Aug 29 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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 THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE CONVENTION –

COMMITTING THE SSP TO A NATIONALIST STRATEGY?

 

Introduction

The RCN has been pushing the SSP (and its predecessor the Scottish Socialist Alliance) to adopt a republican and internationalist strategy in Scotland since its inception. We initiated the 2005 SSP Conference motion, which was passed by a large majority of delegates.
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Mar 16 2015

THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’

After analysing the role of the constitutional nationalists of the SNP, the liberal and conservative unionists amongst  the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems and the reactionary unionists led by UKIP, and their attempt to roll back Scotland’s ‘Democratic Revolution’ (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/), Allan Armstrong (RCN) examines the problematic role of the Left in the UK in challenging this.

 

 1. The UK constitutional issue will be central to the General Election campaign

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The continuing political impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ [1] can be seen in the run-up to the May Westminster General Election. The Conservative Party has produced a Westminster General Election poster, which highlights the importance they give to the issue of the future of the UK. It conjures up a diabolic alliance between Ed Miliband, Alex Salmond and Gerry Adams (the latter two apparently pulling the strings behind-the-scenes, since Salmond now holds no post within the SNP leadership, and Adams sits in the Irish Dail [2]).

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Jan 21 2015

THE RCN AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION

THE REPUBLICAN COMMUNIST NETWORK, THE RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN,

AND THE CAMPAIGN FOR SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION

Photo of RCN banner – Patricia Kirk & John Lannigan

Contents

A) The emergence and clash of Left British unionism and Left Scottish nationalism

B) The politics of the Scottish independence referendum campaign

C) How the Left responded to the demand for greater national self-determination in Scotland

D) Carrying over lessons learned from the SSP experience

           i)   the need for political platforms

           ii)  the need for a revolutionary pole of attraction

           iii) the need for political balance sheets to avoid repeating earlier mistakes

E) Promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’

           i) The political legacy of the Republican Socialist Conventions and the Global Commune events

           ii) Debating with other socialists during the Scottish independence referendum campaign

           iii) promoting socialist republicanism and ‘internationalism from below’ in RIC

           iv) the debate over secularism

           v) the debate over Ireland

F) Debates and differences within the RCN

          i) in the lead up and during the referendum campaign

          ii) since the September 18th referendum

          iii) the future for RIC, the all-islands Republican Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Left Project

Appendix

 

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Sep 03 2014

UP TO AND BEYOND THE SEPTEMBER 18th INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM – A socialist republican perspective

Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written an account of the Scottish independence campaign since the SNP launched its official ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign in 2012 up until the last two weeks before the September 18th referendum. This is based on several contributions Allan has already made on this blog. It is also a contemporary update of his historical piece, The Making and the Breaking of the UK State (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/). This article also looks at the possibilities beyond September 18th.

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UP TO AND BEYOND THE SEPTEMBER 18th INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM – A socialist republican response

 

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a)                   The Scottish independence referendum – not an exercise by the UK of the right of self-determination

b)                   The SNP leadership’s strategy

c)                   Cameron’s strategy pushes Labour into the frontline of the defence of the Union in Scotland, whilst he controls things at a UK level

d)                   Attempts to widen the political base of support for the Union

e)                   The new challenge to social liberalism and the ‘New Unionist’ settlement from UKIP, the Tory Right, the Ulster Unionists and Loyalists

f)                    Enter the unexpected – a new movement from below

g)                   The lack of class confidence underpins both official campaigns and the inherited weaknesses of the Left affect RIC too

h)                  After September 18th

 

a)         The Scottish independence referendum – not an exercise by the UK of the right of self-determination

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Oct 29 2013

SOCIALIST UNITY – THE RCN ASKS 12 QUESTIONS

The RCN has been involved in preliminary discussions with Frontline, the International Socialist Group (Scotland), individual members of the International Socialist Network and Defense of Our Party faction in the SWP, as well as other individuals mainly from an SSP background. Frontline  published the views a number of socialist organisations, which we reposted at http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/06/10/socialist-unity/. Stemming from these initial discussions, the RCN has framed 12 questions, which it has sent out to those organisations participating in socialist unity discussions. We will post each response as receive it. We would like to thank Alister Black of Frontline (http://www.redflag.org.uk) and James Foley of the International Socialist Group for the first responses to our questions.

 

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 1. ALISTER BLACK OF FRONTLINE  REPLIES TO THE RCN’S 12 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROSPECTS FOR SOCIALIST UNITY

 

1.     After the demise or major setbacks for Left unity and Socialist unity projects in these islands (SSP, Socialist Alliance, Respect, Forward Wales, United Left Alliance-Ireland), there have been a number of new initiatives recently – the Peoples Assemblies, the proposed Left Unity Party (LUP) and the Socialist Unity Platform (SUP) and International Socialist Network/Socialist Resistance/Anti-Capitalist Initiative (ISN/SR/ACI) unity proposals. However, these have mainly been confined to England and Wales. Why do you think things are less advanced in Scotland at the moment?

The Scottish political environment is now very different to that in the rest of the UK state. The left has faced the problems of its own fractures but also of the ascendance of the Scottish National Party. The left lacks credibility but also has been slow to recover from the self-inflicted wounds of the last few years. At the same time the SNP has presented themselves as social-democrats through reforms such as free prescription charges and abolition of tuition fees (whilst being very friendly to union-busting big business outfits like Amazon).

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Jul 29 2012

A SUMMER OF RADICAL CULTURE

EDINBURGH PEOPLES  FESTIVAL

August 6th-12th

1. People’s History of Edinburgh

August 6th, 6.30 pm,

Outside The Last Drop Public House, Grassmarket

 

Local historian Allan Armstrong leads us on this walk through the Edinburgh that never makes it into the official guide books.  This is the people’s history of ‘Auld Reekie’ shaped by those who lived here and built it.

 

 2. Hamish Henderson Memorial Lecture

Wednesday, August 8th,

Word Power Book Shop, West Nicholson Street

 

Hamish Henderson the famous Scots polymath-poet, author, folk singer, song writer, musician, political activist, linguist, intellectual and founder of the Edinburgh People’s Festival – died in 2002.  He was an inspirational and outspoken advocate of Independence favouring a modern, democratic, socialist republic for Scotland.  Delivering this year’s memorial lecture will be Colin Fox.

For all other events see:-

http://www.edinburghpeoplesfestival.org/whats-on/

(also see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/category/publications/emancipation-liberation/issue-17/ )

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EDINBURGH BOOK FRINGE

 10th to 24th August

Word Power Books, 43-5, West Nicholson Street

Friday, 10th August, 7. 00 pm

 James Kelman launches his latest novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky

Saturday 18th August, 1. 00 pm

 Neil Davidson, winner of Deutscher Memorial Prize, discusses his latest book, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?

 

For all other events see:-

 http://www.word-power.co.uk/viewEventList.php?category_id=12

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DOUNE THE RABBIT HOLE FESTIVAL

Duncarron Fort, Carron Valley Forest, Kilsyth

August 24th – 26th

August 25th, 1. 45 pm

The Longhouse Spoken Word Stage

Dave Douglass, leading NUM militant, member of IWW, author of autobiographical trilogy, Geordies Wa Mental, The Wheels Still In Spin and Ghost Dancers

For all other events see:-

http://dounetherabbithole.co.uk/

 

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Jun 20 2012

THE ‘INDEPENDENCE-LITE’ REFERENDUM AND A TALE OF TWO CAMPAIGNS

THE SNP’S ‘YES, PLEASE’ AND THE LEFT NATIONALISTS’ ‘YES, BUT…’


Tale No. 1 – the launch of the SNP’s Yes campaign

Alex Salmond launched the ‘Yes’ campaign for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum at Cineworld in Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge on the morning of Friday, May 25th. Apart from the delayed start, this media orientated event, attended by over 500 people, was pretty much a fairy tale launch for the organisers [1]. Had any members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) or the CWI’s Socialist Party Scotland (SPS) been present, they would have recognised (and been pretty envious of) the slick setting up of a stage-managed front  – only the ‘Yes’ launch obviously captured far more publicity than either ‘The Right to Work Campaign’ or the ‘National Shop Stewards Network’.

The SNP leadership had, without consulting others, decided beforehand on the timing, the venue, the staff appointed to run the campaign, and those to be invited on the day. Angus Robertson, the SNP’s right-wing Westminster MP for Moray, had been to the forefront of the prior organisation, helped by two SNP paid organisers. The Friday morning launch allowed for the maximum attendance of SNP Holyrood MSPs and their staff. Tickets for non-SNP members and supporters were strictly limited. Nobody else was allowed to distribute any material at the venue before the launch.

Martin Compston, an actor from Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen, and self-declared Scottish nationalist, compered the event. A good-feelings atmosphere was created by performances from artists Liz Lochhead, Alan Cummings, Dougie Maclean [2] and Lou Hickey. Sir Sean Connery sent a statement of support and Elaine C. Smith had prepared a pre-recorded video. The campaign launch theme tune was the Big Country 1986 number, One Great Thing.

To give the impression of wider support at all levels of Scottish society, a well-produced video was first shown. This included brief statements from people ranging from former Chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir George Mathewson (!)  – “I will be voting Yes”  – to the SSP’s co-spokesperson, Colin Fox – “We firmly believe the people of Scotland will be economically, socially, culturally and politically better off under independence”. This video had been edited to ensure that nobody said anything which would challenge the Yes campaign’s very anodyne Declaration:-

“I believe that it is fundamentally better for us all, if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is, by the people of Scotland.

Being independent means Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands.

There is no doubt that Scotland has great potential. We are blessed with talent, resources and creativity. We have the opportunity to make our nation a better place to live, for this and future generations. We can build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society that is stronger and more successful than it is today.

I want a Scotland that speaks with her own voice and makes her own unique contribution to the world: a Scotland that stands alongside the other nations on these isles, as an independent nation.”

However, even this very ‘mother’s milk and apple pie’ statement of intent was somewhat lacking in honesty. The SNP government’s own ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals certainly would not ensure that – “Being independent means Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands” – not with the continuation of the monarchy and Crown Powers over Scotland; not with the City in control of the Scottish economy; and not with Scottish military forces under the British High Command.

Although a select group of politically motivated, but non-SNP, individuals had been hand picked to speak at the launch, none of them seemed to notice this glaring contradiction. These speakers had mostly been chosen because the main battleground for the ‘Yes’ vote is seen to be amongst Labour supporters – an increasing number of whom have become disillusioned with New Labour. Thus, Dennis Canavan, the ex-Labour MP and Independent MSP, Tommy Brennan, a former shop steward’s convenor at Ravenscraig steelworks [3], and Brian Cox, a former New Labour supporting actor, were keynote speakers. A nod was also given to the pro-Scottish independence Greens (represented in Holyrood by 2 MSPs) by having Patrick Harvie speak. Brain Cox was able to declare himself a “democratic socialist”, whilst Patrick Harvie was able to say he was “not a nationalist”. They all then went on to publicly sign the Declaration, drawn up by the SNP organisers.

But, of course, the key speech came from Salmond himself. It was carefully crafted, although few commentators have examined the political content very closely. Despite the apparent ‘promises’ Salmond avoided any specific commitments. He also chose his historical precedent carefully.

