The Radical Independence Campaign pit the struggle for Scottish self-determination in an international context. RIC sent speakers to England, Ireland and Catalunya, and invited speakers from England, Wales, Ireland, Catalunya, Euskadi, France and Greece.In England members of both the Left Unity Party (LUP) and the Republican Socialist Alliance organised meetings in London, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield.
In the aftermath of the September 18th, Steve Freeman (RSA and LUP/Scottish Republic Yes Tendency) and Paul Feldman (RSA and World to Win) provide their analysis of the campaign and its political consequences.
1. AFTER SEPTEMBER 18th by Steve Freeman
England – nationalism versus republicanism
On Thursday 18 September Scotland stood on the brink of making an historic change by ending the 1707 Act of Union. But when the votes were counted a majority of Scottish people voted no by 55% to 45%. This “averted the biggest constitutional crisis in the nation’s history”. (Mick Brown Daily Telegraph 20 September 2014). Instead of Scotland’s democratic future passing into the hands of the people, the no victory handed the power back to Cameron, the Coalition government, the Whitehall machine and the Westminster parliament.
The power had already drained away from Scotland as Cameron emerged from Downing Street the following morning to tell us what would happen next. Scotland would be handed down more powers. Then he seized the opportunity to torpedo the Labour Party and undermine UKIP with the slogan of “English votes for English laws”. He played the card of reactionary English nationalism. He had ‘saved’ the country from predatory Scottish nationalists. He had seen off Alex Salmond. Now he would make England an offer it could not refuse and harvest the votes in the general election.
Later that day the ‘no’ victory was crowned by Her Majesty. With victory in the bag, she emerged from behind the scenes to address the nation. This was reported on the front page of the Daily Telegraph. The headline proudly proclaimed “The Queen’s pledge to help reunite the Kingdom”. This was above a regal photo of the monarch standing beside Gelder Burn on the Balmoral Estate wearing the robes of the “Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle” (Daily Telegraph 20 September 2014). She called on her subjects to respect the outcome and appealed for a “coming together again in a spirit of mutual respect and support”.
The ‘no’ victory gave new heart to the hard right. On the same evening Loyalist and fascist gangs turned up in George Square, Glasgow, singing “Rule Britannia”, “God save the Queen”, giving Nazi salutes, shouting abuse and threatening peaceful Yes supporters with violence. Fighting ensued. The ‘Britain First’ party, set up by ex BNP members with links to Northern Ireland, was identified with supporting if not organising these attacks.
The referendum result was a defeat for the democratic movement in Scotland. We have to face this fact if we are to work out the next steps. Viewed from England the campaign in Scotland seems to have been very successful in mobilising working class support. The campaign had a mountain to climb. It nearly reached the summit which is very commendable given the powerful forces trying to block the path.
There has to be a discussion on the politics of ‘Independence under the Crown’. This was the offer put by the SNP in the referendum and it was this that failed. The Republican option was not on the ballot paper. Full sovereignty was not put to the people nor was it rejected. As far as another referendum is concerned, republicans are not bound to some morality that says the idea of a Scottish republic was defeated and cannot come back for a ‘generation’. There are many reasons to think the time for another campaign will not be too distant. But it does not mean that the SNP’s idea of a Scottish ‘Free state’ should be revived.
In a defeated movement divisions will surely open up between those who settle for Devo-Max as a new stage towards a ‘Free State’, and those who want to dump the ‘Free State’ idea for a republic. Scottish republicans must work to put this option on the agenda for the Scottish people. This cannot be done unless there is a republican party. RIC can claim to have represented a republican alternative. However RIC is not a party and simply converting into a registered ‘party’ might create problems and divisions. Building a republican party must be the link between this referendum and the next opportunity for self determination. A referendum is not the only route for democracy.
