Mar 02 2004

Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 7, Spring 2004

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:55 pm

Issue 19 of Emancipation & Liberation is out now.

Issue 07 Cover

Issue 07 Cover

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Comments are open, so until articles are online, feel free to discuss the articles below. When they are online you can discuss the article in it’s comment section.


Mar 02 2004

A good, if one-sided, account

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:51 pm

Donald Anderson (SRSM platform in the SSP) responds to Allan Armstrong’s article Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets (Emancipation & Liberation Issue 5/6)

The 35 pages of an A4, 3 columned article by Allan Armstrong on the Covenanters are well worth reading. Allan has become quite an authority on the Covenanters and Republican United Scotsmen. For some reason he seems to think the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement supports a Jacobite Monarchy, despite many letters, discussions and publications to the contrary. He gives a good, if one sided, account of the Cameronians. He tells of how they defeated the Jacobite clansmen’s invincible charge at Dunkeld, when in fact the Highlanders did not think it worth besieging a bunch of religious Phanaticks, whilst they melted the very lead aff the burning roofs overhead to make musket balls, singing Protestant hymns (Follow. Follow. We will follow Jesus?).

It would have been worth mentioning how they could have defeated Cromwell if they had listened to their European renowned General Leslie and not the fanatical religious Commissar meenisters who made them obligingly give up the high ground and kneel in front of Cromwell’s cannons. He does mention the Covenanter defeat at Kilsyth in passing, but does not mention the scale, which was larger than Bannockburn. Whit a guid day oot that wis. He omits to mention the racial hatred towards the Gael and how they not only murdered women and children, but also systematically destroyed clan seats holding Gaelic historical and cultural records. He makes a lot of the Lowland Covenanters, but omits to mention much on the Highland Covenanting Clans such as Ross, Munro, Campbell, MacKay, MacKenzie, etc. Although he does concede that many of these Clans fought on both sides, either by defying their chiefs, or by judicious manoeuvring to have sons on both sides and even a “neutral” to cover any event in change of Government outside the Gaeltacht.

R L Stevenson does this magnificently in his Master of Ballantrae, with one dour son staying to behind to manage Durisdeer Estates and the other gay (in the epistemological sense) Jacobite to fight the redcoats. Academics like to refer to this as the Scottish Duality, where the cold winds of Lake Geneva managed to douse a few fiery Scottish hearts. RLS covers this very well in his Jeckyl and Hyde portrayal of the Scots character based allegedly on his stiff religious upbringing in Edinburgh. Interestingly enough, Allan shows his ain lang faced whiggery by referring tae ma guid sel’ as choking on my Glenmorangie at some obscure point. I will refrain from mentioning soor milk cert chantie faced descendants of today’s whiggery.

Academic somersaults

Allan’s narration of his beloved Cameronians is spoiled by his eulogy to British Nationalist and Unionist left historian, Neil Davidson: odd for a Scottish Republican Socialist. I can only comment from my own experience of being the worst Cameronian in history. As one who served in the Cameronian regiment and the Middle East and TA I did not carry a bible in my pack. Though I did think it a good idea to carry a rifle in church. The Cameronians were the only regiment granted this privilege dating back to being massacred in their conventicles in the hills and moors by the redcoated dragoons, intent in breaking up their more democratic structures and imposing Bishops and even ministers on them from above. Allan makes such a repetitive stushie about their revolution from below and not above as in the Unionist and anti Gaelic Scottish Enlightenment of Davidson’s book. One wonders why he and Neil are orchestrating academic somersaults.

Allan does acknowledge that the Cameronians did ally with Jacobite forces against the Union, without mentioning that the Galloway and South West Cameronians would still have been Gaelic speakers, or that their glorious leader the Duke of Hamilton failed to turn up for the 1708 Anti Union Rebellion on the grounds of suffering from toothache. Whaur’s his Presbyterian stoicism noo? Allan does much better in his excellent publication Jacobites or Covenanters: Which Tradition a Scottish Republican debate. Pity he now chooses to ignore that publication’s contribution by Gerry Cairns and myself where we chose neither, but drew on the best of both traditions on our neglected and stolen history. Allan may boak at Jacobite songs, but the underlying trend, like the religious Cameronian sermons, often reflected deeper social, political and cultural values.

Allan concludes with … The SSP is in a unique position to show the way forward in England because of our much greater political and cultural impact in Scotland. English socialists want to listen to us Donald – so dinnae be feart! Aye Allan. They sure as hell had me fooled.

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Mar 02 2004

The debate continues: The Jacobites strike back

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:44 pm

Below we publish a contributions to the debate on the Scottish revolution from Dave Douglass (NUM, South Yorks.) This will be followed by another from and Donald Anderson (SRSM platform in the SSP) defend Jacobitism. In our next issue Neil Davidson (Socialist Worker Platform) will be making a further contribution to the debate.

Provocative and insulting

In this response to Neil Davidson, Dave Douglass argues there was nothing remotely progressive in the defeat of Jacobitism.

I hope you will allow me a belated response to Neil Davidson’s ‘taking apart’ of what commonly passes for Scottish history (Weekly Worker, October 16). I hear what you say: that we are being addressed by a Marxist expert on Scottish (so-called, I presume) history. Why does this make me feel no easier about ‘inevitable’ genocide and the most brutal anti-human activity being passed off as “progressive”? Perhaps this extreme historic determinism is what passes for a communist vision of the past and what it all means?

Davidson’s, to my mind, absurd designation of King George Hanover as progressive, while Charles Edward Stuart (would-be king) and his Jacobites represented the reactionaries – indeed counter-revolutionaries” – takes some understanding. George, it seems, represented the progress of capitalism, while the bonny lad represented feudalism and even aspects of tribalism. This is the logic that tells us the massacre of the North American ‘Indians’ was inevitable, even progressive. By the same terms Custer would be the bold progressive, dying in the cause of mankind’s progress (in an attempted massacre of a whole Indian village), while Sitting Bull was fighting for a social system even more reactionary than the Highlanders.

The future is on our own hands

Following this hoary road would lead us to defend the massacre and social rape of native peoples across the world in the inevitable cause of ‘progress’ and sadly the iron school of Stalin determinism has led some to do so, justifying en route the most atrocious periods of human history. That this comes from a member of the Socialist Workers Party just shows how deep that mental deformation runs in the Marxist-Leninist breed. Allow me to object. Uneven and combined development seems to have escaped our expert. Sitting Bull’s fighters were using the most modern repeating rifles, without having to have forged an industrial revolution from their tepees. History should teach us, communists in particular, that the future is in our own hands. Certainly the mode of production will limit initially how far social aspirations can evolve, but not the basic mode of social relations and humanity. Are we seriously being told that, had Charlie handled things differently and actually succeeded in toppling George from the throne, that capitalism in Britain would have been uninvented? That the extensive mining, engineering, shipping, manufacturing revolution already well in spin would have halted and reversed?

Sorry, mate – expert or no, that is nonsense. The tapestry of capitalism evolving in Britain would have continued to have been woven, simply with a few more Celtic and ‘northernocentric’ hues perhaps, but the frame and weave would have been much the same. Social history and social relations are at base not so much about iron laws, but human aspiration. Davidson’s analysis of what the Jacobites were (in his modern Marxist – I dare bet ‘southernocentric’ – middle class view) misses the very real point of how they were perceived at the time. What did folk think they were fighting for? I can’t see anywhere in Neil’s text where he addresses the question of what the people, the masses, the folk, thought about it all. Isn’t that odd for a socialist? Certainly he cannot take the size of the force actually mustered south of the border, guns in hands, as being an indication of the widespread support they enjoyed, in the north especially. The Manchester Regiment were the only ones raised, but there is strong evidence that at least an equally strong force could have been raised from the pitmen and keelmen and sailors of Tyneside and Northumbria in general (you well know the fate of the Northumbrian Earls of Derwentwater in both major rebellions). I have strong suspicions that Liverpool too, if given half a chance, would have marched to the pipes. The truth is, nobody bothered to sign them on.

So why did people join this rebellion and what did they think this Jacobite cause was about? Like the Irish rebellion of 1916 and its subsequent wilful repression, the defeat of ’74 and the genocide which followed coloured the sympathies of Scots and northern England folk afterwards, to the point where the Jacobites might have become a popular cause a little later, even if few would put their money where their mouths were at the time in either rebellion.Robert Burns, a man many have described as a communist of sorts, a popular poet of the people and no lover of folk in crowns, left few in doubt as to his sympathy for the Jacobite cause. For some it was about securing a more sympathetic acceptance of catholicism, for non-catholic tolerant protestant Jacobites a more sympathetic non-proscription on how they worshipped. For others it was about nationality: Charles, for all his French-Italian manners, was seen as a Scottish king, not a German, and this made more sense to the highlanders. Certainly some saw this as a battle against the Act of Union, a deal which deeply rankled many of the clan chiefs and had been seen as an utterly humiliating betrayal joining England and Scotland under one parliament.

Relief from poverty

While John Prebble says of the clansmen:

They came out through no particular attachment to the Stuart cause, and their approval for the prince, when he put himself ahead of them in trews and plaid, was personal rather than political (Culloden),

Davidson himself quotes from a captured clansman in his prison cell prior to being beheaded:

My lord, for the two kings [that is, James and George] and their right, I care not a farthing. But I was starving. And, by god, if Mohammed had set up a standard in the highlands I would have been a good muslim for bread and stuck close to the Jacobite party, for I must eat.

The condemned highlander is surely not saying here that he joined the Jacobite army because they were offering some lavish fare en route to the battle, because we know the poor sods didn’t get fed at all, but rather that they were seen to promise a better state of affairs and relief from poverty should they succeed, and that seems to have been a common belief. The indentured servants and convicted criminals destined for the plantations who rose to seize the ship, Gordon, in an effort to join the rebellion (too late as it turned out) were Scots and Irish who clearly saw the promise of a better life, perhaps even a better system. What of the troops of the British army who deserted to join the rebellion? Some were Scottish and clearly felt this was a Scottish rebellion, in which they should take a stand. Some were Irish and felt the cause of Ireland and the cause of Scotland conjoined, but what of the English mutineers from the British army? What did they think they were joining? They could have just run away, absconded, melted into the mass of the great unwashed. Instead they joined a side which they deemed was worth fighting for, to the point of knowing their gruesome fate should they lose. They did not don kilt or trews, but fought on incongruously in their red coats and white gaiters. Did they simply hate everything the British army stood for and see in this as good a chance for pay-back time as any? Or did they see in the Jacobite forces, if not its leaders, a chance to have a go, to change something, to challenge something?

I think understanding the nature of the Jacobites requires the kind of empathy only working class fighters can fathom and, pardon me, but Neil Davidson whom I have never met, strikes me, in this article anyway, as a cynical, middle class academic, with the kind of allegiance to ‘Britishness’ and all that I have always found to be a red rag to a bull.

A Scottish king in battle with a German, London-based king also struck a chord with folk in northern England and, together with the Celtic and catholic connection, probably explains the presence of the Manchester men. There was perceived to be a north v south battle here, a continuation perhaps of numerous earlier battles going back before the Norman invasion, when Scotland and Northumbria challenged the south for control and sovereignty. Later, when well armed colliers and sailors marched around Newcastle with small pipes blaring, declaring Newcastle and Northumberland for Charles and Scotland in 1748, it might have been in disgust and outrage at the stories filtering down from the glens of unspeakable outrage and murder. But why should such men join this cause? These are the same men described by the home office at the time as the forces of atheism and anarchism – they were to be the backbone of the physical-force wing of the Chartists a few years later. We would not expect that they would be easily won to the side of the lisping, foreign accented, posh kid in a lang wig, so they obviously perceived something more.

Of those won to the Jacobites of course we must add those who simply believed Charles was morally and legally right, while George, they concluded, was a fake and in the wrong. They came to this conclusion without any vested interest on taking that side, perhaps even in spite of the odds stacked against them. Neil has that horrible News of the World tendency to see everything in terms of social interest, and of basically scratching the best back to scratch yours. People, even rich bastards, don’t always think like that: sometimes people will fight a corner despite their best financial interests.

Neil has chosen to describe the rebellion as a civil war, suggesting that Scotland was split, that it wasn’t a Scotland v England (or vaguely ‘the sooth’). I cannot agree: a few scab loyalist forces, ferocious though they were, did not characterise Scotland and especially not the highlands. (Neil says that the rebellion wasn’t a highland affair anyway. My point is there was more to it than that, but let’s not understate the highland connection. Reading the list of the men who stood at Culloden couldn’t leave you in much doubt as to who represented the bulk of the highlands in that field, and where the biggest force came from).


The native American tribes who joined with the United States in their Indian wars to kill their fellow ‘Indians’ and the cause they aspired to, the values they tried to defend, does not stop that being an anti-‘Indian’ war of conquest, plunder and genocide. The collaboration of the majority of Nottingham miners with the state during the miners’ strike of 1984- 85 doesn’t mean that the state wasn’t intending to wage war on the miners per se and wipe them out socially and economically. A small percentage of scabs was never a ‘split’. The collaboration of those loyalist Indians, Scots and miners didn’t prevent the cultures of those peoples being virtually wiped out, including the ‘scab’ forces themselves.

How did the other side view the conflict? Did they see the Scottish collaborators as demonstrating this was not a war against Scotland and Scottish interests? The victory of George was hailed by the protestant English churches, ‘peaceful’ Quakers too:

As none of all thy protestant subjects exceed us, in aversion to the tyranny, idolatry and superstition of the church of Rome, so none is under more just apprehension of immediate danger from their destructive consequences, or have greater cause to be thankful to the almighty for the interposition of his providence and our preservation” (quoted in Prebble).

To the forces of George – raping, looting, burning and killing every man, women, child and animal they encountered – was there some moderation shown to the non-combatants? To the non-Jacobites? To the anti-Jacobites? There was none. If it was Scottish, it was slaughtered and often cruelly tortured beforehand. The occupying forces were openly aiming at the extermination of the clans, and the genocide of all the highlands peoples. Systematic rounding up of all livestock, destruction of all shelter, confiscation of all food stores, deportations, etc. Rebellion was to be rooted out of the land of Scotland.

Davidson comments of the ongoing genocide: I think the clearances are a red herring because they took place much later. John Prebble sees it this way:

The clearances, the removal of man in favour of sheep, were the most tragic consequence of the changes begun at Culloden. The battle had demonstrated that a people held in contempt may be treated contemptibly. Even the landowners who still clung to the mystic nature of their role as ceann-cinnidh eventually accepted the arguable truth that their land and their way of life could be maintained only by rent from Northumbrian graziers, after the eviction and scattering of their one-time warrior rent roll.

