Nov 12 2012

BEYOND THE SALTIRE AND ST. ANDREW – FLYING THE RED FLAG ON JOHN MACLEAN DAY

Allan Armstrong argues that the saltire is not a symbol nor St. Andrews Day a celebration which republican socialists, or indeed anyone committed to a multi-ethnic and multi-faith (and non-faith)  Scotland can see as their own. However, he points out that Scottish socialists can still make November 30th their own, whilst flying the red flag. This is an update an article Allan originally wrote for the Lothian SSP bulletin.

Many Socialists feel decidedly uneasy marching behind the saltire flag of the Nationalists. This is a Christian symbol, no longer appropriate for representing the people of a multi-ethnic, multi and non-faith Scotland.  So, how did the saltire, become the national flag and how did St. Andrew, whom the flag symbolises, become the patron saint of Scotland?

The usual explanation is the following. St. Andrew is meant to have been one of Jesus’ apostles. The saltire is in the form of the cross that St. Andrew was crucified on.  When the kings of the Picts and Anglo-Saxon Northumbrians faced each other in battle, at Athelstaneford in East Lothian in 832 AD, clouds in the shape of a saltire appeared. The Pictish king took this as a good omen, and after his victory, it is claimed that he adopted the saltire as the national flag.

Unfortunately, Nationalist historians don’t look too closely at the nature of this battle, if it ever took place. There was no Scottish state at the time. Today’s Scotland was then divided between areas controlled by Picts, Scots in Dalriada, Welsh-speaking Britons and Anglo-Saxons  – with the Vikings soon to be added to this mix. At Athelstaneford, Picts and Anglo-Saxons would have been fighting about who had the right of conquest over the Britons then living in the Lothians.  A war of national liberation it was not.

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Jul 26 2002

Linking republicanism and socialism in Scotland

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:30 pm

Allan Armstrong looks at recent debates in the Scottish Socialist Party over republicanism and the jubilee

Scotland is the part of the United Kingdom with the widest anti monarchist feelings, yet it is somewhat ironic that the Scottish Socialist Party, despite being the most influential socialist grouping in these islands, showed its usual reluctance to deal with the issue of the monarchy at our February Conference.

The reason for this is not hard to seek. Traditionally, Militant was notoriously unionist and anti-republican; so much so, that their partners in the Six Counties would rather be associated with the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (linked to the pro-British Ulster Volunteer Force death squads) than with Republicans. The CWI, by and large, still adhere to this position, despite their more recent support for a break-up of Britain road through an independent socialist Scotland! Obviously there are major problems in trying to remain British unionist in Northern Ireland and Scottish nationalist up here. In the process of breaking from the CWI, the ISM however, has become aware of this political inconsistency and has recently tolerated Republicans on socialist platforms, provided they were balanced with loyalists!

However, this warring tribes approach also remains politically inconsistent. Yet it still marked the ISM contribution to the anti-Jubilee debate at Conference. The fact that Tommy Sheridan mentioned the previously dreaded R-word three times in his Conference introduction, still didn’t prevent other ISM comrades stating it couldn’t be used in Scotland, because it was too associated with Ireland. Although not openly stated, underlying such contributions was the fear that the use of the R-word could cost us votes, particularly in the west of Scotland.

The fact that republicanism has historically been an inclusive brand of politics, uniting protestant (anglican), catholic and dissenter, whilst loyalism has been sectarian and exclusive – protestant and Orange, is completely lost on those who uphold a warring tribes approach. Of course Irish republicanism has had its own struggles with sectarian Irish catholic nationalism and has not always been successful in these. However, this battle between non-sectarian and sectarian forces has been continuous. Needless to say there has been no such history within the forces of loyalism. Loyalism has been marked by a crude anti-catholic sectarianism and the worship of the monarchy and empire. The struggle between republicanism and loyalism has represented the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor and between national liberation and imperialism. Refusing to take sides in such a struggle leaves the SSP disarmed when sectarianism does rear its ugly face in Scotland. It puts us in a similar position to those old socialists who used to say that you shouldn’t challenge a man who beat up his wife, if he was a good trade unionist at work!

The Edinburgh-led James Connolly Society has been at the forefront of the struggle against loyalism and its apologists in the old Edinburgh District Council and also against reactionary and sectarian catholic nationalism. Every year socialist speakers are invited from a wide variety of backgrounds – Labour, SNP, Turkish hunger strikers, black American women, as well as from Sinn Fein, to address the James Connolly Commemoration held in Edinburgh. Despite this CWI/ISM speakers have over the years tried to demonise the JCS as an anti-socialist and sectarian. It came as no surprise when, once again, they resorted to the same stale old arguments to remove any reference to joint work with the James Connolly Society from the anti-jubilee motion to Conference. Yet in 1992, before the Scottish Socialist Alliance had even been founded, the James Connolly Society stood a candidate in the St. Giles/Holyrood ward of Edinburgh on the following platform:-

  • for free speech, against censorship
  • for a £250 minimum weekly wage
  • for pensions and benefits at the level of the weekly wage
  • for a united Ireland
  • for a Scottish republic
  • against racism and fascism
  • abolish the monarchy
  • for socialism

Quite clearly this is a fairly sound republican and socialist platform. Yet, although the CWI and ISM were against any major republican protest, this could still have been won at the SSP Conference, if the SWP had placed its weight behind the motion. Unfortunately, the SWP were split. This partly reflects a quasi-unionist political training which draws on Neil Davidson’s theory that the Scottish nation merely developed as a component of a greater British nation state. In his book, The Origins of Scottish Nationhood, Neil has provided a leftist supplement to Linda Colley’s influential book about the development of Britain – the well named, Britons, The Forging of A Nation. Whilst Colley outlines the British ruling class’s success in promoting a top-down British identity through a wider loyalist mobilisation; Neil highlights the role of Scottish/British constitutional reformists in the construction of a British nation state. What is completely missing from Neil’s book is the role of Scottish republican internationalists, such as Thomas Muir and the later leaders of the United Scotsmen, who quite clearly drew upon a distinct Scottish revolutionary tradition to promote a new internationalism from below, in alliance with Irish, English, French and Dutch republicans, against Britain. Today we need a new republican socialist alliance from below uniting our class in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

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