Aug 29 2016

THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE CONVENTION MARK 2 – ANOTHER COVER FOR THE SNP LEADERSHIP?

The Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) is to be relaunched in Glasgow on Sunday, September 18th. This body was first constituted on November 30th, 2005, on the initiative of the Scottish Socialist Party. The SNP gave its support, but then ensured that it was kept firmly at arm’s length whilst the party developed its own links with big business, and further accommodated to US and British imperial interests.

When the  SNP leadership eventually launched its own front campaign, ‘Yes Scotland’, in Edinburgh on 25th May 2012, the SIC took no part in this decision. For the SNP, the main purpose of SIC had been to tie up the Left and to prevent a republican alternative from emerging  – although the split that had occurred in the SSP certainly helped them in this endeavour.

Below we are republishing a pamphlet published in 2006 in response to the first SIC. This was produced by the RCN Platform in the SSP. The article anticipates some of the retreats the SNP went on to make to gain respectability, e.g. the climbdown over NATO.

Although today’s political situation is not the same as in 2005, there are still many things to be learned from this particular attempt to subordinate any independent class initiative to the political requirements of an SNP leadership, which represents the interests of a wannabe Scottish ruling class in the making.

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 THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE CONVENTION –

COMMITTING THE SSP TO A NATIONALIST STRATEGY?

 

Introduction

The RCN has been pushing the SSP (and its predecessor the Scottish Socialist Alliance) to adopt a republican and internationalist strategy in Scotland since its inception. We initiated the 2005 SSP Conference motion, which was passed by a large majority of delegates.

This conference agrees that the SSP seek support from other organisations invited or participating in the setting up of the Scottish Independence Convention for the following principles: –

a) the creation of a sovereign democratic Scottish republic with the abolition of all Crown Powers.

b) a declaration of Scotland’s military neutrality and withdrawal from NATO.

Those empowered to negotiate on behalf of the SSP should bring back the results of any negotiations to the following National Council.

Alan McCombes presented the Independence Convention Report (ICR), which outlined the results of these negotiations, to the December 11th National Council meeting, held in Glasgow (1). This ICR was written just before the launch meeting of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), held in the conference centre at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, on St. Andrew’s Day, November 30th. Alan said the Executive Committee’s ICR had been produced to initiate a wider debate in the party. Alan has also written Raising the Scarlet Standard – An alternative road map to independence (2). This is a reply to the SNP’s own 28-page document, Raising the Standard (3) made available to participants at the SIC launch.

One thing that was clear at the launch was that there was no agreement by the non-SSP political participants, Alex Salmond (SNP) or Robin Harper (Scottish Greens), over setting-up the SIC on the principles agreed by the SSP’s 2005 Conference. Instead, it was left to Salmond to outline the strategy the SNP wanted to commit the SIC to. He argued that a future SNP-led Scottish Executive would organise an ‘independence’ referendum in its first term. Should this be successful then a constitutional convention should be set up. Whether this is to be elected or appointed is not clear (suggesting that appointment is the desired method!) The convention’s constitutional recommendations would then be subject to a further referendum. No other immediate strategy was outlined for the SIC at its launch meeting.

Strangely enough, the SNP’s Raising the Standard argues against the convention drawing up a genuine independence (i.e. republican) constitution. Instead, the Queen would remain head of state, pending yet another possible referendum! This means that, in the unlikely event of such a strategy being successful, the British state’s Crown Powers would still remain in place after the transition from a devolved to a formally ‘independent’ parliament. Scotland’s formal constitutional position would change from being subject to the Union under Westminster to being subject to the Union under the Crown. Furthermore, although Raising the Standard has a whole section on Scotland and the World, including relations with the European Union, the Commonwealth and the UN, it is completely silent on NATO!

Therefore, it is obvious that the largest party currently involved in the SIC has no real commitment to a Scottish republic, or to withdrawing from NATO. In effect, the SNP’s strategy is to win more powers for Scotland, but in a manner designed to win the support of the major imperial power – the USA – and the global corporations. They also hope to achieve this with the acquiescence of the British ruling class! This is a pro-imperialist, nationalist and Crown Powers-accepting strategy; the opposite of the SSP’s declared anti-imperialist, internationalist and republican strategy.

These facts alone mean that SSP members must make a critical examination of the SIC, in the light of our declared Conference policy. However, there is another cause for concern. The SSV also had a column by Kevin Williamson entitled, Be unconventional (4). This was, in effect, a platform piece on behalf of the SSP’s nationalist wing, currently organised in a wider ‘Independence First’ campaign. Kevin’s piece raised the spectre of the SSP standing down in the ‘first-past-the-post’ seats in the 2007 Holyrood election to give a clear path to the SNP. Such a course of action would probably lead to the demise of the SSP as an independent socialist party, reducing it initially to an external pressure group on the SNP.

At the SSP’s 2006 Conference, however, there were two further developments in SSP policy. First, the public moves by Kevin Williamson (and Hugh Kerr) to have our party withdraw its first-past-the-post candidates in favour of the SNP found no support from either the Executive nor the branches. Indeed, a CWI-initiated, but widely supported, motion from Dundee was passed, which ruled out giving any such electoral support to the SNP. It now appears that ‘Independence First’ has also moved from advocating specific party voting recommendations in next year’s Holyrood election to trusting the voters to know who to vote for, in what they term the ‘independence election’.

Nevertheless, both Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan spoke vehemently against the SSP’s previous Conference policy on the Independence Convention. This previous SSP Conference policy had been to pursue a republican and anti-imperialist strategy, based on the Calton Hill Declaration principles. Instead, Alan and Tommy argued that we join the Independence Convention and, in effect, adopt the SNP’s ‘independence’ referendum strategy. Alan argued that the Calton Hill Declaration could be pursued in parallel. In reality, this meant sidelining any republican and anti-imperialist approach.

As it was, the developing crisis in the party overwhelmed the Calton Hill Declaration meetings, which received no visible SSP Executive backing anyhow. It is possible that the Executive’s own Independence Convention strategy is now also in cold storage. The SNP leadership wants to back away from any public association with a split and damaged SSP, and look instead to build up their own party profile in the lead-up to next year’s Holyrood election.

 

THE RETREAT OF THE SSP

So what is the background to the SSP leadership’s current strategy? The proposal to set-up a Scottish Independence Convention was originally passed by the SSP’s National Council in November 2003 and approved by the National Conference in February 2004. There was some ambiguity in the strategy being suggested (5). The Scottish Constitutional Convention (1989-97), which campaigned for a devolved Scottish Parliament, was cited as a precedent.

However, the SSP launched the Calton Hill Declaration later the same year (6). This led to a very successful rally, held on October 9th 2004, to protest against the official royal opening of the Scottish Parliament (7). This excellent SSP initiative appeared to underscore our commitment to a Scottish internationalist and republican strategy (8). However, this success wasn’t built upon. The proposal to form a Calton Hill Declaration Committee, including political organisations, artists and committed individuals, which could organise further political, commemorative and cultural events, was never followed up by our Executive Committee.

One year later, we saw the results of this negligence at the second, much smaller, ‘Calton Hill’ demonstration, held outside the Scottish Parliament, on October 1st, 2005. To any observer, it looked like a sub-Bannockburn Rally, with saltires dominating, speeches by nationalist fundamentalists, including the Scottish Independence Party, whilst a ‘colour party’ stood behind the platform, adorned in fascist-style uniform (probably from Siol nan Gaidheal). Only our speakers, Colin Fox and Rosie Kane, talked of republicanism. And, instead of international speakers, we had to listen to a piper playing Scottish Soldier, a eulogy to British imperialism! Apart from the SSP speeches and Barbara Scott’s singing of Hamish Henderson’s Scottish internationalist anthem, Freedom Come All Ye, there was nothing from the other contributors to reflect the republican and internationalist spirit of the original Calton Hill Declaration.

Whereas much of the turnout at this event came from either the populist (and the right) wing of the nationalist movement, the majority of the 300 people attending the SIC launch on November 30th were from its mainstream social democratic wing of the SNP. Social democratic politics are now dominant amongst the SNP leadership.

 

THE SNP ORIGINS OF THE REFERENDUM STRATEGY

The origins of the SIC’s only clearly declared policy on November 30th – an ‘independence’ referendum – lie in the changing politics of the SNP. Originally, the SNP was committed to winning a majority of the Scottish MPs at Westminster. This would then be taken as a political mandate to begin negotiations with the British government for Scottish ‘independence’. There were obvious flaws in this approach, since it suggested using the undemocratic, Westminster, ‘first-past-the-post’ election system to try and impose what could have been a minority view upon the people of Scotland.

Since the November 30th 1997 referendum vote, which backed Scottish devolution, there has been a change in the SNP’s policy. The SNP’s focus for an ‘independence’ declaration has become, not Westminster, but its devolved Holyrood offspring. A form of proportional representation has been adopted for Holyrood elections, which makes a very unrepresentative, pro-independence majority more unlikely. However, the current SNP leadership is now arguing that any independence declaration needs to be backed by an initial Scottish Executive-organised ‘independence’ referendum, followed by another after a constitutional convention has reported. The purpose of these proposed referenda, which will be organised under UK constitutional rules, is to provide the Scottish Executive with more leverage in any ensuing negotiations with the British government.

