After analysing the role of the constitutional nationalists of the SNP, the liberal and conservative unionists amongst  the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems and the reactionary unionists led by UKIP, and their attempt to roll back Scotland’s ‘Democratic Revolution’ (, Allan Armstrong (RCN) examines the problematic role of the Left in the UK in challenging this.


 1. The UK constitutional issue will be central to the General Election campaign


The continuing political impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ [1] can be seen in the run-up to the May Westminster General Election. The Conservative Party has produced a Westminster General Election poster, which highlights the importance they give to the issue of the future of the UK. It conjures up a diabolic alliance between Ed Miliband, Alex Salmond and Gerry Adams (the latter two apparently pulling the strings behind-the-scenes, since Salmond now holds no post within the SNP leadership, and Adams sits in the Irish Dail [2]).

Whilst still verbally committed to some constitutional reform of the UK, preferably measures which can further devolve Osborne’s austerity axe, Cameron also wants to head off the challenge coming from the reactionary unionists on the Tory Right in tacit alliance with UKIP (and Loyalists in Northern Ireland). They want to roll back elements of the existing ‘New Unionist’ settlement [3] (‘Devolution-all-round’ and the Peace Process) and to take the UK out of the EU – ‘Brexit’.

The Conservatives, Lib-Dems and Labour offer the electorate variations on ‘Devo-Plus’ or ‘Devo-Minus’ themes. These are defined by the extent to which the mainstream unionist parties now support the proposals emanating from Lord Smith. The Smith Commission was hurriedly summonsed when it became clear to Cameron that the Scottish referendum result was going to be a lot closer than he had envisaged when signing the Edinburgh Agreement back in November 2012.

Thus, caught between the combined pressures of the constitutional nationalists of the SNP government (and their main ally, Plaid Cymru) now strongly pushing a liberal unionist ‘Devo-Max’ agenda [4], and the reactionary unionists of UKIP (and their allies), strongly pushing a ‘Devo-Minus’ agenda, the mainstream unionist parties are being pulled in both directions.

Hence their split over the ‘Devo-Plus’ proposals to preserve the UK; over EVEL – English votes for English laws; and over the new conditions for continued EU membership. Furthermore, as well as the divisions between the mainstream unionist parties, they are also split amongst themselves, with liberal, conservative and reactionary [5] unionists to be found in  the Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour parties.

It is when the ruling class and its political representatives are divided, that the greatest opportunities exist for socialists to put forward our immediate political alternative – the end of the corrupt Westminster political order, the break-up of the UK state with its anti-democratic Crown Powers [6], and forming an alliance with the developing anti-austerity forces in Europe to challenge the banker controlled EU. 

This clearly means being prepared to mobilise support outside the narrow confines of Westminster. This involves continuing Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, which took politics into working class communities that had long been abandoned by the mainstream unionist parties. It means extending the ‘democratic revolution’ into England, Wales and the whole of Ireland, as well as linking up with those in, for example, Catalunya and Euskadi, struggling for genuine self-determination, and those in Greece and Spain who are already showing their willingness to resist the Troika.


 2. The demise of the British unionist Left in Scotland?

“Just Say Naw”

So, what sort of political challenge are socialists in Scotland and the wider UK offering during the 2015 Westminster election campaign? First, it is necessary to acknowledge the continued (if diminishing) presence of a British unionist Left in Scotland. This can be found in the Red Paper Collective [7] (an alliance of the much shrunken Labour Left [8] and the Communist Party of Britain), the supporters of George ‘Just Say Naw’ Galloway (although he has moved south again for now), and the Glasgow South branch of the Left Unity Party (LUP). They all claimed a ‘No’ victory would defend the unity of the British working class.

Well, they got their ‘No’ victory, but it wasn’t these British Left unionist groups (or the STUC – the official incarnation of British labour ‘solidarity’ in Scotland) that led any celebratory marches. Instead there was a triumphalist rampage by loyalists and British neo-fascists in Glasgow’s George Square on September 19th. Nothing could better highlight the political bankruptcy of the British unionist Left when it backed the ‘No’ campaign [9].

Furthermore, these British Left unionist political groups were also absent when the first solidarity action was organised in support of the Greek people after Syriza’s election victory on January 26th [10]. The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) initiated a demonstration and march from the Scottish Parliament to Bute House (Scottish First Minister’s residence) in Edinburgh on February 14th. This was supported by the STUC, which provided its Depute General Secretary, David Moxham, as a speaker. So the demonstration and march, initiated by Scottish internationalists, had the support of the official body representing of the British working class movement in Scotland – but not its British Left unionist defenders!


 3. Neither the British unionist nor the Scottish nationalist Left has a strategy or policies to address the constitutional issue

TUSC - No to Austerity, but Yes or No to the Union?
TUSC – No to Austerity, but Yes or No to the Union?

A shared feature of the various proposed socialist challenges – Trade Union and Socialist Coalition [TUSC], LUP and Scottish Socialist Party [SSP]) – in the current Westminster election campaign is they fail to appreciate the fact that, in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum campaign, the constitutional future of the UK remains a central issue for the mainstream unionist and nationalist parties throughout these islands. This will have a considerable bearing on any working class struggles.

Sections of the British unionist and Scottish nationalist Left still share some characteristics in their approaches to the forthcoming General Election, despite their now yawning political differences over the future of the UK. This is because both camps have inherited the longstanding weakness of those who have learned their politics in the deeply economist traditions of the British unionist Left. This includes the old Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), Militant then Socialist Party (SP) [11] and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

After the CPGB’s demise, in 1991, following the collapse of the USSR (another unionist state [12]), it split into the Left British unionist, Communist Party of {the now not so great} Britain (CPB), tail-ending British Labour; and the Left Scottish nationalist, Communist Party of Scotland (CPS), tail-ending the SNP. A little earlier, largely as a result of the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign, which began in Scotland, Militant’s successor organisations also split between a minority of Labour-loyalist Left British unionists in Socialist Appeal [13], and the majority who adopted, to varying degrees, Left Scottish nationalism [14]. The latter have been found within the SSP, Solidarity, and the Socialist Party Scotland (SPS). In the process, some swapped their earlier affections for an older, then more social democratic Labour Party, for a younger and now more social democratic SNP [15].

