Allan Armstrong has produced his third online pamphlet, following The Continuing Shift from Neo-Liberalism to Right Populism. This follows the last update which looked at the impact of Right Populism and reactionary unionism on the politics of the these islands after the December 12th UK and February 8th Irish general elections. The contents of the latest pamphlet (https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/dec12th-covid-19-and-blm-scotland2-1.pdf) are shown below. This is followed by two sections from the pamphlet specifically relating to the recent and current situation in Scotland, which form the basis for Allan’s talk on the Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Republican Party Zoom meeting.
THE UK STATE, RIGHT POPULISM AND
REACTIONARY UNIONISM IN 2020
rUK it or fUK it?
A republican communist analysis in the aftermath of December 12th general election, Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter
Allan Armstrong. 6.7.20
A. FROM THE DECEMBER 12TH WESTMINSTER GENERAL ELECTION THROUGH THE COVID-19 CRISIS
- The Tories’ immediate programme after the December 12th general election.
- Following the general electoral victory Johnson and the Tory Hard Right had the following things going for them.
- But Johnson and the Tories also faced some challenges.
- The impact of Covid-19.
- The extent of Johnson’s ability to deliver the Tories’ immediate programme after the December 19th general election and through the Covid-19 pandemic.
- But Johnson and the Tories have not had it all their own way
B. THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN SCOTLAND
- The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the SNP.
- The Alex Salmond case.
- Covid-19 contributes to widening division in the SNP.
C. THE STATE OF THE UNION IN THE REST OF THESE ISLANDS
D. FROM COVID-19 TO BLACK LIVES MATTER
- The politics of BLM and solidarity.
- The problems and weaknesses of the current Left.
- Challenging the Left Brexiteers and pushing for an immediate social republican ‘internationalism from below’ across Europe.
E. HOW SOCIALISTS COULD BEST ORGANISE TO CHALLENGE THE RIGHT POPULIST AND REACTIONARY UNIONIST OFFENSIVE AND BE RELEVANT TO THE EMERGING NEW STRUGGLES
F. WORKING IN AUTONOMOUS ORGANISATIONS –THE RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN
- What can be learned from the post-2014 history of the Radical Independence Campaign?
- Locating the Radical Independence Campaign in the current political situation dominated by Right Populists and reactionary unionists.
Some terms used in this article
rUK – the remaining United Kingdom. We currently live in rUK1 – Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is the territory of the UK left after the departure of 26 counties of Ireland in 1922. The SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ would also still recognise the British monarch as head of the Scottish state. This leave behind an rUK2 consisting of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
fUK – the former United Kingdom. This involves a complete break-up of the UK. This means adopting a republican socialist ‘internationalism from below’ strategy to set up republics in England, Scotland, Wales and a reunited Ireland.
Liberal unionism keeps the UK together through political devolution.
Conservative unionism keeps the UK together, primarily by administrative devolution. It can accept political devolutionary measures, which it once opposed, if they have already been established – a new conservative unionism.
Reactionary unionism is prepared to dismantle existing political devolution, and to use coercion, either by the state or by extra-constitutional forces, if necessary, to suppress revolutionary nationalist, constitutional nationalist and liberal unionist challenges to the UK set-up.
Constitutional nationalism seeks greater national self-determination up to political independence but confines its methods of struggle to the what is constitutionally permissible within the existing state.
Revolutionary nationalism seeks politically independence using methods, which defy the constitution of the existing state, including armed struggle, if necessary.
Left British Unionism has viewed either the whole UK state, or Great Britain as a gain for the working class. This is often linked to an economistic view, which sees constitutional issues as the concern of other classes. When raised they are to be criticised as a political diversion for the working class. However, when significant national democratic challenges come to the fore, Left British Unionists, usually line up behind either the liberal or the conservative unionists.
Other Left nationalisms adopt an immediate strategy by which they line behind the proposals of the constitutional or revolutionary nationalists.
Republicanism – is based on popular sovereignty. Republicans are prepared to mount national democratic struggles, using popular democratic methods, in defiance of existing anti-democratic state constitutions.
Republican socialism looks to extend republican principles to working class organisations (e.g. in trade unions, sovereignty lies with the membership in their workplaces), It also pursues an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy.
B. THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN SCOTLAND
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, pressures were mounting in Scotland upon the SNP government over its lack of a strategy to get IndyRef2. The series of large ‘All Under One Banner’ demonstrations have been the most public face of this pressure. The election of a reactionary unionist Tory government, which very predictably turned down the Scottish government’s Section 30 request, exacerbated this discontent.
