Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written a second piece on the forthcoming EU referendum. This is a contribution to the debate in the RCN and the wider Left. Allan has spoken on this issue at the RIC national conference (Feb. 20th), SSP National Council (28th Feb) and the Glasgow Assembly for Democracy (2nd April).
A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS
a) The politics of TINA – There is no alternative
A common accusation made by ‘No’ advocates during the Scottish Independence referendum was that support for Scottish independence or the SNP, and for withdrawal from the EU or UKIP, are but mirror images of each other. They have argued that both are based on atavistic nationalism.
There have been two purposes behind this accusation. The first was to disguise the reactionary British nationalism of the leaders of the official ‘No’ campaign. They have acted as apologists for the anti-democratic UK state and British imperialism and given succour to atavistic British nationalism. The second has been their intention to obliterate the political distinction between Left and Right, in favour of a TINA divide between the acceptable politics of the insiders – Conservatives, Lib-Dem and Labour (‘Better Together’ and ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’) – and the unacceptable and unrealistic politics of the outsiders – the SNP-led ‘Yes’ and UKIP-led ‘Leave’ supporters.
Ironically, something that becomes obscured in this argument is the real shared feature of the politics of the SNP and UKIP leaderships. They both want to replace the British ruling class’s post-1997 liberal unionist UK constitutional settlement, based on ‘Devolution-all-round’ (and the arrangements made for the ‘Peace Process’ in Northern Ireland in the case of UKIP), albeit with quite different political alternatives.
For the SNP, this involves forging a constitutional nationalist/liberal unionist alliance, which will concede ‘Independence Lite’ to Scotland. For UKIP, this involves extending their populist and reactionary unionist alliance with the Tory Right and ‘Ulster’ loyalists, in order to strengthen the existing UK state. That means curtailing the concessions made to Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists and giving support to ‘Brexit’ – withdrawal from the EU. The outsiders want to become insiders, either as partners with the British ruling class in the case of the SNP, or by being taken directly on board in the case of UKIP.
b) The politics behind the SNP
For the SNP, the British ruling class’s post-1997 constitutional settlement has not gone anything like far enough. The SNP leadership, which represents a Scottish ruling class-in-the-making, want a junior managerial buy-out of the UK state assets in Scotland. Yet its version of Scottish independence would still leave the rUK in place. This state would continue to have considerable influence over Scotland through the retention of the Crown (and its anti-democratic powers), the City of London and the British High Command. Beyond this, there is no fundamental questioning of the EU or the global corporate order upheld by NATO, just a desire for a better Scottish deal within this set-up.
The SNP leadership believes that the best guarantee of future good relations between their ‘Independence-Lite’ Scotland and the rUK would come about through the further development of the post-1997 liberal unionist order in England (extended to the regions) and Wales. The SNP remains ambiguous in its attitude to Northern Ireland.
Since 2011, when it formed a majority government at Holyrood for the first time, the SNP leadership has tried to move things forward by pushing for an alliance with the British Labour Party. This alliance would be a modern version of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IIP)/Liberal alliance that was in place for much of the period between 1885-1915. The Irish nationalists first displaced the Liberals as the party with majority representation in Ireland at Westminster in 1874, something the SNP achieved with Labour in Scotland at Holyrood in 2007 and Westminster in 2015.
However, in the lead-up to the drafting of the Scottish referendum in 2012, Labour rejected support for any liberal unionist ‘Devo-Max’ option on the ballot paper. After the referendum vote on September 18th 2014, Labour proved as keen as the Conservatives to drop the liberal unionist facade of ‘Better Together’. Labour’s 2015 Westminster campaign in Scotland was run by uber-unionist Jim Murphy with his non-stop attacks on the SNP. Indeed Miliband said he would rather have a Tory government than form a social democratic pact at Westminster with the SNP. He got his wish! This has left Nicola Sturgeon looking instead to the much smaller Greens (Natalie Bennet) and Plaid Cymru (Leanne Wood) for allies.