“The Declaration echoes the Scottish Covenant movement of more than 60 years ago, which saw more than two million signatures collected demanding home rule and the restoration of our national Parliament.” It was John MacCormick, who initiated the Scottish Covenant in 1947, quite independently of, and in opposition to, the SNP of the day, in order to appeal to pro-Home Rulers in other parties. In other words it was a campaign for ‘Devolution-Max’. During its existence, the Scottish Covenant Association marginalised the rump SNP. The SNP only managed to recover after the Covenant’s failure to persuade then Labour-controlled Westminster to enact Home Rule in 1950, despite the petition collecting almost 2 million signatures in support.

Moving on to today, though, Salmond has set the ‘Yes’ campaign the more modest task of collecting 1 million signatures for ‘Independence-Lite’ (a little more ambitious than the Scottish Covenant’s Home Rule proposals, but still firmly under the Union of the Crowns), in the period up to the 2014 referendum. However, these signatures are to be targeted not at Westminster, which would ignore them as readily as it did in 1950, but at Holyrood. In typically cheeky fashion, though, Salmond has anticipated success in this endeavour by already getting MSPs at Holyrood to vote ‘Yes’, by 69 votes to 52, on May 29th, in support of the SNP government’s version of Scottish independence.

The real reason for this, apart from the obvious symbolism and publicity value, is that Salmond and the SNP leadership are determined that they will set down the parameters for any future ‘independent’ Scotland well in advance. It is their proposals for ‘Independence-Lite’, not any wider ones raised in the context of an independence campaign, which will be negotiated with the UK government, in the event of the official ‘Yes’ campaign being able to win a majority vote in 2014.

The idea that the people of Scotland might desire a constituent assembly, which could draw its mandate directly from them, and achieve more meaningful self-determination than  ‘Independence-Lite’, is anathema to Salmond and the SNP leadership.  Any negotiations with the UK state must be firmly in the hands of the SNP government, and remain on its restricted terms. For Salmond, both Holyrood and its incumbent SNP government draw their legitimacy from the powers already handed down by the existing UK state. “That national Parliament {Holyrood} has now been restored {by Westminster}. But it is not yet able to make many of the key decisions affecting the lives of every man, woman and child in Scotland. Since devolution we have shown we can make a success of running our own health service, schools, local government, police and courts and much else besides.”

So Salmond believes that it is now time for Holyrood to be given more power. “If we are capable of doing all these things successfully for ourselves, why shouldn’t we have responsibility for running our economy, our pensions and representing ourselves on the world stage?”

But of course, the Bank of England and The City will be ‘helping us’ in the “running of our economy”; those corporate controlled pension fund holders will continue to dictate the level of most of “our pensions”; and Scotland’s impact “on the world stage” will be reflected through the prism of continued participation in the British military machine, a key component of NATO and participant in continuous imperial wars. Any Scottish seat in the UN General Assembly will have about as much political leverage upon its Security Council, as the holding of a seat on Auchenshuggle Community Council does upon Westminster.

However, Salmond did make one ‘commitment’, and that was Scotland could protect itself “without the obscenity of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde”. In the period before the official ‘Yes’ launch, the SNP leadership had continued its recent drift to the Right. They even surpassed their earlier retreats. Salmond refused to disown his courting of the obnoxious Rupert Murdoch and News International. The Holyrood government ‘bribed’ the viciously anti-trade union Amazon to set-up a distribution depot in Fife in a ‘pay no taxes’ deal. Another SNP campaign was launched to defend the Black Watch from UK government cuts. Salmond had once opposed imperial wars in Kosova and Iraq. Now, however, the SNP warmly supports Scottish regiments’ participation in NATO’s wars in Afghanistan and Libya.

So, perhaps it was not surprising that Angus Robertson, the ‘Yes’ campaign organiser, SNP Defence Spokesperson and warm supporter of NATO, felt confident that he could strong arm June’s SNP Council meeting into ditching the party’s formal policy of opposition to NATO. It had long been abandoned in practice. Indeed, Robertson had already gone further, and hinted that the scrapping of the Trident nuclear submarine base might not be on the cards after Scotland’s ‘independence’ either.

However, this proved a ‘bridge-too-far’ for Salmond. He still wants to keep another bridge open to that liberal section of the Scottish establishment, including the main churches and the STUC leadership. He also knows that opposition to Trident continues to enjoy clear majority support in Scotland, and even amongst some of the British Military High Command. Even the US government is not that bothered about retaining nuclear bases in the North East Atlantic, as their closure of the Holy Loch and Keflavik facilities has shown. What they want is access to airbases for overseas missions and ‘rendition flights’ in times of war – something Robertson, a strong defender of RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss, would be only too happy to support. Therefore, rather than open up any can of worms in public at the June SNP Council, the proposed motion to end party opposition to NATO was dropped  – for now!

So Salmond was able to remind the ‘Yes’ launch of “the obscenity of Trident” – but without any specific promise to scrap it. Indeed we can get some idea of the extent of any practical commitment to such a course of action, by looking at another of Salmond’s ‘commitments’ at the launch. “At a time when people – not just in this country, but across the whole of Europe and around the globe – are crying out for alternatives to austerity, what better, more positive example could there be than a country like Scotland taking its destiny in its own hands and charting a new, better course with independence.”

Well, we have already seen how the SNP “charts a new better course” through the troubled waters of austerity. HMS Westminster’s cuts are carried on the austerity tide to HMS Holyrood. From here they shipped out by the SNP government to local council shores, where they are passed on by SNP and Labour carriers alike.

Even if Westminster’s control of public expenditure was to be removed, under ‘Independence-Lite,’ the SNP government’s fawning before The City and the major corporations, shows that they would still jump to their every command. So Salmond’s  “alternatives to austerity” would not amount to that much. And neither would Salmond’s acknowledgement of Trident’s “obscenity” necessarily guarantee a future SNP government’s willingness to defy the British government over this issue.

However, before anyone present at the launch could take this all in, Salmond wowed them with his one last ‘all-things-to-all-people’ appeal. “Yes to a greener Scotland, yes to a fairer Scotland, yes to a more prosperous Scotland and yes to a brighter, better future for all the future generations of this historic land.”

Salmond clearly thought he had, by now, done quite enough to persuade those Labour and Socialist players present at the launch to take on their allotted bit parts in the SNP’s ‘Yes, Yes, and Yes Again’ ‘movie’. For, following the launch, Salmond’s attentions were entirely focused upon wooing his favoured A-list cast of ‘independence’ supporters from amongst the directors of the global corporations, Scottish business owners and those members of the Scottish establishment, who feel excluded from the other big show in town – ‘No, Nae, Never – The UK For Ever’ (soon to be relaunched under the name – ‘Better Together’ [4]).

It remains a decidedly moot point, though, whether Salmond’s truly grovelling appeal to ‘Elizabrit’ in Jubilee Week persuaded many in his preferred circle of would be supporters. It certainly made those outside this select group dash for the sickbag. “I am looking forward to a fantastic weekend of celebrations right across Scotland to mark The Queen’s 60 years of loyal service on the occasion of Her Diamond Jubilee. Her Majesty has been, and contributes to be, a great friend of Scotland, offering her subjects’ unparalleled dedication and integrity as she has carried out her duties throughout her reign. This week, the Scottish Parliament put on record its admiration, respect and gratitude for all that the Queen has done for Scotland, and this holiday will enable the people of Scotland to do the same.” Such sycophancy even made Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, look like some kind of closet republican!

Following from Salmond’s lead, his lieutenants in the SNP leadership went on to help him out in the quest to win over his desired supporting cast from amongst ‘the great and good’. On radio and TV shows, and in the pages of the press, key SNP leaders claimed that ‘we’ can proudly keep the queen under Scottish ‘independence’; ‘we’ can remain thoroughly British; ‘we’ will get ‘our’ full share of all those Royal Navy construction contracts; and ‘we’ will have ‘our’ place on the board of the Bank of England too. This is the exciting vision of Scotland’s future now being pedalled by the leading proponents of the official  ‘Yes’ campaign – just haud us a’ back!

By June 9th, this had become too much for Patrick Harvie of the Greens. He publicly protested, stating that,  “We need a management group that includes those who are not just the SNP, who are making every key decision. {He} went on to claim the campaign discouraged supporters from debating issues such as the retention of the monarchy in an independent Scotland, as he said these “differences are never talked about” [5].

However, the other non-SNP participants have remained remarkably silent about the post-launch gallop to the Right undertaken by the official SNP ‘Yes’ organisers. So, how does the Scottish Left relate to the SNP’s official ‘Yes’ launch? Where do they see it going? Thereby hangs a second tale!

 

Tale no. 2 – The SSP and the official ‘Yes’ campaign

Colin Fox has pushed hardest for the SSP to become the publicly recognised Socialist wing of the official ‘Yes’ campaign. One reason for Colin’s initiative was to provide the SSP with media publicity, something of which it has been starved since the party split in 2006. The official ‘Yes’ campaign was always going to attract media attention, so Colin wanted to edge the SSP into the spotlight. It also looks, for now, as if Tommy Sheridan’s attempt to push himself forward, with the behind-the-scenes help of Hugh Kerr, ex-Labour Party, ex-SSP, ex-Solidarity, ex-Green Party, but for now an SNP member, has been thwarted.

Therefore, the SSP was given the exclusive Socialist ‘franchise’ within the official ‘Yes’ campaign. In effect, Colin is pursuing a political strategy in which he sees the SSP re-emerging as the last man standing from the Scottish Left’s ‘Tommygate’ train-wreck. Maybe now Colin thinks that the promise he made at the first post-split conference in 2006 – “Things can only get better” (!) – will finally be realized for the SSP. That once glorious SSP express train could move quickly forward again, having fully recovered from its spectacular derailment in 2004.

Colin works very hard for the SSP and has never let bad news or ‘events’ get him down.  He has also retained more of that old CWI training than others in the SSP leadership. This is probably why Colin thinks that the SSP should both be fully committed to the official ‘Yes’ campaign (think – Labour Party in the past), whilst the SSP itself should constitute its own independent socialist ‘Yes’ wing (think – Militant in the past), and largely ignore other organisations, which he sees as unimportant (think how the old Militant behaved towards the rest of the Left before their ‘Scottish Turn’). Those to be ignored include Solidarity, SWP, International Socialist Group (Scottish breakaway from the SWP) and SPS (the CWI’s Scottish section).

When Colin first announced to the Scottish press that the SSP was signing up to the official ‘Yes’ campaign, he made a considerable impact by raising the issue of a republic. He was even able to force one of the SNP’s MSPs out of her republican closet. Christine Graham was quoted as saying, “After the Diana nonsense when complete strangers lemming-like threw themselves into publicity-driven grief, through Charles and Camilla’s redemption, we are now spoon-fed the William & Kate Show, the latter ironically committed like her deceased predecessor to remaining stick thin for photogenic reasons” [6]. Not the most astute assessment of the political role of the monarchy, but well observed nevertheless. More to the point, it probably got Ms. Graham a ‘dressing down’ from the SNP’s party managers the next day!

Colin was then ‘gagged’ by the organisers when the official ‘Yes’ campaign was launched. He has probably been subjected to much spit and venom behind closed doors, not just for publicly raising the issue of republicanism, but for exposing divisions over the issue within the ranks of the SNP.