What these organisations of both the British unionist Left and Scottish nationalist Left say, in effect, is – leave the democratic or constitutional political issues to the mainstream parties, particularly Labour or the SNP. We do the ‘bread and butter’ issues which the working class understands. This mirrors ruling class views of what should concern the working class – our economic and social conditions – but leave the nature of the state and the constitution to “your betters”!

So instead of formulating immediate democratic or republican demands, which relate to the anti-Westminster and anti-UK feelings that  developed in Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, these socialists often supplement their support for immediate economic (and sometimes social) demands with an abstract propagandist call for socialism. This refusal to countenance immediate democratic demands would, if applied to the economic sphere, be equivalent to a refusal to support wage struggles because they just reinforce the system of wage slavery.

Capitalism is a system of exploitation and oppression that necessitates an economic and political response [16]. Socialists argue for engagement in the economic struggles of our class because they are schools of struggle, which help to develop independent working class organisation. So socialists should also argue for engagement in the political struggles of our class for the same reason. The key immediate democratic demands to counter the anti-democratic Crown Powers of the UK state are for a democratic, secular and social republic and a break up of the British imperial Union.

The SP (in England and Wales) and its CWI-affiliated SPS in Scotland, along with the SWP, are the main political groups behind the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). They are standing in May on a “real anti-cuts” platform. SP members, in consultation with trade union officials, were largely responsible for drawing up TUSC’s election platform.

TUSC’s platform has no independent proposals to make on the issue of Scottish self-determination, despite the future of the UK state being a key issue in the General Election following from Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’. Indeed in Scotland, TUSC, currently standing 9 candidates in May, have fallen in behind a version of the SNP’s own lowered political aims – ‘Devo-Max’ for Scotland, calling for more undefined powers for Holyrood. They are rightly opposed to any vote for the SNP because of its neo-liberal politics [17]. However, when it comes to constitutional issues, they still tail-end the mainstream nationalists.

Scottish nationalists, and various liberal, conservative and reactionary unionist politicians, from throughout the UK, will be highlighting the possible futures for the UK in the lead-up to, and the aftermath of, the General Election. In the process, there will be national chauvinist, and open and dog-whistle racist attempts to divide the working class throughout these islands.

Therefore, any anti-cuts or anti-austerity campaign that ignores the major obstacles, which the UK constitutional order places in the way of such united working class activity, will not be of much assistance. United working class action needs to arise from our own voluntary independent class coordination on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis; not as a passive and bureaucratic British ‘internationalist’ organisational reflection of the UK state. The current state of the Scottish Labour Party, more at home with Conservatives and Lib-Dems in defence of the UK state, and with no effective answers to the even further Right reactionary challenges of UKIP, is the logical outcome of such thinking, especially under conditions of capitalist crisis.

Thus, when the issue of the future of the UK constitutional order arises, during and after the General Election campaign, TUSC’s economic reductionism will leave it to the SNP north of the border to take the political lead once more; whilst confusion will prevail south of the border, with pro-, abstentionist and anti- ‘the exercise of Scottish self-determination’ positions emerging [18]. Thus, there is a danger of politics becoming polarised between two versions of nationalism – Scottish and British.

The reason the SPS and the SWP gave for supporting a ‘Yes’ vote in Scotland on September 18th was because they saw this as a surrogate anti-austerity vote [19]. Whilst this was certainly an element in the campaign, it wasn’t the most significant one. Much of the support for a ‘Yes’ vote went considerably beyond this, challenging the corruption of the existing Westminster set-up, and indeed for a significant minority, the very nature of the UK state. The massive electoral registration (97%) and electoral participation rate (85%) was an indication of the early stages of a ‘democratic revolution’, with had more ambitious political objectives than economic bargaining within the existing constitutional order. Yet it is precisely this political advance TUSC is turning its back on, as a consequence of their economic reductionist politics.

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is also standing candidates in the Westminster General Election – 4 in all. Unlike the SP/SPS, the SSP did realise that the Scottish referendum campaign represented a popular democratic challenge and even an embryonic republican movement – hence the publication of their campaign pamphlet, For a Modern Democratic Republic, written by Colin Fox. A republican current in the original SSP had left its mark, although it had been strongly resisted by the CWI, on economic reductionist and abstract propagandist grounds, when they were members.

However, during the Scottish referendum campaign, the SSP also joined the SNP’s official ‘Scotland-Yes’. The legacy of this accommodation now has greater influence on its politics, despite the short shrift the SSP has been given, after September 18th, by an SNP leadership keener to join with Miliband’s ‘Red Tories’ in England and Wales [20].

“The preference of the SSP was to field candidates under a ‘Yes alliance’ banner drawn from the three pro independence parties, us, the SNP and the Greens which we felt was the best way of harnessing the energy of the broad Yes campaign in a united effort to defeat the unionist parties.”

“However since both the Greens and SNP have rejected that approach in favour of standing candidates under their own party colours, the SSP has no alternative but to do likewise. In the absence of a united Yes alliance the SSP will therefore field candidates across urban Scotland in May. Our candidates will back independence and also put our own distinctive anti austerity, socialist policies before voters. The centrepiece of our campaign will be a £10/hour living wage and to end zero hour contracts” [21].