The SNP has built up its side of the sought-for constitutional nationalist/liberal unionist alliance within Scotland. This has now been achieved to a greater degree than the IIP was able to do in Ireland in the past, thwarted as it was by the Unionists and the Orange Order in north-east Ulster. However, compared to the willingness of Gladstone and Asquith’s Liberal Party to ally with the IIP, neither the Miliband nor Corbyn-led Labour Party has shown any keenness to ally with the SNP.
c) The politics behind UKIP
UKIP draws its main electoral support from small business owners and marginalised workers. However, UKIP has an open door to the most right wing sections of the British ruling class’s principal party of choice – the Conservatives. It also has a political access to Northern Ireland. UKIP organises there, stands in elections, and has made electoral deals with the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and the loyalist Popular Unionist Party (with its links to the Ulster Volunteer Force, which provides forces on the street).
In contrast to the SNP, UKIP sees the post-1997 UK constitutional set-up as being too liberal. It believes that this results in unwelcome concessions to, and encourages unwelcome demands from, Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists and potentially more radical forces too. UKIP and their allies want to protect and strengthen all the reactionary features of the UK state – the Crown Powers, the City of London, the Union, the established Church and military spending. They want to reverse or undermine many recent liberal constitutional reforms and practices. UKIP also want to strengthen ties with the US, support NATO, retain Trident and increase the UK military budget (whilst sometimes being prepared to question certain military operations). They want to put the ‘Great’ back into ‘Britain’, so the UK can still be seen as a ‘player’ celebrating its ‘glorious’ imperial traditions.
The current unionist and loyalist offensive in Northern Ireland, designed to roll back the concessions made under the Belfast and later Agreements, offers the wider Right an example of what can be achieved. Here conservative and reactionary unionists have united, backed or prompted by extra-constitutional loyalist street action, to get their way. UKIP is the only party to have elected representatives in all the constituent units of the UK state. This puts it in a good bargaining position on the Right.
UKIP has been the main political force pushing for the EU referendum, aided by the Tory Right. UKIP wants to persuade the majority of the British ruling class to batten down the hatches of ‘UK plc’. It sees this as the best policy to be pursued at a time of ever-growing domestic and global instability. This means going for ‘Brexit’ to win back for the Crown-in-Parliament all those powers that have led to wheeler-dealering within the EU’s bureaucratic institutions, and to unwanted compromises. UKIP and the Tory Right want these powers restored to counter both external (especially the EU) and internal (national democratic and working class) opposition.
UKIP is hazier when it comes to the sort of relationship the UK should have with the rEU in the event of ‘Brexit’, and seem opposed to the possible deals being suggested by some Tory Brexiters, e.g. the Norwegian or Swiss model. Instead, the creation of an ‘Anglosphere’ (UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and possibly India, Singapore and Hong Kong) seems to be UKIP’s preferred option. This amounts to a ‘Please take us back to 1973’ (or even 1955!) call – so concerned are UKIP about the ever receding ‘Great British’ imperial past and maintaining their idea of the UK/US ‘Special Relationship’. However, the thinking Tory Right (with their many Establishment connections) is likely to reign in such British nostalgia. For Boris Johnston, a ‘Brexit’ vote may just be a predecessor for a new UK deal within the EU.
UKIP does not wish to really challenge the existing British ruling class. They are particularly obsequious when it comes to royal family. It concentrates its main efforts on winning over the Tory Party. It expects to be rewarded for its efforts and eventually to be brought fully on board ‘the good ship ‘Britannia”. The financially corrupt record of many UKIP MEPs and its other elected representatives shows that this is likely to prove quite easy if ‘the price is right’.
d) The Centre Left/Left 2012-14 Scottish independence campaign and the Right/Further Right 2016 ‘Brexit’ campaign
It is necessary to dig a little deeper, though, to understand the different political trajectories of the 2012-14 and 2016 referenda campaigns. The effect of the Scottish independence referendum campaign was to pull politics to the Left, whilst the effect of the EU referendum has been to pull politics to the Right. The political axis of the Scottish independence campaign lay between the Centre Left (SNP) and Left Radical Independence Campaign (RIC); whilst the political axis of the ‘Brexit’ campaign lies between the Right (Tories) and Further Right (UKIP).
