. Both Conservatives and Labour have conceded a great deal of ground to UKIP. Social liberal, official, ‘multicultural Britain’ is already looking increasingly beleaguered as anti-migrant, anti-‘terrorist’ measures become everyday government practice, supported by the Labour ‘opposition’.
Social liberal welfare provision has long been under attack. Whilst such views have had a majority base of support amongst the Conservatives since Thatcher, Labour has also abandoned ‘universal provision’ to concentrate on “hard-working families”. Somewhat inconveniently, they are just as likely to need welfare top-ups to their minimum or near minimum wages, initially set by New Labour at poverty levels. Those on low wage and zero or limited hours contracts are forming an increasing percentage of the workforce in the current economic ‘recovery’.
Blue Labour, which can be considered UKIP-Lite for the working class, now has a lot more influence than the Left within the Labour Party. The socialist, John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, could not get enough nominations in his bids for Labour Party leadership in 2007 or 2010.
In Scotland, where the Labour Party is even more right wing, the 2011 Scottish Labour leadership election was confined to Miliband-approved Johann Lamont, the ultra-Blairite, Ken Macintosh and the UKIP-Lite, Tom Harris. There was no Left challenger. A smaller proportion of Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster, 2 out of 41, voted against Osborne’s new welfare cap than English Labour MPs – 11 out of 191, with none of the 26 Welsh Labour MPs so voting.
Somewhat inconveniently for Cameron and the ‘Better Together’ campaign, neither UKIP nor the Tory Right have hidden their contempt for any ‘promises’ the current government or Labour ‘opposition’ have made to Scotland in the event of a ‘No’ vote. These people want to take the current ‘New Unionist’ settlement apart.
As they have shown in Northern Ireland and Scotland, UKIP are prepared to get the support of some very reactionary forces. It is no accident that UKIP’s Scottish chair, Jake Thackeray, has brought Nigel Farage up to a UKIP ‘Save the Union’ rally in Glasgow on September 12th, the day before the Orange Order’s pro-Union march in Edinburgh. The nature of Thackeray’s politics was revealed when he attacked Glasgow City Council as standing for “Gays, Catholics and Communists”! (Ukip chair claims Glasgow Council for ‘gays, Catholics, communists’ in online rant)
Meanwhile, on the Tory Right, Boris Johnson has made it known that he expects the Conservative-led government to impose retribution on Scotland, in the event of a ‘No’ vote. The prospect of Scottish self-determination should never even have been allowed. The refusal to implement even the most minimal ‘Devo-Plus’ measures and the scrapping of the Barnett Formula, would probably figure prominently in his designs.
Johnson is also angling to get closer to a Conservative Party leadership challenge, by looking for a safe Westminster seat to contest. There is even a prospect of a Tory Right coup, should there be any further defections to UKIP. The aim of this would be to augment the party with the addition of the now quite significant UKIP support. If further Tory defections create enough panic in the party, this possibility can not be ruled out, even before the 2015 Westminster election. However, in the absence of a couple of by-elections, neither Johnson nor Farage would have the seats needed to assume leadership positions within such a realigned Right Tory party.
Back in 1979, there were some on the Left who argued against the Labour government’s Scottish devolution proposals, saying ‘No to Devolution – Yes to Revolution’. Well they got their ‘No to Devolution’, but instead of revolution they got Thatcher! Today, we have those who say, in effect, ‘No to Independence – Yes to Miliband’ – OK not as snappy as the 1979 slogan! Nevertheless, it would be a very salutary experience, if they indeed got their ‘No to independence’, but ended up instead with Boris and Nigel!
Whether or not the Tory Right, in collusion with UKIP, can bring about their desired coup in the Conservative Party, they would still be a much greater pressure on Cameron than Scottish Labour, after any ‘No’ vote. It is not only the UK’s remaining social liberal policies that would be under threat, but also the current ‘New Unionist’ settlement. This has failed to end the demands for greater self-determination in Scotland and Wales, for which it was largely designed.
And just as in the case of their tail-ending UKIP over immigration and welfare dependents, when it comes to seeking vengeance on Scotland, Labour also has its advocates in Ian Davidson and Jimmy Hood, two very pro-UK British Scots. Their Westminster careers would be ended in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, which perhaps explains their desperation!
f) Enter the unexpected – a new movement from below
Back in 1997, Thatcher’s Conservative government, after defeating the Miners, thought it could ‘walk on water’. It decided to take on the whole of the working class (with the exception of Northern Ireland for obvious reasons!) and impose the poll tax.