Yet Colin remains convinced that it is still possible to pursue his two-track campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote. This means leaving the official ‘Yes’ campaign to say what it will say (and that, of course, will be decided entirely by the SNP organisers); whilst the SSP puts its own case independently, without any reference to, or criticism of, the national official campaign (which Colin sees as playing into the hands of the hostile unionist-dominated press) or acknowledgement of other Socialist organisations in Scotland. Instead he hopes to work with local ‘Yes’ groups, which will not necessarily be under the direct control of the SNP central office, although you can be sure they will be monitoring the situation carefully [7]. However, this could only work, as long as there are no ‘events’ to bring the SSP into direct conflict with the SNP either at Holyrood or in the local councils.

On several occasions, Colin has used the term ‘popular front’ to describe the official ‘Yes’ campaign. Although Colin has retained some old CWI thinking over ways of organising, he has moved much closer to old CP thinking in his formal politics. For, if ‘popular front’ is a term of abuse for an old Trotskyist [8], it is a term of endearment for an old CP’er. Yet, without getting too involved in the arcane language of the old Left, Trotskyists do have a point about ‘popular fronts’.

‘Popular fronts’ are organisations in which the working class is asked to set aside its own immediate class interests in favour of unity with other class forces. Trotskyists can point to the consequences of this in the massacres in Shanghai in 1927, in Indonesia in 1965 and Chile in 1972. Less dramatically, but within our own recent experience, the consequences of electoral ‘popular fronts’ were shown, when Comunista Rifondazione (CR) signed up to a non-Socialist coalition government in Italy. The coalition supported the war in Afghanistan and implemented cuts.  CR then lost all their seats in parliament in 2008.

Up to now, the SSP’s attempt to form a ‘popular front’ with the SNP has proved less bloody or politically costly. But this is only because such attempts have turned out to have no real political impact. The Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) was initiated by the SSP leadership and received official SNP (and Green Party) backing at its launch on St. Andrew’s Day in 1995. However, the SNP leadership only joined up so that they could sit on the SIC and squash it. In this they were completely successful. Now, that the SNP leadership need their own new front organisation, they have launched the official ‘Yes’ campaign, without any prior consultation with the SIC, or anybody else for that matter.

One hallmark of all orthodox CP inspired ‘popular front’ thinking is the constant call to maintain “unity” in the face of “hostile forces”.  The historic consequences of such unity appeals have already been highlighted. These tragedies, set backs and stillborn campaigns have all resulted from the failure of such calls for “unity” to recognise the hostile class forces within the ‘popular front’ itself.  And, when those political parties representing these hostile class forces in the ‘popular front’ are substantially larger than the Socialists, they can make whatever moves they think are necessary against those Socialists, at whatever time they choose.

Therefore, political unity is only meaningful for Socialists, when it is aimed at uniting workers and other oppressed groups, around clear principles that advance our own immediate class interests. Maintaining political unity with hostile class forces, who always prioritise their own class interests above all else, is not a road Socialists should want to go down.

Now Colin is a prominent political campaigner in his home city of Edinburgh. Since May 5th, Edinburgh City Council has been under the joint control of Labour and the SNP. All those planned cuts and privatisations, which the previous administrations  – Labour/Lib-Dem, then Lib-Dem/SNP – have found difficulty in getting fully implemented, will now be visited with a vengeance upon the council’s workforce and service users. This can only bring Colin and the SSP into headlong collision with the SNP [9].

However, you do not even have to resort to speculation about future possibilities to see just how incompatible the SNP’s aims are with those of the SSP. For, it was an SNP controlled West Dunbartonshire council that suspended Jim Bolan, SSP councillor, for six months because of his commitment to taking action on behalf of workers in his constituency in defiance of the SNP’s imposed cuts.

Colin’s recommended two-track approach to Scottish independence – an official ‘Yes campaign + the SSP’s own campaign – is not fully shared by all the existing SSP leadership though. Other SSP figures, particularly from the Glasgow area, have been more damaged by ‘Tommygate’ and, whilst not yet publicly admitting it, they also probably privately feel that the current SSP project is over. They include, to different degrees, Frances Curran, Alan McCombes, Kevin McVey and Jim McVicar, who also enjoy support from a section of the old ISM [10]. There are a number of political responses arising from this other view. For some, it means quietly dissolving ‘into the movement’, for others it means forming a new Socialist ‘think tank’ to develop policies for a future new Socialist movement in Scotland.

However, another strategy has tentatively emerged from within this SSP grouping and amongst their close contacts. This involves joining up with the ISG, who are keen to set up a new socialist unity project in Scotland, to which others can be invited. Within this there would be an ‘inner circle’ (this method of operating also  developed within the SSP [11]) to steer events, but it would be expanded to include selected new people. Meanwhile, prominent named activists and cultural figures give their public support, but are not necessarily part of the decision-making process. The ISG resorted to this method of working when they launched the Coalition of Resistance [12] in Scotland.

This, then, is the political context in which the Radical [13] Independence Conference (RIC) came to be proposed. The idea is supported more strongly by those CWI/ISM survivors in the Glasgow area SSP leadership. Both Colin and Richie, though, see the RIC as little more than a sideshow, both to the official ‘Yes’ campaign and to the SSP’s own campaign.

In the mid-1990’s, many from the old CWI (later the ISM) saw New Labour’s proposed devolved Holyrood parliament as the focus for the new political project, which they went on to advance in the SSA and SSP. Some of these people have similar ideas for a revived or new party in the future, based this time on the promise of the SNP’s ‘independent’ Scotland. Whatever the differences between some Glasgow area SSP leaders and Colin and Richie, both sides largely accept a Left nationalist framework, which leads them to a shared tail ending of the official ’Yes’ campaign.

 

Tale no. 2 continued – The Scottish Left and the Radical Independence Conference (RIC)

The meeting, called under the name of the Radical Independence Conference (RIC), and held on Saturday 2nd June, in the STUC buildings in Glasgow, was opened up to wider sections of the Scottish Left. However, this was the third meeting organised by the ISG and key individuals in the SSP. The organising group had already got as far as issuing a statement of intent and a platform.

“We call on all progressive people and organisations to support, attend and participate in a conference to found an extra parliamentary, pro-independence campaign which puts forward a vision for Scotland that is:

                  Green and environmentally sustainable.

                  Internationalist and opposed to Trident and war.

                  For a social alternative to austerity and privatization.

                  A modern republic for real democracy.

                  Committed to equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of gender, race or sexuality.

This campaign belongs to everyone who holds a radical vision of an Independent Scotland. Socialists, environmentalists, trade unionists, youth, anti-poverty campaigners, cultural figures and all individuals who support the aims of this movement are encouraged to get involved.”

Already a number of personalities, activists and one blog have signed their name to this statement. They include Iain Banks (author), Bella Caledonia (Left nationalist blog), John Duffy (Secretary, FBU Scotland), Sinead Dunn (President, Glasgow School of Art Students’ Association), Patrick Harvie MSP (Greens), Joan Humphreys (Peace activist), Isobel Lindsay (Vice Chair, Scottish CND), Gordon Maloney (NUS Scotland National Executive), Campbell Martin (Scottish Socialist Party), John McAllion (Chair Dundee Pensioners’ Forum), Mhairi McAlpine (blogger and activist), Robin McAlpine (Chair, Jimmy Reid Foundation and Editor, Scottish Left Review), Greame McIvor (National Secretary, Solidarity), Patrick O’Hare (President, St Andrews University), Jonathon Shafi (International Socialist Group), Domnique Ucbas (Vice President, Strathclyde Students Union).

Clearly, the ISG had made some attempt  to overcome the division that has plagued the Scottish Left since ‘Tommygate’. There are official SSP (Campbell Martin) and Solidarity signatories (Graeme McIvor), as well as one activist who left the SSP (Mhairi McAlpine), who now works under a non-party label [14].  More worrying, though, if openness and transparency are meant to characterise any possible future campaign, is the fact that other individuals on this list, in either the SSP or the ISG, do not publicly acknowledge this fact, e.g. John McAllion (SSP) and Joan Humphreys (ISG). There could well be others who have not given their political affiliation.

Following the call for this wider organising meeting on June 2nd, there were also at least three SWP members amongst the 100 or so  present. Other Socialists have suspected for some time that the SWP and Solidarity have parted company in all but name, so despite the fact that Solidarity’s organiser was already part of the RIC (at least as a signatory), the SWP was a little peeved at not having been formally invited, or knowing exactly who was behind the RIC. Nevertheless, both the SWP’s Graeme Campbell and Ian Ferguson raised the important point that there should have been a general political discussion as to the purpose of the RIC before the proposed workshops went on.

However, the widely known fact, on the Left, that no such prior political discussion ever precedes the setting up of the SWP’s front campaigns, and those signing up just have to accept that all the key decisions in these organisations will be taken beforehand by the SWP Central Committee, meant that this useful suggestion was not directly taken up. Others present just bit their tongues, rather than pointing out the SWP’s own lamentable record in these regards, fearful perhaps that this would only contribute to renewed acrimony amongst people who had hardly been speaking to each other for years. Instead, in a rather unsatisfactory manner, the Chair decided that this political discussion should take place in the workshop specifically designed for organising a conference in October. Many of the ‘politicos’ decided to attend this workshop.

Nevertheless, the ensuing debate in this workshop was mainly conducted in a non-sectarian manner, with even the SWP members showing some restraint, and trying to avoid hectoring others. As it was, the SWP’s most distinctive political position turned out to be a particular variant on an otherwise widely shared political spectrum dominated by Left nationalism.

So, how had such an awkward political situation developed on the Scottish Left? Back on May 1st, 2003, a triumphant SSP had won 6 seats in the Holyrood election. This was achieved against the background of massive opposition on the streets to the Iraq War, and to an unprecedented level of socialist unity. Labour lost 6 seats and the SNP 8. Labour was the ‘War Party’. The lacklustre SNP leader, John Swinney had been publicly exposed as a supporter of that ultra neo-liberal measure – flat rate taxes, whilst Michael Russell, another prominent right-winger, went on to lose his seat in this election. SNP members and a couple of their MSPs joined or moved towards the SSP.

Left British unionism was on the retreat in the SSP, and even the SWP publicly downplayed this aspect of their politics at the time. Left Scottish nationalism (which many former Left unionists, from both CWI/ISM and Labour backgrounds, had begun to take up instead) was being increasingly challenged within the SSP by republican socialism. The highpoint of this republican challenge was the Calton Hill Declaration and the successful protest against the royal opening of the new Holyrood parliament on October 9th, 2004.

Then, a month later ‘Tommygate’ broke out! This has led to much animosity and division in the SSP, and then to the post-split Scottish Left.  The dire results of this are still with us today, 8 years later. However, the failure of the Left internationally to stop the Iraq War, despite the massive scale of the protests, also led many to lose their earlier confidence. This was accentuated by the lack of an effective fight back on the industrial front, both in Scotland and the wider UK. Many looked instead for soft electoral alternatives. In the 2007 Holyrood election, Socialists were wiped out, and a resurgent SNP, under its returned charismatic and populist leader, Alex Salmond, went on to win an extra 20 seats and to form a (minority) Scottish government for the first time.

With the ebbing of political confidence, support for republican socialism also became more marginalised on the Scottish Left [15]. Whilst unionism in all its varieties (especially Left unionism) has also experienced a further fall-off in support in Scotland, the new populist rhetoric of Salmond’s SNP has exerted a strong gravitational pull upon the Scottish Left. This has led to a resurgence of Left nationalism. It has been reinforced, of course, by the further decline of the Scottish Left vote at the 2011 Holyrood election, and by the SNP’s spectacular electoral win, taking a further 23 seats, and forming a majority Scottish government for the first time.

