Sep 25 2014

EMANCIPATION & LIBERATION RIC SPECIAL BULLETIN – September, 2014

Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written the following article for the RCN Radical Independence Campaign Special Bulletin, which will be distributed at the RIC National Forum in Glasgow on September 27th.

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Nobody could have anticipated the rise of the Radical Independence Campaign, nor the form it would take. It has been moulded by the largest movement for popular democracy seen in these isles since the Irish War of Independence, and by a new clamouring for political participation and far-reaching changes, not only in Scotland, but across the globe. RIC has been a big success, despite displaying some of the political and organisational weaknesses found in works-in-progress.

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Feb 11 2014

‘JUST SAY NAW’ TO GALLOWAY’S SECTARIAN BRITISH UNIONISM

Bella caledonia posted an article by Richard Cameron (RCN and Edinburgh RIC) outlining the politics behind George Galloway’s Just Say Naw Scottish road tour (see http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/02/03/just-say-naw-to-galloways-sectarian-british-unionism/). Given the short time to write this article a number of errors appeared, none of which affected the overall arguments presented. However, Richard has now had time to correct these and to add an addendum, What is meant by communalism? The amended article is posted below, with thanks to all those who contributed.

This is followed by a report by on the Edinburgh Just Say Naw meeting held on February 3rd written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) for Edinburgh RIC . This was first posted on  posted at:- http://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/report-of-galloway-roadshow-in-edinburgh.html

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1. JUST SAY NAW TO GALLOWAY’S SECTARIAN BRITISH UNIONISM

ARemember George the anti-Iraq war campaigner – look at his allies now

unjtitled-2With the Scottish independence referendum less than nine months away, George Galloway is bringing his ‘Just Say Naw’ roadshow to Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms on Monday February 3rd. A seat costs £10 a head – nothing comes cheap where ‘Gorgeous George’ is involved!

Galloway has been dining out on the Left for a long time since his triumph at the US Senate hearing, almost nine years ago, during the Iraq war. Whatever political differences others on the Left held then, we could all cheer his performance in front of such a smug, then thoroughly riled, bunch of war-mongering US politicians.

However, since then, it has been all downhill for Galloway as a credible Left politician. His Westminster election victories, won on a Left populist mix of Islamic communalism and Old Labourism, leave nothing solid behind. He only held the Bethnal Green and Bow seat from 2005 until 2010, and, in 2015, will almost certainly lose the Bradford West seat he won in the 2012 by-election. In Galloway’s own mind, this has no doubt been largely compensated by his financial gains for being an MP (albeit mostly absentee), from earlier substantial libel awards, from good earnings on the celebrity speaker circuit and, of course, from his cringe-worthy performance on Celebrity Big Brother.

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Sep 28 2013

Scottish Independence March and Rally, Edinburgh, September 21st

Category: Against Unionism,ScotlandRCN @ 12:24 pm

RCN members, Patricia Kirk and John Lanigan were at the Scottish Independence March and Rally in Edinburgh on September 21st. Below are posted  some of the images and film they took of this event.

 

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/45212221@N06/

http://www.youtube.com/user/TrishMaryHill?feature=watch

(for other work by Patricia and John see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/05/22/offensive-behaviour-and-the-independence-referendum/)

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Jun 10 2013

SOCIALIST UNITY

In the aftermath of the collapse or declining support for recent socialist unity projects in Scotland, England and Wales, and Ireland, there have been renewed discussions throughout these islands about the possibilities of achieving socialist unity.

The negative role of organisations like the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party in the Socialist Alliance, Respect, the Campaign for a New Workers Party, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, Scottish Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance (Ireland) have figured prominently in these discussions.

However, one of the shared features of the Socialist Party and SWP has been to confine their wider united political alliances within social democratic political limits. The Socialist Party, whilst being prepared to use the term ‘socialist’ in its favoured wider political alliances, views its ‘socialism’ as being based on the creation of a Broad Left-led trade union based, Labour Party Mark 2.  This is very much a social democratic view, albeit dressed up as ‘socialism’.  Where the SWP has more influence, it rejects the use of the term ‘socialist’ altogether, e.g.  ‘People Before Profit’, an openly social democratic conception.

Ken Loach's Spirit of '45 encourages social democratic nostalgia on the Left

Ken Loach’s Spirit of ’45 encourages social democratic nostalgia on the Left

Now that we have a Tory government, social democratic nostalgia has gained even wider traction. Danny Boyle took us on a social democratic trip down memory lane, in his Isles of Wonder. Ken Loach’s recent film, The Spirit of ’45, draws upon a lefter version of this social democratic nostalgia. However, the The Spirit of ’45 does not even mention Blair and New Labour’s part in dismantling this social democratic legacy.

Other sections of the Left, including those who have made, or are in the process of making a break with the SWP and SP, have been drawn into the social democratic slipstream. Many argue, in effect, for social democracy today, socialism tomorrow. The RCN has been involved in these debates in Scotland, and has argued against the notion of a social democratic road to socialism.

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Oct 08 2012

SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION AND THE ‘ACTUALLY EXISTING’ LABOUR MOVEMENT

A response to the Red Paper Collective’s

Power for Scotland’s People – A labour movement view

The ‘Independent Scotland Debate’ was organised by the Edinburgh Peoples Festival on September 9th. 86 people attended this well-conducted event in the Out of the Blue Centre in Leith. The speaker supporting independence was Kevin Williamson of bella caledonia, who argued from a Left nationalist perspective. The speaker opposing independence was West Lothian Labour MSP, Neil Findlay. Neil is also a member of the Red Paper Collective [1] (RPC), which includes British Left unionists in the Scottish Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain [2]. Supporters of the RPC handed out their pamphlet, Power for Scotland’s People – A labour movement view [3], to elaborate on the points Neil made in the debate.

This website has already posted critiques of Left nationalist approaches to the SNP government’s 2014 referendum [4]. This posting is a critique of the British Left unionist approach outlined in the RPC’s pamphlet [5].

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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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Jun 18 2012

DAVE DOUGLASS REVIEWS GREGOR GALL’S ‘TOMMY SHERIDAN, FROM HERO TO ZERO?’