No indication is given as to how the SSP intends to “back independence”; although in the meantime, like TUSC, they support “more powers” – another variation on the SNP’s ‘Devo Plus’. Their earlier republicanism has been shelved, relegated to the future removal of the outdated monarchy as a tidying up exercise after Scottish independence has been finally achieved. The SSP’s support for SNP candidates in the General Election, where the Left is not standing, shows their idea of independence also depends on the SNP taking the constitutional lead in the future, just as the that of TUSC does, despite the latter not backing the SNP, where the Left is not standing.

This why the SSP election campaign has also retreated back to the same old division of labour accepted by the SPS and SWP in TUSC – socialists should concentrate on the economic issues – “a £10/hour living wage and to end zero hour contracts” – and leave it to the dominant social democratic party to take the lead on the political or constitutional issues.


 4. Mounting an economic or a political struggle against the cuts and austerity?

The end of the line for a defiant Liverpool Council
Derek Hatton (Militant) and the end of the line for a defiant Liverpool Council

This refusal to address constitutional issues from an independent class viewpoint also contributes to political conservatism when it comes to fighting the cuts or austerity – the principal grounds upon which TUSC and the SSP would like to challenge the SNP in the forthcoming General Election. Outside the election context, emphasis is placed on trade unions organising more days of action. However, under the prevailing political conditions, the state and employers can contain these struggles relatively easily by playing off sectional divisions [22], and by promoting splits between and service workers and service users.

However, TUSC’s and the SSP’s narrow trade unionist approach to fighting the cuts is supplemented during elections by a specifically political demand that Local Councils refuse to implement them. In the unlikely event of any fighting Local Councils emerging today, they would soon come up against the UK state. This is something Militant Labour-controlled Liverpool City Council found out to its cost in the 1980s, when Thatcher’s Tory government took revenge on their initial defiance, after they had first dealt with the Miners Strike [23]. The District Auditor, a post created under the Thatcher government in 1982, was the external body given the task of imposing the UK state’s will in Liverpool.

Since then, unelected senior council officers have been given much more power. They now receive pay and perks comparable with private business bosses. Their attitudes towards public service provision have changed accordingly. Most senior council officers no longer oppose privatisation, which they might have once done, fearing this could threaten the particular ‘service empire’ from which they derived their clout.

As in the case of national service provision (e.g. the NHS), corporate businesses know how to buy and reward compliant senior council officers or service managers [24], and how to inveigle themselves into, and enhance their control over local services. Senior council officers have internalised the needs of the wider state and business into their mode of operation, making outside state intervention less necessary. Increasingly local councillors take their lead from these senior council officers.

Thus, any effective political campaign against cuts and austerity should highlight the negative role of the state and its local agents. A better political response would be to raise such issues as having a maximum ratio between the pay levels of senior council officers and the lowest paid workers, along with shared employment rights; ending such privileges as the bloated retirement pay-off packages for senior council officers, often coupled to their return as highly paid consultants; abolishing the rating of public service premises, and the exemptions for private bodies such as ‘public’ schools; adopting a progressive land and property value tax [25]; raising other local taxes [26]; and demanding state loans that can be obtained at rates of interests no higher than those given to the banks.

One of the consequences of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ is that such new thinking has begun to emerge here. This political approach has the ability to unite service workers and service users. Furthermore, at a time when so many council workers lack the confidence to undertake concerted industrial action [27], mounting a political campaign, which targets the nature of the local state, and its often corrupt relationship with business, is initially more likely to be fruitful than calling for further days of industrial action by already hard-pressed council workers.

There are problems too with the blanket demand – ‘No Cuts’. This just leaves the current structure and management of local services unchallenged [28]. Cuts could be made in the privileges and perks enjoyed by senior council officers; as well as by dismantling whole layers of management, whose main job is to police the workforce, imposing centrally monitored top-down plans (e.g. through target stetting), whilst outsourcing work to private contractors and consultants. This actually undermines workers’ ability to provide a good service [29].

Yet, some socialists argue against raising such demands, saying they could divide the trade unions which include both those senior council officials and the workers delivering the service – as if senior managers (very well paid and enjoying many privileges) have the same interests as the workers who provide the services. It is these senior officials who plan the cuts in jobs, pay, conditions and service provision, whilst simultaneously looking for ways to improve their own positions, often in league with business.

Council workers and service users need be drawn into transforming the running of service provision, so that the meeting of our social needs is prioritised. To do this means going beyond a narrow trade unionist perspective and pious calls on existing Local Councils to take the lead in challenging the cuts.


 5. The political struggle over the future of the EU – UKIP versus the Left


UKIP has ensured that there will be another dimension to the battle over the UK constitution, in and after the General Election campaign. They will be standing in May demanding a UK-wide referendum with a ‘Brexit’ option. Nigel Farage has said that he would be prepared to support whichever party – Conservative or Labour – will give him his referendum.

It is an indication of the political incoherence of the current British Labour Party [30] that it is being courted by the SNP looking for a liberal unionist pro-‘Devo-Max’, pro-EU alliance; and UKIP wanting a pro-‘Devo-Minus’, anti-EU (or at least pro-referendum) deal. Miliband would also be open to any remaining Lib-Dem MPs to form a coalition. Even the DUP and a possibly post-abstentionist Sinn Fein could not be ruled out as allies [31].

Whilst still on the fringe of Labour Party thinking, one MP and one lord have suggested that Labour enter a grand coalition with the Conservatives after the General Election – a permanent Better Together/’Project Fear’! When the pursuit of ministerial office and the lining of ones’ pockets is the main motivation for Labour Party careerists, then the lack of any political principles and keeping all options open becomes entirely comprehensible.