This is the political distinction that mainstream politicians of the Conservatives, Lib-Dems and Labour want to deny. Yet, the differences between the Scottish independence and the ‘Brexit’ campaigns can only be understood through a recognition of Left and Right politics. The demand for Scottish independence came out of a longstanding and broadly-based democratic campaign for greater national self-determination. The pro-independence wing of this has been supported by the constitutional nationalists of the SNP, the majority of Scottish Greens, and by the majority of the Left in Scotland, marked at its highest point in 2003 by the presence of 6 SSP MSPs in Holyrood.
The SNP formed and led the official ‘Yes’ campaign from June 2012. The original intention of the SNP leadership was to keep the ‘Yes’ campaign firmly in the political Centre. Their then leader, Alex Salmond, made sure that the party’s Right wing remained gagged when it came to their pet political projects (e.g. John Swinney’s support for flat rate taxes and Michael Russell’s support for slashing public expenditure to East Asian levels). Meanwhile Stagecoach owner, Sir Brian Souter, was kept in the background and Donald Trump’s petulance allowed Salmond to distance himself from his own earlier embarrassing support. The ethnic nationalist ‘Independistas’ were kept firmly at bay, although they emerged on the Internet as ‘Cybernats’. However, the Left in the party also came under attack. The leadership decided to overthrow the party’s anti-NATO policy at their October 2012 conference, in order to signal to the UK establishment and the US State Department that the referendum campaign would be firmly in the Centre, and represented no real threat to their interests.
This created the political space, which allowed the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) to publicly constitute itself in November 2012 at a conference in Glasgow of 800 (the two subsequent conferences had 1100 and 3000). RIC was formed as a coalition of socialists, republicans, left Greens, left SNP’ers and social campaigners. Other autonomous campaigns emerged too. These had the effect of pushing the ‘Yes’ campaign from the Centre to the Left. The SNP was pressured into doing a political U-turn turn. Their leadership began to talk more ‘social democratic’, verbally positioning itself as an ‘anti-austerity’ party. This turn was accentuated once Nicola Sturgeon became leader after the referendum. Although, of course, ‘talking the talk’ and ‘walking the ‘walk’ are not the same thing!
In contrast, the Right pull on the 2016 ‘Brexit’ campaign is explained by its longstanding origins amongst the reactionary Tory Right and more recently the Right populist UKIP. Their concern has been the decline of ‘Britain’ as an imperial power, and the need to buttress a reactionary British identity. They have a shared desire to reinforce the UK state. This also explains why the Tory Right and UKIP were, almost to a man and woman, vehemently opposed to Scottish independence. However, even the official ‘No’ campaign kept them at arms length during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, since it was forces to their Left that they were trying to head off. Relative to Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour ‘Better Together’, that is where the political axis of the ‘Yes’ campaign lay. The support of the Tory Right and UKIP for ‘No’ was guaranteed anyhow.
Today, all the major ‘Brexit campaigns, the Tory led-‘Vote Leave’, UKIP-led ‘Grassroots Out’ (‘GO’) and business-led ‘LeaveEU’ are on the Right. Cameron’s ‘Remain’ campaign is anchored in the longstanding Eurosceptic conservative unionism of the Centre Right. The Lib-Dems, Labour and the SNP may want to run liberal campaigns in defence of the EU (something rather problematic given its deeply undemocratic nature). However, just as the Cameron-led ‘Better Together’ could assume the support of the Right, so the Cameron-led ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ can assume the support of the Lib-Dems, Labour and the SNP; and hence concentrate its message on the Right, using a common language of British chauvinism and thinly disguised racism.
The SNP well know not to join up to a Conservative led campaign. However, the SNP’s ‘Remain’ campaign is unable to challenge the EU bureaucracy, since all its leadership wants is a place at the top table. This is the same as its stance during the Scottish independence referendum, when it was quite content to leave the rUK in place, work with the City of London and the British High Command, bow to global corporate demands to reduce taxation and support its military wing – NATO. This why the SNP ‘Remain’ campaign, still tied to the existing global and EU order, can not inspire.