Category: SSP and SWP,The crisis on the LeftRCN @ 6:45 pm

 

TOMMY SHERIDAN, FROM HERO TO ZERO? – A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY 

Welsh Academic Press, 2012, pp384, £25

 

Tommy and Gail Sheridan: a giant conspiracy?

Given the still raw emotions, ongoing political bitterness and entrenched sectarian positions around Tommy Sheridan, this is a remarkably objective and balanced work. It is also extremely well written and presented.

The forces that would come to be centred on this rising star and his almost archetypal west Scottish working class persona could perhaps never have developed at   all, had it not been for an ideological shift in perceptions towards the independence process by far-left groupings north of the border. This is, of course, a vexed question, however, and this review is not the place to restage the contesting positions.

Tommy’s roots and political apprenticeship had been with the Militant Tendency, which developed his emerging talent for public speaking. Before the poll tax campaign – which really put Tommy in the right place with the right skills at just the right time – were a number of disputes, strikes and protests, which fine-tuned his talents for organisation, leadership and oratory. The poll tax gave rise to a truly mass community resistance movement of non-payment in the solid working class communities, and in 1990 there were huge demonstrations, with 40,000 marching in Glasgow and 200,000 in London.

It was the London demonstration rather than the mass community resistance which became the enduring memory of the campaign. Pitched battles raged in the centre of London – probably even more ferocious than anything the miners’ strike of five years earlier had involved. It was following this demonstration that Tommy became notorious for his condemnation of protestors’ violence and the implication that he would ‘name names’ – earning him the undying title of ‘grass’ among the anarchist left. Unhindered by such trifles in his Scottish base, he had become more and more publicly associated with resistance to warrant sales and bailiff actions and it was during this time that he was drawn towards left nationalism, and some of the people who would become his most reliable comrades.

Tommy’s high media profile and identity with Militant had soon marked him out for expulsion from the Labour Party. He was expelled in October 1989 – all members of the large Pollock constituency party were suspended. The general witch-hunt and widespread expulsion of Militant leaders from Labour, together with general unease with the whole clandestine entrist tactic, led to the break from the party and the establishment of Militant Labour – later to become the Socialist Party (in England and Wales).

Tommy’s star was rising. He was tireless and dynamic, a working class ‘man of the people’ filled with passion and charisma; instantly recognisable – groomed, tanned, always ‘on’. Having been jailed for ‘deforcement’ and breach of the peace, as well as contravening the terms of an interdict, he had used in classic style the court as a platform for class denunciation of the ‘war on the poor’.

In 1992 Sheridan stood twice for election while still in prison. In the April general election he came second to Labour, winning 19% of the votes cast (6,287) – on a platform that “Labour used to campaign on before its heart and soul were ripped out”. The following month he achieved a first by winning Pollok ward from his prison cell and becoming a Glasgow councillor.

In 1995 Alan McCombes, Tommy’s close friend and comrade, floated the idea of a Scottish Socialist Alliance, which would bring together all the existing socialist groups and be able to contest the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections. They also appealed to the Communist Party, Labour left and even the Liberation group of the Scottish National Party. It is perhaps telling that this initiative came about because of the monolithic centralism of Arthur Scargill and his newly formed Socialist Labour Party.

The emergent SLP had been seen as a catalyst which could act as a serious political pole to the left of the right-moving New Labour project. For a brief moment the SLP looked as though it might actually achieve something lasting and important, but it was not to be: it was conceived in the image of Scargill, and factions, rank-and-file control and democracy were not part of that image.

Tommy had brought SML and many others to the table, but Scargill refused any idea of an autonomous Scottish section, self-determination for Scotland or recognition of political factions within the SLP. Tommy had commented: “When Scargill threw down the gauntlet of a new socialist Labour Party we were excited. We wore Scottish socialist spectacles, but we took them off to see the broader picture and were keen to be involved with Arthur.” It was in Tommy’s words a “lost opportunity” – and not just for the Scottish working class.

But Scargill’s bureaucratic myopicism led to the foundation of the SSA, which in turn led to the creation of the Scottish Socialist Party. Had the SLP not been so afflicted, its Scottish section would have boasted a united platform, with Tommy at its head. Maybe it would have also kept Tommy’s feet more firmly on the ground. The total of 101,867 votes for the SLP and SSP in the 1999 Scottish parliamentary election ought to have produced two more MSPs in addition to Tommy.

The decision of SML to more or less wind up and transfer its resources over to the SSA was a bold and principled move, and marked for a time a healthy alternative to the SLP, already fully operating its regime of witch-hunts and membership ‘voiding’.

Tommy’s significance to the SSA was that he was a well known public figurehead, around which much of the Scottish left could unite in the same manner as the left might have been able to rally around Arthur Britain-wide. The SSA resolved that its candidates would not stand against other socialists or in marginal seats against Labour, where they could allow in the Tory. From the word ‘go’ it would recognise political tendencies and factions. The Scottish Socialist Alliance was formally launched on April 20 1996, with The Scotsman predicting that “such a rainbow coalition could dissolve in the sunlight”.

1999-2003 marked a great revival of radical socialist politics and growth in Scotland; it began with the election of Sheridan and concluded with him being joined by another five other Scottish Socialist Party MSPs. Election results and MSPs are not the only criteria of judgment, of course, but on any other yardstick too this period marked a high tide, and Tommy was central within it. He fully came of age when he was elected to the Scottish parliament. The iconic image which went across Scotland was of Tommy, fist clenched, taking the oath of allegiance under protest and duress.

Tommy saw himself as the mouthpiece of the movement. He used parliament to raise questions on particular strikes, and even the wages of parliamentary workers, and was a welcome guest at innumerable strike rallies and picket lines – often in the teeth of hostility from the union leadership.

The attitude of the press to Tommy started to sour around 2000 with his further arrest at Faslane during anti-Trident protests – the Daily Record labelled him “pillock no1” and first coined the phrase “working class zero” in relation to the SSP policy for the legalisation of cannabis. It was around this time too that the press started to dub him the “sun-tanned designer MSP”. He was, though, still writing articles for The Sunday Times, the Record and Evening Times, as well as for the Morning Star.