Whilst certainly not wishing the Covid-19 outbreak, this fortuitously gave Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership the opportunity to mothball IndyRef2 (promised for 2020); and later to neutralise the immediate political consequences of the collapse of the court case against Alex Salmond on 29th March.
1) The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the SNP
a) Following the 2014 IndyRef1, the SNP leadership, under Sturgeon, did not see the party’s massive 2015 Westminster election victory as providing a new mandate for pushing for Indy Ref2. Given the referendum defeat, understandably the SNP had not campaigned on independence as an immediate objective. Instead the leadership hoped to gain liberal unionist support for ‘Better Together’s promised ‘Devo-Max’. But, badly shaken by the unexpected closeness of the IndyRed1 result, the leading liberal unionist parties – Labour and the Lib-Dems – had become conservative unionists. They wanted no further constitutional changes. This left the SNP leaders with only 4 Plaid Cymru MPs and 1 Green MP as potential allies. The 2016 Holyrood election and the 2017 Westminster election reduced the number of SNP MSPs and MPs, giving conservative and reactionary unionists even more confidence in ignoring IndyRef2 requests. But, as in 2012, the Tories misread the situation in Scotland, seeing these SNP setbacks in Scotland as a turning of the nationalist tide. They hyped up Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson (remember her!) as the next Scottish First Minister following the 2021 Holyrood election.
b) However, the 2016 UK-wide Brexit vote provided the SNP with a politically legitimate reason for raising the issue of independence once again. The Scottish Remain vote was 62%, far higher than the overall UK Leave vote of 52%. In the lead up to IndyRef1, the official ‘Better Together’ campaign had promised that remaining in the UK was the only way to remain in the EU.
c) Following the Tories’ 2017 Westminster election victory an alliance of hard Brexiteers – Tory and DUP was formed. This represented a victory for those who wanted to roll-back ‘Devolution-all-round’. This also undermined Gordon Brown’s ‘promise’ of ‘Devo-Max’ in the Indy-Ref1 campaign. After 2017, even the pretence of liberal unionism was dead.
d) May took no cognisance of Labour’s gains under Corbyn, knowing his party was hopelessly divided. The wider liberal anti-Brexit parties were also divided and received no significant British ruling class backing to oppose Brexit. So, election results notwithstanding, far from coming to any accommodation with Labour for a less harsh Brexit, May moved the government further Right and towards a harder Brexit. She only really felt threatened by the Tory Hard Right, the DUP and Donald Trump (and later the Brexit Party) and acted accordingly.
e) The 2019 Westminster general election result saw a significant rise in the number of SNP MPs. However, the party’s hybrid, constitutional nationalist/liberal unionist strategy to get IndyRef2 was now even less plausible following the Hard Right Tories’ reactionary unionist, Great Britain-wide, electoral victory. But the broader independence movement, especially ‘All Under One Banner’, no longer felt constrained by the SNP leadership’s cautious approach. Growing support for Scottish independence was now being motivated, not by the SNP’s nationalist campaigning, but more as a response to the reactionary unionists’ anti-democratic behaviour. If Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Reed Mogg are now the official face of British Unionism, and Britain First and the National Defence League are Unionism’s Far Right foot soldiers, then these Unionists are doing the job of undermining Unionism, and broadening support for Scottish independence, when the SNP leadership’s strategy has stalled.
f) However, the Covid-19 Crisis has created a new situation. In line with the SNP leadership’s strategy of trying to get UK government recognition for the centrality of devolutionary powers, Sturgeon cautiously bowed to the Tory government over Covid-19. She sought cooperation with the government, but also the involvement of the UK’s other devolved institutions – Cardiff Bay and Stormont. But this meant tail-ending Johnson’s criminally negligent response to Covid-19. That led to delays in any meaningful action, throughout the UK, followed by a panic response to create NHS beds, and an even more desperate resort to care homes, devastated by years of privatisation and use of precarious labour. This has led to high-level excess deaths, especially given the already higher morbidity levels and lower life expectancies found in Scotland.
g) All that Sturgeon now had to distinguish her from Johnson was a difference in ‘public presentation of Covid-19 policy. In this, opinion polls have shown that she has beaten the appalling Johnson and his crew hands down (possibly much assisted by Jane Godley’s Glesca patois speaking ‘alternative Nicola’!)[i]
h) But in the face of growing criticism in Scotland, over the effects of this working within the UK government dictated ‘guidelines’, Sturgeon became keener to distance the SNP government from Johnson’s mishandling of the easing of lockdown. And, unlike Johnson, she has also been prepared to sack an ally who had broken the lockdown rules – Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood (although not surprisingly keeping shtum about Charles and Camilla’s blatant disregard for the rules).