The political consequences of any UKIP/Tory Right-led ‘Brexit’ from the EU should be quite clear. The EU is a profoundly anti-democratic institution dominated by the European Commission (EC) and the European Bank (EB). The Troika, consisting of the EC, EB and IMF, is imposing draconian austerity measures upon Greece, other southern EU member countries and Ireland. Furthermore, there is the imminent threat of a further entrenchment of corporate power with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

However, UKIP does not oppose the Troika’s bankster-imposed sovereign debt (after all, the City of London also wants paid back with interest). It supports the City of London [32] in its opposition to even the mildest banking regulations being proposed for the EU by Angela Merkel. UKIP backs TTIP. It wants the further privatisation of the NHS. UKIP would like to see the UK operating as a low wage, lousy conditions, minimal welfare, offshore corporate tax haven able to compete with the EU by undercutting its remaining and economic, social and environmental protection rules. UKIP and its business backers are opposed to having a minimum wage at all, so pay levels would be driven down even further. After driving out the majority of European (and other) migrants, officially recognised British subjects would be able to get their jobs and ‘enjoy’ their sub-minimum wages and appalling conditions.

The further massive social divisions this would open up would inevitably lead any UKIP/Tory Right [33] government to step up the current UK state-promoted British chauvinist divide-and-rule offensive. UKIP’s current dog-whistle racism (to avoid the anti-racist laws) would soon give way to a more open racism. This is common amongst many UKIP members, highlighted by the party’s quite frequent need to cull some of its more blatant loudmouths, and the resignation of naïve members troubled by this and other bigotted behavior. For the moment, such talk is meant to be confined to the bars, and not be publicly displayed in the public and social media. However, UKIP’s support for the abolition of the human rights legislation would soon give the green light to much more overt racism, and probably homophobia and sexism too [34].

So, what is the attitude of TUSC to the EU, in an election where the future relationship of the UK to the EU will be the other major constitutional issue before the electorate? Now the SP was the leading political organisation in No2EU. In May 2014, it stood candidates for the Euro-elections in England, Scotland and Wales calling for ‘Britain’ to leave the EU. Compared to ‘Blue Labour’, No2EU could be considered a lefter version of ‘UKIP-Lite’ for the working class.

A key feature of No2EU politics was its refusal to take a principled stand defending all migrant workers. No2EU drew a line which divides British workers from those arriving on our shores, whether from the poorer southern or eastern EU, or fleeing the consequences of imperially imposed Structural Adjustments Programmes [35] and wars or their knock-on effects – chronic poverty, repression, inter-ethnic or inter-religious strife and civil wars.

No2EU also drew upon that old CPGB ‘British road to socialism’ sentiment now found particularly amongst some trade union officials sympathetic to the CPB. This acceptance of a British/non-British divide represents a social chauvinist adaptation to the dominant British nationalism found in the UK state.

Quite clearly such politics can not challenge UKIP. They represent a shame-faced accommodation to the same sentiments. These attitudes are indeed common amongst an increasingly downbeaten and atomised working class. In the past, similar reactionary sentiments were raised as reasons why trade unionists shouldn’t support equal pay and rights for women, or fight to end discrimination directed at gays in the workplace and wider society. The SP and TUSC would certainly not condone sexism and homophobia today – now that the earlier massive campaigns led by women and gays have made such behavior politically unacceptable. However, the current political atmosphere, with regard to migrant workers, is more like that before women’s and gay rights were publicly and legally recognised. Therefore, the place for socialists to be is on the frontline of defence, precisely at the time when migrants have far fewer allies. That is what practical internationalism means.

However, despite UKIP ensuring that the EU will be a major issue in the May election, TUSC has nothing to say about this. This mirrors their silence on the consequences of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’. Why is this? There is one difference between May 2014 and May 2015, which helps to explain TUSC silence over the EU. The SWP, who did not support No2EU for the Euro-election last May (in this instance, they were on the side of the angels!), have joined TUSC for the Westminster General Election this May [36]. A pay-off for this new alliance seems to be silence over the EU [37].

In contrast to TUSC, the SSP do recognise the significance of UKIP’s intervention with regard to immigration and the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Colin Fox has written UKIP, Europe & Immigration: A Socialist Perspective as part of the SSP General Election campaign. Colin’s pamphlet takes a position in support of migrants. This is in contrast to the SP/SPS/No2EUposition. The SSP was able to take this principled stance once the CWI platform [38] had deserted the party in 2006 to support to Left populist and celebrity politician, Tommy Sheridan. At its 2007 conference, the SSP affiliated to the ‘No One Is Illegal’ campaign [39].

Colin’s pamphlet makes the necessary political criticisms of the EU bureaucracy. It acknowledges the even more reactionary British chauvinist nature of the UKIP-led campaign for ‘Brexit’. This is also an advance upon the pro-sterling, anti-euro position taken in the early days of the SSP, when the CWI platform was still involved [40]. Furthermore, Colin recognises the ‘internationalism from below’ basis needed to combat the EU bureaucracy. In the 2009 Euro-election, in contrast to the SP/No2EU, the SSP stood as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL). It was not able to repeat this in 2014, due to a combination of its own decline, and that of the EACL [41], which organised no united Euro-slate this time.


 6. A failure of internationalism – UKIP bests the Left

Bur who do I vote for elsewhere - TUSC, Green,Labour or SNP?
Bur who do I vote for elsewhere – TUSC, Green, Labour or SNP?

The only electoral challenge that recognises the real importance of the constitutional issue, and the problems these are causing for the mainstream unionist parties, comes from the reactionary unionist UKIP [42]. They alone are fighting in all four units of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They also provide leadership for the Tory Right and many Loyalists in this regard.

UKIP’s reactionary unionist constitutional challenge is both more coherent and has a wider geographical basis than the various liberal unionist options being offered by Cameron’s Conservatives, Labour, the Lib-Dems and the SNP. Furthermore, there is no such coordinated challenge coming from the Left. Although TUSC are putting up candidates this May in Scotland, England and Wales, significantly they are not doing so in Northern Ireland, despite both the SP and SWP having fraternal organisations there [43].