But it was becoming clear Tommy liked being centre stage. According to Felicity Garvie, Sheridan’s parliamentary office manager from 1999-2006 and a member of the SSP executive, “A fundamental weakness is that he is not a team player … when the other five were elected, I think it was a severe dent to his personal profile and position as leader of the party – the only SSP MSP and so on. You can call it personal pride or vanity, but I think he enjoyed being in that position” (p140).

 

‘Defamation’

Where did it all go wrong? It was a question of personal morality, tactics and judgment of principle. Tommy won a spectacular victory against the News of the World and News International for defamation in 2006, and probably became the most famous Scot in the world after Sean Connery. The whole ‘Tommygate’ affair ran from November 2004 to January 2011, ending with the demise of the champion of the underdog and the collapse of the SSP.

Essentially the NOTW had ‘exposed’ Tommy’s attendance at sex clubs – something he swore had not happened. He decided to play a huge game of bluff in the courts, believing “they’ve got fuck all on me” in the way of hard evidence. He had a choice – either face it down (‘So what? That’s my business’ being one possible response. This was a private matter for himself and his partner to sort out) or go for broke. And, because he believed the revelations, left unchallenged, would destroy him, he went for option two.

The biggest flaw in this strategy was that it was not just himself who stood to be broke if someone called his bluff or broke ranks. He obviously had not been alone in the ‘swingers’ clubs – loads of other punters had been there, people who recognised him and saw him on more than one occasion. The EC of the SSP, as soon the accusations surface, calls a special meeting to discuss the crisis on November 9 2004. Since members of the EC know he is a regular attender at the Cupids club in Manchester, he comes clean and owns up to them, while announcing his belief that the NOTW has no evidence and they will settle at the door of the court. Very reluctantly the EC goes along with this and agrees to stay shtum, on the grounds that Tommy resigns his post as SSP convenor for “personal reasons”. The meeting is, of course, minuted.

In late 2001 Tommy had attended Cupids with a freelance journalist, who went on to try and sell what looked like an ace scoop. News of this got back to the EC and Alan McCombes confronted him over it. Although at first he denied it, he later confirmed within the organisation that it was true. Stories also started to circulate about an orgy at the Moat House Hotel in Glasgow.

The advice of the NEC was to admit it and fight the attacks on him as a private matter rather than an issue of personal morality. Tommy disagreed, but 21 members of the SSP EC had attended the four-hour meeting, where he recited all the facts. Then there was George McNeilage, who just for the record makes a secret tape of what is essentially a confession. When the full minutes were written up they read:

“… The meeting began with an introduction by Tommy Sheridan, He responded to a recent article in the News of the World which alleged a married MSP had visited a swingers/sex club in Manchester in company of a female journalist who had now written a book about her lifestyle. Tommy admitted to the meeting that he had in fact visited the club on two occasions, in 1996 and 2002, with close friends … He reported that he had met with Keith B and Alan Mc and asked them for the opportunity to fight this on his own and for other party members if questioned about it to either give no comment or refer all questions to himself. He said he was confident there was no proof in existence he had visited the club, Tommy said he was not prepared to resign as convenor unless proof was revealed to exist. His strategy was to deny the allegations and in this regard he had already taken advice from NUJ solicitors …”

The minutes record without exception (other than Tommy, who left the meeting before any votes were taken) that all contributors disagreed with the strategy of denying the allegations: “All felt this would be most damaging for the party… All agreed it would be better if Tommy changed his mind about denying the allegations.”

Tommy then resigns as convenor of the party after further deputations from the EC failed to persuade him against fighting a defamation action. In a press statement the SSP comments: “We understand that recent allegations in a Murdoch newspaper may be the subject of a future libel action by Tommy Sheridan and consequently the Scottish Socialist Party does not wish to comment on matters concerning the allegation.” Tommy requests that the minutes of the EC meeting at which he admits the visits should not be distributed. This was agreed.

From here on in Tommy begins to play out the perfectly aggrieved and outraged innocent, fighting the anti-union, anti-socialist press monolith. The subterfuge could never be publicly admitted despite it being almost widespread knowledge within the SSP. What also clearly starts to happen is Tommy and later his supporters get so deeply into the role that they clearly forget they are playing a bluff and that the allegations are actually true. As things turned out, regardless of Sheridan’s victory in the defamation action, the SSP was split. Many thought it unprincipled in the extreme to risk the political reputation of the organisation to effectively save the political skin of one its MSPs. The majority of the EC decided to tell the truth when forced by the NOTW to give evidence.

 

Rewriting history

The author comments: “It seems Tommy subscribed to the principle that the truth is what you make it and that one of the spoils of victory is to write its history” (p173). Many individuals as well as parts of the organised left gave legitimacy to Tommy’s methods – including the distortions, lies and character assassination employed against those who would not play the game. He believed that if he dropped the court case, his guilt and misjudgement would be established and he would have no chance of coming back to lead the party and regain his old stardom. So he determined to prove that black was white and those who said otherwise were traitors.

But first he had a lot of knitting to undo – not least because he had told a whole room of people at the November 9 2004 EC that he had visited Cupids and then resigned because of that admission. He even claimed that the EC minutes, which the SSP had agreed to withhold from the NOTW, had been fake. McCombes, who had strongly advised Tommy against his course of action, was actually jailed for contempt for refusing to hand over the minutes, but this did not save him from the designation of traitor by Tommy and his supporters.

In numerous TV, radio and press interviews he did indeed argue that black was white. In order to do this he was forced to charge all his former comrades who had decided to tell the truth with conspiring with the NOTW and the state against him. “In the 2006 case, Tommy constructed the fabrication that the 11 SSP members [who gave evidence against him] were guilty of ‘the mother of all stitch-ups’ against him and of perjuring themselves in court to do so.” Meantime the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales condemned the SSP for forcing Tommy to resign as convenor before the case.