Surely it is obvious that the clearances could not have happened without Culloden and the removal of the means of life which preceded them. This was the selfsame plan of the United States in driving the Indians from the plains, the wiping out of the buffalo, the infection of a defenceless people with disease from which they had no immunity – the first biological warfare actually. The actions in Scotland prior to the clearance were a necessary physical precursor to them. You can’t sensibly separate them.

This is not to say protestant loyalist mobs in Edinburgh didn’t do the same as their counterparts in London – rounding up catholics, Jacobites, non-jurant protestants for the gallows or a good public burning in the aftermath of the defeat. They did. In London, however, they rounded up anyone who was Scottish – Scottish meant Jacobite – and then non-Scottish catholics for a lynching and burning of houses. Loyalist clans went on the rampage in the heartlands of the Jacobites, although perhaps less bloodcurdlingly than the English troops.

The difference being in a few years those clans too would be swept aside by the aftermath of the defeat of the rebellion: they had simply been too short-sighted to see it. So, to conclude, the Jacobites were seen as progressive. To call them a counter-revolutionary movement is shameful. They attracted forces from many dissident quarters, who, if they weren’t sure what they were fighting for, sure as hell knew what they were fighting against. That this struggle strongly took on the character of a Scottish – and maybe to a smaller extent northern rebellion is clear, to me anyway.

Insulting & ill-observed

Support for the rebellion – odd though it might seem, standing where we are now – didn’t necessarily mean you were a royalist as such and to some extent Charles was as good a reason for a row as any. There were features in this struggle which go back to much earlier fights – about nationality, ethnicity, religion and culture, and who as well as whereabouts will the people be ruled by and from. Those questions, believe it or not, are still being asked – and largely in the same places of the same people. I do not think in any way this was a struggle characterising reactionary, feudalistic tribalism against progressive, thrusting capitalism and a new age. I certainly do not think any of this demonstrates that there is no Scotland, that there is no Scottish identity and that a different Scottish revolutionary road might not emerge. I can, however, see how this article is highly provocative – and not in a constructive sense. It is insulting and ill-observed, to say the least. The Jacobite rebellion, and Scottish history, deserve a deeper understanding and analysis than the one given by Neil Davidson – expert or no. A cynic, as Wilde said, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Dave Douglass

(This article was first printed in the Weekly Worker No. 507.)

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Mar 02 2004

The Scottish Independence Convention

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:22 pm

Independence under the Crown or a Scottish Republic?

Allan Armstrong examines the case put by the proponents and opponents of the Scottish Independence Convention in the SSP and develops the RCN’s distinct republican approach.

The political nature of and the ambiguities in the Pro-Convention camp

After last May’s election to the Scottish Parliament, Alan McCombes, on behalf of the SSP leadership, put forward a proposal that our party should give its backing to a Scottish Independence Convention. The principle was agreed at last August’s National Council meeting. This proposal has probably produced more internal debate than any other issue since the party’s foundation. This has also spilled over into a historical debate conducted in books, pamphlets, magazine articles, letters to Scottish Socialist Voice and at Socialism 2003.

There have been two responses – Pro and Anti. To date we have seen the following major contributions from the Pro-Convention camp:-

  • 1. After May 1st: Which way forward towards independence and socialism? by Alan McCombes and the SSP Executive Committee.
  • 2. Socialism, the national question and the Independence Convention in Scotland by Gregor Gall (formerly of the SW Platform, but now supporting the leadership on this issue).
  • 3. The Independence Convention and socialist strategy by Duncan Rowan of the ISM Platform (1).

So far, the contributions from the Pro camp have come from two political perspectives – Left social democratic and Left nationalist. Gregor’s contribution calls for a transitional approach to socialism. He argues that a movement for a Scottish Independence Convention offers the prospect of creating at least a more favourable, i.e. Social democratic, political settlement in Scotland (2). Gregor provides survey evidence to show that the forces favouring independence come mainly from the supporters of progressive reform in Scotland. Therefore, in the present political situation, independence would strengthen these forces and provide a better terrain upon which to advance towards socialism.

In Alan’s own contribution the two political perspectives are somewhat uneasily combined. One ambiguous statement has been interpreted by the SSP’s Left nationalists (the SRSM – and influential office bearers like Kevin Williamson) as giving unqualified support for Scottish independence. Alan states that, Even on a non-socialist basis, we should support independence as a progressive democratic advance…(3) This, of course begs the question – What sort of non-socialist independence? Could we be party to the creation of a Scottish Free State which retained most of the key features of the British state, but gave them a good lick of tartan paint?

Although the SSP supports ‘an independent socialist Scotland’, Alan, and most others, would agree that this is not how the issue of Scottish independence is likely to be presented at first. The option of an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ is not going to be found on any Independence referendum ballot paper, even if the SSP wins the political leadership of the Scottish Independence Convention. The numbers of SNP local council and Scottish, Westminster and European parliamentary representatives (fluctuating levels of support notwithstanding) show that the idea of a capitalist ‘independent’ Scotland currently has more political purchase than any support for socialism, with or without a Scottish prefix.

The need for a democratic republican approach

The RCN takes a distinctive approach to the issue of the Scottish Independence Convention. The very political ambiguity, which has been a continuing feature of the SSA and now the SSP, is also present in the idea of the Scottish Independence Convention. Any campaign, which the SSP mounts for such a Convention, can only help us advance the cause of socialism if it offers substantial democratic change. This article will make the case for building the Scottish Independence Convention on democratic republican principles. The RCN has always placed a high priority on contesting the UK state’s Crown Powers. Anti-monarchism is not the same thing as consistent democratic republicanism. The former only opposes the UK’s hereditary office-bearers. The latter challenges all the state’s anti-democratic powers. This is why at SSA/SSP Conferences we have proposed that any elected MSP’s should refuse the oath of allegiance which gives sanction to these powers. Whilst we are a minority Platform, this demand has always been well supported at Conference, with a third of delegates voting in favour in 2002, i.e. a majority of non-Platform delegates.

The RCN believes a widespread republican sentiment already exists in Scotland. If we build on firm democratic republican principles, this sentiment can be organised as a political force demanding a Scottish republic. This would end any prospect of anti-democratic powers being transferred to the new representatives of a Scottish ruling class in a ‘Scottish Free State’. A Scottish republic isn’t yet socialism, but it represents much firmer ground on which to advance than devolution, federalism under the Crown or ‘independence’ under the Windsors.

Since it is popular democratic advance we seek, our strategy should incorporate this principle by seeking the widest participation from the beginning. This means rejecting a narrow cross-Party pressure group approach, with its emphasis on party political representatives supplemented by the ‘great and good’ (or the ‘unco guid’!) Our aim should be for a Constituent Assembly with wide-ranging popular representatives. Many of these would be drawn from the network of trade union, community and cultural campaigns, which the SSP should encourage from the outset. Gregor’s contribution also recognises this need.

Furthermore, we should realise that the British ruling class strategy to maintain its control covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just Scotland. Jack McConnell can call for support from Labour and other unionists throughout Britain when necessary to prop up his administration in Scotland. SSP proposals will meet with nothing but hostility from the rulers of the UK and their state. We have to draw upon socialist and democratic allies throughout these islands to further our strategy. This means we need to adopt an ‘internationalism from below’ perspective.

Economic or political independence?

First, we have to consider exactly what we mean by ‘Scottish independence’. We need to draw a distinction between economic and political independence. Economically, Scotland is fully part of the global capitalist system. Scotland would remain so even if it had a politically independent state such as Norway’s. Commentators have long bemoaned the branch plant nature of Scotland’s economy. However, this type of situation is now a global phenomenon. The transnational companies broke up much single plant, integrated production in response to the major international working class offensive which took place from 1968 to 1975. They have dispersed the manufacture of component parts to many plants in different countries. The assembly plants along the production chain now usually rely on multi-sourcing for their components.

In the 1970s it might have been possible for a government to nationalise a particular industry – say Chrysler’s Linwood car plant. Now there are few important integrated industries left in Scotland. If a particular industry was to be nationalised, its factories would not link together the whole of the production chain through to the finished products. Any incoming reforming government would find that all they had taken over through nationalising say, the ‘car industry’, was carburettor and windscreen wiper production. Such a state-owned industry would get short shrift from the global corporations. Chrysler, for example, could easily turn to alternative sources for components.

Scotland is the location of one significant player in present-day global capitalism. Many financial institutions have offices in Edinburgh. Tommy Sheridan has pointed out that the Royal Bank and Bank of Scotland alone make £2 billion profit annually (4). Untold millions pass daily along the electronic circuits monitored by Edinburgh’s banks and finance offices. Yet this ‘money’ would not be available to any socialist or radical reforming government. Finance is the most liquid of all forms of capital. It only passes through particular nodes in the international electronic network when these are subjected to minimum or to no taxation. Trying to collect a tax from such networks would be harder than trying to recover sunken treasure at the bottom of the ocean with a magnet tied to a fishing line!

Quite clearly, the economic constraints imposed by global capitalism mean that any longer term socialist strategy must be international from the start. However, we don’t have to join the Jeremiahs on the Left who say that little or nothing is possible unless the whole international working class strikes simultaneously. Most socialists can recognise the difference between pay awards and conditions found in unorganised and organised workplaces, or those dictated by the employers and those won by workers’ own action. So we should be able to recognise the difference between living in a more democratic state – even under global capitalism.

Whether there be trade unions or no trade unions; collective or no collective agreements, capitalist economic power still exists. Whether we live under parliamentary democratic, one party or military rule, capitalist political power still exists. Yet the differences in each of these cases are still important, particularly in the scope they give us to organise. This means we have to examine the nature of political independence in today’s world.

The nature of political independence

New Labour’s imperial apologists like to pretend that national sovereignty is meaningless in a globalised world of interdependent production, distribution and exchange. Therefore we should all to bow to the dictates of the global corporations. National governments should create the best conditions to attract these firms, hoping for a ‘trickle-down’ of the ‘benefits’ to their citizens, or subjects in the case of the UK.

This is a bit like saying to women that it doesn’t really matter whether you have the freedom to choose your own partner. Arranged or forced marriages are just another form of partnership in a world where economic, social and emotional pressures make marriages for most a necessity. The best way wives can gain the ‘benefits’ in such arrangement is to bow to their husbands’ every demand! No – having the right to self-determination, holding sovereignty, or exercising the freedom to choose, are still very important, even when there are considerable external restraints and relatively few choices.

Thus the type of national state is important when it comes to the pressure socialists and the wider working class can exert in society. If that wasn’t the case, the neo-liberal governments, at the behest of the powerful corporations, would not be putting so much effort into undermining what democratic rights remain. Scotland forms part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK). The UK state is a unionist, imperialist, constitutional monarchy.

The hard-won democratic elements within this state are limited. The formula through which the UK state rulers seek legitimacy for their activities is ‘the sovereignty of the Crown in parliament’. When it comes to the crunch it is the parliamentary element which is subordinate. This poses major limitations on our ability to organise.

The constitutional monarchy gives the ruling class a whole battery of repressive Crown Powers – in effect, their ‘hidden state’. This means they wield their real political power behind our backs, whilst the royal family acts as its highly privileged public cover. All the flummery surrounding the royal family provides a useful fig-leaf for these powers. However, the ruling class would soon sacrifice these royal parasites if they no longer served their interests. But when it comes to the state’s repressive powers that is another matter altogether!

The UK is also a unionist state. The right to genuine Scottish self-determination is not only denied by the Westminster Parliament, but also by the continued Union of the Crowns. Therefore, if ‘independence’ is only defined as breaking from Westminster, this would still leave a whole host of powers affecting Scotland untouched. Secession from the Union Parliament at Westminster still leaves ‘Elizabrit’ as head of state. This continued link will be used by all the conservative forces in an ‘independent’ Scotland to ensure that as much as possible of the unaccountable Crown Powers are left in any new Scottish constitution.

If we don’t break the Crown Powers and the full UK constitutional link, we could see the ‘Hooray Hamishes’ of the Scottish establishment, or the forelock-tuggers of New and Old Labour, putting forward Prince William as senior Commanding Officer of ‘her majesty’s forces’ in Scotland. Alternatively maybe some knighted clan chief could be lined up as Governor General of Scotland. It doesn’t need much imagination to see which side he would come down on if there was a proposal to scrap the Trident nuclear submarine base. Is Faslane to become the UK state’s ‘Guantanamo Bay’ in Scotland?!

The sentimental republicans in the SNP will try to promise us a referendum on the continuation of the monarchy after ‘independence’. By then the significant Crown Powers could have constitutional force – with SNP government approval! This is why Alan McCombes leaves us hostage to fortune when he argues that one of the purposes of a Scottish Independence Convention is to draw up a constitutional plan, in which some constitutional issues would have to be left to one side… possibly {my emphasis} the issue of monarchy vs republic…! Instead the Independence Convention would concentrate on questions such as how powers will be transferred…(5). Which powers are we talking about here – the Crown Powers? We don’t want to transfer them, we want to abolish them!

The British ruling class and the link between imperialism and unionism in their UK state

The UK state has been forged to serve British ruling class interests throughout the world. Their unionist state is fundamentally an imperialist state. This British ruling class was formed, over a long period of time, from the landlords, merchants, financiers and industrialists of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. They have developed a common project in promoting the British Empire. There was even an historic possibility of this united ruling class imposing a top-down unitary British state and hence forging a united British nation and national identity. However, the very unionist nature of the state (as well as the role of ultra-unionist reactionaries in Ireland) worked against this.

The 1707 Act of Union retained certain privileges for the old Scottish landlord and merchant class within the reformed UK. The 1801 Act of Union brought the Irish landlords and bigger merchants more fully on board too. Special provision still had to be made to govern Ireland through Dublin Castle, since peasant resentment towards the regime remained. Yet, with the restricted franchise, Tories and Whigs dominated official politics in every constituent nation of the UK during the hey-day of the ‘free-trade empire’ in the early nineteenth century.

In the later nineteenth century, the UK state conceded increased measures of administrative devolution to the newer Irish, Scottish and Welsh middle classes. These measures acted as a further barrier to the formation of a unitary British state. Neither did the concessions, made to the middle classes in the later nineteenth century, weaken the imperialist nature of the UK state – far from it. Most of those pushing for Home Rule in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, wanted a better division of the imperial spoils and were keen to maintain an Imperial Parliament at Westminster.

There was another barrier to forming a unitary British nation – this time from below. The popular classes from the constituent nations increasingly participated in politics as they won an extension to the franchise. This led to the recognition of various hybrid nationalities (e.g. Scottish-British, Welsh-British and Irish-British), with special political, administrative and cultural arrangements for each. As the power of British imperialism has declined, so has the relative strength of the British pole of each of these hybrid nationality identifications.