You might have thought that the Euro-election campaign in May 2014 would have provided a dry run for future coordinated internationalist campaigns. However, the SP (in England and Wales) and the SPS then fought under the No2EU banner. The SP in Ireland stood in the 26 Counties, but did not stand in the 6 Counties. Withdrawal from the EU was not raised as an issue in Ireland. The SWP did not stand anywhere in the UK, but stood against (clearly not on the side of the angels this time!) the incumbent Socialist Party MEP in Dublin, under the banner of People Before Profit [44].

However, a new political organisation is also entering the fray this May – the Left Unity Party (LUP). LUP was founded in 2013. As with TUSC, there is a strong element of Old Labour nostalgia involved, hoping to recreate the ‘Spirit of 45’. So far LUP appears to be standing in seats in England and one in Scotland. LUP members are divided over the degree of accommodation to be made with TUSC or the Green Party. However, they are also divided over their approach to Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ and the wider significance of the constitutional issue.

A key political group in LUP is Socialist Resistance (SR), which is the British affiliate of the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI). Whilst agreed on supporting LUP in England and Wales, in Scotland they are divided between those in and outside the SSP, although no SR member has joined LUP here. The USFI also have an affiliated group on Ireland – Socialist Democracy (SDI), which organises in both the 26 and 6 counties.

Given the USFI has supporters in all four nations found on these islands, you would have thought they could have come up with an agreed approach to the Scottish independence referendum, with its obvious knock-on effects for politics throughout these islands. However, the USFI ended up more divided than either the CWI or SWP [45].

During the Scottish referendum campaign, SR adopted a paper position of support for a ‘Yes’ vote. SDI argued for a ‘No’ vote. This glaring contradiction was ‘resolved’ when SR confined its support for a ‘Yes’ vote to their magazine, Socialist Resistance (issue no.76), but then took no further steps to organise solidarity; whilst SDI confined its actions to posting its ‘No’ position on its blog, but also organised no further action. Indeed, if they had, SDI would probably have found themselves with some very unwelcome loyalist ‘guests’! [46] Therefore, taking no part in wider activity represented SR’s and SDI’s shared (in)activity.

At the LUP’s second conference, held in Manchester, on 29th March, 2014, the Scottish Republican Yes Platform (SRYP) raised the issue of providing practical solidarity to those fighting against the Union and for Scottish self-determination , in alliance with the Radical Independence Campaign. The party’s SR office bearers refused to back this, or to offer any practical alternative. So narrow was the difference in the vote (68 for, 70 against, with 20 abstentions), it was the vote of the SR office bearers who swung the conference behind taking no action.

This was probably because they did not want to challenge the British Left unionist component of the LUP – ex-Labourists, ex-CPGB, ex-CPB and various other actual and ex-Trotskyists. SR’s attitude was merely a repeat of the uncritical earlier attitude, which they had maintained, until very late on, towards Left populist George Galloway in Respect, to keep him on board [47]. Naturally, ‘Gorgeous George’ showed no such reticence, when it came to pushing his own very British unionist politics in public.

Thus, the only effective solidarity with the ‘Yes’ campaign in the LUP came from the SRYP. With the backing of LUP branches, they organised a series of debates with Cat Boyd (RIC and ISG) and Mick Napier (then Scottish LUP) [48]. They also organised the ‘London Says Yes’ rally, along with other Republican Socialist Alliance (RSA) members, on September 6th with Bernadette McAliskey and Allan Armstrong (RIC and RCN) and as speakers [49].

However, the failure of the LUP leadership to offer any practical solidarity led to the loss of most of their quite small membership in Scotland. This only left them with the Left British unionist dominated Glasgow South branch [50], which had itself been undemocratically carved out of the Glasgow branch for this purpose. Unfortunately for the LUP’s British leadership, which would probably now prefer that the issue was just ignored, the Glasgow South branch intends to stand a Westminster candidate in May. He will probably oppose any democratic exercise of Scottish self-determination.

In its current election campaign, the SSP is also ignoring the wider constitutional crisis in the UK. There is a chapter in Colin Fox’s pamphlet, UKIP, Europe & Immigration: A Socialist Perspective, entitled, Westminster: A Tale of Disconnection and Deceit. This addresses the constitutional issue, but confines its arguments to the effects on Scotland. There is no acknowledgement of UKIP’s wider role in leading the reactionary unionists against any further liberal reform of the ‘New Unionist’ ‘Devolution-all-round’ and Peace Process settlement, nor their desire to go further and unpick elements of what already exists.

Because the SSP does not recognise the wider impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, it no longer sees the need to develop this further through an all-islands republican socialist alliance. This is a retreat from when the SSP’s International Committee gave its backing to the first two Republican Socialist Conventions, in 2008 in Edinburgh, and 2010 in London, bringing together people from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland (26 and 6 Counties). This was another example of ‘internationalism from below’, which the SSP had also practised in the 2007 Euro-elections.

Throughout the Scottish referendum campaign, though, the SSP concentrated its main activities in the SNP’s ‘Yes Scotland’ front campaign. This has pulled it more firmly into the Scottish Left nationalist camp.


 7. The Radical Independence Campaign


The ‘internationalism from below’ baton has now passed to the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC). This was highlighted at RIC’s 2013 and 2014 conferences, which organised ‘internationalism from below’ sessions, with Bernadette McAliskey from Ireland in both years; Steve Freeman (LUP and RSA) in 2013 and Adam Ramsay (open democracy) in 2014; and Angharad Tomos (Cymdeithas yr Iaith/Welsh Language Society) in 2014 [51]. RIC also took the ‘Yes’ campaign to England, Wales and Ireland (26 and 6 counties) in 2014.

The inner national leadership of RIC (essentially the International Socialist Group – ISG  [52]) was more aware of the popular democratic challenge represented by the wider ‘Yes’ campaign. It was RIC that took the initiative to register voters in the working class housing schemes, which contributed to the unprecedented electoral registration and referendum participation levels.