The News of the World did not, however, cave in, as Tommy had expected, claiming that its story was “substantially true”. So the defamation case started in Edinburgh Court of Session on July 4 2006 and ended after 23 days on August 4. Tommy was suing for £200,000. His rationale was that the case was not about truth or lies, but what could and could not be proved. His strategy was not so much to cast doubt on the evidence, but on the process by which the evidence was accumulated and upon the character of the witnesses. The trial saw News International call 24 witnesses, including the 11 SSP EC members who had attended the November 2004 ‘admission’ meeting. Among them were some who had been Tommy’s closest comrades and friends. It is perhaps worth reminding readers, in light of the accusations of ‘grass’ and ‘scab’, that all of them were there against their will: they could not legally refuse to be indicted and once on the stand under oath, their options were either to lie and perjure themselves, and so risk legal sanction and other consequences, or simply tell the truth. That they were in that position was entirely due to Tommy’s ill-advised choice of action rather than their own universal view to let the charge ride and face it down as an attack on his private life.

Calling his own wife, Gail, to the stand to give evidence on his behalf was a master stroke: “What is clear is that Gail played a key and starring – almost theatrical – role, when cross-examined by Tommy … saying with tears that if the allegations were true ‘You would be in the … Clyde with a piece of concrete tied around you and I would be in court for your murder’” (p182). He was also supported by Steve Arnott of the Highlands and Islands Branch SSP; he suggested that it had been “mass delusion” which had caused 11 fellow EC members to recollect Tommy admitting the Cupids visits.

The media reported Tommy’s 85-minute submission as “spellbinding” and “barnstorming”. One said it was “the best speech of his career”. After 160 minutes of deliberation the jury found seven to four in favour of Tommy and awarded him the maximum damages of £200,000. The author speculates, soundly in my view, as to whether the jury actually believed Tommy or just did not want him to lose at the hands of the hated News of the World.

Having won an outstanding victory (and pulled off what was effectively a massive con), perhaps he would then try to repair the damage done to the party he had previously given so much to? Not at all. Instead he negotiates an exclusive deal with NOTW’s main rival, the Daily Record, for £20,000 plus expenses. His story is serialised day by day for a week. Gregor Gall comments that Tommy seemed to forget the relish the paper would have “in printing stories which helped further undermine the SSP” (p186). In the process he continues to attack the SSP EC as scabs, perjurers and collaborators with the enemy. This nailed any hope of ever reconciling the organisational division.

Worse, having being so accused, those reluctant witnesses for the NOTW now had a vested interest in clearing their names and reputations and went onto the counteroffensive. Barbara Scott, the EC’s minute-taker, hands over to Lothian and Borders police her hand-written original minutes of the November 2004 meeting. This sets in chain a perjury enquiry and the NOTW, which now also had access to George McNeilage’s video recording of Tommy admitting to his attendance at sex parties, smells revenge. The whole mess is thrown back into the public arena. Tommy was charged with perjury on December 16 2007.

He had by then set up a new political grouping, Solidarity. It too was based on no more than the desire to turn an elaborate lie into the truth: Tommy is an honest advocate of principle, while the SSP is full of traitors and grasses. Solidarity’s reaction was that this was all “a colossal vendetta by the Rupert Murdoch empire … which is rooted in [Tommy’s] role of leader of the anti-poll tax movement”. His hope was that only he of the six SSP MSPs would be returned to the Scottish parliament following the scandal and split. Thus he and Solidarity would now be able to claim the SSP’s former mantle and start to retake its ground. In reality that election night in 2007 saw all vestiges of radical socialist presence wiped out. The combined SSP-Solidarity vote only achieved a third of what the SSP had polled in 2003. But Tommy claimed the vote had not been affected by either the court case or the split.

When in November 2009 Tommy stands for the Glasgow North Westminster by-election, he is fifth, beaten even by the British National Party – the least ‘Scottish’ and least ‘socialist’ party standing – and he loses his deposit. His vote in the June 2009 European election, where he runs on the No2EU ticket, is worse – he does not hit 1%. Later calls for both Solidarity and SSP to cooperate within a Scottish version of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition were always going to fall on deaf ears, given the bad blood.

The perjury case begins at the end of 2010. After six hours of deliberation on December 23 the jury found Tommy guilty of wilfully and knowingly making false statements under oath. It judged him to be the MSP in the News of the World story of October 2004, that he had visited Cupids, had admitted this to the SSP EC and had had sexual relations with Katrine Trolle – another NOTW allegation he had denied. The split decision of eight against six shows he nearly – just nearly – pulled it off again, one might say regardless of the evidence (the author calls his case “thin and threadbare”).

Despite the verdict Tommy acknowledged nothing, admitted nothing. He remained defiant, claiming that his downfall was related to the News International phone-hacking scandal in some unspecified way.

 

Moralising

The book is minutely researched and, given its scope, decidedly easy to read and follow. However, if I have any criticism it would be of the chapter on Tommy’s alleged sexual predilection (beginning roughly on p264). From a discussion of facts and real events, suddenly we are catapulted into a priori reasoning based upon highly dubious value judgments about what is and what is not acceptable sexual morality.

I should clarify perhaps that I am not talking here of the criticism of Tommy’s disastrous sex club visits and semi-public orgies, nor his absurd decision to turn reality on its head by denying them. These are disastrous from a political point of view, given his position in the movement. No, those criticisms are well made and I would agree with them.

Rather this chapter goes beyond political considerations. It contains massively patronising assumptions about the ability of “young women” – or rather their inability – to decide for themselves whether they engage in sexual activity and with whom. Consent is not actual consent because of Tommy’s apparent “authority” and “power” over them. Tommy is asked by one of the comrades after a one-night stand with a young (consensual ) member, “What are your expectations here?” Eh? Tommy might well have answered, ‘What the fuck has that got to do with you?’ and he would have been right. The idea that a brief sexual encounter requires some ongoing commitment or ‘meaningful relationship’ is just so much bourgeois moralist shite.

Similarly the use of the prefix “vulnerable” before “women” at once renders the woman childlike: a victim, unable to actually know what she is actually consenting to. What is it that makes her “vulnerable”? It seems simply her youth – there is no need for any evidence. In other words, a social workers’ charter to interfere in everyone’s lives on the basis of their own, very narrow judgmental yardstick. “Vulnerable” applies to anyone doing something our betters think they should not do.