One exception to this lies in Northern Ireland, where a new Ulster-British identification has gained in strength since 1922. However, the Ulster-Britishers’ ferocious adherence to the Union Jack and their celebration of overseas British military exploits, highlights the imperial connection. This is tied to their defence of real and imagined privileges within the UK state and what remains of the British Empire.

The denial of the right to self-determination for the constituent nations of the UK is disguised by invoking a united British ‘nation-state’. Yet Britishness is an imperially created state identity, which has forged chains for the nations of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and now, even for England (as Scottish Labour unionist votes at Westminster for foundation hospitals and top-up fees have recently highlighted!). Just as Labourism represents a stillborn socialism; so Britishness represents a failed unitary nation or a bureaucratically imposed ‘internationalism’. Indeed the two are intimately connected in the British unionist Labour party.

British unionism and the right to self-determination

The unionist nature of the state means that the constituent nations of England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland may be given some constitutional recognition within the UK. However, they have no constitutionally recognised right to self-determination. Sometimes it is argued that, since the UK has no written constitution, this right lies with political parties winning a democratic mandate. The repression meted out by the British state, in the face of the large majority in Ireland who voted for Sinn Fein and independence in 1918, shows the falsity of this view.

Significant measures of constitutional reform, even within the UK state framework, have been met by ruling class resort to extra-parliamentary force. The 1912 Irish Home Rule Bill led to the formation of the reactionary armed Ulster Volunteer Force and the Curragh Mutiny of British army officers, all with active Conservative and Unionist Party support.

In 1969 the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland came up against the armed force of the RUC and B Specials (some actively involved in pogroms). These paramiltary forces were held at the disposal of the Ulster Unionist Party and its Orange statelet (with its large UK state financial subventions). As their control faltered a British Labour government rushed in troops to give them support.

During the late 1960s and the 1970s serious divisions once more developed amongst the ruling class over the best strategy to maintain their UK state. This occurred in the context of rising labour unrest and a dramatic upsurge of national democratic movements, including those in Scotland and Wales. The Royal Commission, which eventually reported under Lord Kilbrandon in 1973, came down in favour of adopting a liberal devolutionary approach. However, this was heavily contested by the mainly conservative advocates of Direct Rule.

The liberal forces pushing for Devolution remained impeccably constitutional. This meant that their opponents did not have to use many of the extra-parliamentary powers at their disposal. Nevertheless, the Queen used the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977 to remind {us} of the benefits which the Union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings – the union and empire obviously going hand-in-hand!

The relative mildness of the actual rebuke could not cover-up the seriousness behind the public jettisoning of the Queen’s supposed political neutrality – A Majestic Mistake as the Daily Record put it at the time (6). Of course, this was no mistake but an opening ‘whiff of grapeshot’ designed to panic all her loyal supporters in the monarchist-supporting SNP.

However, this particular intervention was also combined with a series of British military exercises with Scottish nationalists as their putative target. In one of these exercises, Royal Marines asked participants to shout, English Go Home to make it more realistic! (7) Since the late 1960s, the state security agencies have been involved in agent provocateur activities. These often emphasise anti-English sentiment. Parcel bombs were posted by duped individuals to selected addresses with messages denouncing the English nature of the target.

The long-standing anti-English, ‘post-box’ in Dublin, which has remained suspiciously unchallenged by successive governments, has all the hallmarks of state-supported entrapment. Last year saw the jailing of a naïve 17 year old Dunbartonshire schoolboy, Paul Smith, after he contacted the internet address of an anti-English ‘organisation’. He was encouraged to post letters containing poison to Prince William, Cherie Blair and Mike Rumbles, MSP (8). Those in the security agencies wanting to defend the existing constitutional set-up, hope to sideline democratic opposition to the British UK state into anti-English chauvinism. The state security agencies’ activities may have been considerably reduced in Scotland since the 1970s and early ‘80s. However, if a campaign for a Scottish Independence Convention takes-off, it will be those nationalist forces which pedal anti-English chauvinism who will become the immediate focus for such state attention. Scottish Socialist Voice needs to be acutely aware of this. It must combat anti-English chauvinism in the same principled manner that it attacks racism. Otherwise those drawn to such sentiments could well become unwitting conduits for clandestine state promoted division-mongering.

The use of the Crown Powers to support ruling class interests in the UK and abroad

We can’t afford to lightly dismiss the ruling class’ ‘hidden state’. The Crown Powers provide the British ruling class with a whole repressive armoury to counter any serious challenge to its rule – be it economic, social or political. They have been widely used.

The murderous suppression of the Civil Rights demonstrators on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1971 and the undemocratic imposition of the poll-tax in Scotland in 1987, both led to a rise in democratic republican feeling. If socialists fail to see this and leave the politics to others, it’s not surprising that non-socialist forces take the political lead. What socialist would leave the current leaders of the trade unions unchallenged? Such leaders would soon be openly acting as a personnel management service for the employers! So socialists should aim to lead economic, social and political challenges to the bosses and their state.

Just as we champion workers’ struggles for better pay, conditions and welfare reforms, so we need to advocate democratic republican reform too. Our ‘school of struggle’ for socialism must prepare us for political as well as for economic power. However, more immediately, you can’t make significant advances on the economic and social front without beginning the process of dismantling the ruling class’s draconian political powers. Poll tax protesters found themselves detained at ‘her majesty’s pleasure’. Civil rights demonstrators were gunned down by ‘her majesty’s paratroopers. So what has our ruling class in reserve if faced with a serious socialist challenge to its power?! In the present corporate business-dominated world, any government considering a significant measure of economic and social reform is subject to serious measures of destabilisation by the major imperial powers, particularly the USA and UK. The elected Chavez government in Venezuela is currently under sustained attack by the US state and oil corporations. The vicious Uribe Velez government in neighbouring Colombia, with its death squads and merciless repression, represents Bush and Blairs’ favoured model when corporate business power is seriously challenged.

And we have ‘pre-emptive’ armed strikes, followed by occupying military and domestic client dictatorships, when ‘rogue regimes’ get in the way of US and British imperial interests. Few are going to shed any tears over the demise of the formerly imperially backed Taliban and Saddam regimes. Yet their replacement, by a motley crew of imperially-approved, mafia-style gangsters and clerical supremacists, offers no democratic future for the long suffering people of Afghanistan or Iraq.

However, the destabilisation treatment isn’t just reserved for ‘non-white’ regimes. Back in 1975, the Crown-appointed Governor General of Australia deposed the mildly reforming Australian Labour Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. He had proposed the closure of Australian ports to US nuclear submarines.

Today British and US imperialism are more closely linked under Blair – with the former now more than willing to act at the bidding of the latter. Therefore any serious movement, even for economic and social reforms within the UK, will soon come up against the force of the ruling class’s ‘hidden state’. The head of every repressive state agency swears an oath of loyalty to the Crown – not to parliament. Every elected politician at Westminster, Edinburgh or Cardiff also has to swear this oath of loyalty. This is done to show their compliance with the ‘hidden state’ which our rulers may have to invoke if normal parliamentary government does not suffice.

The oath of loyalty is the ‘polite’ political equivalent of the Orange arches erected over Northern Irish roads every July, to belittle all forced to walk under them. It shows who’s boss and exactly who has the right to trample on any lowly subject’s assumed rights. Pro-Scottish Independence Convention supporters need to have the measure of the forces we are up against.

The economism and Left unionism underlying the Anti-Convention camp

However, there has been opposition to the proposals for a Scottish Independence Convention from an Anti-Convention camp formed by the CWI, SW and WU Platforms. So far they have made the following major contributions to the debate:-

  • 1. Scotland and the National Question, Statement from the International Socialists, CWI Platform.
  • 2. The debate that will not go away by Mike Gonzalez of the SW Platform.
  • 3. Is Independence a road to Socialism in Scotland? by Neil Davidson of the SW Platform.
  • 4. Socialism and Scottish independence by Nick Rogers of the WU Platform.

These Platforms also represent two overlapping perspectives – the economistic and the Left unionist – within the SSP, despite there being considerable differences between them in other respects. Economism puts emphasis on the struggle for pay, conditions and welfare reforms, whilst downplaying the need for political or democratic reforms. Left unionism best describes those who believe a British state still provides the most favourable framework for advance towards socialism (whatever specific arrangements might have to be accommodated to acknowledge Scotland, Wales and Northern Irelands’ political existence, e.g. Devolution). Economism tends to unionism in the UK, because it tacitly accepts the existing state framework as the basis for its economic and social reforms. The CWI is the most consistently economistic tendency. This has led to a distinct tension within the CWI ranks. They have been forced to recognise the impact of the wider national challenges to the UK state upon working class consciousness.

A decade or so ago, the old Militant organisation was recognised as being one of the most unionist organisations on the Left. This has been particularly marked in Northern Ireland. Here their hostility towards Irish republicanism led them to flirtation with the PUP (a loyalist party with close links to the paramilitary UVF) on the grounds it represented an important section of the Protestant working class!

However, the rise of constitutional nationalism in Scotland and Wales forced Militant to another form of political accommodation. In Scotland, where the national challenge has been broadest, the CWI have moved to declaring their support for an independent socialist Scotland. This would appear to have pushed them out of the Left unionist and nearer to the Left nationalist camp – on paper anyhow.

In Wales, where the national challenge has been weaker, the CWI still hold to a Left unionist ‘socialist federation of Britain’ position. Since they hold such contradictory positions in each of the constituent nations of the UK (and partitioned Ireland) they have no consistent overall political strategy for socialists in these islands.

Now that the CWI has criticised the SSP leadership’s support for a Scottish Independence Convention, their own programmatic support for an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ leaves them in a rather uncomfortable position. Alan McCombes, who was once a prominent member of Militant/ CWI, before leaving to help form the ISM, has pointed this out.

Alan takes this shared programmatic point of an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ seriously. He therefore wants the SSP to take, what he sees as, the organisational measures necessary to advance this. Whereas for Philip Stott, an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ represents a paper political position for the CWI. It is only needed to provide a political defence when nationalists are on the ascendant, but otherwise it can be folded and put in the back pocket.

The CWI motion to conference, which calls on the SSP to drop the Scottish Independence Convention strategy, demonstrates their lack of political commitment to their own programmatic position. It isn’t based on any understanding of the anti-democratic unionist and constitutional monarchist nature of the UK state and the need for a consistent democratic challenge. It is only to be dragged out again when the SNP make significant gains.

The SWP certainly shares much of the CWI’s economism, but has in Scotland anyhow, provided the most consistent Left unionist theoretical defence of British unity (9). The SWP advocated a vote for Devolution in Scotland and Wales in the 1997 referenda, because Labour supported it and the Tories opposed it. Devolution remains consistent with the unity of Britain. The SWP see no real need to go any further than this – well, not until the next time the issue of Scottish self-determination comes ‘like a bolt from the blue’! Ironically in Northern Ireland, the SWP can be characterised as belonging to the camp of sentimental republicanism. But if your republicanism is merely sentimental, it can be put aside for immediate practical purposes. New Labour’s local devolutionary settlement, the Good Friday Agreement, can be accepted as the framework for everyday politics. Like the CWI, the SWP has no overall political strategy to unite socialists in these islands. They see no need for a political challenge to the ruling class’s New Unionist strategy designed to maintain their UK state.

However, with characteristic opportunism, the SW Platform sees no need to directly challenge the SSP leadership’s Scottish Independence Convention strategy either. The SW Platform sponsored motions to Conference on the issue are decidedly vague. Logically, they should support the CWI motion, but sectarian point-scoring, rather than principle, tends to dominate relations between these two organisations! Nick Rodgers of Workers Unity makes some interesting points in his paper, which do merit attention. However, the WU Platform appears to be the most disunited and hasn’t got enough of its supporters together to get the signatures for its proposed motion to Conference!

The weaknesses and contradictions in the Anti- Convention camp

A number of concerns have been raised by the ‘Antis’ over the leadership’s reasons for giving support to a Scottish Independence Convention. Concerns expressed have included, amongst others:-

  • 1. It represents a diversion from the class struggle.
  • 2. It over-estimates the significance of the national question as a means to challenge capitalism and imperialism.
  • 3. It depends on a misreading of the levels of current support for independence.
  • 4. It could promote working class disunity.

Both the SW and CWI Platforms have a fallback position though. If a genuine progressive movement for Scottish independence was to appear then it would get their support. What is not made clear is how such a movement would necessarily be progressive if socialists abstain when its initial politics are being determined! Yet there is an explanation for this Left unionist approach with its two possible roads:- optimum British Option A and retreat Scottish Option B. The two main Anti- Platforms believe that the working class is primarily motivated by economic and social concerns. They see little reason for socialists to consistently champion democratic change since, even if successful, we will still be left living in a capitalist state.

They argue it is better to prepare and wait for the ‘big bang’ political challenge – Revolution. To do this, we should concentrate mainly on economic and social movements as our ‘school of struggle’. According to the Left unionist view if socialists organise to promote the dismantling of the UK state, we are creating a diversion from the path of real class struggle, or fostering disunity amongst the ranks of the British working class.

This denial of the anti-capitalist potential of political or democratic struggle sits rather uncomfortably with these Platforms’ usual practice of championing economic and social reforms – higher wages and better welfare measures. Both assume the continuation of the capitalist economy! But these Platforms hold to the view that, when the working class, organised in its trade unions, vigorously pursues struggles for economic and social improvement, then demands for political reform will subside. Therefore any resort to political demands on the state, such as the right to self-determination, reflects socialists’ weakness not our strength.

For example, the CWI statement argues that,

When the working class begins to move and as the class questions become predominant the national question can be pushed back. This can be temporary however as a lull in the class struggle and defeats for the working class can push the national question back onto the agenda.

Clearly, in this view, the national question is not seen to be a class question (10). To be more precise, it is only seen to be such a question for the British ruling class and its Scottish nationalist middle class challengers! Workers are mainly concerned with pay and conditions and shouldn’t bother themselves very much about the nature of the UK state. How comforting such thinking has been to the ruling class, when it has faced real challenges in the past.

The history of economic, social and democratic struggles in the UK

A number of historical examples are often used by Left unionists to illustrate the power of united British trade union organisation. These include the 1926 General Strike, the strike wave of the early 1970s and the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5. Yet this argument is fundamentally flawed. The 1926 General Strike was defeated relatively quickly in 9 days, despite the magnificent working class support shown. Its leaders never contemplated a wider political challenge, viewing it as a purely trade union struggle. This turned out to be its weakness not its strength.

In contrast, the much greater challenge provided by movements for political democracy was highlighted in 1919. That year did indeed see a massive upsurge in economic struggles throughout the UK. Yet these coincided with a national democratic challenge to the UK state itself in Ireland. There was no adequate political organisation at the time to unite these economic and political struggles. Through concession and coercion the economic strike wave was rolled back by the end of 1919. This soon led to major working class set-backs. However, it took another 4 years before the UK state could bloodily contain, but not thoroughly defeat, the Irish democratic movement.