Today, even the SWP has made a U-turn towards Left nationalism, taking it away from its own earlier Left unionism. This is even more marked amongst its breakaway, the ISG. Such political U-turns are not unprecedented, since they do not require any abandonment of an inherited method of working, just a transfer of one’s affection – from one state/nation to another. Many recent (and now not so Left) nationalists in Georgia (e.g. Shevardnadze), Ukraine (e.g. Kuchma), Kazakhstan (e.g. Nazarbayev), Croatia (e.g. Tudjman), and Montenegro (e.g. Dukanovic), were once USSR or Yugoslav unionists and CP loyalists.

So, given the events of the past few years, it is not surprising that the meeting reflected this Left nationalist mood. Yet, there were still interesting discussions, because this political slide was also contested by some of those present. They showed a greater appreciation of the problems with the SNP’s ‘Yes’ campaign; or drew on more recent and partially successful struggles (e.g. from the Anti-Fascist Alliance and the Hetherington Occupation); or wished to retain at least some of the aspects of the socialist republicanism they had learned at the SSP’s highpoint. Therefore, the discussions were worthwhile, and provided some opening for socialist republican ways of thinking and acting.

John Shafi, the ISG organiser and RIC signatory, started the meeting well by placing the independence campaign in its international context, particularly the growing crisis in the EU, and the heroic resistance being offered by Greek workers. Furthermore, it is likely that the current economic crisis will deepen even further, leading to the diminution or even the possible end of the euro currency zone. Any temporary resurgence of the pound will likely be short lived, given the extent of the City of London’s financial involvement in Europe. There will be growing right wing pressure in the UK (particularly from those areas where UKIP threatens to take substantial support away from the Conservatives) for British withdrawal from the EU, in order to promote the UK as a low tax, low wage and relentlessly privatised economy, eager to undercut the EU competition.

If such a course of events develops, the one thing that cannot be guaranteed, in advance, is the continued existence of the current political line-up or balance of class forces, either in the UK or in Scotland, up to late 2014 – the year of the proposed referendum.

Yet, despite this possibility, most of those present at the meeting put such strategic thinking aside. They proceeded as if the current SNP ‘Yes’ campaign is going to be ‘the only game in town’. There was little understanding of the real nature of the SNP leadership’s own political strategy, despite an awareness of its neo-liberal economics and social democrat politics. This seeming contradiction between economics and politics is, in reality, no contradiction at all. Social democratic reforms have always been predicated first on the profitability of the wider capitalist economy. So, when that economy is in crisis, then social democrats’ first job is to get it up-and-running again, and do whatever is necessary to achieve this. In the meantime any reforms are put on the back burner. Today, finance capital is at the very centre of capitalism, so this means doing whatever the banksters think necessary. We can see the baleful result of such politics in social democratic PASOK in Greece and in the Irish Labour Party.

However, the SNP leadership’s real underlying strategy  is not widely appreciated by the Scottish Left.  The purpose of the new modernised and much slicker SNP is to gradually increase the political weight of a wannabe Scottish ruling class, not to lead a struggle for full Scottish self-determination, and certainly not to fundamentally contest US and British imperialism or the corporate capitalist order. The SNP has been able to mount much more professional campaigns, drawing in media proficient people, precisely because it has been courting ambitious members of the Scottish middle class by ditching more and more of its long-standing more radical policies.

The SNP has begun to make inroads amongst management figures in the public sector – previously very much a Labour recruiting ground. Salmond’s backing for Lena Wilson, £200,000 a year Chief Executive of the public Scottish Enterprise, in her moonlighting for the private Intertek Group, at £55,000 for 12 days’ work, is just one example of his determination to show other members of the wannabe Scottish ruling class that the SNP is their party.

There are other examples of this type of nationalist party – Parti Quebecois, Catalan Convergence and the PNV. These parties hope to inherit the property, profits and privileges currently held by their respective states – Canada and Spain –  but transfer them into the hands of a new ruling class within their own more limited national territories – Quebec, Catalunya and Euskadi. Their chosen method to achieve this is to push for incremental reforms within the existing state in a way that is carefully managed from above, designed to prevent any radical challenges emerging from below.

This is also why Salmond is so keen to have the second option ‘Devolution-Max’ on the referendum ballot paper. This would provide his wannabe Scottish ruling class with a second bite at the cherry.  Failing this, the SNP’s official ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals themselves fall well-short of full Scottish sovereignty, and are primarily designed to appeal to disgruntled members of the existing Scottish establishment and careerist middle class. Therefore, despite all the hype, just as in the case of Barack Obama, whose Presidential campaign was about rebranding US imperialism; so Salmond’s referendum campaign is about rebranding the Union.

The SNP is seeking, in effect, ‘Independence within the Union’. The political aim of business-savvy Salmond, in pushing for ‘Independence-Lite’, is not so much to make a hostile takeover bid for part of UK plc, but to go for a junior management partial buy-out, with the promise of continuing profitable cooperation with the parent  company in the future. Under the new proposed set-up, though, all those shares transferred to Scottish ownership would, in future, be marketed with ‘tartan’ trimming.

What Salmond and the SNP leadership do understand, though, is that the UK is very much a declining imperial power [16], and that the old British ruling class, its Scottish members included, no longer holds the power and hegemony it once did. Maintaining British imperial pretensions now depends on the UK acting as loyal ‘spear-carrier’ for US imperialism. That old British imperial glue, which very much held the UK state together in the heyday of the Empire, and was accepted, not only by Conservatives and Liberals, but by mainstream Labour too, has been dissolving for some time.

Nevertheless, given current US imperial backing, and the British ruling class’s centuries long experience in maintaining its domination, the UK state remains a formidable opponent. It can draw on a full range of reactionary constitutional powers, including those provided under the Crown Powers. These provide for a whole host of anti-democratic and repressive sanctions. Some of these were demonstrated in the UK state’s brutal response, first to the Civil Rights Movement, then later to the Republican Movement in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the SNP leadership has fully taken on board the natural caution of those new class backers the party is now courting. They have no intention of either killing off the UK state, nor of challenging the dictates of the global corporations and their main backers – the US state.

This is why the SNP remains committed to retaining the monarchy and hence the Crown Powers. They are prepared to accept that any future ‘independent’ Scottish economy will be subordinate to The City in London, after having their fingers burnt over the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland (which have not been majority Scottish owned for a long time), and seeing the prospect of a strong euro vanishing. This desire to appease the powerful is also why the SNP has also made some pretty cack-handed overtures to ‘Scottish-Americans’ such as Donald Trump, and through its support for the April 6th Tartan Day in the USA [17].

And, when it comes to recognition of global corporate capital, the SNP has fallen over itself to accommodate its demands – just think, Sir Brian Souter and Rupert Murdoch, or Amazon and the oil corporations. Salmond would like to scrap Trident and see Scotland moved out of NATO’s nuclear frontline. However, although the SNP do not yet say so openly, they would be quite happy for Scotland to be moved into to NATO’s second tier – the Orwellian named ‘Partnership for Peace’. This would make Scottish airbases available as required by US forces. The Irish government has set the precedent for this at Shannon Airport.

Once you are clear about the real purpose of the SNP, then Salmond and the SNP leaderships’ intentions for the official ‘Yes’ campaign become much clearer. They will only promote those policies that are compatible with maintaining or winning the support of their current class backers and the wannabe Scottish ruling class they want to attract. And these aims are completely incompatible with the aims set out by the RIC (or the SSP).

The SNP will be prepared to accept Leftist non-SNP support, as long as such people are prepared to act as ‘useful idiots’ for their campaign. This means the Left confines itself to the verbal or written promotion of a wish list of demands, to which the SNP has no commitment, nor any desire to bring about, but which might attract some more naïve ‘Yes’ votes. Any negotiations with the UK government will be entirely on the SNP government’s terms. If proponents of a ‘radical’ wish list approach fail to organise independently of the SNP, or back down when they are told to, the official ‘Yes’ campaign can continue to tolerate them.

The most naïve speaker at the RIC meeting thought that the proposed conference could apply for official ‘Yes’ campaign funding. Indeed this and certain other contributions produced the most controversial contribution of the day. This came from the SSP’s Murdo Ritchie, recent local council candidate in Glasgow. Murdo is somewhat of a maverick in the SSP, a veteran of many Socialist organisations and campaigns, including recently Scargill’s SLP. Murdo’s own political world seems to be dominated by his view of the rest of the existing Left. This is why he has developed a very pessimistic outlook. He despaired of  the lemming-like leap into the arms of the SNP, advocated by some at the meeting. He even went as far as to suggest a ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum may be the best option. Murdo was alone in this. In that wider world, outside Socialist meetings, he seemed oblivious to the dark political forces (not all confined indoors!) which such a ‘No’ vote could give succour to!

The meeting’s slide into increasingly Left nationalist thinking placed the focus firmly on the tactics towards referendum rather than developing a Socialist strategy for independence to break-up the UK state and US/British imperialist alliance – the main force responsible for maintaining the present global corporate capitalist order. Jonathan Shafi, who had started the meeting off so differently, also seemed to accept this lowering of the Scottish Left’s political ambition in his contribution at the end.

There was a widespread assumption that the same continued political line-up – the Tory/Labour/Lib-Dem unionist alliance on one side, and the SNP dominated nationalist alliance on the other – necessitated a concentration on winning a ‘Yes’ vote; rather than building a Socialist campaign, which could, if the political situation changed dramatically take the lead in the battle for Scottish self-determination. Otherwise, it could begin to build up a big enough independent class presence to make its political weight felt, both in the run-up and, just as importantly, in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. And, once again, there was no further recognition of the turbulent times the various states of Europe, and major alliances such as the EU, are facing.

Some present did see the problems faced by a ‘Yes’ campaign, which simultaneously promises banksters and corporate bosses a low tax Scottish nirvana, and workers and others a more prosperous and greener future. Therefore, there were contributions about the campaign ‘getting the balance right’, or increasing the ‘Yes’ campaign’s radical appeal, but both still tacitly hoped that the SNP would unwittingly open up new doors for the Scottish Left in the referendum campaign.

We have recently seen this type of approach – the political tail ending of others, hoping to make some gains as a result, in other situations. This is just another result of the long period of defeats and setbacks. Nor is this underlying pessimism disguised by calling every meeting, demonstration or strike that occurs – “just brilliant”.

Recently, we have seen the public sector pensions campaign, which culminated in the millions strong strike, and massive demonstrations throughout the country on November 30th 2011. Nobody tried harder than the existing Socialist groups to build this action. The problem was, there was no political preparation for the completely predictable climb down by the TUC and other trade unions leaders. Instead, the Socialist groups largely confined themselves, on the day of the strike, to calling on the same trade union leaders to give us more of the same.

Yet, it was always very obvious that, once an already reluctant TUC leadership had been goaded into organising this day of strike action, they would use the opportunity to say, in effect – “Look Cameron and Clegg, here we are and this is what we can do – so let us get back into renewed negotiations, union by union, section by section”. But, of course, such an approach can never achieve anything but the most marginal concessions.