SSP Glasgow organiser Richie Venton is given reign to ‘out’ Tommy’s sexual practices and offer a psychological analysis of the man with no authority other than this is what he thinks: that is, it is nothing more than his own (probably very jealous, hypocritical and moralising) opinion. This then becomes a springboard for a whole construct of historical patterns and sexual behavioural dysfunction – again with nothing more than the a priori social-worker reasoning mentioned earlier. Tommy’s assertion that “sex was a form of recreation” is quoted as some huge admission of guilt. It is a quote I suspect most of us would have subscribed to in happier moments of our lives – and why not? Many of Tommy’s sexual exploits detailed in the chapter on the subject could be those of almost any young working class lad.

Behind this reasoning is the sort of rationale which takes as its starting point that heterosexuality is basically a ‘bloke thing’, that it is essentially exploitative by its very nature. The reactionary bourgeois feminist notion that men are the enemy and heterosex is something women are subjected to. Men flaunting their sexuality in the way Tommy had ought never under these criteria to be accepted, as would, say, homosexual men behaving in the same way. This chapter is by far the weakest in the whole book and represents a sharp diversion from the rest of the exposition; it would have been far stronger without it. But I mention that very much as an irritating aside which does not in any way characterise the book as a whole.

 

Contribution

Tommy’s contribution to the development of a new wave of radical socialist organisation and aspiration in Scotland is beyond question. He was a somebody in the fight for socialism; his work on the streets, on the picket line and in organising a mass fightback was invaluable. He took parliament seriously and was a highly effective parliamentarian. He was also a champion organiser and party-builder, especially between 1999 and 2003.

What makes this whole story a tragedy is that all of this was brought to a crashing end by Tommy’s own catastrophic errors of judgment – one has to ask if his grip on reality slipped to the point where he no longer knew fact from fiction. Tommy’s impact on the working class struggle is called into question by the extent to which we think his latter failings destroyed his early positive contribution – a question often asked in relation to Arthur Scargill (and indeed, on a rather grander scale, in relation to the Soviet Union). Has the damage done during their degeneration made the overall situation for our class worse now than it would have been without them? Such is pure speculation and history cannot be wound back and replayed.

Tommy Sheridan gambled away his most precious achievements – his name, his credibility, the trust and respect of large swathes of the Scottish working class. The crazy thing is that none of the subsequent loss was due actually to his sexual behaviour: it was all down to the very public elaboration of a huge lie. He was jailed not for being a red or because of his sexual appetite, but for being a liar and a fabricator; in the court of public opinion he was convicted of being a hypocrite.

What sparked his bizarre road to destruction? One can only conclude it was his vanity and love of power and the limelight, and a fear of being confronted with a reality of himself which did not fit the carefully manufactured public image that he – and the SSP leadership – had worked so long to create. Tommy is still a highly public figure and still wishes to make a contribution, it seems. But one feels that without a totally public and honest, critical assessment of past mistakes, facing up to the disastrous road of falsehood and distortion he embarked upon in order to save his political skin, that contribution will be permanently crippled. It is in recognition of the need to assess the past in order to move forward that the old communist principle of self-criticism still holds good.

But the evidence seems to suggest that, rather than confront the past and come clean in order to make an honest reassessment of his life and move forward, he still persists with the lie. In the wake of the NOTW scandal Tommy’s phone was found to have been hacked too. Undoubtedly this was more to do with the racket to expose celebs’ private sexual lives in order to sell newspapers than a political conspiracy to frame a socialist activist. That the NOTW hated Tommy’s politics is beyond doubt; that this made any difference whatever to the unrolling of events is, however, highly unlikely. It was Tommy’s refusal to listen to the sound advice of comrades and friends which was the cause of his downfall, not any actions by the NOTW or sections of the state out to get him. That Tommy’s supporters and he himself have clutched at this straw of new evidence against the NOTW is proof that they still do not get it and as such will be unable to move on. Prospects for re-uniting the two SSP and Solidarity factions are nil, but frankly even if they come back together it is now too late to regain the SSP’s earlier reputation and standing in the class. Both are now like deflated balloons, abandoned after a wedding from which the guests have all departed.

There are sadly other comparisons one could draw with this case – not only Scargill, but Derek Hatton comes to mind – where there has been a tendency by a shrinking band of followers to say ‘My leader, right or wrong’ and to forgive or excuse even the biggest deviation from socialist practice and honesty in some misguided ‘loyalty’ that conflates the leader with the cause. There is a sound anarchist slogan, ‘Too many chiefs, not enough anarchists’ – in fact in the case of the SSP and SML mass involvement, mass leadership and mass democracy were not practised. A small, tightly knit cabal of individuals practically ran the whole show, with Tommy increasingly at its centre. Tommy became the basket in which the SSP put all its political eggs and its total reputation.

That he was aware of his crucial strategic position within the organisation and the class at large in Scotland, yet still behaved in a way which would lay them wide open to devastating attack marks crass irresponsibility. That he compounded all of this by playing a huge game of poker with nothing but bluff and blather, knowing the entire SSP survival depended on it, and against the universal advice of his comrades, throws into doubt his values, certainly his judgment. But the SSP itself, had it been built as a revolutionary organisation, would have recognised this and taken measures early on to stop it happening.

The left and labour movement has to learn the lesson brought at such cost by Tommy Sheridan’s actions – not least to stop defending the politically irresponsible actions of our leaders.

 

(This review was first posted on the Weekly Worker website at:- http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004849)

* Dave Douglass was a leading militant in South Yorkshire NUM. He is currently a member of the IWW. He has written a three part autobiography, Geordies – Wa Mental, The Wheel’s Still in Spin and Ghost Dancers. He made an earlier contribution to Emancipation & Liberation in issue no. 7 (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2004/03/02/the-debate-continues-the-jacobites-strike-back/)

Gregor Gall also has an article on our website – The End of the Union? – The opportunities and problems facing the SNP government. This can be found at:- 

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/05/27/after-may-5th-a-looming-constitutional-crisis/

_______________________

 

We have posted the RCN sources used in Gregor’s book. They can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/02/11/gregor-gall-tommy-sheridan-biography-sources/ 

 

Mary MacGregor’s  review of Alan McCombe’s book, Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/10/23/mary-macgregor-reviews-downfall-the-tommy-sheridan-story-by-alan-mccombes/

 

Allan Armstrong’s The Sheridan Perjury Trial can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/01/10/the-sheridan-perjury-trial/

 

The RCN statement after the Sheridan Perjury Trial can be found at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/03/rcn-statement-following-the-tommy-sheridan-perjury-trial/

 

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May 31 2012

WHAT DO THE MAY 5th LOCAL ELECTION RESULTS MEAN IN SCOTLAND?