John Maclean drew a significant lesson from the government’s relatively easy defeat of economic struggle. The 40 Hours Strike collapsed after the army’s occupation of Glasgow in 1919. Maclean could see the much greater difficulties the same government faced that year when challenged by a political movement for national democracy in Ireland. The Limerick Strike of 1919 had been part of this wider political movement. Maclean abandoned the economistic British road to socialism (with its tacit acceptance of the UK state) and began to pursue the political break-up of the UK and British Empire strategy first championed by James Connolly. This did not mean abandoning economic and social issues but linking them to political or democratic struggle.

The working class strike wave of the early 1970s also coincided with a rise in democratic movements, most obviously in Ireland, but also in Scotland and Wales (along with the Black and Asian, women’s and gay movements). State repression was extensively utilised in an attempt to crush the struggle in Ireland. The British Tory government thought it had seen off this challenge when it faced down the Hunger Strikers in 1981. Bobby Sand’s winning of the Fermanagh parliamentary seat at Westminster highlighted the resilience of a movement which was prepared to politically challenge the UK state. The Britain-wide trade union strike wave, which started soon after the initial struggle for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland, was contained more easily by the incoming Labour government of 1974. Consequently, strikes in the late 1970s were much more episodic. Trade union leaders had never aspired to anything higher than a Labour government. Wilson and Callaghan went on, unchallenged by these trade union leaders, to preside over an upgrading of military, police and intelligence capacity!

When Thatcher came to power in 1979 she began to implement the Tories’ secret Ridley Plan. This was designed to wreak vengeance on the miners for the defeat they had inflicted on the Tories in 1974. This resulted in the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike. The government resorted to a wide range of repressive powers to break the NUM. Valiantly struggling miners faced the police, army, government agents, anti-union judges and bureaucratically- imposed curtailment of welfare rights.

A militant minority began to see the connection between the deployment of the state’s repressive powers in south Yorkshire and in south Armagh. Yet the Miners’ Strike was led by those who still viewed it primarily as an economic struggle. Once again this was a weakness not a strength. The miners’ power was broken; whilst Tory and Labour governments had to make a series of concessions to the Irish Republican resistance.

The link between British imperialism and the constitutional monarchist nature of the UK state

Now Alan McCombes does argue that Scottish independence:-

“would be a huge advance for democracy and a devastating defeat, not just for the British establishment, but also for American imperialism which sees Britain as its most loyal international ally” (11).

Unfortunately, this argument is presented more as a rhetorical flourish, rather than being seriously thought through to its political consequences. The UK state’s very real repressive forces, wielded under the Crown Powers, never get a mention.

This weakness in Alan’s argument has been recognised by both the SW and CWI Platforms. Thus Neil Davidson, for the SW Platform, points out that,

“If Britain is vital to the imperialist project… then is it not at all possible – in fact, is it not absolutely certain – that the ruling class will fight to retain Scotland, as they did Ireland, even though Ireland was far less important to Britain than Scotland is? Yet I see no sign that we are preparing the Scottish working class for the ultimate necessity of taking on the state, or of defending ourselves against the counter-evolution that would surely follow any attempt to do so” (12).

Alan’s former CWI comrades have also made a similar point. Philip Stott highlights, the ferocious opposition to national independence that will come from the capitalist state at this stage, with the loss of international prestige if British imperialism, weakened although it is, were to lose ‘control’ in its own backyard (13). He points out the completely lightminded way (14) in which Alan appears to deny the serious consequences of his argument.

If Scottish independence represents such a devastating defeat for the British establishment and US imperialism, we certainly need to take into account any likely ruling class response to such a challenge. The greater the challenge from our side, the more the other side will resort to their Crown Powers. No matter how nasty their plans, the ruling class will find some constitutional sanction for them under the existing Crown Powers. We live in a state whose leaders pride themselves on three centuries of constitutional rule. Coups are so un-British and so unnecessary when you have the legal power to dissolve parliament!

Yet Alan’s Left unionist critics share his tendency to misunderstand the real nature of and to underestimate the hidden powers in the UK state. Whilst they recognise the imperialist nature of Blair’s New Labour government (hard to avoid when the UK is currently at war!), they fail to link this with the constitutional monarchist nature of the UK state which buttresses British imperialism. Their demand for ‘regime change’ amounts to a call for a change of government – Gordon Brown (or Charles Kennedy) instead of Tony Blair! There is no call for thoroughgoing democratic change. Yet Blair used a very wide range of the state’s anti-democratic Crown Powers to further the war, including sanction for prior bombing raids and the mobilisation and deployment of troops, long before the parliamentary vote.

Being able to conduct wars or suppress internal challenges without recourse to a democratic vote is very handy for a state which has aspirations to wider power and influence in the world. Its leaders don’t want to feel beholden to any domestic pressure or ‘international law’, as we have seen in the recent war over Iraq. Britannia tries both to ‘rule the waves’ and ‘waive the rules’!

The link between ruling class power and the unionist nature of the UK state

However, since the UK is also a unionist state, this gives the British ruling class additional strength. This doesn’t seem to be acknowledged by the SSP’s Left unionists. The close link between British imperialism and British unionism has been highlighted by the war in Iraq. Examine the line-up of the parliamentary parties (maverick individuals aside) on the vote for war. The more aggressively unionist the parties, the more they were pro-war. It was the Tories and the Ulster Unionists who provided the votes to give Blair and New Labour a ‘democratic’ cover for the war. Neil fails to appreciate the difference between unitary, unionist and independent states and the different forms nationalism takes within them. Neil thinks he is making a particularly anti-Scottish independence point when he highlights the pernicious role played by the ‘Scottish national interest’ during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5.

“In Scotland NUM area officials signed an agreement allowing enough coal to enter the strip mill at Ravenscraig in Motherwell to keep the furnaces going. The reason given by Area President Mick McGahey was the deal was ‘in the interests of Scotland’s industrial future’… And so the ‘Scottish national interest’ helped play a part in the defeat of the NUM, the destruction of the British mining industry and the perpetuation of Tory rule for another 12 years” (15).

The problem with Neil’s view is that all the NUM and Iron and Steel Trades Confederation officials he mentions were British Labour (or Labour supporting) unionists (some Left, and some, not so Left).

Neil thinks he has made another substantial point when he claims that a national element {was} in fact completely absent in the Tories’ imposition of the poll tax in Scotland in 1987.

“The whole (as it turned out) disaster was brought about by an attempt to placate the class base of Scottish conservatism, not to continue the work of proud Edward’s army (etc) in oppressing the Scots” (16).

However, it was precisely the unionist nature of the UK state which allowed the British ruling class to come to the aid of their local allies. Hence a Tory majority vote at Westminster could be used to impose a poll tax first in Scotland, on behalf of the class base of Scottish conservatism despite the scant electoral support here for the measure.

There was another even clearer case in 1969. The beleaguered Ulster Unionists were able to get assistance from a Labour UK government which sent in British troops to bolster their regime in the face of the challenge from the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps significantly, the SWP’s forerunners, the IS, chose to see the sending of British troops as the actions of a social democratic government facing down ultra conservatives and giving succour to the local Civil Rights Movement!

IS supported the sending in of British troops. They failed to see the common unionism which united Labour and the Ulster Unionists in defence of the UK state. This was more important than the secondary political divisions between them, particularly when the state’s local machinery was under threat.

It is the very unionist nature of the UK state which allows the ruling class to play off one subordinate nation against another. They can invoke petty nationalisms when necessary. When the British Navy’s Royal Dockyards at Rosyth and Devonport were threatened with closure in 1996, the British Labour Party and trade union officials from Scotland and England invoked their respective nationalities to support their own particular case (as well as suggesting a Dutch auction of pay and conditions to win government support!)

Unionist political power can be used in two ways. It can over-ride (including outvote at Westminster) any particular national opposition to specific measures (e.g. the poll tax Scotland). It can also give succour to any local British unionists facing a domestic ‘spot of bother’, (e.g. the use of British troops – including Scottish and Welsh regiments – in Northern Ireland).

Neil appears to be arguing that acceptance of a British unionist state framework at least offers the working class on this island a defence against nationalist division-mongering. Yet the UK state is a union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not a British unitary state. So there is plenty of scope for unionists to promote nationalist division. Internationalist working class consciousness, even in a multi-nation state, can never be a mechanical reflection of the state’s existence. Indeed, if you take Neil’s argument to the next logical stage, socialists should be demanding the end of any political recognition of Scotland and Wales’ existence. This would better create a unitary British state and hence a united British working class!

However, the SW Platform is not going to argue for the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly! Although, this may seem the apparent political logic of Neil’s arguments, it has to be remembered that when it comes down to it, the SW, like the CWI Platform, doesn’t see political issues concerning the democracy of the state as ‘class questions’ but diversions from real economic and social ‘class issues’. Therefore (thankfully) we aren’t likely to see the SWP. turning into British Direct Rulers!

Tailending the liberal unionists and the nationalist populists or taking an independent lead?

The failure of the SWP and CWI approach is highlighted by the positions they adopted when the nature of the UK state was contested, e.g. in the 1979 and 1997 Devolution referenda. Having refused, before these events, to recognise the democracy issue as a ‘class question’, both organisations still found that they were forced to take sides when a ‘non-class question’ presented itself. With the working class removed from their political calculations, the SWP and CWI were faced with the question of which capitalist side to support in the 1979 and 1997 Devolution referenda. The conservative and liberal unionists were given complete license to set the terms of the debate – ‘No’ or ‘Yes’ to Devolution!

Both the SWP and CWI faced difficulties in 1979 deciding which side to take. By 1997, both organisations had become good liberal unionists – giving support to Blair’s Devolutionary proposals. However, they both made verbal qualifications, declaring either ‘revolution’ or ‘socialism’ to be the real solution.

The underlying method of following the political lead given by others is painfully chronicled by Philip Stott. He outlines Militant/CWI’s changes in position. It began with tacit acceptance of administrative devolution for Scotland before 1979; followed by a switch to support for political devolution in that year; then to support for a socialist Scotland as part of a socialist federation of Britain in the mid-1990s; and finishing up (?) with support for an independent socialist Scotland in the late 1990s, when a majority of the youth and a significant section of the working class supported independence (17).

Philip admits that the CWI’s programme has evolved as the moods and consciousness of the working class has developed (18). Who then, by the late 1990s, was advancing the case for Scottish independence? Quite clearly, not the CWI, since their programme tail-ended what they saw as working class consciousness. It was the SNP – a capitalist nationalist party – {who} were left as the only ones advocating political independence. So there was a real danger that if the mood around the national question hardened even further in the direction of independence whole sections could be lost to nationalism (19).

What was the CWI’s answer to this particular development? The time had come to drop Labour’s liberal unionism and to adopt the SNP’s nationalist populism, otherwise the CWI might have found itself without an audience. They deleted socialist federation of Britain from their programme and substituted socialist independence – well for Scotland anyhow! Yet the CWI accepts that it is unlikely that an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ will be one of the ballot options in a future referendum. Therefore, we would support {capitalist} independence and would campaign for a yes vote in an independence referendum (20).

The CWI’s socialist programmatic prefix is left as abstract propaganda. The chance for socialists to politically challenge the SNP, in the here and now, on democratic grounds is not even considered – an ‘independent’ Scotland under the Crown or a democratic republican independent Scotland.

The political and class nature of support for Scottish independence

Neil and Philip both draw our attention to the fluctuating support given to Scottish independence and, in particular, to its recent decline. Neil states that

“Working class support, which reached almost 50% in 1997 fell back to the overall figure of 28% in 1999… In short, support for independence peaked at the time of the 1997 referendum and has, with occasional reversals, declined since then” (21).

Philip makes the same point, but qualifies it by noting that other statistics (in the same analysis which Neil uses) confirm our position that support for independence is highest among the working class, people with a left wing outlook, and younger people (22). However, Philip then retreats once more to his economic class questions. This means that the national question did not feature as a major issue at all during the 2003 elections. In order of importance Philip cites, low pay, privatisation, income equality, with the war on Iraq tagged on at the end (23).

Now the war is undoubtedly a political issue. In the CWI (and SWP’s) case though, there is a tendency in public to downplay political support for anti-imperialism and to emphasise the economic aspect, e.g. the money spent on war which could be used for hospitals and schools instead. However, the key thing about recent high-points in support for Scottish independence is that they coincided with times when the political nature of the UK state in Scotland was being politically contested, e.g. during the Devolution debate. The fact that Devolution is now in place means that the nature of the UK state in Scotland is almost continuously politicised.

Philip quotes the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey of 2001, in which 68% thought the parliament should have more powers (24). In other words, the current Devolution deal is not the last word on the issue – far from it. There are unionist forces which have tried to diminish the influence of the Scottish Parliament.

Their first proposal was to reduce the number of MSPs in line with the drop in Scottish MPs at Westminster. This was probably abandoned because of the careerist ambitions of Scottish New Labour members! More recently we have had Labour unionist Westminster MP, George Foulkes, wanting to tamper with the proportional representation system for elections to the Scottish Parliament. Lib-Dem unionist, David Steel, wants an upper chamber in the Scottish Parliament. Unionist desires for more centralised control will continue to clash with popular demands for more democratic control, producing political conflict.

We can not pretend that the nature of the UK state is not a class issue. What we need to decide is, which democratic option best suits the interests of our class. This then gives us a policy which can meet each political contingency as it arises. However, if we go further, and begin to politically organise a movement which can be brought to bear in any particular situation which arises, the SSP could take the political lead. Being the foremost champions of democracy, as well as of economic and social reforms, would greatly add to our influence.

Since the SW and CWI Platforms claim to come from the Leninist tradition, it is perhaps worthwhile examining Lenin’s last stated views on Norway’s secession from the Swedish state in 1905. The relationship between Norway and the Swedish state certainly had a lot in common with the current relationship between Scotland and the UK state. Furthermore, Sweden’s neutrality in the First World War showed that it was a much more passive player in the world imperial system than the UK state, either then or today. So basically, for those of a Leninist persuasion, his preferred political solution for Norway should apply to Scotland – but more so!

In December 1916 Lenin wrote that, Until 1905 autonomous Norway, as part of Sweden, enjoyed the widest autonomy, but she was not Sweden’s equal. Only by her free secession was her equality in practice proved… Secession did not ‘mitigate’ this {Swedish state} privilege (the essence of reformism lies in mitigating an evil not in destroying it) but eliminated it altogether (25). Today those reformist measures of mitigation he refers to would include Devolution and Federalism under the Crown. Both leave the essentially imperialist and unionist nature of the UK state untouched.

Changes in ruling class strategy to maintain the UK state.