i) A key factor about the SNP leadership’s wider approach to politics has been its refusal to challenge not only the monarchy but the Scottish ‘establishment’ – those in control of law and the police, landed and property interests (and many Scottish universities are now as much property as educational institutions) and the Edinburgh registered banks. The fossil energy companies, after immense public pressure over fracking, especially from new SNP members, have had to be more discrete (but only the most naïve would believe that behind-the-scenes close contacts haven’t been maintained at the highest levels of the party).
j) Sturgeon and the SNP leadership’s key aim, which buttresses their cautious political approach to IndyRef2, has been to fall back on the strategy originally pursued by Alex Salmond (with his Royal Bank of Scotland links). This was to woo business, with the long-term aim of creating a new Scottish ruling class. Some of the wealth in their hands would ‘trickle down’, allowing reforms to be introduced. This is what now passed for Social Democracy and was the model introduced and celebrated under New Labour’s Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson. Despite the blow delivered to this model by the 2008 Crash, it remains at the centre of SNP leadership thinking. Prioritising business concerns is their first concern.
k) The SNP leadership set up the business-led Sustainable Economic Growth Commission (SEGC), led by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson. This has been at the centre of Sturgeon’s endeavours to get back to Salmond’s pre-2008. Crash, neo-Liberal economic strategy. It is based on a total acceptance of the existing corporate world order, its policing by NATO, the continuation of the rUK, the monarchy (and the long reach of the Crown Powers), the City of London’s (and its Edinburgh banks outlier’s) direction of the economy, the British High Command, and SNP MEPs being exemplary and uncritical supporters of the EU. Their longer-term aim for Scottish ‘Indy-Lite’ resembles post-1923 Ireland, with its pre-1937 dominion status, pre-1938 British naval bases, its pre-1978 punt as a currency aligned to the UK’s sterling. It also had an inherited administration, which despite having newly promoted, mon-unionist, senior Irish officials, hung onto many of the UK’s inherited conservative practices.
l) The composition of the SNP government’s post-Covid-19 Advisory Panel reveals its attempt to get the approach of the much-criticised pro-business SEGC approach back on board.[ii] This is being done to further reassure the Scottish establishment that their interests are still being prioritised. The new commission is headed by Benny Higgins, ex-banker and current chair of the much criticised Buccleugh Estates. Despite its cosmetically adjusted language, the Advisory Panel’s planned post-Covid-19 economic attacks represent a revamped version of the SEGC proposals.
m) Wilson, the key figure in the much criticised SEGC, and now a supposedly marginalised figure in the SNP, has a central role in this Advisory Panel. He seems to be the SNP leadership’s own ‘Svengali’ figure. He has claimed that Scotland will be the worst effected nation economically in the UK as a result of Covid-19. This uncharacteristic SNP ‘talking down’ of Scotland has a purpose. It is to demand now the sort of draconian attacks, that had been reserved for a post-‘Indy-Lite’ Scotland under his earlier SEGC proposals. Within days, Sturgeon very much speeded up her original planned slower Covid-19 lockdown relaxation measures. This time, it was done, not so much as the result of UK government pressure, but in response to Scottish businesses which call the tune for the SNP government.
n) Back in 2015, further education lecturers soon found out that the SNP government was quite happy to have this key SNP insider, Andrew Wilson of Charlotte Street Partners, assist highly paid FE college bosses undermine a national agreement, earlier agreed by the SNP government.[iii] In the same year, Tayside hospital porters who, in their majority, voted for Dundee’s ‘secession’ from the Union in 2014, also found out that the initial response of the SNP leadership to their modest demand for equal pay across the Tayside Health Board area, was to back the highly paid THB bosses.[iv] For the SNP leadership, when the issue is Union supporting bosses versus Scottish self-determination supporting workers, their first instinct is still to back the bosses. There is always in open door for Unionist bosses, whilst even SNP voting workers have to take industrial action to get their voices heard.
o) On May 20th, the SNP joined with the Tories to vote down a series of Scottish Green amendments to a Covid-19 emergency bill at Holyrood. These amendments would have provided more protection for tenants and given trade unions greater access to workplaces to ensure that mainly health and care workers obtained a living wage and safer conditions.[v]Therefore the SNP kowtowing before business interests and dismissal of workers’ concerns in 2015, was no aberration, but a reflection of the SNP leadership’s desire to build up a new Scottish ruling class, ready to take its place in the existing crisis-ridden global order.