Most Socialist groups have become dominated in their thinking by a concern for immediate tactics, leaving the decisions over strategy to others – whether it be the TUC (with behind-the-scenes Labour Party leadership help) on the pensions dispute on November 30th, or the SNP over Scottish independence on Scotland’s immediate political future.  Yet, the TUC leadership has no higher sights than keeping the Labour-supported ‘social partnerships’ – government, employers and trade union bureaucrats – going, and hoping for the return of another Labour government [18]; whilst the SNP leadership seeks a new ‘national partnership’ between Scotland and Britain (England, Wales and… [19]) under the Union of the Crowns – or ‘Independence-Lite’.

It was within this overall acceptance of the need to support the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ option, that the SWP’s Iain Ferguson, backed by Willie Black, raised its own distinctive tactical recommendation for the ‘Yes’ campaign. This was that the Scottish Left should support the adding of a second option on the referendum ballot-paper – ‘Devolution-Max’. The purpose behind this is to chivvy the STUC and other trade union officials into trying to break with the current New Labour leadership’s ‘no, nae, never’ strategy, and its British unionist alliance with the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems. Willie also asked us to take heart from the recent Broad Left electoral advance in UNITE [20] .

Certainly the failure of the STUC to take up ‘Devolution-Max’, even with the encouragement of such prominent ‘Devolution-Max’ advocates as former Labour Scottish First Minister, Henry McLeish, is an indication of just how far to the right, the trade union bureaucracy has gone under its ‘social partnership’ with Blair, Brown and Miliband.

However, one important difference between even ‘Independence-Lite’ and ‘Devolution-Max’ is that the former at least gives constitutional sanction to a possible withdrawal from NATO, and the ending of Trident, whilst the latter does not. Of course, this would not happen without a really significant extra-parliamentary campaign, especially considering the SNP’s retreats over these issues.

The economistic politics of the SWP (and the SPS [21], which also supports a ‘Devolution-Max’ option) downplays such important political distinctions. Their attempt to push ‘Devolution-Max’ is just part of these two organisations’ wider orientation upon the trade union bureaucracy, rather than the rank and file. Certainly ‘Devolution-Max’ could well be in some of these bureaucrats’ interests. The major attraction of Home Rule for the old Liberal Party, and of Devolution for Labour and trade union leaders, has always been that this allows the pursuit of careers, both in the protected devolved institutions, as well as the institutions of the wider UK (and, in the past, the British Empire).

Furthermore, the SWP’s and SPS’s focus upon the TUC/STUC and the trade union bureaucracies is consistent with their Broad Left approach in the unions. Here they demand that existing union leaders promote workers’ economic struggles (e.g. over the pensions dispute), whilst their own Broad Left caucuses simultaneously clock up gains in the number of lay and full-timer trade union posts held. This latter approach, though, is often just another example of rampant careerism, encouraged by the difference in the pay of union officials compared to the members they claim to represent [22].

Although the RIC meeting organisers did appear to oppose the adoption of the SWP’s promotion of a second ‘Devolution-Max’ referendum option, it is interesting that the first port of call for a trade union signatory on the RIC statement was a trade union full-timer from the FBU. Yet, the most inspiring action recently taken by trade unionists has been the independent, rank and file action organised by the sparks to defend their all-Britain pay agreement [23].

Unfortunately, what the June 2nd meeting did lack was a serious consideration of wider strategic thinking, including what to do beyond October. Should the ‘C’ in the RIC stand for a long-term campaign or just for a one day conference? These issues still need to be discussed and would probably have been welcomed on the day, given the undoubted enthusiasm of many of those involved to make a real impact in the future. This was shown most clearly in the report-backs from the other three workshops.

 

Beyond make-believe tales towards an effective strategy – the socialist republican approach

Allan Armstrong of the RCN raised an alternative socialist republican approach at the organisation workshop. Such an approach offers a challenge not only to all the established powers of the state (including the draconian Crown Powers) but to bureaucratic privilege everywhere – whether in parliament, council chambers and offices, or in trade union HQs and branch offices. It also suggested a different approach, which does not tail end the official ‘Yes’ campaign.

To make the best of the current wider international political possibilities, the Scottish Left has to raise its sights once more, as it started to do at the time of the Calton Hill Declaration. This means looking beyond the planned conference in October, and making plans to initiate its own active campaign. The purpose of this would not be to put pressure on the SNP leadership, but to take the leadership of the movement for Scottish self-determination out of its hands, and place it amongst those forces which could adopt a consistently anti-unionist, anti-imperialist and anti-corporate capitalist course. This would also mean organising such a campaign on ‘internationalism from below’ principles, bringing in Socialists from England, Wales and Ireland, and hopefully from within the European Anti-Capitalist Left Alliance (or other new forces to emerge out of the current resistance to the Troika’s (EC/IMF/ECB) austerity drive.

The political situation is rapidly changing, and only when Socialists start to put forward our own independent course of action, will we make any real impact in the current conditions of deepening economic and political crisis. Then we can really link the growing demand for genuine Scottish self-determination with the possibility, not only of offering a vision of an alternative society, but of creating the type of independent political organisation and taking the necessary action to achieve this.

Allan Armstrong. 17.6.12

 

 

[1]             Of course, it was dismissed by much of the ‘No’ supporting unionist press in Scotland. However, it is revealing that the official ‘No’ campaign is only going to be launched from a closed news conference with Alistair Darling (Labour), Charles Kennedy (Lib-Dem) and Annabel Goldie (Conservative). After Glasgow City Labour administration handed out grants to the Orange Order for Jubilee street parties, they are perhaps a bit wary about who might be attracted to a Union Jack festooned public launch.

[2]             Dougie Maclean wrote and sang the anthem Caledonia, although the best-known version is still Frankie Miller’s, originally from the 1991 Tennents advert (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX9h558Tz1E), where the anonymous hero turns his back on Thatcher’s London and returns to Edinburgh.

[3]             Tommy Brennan controversially encouraged the import of Polish coal to Ravenscraig steelworks during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike.

[4]             This slogan is uncannily reminiscent of New Labour’s 1997 “Things can only  get better”!

[5]             Sunday Herald, 10.6.12

[6]             Sunday Herald, 13.5.12.

[7]             It is not only the Socialists, to their Left, that the official ‘Yes’ campaign will need to watch. There will also be those notorious, thinly disguised racist, populist cyber-Nats, who will respond to British unionist provocations (including from neo-fascist Loyalists) with anti-English bile. The SNP’s official ‘Yes’ campaign, though, is not designed to alienate the British ruling class, either with the prospect of Socialism on one hand, or anti-English sentiment on the other. It  is about striking up a new deal – ‘Independence within the Union’.

[8]             Support for CP-type ‘united fronts’, as opposed to Trotskyist inspired ‘united fronts’, has brought Colin into disagreement with Richie Venton, the SSP’s Industrial Organiser. Richie (also ex-CWI) otherwise shares much of Colin’s belief that the SSP is the only significant Socialist organisation in Scotland. They retain their understanding of the best way to organise politically from their old CWI/Militant training. However, this view no longer enjoys majority support amongst their former CWI members in the SSP, especially in the Glasgow area.

[9]            The SNP’s Edinburgh City Council coalition Depute Leader is the decidedly anti-Left Steve Cardownie (ex-SWP, ex-Labour Party).

[10]           The ISM, or International Socialist Movement, was the majority Scottish breakaway from the CWI (Militant), originally led by Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan. However, ‘Tommygate’ blew the ISM apart, and it subsequently dissolved itself. The online magazine, Frontline, represents though, in effect, a ‘Continuity ISM’.

[11]            see section 2b of http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/12/23/beyond-the-ssp-and-solidarity-forgive-and-forget-or-listen-learn-and-then-move-on/

[12]          The Coalition of Resistance was first set up in England and Wales by an earlier SWP breakaway there – Counterfire.

[13]            The adoption of the ‘Radical’ prefix rather than ‘Socialist’ is an indicator of the widespread lack of confidence on the Left today about the possibility of a genuine alternative to capitalism. Radicalism like populism is something that can have a Right or a Left face. However, the RIC organisers do not intend to make any Rightwards political appeal; they hope by publicly disguising their own Socialism behind the ambiguous Radical label, it will be easier to bring others on board.

[14]             In this Mhairi is probably representative of a significant section of former SSP members, who chose neither to remain in the party, nor to join Solidarity after ‘Tommygate’, but have found other arenas for their political activity.

[15]             It still continued, though, in a more educational role, highlighted by the Republican Socialist Convention in 2008, which brought Socialists together from Scotland, Ireland (North and South) and Wales on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis. This was organised by the SSP’s International Committee (see             http://scottishsocialistparty.org/new_stories/events/republican-convention-report.html).

[16]             see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

[17]            Tartan Day was originally launched by Trent Lott, the racist and homophobic Republican Senator for Mississippi in 1998. However, its right wing provenance did not prevent former Labour Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, from backing it either.

[18]            Some people have claimed that under Miliband, Blairite ‘New Labourism’ has been ditched. However, if anything, even further Right thinking has taken root in the  Labour Party. If New Labourism represented the impact of Thatcherism on the party, with its acceptance of neo-liberalism and craven subordination to US imperialism; then one of the most significant currents in the Labour Party today is Blue Labour. The development of Blue Labour  reflects a growing acceptance of ideas shared in common with the BNP, especially over immigration and social conservatism. Whilst Blue Labour hasn’t yet replaced the New Labour thinking (which remains strong), it has certainly had more influence than the shrinking Labour Left. The Left could not find enough backers for John McDonnell in his bid for  British Labour leadership in 2010, whilst in Scotland they were unable to  find a Left candidate for the Scottish Labour leadership in 2011.

[19]             Well, Northern Ireland does not figure in the SNP’s calculations at all. This ‘oversight’ is also reciprocated by Sinn Fein, which, in acknowledgement of its leading position of one side of the constitutionally entrenched sectarian Stormont set-up, has declined to publicly support Scottish independence. Needless to say, the Unionists and Loyalists have not committed themselves to any such self-denying ordinance, and give loud backing to the British unionist ‘No’ cause.

[20]              Just how meaningful this Broad Left advance in UNITE is for Socialists can be seen in the article by Jerry Hicks, a worker and Rank and File candidtae, who opposed the Broad Left UNITE apparachik, Len McCLuskey, in the election for the union’s General Secretary, See http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/23/union-leader-slams-ed-miliband-but-who-put-him-there-in-the-first-place/

[21]             see http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/14593/29-05-2012/yes-scotland-independence-referendum-campaign-launched.

[22]             It is significant that the Socialist Party (CWI) has dropped the call for trade union officials in the PCS to be paid the average wage of the members they represent, now that they are in the leading position within that union. Similarly, leading ISM members (also from a CWI background) took a similar attitude to this issue, when this it was raised in the SSP, after Bob Crow (paid over £130,000 annually) looked as if he might bring the RMT in Scotland much more closely towards the SSP before ‘Tommygate’.

[23]            Copies of the construction workers rank and file Site Worker paper can be had by contacting siteworkers@virginmedia.com.