One common feature underlying Alan, Philip and Neil’s contributions is they only invoke the wider British framework when discussing either trade union struggles or the anti-war movement. They don’t see a common British ruling class political strategy to defend the UK state itself, nor do they see the need to oppose this. The British ruling class has changed its strategy to maintain their unionist state. Old unionism favoured British Direct Rule; New Unionism prefers Devolution-all-round for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and, more tentatively, for the English regions.

Until the mid-1990s the ruling class’s chosen strategy was Direct Rule through Westminster. By the end of the 1970s it was the Tories who had become the principal advocates of such Direct Rule. This followed their abolition of the devolved Northern Ireland Stormont in 1972. Direct Rule was given added impetus by the defeat of Labour’s liberal devolutionary proposals for Scotland and Wales in 1979. When the Tories were returned that year, Thatcher wanted a UK plc to weather the storms in an increasingly unruly world. Direct rule became very much the order of the day throughout the UK.

However, the continuing Republican challenge in Northern Ireland, in the aftermath of the Hunger Strikes, forced a ruling class rethink. The Tories’ first attempt to marginalise the Republicans, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, faltered. Therefore Major moved on to the Downing Street Agreement in 1992 with its proposals for a devolutionary deal there.

New Labour, under Blair, generalised this approach, pushing Devolution for Scotland and Wales too, to counter national democratic movements and sentiment. Indeed, the momentum gained by majority votes for Devolution in Scotland and Wales in 1997, gave further impetus to Devolution in Northern Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement in the next year. In this manner Devolution-all-round has emerged as ruling class’s New Unionist strategy to maintain the UK state (26).

The democratic fragility of Devolution-all-round is very apparent. Opinion polls continue to show that people in Scotland don’t believe the Scottish Parliament has enough powers. This was highlighted when Blair’s tame Scottish Labour unionists, led by Jack McConnell, argued against the right of the Scottish Parliament to take any decision regarding British imperial participation in the war in Iraq. Even in Wales, where the non-legislative Welsh Assembly won only the narrowest referendum majority in 1997, there is growing resentment at the lack of any real powers.

In Northern Ireland Blair resorts to frequent suspension of Stormont Executive when it threatens to vote ‘the wrong way’. British troops, observation posts, RIR and RUC/PSNI fortified bases all remain in place. Their main concentration remains in nationalist areas. Yet their forces don’t seem to be around when loyalists are killing and maiming, whether it be sectarian attacks on nationalists or racist attacks on ethnic minorities! Interestingly, Philip, given his CWI/Militant Left unionist background, does see a connection between politics in Scotland and Ireland. The separation of Scotland could also have a major destabilising effect in Northern Ireland as the Protestant community could see it as the slippery slope to Northern Ireland being cast adrift from Britain.

Clearly Philip only sees here a negative connection between Scotland and Ireland. This is linked to the CWI’s long-standing denial of there being any fundamental democratic issue at stake in Ireland. They view the recent prolonged struggle in ‘the Six Counties’ as merely a battle of ‘warring tribes’. To counter what they see as a clash of feuding nationalisms they try to cling to the municipal socialist, ‘gas and water’, approach of the old Independent Labour Party in Belfast and the Northern Ireland Labour Party with their concentration on narrow economic and social demands.

The CWI-affiliated Socialist Party in Northern Ireland hopes that, by ignoring political demands, it can unite the working class on ‘bread and butter’ issues. The fact that a significant proportion of the working class, and not just the Republican Movement, has borne the brunt of UK state-backed repression in Northern Ireland, has to be seriously downplayed.

The Socialist Party dare not publicly campaign against the battery of repressive institutions, from her majesty’s regiments, the RIR, the PSNI, the state-backed death squads to the Unionist state supporting judiciary (who, in the person of Lord Hutton could be relied on to produce a suitably pro-government whitewash job for Blair!) To take such a stance would lead to the accusation of ‘taking sides’ and of ‘giving succour to the Republicans’. This failure to challenge severe anti-democratic measures is highlighted in the CWI Platform’s motion on Ireland to the SSP Conference.

Therefore the possibility that a growing national democratic movement in Scotland (with its considerably greater immediate potential to unite Protestant and Catholic here) could seriously weaken unionist and loyalist forces throughout the UK is not considered in the CWI’s analysis. They still accept the UK framework as the basis for their normal day-to-day class politics. They see economic and social concerns as being the essence of the class question. Any undue political disruption would upset this. Therefore they view the proposal for a Scottish Independence Convention as a threat, not a possible initial focus for a wider democratic challenge to the UK state and its repressive powers.

Opposing Left unionist attempts to ignore British unionism and to promote bureaucratic sectarianism

Ulster Unionists, New Labour and other unionists can call upon extensive help when they need it. They can use the whole UK-wide state machinery and draw on the political support of the British unionist parties.

Left unionists believe that they have the British TUC, the British Labour Party, or their own Britain-wide ‘revolutionary’ Parties (with semi-autonomous, effectively partitioned, adjuncts in the ‘26’ and the ‘6 Counties’ of Ireland) to counter ruling class power. However, far from forming the basis for an effective challenge, all of these Left unionist (or unionist accepting) organisations practice their own ‘bureaucratic internationalism’. They mimic many of the anti-democratic practices of the UK state and bring them into the socialist and working class movement in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Mike Gonzalez’ (SW Platform) contribution highlights Left unionist lack of respect for democracy. He argues that the controversy over the Scottish Independence Convention is a welcome development from the point of view of those of us who are interested in moving the SSP forward through political debate and discussion rather than bureaucratic and administrative squabbles. Because this is an issue of political principle (27). And, as we have already seen, the SW Platform is so principled, it is not stating its real political objections in its Conference motions on the issue!

What Mike writes off as bureaucratic and administrative squabbles  are genuine debates in the SSP over some of the SWP’s sectarian and bureaucratic practices. The SWP’s promotion of its own front organisations, such as the ANL and Globalise Resistance, without any democratic structures or leadership accountability, has caused considerable concern. The inept intervention of the ANL over the racist attacks in Sighthill in Glasgow is one example. Furthermore, the ANL doesn’t even recognise the nature of British fascism (with its racist and loyalist components), preferring to go along with the British populist equation of fascism with German Nazism.

Therefore, despite Mike’s dismissal, the issue of democracy and accountability, is a point of political principle. The SSA and SSP have been more democratic than any version of the Socialist Alliance, or the newly setup Respect, in England (and Wales?). Their initial sponsoring organisations, first the Socialist Party and then the Socialist Workers Party, are well-known for their sectarian and bureaucratic practices. Furthermore, the emergence of political ‘prima donnas’, with little respect for genuine democracy, was a feature of the Britain-wide, Socialist Labour Party under Arthur Scargill; whilst George Galloway, ‘leader’ of Respect, is certainly ‘democracy-and-equality lite’!

Galloway also displays some of the worst British chauvinist traits. At a Respect meeting in Cardiff, Galloway was asked to state why the new organisation had nothing to say about Wales. In replying he made no concession to the right of Welsh self-determination and stated that supporters of independence should be excluded (28). Galloway also wrote a Sunday Mail article, in response to a proposed Scottish Executive Bill on the Gaelic language. In it he decried a language understood by less than two percent of Scots… {which} is ‘rammed down the throats’ of the rest. Our language is English and we should thank our lucky stars for that (29). Not so ‘Gorgeous George’ in the valleys and the glens then!

Most socialists are aware of the fact that it is only the pre-existing political strength of the SSP which prevents Galloway extending the Respect alliance to Scotland. It is quite likely that there are some Left unionists who are disappointed that Galloway is not standing for election here. Yet such moves would only create socialist disunity – a continuing feature of Left unionist bureaucratically imposed ‘internationalism’.

Opposing Left nationalist attempts to promote ‘socialist separatism’ and disunity

However, if the CWI and SWP have a Left unionist blind spot for Labour’s New Unionism, what explains Alan McCombes and the ISM’s failure to see this also? The ISM, who have formed the overwhelming majority of the SSA and SSP leaderships, are in the process of making a painful break from the earlier Militant Left unionist tradition. In doing so they have become aware of the need for more inclusive democracy. This has been sharpened by their growing awareness of the significance of the wider democratic struggle for self-determination in Scotland. The SSP has greatly benefited from this.

Yet there is a danger of the ISM flipping from Left unionism to Left nationalism. One indicator of this, is the constant wariness of the SSP leadership in approaching socialists for joint activity in England, Ireland and, to a lesser extent, Wales. Certainly consecutive British political leaderships have failed to build an inclusive democratic socialist organisation. Therefore the much poorer political performance of their front organisations has provided the SSP leadership with an excuse for their detached attitude towards socialists ’south of the border’.

Some want to go even further. The main Left nationalist Platform in the SSP, the SRSM, wants to put the issue of ‘Scottish independence’ beyond debate by proposing an entrenched constitutional amendment at Conference. Such moves could only lead to some socialists being driven out the SSP. Far from opening up the prospect of more united action with socialists in England, Wales and Ireland, it would lead to disunity in Scotland. Therefore, just as we have seen in the case of Left unionist, George Galloway, a Left nationalist approach can also promote disunity.

All SSP Platforms give their support to the right of Scottish self-determination. It is quite legitimate that the form this takes should be debated. Attempts to suppress the debate are sectarian and it is to be hoped that Alan and the rest of the annual conference will oppose them.

However, the SRSM also has ‘Republican’ in its title and constitution. But so far, they have made no statement proposing that this should form the political basis of a Scottish Independence Convention. Is the word ‘Scottish’ the only significant one in the SRSM’s name? Is the SRSM, like the SNP Left, merely sentimentally republican? Does that old Jacobitism provide a present day cover for going along with ‘Independence under the Crown’?!

Throughout this article it has been demonstrated that there can be no meaningful political independence for Scotland, unless the UK’s Crown Powers are broken. This means breaking the Union of the Crowns as well as the Union of Parliaments. Detaching Holyrood from Westminster still leaves the British ruling class (including its Scottish component) with plenty of powers to intervene within Scotland. Furthermore, any disgruntled Scottish/British forces will still have powerful external allies. Our strategy has to be international to counter this.

Promoting a strategy of republican internationalism from below

When we examine the socialist forces within these islands we see a very ‘mixed bag’. In Scotland, the majority of socialists are involved in the Scottish Socialist Party. This is the most successful initiative, which is both inclusive and openly socialist. In England and Wales, we find division between the Left populist Respect alliance and the sectarian Socialist and Socialist Labour Parties. We also have the Left nationalist/populist Wales Forward alliance trying to come to some sort of electoral arrangement with Respect.

In Ireland the divisions are even deeper – partly a reflection of UK promoted (and Irish government accepted) partition. The Socialist and Socialist Worker Parties both practice partitionist politics with attempts to build populist alliances in the North. Socialists within Sinn Fein are being more and more marginalised as the leadership becomes both more constitutional nationalist and more ‘responsible’ (i.e. accepting corporate business pressure).

The Irish Republican Socialist Party is trying to develop a wholly political and anti-sectarian response to the new situation created by the Good Friday Agreement but remains hamstrung by its own past bloody internal conflicts. Socialist Democracy promotes an anti-partitionist politics as well as challenging state/employer/trade union partnerships. However, it remains too small to take the lead in achieving broader socialist unity throughout Ireland.

The British and Irish governments plan more joint initiatives than socialists in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. To counter this the SSP has to unite with socialists and other democratic republicans in England, Wales and Ireland. Our answer to their New Unionist strategy of Devolution-all-round and the institutionalised sectarianism of the Good Friday Agreement should be our own strategy of socialist republican ‘internationalism from below’.

The British and Irish governments have their own Council of the Isles, with representatives from England, Ireland (North and ‘South’), Scotland, and Wales. We need our to unite own forces throughout these islands. A regularly meeting Socialist Council of the Isles would be a good start! Even if we just look at the situation in England, the best that our SSP leadership can come up with, in relation to the new Respect alliance, is a mutual non-aggression pact! In the unlikely event of Respect gaining some quick electoral credibility, there is no chance of such a top-down, populist alliance holding together under pressure. A similar, quickly formed populist Alliance was created in New Zealand. It won over 20% of the vote and several MPs. They promptly gave their support to a Labour government and then lost all their seats in the subsequent General Election! Ken Livingstone has shown that building a credible organisation outside the Labour Party is a good way to persuade Tony to let him back inside again. George Galloway will have noted this.

However, there are many socialists in England and Wales, who are not at all enamoured with the sectarian and bureaucratic antics of the leaders of the Socialist Alliance or Respect. They are impressed by what the SSP has achieved. They should be part of our audience. We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the Respect leadership’s narrow electoralism within the confines of the UK state (or, at least those parts, which won’t bring them electoral embarrassment!)

We need to form a republican Socialist Alliance covering Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. There should be a Joint Platform which recognises the full autonomy of socialist organisation in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. The immediate political aim should be the abolition of the Crown Powers, the breaking of the Union and the ending of Partition in Ireland.

Of course, political demands must be linked to economic and social struggles. Our push for full democracy and sovereignty in the nation against the sovereignty of the bureaucrats in ‘their Crown in Parliament’ needs to be matched by support for sovereignty of trade union members in their workplaces against the sovereignty of the bureaucrats in the union HQ’s. New Labour’s support for a New Unionist political settlement for the UK has gone hand-in-hand with their new (trade) union policy of promoting economic ‘modernisation’. These linked strategies are designed to benefit the interests of the global corporations. The employer/trade union partnerships, which are undermining so many workers’ pay and conditions, are fully backed by both the British and Irish governments.

Political struggle isn’t a diversion from the central issues of how to fight PFI, support the nursery nurses, abolish the council tax or mobilise against the occupation of Iraq(30). If we pursue any of these issues seriously we need to set our sights higher than a change of government. Political struggle amounts to much more than contesting elections. We need to contest the ruling class’s political power, by exposing their antidemocratic ‘hidden state’ and, through widening genuine democracy, undermine their Crown Powers. If the SSP sees the Scottish Independence Convention proposals as part of this wider strategy, we can gain the real respect of socialists throughout these islands.