There is a much bigger problem to be addressed and this is England. Eighty five percent of the UK population lives in England. London has a larger population than Scotland. The largest section of the working class is in England. England carries massive social and economic weight in determining the political future. Public opinion and public action supports, strengthens and encourages the yes campaign or it acts as a conservative dead weight weakening the democratic movement and holding it back. Both sides of this dilemma exist in the politics of England.
Thatcher understood that to defeat the miners in 1984 it was necessary to try and keep the rest of the trade union movement out of the struggle. Cameron knew that to defeat the yes campaign either England must actively support no or simply be neutralised. This is what the Labour Party could deliver through its trade union links. The trade unions would sit this one out and concentrate on economic issues like pay and the NHS. All of this was reflected in and reinforced by those organisations which claimed to oppose Labour such as the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), Left Unity and the Communist Party of Great Britain. England’s new left parties, TSUC and Left Unity, encouraged by Weekly Worker adopted abstention positions and sat on the fence watching the democratic movement go down to defeat.
The Labour Party is a Unionist and monarchist party whose prospects for government are tied to the Union and its arcane constitutional arrangements. Leaders, past and present, rallied to the British flag in the name of the Welfare state and in the language of ‘proletarian internationalism’. Defending the Union in the name of ‘internationalism’ was of course a sham. It came from the same ‘internationalist’ and ‘democratic’ stables as Blair justifying the Iraq war. It was even more disgusting to see the ultra left version of ‘no’ peddled by the Communist Party of Britain, the Alliance for Workers Liberty and Workers Power.
The Labour party machine serves up a demoralised working class at the dinner tables of the rich and powerful. The trade union movement is the transmission belt between working class people and the Crown state. The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) was the only trade union which balloted members and came out for ‘yes’. The exception proves the rule. In England the trade unions maintained neutrality and kept out of it. The best that Cameron could hope for is that the working class in England would sit on the fence.
Hence an important factor in the defeat of the democratic movement in Scotland was the passivity of the working class in England. The English working class movement took no part in the struggle to end the Union. There were no mass protest actions or petitions. There were no political strikes or solidarity demonstrations. In England, Labour‘s conservatism, combined with passivity and neutrality, leaves Scottish democracy isolated from its natural allies south of the border.
The gap in political consciousness between the two countries has long been identified. Whereas the Tories have most of their support in England, especially the South East, Labour has been more strongly supported in Scotland. Scotland has a long tradition of trade union membership and activity. After the defeat of the miners Thatcher’s attempt to impose the poll tax on Scotland produced mass resistance. The struggle against the poll tax fed directly into popular support to re-establish a Scottish parliament in 1998.
The Scottish working class has become much more conscious of the need and importance of political change and political reforms. England is imprisoned by the sloth of economism. This gap is not permanent and neither is it an ethnic dimension. The gap can narrow and England could even overtake Scotland. The class struggle and the political consciousness it generates is not fixed for ever. However the referendum campaign has widened the gap. The activity and politicisation of the Scottish working class stands in sharp contrast to the passivity of the working class in England.
The widening gap is very dangerous. It opens up more space for right wing and reactionary politics. UKIP has exploited this space to draw people to a reactionary form of English nationalism. Although UKIP stands for Unionism or British nationalism, beneath its cover lurks an English nationalism which is feeding, and feeding on, resentment against Scotland. On the present course Scotland is on a left trajectory and England is lurching to the right. The defeat in the referendum will add some rocket power to the process.
Scottish Republic Yes
It is not be all doom and gloom about England. There were signs of opposition and solidarity. In Left Unity there was a significant minority that raised the slogan “Scottish Republic Yes”. They called on workers in England to support a ‘yes’ vote and argue for a Scottish Republic. This is an example ‘critical support’ for a yes vote. It supports yes but contains an implicit criticism of the Scottish SNP government’s proposal for a Scottish Free State (or Independence under the Crown). This slogan was the most advanced slogan to appear in the English left during the referendum.