_____________________________

Also see:- 

What Do the May 5th Local Election Results Mean in Scotland? at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/05/31/what-do-the-may-5th-local-election-results-mean-in-scotland/

The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate, Part 3 at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/05/18/the-scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-3/

The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate, Part 2 at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/03/26/scottish-independence-referendum/

Why We Need an ‘Internationalism from Below’ Strategy to Address the Crisis of the UK State at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

 

 

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Feb 26 2010

Republican Socialist Convention Debate

The contribution by Allan Armstrong (SSP International Committee) at the Republican Socialist Convention in London on 13 02 2010

Allan Armstrong (SSP) welcomed the participation of the veteran campaigner, Peter Tatchell, a ‘republican in spirit’, to the Republican Socialist Convention. However, there was a formalism about the republican principles Peter advocated. This was because Peter had not analysed the real nature of the British unionist and imperialist state we were up against, and the anti-democratic Crown Powers it had its disposal to crush any serious opposition. Nor did Peter outline where the social and political forces existed to bring about his new republic.

Back in the late 1960s, socialists (e.g. Desmond Greaves of the CP and those involved in Peoples Democracy) had been to the forefront of the campaign for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland – equal access to housing and jobs, and a reformed Stormont. The particular Unionist/Loyalist nature of this local statelet, and its relationship with the UK state, was largely ignored or downplayed, in an otherwise militant and vibrant campaign. Every repressive institution used by the UK state is prefixed by ‘royal’, e.g. the RUC, ‘her majesty’s, e.g. the prisons, whilst ‘loyalists’ is the name given to those prepared to undertake the more unsavoury tasks the UK state doesn’t want to own up to in public.

Socialists paid a high price for this negligence, when 14 people were gunned down in Derry by British paratroopers on January 30th, 1972. The socialist republicanism, which should have informed the struggle had been absent, and the Civil Rights Movement gave way to the combined physical force and later political republicanism of the Provisionals. When Irish socialist republicanism did emerge, the leadership of the struggle had already largely passed to others.

Some of those earlier socialists, such as Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, recognised the need for a new socialist republican approach. However, the Provisionals were adroitly able to widen their political base, and keep genuine socialist republicanism marginalised by a resort to populism, through addressing some social and economic issues. Now that the Provisional leadership has made its deal with the UK state, under the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements, these populist social and economic policies are being jettisoned.

There is a strong lesson in this for socialists in Scotland and the UK today. Scotland, with its valuable oil resources, and key British military bases, is far more central to British ruling class interests, than Northern Ireland was in the 1960s. There is a growing National Movement in Scotland. Many supporters link the idea of an independent Scotland to an anti-imperialist vision (opposition to participation in British wars and to NATO) and to defence of social provision in the face of ongoing privatisation. This National Movement is wider than the SNP. Meanwhile, the SNP is taking the road of parties like Catalan Convergence, PNV (Euskadi) and Parti Quebecois. Its leadership is seeking a privileged role for the Scottish business within the existing corporate imperialist order. The SNP is tied both to the ‘Scottish’ banks and to cowboy capitalists like Donald Trump.

The SNP’s election manifesto pledged support for an ‘independence referendum’ to address the issue of Scottish self-determination. Although, the SNP leadership has been in full retreat over this issue, it will not go away, since there is a wider National Movement, and the probable election of the Tories at Westminster will once more raise the political stakes.

The SNP has no way of achieving Scottish independence. It is too tied to Scottish business interests, which want no more than increased powers for themselves – Devolution-Max. Recently, Salmond has come out in favour of the British monarchy. What this means is that the SNP accepts that any future referendum will be played by Westminster rules.

In the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, when the British ruling class was split over the best strategy to maintain their Union, the non-political Queen was wheeled out to make an anti-nationalist Christmas speech, civil servants were told to bury inconvenient documents, mock military exercises were launched against putative nationalist forces, whilst the intelligence services conducted agent provocateur work on the nationalist fringe. Compared to the role of the British state against Irish republicans, this was small beer. However, given the timid constitutionalism of the SNP, a further resort to Crown Powers was not needed at this time.
Furthermore, the taming of the once much more militant Provisional Republican Movement, so that it now acts as key partner in British rule in Ireland, shows that the British ruling class has little to fear in the ever-so constitutionalist SNP.

Today, the British, American and EU ruling classes are united against any move towards Scottish independence, so will be even more determined in their opposition than in 1979. This is why any movement to win Scottish self-determination must be republican from the start. It must be prepared, in advance, to confront the Crown Powers that will be inevitably utilised against us. Because genuine and democratic Scottish independence represents such a challenge to British imperialism and the UK state, we need allies in England, Ireland and Wales too. We need to be committed to a strategy of ‘internationalism from below’. We are socialist republicans and link our political demands with social and economic campaigns. This was the course advocated by two great Scottish socialist republicans – James Connolly and John Maclean. This is why the SSP is in London today seeking wider support.

A reply to Allan Armstrong’s arguments from Nick Rogers, CPGB (Weekly Worker 805, 18 02 2010)

Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network and the SSP turned to the national question in Scotland. He thought Peter Tatchell’s rather abstract republicanism was exactly what was not needed.
The Scottish National Party had shown that it was prepared to play the parliamentary game to prove that it did not pose a disruptive challenge to the corporate status quo. It was now in favour of retaining the monarchy – not even offering a referendum to the Scottish people on the issue.

A Scottish republic, on the other hand, would ditch the monarchy, throw out USA and British military bases, and reverse the cuts and privatisation. The British state would use all the resources at its disposal to resist the loss of North Sea oil and the Trident bases. Scottish republicanism was a strategy to strike a blow against the imperialist UK state, break the link with the US and build internationalism from below.

Toby Abse declared he took a Luxemburgist position on the national question. Far from believing the break-up of existing national states to be progressive, he thought the creation of a European state would provide better opportunities for socialists.

I said… we should encourage a class-based identity that encompassed migrants and the working class internationally.

However, in Scotland and Wales there clearly was a strong sense of national identity and national questions existed. The demand for a federal republic was the way to relate to the question, both in England and in Scotland and Wales.

The English must make clear that they had no wish to retain either nation within a broader state against the will of their people, but neither would they force them to separate. As for socialists in Scotland, comrade Armstrong’s argument hardly provided a ringing endorsement of the case for independence, since it would be precisely the conciliatory SNP that would lead moves to split Scotland from Britain, making every attempt in the process to avoid rocking the establishment boat.

The strongest possible challenge to the British state was to be made by the working class across Britain – and preferably across Europe, raising the demand for a European republic.

David Broder and Chris Ford of Commune spoke after me and expressed support for the RCN’s internationalism from below and the perspective of breaking up the UK. Comrade Broder did not see why unity with Europeans was more important than, say, with Bolivia, where British multinationals were just as involved as in many European countries.

Comrade Ford spoke about the opportunities the national question created for socialists. The break-up of the UK would strike a blow against a major imperialist state. For his part, comrade Healey thought that the break-up of the UK was as inevitable as the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Time was now fast running out and in a short reply comrade Armstrong commended the arguments of the Commune comrades, while telling comrade Abse and me that our arguments were typical of the “Brit left”, without actually replying to them…

Comrades Colin Fox (SSP Co-convenor) and Allan Armstrong attended as representatives of the SSP’s international committee. Treating England as a foreign country is bad working class politics and fails to recognise the reality of the British state.

A reply from Allan Armstrong (24 02 2010)

As Nick points out in his reply, I believe his comments are indeed typical of the ‘Brit Left’. The reason I didn’t reply to him at the second Republican Socialist Convention, but stated that Chris Ford and David Broder of the commune had made some of the points I would have used, was that I wasn’t given the time.

The preference of the SSP International Committee would have been for the second Republican Socialist Convention to have devoted far more time to the discussion of the relationship between the National Question and Republican Socialism.

The non-attendance of many from the British Left, invited by Steve Freeman of the Socialist Alliance (Convention organiser), still did not create anything like enough time for this debate. The first session contributions by Peter Tatchell and Colin Fox usefully highlighted the debate between bourgeois and socialist republicanism, whilst Mehdi Kia (Middle East Left Forum and HOPI) was most informative about the current situation in Iran.

However, personally, I thought the last session could have been sacrificed in order to enable the broader discussion on the National Question to be aired. The ignorance and lack of comprehension of much of the British Left over this issue needs to be addressed.

If, as I had hoped, there were also to be speakers from Ireland and Wales, then time for discussion would have been even more curtailed. Neither Dan Finn of the Irish Socialist Network, nor Marc Jones of Plaid Cymru/Celyn were able to make it. I thought that any republican socialists in England would have made contacts amongst the quite extensive Irish republican and socialist republican community in London, but this turned out not to be the case. I then suggested to Steve that Ann McShane (Ireland) and Bob Davies (Wales), both of the CPGB, be invited instead to fill the gap and enable the debate between Left Unionism and Internationalism from Below to be more fully aired.

So, let’s examine Nick’s points. I’ll start at the end of his contribution. Treating England as a foreign country is bad working class politics and fails to recognise the reality of the British state.

The first point I would make is that Nick must hardly have been listening. The whole thrust of my contribution (see above), taking on Peter Tatchell’s abstract republicanism, was exactly to highlight the imperial and unionist nature of the British state, and the formidable anti-democratic powers the British ruling class has under the UK’s Crown Powers.

Nick, somewhat revealingly, talks of me treating England as a foreign country. Now England certainly is another country. This is even recognised under the terms of the Union – which recognizes England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland (officially Northern Ireland, but colloquially and wrongly, Ulster) as separate entities. However, I have never used the word foreign to describe England. Is that how Nick describes Ireland, France, or any other country in the world? There are some words and phrases, such as social dumping and foreign which I think form part of the language of hostile nationalist forces and should be rejected in socialist discourse.

Now, the CPGB takes some pride in the solidarity work of HOPI, a united front organisation it initiated. Do CPGB members consider Iranian socialists to be foreign? Does the CPGB secretly think that joint work can not be effective because British and Iranian socialists don’t live in the same state? Nick invokes a mythical international unity provided by the British Left. However, a great deal of the CPGB’s work has been trying to combat the opposition of the largest ‘Brit Left’ organisation, the SWP, to HOPI. The largest socialist organisation in Scotland, the SSP, voted to support HOPI at its 2008 Conference.

The SSP is more than willing to go to meetings in England, Wales and Ireland, organised by others, to argue the case for united action across these islands. Internationalism from below is a hallmark of how the SSP tries to organise. Our International Committee organised the first Republican Socialist Convention in Edinburgh, with socialists from all four nations. The SSP has subsequently sent speakers to both England and Ireland.
Whatever reservations we may have had about the limited time for discussion of the National Question, Socialist Republicanism and Internationalism from Below, provided by Steve at this Convention, we engaged fully, providing two platform speakers and another three members in the audience.

So let’s now look at the second largest ‘Brit Left’ organization, which was invited to participate, the Socialist Party. I will quote Nick’s explanation for their failure to turn up at a meeting with representatives of the largest socialist organisation in Scotland. Quite possibly SPEW deliberately avoided a potentially embarrassing meeting. Embarrassing for who? Certainly not the SSP.

Nick also says, We should encourage a class-based identity that encompassed migrants and the working class internationally. So how does the British Left, which Nick champions, match up to this? Last year we saw the EU electoral challenge by the Left British chauvinist ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ campaign (with its notorious opposition to ‘social dumping’), bureaucratically cobbled together by trade union officials, the SPEW and CPB. It also had the somewhat incongruous Left Scottish nationalist bolt-on provided by Solidarity (although to their credit, many of its members refused to engage, and one prominent member advised people to vote SSP).