Thatcher fully anticipated verbal protests from Labour, and some token demonstrations from the STUC and TUC. But she appreciated that, after their initial ‘bluff and bluster’, the official Labour ‘movement’ would back down. And so it did.
What Thatcher did not anticipate was a massive unofficial or independent campaign, based largely on working class communities, first in Scotland, then a year later in England and Wales. This campaign actively defied the law and courts, sheriff officers and bailiffs, the council officials and compliant local councillors. In the end, the campaign would defeat the poll tax and contribute to Thatcher’s downfall.
Today, in the context of the Independence Referendum, the UK state’s, unionist parties’ and media backing for the ‘No’ campaign, have also led to the appearance of an unanticipated grassroots movement in opposition. This has gone way beyond the control of the official ‘Yes’ campaign. Indeed many of the local ‘Yes’ groups operate quite autonomously. The SNP leaders’ decision to force the 2012 party conference to support NATO, led to a great deal of dissatisfaction in party ranks. Two MSPs resigned.
This mood contributed to the success of the first Radical Independence Conference held on November 23rd 2012, in Glasgow, which 800 people attended. A year later 1100 attended what was now the second conference of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC). Branches have been formed throughout the country.
From the start, RIC located its politics in the context of the European-wide drive to austerity, inviting a speaker from Greece, and later organising alongside Greek migrants in Edinburgh to protest against Papandreou’s visit to the city. RIC has taken part in anti-imperialist protests, particularly over the UK state’s support for the Israeli state in Palestine. It has also invited speakers from Catalunya and Euskadi, nations denied any legal right to exercise self-determination, in a Spanish state where aspects of the elite Castilian and Francoist legacy still retain their hold. RIC has invited speakers, including Bernadette McAliskey the republican president of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, and Steve Freeman, from the Republican Socialist Alliance in England, to address well-attended meetings in Glasgow. It has sent speakers to England, Ireland (North and South) and Catalunya.
RIC has also looked to the lost Scottish voters, those not registered to vote. Polls have shown that the lower you are on the social class scale, the more likely you are to support independence. More and more people can see that the welfare state, which was the legacy of the post 1945 Attlee Labour government, is disappearing before their eyes. Furthermore, it was not only Thatcher who was responsible for its dismantling, but also Brown, Darling and Mandelson up to 2010, whilst Miliband, Balls and Lamont promise more of the same if elected in 2015.
Ken Loach’s Spirit of ‘45’ and Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wonder now seem to be exercises in nostalgia. By 2007, the SNP had already been able to make considerable inroads into the Labour vote by defending certain Old Labour policies that the party has ditched. By 2011, this switch of Labour voters to the SNP was further consolidated. People like ex-Labour MPs, Dennis Canavan and John McAllion, and one time prominent Labour supporter, actor Brian Cox, had already been won over to Scottish independence.
However, more women still appear to be supporting the ‘No’ camp. Perhaps this can be partly explained by the fact that the women’s movement had a big impact on the Labour Party, and many women appreciate the women’s equality legislation brought in by the 1974-9 Labour government. Unlike the post-1945 welfare state, New Labour has not dismantled this legacy (nor have Cameron’s Conservatives who still back some social liberal policies).
Women played a more prominent part in the Labour Party, than they did in the SNP. Indeed, the feminist wave largely passed the official SNP by. Whilst still a Westminster MP, Alex Salmond flew down to London, especially to vote for a new time limit on abortions. Until recently, the SNP tended to tack to the Right on liberal social issues, hoping to prise the allegiance of the Catholic Church and Scottish Muslims away from Labour.
Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives have female leaders. Only more recently, has depute SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon played a more prominent part . There is also the campaigning non-party Women for Independence group. There are many women activists in RIC. However, it remains to be seen whether the own goal proffered by ‘Better Together’s condescending and much criticised YouTube video on 26th August, aimed at women, will shift attitudes in the final weeks (see The woman who made up her mind and the great spoof, (unavailable) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9SGezMNqck.)
The political centre of the ‘Yes’ debate could be characterised as radical social democratic (with Common Weal appealing to this the mood), but other ideas are openly discussed – including republicanism, internationalism, feminism and environmentalism. Political commentators from England, in particular, have been struck by the difference in the extent and nature of public discussions and debate in Scotland. South of the border, UKIP, with its British chauvinist anti-migrant, anti-welfare dependent and anti-EU attacks, is currently making all the running and its arguments have made deep inroads, not only into the Conservative Party, but into the Labour Party too.