p) The SNP leadership’s strategy for developing support for a new Scottish ruling class stretches beyond private business leaders to senior management levels of the ‘public’ sector. Their thinking is very similar to that of private sector bosses. Those public sector bosses, whether in education or health, remain committed to market inspired target setting, not to meet people’s needs, but as a form of labour discipline. They use secretive management methods, often in close liaison with corporate and other business interests. They work within the huge constraints imposed by the punitive PFI, PPP and Scottish Futures Trust financial liabilities. They have targeted Scottish Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, who came to the job with a radical record. Information is either been withheld or selectively leaked to build up an impression of Freeman’s incompetence, over the Sick Children’s Hospital in Edinburgh and her handling of Covic-19 (which has been a direct reflection of the SNP government’s Johnson-tailing strategy).
q) The key issue is that no matter how well-meaning any radical’s original intentions, their policies can no more be delivered through the corporate business dominated, public sector board system, than they can through a City of London dominated Crown-in-Westminster political system (as Corbyn would soon have found if elected in 2019). The SNP government is committed to working within both hostile environments.
2) The Alex Salmond case
As yet, neither Salmond’s promised book, nor the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish government’s role in the lead-up to the trial, are available. Therefore, the following section, with its analysis and possible political consequences, can only be tentative.
a) The verdicts given by the court seem clear enough. Alex Salmond was found not guilty of 12 sexual assault charges, with a ‘not proven’ verdict for the thirteenth charge. There is plenty of evidence that both the British and the subordinate Scottish legal systems are more than capable of denying justice, e.g. the current travesty of a trial for Julian Assange in England, and the conduct of the Scottish court in the trial of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi after the Lockerbie bombing. But this differed in being a jury trial and had a woman as judge and a majority of women jurors.
b) A judicial review found that the Scottish government had behaved illegally in its initial handling of the case against Salmond. This cost the public purse, £512,000. We won’t know more about the background to this until the Scottish parliamentary enquiry takes place. So, we have no idea whether the accusers were any way involved in this particular miscarriage of justice, or whether it was solely the Scottish government’s decision.
c) The role of a Unionist dominated media has also been questioned. This media often produced very one-sided coverage, salaciously concentrating on the most lurid accusations with minimal reporting of the defence evidence. Salmond’s supporters and those looking to fair reporting have grounds for concern. However, this trial was a win-win opportunity for the Unionist media. Whichever side won this could lead to a damaging split at the top of the SNP.
d) In the trial, the court’s defence of the accusers’ anonymity, the appointment of a female judge, a majority female jury, and the ruling that section of the defence’s evidence was inadmissible, all seem to point to a trial in which the accusers’ interests were carefully defended. However, whether or not women accusers receive justice, depends on wider factors than the conduct of the judge and the composition of the jury. Defence lawyers in attempted rape and actual rape cases appeal to popular prejudices, still held not only by many men, but by some women, when it comes to ‘consensual’ sexual behaviour. The use of this tactic by a lawyer to get the jury’s unanimous (including three women jurors) rejection the charges of rape against four rugby players in Belfast in 2018, highlights this continuing problem.[vi] Gordon Jackson QC, Salmond’s lawyer, appears to have attempted to use a version of tactic this when it came to the attempted rape charge[vii]. This still does not rule out the possibility that the jury was not so swayed (and this trial occurred in the aftermath of the court victory over the repugnant Harvey Weinstein in the USA).
e) However, Salmond’s defence made no attempt to deny that his behaviour had been sexist and inappropriate. By his own defence’s evidence, Salmond has been a ‘sex pest’. To date Scottish society hasn’t got very far in dealing with ‘sex pests’. Often, in the past, and in many workplaces today, any women raising such accusations, have often been faced with a response like, “Oh, you know what Jimmy’s like”. They have to fall back on other women at work for shared protection. This is obviously not always reliable. There have been some advances, particularly in public sector employment. In Salmond’s case, as the most senior public employee at the time, this could have led to a challenge to his conduct, disciplinary action, mandatory anti-sexist training, with either financial compensation for constructive dismissal or reinstatement for the victims, along with a public statement of support for the complainants, if so desired.
f) Therefore, Salmond’s acquittal hardly leaves him with an unsullied reputation. Any failure to place conditions on Salmond’s renewed party membership, such as a requirement to undergo anti-sexism counselling, would leave the SNP exposed to charges of a failure to address sexual harassment at the highest levels of the party.
