Murdo Ritchie (RCN) reviews the pamphlet produced by Republican Socialist Alliance, The Crown versus the People. England’s Case for Voting ‘Yes’.
The Scottish referendum opened space for republican ideas to be discussed not just in Scotland but throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish Republican Yes Tendency in the Left Unity party was launched to promote a “Yes” vote in the party. This pamphlet is a valuable part of its case. It will succeed because the enormous consequences for England of the struggle for Scottish national independence are becoming better appreciated after the vote. It is an ongoing process.
The UK’s rulers have hidden in plain sight how their system works. But many socialists, academics and others refuse to engage with this, instead using inappropriate assumptions of democracy that do not exist. Most left-wing parties studiously address economic issues such as unemployment, inequality, wage rates while paying no attention to the constitutional structures of monarchy and how its Crown Powers are used by Cabinet Ministers, senior military officers and civil servants in the interests of British capitalists, and military adventurers in their own interests. No economic reform can effect any lasting change while these constitutional structures remain intact.
This pamphlet contains one of the best summaries of how this process originated and has developed. It’s worth quoting at length because it precisely says what some tomes take several hundred pages to describe.
“The present state was created through the ‘Glorious Revolution’ which began in 1688 and was finally completed by the 1707 Act of Union. The City of London [Corporation] became hardwired into the affairs of a state built on the foundations of a constitutional monarchy, unionism, and political hegemony.
“The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is governed by the ‘Crown-in-Parliament.’ The Crown is the executive power of the state. Ministers and civil servants act on behalf of the Crown in consultation with parliament. But they are not equal partners.
“There has been considerable change over the three hundred years, not least universal suffrage in parliamentary elections. The most significant factor is that the power of the Crown has grown significantly. But the full extent and operation of the Crown remains concealed by official secrecy.
“The UK state, acting through the Crown, is the master not the servant of the people. The most important ‘fact of life’ established by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ is that the Crown is neither the monarchy nor the people. … It is the servant of the political interest of the ruling class at home and abroad. The Crown has at its disposal all the powers and resources of the civil service, the security services, armed forces, the diplomatic services, and mass media. It is supported by the main poitical parties…”
When this is understood it is no wonder that Scottish national independence, or even its threat, challenges the status quo. The Scottish Government’s and the SNP’s plans for capitalist modernization might not seem like a socialist future especially when they make assurances to keep the pound sterling, favourable business taxation, and continued membership of the European Union and NATO. Against the archaic UK structures, even this is threatening. Even more worrying, is the scale of mass mobilisation necessary to achieve national independence; it too easily opens vistas of a democratic republic that breaks with capitalist orthodoxy. Irreconcilable nationalism joined with forces seeking democratic and socialist changes becomes a menace.
Up against the message from the main parties, this pamphlet recognises who really gains and who really loses. “More democracy is not a zero sum game in which if Scotland gets more democracy, England must have less. Scotland can win more democracy and this makes it more likely that people will want to follow suit.” It discusses independent Scotland’s proposed new constitution observing how it would drastically shift sovereignty away from the Crown-in-Parliament. It is very hard to imagine how this would not affect the rest of the UK too.
Even small changes in Scotland have enormous consequences everywhere in the UK. The demands for a separate English Parliament coming from within the Westminster elite have a self-interested feel. Talk of turning Westminster into a Union and an English Parliament is a thinly disguised way of imposing a Home Counties version of Englishness on Yorkshire, Liverpool, Exeter and Coventry. Devolution of power to large cities ignores the massive populations outside these metropolitan centres. It is an easy way of avoiding the need for regional assemblies within England. Many within the ruling groups know that the unity of England is more fragile that it appears and that if Scotland left the union, it would not be long before it fragments.
“British nationalism is the mythical story of the United Kingdom from its origins…” It is a myth in every possible way to disguises real weaknesses. The UK’s unfinished bourgeois revolution of Crown political sovereignty not only stopped popular sovereignty arising but stopped a fully bourgeois democratic consciousness developing in the aristocratic-landowning-bourgeois classes so that one would never appear in the wider population as well. Because a sense of “Britishness” became impossible, various nationalisms, regional identities as well as identities based on social class, school, branch of service, regiment or smaller identities became the prime identity for most of population with Crown at the pinnacle.
A boundary was crossed by this referendum that has many more consequences to come. Some of them have been outlined by Ken Loach at the end of this pamphlet, “If Scotland leaves the UK, we in England will face a Tory majority. But if an independent Scotland is a success it can be, for us, the threat of a good example and show that a progressive government can improve lives now and make the future sustainable.”