In contrast the SSP stood as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Alliance EU-wide electoral challenge, bringing Joaquim Roland, a car worker member of the New Anti-Capitalist Party to address meetings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

So, given the choice of ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ and the EACA, where did the CPGB stand? Quite frankly it made itself look foolish. It never raised the idea that ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ should form part of the EACA’s international campaign. It placed nearly all emphasis on demanding that ‘No2EU/Yes2D’ put support for citizen militias in its manifesto (support for migrant workers facing combined state, employer and union official attacks would have been far more appropriate). Then, failing to get support for citizen militias, told people to vote instead for the Labour Party and hence the very non-citizen militia, British imperial troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere! Even the SWP and SPEW didn’t stoop this low.

When Nick mentions his support for a class-based identity that encompassed migrants, he also fails to mention the woeful record of the ‘Brit Left’, in Respect or the Campaign for a New Workers Party over this issue. The SSP voted at its 2008 Conference to give its support to ‘No One Is Illegal’.

Chris Ford made the valuable point that the UK state, far from uniting the working class on these islands, divides it. The ongoing partition of Ireland is only the most striking case. The bureaucratic institutions of the British Labour Party, and the trade unions (TUC, STUC, WTUC, and the Northern Committee of the ICTU) frequently divide workers and play one national group against another.

Nick takes up the argument made by Toby Abse, to elaborate his own position. Toby had argued that the successive acts of Union {1535-42, 1707 and 1801} had had the effect of creating a united British nation, and that the British working class and its institutions were now organized on an all-British basis. Therefore, following Luxemburg, he believed that attempts to address the National Question in Scotland or Wales were either irrelevant or divisive. To be consistent, Toby should have argued that all UK state institutions, currently devolved on a ‘national’ basis, should be abolished, since they must, from his viewpoint, promote disunity.

However, Nick, who has certainly also called himself a Luxemburgist in the past, is now a member of the CPGB, so in opposing Toby, he has to make some contorted arguments. The CPGB believes there is a British nation and a British-Irish nation (the Protestants of the ‘Six Counties’) but only Scottish and Welsh nationalities. So Nick goes on to say that. In Scotland and Wales there clearly was a strong sense of national identity and national questions existed. First, you would wonder, if the historical thrust of the creation of the UK has been to bring about a united British nation (for most of the ‘Brit Left’, Ireland quickly drops from view!) and a united British working class, why you should consider it at all worthwhile to make any concessions to what could only then be reactionary national identities.

The reality, however, is that the UK state was formed as part of a wider British imperial project, which tried to subsume Welsh, Scots and Irish as subordinate identities. Whilst the British Empire ruled the roost, there was a definite thrust towards a British nation, but this was partly thwarted by the unionist form of the UK state. Once, the British Empire went into decline, those still remaining hybrid imperial identities, Irish-British, Scottish-British and Welsh-British have gone into decline too, as more people have asserted their Irish, Scottish and Welsh identities. This decline in British identification has been most rapid amongst workers and small farmers, whilst support has been clung to most fiercely by the ruling class and sections of the upper middle class.

Only amongst in the Unionist and Loyalist section of the people living in the Six Counties has a more widespread British identity been retained (although this has moved from Irish-British to Ulster-British). Indeed, it is in the Six Counties that the true nature of British ‘national’ identity is shown most starkly. It is here, amongst the Loyalists, that fascist death squads and other forms of coercion have created the worst repression, way beyond anything achieved by their ‘mainland’ British admirers, in the National Front or British National Party. The British Conservatives have just linked up with those more ‘genteel’ Ulster Unionists, but still sectarian and reactionary.

The moves to break-up the UK have their origins in wider ‘lower orders’ movements, such as the Land League in Michael Davitt’s days, the independent Irish trade union movement of James Connolly (founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party) and Jim Larkin’s days. It was John Maclean (founder of the Scottish Workers Republican Party), with his support, particularly amongst Clydeside workers, who offered the most consistent challenge, from 1919 onwards, based upon active campaigning for the ‘Russian Revolution’ and the ongoing Irish republican struggle. He adopted a ‘break-up of the UK and British Empire’ strategy.This was sharply marginalized as the post-war international revolutionary wave came to an end between 1921-3, allowing a Left British and reformist perspective to strongly reassert itself.

In other words it has been the National Question, which has been to the forefront of the democratic and republican struggle in these islands. Without seeing this, you are left, like Peter Tatchell, supporting a rather formal republic, with no real idea where the support is coming from. Nick conjures up The demand for a federal republic… both in England and in Scotland and Wales. This is but a left cover for the last-ditch mechanism used by the British ruling class, from the American to the Irish War of Independence, to hold their Empire and Union together. The Lib-Dems keep the Federal option in their locker, to be dragged out whenever other mechanisms such as Home Rule or Devolution fail to hold the line.

Colin Fox also made clear in his contribution that the British ruling class could even accommodate a formal republic, if it felt it was necessary. So Nick’s republican suffix to his proposed federalism provides another paper cover. We saw the nature of such republicanism in the Rupert Murdoch-backed campaign for a republic in Australia. What it amounted to was a repatriation of the current Crown Powers, and their investiture in the Presidency. Not surprisingly, this proved not to be a winning formula!

Middle class nationalist attempts to renegotiate the Union have also emerged as the British Empire went into decline. The Irish Home Rule Party, Cumann na nGaedhael, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, and (I would argue) the post-Good Friday Sinn Fein have all fitted this mould. Whatever, their formal political position (e.g. an independent Scotland, or a united Ireland), as these parties have become the vehicles for local business and middle class interests, this has been matched by a retreat from their original stated goals, and new compromises with the UK state.

Just as I would argue that the CPGB’s blanket support for the British unionist and imperialist Labour Party candidates, at the last Euro-election, provides a classic example of left British nationalism in action, I would also argue that any socialists pursuing a strategy which tail ends their local nationalist party, e.g, the SNP, act as Left nationalists.

The strategy behind the SSP’s republican socialism, exemplified in the Calton Hill Declaration, is to take the leadership of the National Movement here from the SNP. To counter the SNP’s own ‘international’ strategy – support for the global corporate order, for the use of Scottish troops in imperial ventures, for the British queen, and acceptance of a Privy Councillorship (Alex Salmond), the SSP’s International Committee counters with a genuinely international strategy based on anti-imperialism, anti-unionism, and internationalism from below.

The British Left tries to mirror the UK state in its organisational set-up. This attempt to apply an old Second and Third International orthodoxy was always contradictory. Applied to the UK it just seems to confuse the ‘Brit Left’. Occasionally debates emerge within the CPGB about, whether to be a consistent Leninist, it should not reconstitute itself as the CPUK, and in the process, add its own twist to Irish partition. Both the SWP and SPEW operate essentially partitionist organisations in Ireland, highlighted by their failure to raise the issue of continued British rule (with its southern Irish government support) in elections there.

The UK currently acts as a junior partner to USA imperialism. It has been awarded the USA license to police the corporate imperial order in the North East Atlantic, and to ensure that the EU fails to emerge as an imperial challenger. Apart from its membership of NATO, the provision of military bases, and such ‘police’ actions as bringing the ‘terrorist state’(!) of Iceland into line to bail-out the banks, the UK performs this wider role, with the 26 county Irish state acting as its own junior partner.

Politically, the ‘Peace Process’ (with the Good Friday, St. Andrews and now the latest Hillsborough agreements) and Devolution-all-round (Scotland, Wales and ‘the Six Counties’) represents the British and Irish ruling class strategy to provide the political framework to most effectively maintain profitability for corporate capital in these islands. In this, these two states can draw upon the support of the EU and the USA, as well of course, their ‘social partnerships’ with the official trade union leaders.

The SSP has realized that the British and Irish ruling classes have a political strategy, which covers the whole of these islands. You could be forgiven for thinking that much of the ‘Brit Left’ finds it difficult to see beyond Potters Bar, or where its members do live further afield, thinking their politics just depends on the latest dispatches sent out from their London office.

Nick somewhat condescendingly says that, The English must make clear that they had no wish to retain either nation {Scotland, or Wales} within a broader state against the will of their people (that’s very good of you Nick!), but then bizarrely adds neither would they force them to separate. Well Nick, we all know the ‘Brit Left’ have no intention of forcing us out of the British unionist and imperial state and its alliance with USA imperialism. That is the problem.

The SSP, though, is quite prepared to take the lead in making this decision ourselves. However, we will continue to insist that the break-up of the UK and ending of British imperialism are something that workers throughout these islands have an immediate interest in achieving, and will continue to argue our case to socialists in England, Wales and Ireland. We do want unity, but not the ‘Brit Left’ imposed bureaucratic unity from above, rather a democratic ‘internationalism from below’.

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Mar 20 2009

Edinburgh People’s Festival: Inspirational and Educational

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:53 pm

Colin Fox speaks to Allan Armstrong about the vision and mission of the Edinburgh People’s Festival

What made you revive the Edinburgh Peoples Festival after almost 50 years?

We didn’t start off with the intention of reviving the Edinburgh Peoples Festival (EPF). At Hamish Henderson’s funeral in 2002, a group of us, including Bill Scott, Karen Douglas and Craig Maclean, started to discuss Hamish’s achievements. This was the man after all who had formally accepted the Italian surrender in the Second World War, first translated Gramsci into English, was the driving influence behind the Scottish folk revival, wrote Freedom Come All Ye and the John Maclean March, a working class intellectual and the man who founded the Edinburgh People’s Festival in 1951.

Years before I had come across an essay Hamish had written on the significance of the Edinburgh People’s Festival in Andrew Croft’s book Weapons in the Struggle, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

So, a group of us decided to organise a one-off event to commemorate Hamish and his contribution to our struggle. We opted to have it at the Jack Kane Centre in Craigmillar for several reasons. One, Councillor Jack Kane had been the original Chairman of the EPF back in the 1950’s. Two, Craigmillar, on the city’s southern outskirts is Edinburgh’s poorest district and the Edinburgh Festival itself never went beyond EH1. We also had good community activists in the area we could rely on to publicise and promote the show. Things just escalated from there.

I guess looking back we recognised the importance of the original People’s Festival in acting as a foil or critique of the Edinburgh Festival itself. It has never really been designed for the majority of the city’s people. Ticket prices are now disgracefully high. Local indigenous performers will find it difficult to find a stage or platform and are shunted away for the month.

Where does most of the support for the EPF come from?

We found our original support in Craigmillar where we quickly got the backing of lots of local community groups, like the Craigmillar Artspace. We also learned quick lessons. We put on Bill Douglas’s film, My Ain Folk in the Newcraighall Miners’ Welfare without realising that, although people dearly loved Bill, they felt his depiction of their village rather dismal. Nonetheless the area is proud to have produced such talented people. At the last count we have presented shows in 20 different communities throughout the city and Midlothian.

Beyond local support, the EPF has received backing from the organised active Left. Tommy Shepard, who runs The Stand Comedy Club has been a fantastic help. Support has also come from local playwrights Cecilia Grainger and Barry Fowler, and from many key artistic community development groups in Wester Hailes and North Edinburgh.

Local trade union branches have been key to our financial success. It has been their support that has enabled us to take performances to the local communities and always keep tickets at affordable prices. [We usually charge £2 when the performances and events are not entirely free]. We are indebted to Unison healthworkers, posties, railworkers, teachers, firefighters, railway workers and civil servants unions. They have been very generous, partly, as I remind them, because they haven’t been giving out much strike pay over the last eight years!