The SNP’s preferred method for getting to the stage of introducing their proposed ‘independence’ referendum, would be to first win a majority of seats in the Holyrood Parliament next year. However, Salmond is astute enough to know that this is unlikely to happen. The question is then:- Who will join the SNP to form a new Scottish Executive prepared to organise this ‘independence’ referendum? The ICR makes it quite clear that the SNP leadership has been reluctant to commit itself to the SIC. The two main reasons for this are put down to the diversion provided by the SNP’s own leadership contest, and to a series of parliamentary elections which would put the SNP in political competition with the SSP, the initiator of the SIC.

 

THE SNP’s MOVE TO THE RIGHT

However, the real reason for such reluctance is not mentioned in the ICR. The SNP has been moving to the Right at a considerable speed. The party has long accepted that global capital is here to stay and that the best strategy for an ‘independent’ Scotland is to offer itself as a low-tax haven so that it can better compete in the world market. However, the SNP leadership now also accepts that the global corporations see the political leaders of US and British imperialism as their prime political guarantors in this world. This is why some SNP leaders have started to ‘bite the bullet’ and begun a process of overturning old shibboleths, such as opposition to NATO and support for progressive taxation. The SNP leadership is following a similar path to Tony Blair, when he ditched Old Labour’s ‘Clause Four’. SNP leaders are just as keen to reassure the chief executives of the global corporations and the political representatives of the US and British ruling classes, that they too can be trusted to serve imperial interests.

To this end, the SNP wants to show its ‘responsibility’, if it eventually forms a Scottish Executive for the Holyrood Parliament. Therefore, we can be assured that any policies, put forward by an SNP, or an SNP-led Scottish Executive, will reflect the needs of the global corporations and US imperialism. Some, such as Kenny MacAskill even hope to appeal to the more thoughtful members of the British ruling class. The latter have plenty of experience in bending and readjusting their unionism and imperialism to meet new eventualities – e.g. the 1921 Treaty for (partitioned) Ireland, the 1948 (partitioned) Indian Independence Act and the very loaded constitution thrust upon Zimbabwe after the Lancaster House Agreement of 1980.

Indeed, we can already see the preparations for further moves to the Right by the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon (present on November 30th) supports the use of more market-type indicators in the running of the NHS. John Swinney, as SNP finance spokesperson is thought to be in favour of ‘flat taxes’ the latest neo-liberal miracle cure, supported by the selfish rich (9). SNP MPs Pete Wishart and Angus McNeil, along with MSP Stewart Stevenson, argued unsuccessfully at the party’s last SNP Conference for participation in the current House of Lords. Yet, the outlines of a longer-term accommodation to the British state were evident, when Alex Salmond indicated his support for SNP participation in a possible elected second chamber at Westminster in the future (10). Former SNP Defence Spokesperson, Colin Campbell, along with Kenny MacAskill and Mike Russell, want an ‘independent’ Scotland to remain an integral part of NATO. And all mainstream SNP spokespersons want to defend Scottish regiments, which have loyally served British imperial interests from Culloden to Crossmaglen and from Belfast to Basra.

When the SNP says it opposes the current war in Iraq, it does not do so from an anti-imperialist stance. Instead it has joined that broad band, stretching from the late Robin Cook, the Lib-Dems, some Tories, the majority of the French and German ruling class, through to a section of the US ruling class (including generals and leading CIA spokesmen). They all oppose George Bush and his neo-Con allies’ gung-ho unilateralism. They advocate a ‘liberal’ imperialist policy. This means that the major powers would promote their shared imperial interests, whilst hiding behind a UN Security Council ‘mandate’. There is absolutely nothing democratic about the UN. It is merely the tool of the big powers. A ‘Clintonite’-type Democratic administration in the US would best suit the current SNP’s thinking. And, as the ongoing disaster in Iraq unfolds, Bush’s Republican neo-Cons (and their loyal poodle, Tony Blair) may yet be ‘retired’.

SNP leaders would no doubt prefer that any saved Scottish regiments were serving under a UN mandate as ‘peace keepers’. In such a role they could better front imperialism’s changing needs, just as the Irish UN ‘peace keepers’ helped to provide cover for the joint Belgian Union Miniere mining company/CIA initiated overthrow of the radical Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960.

 

THE SNP LEADERSHIP’S PRIORITY IS TO FORM A SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE AND TO WIN ‘RESPECTABLE’ ALLIES

Salmond’s competent and calculated speech at the SIC launch meeting was quite revealing. At no point did he welcome the prospect of unity with the SSP. The obvious reason for this is that, if the SNP fail to get a majority of seats in 2007 (a very likely scenario), it certainly isn’t the SSP who will be their first port of call when trying to form a new Scottish Executive. Fortunately, current SSP policy would also be a barrier to the formation of such a Coalition. Although, it is not so clear what the SSP leadership’s attitude would be to propping up a minority SNP administration.

‘Independence First’ would like the SSP and Greens to come to an informal arrangement with the SNP over contesting the ‘first-past-the-post’ seats in the 2007 Holyrood elections, to maximize the ‘independence’ vote. This would mean, in effect, forming a pan-nationalist front. This is because ‘Independence First’ believes that gaining and winning an ‘independence’ referendum should be the SSP’s first priority. This would seem to indicate that the pursuit of our ‘other’ class interests comes second. It is unlikely that the SNP would climb down in any Scottish seats; but even if it did, this would still commit the SSP to recommending a vote for a party committed to tax cuts for big business, the saving of Scottish regiments, support for the Commonwealth, and no declared opposition to NATO. It has taken some time for socialists in Scotland to be persuaded of the need that workers should break their longstanding relationship with one particular abusive partner – the Labour Party. It would be a tragedy if the final break were to be followed up by linking with another abusive partner, this time the SNP!

However, even if the SNP manages to increase its vote substantially in 2007, the Lib-Dems would still be their most likely partners in any new Scottish Executive Coalition (with the Greens added, if necessary). Depending on the political balance of forces, this suggests a number of possibilities.

If the Lib-Dems found themselves in the position of being able to initiate a new Scottish Executive Coalition, they could approach the SNP with an offer. This may be an undertaking to seek more powers for Holyrood, rather than any commitment to conduct an ‘independence’ referendum. The Lib-Dems claim that the Union would be better served by a federal constitution, but they are unlikely to have the political strength to get a Westminster government to agree to this. This is why they would only be likely to offer a limited ‘more powers’ deal.

If, however, the SNP were better placed than the Lib-Dems, after the 2007 election, then the Lib-Dems (and the Greens) may be persuaded to join a new SNP-led Scottish Executive Coalition instead. Under such circumstances, there could be an agreement to conduct a constitutional referendum, but with a number of options. These would then be voted on in order of preference, e.g. ‘independence’ under the Crown, a federal UK, the current unionist devolved status quo and even its abolition (this would split the conservative unionist vote). Of course, in order to reach a majority decision, a single transferable vote system would need to be utilised. Each party in this Scottish Executive (and, of course, the wider Scottish Parliament) would be free to make its own voting recommendation to the electorate.

And, just in case people think that any future SNP/Tory deals are out of the question, it is interesting to note that some (currently) maverick Tories, such as the expelled Brian Monteith and their Scottish second-in-command, Murdo Fraser, have openly talked about, or toyed with, the possibility of an alliance with the SNP. They can obviously see the Rightwards political trajectory being taken by the SNP. There is also considerable support amongst the Tories for Scottish fiscal autonomy; so, despite current SNP opposition to any alliance with the Tories, this should not be ruled out in future.

 

AN SNP CONTROLLED SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE AND THE QUESTION OF THE TIMING OF AN ‘INDEPENDENCE’ REFERENDUM

There is, of course, an outside chance that the SNP could form its own administration after the 2007 Holyrood elections. In which case, the SNP leaders would feel under no obligation to the SSP (or the Greens) in the SIC. But, although such a scenario would seem to provide the SNP with the best opportunity to implement its ‘independence’ referendum, this is the first situation in which Salmond’s cautionary warning at the SIC launch meeting would come into play.

Salmond placed great emphasis on the “timing” of any future independence referendum. SNP leaders are very anxious to reassure US and British political leaders of their respectability and dependability. They would seek to show this by holding office for a reasonable length of time before introducing any referendum. During this trial period they could promote a series of measures (e.g. proposals to cut business taxes, support for further deregulation, and fuller participation in various imperial institutions) to demonstrate their ‘responsibility’. In this way, they would seek to reassure a big enough section of the ‘powers-that-be’ of their ‘honourable’ intentions, and hope to neutralise any ‘heavy’ opposition during the referendum campaign. The SNP can still remember the various unionist ploys directed against a ‘Yes’ vote in the 1979 Devolution referendum campaign (and this was for a very moderate, liberal unionist proposal!)