g) Within the present legal system, and with wider prejudiced attitudes about ‘consensual’ sexual behaviour still prevalent, being a ‘sex pest’ is hardly likely to form grounds for a successful prosecution. However, a case which involves linking non-physical sexual harassment with attempted or actual physical rape opens up other problems. There is a spectrum of sexist behaviour, e.g. demeaning language, inappropriate physical contact and rape, analogous say to a spectrum of violent behaviour, e.g. physical threats, punching and knifing. Any merging of such distinctions to make a case with a better chance in court can cause other problems. If these distinctions are not made clear, this could lead to some juries dismissing charges, because they think any sentencing would be over-harsh. Add to this, a view, upheld by some radical feminists, that considers that not only should women’s accusations be treated seriously, but that such accusations should themselves be automatically believed, opens up a different door to injustice.
h) Alex Salmond had taken the SNP from its earlier National Populism and its ethnic nationalism, which had confined the party’s appeal to rural and small-town Scotland. He had successfully taken over the old social democratic mantle that Labour was shedding. This had a devasting effect, particularly in Labour’s Central Belt ‘Red Wall’ constituencies as shown in IndyRef1. There was a mass defection of Labour supporters to the cause of independence, in disgust at Labour’s alliance with the Tories in ‘Better Together’. Ironically though, Central Belt-born Salmond’s Westminster seat lay in rural and small-town Gordon. He held this seat from 2015-17, and Banff and Buchan from 1987-2010 (as well as the Holyrood seats of Banff and Buchan, Gordon and Aberdeenshire East from 1999-2016). It wasn’t until Nicola Sturgeon became party leader that the SNP was able to confirm its social democratic credentials directly in the Central Belt. She has represented Glasgow Southside (former Glasgow Govan) from 2007, when she also became depute party leader and Depute First Minister. In the 2016 Holyrood and 2017 Westminster general elections, the SNP lost a lot of its former rural and small-town electoral support, further confirming the shift in its centre of gravity to the Central Belt.
i) In 2014, despite Salmond’s success with the economic social democratisation of the SNP, Labour still held the moral high ground over social issues. The homophobic Section 28 was abolished when the Scottish Labour/Lib-Dem coalition still controlled Holyrood. Brian Souter, a major SNP funder, financed the ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign. When Sturgeon became SNP leader, she clearly wanted to make a break with SNP’s less than glorious past when it came to women’s and gay rights. She wanted to show that the SNP has changed. Women (and gays and transgendered) could now expect something from the party better than in the past. To do this meant taking a further step in the social democratisation of the SNP. The SNP had to take over Labour’s social agenda too. New Labour’s social democracy amounted to neo-liberalism with a human face.
j) This fits in well with the SNP leadership’s general strategy of trying to develop a new Scottish ruling class. Sturgeon wants to extend this new ruling class by inviting women (and others) to ‘break through the glass ceiling’.
k) The rise of the SNP, now in government for 13 years, has attracted a lot of careerists. The majority are men, but they also include women. Careerism is rife in the SNP and all other parties. Individual advancement takes priority over collective advancement. As well as all those pro-leadership MPs and party functionaries, careerism also motivates the critics of Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP government and the inner party machine. This includes high-flyer, Joanna Cherry QC. Stalled careerism also motivates Kenny MacAskill. Failed careerism and vengeance motivate the egotistical Jim Sillars. The same is probably true of Alex Salmond.
l) A related problem lies in the SNP’s long-term incumbency in government. This is also true for other political parties. Politicians become targets of business attention, inevitably leading some of them to dispense favours and into corrupt practices. The earlier dropping of the SNP policy to take bus transport back into public ownership, when Sir Brian Souter was influential, and the backing for Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf course, are examples of such behaviour.
m) Joanna Cherry repeatedly failed to pay up expenses on her Westminster credit card.[viii] Her rival, Ian Blackford, former investment banker and now the SNP’s Westminster leader, has received money from David Craigen, Tory backer and head of a London hedge fund company.[ix] Any further protracted political incumbency for the SNP government will almost certainly lead to more favours for certain businesses and to corruption. The long-term political incumbency of Catalan Convergence, the SNP’s sister party in Catalunya, led to spectacular corruption at leadership level,[x] which stalled Catalan attempts to organise an independence referendum.
n) As splits develop in the SNP, Socialists must avoid aligning themselves with either of the two emerging camps. Whatever differences there may be over IndyRef2 tactics and the issue of transgender rights within the SNP, both wings seek to build up a new Scottish ruling class and look to a revived neo-Liberal order. Before the outbreak of the 2008 Crisis, Alex Salmond promoted trickle-down social democratic reforms in a then triumphalist neo-Liberal world. In this he sought the cooperation of Sir George Mathewson, chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland boss. The crisis showed that that world has gone. Yet, Sturgeon and her backers in the SEGC, led by Andrew Wilson of Charlotte Street Partners, still want Scotland to take its place within a revived neo-Liberal world order, and make the working class pay the costs.