Although, the SNP leadership has raised the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum campaign, should there be a UK-wide ‘Brexit’ vote, without a Scottish majority, it knows that any referendum (even in the unlikley event of it being conceded) campaign would face considerable new obstacles. Scottish independence under such circumstances would mean the erection of border posts.
e) ‘Brexit’ pulling sections of Labour and the Left to the Right
So dominant are the reactionary and populist Right in the ‘Brexit’ campaign, that such ‘Brexiters’ as Labour’s Kate Hoey and wannabe Labour George Galloway have made no attempt to organise independent Labour ‘Leave’ campaigns. As fellow populists (sometimes posing Left and at other times Right) they have opted to join the populist Right-led ‘GO’. Galloway first warmed to Farage during the ‘No’ campaign; but he is no more likely to win the first star billing that he craves in England, than he was in Scotland, when he stood in for another populist, Tommy Sheridan, during the 2011 Holyrood election.
Equally, those SNP populist dissidents, now given a voice by ‘Brexit’-supporting Jim Sillars, have no vision beyond Scotland. They are quite content to leave the rEU in place. Sillars is prepared to pull down the shutters on economic migrants who do not meet the state-determined requirements of Scotland’s capitalist economy. Any ‘Scoxit’, on the back of ‘Brexit’, would most likely reinforce ethnic Scottish nationalism. That would represent a major retreat from the Scottish internationalism we saw at the high point of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’.
Furthermore, any ‘Brexit’, which included a majority vote in Scotland, would also immediately reinforce the most British chauvinist forces in the UK and lead to a government even less willing to concede a future Scottish independence referendum. This is one reason why some on the uber-unionist wing of Scottish Labour, e.g. Tom Harris, are campaigning for ‘Brexit’. They see this as a last ditch opportunity to undermine the prospect of Scottish independence, to revive Labour’s fortunes in Scotland and to wrest back control of state patronage now mostly in the hands of the SNP government. Scottish Labour ‘Brexiters’ hope to find a soft underbelly of SNP Europhobic ethnic nationalists. They are currently kept at arms length by a leadership preferring a civic nationalist approach. Harris has never been slow in appealing to ethnic nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment.
However, there are supporters of ‘Brexit’ to be found on the Left. These include the Socialist Party (SP) and the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), both in No2EU, possibly to be augmented in the SP’s electoral front, TUSC, by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP has quickly returned to its earlier ‘British road’ (now arguing the existing UK state is better than a EU state-in-the-making). They only ‘abandoned’ their pro-‘British road’ stance as recently 2011, but sudden 180 degree turns are nothing new in this programme-less party! The CPB, SP and SWP all share a turn or return to the ‘British road’ in their support for ‘Brexit’.
The SP and SWP’s narrow British orientation has been highlighted by their failure to organise a cross-EU campaign involving their fraternal organisations on the continent or in Ireland. Neither the SP (Anti-Austerity Alliance – AAA), nor the SWP (People Before Profit – PBP), campaigned for an Irish EU breakaway in their recent successful electoral campaigns for the Dail – who has ever heard of ‘Irexit’? So far, the statements coming from the 3 SWP (PBP) candidates for Stormont this May have not mentioned UK withdrawal from the EU either. Given that this is one of the principal demands of the DUP, TUV and the loyalists, wanting to strengthen Partition, perhaps this silence is understandable!
Left ‘Leavers’ are likely to be as marginal in the ‘Brexit’ campaign as the Red Paper Collective (RPC), peddling their Left unionism in a sea of conservative unionism, was in the 2012-14 ‘No’ campaign. The Far Right has been able to exert more influence on the ‘Brexit’ campaign because of the overtly chauvinist and often thinly disguised racist nature of its Tory Right and UKIP leaders. This compares with the fake liberal cover the conservative unionist leaders of the official ‘No’ campaign were forced to adopt between 2012-14 to head off the Centre Left/Left ‘Yes’ campaign. Cameron dropped this cover, though, minutes after the ‘No’ victory was announced and made his turn to English chauvinism. This was in anticipation of the challenge from the Right he faced in his own party and UKIP in the run-up to the 2015 Westminster election.