Therefore, a referendum, held by any likely future Scottish Executive, would most probably be conducted after a series of attacks on our class. This is also the political situation the SSP would face if there was to be an SNP/SSP/Green Scottish Executive Coalition, the logic behind ‘Independence First’s suggested pan-nationalist front. This would require a change in SSP party policy though. However, the nationalist wing has already tried to exclude the Left unionists, and those merely sceptical about pursuing a nationalist road, from the SSP. At our last AGM, they tried to make it a condition of SSP membership that complete support is given to the policy of an “independent socialist Scotland”. The purpose behind such moves was to break the SSP from any remaining Labour (and ‘London Left’) unionist influence, and to pull the party into the SNP’s political slipstream. The fact that the SNP leadership, like Labour, remains non-republican and pro-imperialist is of much less consequence to ‘Independence First’ than its Scottish credentials.

There is another possibility, whereby the SNP forms a minority administration, tacitly supported by the SSP and Greens. Therefore, on November 30th, Salmond wanted to provide the SNP with cover for two unlikely eventualities – forming a Coalition which either included the SSP, or which depended on its voting support. This is why, in front of a wider audience, Salmond underlined his cautionary note concerning “timing”; his only real acknowledgement that the SSP may have to feature in future SNP calculations. If faced with such scenarios, the SNP would call upon the SSP to ‘hold back’ on the ‘class issues’ in order to win over prospective conservative ‘independence’ referendum allies (and to appease current ones: – No strikes on Ann Gloag’s and Brian Souter’s buses please!)

The SSP would be unlikely to survive such calls for ‘class abstinence’, especially as it would coincide with a stepped-up offensive by the bosses to ensure they remained in a politically dominant position in any ‘new’ Scotland. As the SSP split, the nationalist wing would probably follow a similar political trajectory to Jim Sillars and Alex Neill, who initially formed the Scottish Labour Party breakaway from the British Labour Party in 1977, before ending up in the SNP. For different reasons (the opportunistic behaviour of its lacklustre Labourist leadership) a majority from Forward Wales’ nationalist wing has just decamped to Plaid Cymru (11). Forward Wales took its original inspiration from the SSP.

 

THE SNP SETTLE INTO ROLE AS SCOTTISH ‘BRANCH MANAGEMENT’ FOR THE UK STATE

If an SNP-controlled, or an SNP-led, Scottish Executive lost its ‘independence’ referendum vote, it could still stay in office, and continue to act as the local Scottish ‘branch management’ of the British state, and as the agent for big global (and small Scottish) business. The SNP’s leaders could promise another ‘independence’ referendum if it formed a future administration. This is the Parti Quebecois (PQ) path. The PQ formed Canadian provincial governments in Quebec, and conducted two unsuccessful independence referenda, in 1980 and 1995 respectively. In between times, it formed the Canadian state’s local ‘branch management’ in Quebec. Or alternatively, the SNP could drop any ‘independence’ referendum policy and retreat to the strategy of the Catalan Convergence Party utilizes when negotiating with the Spanish state. This would mean the SNP ‘wheeler-dealering’ with whatever government holds central office – Conservative or Labour in the U.K. – for small concessions.

These political prospects raise the question of whether the SNP (or any other political grouping) following a similar ‘independence’ referendum strategy, could ever attain political independence for Scotland. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, 14 new states have been formed in Europe. The main reason why all these new states have gained political independence is because this suited the wider designs of US imperialism, particularly the desire to control these countries’ economic assets, to open up their markets, and to ‘box in’ a possible German/French-led EU global competitor. There was certainly popular domestic political backing for each of the new central and east European states. This flowed from their previous entrapment in the wider one-party, bureaucratic, police states of the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, apart from the new super-rich (often gangster-capitalists) and the better-off sections of the middle class, political independence has brought relatively few economic benefits, particularly to the working class in these countries.

There is, however, a much bigger political barrier to new independent state formation in Western Europe (e.g. Scotland or Wales; Brittany or Corsica; Euskadi or Catalonia) because the global corporations can not see any perceived advantages in encouraging such moves. All western European states already practice policies which advance corporate business interests, so any possible political disruption is not welcomed. Their political and economic (EU) and military (NATO) alliances are also far more robust than Comecon and the Warsaw Pact proved to be. Therefore, those dominant states, including the UK, France and Spain, which face domestic national ‘problems’, are in a much better position to contain such challenges.

The SNP (and other nationalist parties) have realised this, which is why they now go to such great lengths to appear moderate. The only chance they have of finally running a politically ‘independent’ state is by persuading the global corporations (and the ruling class dominating their particular nation) that they would do an even better job at meeting their needs than the overtly unionist parties. Any political strategy, which challenges these dominant economic and political forces, would be met with the full battery of powers at the disposal of US/British imperialism, or of the European power concerned (with the approval of the EU). This is why an SNP, already pledged to making Scotland a low-tax haven, can only retreat further. This opens up the prospect of a Dutch auction of our pay and conditions.

 

A NATIONALIST STRATEGY MERELY GIVES THE INHERITED INSTITUTIONS OF THE BRITISH STATE A GOOD LICK OF ‘TARTAN PAINT’

It is also the reason why a nationalist strategy has no intention of fundamentally changing any of the inherited institutions of the British state. It merely wants to give them a good lick of ‘tartan paint’. Famously, the infant Irish Free State painted over the UK-inherited, crown-adorned, red pillar boxes in a shamrock-green hue. The SNP would be happy to see the very British, Scottish regiments haul down their union jacks and hoist their blue and white saltires instead. However, they would still serve imperialism’s wider interests.

There is one thing the current SNP leadership is all agreed upon. They appreciate the handsome remuneration they receive for being MSPs. This could be greatly enhanced by careers as Scottish Executive members. If the SNP could win a formally ‘independent’ Scotland, their leaders are not going to pack up and say, “Our job is done”. They would wish to win ‘the jackpot’, or the much bigger killings to be made in running their own Scottish state. This would allow them to forge links with the local ‘new rich’ and the chief executives of the global corporations, a process which always seems to bring its financial rewards! Kenny MacAskill’s Building A Nation (12), a social democratic manual for ambitious Scottish politicians, makes it abundantly clear that the current SNP leadership intend to become the long-term dominant political group after ‘independence’ has been won. The SNP would be retained as a political machine to ensure the ‘deserving’ got their ‘just rewards’.

Of course, there is nothing surprising about this. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were formed around the struggles emerging from the setting-up of the Irish Free State. They still dominate Irish political life 80 years later, because they have offered both businessmen and careerist politicians’ access to political spoils. They were mightily helped in this by the infant Irish Labour Party’s decision (after James Connolly’s death) to take a back seat, expecting, but never getting, ‘just rewards’ for the Irish working class, after ‘independence’ was won. They are still waiting. There is more than a whiff of this naive working class self-denial in the strategy outlined by our Executive Committee in the ICR.

Alan McCombe’s has, in the past, tended to exaggerate the Scottish business community’s support for hard-line unionism, i.e. Direct Rule (13) This may indeed be the first preference of many, just as their ideal world would have no trade unions. However, the Scottish business community is far more flexible in its attitudes to the Union than Alan allows. It is revealing that its members put up no real fight against devolution, once Blair and New Labour were elected. Most accepted that the Union had to be reformed if it was to survive (14).

If necessary, they could also live with SNP-style ‘independence’. What they would demand though, is that the transition went as smoothly as possible. To ensure this, they would want the anti-democratic Crown Powers retained for as long as possible; the transfer of key state functionaries to any new state; and the retention of shared UK-wide armed forces as part of NATO. A new Scottish ruling class, made up of prominent business people from finance, (e.g. The Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Life), property (including major landlords) and other companies (e.g. Scottish & Newcastle, the Weir Group, Stagecoach, Kwikfit) would want such guarantees to cement their dominant position in a newly ‘independent’ Scotland. And just as former Irish unionist company owners, e.g. the Guinness family, made their peace with the new Irish Free State after 1922, we could expect a similar move by Scottish unionist business as it repositioned and remarketed itself as thoroughly Scottish, if Scotland becomes ‘independent’ under the Crown.

 

THE PRECEDENT OF THE SCOTTISH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION (SCC)

One organisational model which has been suggested for the SIC, is the Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC), set up in 1988. This precedent does not augur well. The moving spirits behind the SCC were undoubtedly high-minded liberals and radicals (whether from Labour, the Lib-Dems, the SNP, or the non-aligned). After nearly a decade of Thatcherism, a significant section of Scotland’s middle class felt alienated. Indeed, Thatcher did not even recognise their existence! She denied there was any such thing as ‘society’ in her ‘Sermon on the Mound’, a pointed jab at a substantial anti-Tory section of Scotland’s middle class.

The SCC published its Claim of Right (15), which invoked liberal historic precedents from 1689 (the ‘Glorious Revolution’ in Scotland) and 1842 (the Disruption of the Church of Scotland). Andrew Marr felt that an old Hilaire Belloc quote described its launch perfectly, “The stocks were sold: the Press {Scotsman and Herald} was squared: The Middle Class was quite prepared”! (16)

Furthermore, this document came out around the same period as the build-up to the large demonstrations in Eastern Europe, held in defiance of the old, tired and grey, one-party, state bureaucrats. These mobilisations were often called in the name of ‘civic society’. Even in Eastern Europe, the middle class dominated this ‘civic society’, but at least it showed itself capable of organising massive protests. Scottish ‘civic society’ came from the same class, but was much more timid. The Tories (Britain-wide or Scottish) just ignored them; whilst the Labour Party steamrollered any independent thinking and political autonomy they displayed. Instead, Labour sought to subordinate the SCC to its own political designs – the maintenance of the Union in changing political circumstances.