This article was first written for socialists in England and Wales. It has been published on the commune website (see http://thecommune.co.uk/2012/05/25/what-can-we-tell-from-the-scottish-local-election/), and  issue 23 of Permanent Revolution, in slightly edited forms.

The Scottish local council elections, held on May 5th, have attracted much wider interest than would normally normally be the case for such an event. The primary reason for this is the mounting speculation arising from the SNP Holyrood government’s promised Scottish independence referendum in 2014. The media has become more aware that the current UK constitutional arrangements face a real challenge. Therefore, whenever any Scottish election occurs, the runes are carefully being read to see if support for independence is growing or falling away.

The usual presumption is that votes for the SNP can be directly interpreted as support for Scottish independence. There are a number of problems with this. A vote for the SNP represents different things in different contexts. This can be seen by examining the very different voting patterns in the Westminster, Holyrood and local elections; and also by comparing these to polls showing the levels of support for Scottish independence (however this is understood [1]).

 

Westminster

2005 – % vote, no. of seats

2010 – % vote, no. of seats

SNP

17.7 (-2.4), 6 (+2)

19.9 (+2.3), 6 (0)

Labour

39.5 (-4.5), 41 (-5)

42.0 (+2.5), 41 (0)

 

Holyrood

2007 – % vote, no. of seats

2011 – % vote, no. of seats

SNP

32.9 (+12), 47 (+20)

45.4 (+12.5), 69 (+23)

Labour

32.2 (+2.9), 46 (- 4)

31.7 (-0.5), 37 (-9)

 

Local council

2007 – % vote, no. of seats

2012 – % vote, no. of seats

SNP

27.9 (+3.8), 363 (+182)

32.3 (+4.4), 424 (+61)

Labour

28.1 (-4.5), 348 (-161)

31.4 (+3.3). 394 (+46)

 

 Summary of TNS polls showing support for Scottish independence 

 

Aug. 07

Nov.07

May 08

Jun. 08

Oct.  08

Jan. 09

For independence

35%

40%

40%

39%

35%

38%

Against independence

50%

44%

41%

41%

43%

40%

Don’t know

15%

16%

19%

21%

22%

21%

 

May 09

Nov. 09

May 11

Aug. 11

Jan. 12

 May 12
For independence

36%

31%

37%

39%

35%

 33%
Against independence

39%

46%

45%

38%

44%

 57%
Don’t know

25%

23%

18%

23%

21%

 10%

 

The SNP’s support in Westminster elections is much weaker than in either the Holyrood or local council elections. The reason for this is clear. It is impossible for the SNP ever to form a Westminster government. Even people who support independence (and all the polls since 2007 show support for Scottish independence lying considerably above the SNP’s recent best result at Westminster in 2011) are prepared to vote for anti-independence parties. Usually this means voting for Labour to keep out the Tories. The extent to which this is true was shown in the 2010 Westminster election, where Labour in Scotland bucked the British trend and actually increased its % vote [2]. They also won 42% of the vote compared to the SNP’s 19.9%.

However, in the Holyrood elections, the SNP has done much better. Their spectacular election victory in 2011, with 45.4% of the vote, came about because many non-independence supporters saw the SNP as a better bet than Labour when it comes to opposing the Con-Dem Westminster government’s cuts in Scotland (and this was in the context of the SNP having formed a minority Holyrood government since 2007). The SNP was able to position itself as a better social democratic-style party in Scotland than Labour (not a hard task!) In 2011, the SNP’s % vote went well above the support for Scottish independence suggested in the opinion polls at the time.

Now, when it came to the May 5th local council elections in Scotland (and here, unlike England and Wales, every seat was up for election), another factor has first to be taken into account. The turnout was considerably down on the 2007 election – from 52% to 38% – but that was because this time the local election did not coincide with the Holyrood election. However, the turnout was still 6% higher than in England, and this is not a usual characteristic feature of other Scottish elections. It is quite likely that the wider national interest generated by the looming Scottish independence referendum did account for this difference in turnout, although it is not obvious which parties benefited most from this.

On one hand, the supporters of the current Union, especially Labour, were quick to point to the ‘collapse’ of SNP support from the high point of 45.4% in the May 2011 Holyrood election, to 32.3% [3] in the May 5th 2012 local elections [4]. Yet, any comparison of the SNP’s support between the 2012 and 2007 local elections, especially when compared with Labour’s, shows that they actually performed quite well. However, to reiterate, the continued increase in support for the SNP at local council level is not the same thing as increased support for Scottish independence. Neither does the drop in support from the Holyrood election necessarily mean a decline in support for independence.

Therefore, the SNP leadership, on the other hand, was quick to claim how much better they did than Labour on May 5th, in terms of the % vote, additional seats won, and the total number of council seats they now hold. However, this can not disguise their real disappointment in not taking Glasgow from Labour. Glasgow City Council had become a byword for Labour corruption and sleaze.  The Scottish party leadership had been forced to step in and push for the deselection of 17 sitting councillors, who immediately defected in February, forming Glasgow First. This left the ruling Labour group as a minority administration. Yet, on May 5th, despite the SNP increasing its vote in the city by 8% and its number of seats by 5, Labour also increased its vote by over 3%, losing only 1 seat overall. They easily saw off the Glasgow First challenge (who only held on to 1 seat, showing they had indeed spent far more time looking after their own immediate interests, rather than showing much concern for their constituents [5]), and were able to once more form a majority administration in the city.

Nobody, not even Labour, had expected this, although they had fought back like cornered cats. They well knew that if Glasgow fell, the immediate danger was not so much a surge in support for Scottish independence. The problem for Scottish Labour was the likely ending of its longstanding and widespread patronage. This had launched so many careers – not just political, but also in administration and service management. Future career prospects were not looking too good after Labour had already lost control at Westminster in 2010, Holyrood in 2007, and so many Scottish local councils in 2007 – down to 2.