The EDL and other Far Right forces have already made Dover (invoking the ‘threat’ from the Calais ‘Jungle’) a persistent focus for their anti-migrant demonstrations and their opposition to the EU. They have support for EU withdrawal from a growing band of Far Right ‘Leavers’- the Front National, Alternative for Germany, Swedish Democrats, Danish Peoples Party, the True Finns, Golden Dawn and Jobbik.
On September 19th 2014, it wasn’t the RPC, or George ‘Just Say Naw’ Galloway, who were out celebrating ‘their’ ‘No’ victory, but the loyalists and neo-fascists on the streets of Glasgow. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, a DUP, TUV, loyalist and UKIP alliance wants a ‘Leave’ vote to strengthen their opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and restore Unionist supremacy. It doesn’t take much imagination to see who will be the main forces celebrating any ‘Brexit’ vote on June 24th or soon after!
Those on the Left who support ‘Brexit’ seem blind to the narrow Britishness of their campaign, and to the possibility they could be helping to open the door to a ‘carnival of reaction’.
f) The ‘Brexit’ campaign and strengthening the UK state
The Right’s main aim is to “to restore British sovereignty”, or to return all the powers given to the EU back to the UK Crown-in-Parliament. There are some on the Left who think that this is an exercise in ‘national’ self-determination. The Right has absolutely no desire to democratise their UK, with its entrenched Crown Powers exercised over a ‘3 and a bit nations’ state. There is no constitutional recognition for national self-determination. Should any overall UK ‘Leave’ majority vote not include majorities in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (itself a part of a partitioned Irish nation), it will be the anti-democratic sovereignty of the UK state that will be upheld, not any democratic right to national self-determination.
Furthermore, especially after the shock the unionists suffered in the Scottish independence referendum, the Right would welcome these restored powers. They would be solely in the hands of the UK state. Thus, whenever national self-determination threatens to become a pressing political issue again, any British government would not have to lobby behind-the-scenes to pressure a future EU leadership, whose political support for the UK’s political position could not guaranteed in advance. At present, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) legally underwrites the current Devolution agreements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and so would likely be involved in any new constitutional arrangements whilst the UK remains in the EU. This is one reason why UKIP and the Tory Right want to withdraw from both. This would leave them less constrained in dealing with national democratic challenges in the future.
g) The Right and Further Right divided over best way to undermine workers’ unity
Another, and more immediate purpose, behind the UKIP and the Tory Right’s desire to bolster the UK state, though, is to cut workers’ pay and conditions (euphemistically called “a bonfire of the red tape” or bureaucratic regulations). They want to end, amongst other things, the Working Time Directive, Maternity Rights and Parental Leave, which were created under the EU Social Chapter provisions in the 1993 Maastricht Agreement. Now the EU bureaucracy is itself trying to undermine these arrangements, but in every case, as well as with their latest attacks on trade union rights, the situation in the UK is worse.
The fact that the EU bureaucracy has been able to undermine its own agreements is not a good argument for saying that only strong trade unions can guarantee rights and therefore these agreements do not matter. When employers undermine or tear up agreements it is an indication of workers’ weakness not strength. It is an argument for taking workers’ organisation seriously and defending and then extending such agreements. This needs an EU-wide workers’ response to be effective. Ending this possibility is another reason UKIP and the Tory Right want ‘Brexit’. Those leading the ‘Brexit’ campaign are determined that the UK should stay ahead in the ‘race to the bottom’. After ‘Brexit’ they hope to rejig the British economy as a European offshore base, able to compete with the EU through the use of cheaper and more flexible labour, and a completely unregulated City of London.