3) Covid-19 contributes to widening division in the SNP.
a) To win a wider base of support, competing careerists and egotists to align or ingratiate themselves to those who have real political concerns. In the SNP’s current infighting, this currently takes the form of who is the most pro-IndyRef2, who wants to hold the referendum most quickly, and who is offering a strategy best able to overcome Westminster intransigence.
b) Sturgeon and her backers say they don’t want to make any constitutional moves for IndyRef2 until the opinion polls show 60% support. However, even in the event of this target being reached, the current reactionary unionist UK government is not likely to concede a referendum. Furthermore, there is little chance of the British Unionist ‘opposition’- Labour or the Lib-Dems – questioning this.
c) Sir Keith Starmer has indicated his strategy is to win the Unionist vote from the Tories. In this, he is backed by his new ultra-Unionist, Shadow Scottish Secretary, Ian Murray, MP for ‘Red Morningside’, and by the equally ultra-Unionist Scottish depute leader and ardent Trident supporter, Jackie Baillie MSP for Dumbarton. ‘Left’ Labour, Richard Leonard, Scottish party leader, was always more trapped by the Right in Scotland than the Left in England has been by its Right. The politics of the Scottish Labour Party has usually been to the Right of that of the British Labour Party and the Left of the Scottish Labour Party has usually been to the Right of the Labour Left in England. This is a reflection of the special role both wings of the party have in Scotland in ensuring the integrity of the Union. And just as the Left in England has retreated at a rate of knots under Starmer, so the Labour Right’s stranglehold in Scotland has become even firmer.
d) The only specific policy recommendation in Labour’s nine-page, official Key Findings and Summary Recommendations of the Election Review, into its 2019 general election disaster, is opposition to holding any IndyRef2![xi] On June 6th the Scottish Labour Executive declared it would be standing in the 2021 Holyrood election on a policy opposing a second referendum.[xii] As with Labour’s disastrous decision not to push for a ‘Devo-Max’ independence option in IndyRef1, this places the party in the conservative unionist camp shared with the Tories (who also have the additional support of most reactionary unionists – Scottish Labour’s wooing of the Orange Order in the Central Belt notwithstanding). Thus, Scottish Labour Executive’s decision on June 6th, rules out any possible liberal unionist alliance with the SNP, involving an extra ‘Devo-Max’ option for a future IndyRef2.
e) The wider British Labour Party faced the same problem with Brexit. This was always a battle to reassert British nationalism (‘Britain First/Empire2’ in rhetoric, but ‘America First/Britain Second’ in reality). It is politically impossible to give progressive content, with any wider political purchase, to a campaign to defend and promote the UK state and Britishness. George Galloway, with his ‘Just Say Naw’ opposition to Scottish independence, and his joining Nigel Farage’s ‘Grassroots Out’ campaign over Brexit, is just a particularly blatant indication of where such thinking takes you. He was joined by Labour’ MP, Kate Hoey, who is also a supporter of the Countryside Alliance and the Ulster Unionists. None of the Left Brexiteer campaigns had any impact on the overwhelmingly Right trajectory of the conservative unionist led ‘No’ campaign in 2014, nor the Right Populist and reactionary unionist led Brexit campaign in 2016.
f) However, SNP’s leadership’s other hoped for port of call for political support – the EU – is not going to give the SNP any encouragement. The EU is a treaty organisation of existing states not of aspiring states. Although, unlike 2014, the UK is no longer in the EU, Spain is, and opposes the precedents such recognition would give. The EU’s standing back in the face of Spanish repression in Catalunya clearly shows the centrality of the existing state nature of the EU. The EU never raised any criticism when both the UK and Spanish states resorted to violent repression, including the use of death squads, in Northern Ireland and Euskadi. The EU’s failure to uphold its Charter of Human Rights in Hungary and Poland provides another example of not challenging the policies of member states.
g) A section of the SNP, including Joanna Cherry MP, has been using the SNP government’s delay in taking effective action over Covid-19, and its handling of the Salmond case, to criticise the SNP leadership. Salmond’s old pre-2008 Crash ‘Arc of Prosperity’ has now become an ‘arc of more effective Covid-19 action’ – Ireland, Iceland and Norway, to which New Zealand is sometimes now added. This growing opposition has also been using the SNP government’s mishandling of the Salmond trial to push a possible Plan B strategy to obtain IndyRef2.
h) The aim of this opposition is either to force a change of policy over IndyRef2 or, failing that, to make a leadership challenge (with some, e.g. the maverick populist, Jim Sillars, even flagging up the need for a new nationalist party).