However, SNP Glasgow council group leader, Allison Hunter, came to Labour’s assistance. She belongs to the party’s ‘Ally MacLeod’ [6] wing. They believe that all you need to win is to cheer on your side the loudest, and ignore the opposition’s strengths (even if these do consist of relentlessly negative tactics).  Thus, just before the election, much to the consternation of the SNP national leadership, she very publicly stated that, “Glasgow would be a stepping stone to independence.” This turned out to be nearly as embarrassing for today’s SNP leadership, as Ally Macleod’s 1978 answer to the question, “What do you plan to do after the World Cup”, to which he replied, “Retain it”!

The SNP’s national depute leader (and likely successor to Alex Salmond), Nicola Sturgeon, had already claimed at their party conference earlier this year, that she thought that the SNP could take Glasgow. However, she made sure that she did not link this with any hype about the prospects for the Scottish independence referendum.

The SNP’s strategy is two pronged. The Scottish independence referendum represents just one of these. When the SNP formed a minority Holyrood government after 2007, they made no attempt at the time to implement their promised independence referendum. Then, they had the excuse that this would just be voted down by the mainstream unionist parties’ majority, and the last thing they wanted was to mobilise extra-parliamentary support on the streets, and upset those they were now assiduously trying to court.

So this period was marked by the public support given to Salmond and the SNP government by prominent business figures, including Sir George Matthewson of the Royal Bank of Scotland (something that proved a temporary embarrassment when the Credit Crunch struck!), Sir Brian Souter of Stagecoach, and Sir Tom Farmer of Kwikfit. However, as well as making it clear that they wanted the SNP to pursue pro-Scottish business policies, they also indicated that they wanted no major constitutional conflicts. For some, ‘Devolution-Max’ was their preferred option. A significant section of the SNP leadership think likewise – including most prominently, Michael Russell, current Education Minister, along with others, mainly, but not exclusively, on the SNP’s neo-liberal right wing.

Salmond’s first success, after 2007, lay in quickly silencing the ‘Independistas’, both inside and outside the SNP. They had formed ‘Independence First’, and initially called for an extra-parliamentary campaign to bring forward the promised independence referendum. However, Salmond soon persuaded them that waiting to achieve a Holyrood majority in 2011 was the best course. ‘Independence First’ disappeared, with more and more of its supporters falling in behind Salmond’s strategy.

When Salmond did achieve his sensational Holyrood SNP victory in 2011, the ‘Independistas’ began to think ‘he walked on water’. Some had been involved in the even lower-key Scottish Independence Convention, which the SNP leadership had joined to stifle. However, the strong likelihood is that this will go the same way as ‘Independence First’. Salmond launched the SNP’s official ‘Yes’ campaign [7] in Cineworld in Edinburgh on May 25th. After this, the ‘Independistas’ are most likely to concentrate instead on forming the ‘Tartan Army’ or ‘Ally Macleod’ wing of the official ‘Yes’ campaign [8]. They will be praised when the going is good and damned whenever their ‘Braveheart’ approach embarrasses the SNP leadership. They will not be allowed to have any influence on the SNP leadership’s own strategy, which means keeping Scottish business interests placated, and Scottish establishment figures appeased.

It has been clear for some time that Salmond would like the 2014 ‘Independence-Lite’ referendum to have a second ‘Devolution-Max’ question. This is because the second prong of Salmond’s political strategy is to develop a wannabe Scottish ruling class. The SNP’s current Scottish business (and global corporate) supporters want a Scotland that can compete more effectively on the global capitalist market (primarily by lowering corporate taxation [9]), and which still participates in the US/UK imperial policing of the world [10]. They also like the idea of retaining the monarchy, not so much out of any particular devotion to the queen (although Salmond himself seems besotted), but to reassure British unionists and to have those Crown Powers at their disposal, should things get too rough.

‘Independence-Lite’ already amounts to little more than ‘Independence within the Union’, with the SNP government’s acceptance of the monarchy, sterling (and hence effective control of the economy by the City [11]) and Scottish armed forces remaining under the British High Command. However, a ‘Devolution-Max’ option would provide a wannabe Scottish ruling class with an even less ambitious second option to help it gradually increase its influence, particularly over fiscal policy, if British ruling class opposition to ‘Independence-Lite’ proves to be too intransigent.

Yet, despite the continued attempts by Salmond to appease the British Establishment (including its Scottish unionist component [12]), the US state, and the global corporations (e.g. Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump), there is little indication that the current British ruling class and its British unionist leaders will play ball. Putting the unionist parties’ public bravado aside, the British ruling class is fully aware that the UK is a declining power. It now faces a prolonged period of economic crisis, and there is no room for an uppity wannabe ruling class wanting a greater slice of a diminishing cake. This is why the British unionist parties have chosen a strategy designed to give Salmond and the SNP government a ‘bloody nose’ in the forthcoming referendum campaign. In Scotland, it is Labour, desperate to cling on to all that patronage, which will take the lead in this. Indeed, Tories will keep a low profile north of the border!

If you only examine the clearly visible public politicking around the independence referendum, you could be forgiven for thinking that the British unionists have acted in a pretty cack-handed manner so far. They failed to prevent the SNP’s referendum from going ahead, and revealed in the process, their underlying hostility to the principle of national self-determination. Both Jeremy Paxman and Labour Lord Foulkes’ attempts to paint Salmond as Mugabe or Mussolini misfired spectacularly, especially when Salmond’s obvious role model is so much closer to home – Tony Blair!

However, what we are witnessing is the British unionists’ step-by-step withdrawal from their outer and not so well-held defences to their inner, very well-armed strongholds. Furthermore, you can not see all the hidden, behind-the-scenes, anti-democratic preparations going on, especially those sanctioned under the UK state’s Crown Powers. Salmond is astute enough to know, that any ‘Ally Macleod’-style, ‘attack, attack, attack’ tactics are unlikely to deliver a majority ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 referendum [13].

