Jul 26 2002

Linking republicanism and socialism in Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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