Allan Armstrong


  • (1) Frontline, no. 11.
  • (2) Gregor Gall, Socialism, the national question and the Independence Convention in Scotland.
  • (3) Alan McCombes, After May 1st: Which way forward towards independence and socialism?
  • (4) Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes, Imagine – A Socialist Vision for the 21st century, p. 188, Rebel inc., Edinburgh, 2000.
  • (5) Alan McCombes, op. cit.
  • (6) Andrew Murray Scott and Iain Macleay, Tartan Terrorism and the Anglo-American State, p.22, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 1990.
  • (7) Andrew Murray Scott and Iain Macleay, op. cit.p.22.
  • (8) The Herald, 1.11.03
  • (9) As well as Neil Davidson’s article see Discovering the Scottish Revolution,1692-1746, Pluto Publishers, 2003, See review article,
    Allan Armstrong, Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets, in Emancipation & Liberation, no. 5/6.
  • (10) Philip Stott, Scotland and the National Question
  • (11) Alan McCombes, op. Cit.
  • (12) Neil Davidson, Is Independence a road to Socialism in Scotland?.
  • (13) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (14) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (15) Neil Davidson, op. cit.
  • (16) Neil Davidson, op. cit.
  • (17) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (18) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (19) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (20) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (21) Neil Davidson, op. cit.
  • (22) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (23) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (24) Philip Stott, op. cit.
  • (25) V. Lenin, The Discussion on Self Determination Summed Up, in Questions of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism, p.148, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1970.
  • (26) Mike Gonzalez, The debate that will not go away.
  • (27) The Downing Street Declaration – New Unionism and the Communities of Resistance, a Republican Worker pamphlet, Glasgow, 1994.
  • (28) Interview with Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AM, in Seren, issue 12, p. 6.
  • (29) Wilson McLeod, Securing the Future of Gaelic, in Scottish Left Review, issue 20, p.12.
  • (30) Neil Davidson, op. cit.

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Mar 02 2004

Strengthening the Anti-Capitalist analysis

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:20 pm

D. Rayner O’Connor Lysaght (Socialist Democracy, Dublin) welcomes the Declaration, but also highlights some of its weaknesses.

On 10-11 November 2003, the European Anti-Capitalist Left in the European Social Forum produced a Resolution challenging the various reformist parties’ hegemony over the working class and left wing forces of the ‘subcontinent’. In itself, it is a welcome exposure of the draft European Union Constitution. It reveals the document’s regressive nature economically and politically. On the latter, the comrades of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) are particularly pleased to see the Resolution accepts their decades long opposition to fixed and immutable state frontiers, denying self-determination for such as the Basques, the Wends and the Celtic peoples (as well as the Kurds and Armenians, if Turkey joins the EU).

There are however serious defects. Exposing them does not involve us in any necessary dissociation from the Anti-Capitalist Left; any more than Marx and Engels Critiques of the Gotha Programme meant their authors’ dissociation from their contemporary German Social Democrats. Instead it involves strengthening the Anti-Capitalist Left’s analysis, which is not qualitatively any stronger than that of the denounced reformists, when it comes to guiding the working peoples of Europe towards victory. Inevitably, since the Resolution is centred on this year’s Euro-elections, it puts success therein above the need to develop consciousness beyond the level that has fuelled the various World Social Forums. The result is akin to the manifestos of the old Popular Fronts headed by the official Communist Parties.

The weaknesses can be grouped together under three classifications:-

1. Anti-capitalist, not socialist

Up to the penultimate paragraph it pussyfoots away from the word ‘Socialism’. ‘Anti-Capitalism’ is no substitute. It is possible to oppose capitalism on an analysis more opposed to Socialism than capitalism itself.

It could be claimed that the draftees’ position within the ‘social left’ must deter neo-feudal dreamers (e.g. some religious fundamentalists), but this does no more than emphasise the draftees’ evasive approach. For, after all, how do they differ from the rest of the ‘social left’? Is it not that they are Socialists? Such equivocation will be used against them by the enemy.

2. No imperialist critique

More importantly, it repeats more subtly a major illusion that led to the degeneration of the old European Social Democracy. The draftees take pride in being part of a huge oppositional, internationalist, anti-capitalist milieu… on a world scale. They accept this emerges to different extents in different countries. Yet they do not analyse or even state simply how the countries of Europe (and North America) are related to the countries of the rest of the world. There is no suggestion in this document that Europe, particularly western and central Europe, is an imperial metropolis.

Neo-liberalism has made this worse, particularly in Africa. That continent exports 30% more today than in 1980, while it receives 40% less income from those exports. Sub-Saharan Africa pays $40 million per week to service its debt.

This loot is not shared among the Europeans with even a gloss of equality. The lion’s share is taken by the bosses and their conglomerates, while their employees get a smaller and ever decreasing proportion. For all that, it has provided a cushion against the most extreme effects of neo-liberal policies. Worse still, it maintains amongst the exploited expectations of dependence based on perceived economic superiority in their racist opposition to those super-exploited who try to share in it. In eastern Europe, such illusions have influenced the failed Stalinites to collude in the Gulf War. They have to be opposed as a source of corruption in the European Social milieu and, it seems, even within the Anti- Capitalist Left.

More positively, today’s youth are more mobile and internationally minded than their parents or grandparents. Solidarity with the semi-colonial world is a major force amongst the brightest and the best. This however seems cultural rather than class based. Nonetheless it is for Socialists to put this interest in its proper context. There is a need to warn, on the one hand, against relying on the piecemeal answer of aid politics and, on the other, against romanticising the backwardness that our system perpetuates. If we do not do this, then, as in the sixties, too many political cadres will end up demoralised, committed only to supplying the next food parcel or just squatting, smoking pot in third world caves.

The point, correct in itself, about the need to acknowledge immigrants’ citizenship of the countries that they have entered must be extended to deal with the need to end European countries’ overseas policies that drive people from their oppressed lands.

3. Over-triumphalist

The tone of the Resolution is over-triumphalist. The world is emerging from a twenty five year Dark Age, yet victory is no more assured than it was in the sixties and seventies. In particular,appealing to trade unions per se against the Social Democrats and old Stalinites, avoids the fact that the said reformists dominate the leadership of these unions.

The magnificent demonstrations of 15th February 2003, could not stop the Gulf War. In the Republic of Ireland, the EU’s Nice Treaty referendum rejection was itself rejected. The EU Constitution will need more than mobilisations, let alone mobilisations geared to put bureaucrats on the platforms, to defeat it. Nor will such a defeat, let alone Euro-election gains, be more than an episode, albeit an important one, in the struggle. This is not apparent from the wording of the Resolution. As it stands it is likely to contribute to demoralisation once the truth is outed.

Our aim is to achieve a Confederation of Workers’ Republics, as a stepping stone to the full democracy of Socialism. To achieve it will take all our skills, honed on those of our predecessors. In this we can benefit from the euphoria of the new militancy, but our task is to guide it.


Mar 02 2004

The Declaration of the Anti-Capitalist Left

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:15 pm

The Republican Communist Network will be putting a motion to the SSP conference calling for the Anti-Capitalist Left to make a united challenge in the forthcoming Euro-elections. The Declaration of the Anti-Capitalist Left, printed below, was agreed in Paris, on November 10-11th, 2003.

Europe: A different Europe is possible! A different European Left is necessary!

For the first time in 20 years, a counter-offensive has been launched to stop the disasters that are threatening us: war, neo-liberal policies, and ecological catastrophe.

Millions of workers, men and women, young and old, organised in a multitude of grass-roots movements, trade unions and parties or simply unorganised people, have, by the hundreds of thousands or even millions, occupied the streets and launched massive strikes, sometimes paralysing the state machinery. In the space of three years, the atmosphere has changed. A different world is possible.

In Genoa in July 2001, they tried to crush our movement with fierce repression; but the movement survived and bounced back. In November 2002 60,000 young and not-so-young people from the whole of Europe converged on Florence to lay the foundation stones of a new European social movement. The next day a million demonstrators launched a warning to our rulers: no war! Hands off our rights! Three months later, on February 15, 2003, there were tens of millions of us around the world fighting to stop the barbarism of war. Last year in Florence and this year in Paris/St.Denis, the European Social Forum is providing an organised form, social cohesion and a political direction to this extraordinary explosion of energy and creativity. This planetary uprising for universal peace took on the character in Europe of a continent wide plebiscite: facing the EU, people voted for a different Europe, from below, founded on a revolt of the exploited and oppressed in all the member countries. European big capital has made no mistake about it: its attacks have redoubled in all the member countries and on every front, despite this strong, increasingly coherent opposition.

No to the multinationals’ constitution! Yes to a different Europe – a peoples’ Europe, democratic, social and peaceful!

Fifteen governments are about to impose a constitution from behind closed doors on 450 million people! The so-called Convention – a select club operating behind closed doors – has taken the place of a constituent process, based on a mandate coming out of the sovereignty of the peoples of Europe. This is a break with the entire parliamentary tradition that had grown up since the democratic revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries!

Instead of the Social Europe they promised us, they are imposing a European Power on us, founded on wars (the 1991 war on Iraq, the Balkan wars throughout the 1990s, the new US war) and economic conquest (the fall of the USSR and then Eastern Europe).

We say no to this EU constitution and no to this neo-liberal EU. This constitution is dangerous.

First, it consecrates the absolute primacy of the market; it legally forbids any infringement of private property or market relations. It refuses to give legal status to social gains that have been won on the national level through a century and a half of workers’ struggles: basic social rights, laws on working conditions, labour contracts, trade-union presence and intervention within workplaces, the right to strike, freedom of association…. While it centrally supports and institutionalises the functioning of capital, it leaves labour standards decentralized on the national level and makes them obsolete at the European level! This will lead to systematic, no-holds-barred competition among the wage earners of the different member countries and within each country.

Second, budgetary constraints (institutionalised in the Maastricht criteria) will drastically reduce social benefits and hamstring public economic policy. With this as the starting point, systematic privatization of public services and social security will become inevitable, because public services will be unaffordable. Industrial and financial capital will thus gain a vast, very lucrative playing field. The super-rich will get richer. Working people – workers, youth, the unemployed and casualised, women, immigrants, etc. – will pay the price. In the past 50 years, social inequality has never been as great as now.

Third, the constitution confirms the EU’s semi-despotic, undemocratic character. The real political power remains in the hands of the governments (the European Council) and to a lesser extent the Commission. The European Central Bank is totally independent, functions in total opacity, and is accountable to no one. The European Parliament is not comparable to national parliaments: it doesn’t legislate, adopt the budget, or choose the executive. The constitution doesn’t recognise the multinational character of the member states that deny the right to self-determination of the nations without states, in the name of the territorial integrity principle. Admittedly, the EU is a complex structure. But one thing is clear: power in the EU does not emanate from the citizens or peoples, but from governments! That’s the world upside down! Fourth, the constitution does not recognise citizenship rights, including the right to vote, for citizens of a third country residing in a member state.

Finally, the constitution legally obliges the EU and its member countries from now on to reinforce their military capabilities and act in close cooperation with NATO. This legal obligation will be a bonanza for the military-industrial complex. This is the road to European-style militarism. The European defence that France, Britain and Germany are pushing for confirms their political will and shows the space they want to occupy: inside the imperialist system, alongside the USA.

We say no to this Europe; we struggle for a different Europe: social and democratic, ecological and feminist, peaceful and in solidarity.

Nobody and no organisation that claims to be on the left can agree with the contents of this constitution. Yet European social democracy and the Green parties have already taken sides: their response will be yes. True, they say, it’s all far from perfect, but it’s the lesser evil and we can improve it.

The responsibility of the European social democratic Parties

They put forward three justifications to make us swallow this bitter pill: the EU is an advance over the past, so therefore undermining it means falling into nationalism, European wars, etc.; the EU and particularly the European Commission are defending the communitarian dimension of Europe, therefore they’re helping the European trade-union movement; and the EU must become an economic and political and therefore military force in the world so as to provide a counterweight to the United States. This lesser evil is eating away at politics like a cancer.

In its name, the social democratic parties have swallowed the European bosses’ neo-liberal programme and the EU’s steady backwards march. Applying this program on the governmental level has led to the deep demoralisation of the world of labour and the trade union movement. The social democratic parties are profoundly discredited because of the loss of the popular layers in society. This leads us to reject entry into a government with social democracy on the basis of their neo-liberal program.

The social democratic parties have not even tried to stop this infernal machine, prevent the neo-liberal counter-reform and block this undemocratic European apparatus. They have not even tried to achieve unity in action with the ETUC and mobilise on a European scale. It would have been easy for them, especially since at the decisive moment for the EU in the late 1990s social-democratic parties were running 12 out of the 15 governments and dominated the main EU institutions (the Commission and Council). Today, in opposition, the social democratic parties are trying to erase their recent balance sheet. But the world of labour, women, young people, immigrants and the rest of us haven’t forgotten the pain that the social democrats have inflicted on us. Blair and Schröder, still in power today, are around to remind us what their true social democratic policies are. The largest Green parties have chosen that road. Joschka Fischer, German Minister of Foreign Affairs and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a key player in the European Parliament, struggle to align all the Green parties behind the neoliberal constitution and the European superpower.

Rebirth of social and labour movements

The global justice movement has broken this 20-year-old impasse, creating a left alternative and a perspective for liberation. A new political generation is mounting the barricades. In the last few years in countries including Italy, France, Britain, Greece and Spain, millions of workers and young people have marched shoulder to shoulder in antiwar mobilizations and workers’ struggles. This movement, international from the beginning, has quickly become a reference point in society and a rallying point for a multitude of social forces and organizations. It has given birth to a worldwide antiwar movement on a scale never seen before. At the same time, in Florence, it laid the foundations of a new European social movement. Today the ESF is on the threshold of a convergence with the world of labour in the rich countries by taking up two fundamental social issues: the exploitation of labour and the oppression of women.

Compared with the EU, bosses and ruling classes, most of the leadership of the traditional trade union movement is lagging worryingly behind, in particular the European Trade Union Confederation. Where are the European gatherings, the European responses, the European action programmes, the European actions and strikes and the European strategy that we need to resist the transnational, internationally organised bosses? Why was there no European strike against the war when all the peoples of Europe were taking to the streets of London, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam and Madrid on February 15? How can we fight to win this different Europe?

We will need a new mass social movement, a profound renewal of the trade-union movement and a new citizens’ movement to fight the key upcoming battles.

The 2004 European elections

The EU constitution is an issue concerning us all. But the EU is doing everything to avoid the only true test: letting the peoples of Europe decide about Europe! Some governments are even too scared to hold a referendum!

In reality the EU is staking everything on the June 2004 European elections so as to smuggle its project through. We say: what petty grafters!

We will transform the June 2004 European elections into a huge mobilizing campaign against the EU’s reactionary and regressive constitution and for a different Europe; against neo-liberal policies and for an anti-capitalist programme; against imperialist war and European militarism and for peace and general disarmament, starting out in our own countries. Country by country, we aim to provide a strong anti-capitalist alternative which is broad and pluralistic, in order to fight for the European social movement’s demands and perspectives.

Yes, we can have a different Europe – if all the social forces that have mobilised these last four years fight for their demands and programmes in the streets and at the ballot box, through mobilisations and elections.