Whether the RIC’s ISG leadership would have signed up to official ‘Yes-Scotland’ was never tested. They weren’t asked. However, one clear distinguishing characteristic dividing RIC from the SNP government, with its resort to Westminster sovereignty, has been RIC’s support for the republican notion of popular sovereignty. This was highlighted at the RIC National Forum in May 2014, where it was decided unanimously, in the event of a victory on September 18th, to make an appeal to all the independent ‘Yes’ groups, to participate in a wide campaign to draw up a new constitution for Scotland. The aim would be to put this before a Scottish Constituent Assembly. Here RIC’s republicanism was countered to the SNP’s constitutional monarchism.

The SNP government draws its mandate from the exercise of Westminster’s devolved powers under the Crown. This would have led to any post-September 18th victory negotiations being confined to the Scottish MSPs (unionist and nationalist) on the one hand and the Westminster government on the other. Any new constitution would have been drawn up by the ‘great and the good’ to ensure the continuation of the monarchy (and hence the long arm of the Crown Powers), and no doubt other anti-democratic features, still wanted by a Scottish wannabe ruling class to deal with any future working class challenges. RIC, in contrast, saw a ‘Yes’ vote as the exercise of the sovereignty of the people.

RIC is a coalition united around its 5 principles. RIC includes people from the Socialist Left [53] (including the RCN, SSP, SWP affiliates), the SNP and the Greens, as well as campaigns (Scottish CND, Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers, Trade Unionists for Independence (TUFI) – East Coast [54]) and the think-tank Common Weal. The Movements (Occupy, the Arab Spring and the Indignados in Spain, the Indignant Citizens Movement in Greece, and the Popular Unity Candidates in Catalunya) have also inspired many in RIC.

On March 28th, proposals will be put before RIC’s first AGM to reconstitute itself as a membership movement with local groups, also open to affiliated political organisations and campaigns. Being a movement rules out RIC either standing or recommending candidates to vote for in May. RIC’s affiliated political organisations. Those who are individual members of non-affiliated parties, and those who are not in any political organisation, have different ideas as to how RIC’s 5 Principles can best be advanced.

Any RIC supporting SNP member, who openly put themself forward as a possible SNP Westminster candidate committed to RIC’s 5 Principals, would have been given short shrift by SNP officials when it came to the selection of candidates . The ‘New SNP’ has powerful internal mechanisms to ensure the top-down control of the party, and to tame any radical desires still held by many new members. Furthermore, political platforms or tendencies are banned.

RIC supporting SNP members now face the contradiction of campaigning to kick out every last ‘Red Tory’ in Scotland, only for successful SNP MPs then to form an alliance with Miliband’s pro-austerity, pro-war, pro-Trident ‘Red Tories’ in England and Wales! The consequences of this slippery slope were shown in The Guardian interview with Nicola Sturgeon (6.3.15), where she said that SNP opposition to Trident would not be a barrier to cooperation with Labour [55]. Previously many argued that this issue was or should be an SNP red line.

RIC supporting Green Party members face the problem of seeing the SNP leadership ditching any possible SNP/Green electoral alliance in Scotland, at the same time as they are wooing the Greens in England as possible partners. There are socialists in the Scottish Green Party. However, the Greens are not a socialist party and a more right wing current is likely to re-emerge, which sees the May elections as an opportunity to replace the Lib-Dems as the main left centre party for the concerned middle class [56].

The reason why many socialists have joined the Greens is largely due to the continued failure of the socialist Left to create its own effective political party. In Scotland, we are still living with the political consequences of the socialist Left’s last spectacular failure – the SSP – following the ‘Tommygate’ affair [57].

The political shortcomings of the two specifically socialist challenges – TUSC and the SSP – have already been outlined. Socialists not in these organisations are taking some small comfort that they have at last managed to organise a non-aggression pact, and are not standing candidates against each other in May.

Nevertheless, this is still a far cry from the days of a united SSP before 2004. Furthermore, the current SSP and TUSC have retreated from some of the more advanced politics once held by the SSP, enshrined in the republican Calton Hill Manifesto [58], its active participation in the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance and the support given to the two Republican Socialist Conventions organised on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis.

Clearly, if the SSP had not imploded so spectacularly after ‘Tommygate’, and if the consequent deep divisions and personal acrimony had not become the dominant feature for much of the Scottish Left, then socialists would have been in a far better position to provide a republican and specifically party alternative to the SNP during the Scottish referendum campaign. RIC has done a good job as a movement, but the aforementioned differences amongst is supporters over a political approach, has highlighted the need for a new party.

Irish jokes have an understandably bad reputation. Occasionally though they can reveal a deeper wisdom. One such joke has a lost traveller approaching a small cottage in the country and asking, “How do I get to Dublin?” To which the answer is, “Well to be sure, I wouldn’t be starting from here.” This is the situation the Scottish Left finds itself in, in the lingering aftermath of ‘Tommygate’!

ISG members, young and unsullied by the SSP split, were able to bring together many Scottish socialists – including those in the ‘Continuity SSP’ and those in Solidarity. However, the tensions remain, although now even the SPS has abandoned Tommy Sheridan and Solidarity because of their support for the SNP. As if this hadn’t been obvious for ages, with Sheridan’s saltire-wrapped ‘Hope Not Fear’ tour being a nationalist mirror image of Galloway’s unionist ‘Just Say Naw’ tour.

A key thing that was missing in the referendum campaign was a united socialist party, with international links. The knock-on effects of Scotland’s’ democratic revolution’ have highlighted the continuing need for such an organisation. At present, the Republican Socialist Alliance (with supporters in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) is the place where discussions and debates are taking place about a new socialist republican parties in an  ‘internationalism from below’ alliance.

Steve Freeman (RSA-England) is using the General Election to bring these arguments first to the Left, then to those advanced sections of the working class which saw Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ as being their fight – the frontline of the struggle against the corrupt Westminster order, and lying behind this the reactionary UK state based on the imperial sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament, the Union and established religion. Steve is standing as a RIC supporting candidate in Bermondsey and Old Southwark. RSA supporters in Scotland are taking his campaign north of the border too.