It was a democratic not a socialist slogan. It recognised the national question as a democratic issue and proposed an independent democratic demand. It contested the SNP’s constitutional proposals on the same terrain of democracy by demanding full sovereignty for the Scottish people. It did not make an abstract call for world socialism nor promote the idea of national socialism. However as Lenin emphasised democratic demands and advances do not divert or delay the struggle for socialism. They bring socialism closer.
The ‘Scottish Republic Yes’ as a slogan in England is an internationalist slogan. At first it might seem odd that the working class in England should support a Scottish Republic. Yet with a moments consideration we can see a link between greater democracy in Scotland and England. The working class in England have much to gain from acting in solidarity with the democratic demands of the advanced part of the Scottish working class. It is an internationalist slogan because it tells Scottish workers that there are people in English who are not English nationalists thinking only of English ‘interests’.
The ‘Scottish Republic Yes’ was not simply about voting. If there was a yes victory it points to the next step – the fight for a Scottish Republic. Behind this is the idea of ‘permanent revolution’. The revolution does not stand still. It must move on from one phase to another. A yes vote majority is not the end of the road. It is the beginning of a new stage in Scotland’s peaceful revolution. The call for a Scottish republic is ahead of the current situation but not too far. It proposes a discernable ‘line of march’.
English Republic Yes
The ‘no’ majority means that Scotland’s democratic movement has hit the buffers. This is not the end of the struggle – far from it. It is time to reflect and re-organise. The ‘Scottish Republic Yes Tendency’ has come to its natural end. Attention is now switching to the constitutional future of England. The right will try to build up resentments that England is left behind and encourage chauvinism against Scotland. The left will try to counter this by building support for democratic change and closer links with the left in Scotland.
On 19 September when Cameron promised “English votes for English laws”, he triggered more constitutional speculation over English regionalism, an English parliament and federalism. It was a smart or opportunistic move. It put Labour on the back foot. Labour and Gordon Brown helped save Cameron and the Tory government from a humiliating defeat. Cameron then stabbed them in the back.
It was an irony that Labour supporters in England opposed Scottish independence because they would no longer have Scottish Labour MPs. Now after a no vote Cameron was threatening the same. If Cameron presses on, he will use the resentments caused by the absence of a parliament in England as the way of mobilising English votes in the 2015 general election. On this Cameron and the Tories are well positioned to make the running with the slogan “English votes for English laws”. The call for an English parliament is now being heard.
UKIP is not going to be out-flanked by Cameron appealing to English nationalism. Immediately a ‘pro-England’ publicity stunt began with Farage posting letters to Scottish MPs which called on them not to vote on ‘English’ issues. The same theme was taken up in the UKIP conference. David Coburn told delegates he wanted to see a Scottish government “behaving responsibly with the money they raise”. He called on First Minister, Alex Salmond, to accept the result of the referendum. He added “it doesn’t pay for Mr Salmond to abuse the English…..that is not the way to treat Scotland’s largest trading partner and oldest best friend”. (Huffington Post 27 September 2014).
If political struggle is turning to England, then Scottish republicans should not be stuck north of the border. Perhaps the next stage in Scotland’s march to sovereignty is buried in England. If so it is time to dig for the ‘English Republic Yes’. Narrowing the gap between progressive democratic forces in both countries is now very important.
2. DESPITE A ‘NO’ VOTE, SCOTTISH REFERENDUM ADVANCES THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY by Paul Feldman
The momentum of Scotland’s independence movement, although thwarted on this occasion by an unholy ConDemLab alliance and its corporate-financial sponsors, has nevertheless driven the UK state into a profound constitutional crisis.
There is a clear potential for rapid and explosive change around the UK – both in a dangerous, nationalist direction and in a positive way, creating opportunities for revolutionary, democratic change.
We should reject the emphasis on process that the Tories and Labour prefer. Rearranging the deckchairs on the SS Westminster simply won’t do. It’s not how we are governed but why we are ruled by an undemocratic corporatocracy, where real power lies and how it can be transferred into the hands of ordinary people that are the real issues.