Throughout Scotland there have been countless public meetings (many very well attended), street stalls and shows. Mass voter registration and canvassing have been central to the wider ’Yes’ campaign, with RIC being a significant contributor. The use of the social media, with sites such bella caledonia, and cultural events organised by the National Collective, have added much life to the wider campaign. Many books and pamphlets have been written about Scotland and its people/s, its past and future and its role on the world. There have been widely distributed films and DVDs, which have provoked much follow-up discussion and debate.
g) The lack of class confidence underpins both official campaigns and the inherited weaknesses of the Left affect RIC too
However, there is a weakness to the ‘Yes’ campaign in Scotland. Those who went on to defeat the poll tax undertook non-legal action against the state. Such collective action, when successful, builds wider class confidence. However, many workers supporting ‘Yes’ do so because they have lost a belief in their own collective ability to change their lives through industrial or community-based action. Instead, many now look in hope to Salmond and the SNP government. All that is required from them is an individual’s ‘X’ on a ballot paper, or acting in a foot soldier capacity in the official ‘Yes Scotland’ up until September 18th.
Looking to Salmond or an SNP government for ‘salvation’ is but the flip side to those others also lacking self confidence, who look to Labour to save them, not so much in hope, but more in fear of any change. During the period of the independence referendum campaign, the traditional Labour movement suffered a major defeat at Grangemouth (AFTER GRANGEMOUTH – WHAT NOW FOR THE LEFT IN SCOTLAND?). Such defeats undermine class confidence. They push people further towards thinking individually about their own situation – worrying about the future of the pound in their pocket, or the future of their own personal pension. They no longer have much confidence in their collective ability to change things.
Significantly, though, the Westminster Conservative/Lib-Dem government, the Holyrood SNP government and Labour all bowed to the demands of Jim Ratcliffe, the INEOS refinery boss at Grangemouth. Len McCluskey was also shown to be more concerned about looking inwards to advance the careers of those supporting his Broad Left project in the Labour Party, than organising the sort of campaign that could save oil workers’ jobs, pay, pensions and conditions. This would have meant looking outwards, including to the community dependent on Grangemouth, and beyond to all those sick of having another tyrannical boss holding their workforce to ransom.
The current lack of such wider collective action is one reason why the Left, including RIC, has had to relate to those limited areas where there has been some resistance. Yet, the campaign to neutralise the financial impact of ‘Bedroom Tax’ showed the possibilities. Miliband and the Labour leadership initially did not want to make a future Westminster election promise to abolish this tax. The SNP initially wanted the ‘Bedroom Tax’ to remain in place in Scotland, so they could promise its abolition in the event of a ’Yes’ vote. Scottish Labour saw this as a stick to beat the SNP with in the here and now, although they were also compromised by Miliband’s stance. These divisions allowed community campaigns to mount a successful challenge. The SNP government realised that a time-limited financial package would have to be introduced to neutralise the effect of the ‘Bedroom Tax’, at least until the referendum campaign was over.
However, the campaign against the ‘Bedroom Tax’ highlighted another weakness – the divisions on the Scottish Left, in the aftermath of the ‘Tommygate’ and the fall of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). There were local pro- and anti-Sheridan campaigns. Indeed, the re-emergence of Sheridan, after his imprisonment for perjury, provides another indicator of the current lack a widely-supported, democratically accountable political party. Instead, Sheridan is an example of a Left populist politician, who enjoys a symbiotic relationship with those who look up to him (and it is almost inevitably a ‘him’) as some kind of saviour. His notion of political organisation is having his own ‘celebrity fan club’. Sheridan is now looking to the ‘Yes’ campaign to advance his career. He has George Galloway as his mirror image in the ‘No’ campaign.
In some ways, the RIC now exists as a substitute for the now much depleted SSP. At its height the SSP was already challenging the SNP for the leadership of the campaign for Scottish self-determination. The openly republican 2004 Calton Hill Declaration (The Declaration of Calton Hill, 9th October 2004), and the successful demonstration against the royal opening of the Holyrood Parliament, could have formed the basis for a more concerted challenge to the SNP.