[1]           For a fuller account of the impact of the Scottish ‘democratic revolution’ on the British unionist parties and the SNP see:-

[2]           As yet, Sinn Fein does not take up its seats at Westminster. But after Martin McGuinness dining with the queen, there can’t be many more Irish Republican shibboleths Sinn Fein will not be prepared to ditch.

[3]          For a fuller account of the emergence of ‘New Unionism’ see section xii) of

[4]           For an account of the SNP government’s shift from ‘Independence-Lite’ to ‘Devo-Max’, or Home Rule, see:-

[5]           Before his recent exposure for financial corruption at Westminster, Jack Straw had argued for a new parliamentary act to make Scottish independence illegal! By taking a leaf out of General Franco’s book he even managed to outflank Nigel Farage on the Right!

[6]          For a fuller explanation of the role of the Crown Powers see, Promoting Republicanism by Murdo Ritche at:-

[7]           For a critique of the Red Paper Collective’s politics see

[8]           Whether the British unionist Labour Left can make any sort of recovery is now a moot point after the failure of either of their candidates, Neil Findlay and Katy Clark, to win the Scottish Labour leader and depute leader positions. However, this result could have been anticipated after the Grangemouth fiasco, which undermined the credibility of the Broad Left UNITE leader, Len McCluskey. He has been the main force behind the promotion of Left candidates within the Labour Party (see

[9]           There is a sense of deja vu here. Back in the late 1970’s, some socialists, including the SWP argued “No to Devolution. Yes to Revolution”. Well they got their “No to Devolution”, but instead of “Revolution” they got Thatcher!

[10]         See

[11]         Militant has been and the British section, whilst Socialist Party is the English and Welsh section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI),

[12]         In the old USSR, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union performed an analogous role to the Crown in Westminster in the UK, when it came to holding the unionist state together.

[13]         It was  only towards the end of the Scottish referendum campaign that Socialist Appeal gave their support, seeing support for a ‘Yes’ as a largely working class surrogate anti-austerity vote.

[14]         Although, it has taken them longer to shed other Left British unionist aspects of their politics, particularly in relation to the ‘Six Counties’.

[15]         Interestingly, there was precedent for this, when one-time unionist Communist officials in the old USSR and Yugoslavia, switched their affections from the formerly dominant unionist/or federalist state to the newly emerging constituent states, as these old order began to fall apart. This process could be seen, for example, in Ukraine, Georgia. Slovenia, Croatia and later in Montenegro. However, some of the old Communist officials in the dominant state within the USSR or Yugoslavia easily slipped over to a Russian or Serbian chauvinism, showing a willingness to strike deals with ultra-nationalists in various Red-Brown alliances.

[16]         The third prop of capitalism is the mainly ideological one provided by alienation, which contributes to other dimension of opposition – cultural resistance. However, this will not be further developed here but the arguments can be seen at:- and points 2, 5 and 8 of the RCN’s What We Stand For at

[17]         The `New SNP’ candidate election procedure has been designed to weed out anybody who is likely to challenge the SNP leadership. Platforms are not allowed in the SNP. There will be no socialist republican equivalent of say John McDonnell in the Labour Party – although McDonnell, himself, probably represents the last (socialist) man standing for Labour in Westminster.

The SPS opposition to the SNP has forced them to make a much-belated break with Tommy Sheridan. He is advocating a vote for the SNP in May. It is surprising that it took the SPS so long to fully appreciate his strongly Scottish nationalist politics. He is lining himself up as populist nationalist candidate for the 2016 Holyrood elections. It looks as if ‘Hope Not Fear’ will replace Solidarity (backed by the SPS and SWP) as Tommy’s new fan club.

[18]         The latter reflects the continued pressure of the British unionist Labour Party and much of the trade union bureaucracy

[19]         See 1.6 million people vote ‘Yes’ in a working class revolt against austerity at:- and section 4c of Riding Two Horses at Once at:-

[20]         See part 3) of

[21]         See

[22]         This could be sen in the immediate aftermath of the November 30th, 2012, all-UK pensions strike, after which one union after the other, led by ‘Left’ Len McCluskey abandoned the fight, to make shabby sectional deals. A partial exception to this pattern can be seen in those militant campaigns mounted to defend a particular service provision, e.g. a school or local community centre. These can unite service workers and users, but they are much harder to generalise and tend to stay local.

[23]         See:-

[24]         And, of course, as one scandal after another is revealed at Westminster and in Local Councils, businesses are just as adept at corrupting MPs and local councillors.

[25]         Land and property taxes have the advantage that they are far harder for the rich and self-employed to avoid than income based taxes.

[26]         One example relevant to my own home city of Edinburgh would be real bedroom tax on hotels, so the wider community and not just businesses benefit from well-off tourists.

[27]         Such action is also opposed or actively sabotaged by trade union officials in cahoots, particularly with Labour-led Local Councils.

[28]         Some trade unions include senior Council officers amongst their membership. Under the guise of opposing all cuts, they can use their positions, both within their Local Council and trade union, to defend their existing privileges – privileges, of course, which they would never take any action to extend to the rest of the workforce.

[29]         This problem is, of course, just as prevalent in such national state bodies as the NHS.

[30]        When the pursuit of ministerial office and the lining of ones pockets is the main motivation for ambitious Labour MPs, then of course, this keeping open of all options becomes entriely understandable.

[31]         Labour was propped up by the UUP under Roy ‘Stone’ Mason’s highly repressive Northern Ireland regime from1976-9; as well as by Gerry Fitt in the SDLP, who eventually found Mason’s role in Northern Ireland impossible to support any longer. Under today’s New Unionist set-up in Northern Ireland, the DUP and Sinn Fein have taken on the role the UUP and SDLP once performed.