UKIP and the Tory Right’s desire to leave the EU comes despite Thatcher and Blair’s earlier shared and US backed, neo-liberal drive to push the EU to the Right from within, to cheapen the cost of labour and push for further privatisation. UKIP and the Tory Right’s wish for ‘Brexit’ remains despite the UK exemptions, which Thatcher and Blair negotiated over social provision, and despite the EU’s own more strongly neo-liberal turn since the 2008 Crash. UKIP and the Tory Right still see the remaining elements of the EU’s Social Chapter provision as creeping socialism!
However, campaigning to leave the EU, primarily with the demand to cut social provision, is unlikely to win majority support. So this has to be supplemented by a sustained British chauvinist, racist and Islamophobic campaign. First this is targeted at asylum seekers, who are portrayed as potential ‘Islamic terrorists’. Secondly, it is targeted at EU citizens, who are portrayed as potential ‘welfare benefits tourists’ and ‘criminals’.
The problem for British business, whether backing the Right ‘Remain’ campaign or the further Right ‘Leave’ campaigns is that, since the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, non-UK EU residents have enjoyed most of the benefits of British subjects. Many people from other EU countries now work alongside British subjects and some have joined trade unions and other workers’ or social justice campaigns. Others may well do so in the future, provided they still enjoy the same rights as British subjects. This strengthens the working class.
Non-UK EU residents are not afraid to organise in the way that asylum seekers and illegal migrants, living in daily fear under the 2014 Immigration Act and other state attacks, are. These non-EU residents in the UK can be kept segregated (e.g. working under gang-masters and other unscrupulous employers), super-exploited, scapegoated and expelled when necessary. British business wants to extend labour flexibility. They are just divided over the best method to achieve this.
Thus, despite the supposed difference between the mainstream official Cameron Conservative-led ‘Remain’ and the “bastard”-led Tory Right and “fruitcake”-led UKIP ‘Leave’ campaigns, they have all been united in excluding EU 1.5 million adult residents (including an SNP MSP!) from the franchise for the EU referendum. Their exclusion is based on the chauvinist notion of ethnic ‘Britishness’. This highlights the shared anti-migrant worker concerns of the official ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ campaigns. It contrasts with the far more inclusive franchise for the Scottish independence referendum, which included EU residents and 16-18 year olds living in Scotland. It also shows the hypocrisy of those mainstream ‘No’ supporters, who pretend they are above atavistic nationalism.
Cameron is trying to win over the Euro-sceptics, after his latest deal with Donald Tusk, the current EU President. This deal watered down benefit rights for certain EU migrants. This has created the precedent for a two tier (legal and tolerated) EU workforce in the UK. Cameron hopes to widen this divide by linking up with openly racist leaders, especially in the eastern European member countries, to further undermine the free movement of people within the EU.
Of course, for the Tory Right and UKIP, Cameron’s concessions are derisory. Indeed they are unlikely, in their current limited form, to hinder the growing integration of EU residents and their families within the UK. This is why the Tory Right and UKIP want ‘Brexit’. This would lead to EU migrants becoming subject to the 2014 Immigration Act (soon to be further strengthened), and other anti-migrant regulations. The massive increase in those affected would come from the 2.6 million EU residents currently living in the UK (that number also includes their children).
Such an extension of the existing three-tier workforce would represent a major threat to all workers’ pay, conditions and welfare. There would be a shift from the current situation of having British and EU legal, non-EU tolerated and non-EU illegal workers; to a new situation of having British legal, EU and non-EU tolerated, and EU and non-EU illegal workers. This would greatly enhance the employers’ ability to undercut pay and conditions and promote divide-and-rule scapegoating. It would also undermine any united ability to fight-back, because of the fear so many now merely tolerated or illegal workers would be living under.
By leaving the EU, the Tory Right and UKIP also want to end the now increasingly formal Social Chapter agreements to prevent them being used by a rejuvenated workers’ movement in the future; and in order to create a new rights-less political environment to step up their current attacks. This is, of course, linked to their desire to remove the UK from any obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. This is another reactionary move supported by Conservative ‘Remainer’ Home Secretary, Teresa May, and ‘Brexiters’, Johnston and Farage.
h) The Politics of Hope, Fear and Hate
The political difference between the 2012-14 and 2016 referenda campaigns also extends to the impact and form of these two campaigns. The combined forces of constitutional Scottish nationalism and radical Scottish internationalism in the ‘Yes’ campaign contributed to a ‘democratic revolution’, where an unprecedented 97% registered and 85% voted. Those supporting ‘Yes’ climbed from a lowly 30% in October 2012 to an impressive 45% on September 18th, 2014.