 

THE IMPACT OF THE POLL TAX REBELLION AND A MISSED POLITICAL OPPORTUNITY FOR SOCIALISTS

And what were these circumstances? Well, if middle class Scottish ‘civic society’ was in essentially passive mode (praying, holding dinner parties and publishing grandiose political claims, etc), working class Scotland (drawing in some sections of the active middle class too) was involved in a massive campaign of civil disobedience directed against the poll tax. And what exactly did Scottish ‘civic society’ think about all this? Well, they made their position quite clear. “It is not part of the Committee’s remit to pronounce on the legislation known as the poll tax”! (17) In other words they were petrified. How could Thatcher have allowed things to come to such a pass, that hundreds of thousands were breaking the law by not paying their poll tax? What sort of precedent was this creating? Could they not see that such unionist swashbuckling (the Tories test-ran the poll tax in Scotland first) could unhinge Scottish society – just look at what happened in Northern Ireland, when reactionary Unionists there refused to countenance Civil Rights within their state!

The Anti-Poll Tax Rebellion led to heady political days in Scotland. The demand for greater Scottish self-determination took new root and Scottish republican sentiment grew. Unfortunately, the chance to form a new republican socialist party in Scotland was missed at the time. Nevertheless, the impact of the victory over Thatcher, and the very effective joint united front work undertaken, greatly contributed to the setting up of the Scottish Socialist Alliance (the SSP’s predecessor), a half decade later.

In the absence of a socialist party, the SNP’s James Sillars (ex-Scottish Labour Party, ex-79 Group) was able to provide a political conduit for the mass movement in the 1988 Govan by-election. Nevertheless, the SNP leadership was always opportunistic in relationship to the anti-poll tax issue, abandoning the non-payers without fighting for an amnesty. Sillars didn’t realise that it was the mass movement which carried him to Westminster. He thought that he had personally set the ‘heather alight’ and that ‘Scotland would be free in 93’, when there would be an SNP majority of Scottish seats at Westminster after the General Election. Sillars ended up ‘on the broo in 92’!

 

THE LABOUR PARTY SUBORDINATED THE SSC TO ITS OWN ENDS: THE SNP WILL SUBORDINATE THE SIC TO ITS ENDS

The failure to launch a socialist republican alternative at the most propitious time, combined with SNP hubris, allowed the Labour Party to use its deep layers of bureaucratic power, and its pervasive institutional presence, to claw its way back from the ignominy of being Thatcher’s loyal poll-tax collectors in Scotland. (Labour had been frightened to canvass certain areas of Govan in 1988!) A new, very ambitious and careerist leadership (which soon became New Labour) was arising. They drew upon increasingly fashionable thinking (post-modernist, post-socialist and new managerialist). Most of all, they understood the need to reform the UK state’s central institutions to meet the challenges which the battered state had faced (particularly in Northern Ireland and now, in Scotland too).

The SSC provided Labour with a possible campaigning base for a ‘New Unionist’ policy in Scotland. This meant a commitment to a Scottish Parliament of some sort. This also formed part of a wider ‘Devolution-all-round’ strategy for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the London mayor, and possibly the English regions. This strategy involved a closer working relationship with the Irish government to assist (not share) in the running of Northern Ireland. Political stabilisation was the aim. These islands were to be made a safe sanctuary for the rapacious global corporations, which wanted further deregulation and privatisations. In Ireland, then later, in New Labour’s Britain too, this led to a policy of getting the official collaboration of the ICTU, TUC and STUC-affiliated trade unions’, under the guise of ‘social partnership’. They, in turn, gave their full support to the Good Friday Agreement and to the other local ‘New Unionist’ deals.

First though, the lofty political sights of many SSC members had to be lowered. The Claim of Right invoked dangerous precedents, such as the revolutionary 1789 French Assembly and the 1918 declaration of independence by the Irish Dail! (18) It flirted with the very un-British constitutional notion of ‘the right to self-determination’. It suggested that a future reforming government should set-up an independent constitutional convention charged with drawing up a new constitution for Scotland.

A series of political offensives by Labour managed to knock much of the stuffing out of the SCC and its Claim of Right. Even before the SCC’s public launch in 1989, any notion of a multi-option referendum (with an independence choice) was eliminated, leading to the walk-out of the SNP. When New Labour was finally elected to office in 1997, the original aims of the SSC were very much downgraded. Labour asserted Westminster sovereignty, not Scotland’s ‘right to self determination’. Party apparatchiks and lawyers, not an independent constitutional convention, drew up the devolution proposals. And the new Scottish parliament had to be built so close to Holyrood Palace, the Queen could wave out the window on her royal visits!

There was considerable disappointment amongst the luminaries of the SSC, but Scottish middle class ‘civic society’ had no effective counter-pressure to match the New Labour machine (now backed by the majority section of the British ruling class and its media). Therefore, the SCC buckled under and changed its role to campaigning for New Labour’s very much watered-down, ‘New Unionist’ political reform – a devolved Scottish Parliament under the Crown. Even the SNP rejoined this campaign in 1997, a far cry from its walk-out in 1989. When the infant Scottish Socialist Alliance made the political mistake {opposed at the time by its socialist republican minority} of trying to join Donald Dewar’s heavily policed, official ‘Vote Yes, Yes’ campaign, we were kept firmly at arm’s length.

 

A NATIONALIST STRATEGY IS DESIGNED TO GET THE POLITICAL FRANCHISE TO RUN SCOTLAND ON BEHALF OF THE GLOBAL CORPORATIONS AND US/BRITISH IMPERIALISM

So the lessons provided by the experience of the SCC are as follows for the SIC. Fundamental political principles will be distorted and turned into their opposite. The politics are decided by the largest party, which will use its political weight to impose its overall strategy. The minor parties have to fall in line. The ‘civic society’ element is an adornment. Other key political, social and economic issues, which had (e.g. the poll tax), or may have (Crown Powers v. democratic republic) major bearing on the way the country is run, will be declared ‘ultra vires’. This is so that any other party, which might be able to increase its political strength by mobilising new forces, does not upset the position of the dominant party.

Democrats in the old SCC, who supported genuine Scottish self-determination, were forced to bow to Labour’s plans. If the SSP adopted the same model, we would be increasingly forced to bow to the SNP leadership’s plans. However, it wasn’t surprising that the SCC’s original core of liberals and radicals should be so easily duped. What is worrying is that an SSP leadership, many trained in advanced political theory and with considerable political experience, should be following a similar false path.

Alan McCombes suggests that the SSP should champion a very radical constitutional position for its intervention within the SIC. Alan invokes Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, in both the ICR and his SSV article. He argues for a directly elected Constituent Assembly to be formed after any successful ‘independence’ referendum. The founders of the SCC also had high-flown ideas for their political project. They failed to appreciate many of the barriers presented by the deeply conservative UK constitution; and just as importantly, they viewed a Rightwards moving Labour Party as the potential leader of genuinely radical constitutional reform. New Labour, however, was only prepared to make the constitutional adjustments necessary to preserve the Union after the extra-parliamentary challenges it had faced in Scotland (and, of course, Northern Ireland).

Alan indulges in much greater ‘flights-of-fancy’ than the original radical democrats behind the SCC. The likelihood of Salmond becoming the new Chavez, or the SNP becoming the major component of a new ‘Bolivarian’ (maybe ‘Muirian’ after the eighteenth century Scottish revolutionary, Thomas Muir!) movement in Scotland, is risible. The SNP has moved from being a populist to a social democratic-led party. And, like all social democratic-led parties, it is consciously moving to the Right. The SNP accepts the domination of US imperialism and the global corporations. Increasingly, its leadership also wishes to come to some new accommodation with the British state. If the SSP leadership sees the current leadership of the SNP as our strategic allies, this can only lead to our party being dragged to the Right.

Yet, according to the ICR, the SSP will invoke the radical Bolivarian-style Constituent Assembly after a successful ‘independence’ referendum. Salmond made great play, on November 30th, of the need for any ‘independence’ referendum to be organised by the Scottish Executive, to avoid any Westminster ‘tricks’. Unfortunately, the Holyrood Parliament is itself constitutionally subordinate to Westminster (19). It was set up by a Westminster Act of Parliament. The Crown reserves several rights for itself. An SNP, which is frightened to challenge the monarchy in the here and now, will easily succumb to any threats made by the Privy Council (or the Lord Advocate and Secretary of State). They have the power to oppose or to intervene in the conduct of any ‘independence’ referendum conducted by the Scottish Executive.