i) The Plan B alternative to Sturgeon’s Plan A with its cautious IndyRef2 policy is based on testing out the possibilities of a legal challenge in the UK’s Supreme Court to Johnson’s denial of a Section 30 order. Cherry was a significant figure in getting the Supreme Court to rule Johnson’s proroguing of Westminster illegal in September 2019. But this is where Cherry’s strategy today comes up against the same roadblock as Sturgeon’s. Johnson did not resign over his illegal proroguing. His plans for Brexit just went ahead anyhow. He knew he had the support of the majority of the British ruling class. With this backing, Johnson will do whatever is necessary to prevent IndyRef2. And back in September Johnson also had his own effective Plan B – calling for a general election which paralysed the opposition. Cherry’s proposed Plan B would be no more effective than Sturgeon’s Plan A. The Crown Powers at Johnson’s disposal would soon see to that.
j) Following the Supreme Court ruling in September 2019, both Corbyn and Cherry found that the UK’s Crown Powers do not form any effective constitutional protection, even for the very limited parliamentary ‘sovereignty’ unique to the UK. This forms just one part of the UK’s unwritten constitution. The Crown Powers are designed to give the British ruling class whatever powers they need in a crisis situation. In other words, they can make it up as they go along. This gives the Hard Right Tories an advantage even compared to other Right Populists, who show their contempt for existing written constitutions, e.g. Donald Trump in the USA, Victor Orban in Hungary and Andrzej Duda in Poland. The liberal constitutional nationalism, which is common to both wings of the SNP, can only work with the cooperation of liberal unionists, who observe the niceties of the constitution. But the SNP is up against reactionary unionist, authoritarian populists, who feel no such constraints.
k) Whatever their longer-term problems, any new careerist challengers to the existing SNP leadership, still need to find support within the party in the here and now. This can take the form of questioning the lack of internal democracy in the party; a tentative questioning of the SEGC, and possibly the post-Covid-19 Advisory Panel recommendations. However, this new Populism also has its Right element, pandering to those influenced previously marginalised ethnic nationalists – Scottish Resistance and Soil nan Gaidheal (and the reactionary and more influential Wings Over Scotland). The fact that Johnson’s reactionary Britishness has a strong Greater English nationalist component, which the Tories are more than prepared to whip up, opens up the unwelcome prospect of a revival of Scottish ethnic nationalism.
l) The SNP’s civic national approach to IndyRef1 was its most progressive feature. This approach informed the overwhelming majority of the Scottish independence movement. It also formed the basis for the chosen IndyRef1 franchise which included EU residents and 16-18 year olds. This contrasted strongly with the British ethnic nationalism of ‘Better Together’ (with Gordon Brown and Michael Gove having long pushed for cultural criteria for state-recognised British subjecthood). This contributed to the restricted franchise used in the Brexit referendum.
m) Up until Covid-19, the Scottish government’s civic national momentum was maintained. The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act was passed on February 20th. This extended the vote in Holyrood and local elections to foreign nationals, refugees and short-term prisoners. Meanwhile, in the increasingly reactionary political climate found at the UK political level, EU citizens entitled to vote were administratively removed from the franchise for the 2019 EU and Westminster elections. The Tory government has plans for further restrictions on the electorate.
n) One particular arena in which Cherry has taken a lead is her support for the denial of gender self-determination. In this Cherry claims to be acting as a feminist.[xiii] But the feminism she now supports is that of its conservative and reactionary wing. Its views on the transgendered are based on the sort of prejudices and myths once dreamt up to oppose gay rights. Cherry shares this gender exclusivism with Johnson who has dropped trans self-identification under a planned Gender Recognition Act. The once notoriously socially reactionary Irish Republic recognises gender self-determination. The Irish Republic, with its earlier gay marriage recognition is now on a socially progressive trajectory (albeit with a lot catching up to do on abortion rights). Johnson, however, has flagged up the beginnings of a reactionary reversal on social rights in the UK. Scotland needs to follow the progressive social trajectory found in the Irish Republic (with the changes being pushed much more strongly from below than from above). However, the Scottish government’s use of the Covid-19 Lockdown to ‘delay’ gender self-recognition could be a worrying concession to social conservatism and reaction.
o) The SNP MSPs’ shameful Holyrood performance on May 20th, when they joined with the Tories to vote down the Scottish Greens’ proposed, STUC backed (and even Scottish Labour MSP and Lib-Dem MSP supported) Covid-19 bill amendments, was supported by all its MSPs. Whatever the progressive postures sometimes adopted by the SNP’s own Populist careerists to win over the Left, and to supplement its appeals to the Right on other issues, this unanimous SNP voting behaviour highlights a shared attitude by both wings of the SNP. When it comes to challenging vested interests such as housing and property, tenants and trade unionists and their advocates are to be scornfully trampled upon.