The British broadcasting and press media (including their Scottish components) were so hostile, that the ‘Yes’ campaign was compelled to organise a huge alternative online media campaign; to hold public meetings and cultural events the length and breadth of the country; and to conduct an unprecedented registration drive, particularly in areas mainstream politics had long abandoned. This helped to move the ‘Yes’ campaign away from the SNP leader’s initial ‘little will change’ stance to a politics of social change and hope. The ‘Yes’ vote came from the working class and the young, with Scotland’s two most working class cities, Dundee and Glasgow, showing an overall majority ‘Yes’ vote.
The official ‘No’ campaign largely confined itself to the mainstream media, and by its own admission, ‘Better Together’ became ‘Project Fear’. Its support turned out to be strongest amongst the better off middle class and the elderly. There is a very strong link between those leading the ‘Better Together’ campaign from 2012-14 and those leading the ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign in 2016. Their latest campaign represents a new ‘Project Fear’.
However, this isn’t being countered on the ‘Brexit’ side by a popular media campaign based on the politics of positive social change and hope. First of all, the ‘Brexit’ campaign has considerable press backing, especially from the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Sun. The BBC is far more respectful when interviewing ‘Brexit’ spokespersons than it ever was with ‘Yes’ spokespersons (perhaps taking confidence in the queen’s alleged positions over these two issues!).
Although young people are more likely than older people to reject ‘Brexit’, they have not been motivated by the official ‘Remain’ campaign either. This suggests that voter participation on June 23rd will fall considerably short of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’.
But most striking is the political nature of the Right-led ‘Brexit’ campaign. Instead of ‘Remain’s ‘Project Fear’ mark 2, stirring up voters’ concerns about their economic future, we have ‘Brexit’s ‘Project Hate’, stirring up voters’ concerns about their very lives and the ‘threat’ of immigration. Whether it is the bombings in Brussels, or the brutal murders by people of (preferably eastern) EU country origin; whether it is the ‘threat’ from desperate migrants trapped in Calais, or even from those detained or dying at the other end of EU; leading ‘Brexit’ campaigners have produced a litany of chauvinist, racist and Islamophobic horror stories. ‘Project Hate’ is designed to create scapegoats to ensure that those British subjects, reeling under the current economic crisis, redirect their questioning from those really to blame for the crisis, the banksters and CEOs of corporate business and, of course, from the capitalist system itself.
i) What now after Greece?
There is a political argument to be had over whether the Left should call for a plague on both your camps and recommend no participation in the EU referendum; or whether to organise its own independent ‘Remain’ campaign. To do this would mean having a campaign, which developed RIC’s ‘internationalism from below’ politics in the Scottish independence referendum campaign. This involved people from Scotland’s migrant communities, brought speakers and campaigners to Scotland from England, Wales, Ireland, Catalunya, Euskadi, France, Spain and Greece, whilst sending speakers to most of these countries too.
Since 2008, the EU leaders’ neo-liberal austerity turn has been most strongly promoted by Merkel, supported by her German Social Democrat coalition partners. Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and, of course, Greece, have all had to endure draconian austerity deals, and sometimes even directly imposed politicians. What this highlights is the ending of the illusion that an EU state-in-the-making can bring prosperity and social peace.
The British ruling class and its UK government representatives have never initiated and rarely supported any measure to democratise the EU. They are happiest with intra-ruling class deals, and corporate lobbying, conducted as far from public scrutiny as possible. The current negotiations over TTIP are a prime example of this. To the degree that Conservative and New Labour became involved in the politics of the EU, it has nearly always been to push the EU further Right down a neo-liberal road.