As a socialist, why do you see it important to promote popular culture?

Art and culture can be thoroughly inspiring and educational. In Gramsci’s writings you can see the blueprint which led the Italian Communist Party to have one million members in the early 1970’s.

My partner, Zillah and I, attended a festival in France in the late ‘80s organised by the French Trotskyist party Lutte Ouvrier (LO). We were amazed to see 30,000 people there in the grounds of a chateau just outside Paris being entertained and enjoying themselves on an array of attractions. Festivals like these are still common on the left in France, Italy and Spain, bringing together tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. It became clear to me that much of the mass support for socialism on the continent, came not so much through public and party meetings, but because of the wider cultural activities of the Communist Parties and groups like the LO.

The French Communist Party’s L’Humanite by all accounts attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

In Britain we have had Miners’ Galas, May Days, and more recently the Tolpuddle Martyrs celebration. In the 1980’s, when I was in the Militant we used to organise huge political and cultural events in the Royal Albert Hall, Alexandra Palace and the Wembley Arena with 8000 people. They were brilliant. I have to admit that I enjoyed those performances with groups like the Who, Billy Bragg, Red Wedge, Paul Weller and Skint Video more than the Conferences. Truth be told, I probably still do!

In your opinion, what have been the highlights of the EPF so far?

There are very many that spring to mind. Perhaps the earliest is the EPF’s ‘discovery’ of David Sneddon, who we found busking on Chambers Street. We got him to perform at the Jack Kane Centre that first year with his group, The Martians and people were really bowled over by him. A few weeks later, I remember, Alan McCombes phoned me and told me to switch on the TV. His daughters had been at the Jack Kane Centre and were telling him that David Sneddon had just won the BBC’s first Fame Academy! The press were all over us for photographs of him at his first public performance, in Craigmillar.

We also had Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson. We cheekily phoned her up and asked if she would perform at our show Bart Comes to the Simpsons. All the kids in Edinburgh are born at the Simpsons Maternity! She was terrific about the whole thing and the show was just a fantastic success.

We also took the comedian, Mark Thomas, and Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six into Saughton Prison for a show. Originally, it had been agreed that STV would film the event but the governor pulled the plug. The show went on without the cameras and the guys inside thought it was brilliant. They were all over Paddy Hill at the end. We have been back ‘inside’ just about every year since.

We had a line up in 2003 for a cultural debate, or ‘flyting’, which looking back was quite unequalled anywhere in Edinburgh since.

Whose Culture is it anyway? starred Paul Gudgeon, then Director of the Fringe, the irrepressible Richard Demarco, Tommy Shepard, actor Tam Dean Burn, Joy Hendry the publisher, Kevin Williamson, the late Angus Calder and Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas. They were all going at it hell for leather with poor Sian Fiddimore from Wester Hailes desperately trying to keep it all in order.

Last year, we launched the first of what will become the Annual Hamish Henderson Memorial Talks. It was given by Hamish’s biographer, Timothy Neat. And that went very well, certainly one of our highlights – and I think our first sell out event!

The exhibition we mounted, in the Craigmillar Arts Space, telling the story of the Edinburgh People’s Festivals from 1951 is just excellent. It was subsequently shown last November at Wordpower’s Radical Book fair at the Out of the Blue Art Centre in Leith. It is currently on show at the Jack Kane Centre before it goes off on tour.

With trade union financial backing, we also organised a local Art Competition last year, with £1000 in prize money. This was a great success too and a foray into a new field for us.

Richard Demarco, one of the leading figures associated with the Edinburgh Fringe, has given the EPF considerable encouragement. Do you see this as a sign of wider recognition for the EPF?

Richard Demarco is the only person who has been to every Edinburgh Festival. He has been responsible for bringing over many artists to Edinburgh, including from Eastern Europe, when it was unfashionable to do so. Despite Demarco’s centrality to the Festival and the Fringe he has always been an outsider. He remains driven by a passion for the arts and his effervescence is infectious. He has given the EPF a helluva lot of encouragement. He made a typically passionate contribution to the debate we organised at Out of the Blue in August 2007, on the future of art in an independent Scotland. Elaine C. Smith also spoke in similar vein.

But the truth is the People’s Festival has been treated with complete disdain by the Edinburgh establishment and its media, including the local Evening News. Bourgeois commentators have turned their noses up at the popular culture we offer. Nevertheless, they have grudgingly been forced to recognise our innovative approach on a number of occasions.

The People’s Festival has begun to organise events outside the traditional Edinburgh Festival slot. Why did you decide to organise a celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution for example?

People have often said that, even if with some exaggeration, that Edinburgh is a cultural desert outside the official Festival in August. The People’s Festival decided to ‘cash in’, if I dare utter the term, on the fact we are here the whole year round. And since we had grown considerably we felt that it was time to try and extend our activities beyond August.

The opportunity came then in 2007, with the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, an event I believe is the greatest of the twentieth century. Others in the People’s Festival saw the possibilities so I approached Trevor Griffiths, the scriptwriter for the film, Reds, and asked him to come up and celebrate the occasion with us. In the interview he did with me at the event in The Stand, Trevor explained that in fact he was the fifth person chosen by Warren Beattie to write the script. Beattie had bought the film rights to John Reed’s classic, Ten Days That Shook The World. Tommy Shepard offered us The Stand for the event on a night in October. The comedian, Paul Sneddon (aka Vladimir McTavish) and Alistair Hulett’s folk group, the Malkies, performed alongside the Oscar nominated Trevor Griffiths. It was quite a night!

We also worked with Edinburgh’s excellent Word Power bookshop to produce the pamphlet, What the Russian Revolution Means To Me. Word Power is are markable resource. Elaine Henry and Tarlochan Gupta-Aura do a great job in sustaining a radical bookshop, when most other left bookshops have disappeared.

The following January, the EPF took on the organisation of an alternative Burns Supper. For the previous decade, this responsibility had been successfully taken on by the SSA/SSP, but it was good to broaden it out. The radical and controversial Burns scholar, Patrick Scott Hogg, spoke, whilst comedian Bruce Morton performed. People even came from as far away as Dublin to attend that one – seeing it advertised on our website!

This January the EPF organised a very successful event to celebrate 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. Tell us how the contributors were chosen and what else has been planned this year for this anniversary?

We wanted to offer an even better Burns event than that held the previous year. At first we hoped we could get the noted Marxist literary critic and writer Terry Eagleton to speak, but he could not make it. John McAllion stepped in and spoke tremendously well about the link between Burns’ art and his radical commitment in the 1790’s. The ever popular, Vladimir McTavish provided the comedy, whilst we had great musical sessions from the young black American jazz player, William Young, and from Edinburgh’s rising singer songwriter, David Ferrard.

We have also received money from the Lipman Milliband Foundation to produce a pamphlet later this year, What Robert Burns Means To Me.

You have a particular interest in the Scottish artist, Alexander Naysmith. What plans have you for the EPF to bring Naysmith to people’s attention?

Alexander Naysmith is known to everyone but they perhaps don’t realise it, he painted the most famous portrait of Burns. Like Burns, Naysmith was a radical and was blacklisted for his views. He began life as an apprentice coach painter in the Grassmarket before becoming a very successful portrait artist, possibly Scotland’s best, studying under Allan Ramsay, and working in Paris and Milan. But the big mystery about Naysmith is why he suddenly changed to landscape painting apparently at the height of his career. None of the art books will say why, but I know why and actually so do they. It was his politics. His wealthy patrons refused to give him any commissions because he made no secret of his radical republican views. He talked with great passion on the American and French Revolutions during the long portrait sittings. So, under advice from no less a figure than his close friend and ally Robert Burns he took up landscape painting instead. He rose to equal heights in this genre too.

Naysmith was a close friend and collaborator of Burns and out lived the poet by 40 years. He was one of us. And I want the People’s Festival to recognise one of Edinburgh’s people, to organise an exhibition, this August, in the Craigmillar Arts Space, with Naysmith’s portrait of Burns at its centre. We want to make Naysmith’s work and life more widely known. We display work by new artists inspired by him.

Angus Calder is another important writer, who has recently died, associated with Edinburgh. Are there any plans to organise an event celebrating Angus?

There was recently a memorial event for Angus, which I was unable to attend. Angus made many contributions to history and culture and was himself an award-winning poet. He was a member of the SSP and I got to know him quite well. He was a generous and strong supporter of the People’s Festival. I can still remember his contribution at The Flyting we organised in Wester Hailes in 2003. The idea was to revive the great Scottish tradition of cultural polemic, much associated with Hugh MacDiarmid and others, once again largely centred on this city.

The EPF would like to work with others to get more commemorative events organised. We don’t want to take responsibility for everything and I think that’s the best way forward with Angus’s work.

Recently Patrick Scott Hogg asked us if we could organise something to celebrate the great Scottish radical, Thomas Muir. The EPF thought it would be more appropriate that this was done in a West of Scotland setting.

One of Edinburgh’s most controversial figures has been James Connolly. Do you see the EPF trying to reclaim this great socialist republican for Edinburgh?

One of the members of our Committee is Jim Slaven who is well known in the city as organiser of the James Connolly Society. Jim played a key role, in the face of strong opposition, in trying to get Connolly’s legacy recognised in this city. Last August, we hoped to get Terry Eagleton up to speak. This may still happen.

However, in June, Jim was successful in getting the City of Edinburgh Council to organise a one-day event, to coincide with Connolly’s birthday. The event, Over the Water, had speakers from Ireland and Scotland. This June, the EPF hopes to organise a Connolly event in the evening, after the day’s official events. Connolly is very much one of our people and we feel he should be supported by all on the Left especially.

What else has the EPF got organised for this coming year.

We have worked with others, particularly on the Trades Council, in re-establishing May Day in this city. Last year we had Aida Avila from Colombia, Sean Milne, the radical journalist, and Pat Arrowsmith, veteran CND activist, amongst others, as speakers. This year we have Mark Lyons, convenor of the UNITE branch at Grangemouth Refinery, Hilary Wainright, editor of Red Pepper and Matt Wrack from the FBU joining us. We hope to give pride of place to Aleida Guevara, Che Guevara’s daugher, in celebrating 50 years of the Cuban Revolution.

We are also putting on a 20 years after the Poll Tax exhibition, which will concentrate on the role local people and communities played here in defeating this hated measure. The fightback started in Edinburgh, and included such veterans of the struggle as Sadie Rooney, one-time Labour councillor for Prestonfield – until she saw sense!

We also hope to bring a piece of theatre from London’s West End would you believe. The EPF’s producer Barry Fowler is going down to attend the London premiere of Maggie’s End written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood in the Shaw Theatre. The play is about the reaction of mining communities in the North East of England to the announcement of Thatcher’s death. Just the job, eh!

It would be great if we could put this on as our first full theatrical production. Even better, if our showing of Maggie’s End coincided with Thatcher’s actual demise!

What event would you like more than any other to put on the EPF?

Along with the photographer, Craig Maclean, I have often discussed the possibility of putting on some free ‘Outdoor Cinema’. Craig and Rob Hoon (from Out of the Blue) have already experimented with projecting huge images on prominent city landmarks. I certainly think the EPF should remain ‘dangerous and challenging’. I like the idea of guerrilla cinema as agitprop!

Edinburgh People’s Festival website

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