Below are the Contents and Introduction to Allan Armstrong’s article, From Grey Granite to Red Granite – Viewing the Left, the Scottish Question and the Nature of the UK state through the Lens of Neil Davidson’s Writings and Political Work.
The full article can be read at:- From Grey To Red Granite
2. Neil Davidson and Allan Armstrong – overlapping political lives starting in Aberdeen.
3. A shared interest in the Scottish Question – my encounter with three versions of Left British unionism in the International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party.
4. Becoming an SWP dissident and adopting a new version of Left British unionism – federal republicanism.
5. A break with Left British unionism and the adoption of a Republican Socialist, ’internationalism from below’ ‘break- up of the UK state and British empire road to communism’.
6. The British Left, the UK state and the issue of national democratic self-determination in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Socialists in Ireland remain detached from national democratic challenges to the unionist state set-up in Scotland and Wales.
7. The initial success of the SSP unites most of the Left in Scotland and provides inspiration for Socialist alliances in England, Wales, Ireland and for Socialists in Europe. A marked shift in the SSP towards support for a social republican approach, highlighted by the Declaration of Calton Hill on October 9th, 2004.
8. The SWP attempts to break out of political isolation and joins the SSP. Neil Davidson takes the political lead for the SWP in addressing the Scottish Question and makes a wider political impact.
9. Neil’s Discovering the Scottish Revolution 1692-1746, The SSP organises a debate and Emancipation Liberation becomes a focus for the developing historical discussion.
10. Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity and George Galloway’s Respect prove to be a political dead-ends for Socialist politics. The RCN finds a new arena for communist politics and wins support in the SSP for a republican socialist, ‘internationalism from below’. Neil becomes a SWP dissident.
11. The SWP adopts Scottish independence, but through a series of I internal crises, finds itself marginalised during IndyRef1 and in the Radical Independence Campaign.
12. The politics of ‘Movementism’ and ‘Think Tankism’ contribute to the decline of RIC as a national organisation after 2015. What is a socialist/communist political party and how can it be created?
13. The SWP and its breakaways go down the Lexit Brexit rabbit hole.
14. The contradiction between Neil still hanging on to the SWP’s ‘British road’ over Brexit, and his internationalist Left academic and activist work on racism and the trajectory of global capitalism, still needs to be resolved.
Neil Davidson died tragically early on May 3rd this year. Neil bridged the gap between Left academia and political activism. His reputation in Left academia was highlighted by the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize he won in 2003 for The Discovery of the Scottish Revolution, 1692-1740.[i] Unlike many such books (including some which are also well worth reading), Neil’s book made an immediate impact on the Left and beyond, and not only in Scotland. This is because the National Question in Scotland had become very politicised and the Left was long in the process of trying to address this issue. It still is.
In 2012 Neil wrote How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions,[ii] which further contributed to his global reputation in Left circles. Neil’s last public commitment was the organisation of a conference in September 2019, under the auspices of the University of Glasgow’s Socialist Theory and Movements Research Network. The theme of the conference was Combined and Uneven Development. Characteristically, Neil organised this for both Left academia and for political activists from around the world and locally. Socialists who engaged with Neil’s works, associated conferences and book launches always learned a lot.
Whilst Neil’s writings are likely to continue to make a major contribution to Socialist theory globally, they should also be seen as contributing to the still very relevant Scottish Question in 2020 and beyond. I would argue that Neil’s later writings continued themes he took up inThe Discovery of the Scottish Revolution, but there would also be some modifications today. One significant difference was already apparent by 2012. Neil had shifted from being opposed to the immediate exercise of Scottish self-determination in 2003 to supporting this in 2010 – much to the consternation of some Left British unionists who had taken some succour from Neil’s earlier work. The tension that existed between an earlier Left British unionism and an emergent Scottish internationalism reappeared more recently in the tensions between his support for a Lexit Brexit (Left British unionism in a new guise) and his internationalist and anti-racist research and political activities.