p) The purely constitutional road to Scottish independence has been blocked by the rise of the reactionary unionist, Right Populist Tories. The SNP IndyRef2 strategy has relied on an alliance of constitutional nationalists – the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein and the SDLP – and liberal unionists. unionists, who once dominated the Labour and Lib-Dem parties, and until 2012 had a presence amongst Welsh Conservatives. The liberal unionists panicked in 2014, and have mostly turned into conservative unionists, fearful of further constitutional change. Even if Labour had become the largest party at Westminster in December 2019, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters made it clear that they were only prepared to look into the possibility of allowing IndyRef2 for expedient reasons. This was in order to take office; not because they recognised the democratic right to Scottish self-determination. Labour’s new leader, the conservative unionist, Sir Keith Starmer, has never acknowledged the right to hold IndyRef2. This is specifically ruled out in Labour’s Election Review published in June. Liberal unionism is only likely to be revived as a diversion, if the UK faces the prospect of an immediate break-up – as it did in Ireland after the 1918 general election.
D. FROM COVID-19 TO BLACK LIVES MATTER
The politics of BLM and solidarity
e) Many liberals in the UK saw the killing of George Floyd as a particular American problem, with its history of slavery and segregation and, in contrast, like to point to the liberal British abolitionists, particularly William Wilberforce. However, BLMsupporters quickly pointed out the deep-seated racism in the UK, associated with its legacy of having been the world’s largest slave trading state, promoting imperial colonisation, genocide in Newfoundland and Tasmania and the ethnocide of many more peoples in the Empire. There has also been the more recent state handling of the Stephen Lawrence case, its current treatment of Windrush migrants and their families, and the arrest of two police officers who had taken Ku Klux Klan style photos of Nicola Smallman and Bibaa Henry murdered in a London park.[xiv]
f) Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP government were amongst the many who declared their initial support for BLM. The SNP leadership likes to claim that, following its welcome civic national approach to Scottish citizenship, Scotland, unlike the USA and England, does not suffer from state racism (just from individual racists – the usual liberal view). However, the BLM solidarity demonstrations in Scotland quickly made the link with Scottish ruling class participation in British slavery, highlighted by the Henry Dundas statue in Edinburgh’s St. Andrew’s Square. And much more recently this has been further highlighted by the Fife police and Scottish court’s involvement in the unresolved death of Sheku Bayoh in Kirkcaldy in 2015. g) Therefore, it was not surprising that the SNP government, using Covid-19 as an excuse, told people not to attend the BLM solidarity demonstrations on June 7th. Worldwide, millions, particularly of young people, have understood the controlling intent of those governments invoking Covid-19 restrictions over BLM protests. In defiance, they have joined large public protests. These have been very different from the Far Right’s earlier ‘prepared to die for Trump and corporate profits’ breaches of Covid-19 rules. In contrast, the BLM protesters have tried to impose their own socially responsible Covid-19 social distancing and face masking.
h) In Glasgow, after a series of Far Right, National Defence League provocations in George Square, a peaceful demonstration in support of asylum seekers was organised on June 21stIt had very thorough, socially responsible, social distancing. But the Scottish police pretence, to be upholding the Covid-19 lockdown, was exposed when they kettled these peaceful protesters in total disregard for social distancing.[xv] This followed a statement, earlier in the week, by Scottish Police Federation (SF) chairman, David Hamilton, who equated the actions of Far Right, neo-Fascist and Loyalist thugs, who regularly resort to physical threats and violence, with the actions of peaceful protestors, and those taking direct action only against property.[xvi] Sturgeon criticised the racist thugs but predictably had nothing to say about the SPF statement. It took five years, until this May, and a lot pressure, to get the SNP government to open a public enquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh.
[xi] https://electionreview.labourtogether.uk/foreword/key-findings-and-summary-recommendations – Chapter 8
SNP at the Crossroads – George Kerevan
Allan Armstrong at:-
- THE CONTINUING SHIFT TO THE RIGHT IN THE TRANSITION FROM NEO-LIBERALISM TO RIGHT POPULISM
2. THE END OF SHORT-LIVED MAYBYNISM AND THE VICTORY OF FULL-BLOWN RIGHT POPULISM?
The December 12th general election will decide
3. INDEPENDENT SOCIALISTS AFTER THE DECEMBER 12TH GENERAL ELECTION
From Illusions in a Lexit Brexit to a Disillusioned Lexit from Brexit Politics