A roadmap to real democracy needs to be drawn up by assemblies and meetings throughout the UK, building on the gains of the Scottish referendum campaign. The political system has lost the right to rule over us because it has no democratic legitimacy. There is a global crisis of existing state systems, which the referendum reflected. This can and should be made to work to our advantage.
The 1707 union of Scotland and England is effectively a dead duck despite the “No” vote, while leading Tory commentators say David Cameron’s proposals to limit the power of Scottish MPs at Westminster rips up the constitutional settlement of 1688, which is a keystone of the present state system.
Naturally, the Tories and Labour want to keep real people away from constitutional change while they manoeuvre for narrow party advantage in the run-up to the 2015 general election. But the Scottish experience shows that the genie is out of the bottle.
The 45% Yes vote was made in spite of massive intimidation by the media and the state broadcaster, aka the BBC, big business, banks, the military, the Spanish prime minister, president Obama and the UK political establishment. A massive, last-minute ConDemLab bribe offering greater devolution was needed to swing the vote.
In some ways the wholesale effort to ensure the No vote has turned into its opposite; now people in England are expecting the very promises offered to the Scots, rashly made and impossible to keep. The defeat for the Scots may well turn out to be a victory for all. Clearly, the future of democracy in both countries is inter-related as never before.
The phenomenal 84.5% turnout, the largest in the UK since universal suffrage in 1918, reflected the thousands of meetings, small and large, up and down Scotland where ordinary people found their voice which they are denied by conventional politics.
People are not at all indifferent to being politically active when they feel that the result will affect them and that they have a role to play. This was especially true among younger voters., In fact, virtually every age group up to 55 voted Yes. As a result, Scotland will never be the same – and nor will England, Wales and the north of Ireland where there are calls for a referendum on a united Ireland.
Robin McAlpine, director of Common Weal, has described how the political class was shocked at the content and conduct of local meetings where ordinary people set the agenda:
Simple rage at the sense society is not being run in their interests dominates these meetings. A woman with osteoporosis forced to work over 100 hours a week, a housing estate whose community centre and park are being sold to housing developers, a village without a single public transport link, a woman in her early 30s incandescent that she feels forced to choose between her career and children because of the cost of childcare.
As to the plan for greater devolution, McAlpine is dismissive, declaring:
Trust has fundamentally broken down and the elite will not give the masses what they want – which is real power. In my opinion, the clock is now ticking on an even angrier reaction from the Scottish people.
If a majority for independence was lost, it was the responsibility of Labour principally together with the SNP’s inability to answer key questions because of its own commitment to a Scottish version of the UK’s market economy.
Labour came out against self-determination for Scotland because, ultimately, it is a party of the UK state that puts the “defence of the realm” ahead of democracy. Labour is no threat to the ruling classes and they know it. Naturally, another consideration was the large body of Labour MPs who come to Westminster from Scottish constituencies which would have ended with independence.
Labourites would rather identify with Ukip, the Orange Lodge and the Tory Party who constitute a far more poisonous form of nationalism than that expressed by the SNP, infected as they are with an imperial past and the global corporate present. One result was the Unionist-led violence in Glasgow after the referendum.
Despite the No vote, Labour’s grip on Scottish workers is doomed. Forty per cent of Labour’s traditional voters crossed to the Yes camp. Glasgow and Dundee both had Yes majorities. The party itself effectively spit. Labour for Independence gathered substantial support and meets as a campaign next month to consider its future and could well go its own way.
Labour in Scotland, as shown by Glasgow City Council, is predominantly right wing and its MPs have consistently been to the right of those in England. Scotland’s Labour MPs helped Tony Blair win the tight vote on the introduction of foundation trusts, which then paved the way for privatisation within the NHS. What will be the point in sending them down to London in future? Good question!
What was on offer from the SNP was a watered down self-determination, still keeping NATO and the monarchy intact, plus terminal confusion over currency. If Yes had boldly stated opposition to the kind of banks that were threatening to leave Scotland, and offered a Scottish currency, it might have been a different story – then at least we would have been having the right conversation.