I became politically active in 1968, when I was a student at Aberdeen University. This was a decade before Neil joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). ‘Grey Granite’ Aberdeen had a considerable impact on both our personal and political lives. Our growing attention to the Scottish Question represented a shared interest throughout our political lives. However, our politics were refracted both through shared political organisations – the SWP (1978-82 – although we did not meet up then), the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) (2000-06) and the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) (2012 onwards) and the Scottish Left Project/Respect, Independence, Socialism, Environmentalism – Scotland’s Left Alliance (RISE) (2015-16); and through different political organisations – for Neil the SWP (1982-2014), Solidarity (2006 -?), rs21/International Socialism Scotland (2014 onwards) and Conter (2017 onwards); and for myself, the International Socialists/SWP (1972-82), the Revolutionary Democratic Group (1982-89 ), the Republican Workers Tendency (1989-99), the Scottish Socialist Alliance then SSP (from 1996 and continuing after the split from 2006–2016) and the Republican Communist Network (1999 onwards).
Unlike Neil, I have never been part of Left academia, but like Neil I have been a political activist. Neil treated people and their ideas seriously, whichever of these two backgrounds they came from. He would probably have agreed with me, that Edinburgh’s James Connolly, a member of the most downtrodden section of the manual working class, and an all-round political activist, wrote work of considerably greater political importance than anyone in academia, whilst also respecting the better work that such people could produce. Indeed, I believe that James Connolly was of greater political significance than the college-educated teacher, John Maclean, another great Socialist produced in Scotland.
I first became actively engaged in debating with Neil in the SSP. The SSP organised the well-attended meeting on the October 18th, 2003 in Glasgow’s Caledonian University. This was entitled Revolution in the 17th century. On November 24th, 2012, Neil and I also debated at the Radical Independence conference (which led to the formation of RIC) organised in Glasgow’s Radisson Blu in a session entitled, The Scottish Republic – What is Real Democracy? On Feb 20th, 2016, I debated again with Neil at the fourth RIC Conference in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms on Feb 20th, 2016, over EU – In or Out?
In all of these debates, Neil and I were on opposing sides. But it was always a pleasure debating with Neil. First his approach was genuinely non-sectarian, wanting to advance political ideas not score political points. And some of the best discussions continued in the pub afterwards.
I have tried to limit my main narrative in this article to public events that those on the Scottish Left interested in the topic can recognise, even if they are not directly familiar with them. And hopefully that will include young people for whom 1968 is in the even more distant past, than the 1916-21/3 International Revolutionary Wave was for me in my youth. However, I have also provided extensive footnotes, both as an account of my own and others’ experiences and to address related and not so directly related issues and events. Some of these could act as a contribution to a history of the Scottish Left. This has not really been attempted since Neil Williamson wrote Ten Years After – the Revolutionary Left in Scotland in 1979.[iii]
My article is very much a personal one. There are many others who looking at the same events, or participating in the same organisations as me, who could add a lot more. They might also differ quite fundamentally with my analysis. I hope this article provides a prompt to them, so that a more rounded account of the period covered can be made. However, it’s not just for the historical record that I have written this. It is a contribution on the Left to encourage a Scottish internationalist, republican socialist, ‘break-up of the UK and British Empire road to communism’ – or emancipation, liberation and self-determination (in its widest sense).
In other words, it seeks to move from the locally rooted but still outward looking ‘Grey Granite’ of Neil’s and my (for a 5 year period) Aberdeen, to a ‘Red Granite’ in Scotland today, hard enough to withstand all challenges and provide a bedrock to enable it to make its own contribution to a new global commune – ‘Freedom Come all Ye!’[iv]
11th October 2012
[ii] Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions, Haymarket Books, 201
[iii] Neil Williamson, a member of the International Marxist Group, wrote this for the Scottish Government Yearbook in 1979. This was a reflection of the confidence of the post-1968 generation (which I also very much felt part of) and that fact that official circles continued to feel the need to be informed about our activities! Tragically Neil died later that year.
[iv] Hamish Henderson’s great Scottish internationalist anthem, up there with the Eugene Pottier’sInternationale, Carlo Tuzzi’s Bandiera Rossa and John Lennon’s Imagine.
The full article can be read at:Full Article
A. Debates with Neil
2. On Republicanism
Unfortunately. Neil hasn’t left a text version of his talk.
Go to https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/contributor/allan-armstrong/ – Page 2
3. On the EU referendum and Lexit/Brexit
B. Other articles related to Neil’s work
Review of The Origins of Scottish Nationhood, in Scottish Socialist Voice (17.11.02).
2. Review Article
D. Article commissioned by Neil for No Racism Here
This article is based on Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ in final section of:- THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS
E. Works in parallel
2. The May 2015 Holyrood elections
3. The political impact of the 2016 ‘Leave’ vote
4. The run-up to the December 12th Westminster general election