Therefore, the real effect of the suggested Bolivarian-style Constituent Assembly is to provide a radical-sounding political cover for the immediate SIC policy – an ‘independence’ referendum organised by an SNP-led Scottish Executive. This commits the SSP to tail ending the SNP and to accepting its immediate constitutional proposals, in other words, to a thoroughly nationalist strategy. High-minded SSP advocates of radical democracy for the SIC would find themselves in the identical position to those who founded the SCC. Except that instead of providing foot soldiers for the Labour Party, we would be working to implement the SNP leadership’s political agenda.

 

THE DECOUPLING OF THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE CONVENTION FROM THE STRUGGLE AGAINST IMPERIALISM

Furthermore, a crucial step in the SSP’s political subordination already appears to have been taken by the Executive Committee. The ICR highlights the decision, which was taken to decouple the initial SIC launch from the G8 Summit counter-demonstrations. This was done despite the oft-made claim that the SSP’s policy of an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ is designed to weaken the British imperialist state and its major ally, US imperialism. This should be the whole thrust of our political work when addressing this issue. But, instead of raising the banner of anti-imperialism and national liberation, the SNP’s ‘independence’ referendum strategy is designed to gain small incremental changes in Scotland’s constitutional order. They hope that such a strategy can persuade the US and British ruling class to offer a new Scottish ruling class and its politicians the political franchise for continued imperial rule, north of the Tweed and south of Muckle Flugga.

The tensions between the SSP’s anti-imperialist, anti-big business politics, and the SNP’s pro-imperialist and pro-big business politics, were made very evident during the lead-up to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles last July. Our SSP MSPs, as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Left, took the principled decision to make a parliamentary protest, on June 30th, to highlight the Scottish Executive’s collaborative role in suppressing legitimate protest. With socialists and anti-globalisation activists assembling in Scotland from all over Europe, it was vital that the SSP showed its leading role in this wider movement. This was a case of taking action to enhance the SSP’s political position amongst the more advanced and politically conscious members of our class, in Scotland, the rest of the UK, Ireland, and in the wider world; even if it needed follow-up explanatory work, amongst those sections of our class who still have strained ties to Labour, and who are still under the influence of the Daily Record.

Quite clearly, the Scottish Parliament and its Scottish Executive were allotted no important role in Blair’s preparations for the G8 imperialist provocation being held on Scottish soil at Gleneagles – neither was Westminster! The planning and security surrounding the event were conducted beyond any democratic scrutiny, using the UK’s Crown Powers. These protect the secret workings of British military and security agencies. Furthermore, in line with the UK’s junior and subordinate position within the US/UK imperialist alliance, US military and security services were given extensive ‘extra-territorial’ rights within the UK, including Scotland. This was done to ensure the smooth running of the G8 Summit. The UK’s second-most political police force, the Met, was put in overall charge of operations on the ground (July is a busy month for the UK’s most political police force – the PSNI/RUC!). A US naval presence lay off Scotland’s west coast, whilst CIA (and MI5) agents were, no doubt, given wide discretionary powers on the mainland.

The draconian Scottish Executive response to the actions of our four MSPs highlighted the challenge they were making to US and UK imperialism’s preparations. This was very definitely a case of Jack McConnell performing the role expected of him, on behalf of a pro-unionist, pro-imperialist, Labour Cabinet. They see their main role as protecting and advancing global corporate interests in the North East Atlantic region (20). The G8 Summit was central to their plans. This is why the Scottish Executive very quickly convened a ‘kangaroo court’ to show just how seriously it takes its responsibilities – acting as the local agent for the UK state and upholding its vital interests.

So, you might have expected the SNP MSPs, committed to Scottish ‘independence’, to strongly oppose the measures taken against our four Scottish parliamentary deputies. Our MSPs were ‘only’ trying to uphold a decision already taken in the chamber in March to defend the Scottish people’s right to protest. They were defending, amongst other things, the Scottish Parliament’s (pretty limited) autonomous rights. Instead, the SNP leaders fell over themselves to line up behind the Scottish Executive in its attack on our MSPs. This shows that the SNP has no intention of opposing the fundamental interests of US/UK imperialism.

However, the actions of the SNP should have come as no surprise to any serious socialist who has examined their political trajectory over the years. The fact that it was Kenny MacAskill who led the SNP attack, further highlights the collapse of any Left, or even principled democratic, public grouping within the SNP. And Alex Neill celebrated the New Year by pouring cold water over anyone thinking he still represents a meaningful left current within the SNP. “It’s also sensible to recognise the fact the Scottish Socialist Party is not going to be there in significant numbers after the next election – and who wants to be attached to the SSP anyway?” (21)

 

 THE PRO-IMPERIALIST GREENS

Perhaps, the biggest surprise, though, was the condemnatory attack on our MSPs made by Mark Ballard. He is supposedly on the Left of the Scottish Green Party and acts as its spokesperson for civil rights! Certainly illusions, over the ‘Left’ nature of the Greens, are held by a number of SSP members. Therefore, the contribution made by Robin Harper, the Scottish Green’s leader, at the SIC launch on November 30th, was quite revealing in its own way. Harper comes from the Right of the Green Party. He favours a broadening of the present Labour/Lib-Dem Scottish Executive Coalition to include the Greens, after the 2007 Holyrood elections. Harper believes that the world can be saved through incremental government reforms, which make companies act in an environmentally-friendly manner, supplemented by the actions of responsible ‘green-minded’ citizens.

Harper made great play of the Scottish Greens being both fully independent of their English colleagues, whilst also being part of a Green International stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals (and here, let’s give the Greens their due; this is much better than anything yet achieved by the ‘internationalist Left’!). However, within this Green International, the dominant force is their Right wing. They seek greater respectability and alliances with Green capitalists. The German Greens provide the model, which Harper would very much like the Scottish Greens to emulate. The German Greens entered a government coalition with the German Social Democrats. In this role, they gave their support to the Afghan War, despite the use of plutonium-tipped shells and a host of other very environmentally-unfriendly (never mind people-unfriendly) weaponry. (Perhaps they got a deal on the use of recyclable body-bags and a cycle track around Bargram Airport!)

At the SIC launch, Harper also said the Greens wanted “greater independence” for Scotland, not independence. Three days later, the Scottish Greens announced they were putting Harper forward for a place in the House of Lords. We shouldn’t expect very much from the Green presence in the SIC!

2. WHAT ARE WE REALLY UP AGAINST?

 THE UK HOLDS THE US STATE AND GLOBAL CORPORATIONS’ FRANCHISE IN THE NORTH EAST ATLANTIC 

The SNP leaders don’t like the fact that Scottish politicians are forced, under the UK’s current constitutional set-up, to play a very subordinate and demeaning role. They don’t get a place at the ‘top table’ – whether it is in a ‘proper’ parliament, in negotiations within the EU, or a seat, desk and flag at UN. Some SNP members have even suggested that an ‘independent’ Scotland could play a ‘liberal’ role in the UN. They forget that the only states which have clout also have permanent seats on the Security Council (not something that an ‘independent’ Scotland is likely to get). Colin Campbell, the SNP’s former defence spokesperson has even suggested that Scotland could use its influence, if it stayed in NATO, to persuade the US to adopt a more ‘multilateral’ approach in the world. Presumably the next stage in his political development will be to suggest the dropping of the SNP’s commitment to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland’s soil. Then these could be taken under direct Scottish control, just to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard! Yet, even with nuclear weapons, a seat on the Security Council and G8, Blair has still to persuade Bush to pay the slightest heed to any of his ‘cautionary’ words!

The SNP has thoroughly imbibed the official liberal values which provide the ideological cover for US imperial domination of the UN, and for the continued activities of British imperialism, fronted by Westminster ‘democracy’. The SNP accept Westminster as ‘the mother of parliaments’, even though it has shown some reluctance to let its long-suppressed child – the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh – to go its own way! The SNP got a little upset at all the ‘dirty tricks’ used by the British Establishment to sabotage the very ‘milk-and-water’ Scottish Devolution Bill, in the late 1970s. At this time, though, the majority of the British ruling class was uniting behind a policy of British ‘Direct Rule-all-round’. Thatcher’s Tories were to the political fore, but they also had closet backing from senior officers in the military and security services, active in Northern Ireland. However, the SNP attributed all the ‘dirty tricks’ to ‘nasty people’ or to ‘rogue elements’. They were not attributed to the ‘normal’, everyday workings of the British state, which resorts to its Crown Powers, not just its parliamentary front, Westminster, when it needs to.

The Labour Party was split from top-to-bottom over the issue of Scottish devolution in the 1970s. Few Labour Ministers had any qualms about the ‘secret state’s behind-the-scenes activities. The Labour government had already handed over the effective running of Northern Ireland to the military and security services; reinforced the position of hard-line Ulster Unionists (giving them extra seats at Westminster in return for their continued political support); and provided the Ulster Unionists with the only Northern Ireland Secretary of State they ever liked – Roy Mason. (He introduced the ‘Criminalisation’ policy which Thatcher used against the Irish Hunger Strikers in 1981.) Large chunks of the Labour Party in Scotland openly flouted official party policy and campaigned, alongside the Tories, for a ‘No’ vote in the 1979 Scottish Devolution referendum.