The truth is that the SNP were trying to tell Scots that everything would be OK in an independent capitalist Scotland at a time of global recession and the renewed threat of a further financial meltdown.
Cameron has launched a high-risk plan to save his own political future and appease the right wing in his own party by outflanking both Labour and Ukip. As the astute Tory commentator Peter Osborne notes:
So the Prime Minister has saved his skin. But he has only done so by ripping up the British Constitution, which is a very unconservative thing to do. Yesterday’s announcement raises some massive questions. Will there be an English First minister to match the Scottish First Minister? If so, what is the role of the Prime Minister? What is the role of the House of Lords? Will it be possible to govern Britain with two classes of MP? What about the English regions? Can a Scottish politician be British Chancellor? Mr Cameron’s reforms amount to the most profound change to the British Constitution since the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
But Oborne is also wise enough to know that some in-house Westminster manoeuvres will not work, admitting:
The success of the SNP campaign has proved yet again that our traditional political structures are failing and that ancient forms of authority no longer prevail. We need to discover a new kind of public language and political architecture.
He acknowledges that Cameron fears a wider involvement in the process because “it would spiral far out of their control”. Exactly the point, which is reinforced by Helena Kennedy QC who chaired the Power inquiry. That exposed deep disaffection with the political system. She says:
My fear is that the establishment will use constitutional change simply to fix the status quo. The fix that the masters of the universe and many of our politicians want is one that leaves the same people in charge to do the same things. There is no need for some long and deadly, great and good royal commission, but if you want people to really consider the consequences of changes you need to give them a genuine opportunity to participate. You can do that with deliberative polls, where people meet and hear the arguments and express their views. You can do it with people’s juries, where there are challenging questions and alternatives and a commitment to following through on the results. People should be able to organise around the issues in their own communities. Instead, we are back to top-down control. This is not about doing things differently but about Westminster designing change to head off at the pass something deeper and more democratic. In the bars at party conferences they will be asking themselves: how can we control this and get the outcome we want?
Kennedy is right in more ways than one. What has emerged in Scotland and is finding its way into the rest of the UK, is actually a struggle for power between the people and the present state rulers, a desire for a democratic form of politics in place of the existing, shambolic excuse of a democracy.
This cannot be reconciled by a process-driven exercise which essentially leaves the status quo intact. A bit of home rule for Scotland and a little extra for England will not even begin to solve the issues raised by the referendum. The mainstream parties will never get this because they are an integral part of state rule. They are beyond convincing and the state itself is beyond reform, subsumed into corporate-driven globalisation.
Power, real decision-making power and control over resources, is either left in the hands of the present state that is capitalist and undemocratic by nature or there is a concerted struggle for its transfer. That will involve creating entirely new forms of democratic rule that take us beyond the self-apparent limits of parliamentary representation.
In other words, we need a fundamentally new constitutional settlement that is republican and revolutionary, that enshrines social as well as individual rights, that extends democracy into the workplace, respects our place in nature, and is the foundation for an end to the profit system.
Agreements of the People, in the spirit of the draft constitution set out by the Levellers in 1647, drawn up in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland should be our aim.
How could we achieve this transformation? Certainly not without dismantling the present state system and putting something far more democratic in its place. How can we mobilise people independently of the state to take change into their own hands? Not without direct participation of every section of the population in the process.
The Agreement of the People campaign is launching an initiative which could take up where Scotland has, for the moment, left off. It is proposing Assemblies for Democracy in different parts of the UK are organised to discuss what kind of democratic future we should aspire to and how to achieve it.
These could lead to people-led Conventions on the Constitution that draw up detailed proposals for a real democracy. Instead of submitting the proposals to state politicians and institutions who have lost legitimacy in the eyes of many, they would become the basis of mobilising ordinary people to make the change for themselves.
If we do that, the momentum that we saw in the Scottish referendum campaign can be sustained and carried forward.
This was first posted on The World to Win website at:-