It is to the credit of the initial organisers of RIC, that they were able to bring together many from the recently divided Scottish Left, and also significantly many young people who had been secondary school students at the time of the Iraq war, part of the 2011 higher education student protests, and are often now found in various forms of precarious labour. It is to be hoped that the tradition of looking to celebrity Left politicians, and the often associated sexist political culture it encourages, will be challenged by these people in any continued campaign, or new political organisation that emerges after September 18th.
However, the fall of the SSP has also led many into denying the need for a specifically socialist organisation altogether. They prefer instead to adopt ambiguous terms like ‘radical’. This way you can avoid the need for articulating a clear alternative to a capitalism facing a multifaceted crisis. ‘Another world’ may indeed be ‘possible’, but unless people can see what it could look like, and how it relates to their current existence and struggles, then their thinking and actions can always be recouped on capitalist terms.
Another consequence of such thinking can be seen amongst some RIC supporters. They see RIC as essentially a pressure group upon the SNP. Some even repeat SNP leadership-type arguments. We must confine our activities to those that will get the maximum ‘Yes’ vote. In a class divided society you can’t make promises to corporate business and hope to keep the support of workers too, and vice versa. If some groups of oppressed, like many Irish-Scots, or some issues, like secularism, seem unpopular in wider circles, then ditching or side-lining them only breaks up the wider alliance of exploited and oppressed we really need to mount any effective challenge to the existing global corporate order, which the SNP government upholds.
This is why RIC needs to have the ambition of replacing the SNP as the leading force in the campaign for Scottish self-determination. It is to the credit of the old SSP, that it once had that ambition, although the current SSP no longer thinks in these terms (hoping instead to gain some new recruits courtesy of its place in the SNP-run official ‘Yes’ campaign).
h) After September 18th
Furthermore, whatever the outcome of the September 18th referendum, RIC needs to continue. If there is a ‘Yes’ vote, then RIC will become the organising centre of the campaign for a new Scottish constitution. This will involve those who actually deliver a ‘Yes’ mandate, as well as those who now accept this new popular mandate. This was decided at the RIC National Forum held in Glasgow on May 17th.
The SNP will wind up the official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign and handpick those, including obstructive Unionists, to mould a constitution that best represents the interest of those they want to win over – a Scottish wannabe ruling class.
Furthermore, the international basis of RIC’s campaigning will need to be stepped up, and there will be plenty of people in Wales, Ireland and England, as well as Catalunya and Euskadi, who will be inspired by a ‘Yes’ vote. They will provide solidarity to try and ensure that the UK state is blocked in any attempts it makes to thwart this decision; whilst also looking for our support in their struggles for greater self-determination.
If there is a ‘No’ vote there is little likelihood that the Unionists can stabilise the situation. The promises of further meaningful devolution (however limited in practice) are very unlikely to be delivered. A ‘No’ vote will reinforce the Right, who more and more want to challenge the existing ‘New Unionist’ settlement. They want to push the whole of the UK out of the EU and into the similar offshore status enjoyed by the City of London. In London there are massive disparities between the City of London’s own separate city state within a city, linked to the areas occupied by megamillionaires living around Mayfair, and those very poor boroughs, which house many migrant workers, often living in appalling accommodation.
After leaving the EU, on the terms dictated by UKIP and the Tory Right, this division would be extended throughout the UK, perhaps with a few City financial satellites like Edinburgh, areas of well-heeled, gated residences and extended private leisure areas for the rich, whilst more and more workers were trapped in low pay, precarious labour, in crowded or deteriorating housing, with social provision being increasingly replaced by charity.
Therefore the underlying issue of the need to exercise effective Scottish self-determination will remain. The ‘National Question’ will remain a fault line in UK politics. Furthermore, the solution can only be won on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis, first on an all-islands basis, but increasingly at a European level. On the Right, UKIP already appreciate this, and are increasingly dictating the political agenda of the social liberal Centre and Centre Right (with the help of such ‘British Left’ outriders as the CPB and their ‘No2EU’ campaign in Britain and the Red Paper Collective in Scotland).
It will become even clearer, as the SNP further trims its politics, accommodating to the existing economic and political order, and seeks minor concessions from whatever UK state government is in power, in the manner of Parti Quebecois, Catalan Convergence and the PNV in Euskadi, that the only way to exercise self-determination is through a republican challenge, which confronts the UK state’s Crown Powers, and is not frightened to organise amongst all sections of the exploited and oppressed to achieve its aims. Maybe the Radical Independence Campaign could become the Republican International Coalition.
3rd September 2014
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