The SNP leadership still believe that a UK government would be forced to honour the commitments made by any future pro-independence Scottish Executive, which had won a majority vote in a Scottish ‘independence’ referendum. A problem with this view is that the British ruling class is presently very much committed to the ‘New Unionist’ strategy of ‘Devolution-all-round’. It has taken a long time, and some bitter struggles, to arrive at this position. But this strategy also enjoys the support of the two main unionist parties – New Labour and Tory; the Irish government; and successive Democratic and Republican US administrations. The dominant EU powers are not going to challenge this either. ‘New Unionism’ is not easily going to be thwarted, certainly not by an ‘independence’ referendum held under UK constitutional rules.

The Tories initiated the current ‘New Unionist’ strategy, with its abandonment of ‘Direct Rule-all-round’, when they signed up to the Downing Street Declaration in 1991. However, they were unable to make the necessary political leap to ‘Devolution-all-round’ to better stabilise the Union throughout these islands. This policy was adopted by New Labour, leading to the more comprehensive constitutional settlement enacted in 1997 (the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly) and in 1998 (the Good Friday Agreement which was meant to deliver a reformed Stormont). Furthermore, there is now no significant group amongst the Tories committed to reversing the Northern Irish or Scottish devolution deals. The Tories have made some suggestions about scrapping the Welsh Assembly, but their more thoughtful leaders know that such a move would most likely give the Assembly a widened legitimacy in Wales.

Thus, firm ruling class and global corporate backing for its current ‘Devolution-all-round’ strategy means that the British state is going to resort to all the unsavoury measures (and some) that it used to derail a very mild constitutional challenge in the 1970s, if faced with any serious independence moves. The international credibility of the UK, whose leaders see themselves as major players in today’s imperialist and global corporate-dominated world, is at stake.

 

HOW THE UK STATE DEALS WITH ANY PERCEIVED ANTI-UNIONIST CHALLENGE – THE CURRENT NORTHERN IRELAND EXAMPLE

Scotland isn’t Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, you can get some indication of the tactics, which could be used, when you look to how the UK state (with tacit Irish state backing) treats a now disarmed Republican Movement, particularly its political wing, Sinn Fein. Their representatives have been subjected to continuous political accusations and arrests (with the press pre-warned, and on-hand to film the occasion). None of these arrests has led to any charges in court. Their real political purpose is to demonise and discredit Sinn Fein. As a result Sinn Fein has been prevented from joining a power-sharing Executive and pursuing its preferred political path of working constitutionally (and peacefully) in a reformed Stormont (and Irish Dail). This is because the British government has bowed to Ulster Unionist demands which oppose any meaningful power-sharing.

There are howls of government and media outrage over any misdemeanour that can possibly be laid at Sinn Fein’s door. Meanwhile, the much more serious organised killings of civilians by loyalist paramilitary continues. They have also staged sectarian intimidation at Holy Cross Primary School and promoted the ethnic cleansing of nationalists in Antrim, and of ethnic minorities in Belfast. The British government and media downplay all these activities. The UK government still seeks a new ‘role’ for the loyalist organisations! Even when loyalists took pot shots at ‘their own’ police force, the RUC/PSNI, during an orchestrated riot last September (because the police failed to uphold ‘their right’ to intimidate nationalists!), they were treated with kid-gloves. Much milder and far more principled protests by nationalists or republicans are treated far more harshly.

 

THE SNP COLLAPSES IN FRONT OF THE BRITISH UNIONIST ONSLAUGHT IN THE 1970s

Sinn Fein (and their voters) have fewer illusions about the nature of Westminster ‘democracy’. So they have been able to weather such political attacks and retain the support of most of their base. However, UK state attempts to destabilise a much less threatening, and always thoroughly constitutional SNP, are more likely to be successful. This is because SNP politicians either do not understand the nature of the UK state they are up against; or they do understand, but are still prepared to bow to its dictates. They only want some ‘tartan’ cover for this state’s workings in Scotland.

The SNP leadership has no strategy for dealing with the UK’s hidden, unaccountable state – the armed services, the security services or the judiciary. The UK’s Crown Powers and the Royal Prerogative protect all these institutions from any serious democratic scrutiny. The Prime Minister and Privy Council (Ian Paisley is its latest appointee!) wield these powers, if it is ever necessary to suspend the Parliament at Westminster. The Lord Advocate and Secretary of State can also resort to these powers if they are ever needed to over-ride a Holyrood Parliamentary decision. But the British ruling class and its UK state would have used many other of its hidden powers, long before this stage was reached over an ‘independence’ referendum. Yet, the SNP’s strategy is based around the fiction that all we are up against is the ‘democratic’ workings of Westminster – ‘the mother of parliaments’!

When the SNP electoral challenge was at its height during the 1970s, the non-accountable UK state resorted to a number of measures. The ‘non-political’ Queen was even roped in for the 1977 Christmas broadcast to remind people of the “benefits the Union has conferred”. There were also military exercises, involving the Royal Marines, with a mock Scottish nationalist takeover as their putative target. There was considerable security service activity amongst the ultra-nationalist fringe. This involved some political entrapment, but it was mainly designed to associate any Scottish independence movement in the public’s mind with violent anti-English activity.

Just as it has long been British state policy to promote a view of the Irish unity struggle as being down to Catholic anti-Protestant nationalists (or, in the liberal version, it is reduced to a struggle between “two warring tribes”), so the democratic struggle to free Scotland from the British unionist and imperialist state, is often portrayed, by the same unionist forces, as “anti-English”. There are indeed Scottish ultra-nationalists motivated by such sentiments (e.g. Siol nan Gaidhael). This makes it imperative for socialists to challenge anti-English sentiment and actions, just as principled Irish republicans challenge anti-Protestantism.

 

IMPERIALISM, FASLANE AND NORTH SEA OIL

Some people, more aware of clandestine British state activities in Northern Ireland, may take some consolation from the fact that the situation in Scotland is not directly comparable. After all, the impact of state-promoted, politico-religious differences (nationalist v. unionist or Catholic v. Protestant) has not had the same historical impact in Scotland. Scotland’s residual religious sectarianism is now very much frowned upon by the Scottish Executive. The main parties in Scotland are all open to people of whatever religion. There is less scope for British governments to utilise religious sectarianism as a political wedge.

However, the continued Orange and loyalist presence in Scotland means that behind-the-scenes political manipulation can not be entirely ruled out in the future, if unionist control was seen to be sufficiently threatened. Scottish nationalists (apart from the very marginal ultra-nationalist fringe) have always pursued a peaceful, and in their overwhelming majority, a thoroughly constitutional path. This means that there has been far less scope for the army and security services to build-up the wide array of special forces (and collusion with paramilitaries) that has developed in Northern Ireland.

Countering all this is the fact that Scotland has far more strategic and economic importance than Northern Ireland ever did, both for UK and US imperialism and for big business. Scotland is home to the RN Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane and the RAF bases at Kinloss, Leuchars and Machrihanish, all of which are available for NATO use (22). Scotland also has considerable North Sea oil reserves. These facts alone mean that the US and UK states will resort to whatever means are necessary to maintain their military bases and their continued control of North Sea oil resources.

Some very naive claims have been made about an ‘independent’ Scottish Parliament being able to get rid of Trident. There is very little chance that a British government would accept this. Indeed, even if all Westminster’s current reserved powers were transferred to Holyrood, this would still leave significant political powers outwith Holyrood’s control, as well as strategic British state property (e.g. military bases). Constitutionally, the key political powers fall under the Royal Prerogative, whilst the bases for ‘her majesty’s armed forces are owned by the Crown. Even Cuba (and Salmond is certainly no Fidel Castro either!) has been unable to bring Guantanamo Bay under its jurisdiction; and here the US government ‘only’ has a ‘leasing arrangement’, not a constitutional claim!

In 1976, there was considerable unease over Scotland’s future in imperial circles. The rather sinister, Richard Funkhauser, with his oil company, security service and Right-wing think-tank connections, was suddenly made US consul in Edinburgh (23). This was a rather ‘top-heavy’ appointment for what is technically a minor diplomatic post! The year before, the Crown- appointed, Governor General of Australia, also dismissed the elected Labour government of Gough Whitlam. He was considering banning visits by US nuclear submarines to Australian ports. There was a British Labour government in office at the time. However, elected Labour governments do not challenge any ruling class resort to the use of the Crown Powers. Indeed today, New Labour wants to be seen as the most enthusiastic advocate of their political use.

In the current political climate of ‘anti-terrorist’ hysteria, wholesale attacks on civil liberties, and ever closer links between the UK and US military and intelligence services, any attempts to win meaningful self-determination will face much harsher state opposition than that which occurred in the 1970s.

 

3. THE SCOTTISH INTERNATIONALIST AND REPUBLICAN ALTERNATIVE

AN ANTI-IMPERIALIST AND SCOTTISH INTERNATIONALIST PERSPECTIVE

Thus, a major weakness of the ICR is that it gives not the slightest indication of the nature of the opposition we face. It is almost as if it accepts the SNP leadership view that a British government wouldn’t dare obstruct the will of the Scottish people; or if political independence is gained in tiny incremental steps, the British state will hardly notice!