[32]         Nigel Farage was, of course, a commodities trader in the City of London before becoming an MEP. His ability to smoke and drink beer in public is apparently all that is needed for the mainstream media to punt this privileged ex-public school poser as a ‘man of the people’!

[33]         Nor can the participation of maverick Labour politicians be ruled out.

[34]         The DUP in Northern Ireland is a good place to look for racist, bigoted, homophobic statements from prominent party leaders, in complete contempt for the ‘parity of esteem’ and openness to new minorities, which is officially meant to characterise the post-Good Friday order there.

[35]         What we in the West have known as Austerity since the 2008 Crash had been experienced for a quarter of a century in the ‘Third World’ as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) – enforced cuts in wages and services (and food subsidies) and the wholesale handing over of state-owned businesses and services (and communally-held land) to the major corporations. The IMF and World Bank originally promoted SAPs, but since 1995, the World Trade Organisation was added to from this earlier ‘Troika’.

[36]         The SWP are perhaps thankful to be given a publicly acknowledged place, after the sharp rejection they have suffered at many other socialists’ hands, since the ‘Comrade Delta’ affair. However, as the earlier acrimonious splits between the SP and SWP over the former Socialist Alliance (and in their fraternal Irish sections within the former United Left Alliance) demonstrated, the current TUSC alliance is likely to prove to be merely a temporary ‘marriage of convenience’.

[37]         It will be interesting to see, though, who else their SWP coalition partners recommend to vote for in Scotland, when they try to make up for lost ground, as Johnny-come-lately supporters of Scottish independence.

[38]         The CWI platforms in the SSP were successively, Scottish Militant Labour (1996-2001), International Socialist Movement (2001-2) and the International Socialists (2002-6). After ‘Tommygate’ the International Socialists became a platform in Solidarity, but then constituted themselves as the Socialist Party of Scotland in 2010.

[39]         See

[40]         In this case the principled position was to refuse to back either sets of financial imperial contenders – the City of London and the European Bank (dominated by the German Bundesbank).

[41]         The initial success of the EACL was a product of the heightened anti-war feeling after the time of the Iraq War and, in particular the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France (initiated by the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International). Its decline mirrored the ebbing of that particular challenge. However, the opportunistic politics of the USFI, and the political falling apart of its other significant international sponsor, the SWP’s International Socialist Tendency, accentuated this process.

[42]         In the 2010 General Election the Conservatives stood in alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party. This did neither organisation much good, and this pact is no longer in operation. The Alliance Party in Northern Ireland does have links with the Lib-Dems elsewhere in the UK, but both parties seem to want to keep that quiet in public, and there will be no joint General Election campaign.

[43]         Of course, there are no 26 counties seats being contested in the May Westminster General Election. However, an all-islands socialist campaign would also bring across activists from the Water Charges and the Anti-Mortgage Evictions campaigns, as well as highlighting the role of the City of London and Scottish registered banks in the imposition of austerity in Ireland.

[44]         You certainly get the impression that, as far as the SP and SWP are concerned, TUSC will prove to be little more than a temporary marriage of convenience, which could fall apart as quickly as the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales and the United Left Alliance in Ireland, which also initially involved both of these parties.

[45]         This suggests that the USFI has ceased to be a meaningful international with a shared strategic and hence programmatic approach (other than a resort to some sentimental invoking of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme, no longer relevant under today’s conditions), and is really a loose coalition of essentially nationally based organisations, like the Second International was.

[46]         Ulster loyalists were certainly keen to join the ‘No’ campaign, many coming over especially to take part in the Orange Order’s ‘British Together’ march and rally held in Edinburgh on September 13th (see

[47]         see’s-holyrood-elections/)

[48]         The RSA (including non-LUP members) also organised the ‘London Says Yes’ rally on September 6th last year with Bernadette McAliskey and Allan Armstrong (RCN and RIC). Red Pepper also organised a meeting in the Houses of Parliament with Cat Boyd and Peter Ramand (both ISG and RIC) as speakers.

[49]         See

[50]         The two leading branch members, Sandy McBurnie and Matthew Jones, were originally in the SSP’s Left unionist Workers Unity Platform. They continue to live in their 1970’s bubble, when there was a ‘united British working class’, Labour was on the Left, and the SNP were ‘Tartan Tories’. The underlying politics of such Left British unionism can be seen at:-

[51]         Leanne Wood, the socialist and republican leader of Plaid Cymru, had been invited from Wales to the 2013 conference, but had to give her apologies. Instead she came to address a meeting for RIC in Glasgow on July 22nd, 2014 (see

[52]         For an initial assessment of the politics of the ISG see and section D) of

[53]         The ISG have not directly affiliated but have members going to National Forums from branches or Common Weal.

[54]         TUFI’s West Coast branch appears not to have any independent existence. Once SSP Industrial Organiser, Richie Venton, had assumed the de facto leadership, thus sidelining TUSC, no further meetings or activity were held. TUFI’s East Coast branch included trade unionists from both sides of the SSP split and was able to organise activity, as well as developing a more advanced immediate programme, see

[55]         See

[56]         This was always the position of the first Scottish Green leader and MSP, Robin Harper, who significantly also signed up to the Better Together campaign. Despite the Scottish Greens’ move to the Left under Patrick Harvie, those sharing Harper’s liberal unionist politics have not disappeared, and ironically could be given a new lease of life under the SNP’s proposed all-Britain liberal unionist alliance, which includes the Greens south of the border.

[57]         However, the continued fawning before, or accommodation to Left celebrity politicians – Derek Hatton, Arthur Scargill, Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway – and the consequent slippage into populist politics, has been a shared feature of Militant/SP, Socialist Labour Part, ISM (majority of old SSP leadership), SWP and SR, north and south of the border.

[58]         see


The last part of this trilogy of articles can be found at:-