For the first time in 25 years a huge oppositional, internationalist, anti-capitalist milieu is emerging on a world scale, to different extents in different countries. Nobody and no political party is capable of co-opting or manipulating this proud, conscious force. Yet the fear of being co-opted and manipulated is there. The best way to ward off the danger is to seize political space, and make a collective intervention in the battle during these elections based on the social movement’s central demands, which have already been brought to life in the European Social Forum. Otherwise we risk an absurd outcome: while the social movement fights on the ground, the traditional parties of the neo-liberal left walk off with the political conclusion.

We need a different European Left! We need a new political force: anti-capitalist and European

Faced with the traditional Right, which is increasingly aggressive and reactionary, faced with a far Right that is racist and a threat to democratic freedoms, and faced with a social-liberal Left that is totally devoted to the policies of the ruling classes, we need a political alternative that takes up the aspirations of the social, anti-capitalist left. It’s up to the tens of thousands of men and women, young people and old, workers and citizens engaged in the movement and mobilizations to build this new anti-capitalist force for the radical transformation of society. Nobody else can do it in their place. Giving up on the job out of inertia, suspicion, hesitance or incomprehension would mean giving a green light to endless reruns of social-liberalism – which would be a disaster. We have to work together on a radical, unitary and pluralist basis.

The European Anti-Capitalist Left wants, without arrogance, to make a contribution to this project. We are not something different from the social left; we are an integral part of the social left. We have been in the social movement and global justice movement from the start, building it and strengthening it.

Our project reflects the different motivating forces inspiring the social movement: anti-capitalist and ecologist, anti-imperialist and antiwar, feminist and grass-roots, anti-racist and internationalist. As an alternative to capitalism, we seek a socialist, democratic society, self-managed from below, without exploitation at work or oppression of women, founded on sustainable development as opposed to a growth model that threatens the planet. As a strategy, we have a social orientation, very concerned with working people’s daily lives: we demand a stable, full-time job, a living wage, a liveable social benefit in case of unemployment, sickness, disabling conditions or retirement, the right to housing, education and professional training and quality health care, for everyone. This requires undoing neo-liberal policies and breaking with capitalism: (re)developing public services, recasting government budgets and redistributing wealth from capital to labour. In short, in order to reach our social objectives we propose to take all necessary anti-capitalist measures, including replacing private property with social property.

Only a new political and social force on a massive scale across the European continent will be able to impose our social demands and realise our hopes for a better world.

A different Europe is possible, but a different European Left is necessary.

The following organisations signed this Declaration in Paris, on November 10-11, 2003:

  • Scottish Socialist Party (SSP, Scotland)
  • Red Green Alliance (RGA, Denmark)
  • Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR, France)
  • Left Bloc (BdE, Portugal)
  • Socialist Alliance (SA, England)
  • Socialist Workers Party (SWP, England)
  • Socialist Party (SP, Ireland)
  • Socialist Party (SP, England)
  • The Left (LG/DL, Luxemburg)
  • Alternative Space (EA, Spain)
  • Zutik (Basque Country)
  • United and Alternative Left (EUiA, Catalonia)
  • Solidarities (S-S, Switzerland)
  • Party of Liberty and Solidarity (ÖDP, Turkey)

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Mar 02 2004

Nothing Surprising and Nothing New

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:14 pm

On February 14th a Convention of the Left was held in Derry City. The main sponsors of this meeting were the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Ireland and the Green Party. Under the banner of the Socialist and Environmental Alliance they had contested the election to the Northern Ireland Assembly (see article by John McAnulty) in Derry City and East Londonderry County. This is a critique of this Convention, which first appeared in The Plough no. 27, the bulletin of the IRSP.

A non-party socialist described the course of the meeting as follows:

1. IRSP delegates, who had turned up in good faith, amounted to over 20% of those present.

2. The SEA platform displayed a willingness to allow speakers to discourse at great length, unless they happened to be republican, and more specifically, IRSP.

3. Discussion of the necessity of an anti-imperialist, anti-partition basis to any class struggle, or indeed campaign, in the North, was effectively precluded, despite the feeling of the meeting that it should be dealt with.

4. When it appeared that Republican Socialists were swaying the meeting, a member of the platform pronounced that they would object on principle to being a part of a grouping, which included the IRSP. The outcome of the meeting was, should we have needed it, a lesson in the primacy of principled politics. Those who criticize the IRSP for being part of the problem might be better advised to examine the bankruptcy of their own solutions:

a) While these pure Marxists might find the writings of Connolly, Larkin and Costello too parochial to deserve study; they can hardly disown the writings of Marx (or indeed Lenin).

b) For Marx, Ireland was a classic example of a colony. The unity of the working class in such circumstances was almost impossible, as a large proportion of them were wedded to the imperialist ideal. The descendants of the colonists saw themselves in the main as a class apart, because of the privileges, which the British state had provided for them in return for their support. This contradiction between these two, artificially created, sections of the Irish working class could, according to Marx, only be overcome by the removal of the problem: The British colonial presence in Ireland.

c) Despite the (relative) independence achieved by the 26 counties, the problem, and solution, has not changed in any meaningful way. Northern Ireland remains a colony, maintained for no other purpose than to perpetuate the divisions within the working class outlined by Marx over 150 years ago.

d) These are the facts, and no attempt to avoid them will make them any less true. However, avoidance has a long history, most famously, and disastrously, following the Second World War. Both the CPNI, the small Trotskyite groups, and eventually the NILP sought to build class politics in the North as part of an internal solution. These efforts were of course made in good faith, but they were based on the flawed assumption that if the border issue was skirted around it would simply go away.

e) It would be pointless to comment on this analysis, other than to ask where these groups are now, except that this is the same solution as is now being put forward as a programme by the putative Convention of the Left. That this exercise has developed into a debacle will come as a surprise to few. However, like all experiences it has had its uses, in that it has clearly drawn the line between the radical left and the reformists. This line is National Liberation.

The mainstream left (as they would wish to be perceived) in the North, believe that they can convince loyalist workers to abandon generations of prejudice by not broaching the subject, which most concerns them. One has to wonder at the arrogance of those who think that the working class are stupid, but who seek to lead them in any case!

Loyalist/unionist workers are part of our class. They also happen to be wrong. There is no quick fix to this contradiction within our class. However, honesty about our goals, and specifically our republicanism, are necessary prerequisites for our interaction with them. We have nothing to hide.

Finally, there is no such thing as normal politics. There is only politics that serves the working class, and politics which do not. Clearly, and unfortunately, the current Convention of the Left falls into the latter category.

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Mar 02 2004

Left Unity urged

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:11 pm

One of the largest left meetings in Wales for years has heard renewed calls for left unity in Wales.

Forward Wales AM, John Marek, shared a platform with ex-Labour MP, George Galloway, and antiwar campaigner, John Rees in Cardiff University on January 20. The meeting attracted 300 people, many of whom were young. The meeting, British politics at the crossroads, was part of a wider campaign to launch a new electoral coalition by Galloway.

This coalition has already pledged not to contest the European elections in Scotland due to the strength of the SSP and its hoped that the left vote in Wales will not be split either, with Forward Wales claiming they have a candidate capable of uniting the left.

John Marek stressed the need to campaign in the communities as well as standing in elections, both locally and on a European level, in order to build a grassroots socialist alternative to New Labour.

Seren Issue 12 Feb. 2004

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Mar 02 2004

Forward Wales to challenge Labour

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:09 pm

There was a mood of confidence and anticipation as a new left-wing political party was launched in Wrexham on November 8. The local RMT rail-workers’ union secretary Dave Bithell told members: We’ve beaten Labour once and we’ve got to move forward to beat Labour again and again.

The combination of a radical socialist message coupled with the credible, common-sense approach typified by the party’s Assembly Member, John Marek, was evident throughout the day.

The new party name Forward Wales/Cymru Ymlaen was adopted along with aims and principles committing it to building a sustainable socialist society.

John Marek himself described the day as a new dawn for Wales and stressed the party would be different from others. He said Wales had always been a radical country and Forward Wales would reach out to urban and rural areas, Welsh speaking and non-Welsh speaking. Strong representation from trade unionists, a feature of Marek’s election campaign to win his seat in the Assembly back in May, ensured vocal support from representatives of the fire-fighters, PCS civil servants, the RMT and the GMB. Dave Bithell himself was elected as trade union organiser for the new party and re-iterated the RMT ’s support for the new party.

The party will now seek to build branches in every constituency in Wales in readiness for next year’s (2004) European and council elections.

The party already has advanced plans to contest elections in its Wrexham stronghold but there are likely to be candidates standing under the Forward Wales banner throughout the country.

But the party’s priority is to campaign in communities and workplaces, such as the ongoing Wrexham Against Stock Transfer campaign activists initiated in September. The campaign has succeeded in bringing together tenants and council workers after more than a dozen meetings around estates facing sell. The new party will aim to link up the various local campaigns against stock transfer in Wales into a national campaign. Forward Wales’s constitution ensures that its elected representatives, like the Scottish Socialist Party, receive an average skilled workers’ income and the party will be looking to cement links already made with the SSP in the coming months. It will also be building international links in readiness for the European elections next June.

Seren Issue 11 Jan. 2004

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Mar 02 2004

Northern Ireland elections lay bare the contradictions of imperialist rule

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 07RCN @ 3:03 pm

John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Belfast) analyses the election campaigns run by political parties for the Northern Ireland Assembly and what the results mean for the Good Friday Agreement.

The results

The outcome of the elections in the North of Ireland, in factual terms, is simple enough.

  • 1. Among nationalists Sinn Fein triumphed over the traditional leadership of the SDLP
  • 2. The DUP scored a significant victory over its rivals in the UUP and emerged as the largest party.
  • 3. There was a collapse in the vote of the smaller parties.
  • 4. There is now a significant two-thirds majority among unionists against the Good Friday Agreement and the progress towards a final British settlement in Ireland has now ground to a halt.

There is however one overwhelming fact that dominates even the significant changes registered by the election. After the seemingly pointless election to a structure that would not exist lies the bare bones of British colonial rule led by Secretary of State, Paul Murphy. He will certainly maintain the suspension of the Assembly, in effect collapsing for a fifth time the discredited structures of an Agreement that supposedly resolved for all time the question of Irish self-determination. This close down will mark the final and formal switch-off of the life support for an Agreement that has been dead for some time. It will not re-emerge, even in the battered and distorted form that the British had twisted it into, as they constantly squeezed it to the right in an attempt to placate unionism. The idea that there is some formula that will lead Ian Paisley to form a government with Sinn Fein is sheerest fantasy. Just as fantastic is the idea that the British will break with their unionist base to save the Agreement or that Dublin will do anything about the continuation of British rule.

The statement by the governments after the result, directed more to the DUP, but equally applicable to Sinn Fein, in effect said, ‘So What? What are you going to do about it?’ Behind the cant about respecting parties’ mandates was the sober call for them to live up to their responsibility, i.e. Follow the British agenda or face a long period of exclusion from office. Despite being the largest party the DUP cannot lead a return to unlimited sectarian rule and, despite the undisputed mantle of leader of Northern Nationalism, Sinn Fein face the same demands for humiliating surrender they couldn’t quite meet in the farcical deal that kicked off the election.

DUP Victory

The DUP victory over the UUP is part of a familiar pattern going back at least to the start of the Troubles and the premiership of Terrence O’Neill. A ‘moderniser’, backed by Britain in a desperate attempt to stabilise imperialist rule, falls to bigots on the right and a new right wing leader is then eventually persuaded to support a new British deal. But this too proves too much for the bigots who now lead a new attack. The spiral has continued until the ‘reform’ on offer is an Agreement hat enshrines sectarianism, colonial rule and rules out Irish self determination more or less indefinitely and this time the reformer is the arch-bigot Trimble! The rule within unionism is that the biggest bigot will eventually rule the roost. Trimble, a former organiser for the semi-fascist Vanguard movement of the early and mid-seventies, was elected UUP leader on the strength of sectarian posturing at Drumcree. He was believed to have enough sectarian capital to keep the majority of unionists on board. In the event Trimble himself didn’t believe this. At the slightest sign that he was being outflanked on the right he would break from the Agreement and demand major modifications that were always accepted by the British.

Trimble has fought in vain and is now a minority figure in unionism, easily outweighed by the DUP and the critics in his own party who are openly calling for his head. The idea that the DUP, whose name is synonymous with sectarian hatred, who have come to the position of being the major party on the basis of expressing that bigotry, will now share power with Sinn Fein is too ludicrous to consider for even an instant. A DUP First Minister and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister?

The ‘winning team’

‘The winning team’ – the Sinn Fein election slogan – is clearly justified in terms of votes cast and seats won. It’s quite laughable when applied to their overall strategy. The Good Friday Agreement has involved them in constant retreat. At their last outing the republicans decommissioned a large element of the IRA arsenal and indicated that they would give unconditional support to the British statelet. The pay-off was supposed to be a series of concessions involving the return of former activists who were on the run, the demolition of some army bases no longer required and moves by Unionism to allow the restoration of the Stormont Assembly and Executive. Instead they got a virtual election to a phantom assembly.

The party fought the election promising an ‘Ireland of Equals.’ In fact everything afterwards will show that it is utterly incapable of delivering for its voters, as opposed to its functionaries. They now demand no more than equality within partition and reassurance in the illusion that a united Ireland is in some sense inevitable. The unionist veto on the very operation of the Agreement, never mind the decisions taken within its structures, is a hard lesson that its supporters are not keen to appreciate and its leaders even less keen to openly acknowledge. Already pundits speculate that the party’s strategy involves wiping out the SDLP in the next European and Westminster elections, but hypothesising about the next elections only illuminates the hollowness of the successes of the ones’ past. The question becomes too readily asked – ‘What for?’ Or as the British have said – ‘So what?’

To understand the outcome of the vote we have to contrast the votes within unionism and nationalism. The vote shift within unionism is much less dramatic, but it reflects a genuine strategic debate – not pro and anti reform, but rather, is sectarian privilege best defended from within or without the Good Friday Agreement. In contrast there is only one strategy within Irish nationalism – that is support for the Agreement. The battle between Sinn Fein and the SDLP was about whom was best placed to advance the strategy of meeting the demands of the Irish establishment for stability and accommodation of the interests of British imperialism. The DUP defeated Trimble – Sinn Fein became the SDLP. To be more accurate Sinn Fein has now become a Northern Fianna Fail. As with Fianna Fail in the Twenties they have made the transition from militarism to right wing capitalist politics. The lies and corruption necessarily involved in that transition make them a particularly dangerous political force, combining the ruthlessness of the militarist with the endemic dishonesty of the Irish elite.