Yet, the UK state plays a very important role in US imperialism’s designs to maintain global domination. Blair and Brown are key figures in US plans to prevent a more politically-united EU from becoming a major imperialist competitor in the world. The current British ruling class strategy – the promotion of ‘New Unionism’ throughout these islands – has had the full backing of Democratic (Clinton) and Republican (Bush) administrations in the USA. In line with this thinking, Tartan Day is now promoted in the USA, by the New Labour/Lib-Dem Scottish Executive, with prominent American businessmen of Scottish descent very much in mind.

The Crown Powers provide the British ruling class with a constitutional sanction to go about their affairs, in whatever manner they deem necessary. They provided cover for the Iraq war preparations, long before the Westminster vote. The same Crown Powers are used to give backing to the massive encroachment on our civil rights represented by shoot-to-kill, gagging the BBC, dawn raids on ‘failed’ asylum seekers’ families, and turning an official blind-eye to US ‘extraordinary rendition’ flights landing in Scotland. Most of this has been done without any parliamentary vote at Westminster, never mind Holyrood. Other state activities are just kept secret.

A political strategy which ignores this political context, and which fails to link the defence and promotion of democracy with attempts to mobilise support around wider issues, is just preparing the road for failure. If the SSP’s ‘independence’ strategy is designed to break the UK state, US imperialism’s most reliable ally, it is vital that our campaign is publicly promoted as part of a wider anti-imperialist alliance (24). We will need international solidarity to have any chance of success. This means linking our anti-war and anti-imperialist actions (whether in support of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Iraq or Palestine) with a campaign for genuine Scottish self-determination and popular sovereignty.

One of the most significant features of the current imperialist war has been the setting-up of relatives’ campaigns, e.g. those of Rose Gentle and Cindy Sheehan. So far, the military chiefs have found this hard to deal with. The ‘top brass’ will seriously resent any weakening of morale, loss of discipline, or undermining of obedience to authority. This opportunity opens up the possibility of direct political work amongst the armed forces themselves. Troops are the state’s last line of defence when faced with serious economic (e.g. Glasgow, May 1919) and political disruption (e.g. Northern Ireland since 1969). If democratic and republican sentiment were to enter the ranks of the armed forces, socialists would be in a far stronger political position.

Coordinated protests against the rapacious policies of the corporations need to be organised. They are trying to slash workers’ wages and conditions. The immediate threat of more labour deregulation is very obvious. We have the cases of Gate Gourmet in England and the GAMA workers in Dublin, who have been resisting super-exploitation. Now we have Irish Ferries trying to scrap existing work contracts on their boats through resort to migrant labour. They claim such workers are not subject to Irish labour law or contracts. Scotland’s bosses too make extensive use of super-exploited migrant workers to avoid existing labour laws and contracts over here. They are also attempting to use the EU’s competition rules to break trade unionism and working conditions on Calmac Ferries. Yet, trade union bureaucrats do nothing, mount token protests, or sabotage any effective independent action which members take in response. This is all done in the name of ‘social partnership’. This collaboration reduces trade unions to the employers’ personnel management service.

British oil companies (or companies with a large British stake) have resorted to repression in Colombia and in Nigerian Ogoniland. They have persuaded the Irish government to jail the Mayo 5, who protested against a new oil pipeline near their homes. Scotland as a small nation has few global corporations. However, SNP-supporting Brian Souter and Ann Gloag, Stagecoach bus company co-owners were prepared to bankroll right-wing campaigns (e.g. support for the Tories’ notorious anti-gay Section 28/2A). The international activities of the Royal Bank and the Bank of Scotland also probably warrant more attention by socialists. The latter has formed a joint venture, Montagu Evans Properties, along with Brian Souter.

 

AN ANTI-UNIONIST AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGY

The Executive Committee’s ICR makes absolutely no mention of the British ruling class’s current ‘New Unionist’ strategy, designed to maintain US/UK imperialist control over these islands. Yet, Prestwick and Glasgow are used for CIA torture flights and there are regular breaches of Irish neutrality by US military planes landing at Shannon. Opposition to such activities should be part of any platform upholding self-determination. Edinburgh has US and Irish consulates, as well as Holyrood, to act as foci for protests.

Blair has mobilised unionist allies from across the UK, e.g. Tories and the Ulster Unionists to vote for war; and Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster to vote for increased tuition fees in England and Wales. The SSP needs to promote its own internationalist campaign. An ‘internationalism from below’ strategy is needed to unite all those socialist republicans and genuine democrats in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, who oppose US/UK imperialism and British unionism. This is the spirit behind the Calton Hill Declaration, which “aim(s) not to erect walls of separation, but to build an outward-looking Scotland that will extend the hands of friendship to all the peoples of the world.”

The SSP has made some political advances over the years in recognising the importance of republicanism as a political issue. Yet, as the ICR reveals, this hasn’t got beyond republican sentimentalism. Republicanism hardly gets a mention. Yes, our leaders think that a democratic republic would be a nice idea. Nevertheless, they believe it is more important to win an ‘independent’ Scottish Parliament first. So let’s drop the republican demand for now! The problem with this approach (shared by the SNP) is that it doesn’t acknowledge that there can be no genuine political independence under the Crown.

In this country, there is a narrow, populist understanding of the meaning of ‘republicanism’. This amounts to seeing it as opposition to the outdated, upper class monarchy and all its privileged trappings. Furthermore, this monarchy is seen to be on the way out, because the royal family has been shown to be highly dysfunctional. Therefore, it follows from this limited understanding, that if only we can get an ‘independent’ Scottish Parliament first, it could conduct a referendum to abolish the monarchy, at a later date.

This sentimental ‘republicanism’ bears some resemblance to Old Labour’s sentimental ‘socialism’, which used to be wheeled out every May Day. Yet, in its everyday practice, Old Labour remained committed to ensuring that a Labour Party was in government, where it got on with its real job – managing capitalism. Similarly, sentimental ‘republicanism’ can only lead to the renewal and strengthening of a Scottish capitalist class. If the new Scottish constitution wasn’t republican from the outset, a new Scottish ruling class would still be able to call upon the British state’s Crown Powers which can not be transferred from Westminster, since they do not fall under its remit. The continuation of the monarchy in Scotland, after any ‘independence’ referendum and consequent political deal, provides the constitutional sanction for these wider powers which can/could still be utilised by the British (or future Scottish) ruling class.

A thoroughgoing republicanism understands that the royal family is merely the superficial cover for the ruling class’s anti-democratic Crown Powers. The royal family and all its hangers-on may indeed be a bunch of wealthy parasites, but they hold relatively little personal political power. This is concentrated in the hands of the dominant section of the ruling class. They disguise their effective political control by hiding behind the Crown Powers. When senior military officers, judges and civil servants swear their oath of loyalty to the Queen, this means that they are prepared to undertake whatever is required of them, without any inconvenient democratic accountability. When MPs and MSPs are asked to swear an ‘oath of loyalty to the Crown’, this is the political equivalent of having to walk beneath all those loyalist Orange arches, erected every year throughout Northern Ireland, just to show who is master.

Therefore, the only campaign, which even offers the prospect of political independence, is one, which is designed to break the ruling class’s Crown Powers. The real essence of republicanism is the struggle for genuine democracy. This means mobilising on a completely different basis than cobbling together an alliance of Centre and left of Centre parties, supplemented by a largely passive ‘civic society’.

A consistent democratic republican strategy would examine and highlight the real fault lines within Scottish (and UK, US and European) politics. This means seeing the SNP and Green leaderships for what they are. Both parties may indeed have genuine democrats (and even republicans) within their ranks; but these people have little or no purchase on their Rightwards moving party leaderships. Our campaign for a sovereign, independent Scottish republic, should be designed to win these people’s direct and active support (and also be open to any remaining socialists still suffering serial abuse in the Labour Party – remember Walter Wolfgang!) We certainly should not tail end the SNP leaders’ nationalist strategy.

 

 SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

If our republicanism and internationalism are to be real, we need to draw up a platform which reflects this. To make the link, and to gain wider international support, we must locate the SSP’s strategy for a Scottish democratic republic within an anti-imperialist framework. British imperialism is the local agent for US imperialism and the global corporations’ ‘New World Order’ in the North East Atlantic. The break-up of this US/UK imperial alliance would be performing a vital service for the oppressed and exploited throughout the world.

The SNP leadership’s strategy of trying to gain the local imperial franchise could indeed be advanced by the promotion of a single policy – an ‘independence’ referendum. However, the SSP needs to adopt a number of key platform points to emphasise our anti-imperial and republican strategy, by means of a series of political, social and economic demands. We need these, because it is not passive middle class ‘civic society’ we look to, but active campaigning organisations, which can advance the interests of our class.

Sometimes, prominent SSP spokespersons are asked to speak at other political events – international, national and local. They could use such occasions to outline an internationalist and republican strategy to win support for a campaign based on the sound principles outlined in the Calton Hill Declaration. We should also aim to link our strategy to key international and national issues and events, until our position becomes more widely appreciated – first by socialists in Scotland, the rest of the UK and Ireland, Europe, and the wider world, then by our class and the wider public.