In Greece, the Left social democratic Syriza, believing they offered a better way to save capitalism from itself, completely underestimated the determination of the EU leaders. Capitalism doesn’t have an inbuilt survival mechanism, which only needs to be reactivated by a parliamentary majority or referendum in one of its constituent states to restore its sense of purpose and moral compass. Capitalism has shown itself to be a highly destructive system which, if not challenged by those openly championing a different social system, will bring us ruin through environmental degradation, war or prolonged economic recession.
This is why Merkel, the Council of Ministers and the European Central Bank have felt the need to ‘batten down the hatches’ of the ‘EU Corporation’, in the face of greater global economic, social and political instability. The driving force behind capitalism is the need to maximise profits, a drive enforced upon each corporation, cartel, state or temporary inter-state alliance by capitalism’s other feature – its completely amoral and ruthless competition. These bodies either accept this or they go under. It is at times of crisis, such as that we have experienced since 2008, that this basic law asserts itself most forcefully.
Both before and after the Greek general election on January 2015, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the (Socialist) Antarsaya had argued that the alternative to the Syriza leadership’s ‘Negotiate with the EU’ plan lay in leaving the euro and if necessary, ‘Grexit’. After Tsipra’s Syriza-led government capitulated to the EU leaders in July, another general election was held in September 2015. So did the Greek people, particularly its working class, now see ‘Grexit’ as the best option?
Syriza’s electoral support fell from 36.3% to 35.4%, but it was still able to from a new government, regardless of its ignominious climb-down. Yet, despite the apparent open goal this provided for the KKE and Antarsaya, the KKE only increased its vote by 0.08% (from 5.47% to 5.55%), whilst Antarsaya only increased its vote by 0.17% (from 0.68% to 0.85%). Indeed, even the new breakaway Syriza breakaway, Popular Unity (LAE), made greater gains, getting 2.86%, despite having a platform that amounted to little more than going back into negotiations with the EU. The far right Golden Dawn, which also supports ‘Grexit’, made the biggest gain (though mercifully still relatively small) up 0.7% (from 6.3% to 7% and one additional MP).
What this suggests is that a politically experienced Greek working class does not see ‘Grexit’ as the best way forward. The current alliance of big European banks and corporate business provides Merkel with strong backing. They intend to further consolidate this to meet their needs in this time of crisis. They have the economic and political weight to coerce an isolated Greek state into bowing to their demands, whether inside or outside the EU. The answer to Merkel and her allies lies not in an immediate EU breakaway. For this to be a possible option, the Left has built up its own effective all-European alliance first. Only this can provide the concrete, and not merely rhetorical support, for the working class of any nation making that decision. Otherwise, EU breakaways are far more likely to benefit the Right and Far Right. This is certainly where the greatest support for such an option lies at present.
j) Another Europe is possible
Thus, socialists who see internationalism as central to their politics need to take up the baton of European unity (and that should stretch to those countries outside the EU too). Within the UK at present, non-UK EU residents are becoming increasingly integrated into the working class. This phenomenon is taking place across the EU member countries (although weakest in the east European member states, where racist politics have their greatest impact at present). Cameron’s ‘Remain’ campaign wants to limit and slow down this process of increasing integration, whilst the principal ‘Brexit’ campaigns want to end it.
The future for the Left is tied up with developing its own version of a united Europe as a federal social, secular and democratic republic. To achieve this we need those millions of workers who have crossed the old borders and are making their living throughout the EU, including the 2.6 million (mostly workers and their families) in the UK. They also provide a bridge to their families and friends living and working in the other EU countries. It is surely no accident that these people are a prime target for the Right in the current EU referendum campaign. Furthermore, there is no necessity to see the existing member states as being beyond challenge. Both the Scottish independence campaign and the current movement for an independent Catalunya, show that there are powerful forces prepared to challenge the existing EU constituent states’ set-up. It is by making serious attempts to join with all these people, that we can not only show that ‘Another Europe is Possible’, but begin to make it happen.
for more on the role of reactionary unionism in the Scottish independence referendum see:-