The smaller parties in the Assembly

The 108 seats in the Stormont assembly, based on a population of 1.5 million, were designed to bribe everyone. The initial elected convention to negotiate the Agreement was structured, at least partly, so that the thugs in the loyalist death squads would win seats and this was further promoted by the PR system in the Stormont Assembly. Fortunately the thugs of the UDA lacked the political skills to retain seats. The UVF front organisation, the Progressive Unionist Party, managed to win seats and one MLA, Billy Hutchinson. He was touted by the Socialist Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and a number of other groups on the British left as a socialist! Left enthusiasm declined somewhat when Billy emerged as the spokesman of Loyalist mobs attacking primary school children at Holy Cross school, but his departure is welcomed to the same extent that his sidekick, David Irvine’s survival is mourned.

Less dangerous and more vacuous was the Women’s Coalition, a ‘post-modernist’ collection supported by the Communist Party. Despite their name they generally stood back from supporting any issues of women’s rights and saw the latter in terms of women playing a more prominent role in the existing reactionary and sectarian political system. Their only policy was to support imperialism and the Good Friday Agreement – at one stage defining themselves as unionist to do so!

The only minor group with any material base was the Alliance Party based on the vain hope of non-sectarian unionism. They were the only party to survive – just.

What next?

First there are the demands of unionism. The DUP called for ‘A fair deal’. This is the call of ‘white trash’ for the maintenance of their sectarian privilege. A majority of unionists now call for that privilege to be protected by the dismantling of the Good Friday Agreement. Nationalists in contrast voted overwhelmingly for the Agreement.

However it is the British State that will decide the next steps and their concern will be with their unionist base. When Trimble backed out of the last attempt to cement a deal what happened immediately was that British government’s commitments to the republicans were abandoned – a clear demonstration of British willingness to support unionism. It is unionist demands that will have effect despite ridiculous nationalist illusions that the default position is strengthened by Irish government involvement in the North.

The British will express their position through a review of the Good Friday Agreement in which the nationalists will come under intense pressure to accept its renegotiation. These attempts to put Humpty-Dumpty together will fail because, no matter what they say, there are in reality no circumstance in which the DUP would form a government with Sinn Fein.

British analysis suggests that the DUP may fail to retain their vote if they are unable to produce a formula for government or, alternatively, that the party may split into hard-liners and pragmatists. What is noticeable about this is that it is a long-term strategy and is based on a long period of suspension of the Agreement. During this period the business of politics for those who support the Agreement will be lobbying the British colonial administration.

There are fewer difficulties in this for the unionists. They have found the past 30 years of direct rule adequate in protecting their sectarian rights and holding the nationalists at bay. Where some concessions have been made – for example in employment – they at least have the comfort of having made no concessions themselves. In the meantime there are a whole series of committees and quangos through which they can carry on political life. It is perfectly correct that the early mass phase of the civil rights struggle brought down Stormont, but this was hastened by the unionists, even against British pleading, refusing to accept reform.

On the other hand there are difficulties for the Republicans. There is plenty of business to do with the British in terms of troop reductions that the British want to make anyway, and ‘on-the-runs,’ those still formally wanted by the British State. What the Republicans crave most however, Governmental seats, are not on offer in the immediate future. At the same time there will be increased pressure from Dublin. Fianna Fail and Irish capitalism in general are already quite clear about what went wrong – the Provos were too tardy in their surrender to imperialism. They didn’t give enough and they will reckon that a new dramatic capitulation that is clearly total may yet win unionism over. Sinn Fein’s election propaganda was support for the Agreement, the boast that they were best placed to get further peace grants from Britain and the EU and finally a law and order ticket. The have already set up unofficial policing in some areas but can only fully operate their new programme if they sign up to the real police and give unconditional and full support to the state.

While the nationalist working class voted in support of the Agreement yet again, this time they selected the Republicans to lead the demands for implementation. These Republicans promised equality and the perception is that they will be harder and more militant in confronting the British. Support is now tinged with a certain impatience to see the democratic society that they believe is hidden somewhere inside the deal. There are two illusions here. One is that the Agreement contains reform. The other is that Sinn Fein will be able to produce that reform. The opposite is the case.

The ghost of Good Friday has only survived on the back of constant retreat and concession by the Provos. This process will continue into the future. In past blockages to implementation of the Agreement the Republicans allowed things to move forward by conceding to unionist demands. Signing up to the Northern State without the GFA structures would please many of their new middle class voters. But it would alienate many traditional supporters and the capitulation demanded currently by the DUP would, at the moment, be several steps too far even for them. Gerry Adams has optimistically stated that the DUP are where the Ulster Unionists were six years ago. That is, the DUP will come round to dealing with and sharing office with Sinn Fein.

What this prompts is a reminder of where the Republicans were six years ago – promising significant steps to a united Ireland, disbanding of the RUC, support for Articles Two and Three of the southern constitution, ‘not a bullet, not an ounce’ and some lingering claim to be an opposition party. Holding on to all their support, while shifting their programme by as much again, even if it were possible, cannot but create severe strains in the movement. This does not herald a future for the republican ‘dissidents’ since their policy of repeating the past holds even less attraction.

The overall turnout for this election was relatively low by local standards and in part this reflects a section of the working class who have already turned away from the charade, although as yet to nothing very positive. In West Tyrone Dr. Kieran Deeny polled more than 6,000 votes to win a seat, standing as an independent solely on the fight to keep acute services at Omagh Hospital. This does not represent a conscious political break from the GFA process but it is a significant slap in the teeth to Sinn Fein.

While in office they were responsible for implementing the health cuts. It would be a gross mistake however to believe Dr. Deeny represents any sort of political alternative or that his election is an effervescence of class consciousness. It represents the fact that people no longer feel bound to support the GFA above all else. This represents both an acceptance of the Agreement and rejection of its necessary outcomes.

In the months to come the pro-Agreement analysts will come to accept that there will be no deal with Paisley. What they will not accept is that there was no deal with Trimble either. The fact is that the slow decline of Unionism continues while the British stand frustrated, unable to see any other base for their presence in Ireland. The main resistance party, Sinn Fein, have surrendered. They surrendered first to Fianna Fail and Irish capital before being led by them to surrender to the British. Now, even in this instant of capitulation, the British are unable to underpin victory with stable institutions. This instability provides proof that the contradictions of imperialist rule will continue to provide anti-imperialist politics, socialist politics, with an objective basis.

Accepting or challenging British imperialism?

All the parties in the Northern elections agreed on one thing – that British imperialism was the mechanism that could guarantee the future of the Irish people. The rivalry between them was about what programme they should lobby the British to adopt. No-one challenged the British right to rule and only Sinn Fein made symbolic protest when the British indicated that they would once again switch off the lights in the comic-opera assembly

However the suspension of the assembly – effectively for the fifth time if we include the odd glitch when abortive attempts were made to re-establish the Good Friday structures, means that there is a crisis of British rule and that, despite its overwhelming support, it is unable to offer a stable solution for the North or a democratic solution for the Irish population as a whole.

In this situation the socialist movement, as a potential leadership in waiting, able to offer an alternative to imperialist rule, have an importance out of proportion to the tiny vote they attract.

However the election campaign in the North shows that the organisations of the Marxist left are unable to mount even the bare bones of a political challenge to imperialism and are in fact locked in a strategic crisis where the interests of their individual organisations blind them utterly to the interests of the working class as a whole. The left disgraced themselves with their intervention, but as they had no influence to begin with that is an issue for the future of working class self organisation rather than a real factor in the election today.

The Left?

Worth mentioning briefly is the wolf in sheep’s clothing – Billy Hutchinson of the PUP – not that Billy was of the left. The Progressive Unionist Party, a front organisation for the Ulster Volunteer Force, is an organisation of the far right, representing sectarian death squads. Billy only enters on the list because of the attempts by the Communist Party, Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party, in the face of all the evidence and direct critiques from ourselves, to present Billy as a socialist, They only finally fell silent when Billy surfaced at the head of howling mobs attacking Catholic primary school children at Holy Cross. Billy’s electoral demise was entirely predictable, given his actual role, not as spokesman for Protestant workers, but as muscle for the Official Unionists of the UUP.

Also presented as the ‘left’ especially by the Communist Party, was the much loved Women’s Coalition. It was especially loved by local capitalist politicians and by the British press precisely because it was innocent of any left policies. Despite its name the Women’s coalition failed to prioritise the fight for progressive polices on women’s issues in an area where there is ferocious opposition to women’s rights. It had only two policies: women should be active in politics, even if the politics were those of utter reaction. Secondly Irish women should support imperialism and the Good Friday Agreement. The coalition was a good example of the old Stalinist theory of ‘stages’ pushed to absurdity.

The CP opposed fighting on socialist demands on the grounds that there was a preliminary stage of Irish independence to go through. Then they argued that democracy in the North was a necessary preliminary to this. Now the Women’s Coalition indicates that a preliminary stage of imperialist rule and sectarian division should also be supported. Unfortunately the voters who agreed with this view preferred to vote for the sectarians themselves rather than the Women’s Coalition. The electoral campaign of the Northern Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions deserves mention, even if they did not stand or formally endorse candidates. NICTU (or NIC, as they prefer to be called to avoid hurting unionist sensibilities) and some affiliate unions such as ATGWU and UNISON campaigned around a ‘bread and butter’ campaign that patronised workers. Workers shouldn’t bother their head with politics but restrict themselves to prices and wages. The fact that this line is always rejected by workers, who always vote on political grounds, is never an issue as the main role of the campaign is to avoid the necessity of the trade union movement taking up any progressive policies. The unions however did have one political position that they were determined to put.

Workers must vote to save the Agreement and bring back the Stormont assembly. The movement founded by Connolly and Larkin now had only one policy they were enthusiastic about – the return of an Assembly that cements British rule and that splits the working class between North and South and then splits it again in the North on sectarian lines. What makes the present position of the unions so utterly shameless is that they spent thirty years banning politics from the trade union movement on the grounds that they were divisive – even then, of course, it was only socialist and democratic politics that were banned.

Socialist Party

There was one organisation which tried to put the trade union line into practice. The Socialist Party stood Tom Black in East Belfast and Jim Barbour of the Fire Brigades Union in South Belfast (even though Barbour apparently isn’t a member of the Socialist Party). The SP candidates received utterly derisory votes. One commentator pointed out that Barbour’s vote of 167 was half that of the Natural Law Party in the last election – a group of cranks who believed in yogic flying! Black did little better on 176 votes.

This represents a serious crisis for the Socialist Party strategy in the North. Briefly summed up it can seen as a sort of pink unionism that links frantic support for a Stormont Assembly with the ‘gas and water’ municipal reformism dismissed by James Connolly over a century ago. This strategy has failed four times now. It failed when they tried to set up a ‘mass labour party’ with loyalist paramilitaries. It failed when they set up a ‘Labour Party’ for the pre-Stormont convention. Not only did the party collapse, it turned out to have nothing to say! It failed in the last election when they stood themselves and now it has failed utterly when they thought they could capitalise on Barbour’s prominence in the Fire Brigades Union.

The Barbour campaign represented another right-wing element of Socialist Party policy. For some years now they have operated as a handmaiden of the bureaucracy rather than their left opponents. Barbour’s candidacy represented this perfectly. Rather than a representative of rank and file fire workers sold out by the FBU bureaucracy, Barbour was the local representative of a bureaucracy that surrendered to the bosses and then rammed the sell-out through the branches. Even from a trade union perspective it is hardly surprising that Barbour got such a derisory vote on the day that his members got a 3.5% wage increase tied to productivity after the FBU promised them 40%!

One last element of the Socialist Party perspective deserves mention. There has for several years been a rather confused unity debate on the left. The SP has always demonstrated an absolute and politically sectarian refusal to participate or consider any unity proposals. Its case has been that the left is irrelevant but that the SP stands in a unique position in real unity with a section of the working class. The election shows how hollow these claims are in the North.

Socialist Workers Party

The narrow sectarianism of the Socialist Party is counterbalanced by the blatant opportunism of the Socialist Workers Party. Politically there was little to distinguish between the two campaigns. Yet again the workers were advised to ignore real politics and vote ‘bread and butter’ politics. Where the SP supported a Stormont executive the SWP ignored it. An election is held to a capitalist, colonial, sectarian structure that is in permanent crisis and whose survival is the main item on the agenda and the left tell workers to ignore the issue! Instead the SWP try to build an opportunist alliance with the Communist Party and Workers Party, with whom they should have nothing in common and who their own supposed programme sees as pro-capitalist parties! A hilarious meeting is held in Belfast where the WP say they are not interested in unity, the CP say that unity must be in support of the Women’s Coalition and the Good Friday Agreement. Other groups argue for opposition to the GFA and the SWP say the issue isn’t important!

The initiative falls apart under its own contradictions but the SWP go ahead with a mini alliance with the CP in Derry. Even the SWP hesitate to call the 2,257 vote of Eamonn McCann a victory. Contrasted with the 137 vote for running mate Marian Baur of the CP, McCann’s is clearly a personal vote, a fact underlined by the transfers to the SDLP and Sinn Fein (the votes splits 50-50 between the two parties, with a handful for the unionists). This indicates that building working class consciousness, the lynchpin of any Marxist intervention in elections, is clearly absent here.


Last, but very definitely least, we should mention the intervention of the republican opposition. A group of six republicans led by Tony McIntyre of ‘the Blanket’ website endorsed the McCann campaign. Nothing illustrates more clearly the bankruptcy of republicanism in modern Ireland. The majority of the signatories have spent their whole lives fighting for self-determination and a number have spent long periods in prison. They refuse to go along with republican capitulation but they not only fail to build a republican alternative but end up endorsing a candidate who says that the National Question doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be an issue!

The truth is that the strategic crisis of the left is not confined to the North. All the tricks of political sectarianism and blind opportunism can be found as readily in South and North Dublin as in South Belfast. Dirty deals behind the scenes, putting their parties before the class, forming alliances with the union bureaucracy against the class. These are all familiar themes.

The tragedy is that a working class resistance is possible. In the North a layer of traditional working-class republican vote has disappeared with no-one to vote for. In Dublin the one sizeable trade union demonstration against the bin charge sees rank and file members of SIPTU throw their union cards at SIPTU secretary Jack O’Connor. The Socialist Party stay well back while the SWP members merely looked confused.

There is only one alternative to imperialist rule in Ireland. That alternative is socialism. The Northern elections show that the left are throwing away a chance to lead the new wave of struggle and are in fact, helping to smother it.

John McAnulty

Northern Ireland Assembly Election Results

Party Seats Increase/Decrease Votes % Vote % Increase/Decrease
DUP 30 10 177944 25.71 7.49
SF 24 6 162758 23.52 5.89
UUP 27 -1 156931 22.67 1.43
SDLP 18 -6 117547 16.98 -4.98
Alliance 6 0 25372 3.68 -2.82
Independent 1 1 19256 2.79 2.22
1 -1 8032 1.16 -1.39
UK Unionist 1 -4 5700 0.82 -3.69

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