After we have won over a committed political core, we need to approach active national and local campaigns, such as those defending Palestinian rights and asylum seekers in Scotland. Our primary audience should not be trade union bureaucrats or state-funded national and community organisations. Existing trade union leaders have already shown their inability to seriously organise in those offshore areas supposedly beyond the state’s jurisdiction, e.g. the North Sea oil and gas fields, or Ireland’s ‘offshore’ ferries. Their ‘social partnership’ deals with the bosses render them powerless when it comes to defending or advancing most workers’ interests.

An internationalist strategy, to win support for a democratic Scottish republic, could start by organising an international conference of workers at the ‘sharp end’ of the employers’ current offensive – migrant and ethnic minority workers; those ‘national’ workers whose current conditions are under attack, such as Irish Ferries and Calmac workers; and such campaigns as the GAMA and Gate Gourmet workers and embryonic new unions, like the Oil Industry Liaison Committee (OILC) for the North Sea oil workers. Furthermore, only a strategy which is prepared to defy the anti-trade union laws and to break with ‘social partnership’ has any chance of succeeding in this particular arena.

In the meantime, a democratic republican campaign could also organise cultural and commemorative events. On the cultural side, there is the strong radical tradition represented by Robert Burns, Mhairi Mhor nan Oran (poetess of the Highland Land League), Hugh MacDairmid, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sorley Maclean and Hamish Henderson, to be celebrated. The 1980s Scottish cultural renaissance provided a host of new artists, including more women, some of whom have already given their support to the original Calton Hill Declaration.

If Kevin Williamson could just remove his recently-donned, ‘blue and white’ nationalist blinkers, he could yet play an important role in creating ‘Artists for a Scottish Republic’. Then he would be performing a valuable service in the spirit of his seminal early 1990’s Rebel Inc initiative. Kevin quite rightly advocates “community-based cultural festivals… open air festivals… open air concerts and… culture jamming and street art” (25). But surely such a grassroots movement would have higher aspirations than an ‘independence’ referendum to deliver the SNP’s ‘independence under Elizabrit’!

There is also Scotland’s radical historical legacy, although this is highly contested. It includes William Wallace, the radical wing of the Covenanters, the United Scotsmen, the Highland Land League, (Edinburgh born) James Connolly and (Glasgow born) John Maclean. Day schools and commemorative events surrounding these figures and organisations should also be arranged. There is, at present, some political momentum behind moves to have November 30th declared a public holiday in Scotland. Socialists managed to reclaim ‘Merrie England’s old ‘maypole and morris dancing’ First of May, for an international socialist May Day. Our equivalent task should be to make the Scottish nationalist, ‘saltire-waving’ St. Andrew’s Day a Scottish internationalist, ‘red banner-waving’, John Maclean Day. November 30th is also the anniversary of Maclean’s death.

These are just a few practical suggestions – for it is practical not sentimental republicanism that we need. One of the most disappointing features of the SIC launch was the missed opportunity. Actress Joyce Falconer (from River City) made an impassioned and moving poetic/dramatic contribution, which rose far above the milk-and-water proposals coming from Salmond and Harper.

Moreover, our own speaker, Colin Fox, made easily the best-received political speech of the night. He emphasised the role of the SSP as a political organisation built on the traditions of John Maclean’s workers’ republicanism; the importance of class in politics, and the need for a democratic republic. Even those essentially well-meaning liberal nationalists, who made up the majority of the audience, cheered him. It is a great pity that such a powerful contribution was not made to launch the campaign we really need. That is a mass popular campaign to champion the Calton Hill Declaration and to have its principles implemented. This means setting up a Scottish democratic republic as part of an internationalist strategy to break the British unionist state and the US/UK imperialist alliance. This is what a socialist republican party, which claims to be following the tradition of John Maclean and James Connolly, should really be fighting for.

 

The Republican Communist Network, 6.5.06

 

 

References

(1)       Independence Convention Report, Executive Committee, NC Agenda Item 5 (Dec.11th, 2005)

(2)       Scottish Socialist Voice no. 245, Alan McCombes

(3)       Raising the Standard -There shall be an independent Scottish Parliament – A consultation paper on Scottish Independence, St Andrew’s Day, 2005, SNP

(4)       Scottish Socialist Voice no. 245, Kevin Williamson

(5)       Scottish Independence Convention: Independence under the Crown or a                                  Scottish Republic, Allan Armstrong, Emancipation & Liberation, no. 7

(6)       Republican alternative to royal pantomime, Tommy Sheridan, E&L no. 8

(7)       The Declaration of Calton Hill and the Scottish Independence Convention, Allan                         Armstrong, E&L, no 9

(8)       The Declaration of Calton Hill, E&L no. 9 and above

(9)       Holyrood Commentary, Iain Macwhirter at Aviemore, Sunday Herald, 25.9.05

(10)     Nats Won’t Be Lording It, Alex Salmond, Sunday Herald, 12.6.05

(11)     Forward Wales in Meltdown, Vic Allen, E & L no. 11

(12)     Building A Nation – Post Devolution Nationalism in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, Viewpoints,       Luath Press, 2004

(13)     Two Worlds Collide – power, plunder and resistance in a divided planet, p. 55, Alan   McCombes. SSP pamphlet for anti-G8 protests, 2005

(14)     Two Words Collide – Nationalism and Republicanism, Allan Armstrong, E&L, no. 11

(15)     A Claim of Right for Scotland, edited by Owen Dudley Edwards, Determinations, Polygon, 1989

(16)     The Battle for Scotland, p. 198, Andrew Marr, Penguin, 1992

(17)     A Claim of Right for Scotland, 8.2., op. cit., p. 32

(18)     ibid., 10.3, p. 35

(19)     Scottish Independence – A Practical Guide, p. 66, Jo Eric Murkens, Edinburgh University Press, 2002

(20)     Our Day Will Come! Opposing the Imperial and Corporate Plan for the North East Atlantic, Allan Armstrong, E&L, no. 10

(21)     Alex Neill quoted in The Herald, 6.1.06, Greens welcome advances from SNP.

(22)     Uncharted waters – The UK, Nuclear weapons and the Scottish Question, Malcolm Chalmers and William Walker, Tuckwell Press, 2001

(23)     Britain’s Secret War – Tartan Terrorism and the Anglo-American State, pp. 208-9, Andrew Murray Scott and Iain Macleay, Mainstream Publishing, 1990

(24)     For an Anti-Imperialist Front, John Mitchell, E&L no. 9 and For an Anti-Imperialist Alliance, John Wight, Allan Armstrong, Gerry Corbett, E&L, no. 11

(25)     Scottish Socialist Voice no. 245, Kevin Williamson

 

 

Declaration of Calton Hill, 9th October 2004 

The Calton Hill Declaration - the republican approach

The Calton Hill Declaration – the republican approach

We the undersigned call for an independent Scottish republic built on the principles of liberty, equality, diversity and solidarity.

These principles can never be put into practice while Scotland remains subordinate to the hierarchical and anti-democratic institutions of the British State.

We believe these principles can be brought about by a freely elected Scottish Government with full control of Scotland’s revenues.

We believe that the right to self determination is an inherent right, and not a boon or a favour to be granted to us whether by the Crown or the British State.

We believe that sovereignty rests in the people and vow to fight for the right to govern ourselves for the benefit of all those living in Scotland today, tomorrow and in future times.

The Government of a country is servant to the people, not master of the people.

We believe that a written Constitution will guarantee, under law, everyone’s right to freely vote, speak and assemble; and will guarantee the people’s right to privacy and protection, and access to information on all its Government’s doings.

We vow to fight for the power to refuse to send our sons and daughters to kill and die in unjust wars in foreign lands.

We vow to fight for the power to banish nuclear weapons of mass destruction from our land.

We vow to fight for the power to acquire and restrict the use of property or lands controlled by individuals, corporations or governments from beyond Scotland’s borders.

We vow to fight for the power to turn our depopulated land into a haven for those fleeing famine and persecution.

We vow to fight for the power to build a more equal society, free of poverty, through the redistribution of our vast wealth.

We vow to fight for the power to protect our soil, seas and rivers for our children and for the generations to come.

We swear to oppose all forms of national chauvinism, imperialism and racism.

We swear to oppose all forms of discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnic origin, religion, place of birth, age, disability, sexuality or language.

We aim for an independent Scottish Republic in which people may live with dignity and with self respect, free from exploitation, assuming the responsibilities of free women and men.

An independent Scottish republic will negotiate freely and as an equal with governments of other lands.

Our aim is not to erect walls of separation, but to build an outward-looking, Scotland that will extend the hand of friendship to all the peoples of the world.

 We vow to continue the struggle for a free, democratic Scottish republic for as long as it may take.

The fight is for freedom.

 

also see

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/06/20/the-independence-lite-referendum-and-a-tale-of-two-campaign/

and

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2004/03/02/the-scottish-independence-convention/

 

 

 

 

 

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