It looks as if Salmond’s hopes of a ‘Devolution-Max’ referendum option have been stymied by the inability of ‘civic Scotland’ (i.e. the Scottish Labour Party and STUC ‘in civvies’) to cooperate, and by the SNP’s own internal ‘Independista’ opposition. However, Salmond has lived through two other major SNP setbacks [14] (the first in 1979, straight after the first failed Scottish Devolution referendum; the second in 2003 the with loss of 8 MSPs in the Holyrood election). He knows that the SNP can still recover, if it champions certain class interests. Should the referendum independence option go down to defeat in 2014, Salmond or Sturgeon are likely to quickly demand the ‘Devolution-Max’ option, which some unionists have promised [15] after a ‘No’ vote. They can see the precedents for further advancing a national ruling class incrementally within the existing state established by Catalan Convergence and the Parti Quebecois in Spain and Canada respectively.

Therefore, Salmond’s longer-term strategy is to appeal to ever widening sections of the Scottish middle class (and hopefully even some jaundiced Scottish members of the British Establishment) to seek their fortunes in a future ‘independent Scotland’, rather than be held back by the increasingly reactionary British Establishment. What the business-savvy Salmond [16] proposes is not so much a hostile takeover of part of UK plc; but more a junior management partial buy-out, with the promise of continuing profitable cooperation in the future. The existing UK state institutions north of the border would then be marketed in ‘tartan dress’.

And, it is this desire to develop a wannabe Scottish ruling class that highlights the importance of the ability to dispense patronage in Scotland, whether at Holyrood or at local council level. Salmond, and of course Scottish Labour, both knew what was at stake in the May 5th election. This has been shown by the Labour Party’s subsequent determination to exclude the SNP from as many local council administrations as possible, even if this meant forming coalitions with the Conservatives in six councils – Aberdeen, East Dumbartonshire, East Lothian, Falkirk, East Ayrshire and Stirling [17]. The only apparent exception to this is Edinburgh – the sole example of Labour in coalition with the SNP – but even here, this was only after the Conservatives turned Labour down first!

Labour in Glasgow, though, already knew before the election that they had to see off Glasgow First, if they were to guarantee their more ambitious backers future access to the much greater rewards through cooperation with big business, compared to the smaller-scale, more localised spoils their former colleagues, now in Glasgow First, were so desperate to cling on to. Learning from this, the Glasgow SNP group quickly ditched its leader, Allison Hunter, after the election, and replaced her with the much more on-message, Graeme Hendry. He was quick to declare that,  “Our work begins now to put in place a team of spokespeople from this talented group which will continue to hold labour to account and start the process of developing ideas that will help this great city” – not a word about the forthcoming independence referendum there!

So, were the Scottish local elections just a two-team fixture – SNP and Labour? Labour were able to oust the existing SNP administrations in both Renfrewshire and Dumbartonshire. Renfrewshire had seen the threat of large-scale teacher strike action backed by local parents, in protest at a particularly ill-judged education cut; whilst the SNP in West Dumbartonshire had imposed drastic cuts on already hard-hit local communities. And the SNP was able to finally oust Labour in Dundee.

When in opposition, Labour opposed ‘SNP cuts’, just as the SNP opposed ‘Labour cuts’, when they found themselves in the same situation. Neither party publicly owned up to the second part of their policies – but ‘support Labour cuts’ or ‘support SNP cuts’ respectively! However, in West Dumbartonshire, the sitting SSP councillor, Jim Bollan, held on to his seat in Renton, in what was once the Vale of Leven’s ‘Little Moscow’. The ruling SNP group had suspended Jim for six months for his continued support for actions taken by his local community in defiance of the cuts. However, Jim’s very welcome victory was the only bright spot on another bleak electoral night for socialists in Scotland. The divisions caused by ‘Tommygate’ continue to bedevil the Scottish Left; whilst the absence of any effective action in defiance of the cuts, have left workers looking for ‘easy’ electoral alternatives, and hoping against hope that SNP or Labour election promises will be honoured.

One precondition for any socialist resurgence is the ability to become centrally involved in the resistance that is bound to arise. Most government cuts have been delayed for longer in Scotland, and have yet to be fully enforced. One obvious obstacle in achieving this is the various competing anti-cuts campaigns promoted by the socialist sects.

However, another precondition for significant advance is for socialists to appreciate the political significance of the Scottish independence referendum and its ability to produce a constitutional crisis for the UK state. The economic and political are not two separate issues, but are very much linked in the context of growing crises in both these spheres of capitalist control.

Therefore, the political situation could still change very dramatically before 2014. There is nothing inevitable about the domination of the campaign for greater self-determination by the SNP [18].  Socialists will need to confront both the existing British ruling class with its Scottish unionist supporters, and the rising Scottish wannabe ruling class and its SNP backers. Ambitious? Yes – but the nature of the times means that we have to raise our sights.

 Allan Armstrong, RCN, 24.5.12


[1]             The SNP government’s own proposals only amount to ‘Independence-Lite’, or ‘Independence within the Union’, although there is considerable support for more extensive self-determination, including a complete republican break with the UK state, amongst supporters of Scottish independence.

[2]             In Scotland, unlike the rest of Britain, the Lib-Dem % vote declined in 2010.

[3]             This does not take into consideration the additional SNP support has at national level in the Highlands and other areas, where non-party Independents are still a major factor at local level.

[4]             This does not take into account the difference in turn-out rates between local and national elections, and the future independence referendum will certainly be a national event. However, there is no particular reason to believe that the turnout factor in the local elections under-estimated the SNP support at this level.

[5]             One of those who fared badly was former Solidarity councillor, Ruth Black, who first defected to Labour, becoming closely linked to disgraced former council leader, Stephen Purcell. She received 48 votes!

[6]             Ally Macleod was made manager of the Scottish football team in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

[7]             The platform party, led by Alex Salmond, included Denis Canavan, former Labour MP and MSP, Tommy Brennan, former trade union convenor at Ravenscraig steelworks (closed under Thatcher), and several figures from Scotland’s cultural scene, of whom pride of place was given to the actor Brain Cox, who declared himself a former longstanding Labour member but still a democratic socialist now he supported Scottish independence.

[8]             This nature of this official SNP campaign will be instantly recognised and jealously regarded by the SWP and SP, who know a front campaign when they see one, given their own practice  in the Right to Work Campaign and the National Shop Stewards’ Network respectively!

[9]             Although, the SNP government has also paid a large government subsidy to the US-based anti-trade union employer, Amazon, to set up a new distribution centre in Scotland.

[10]           The SNP opposed the Iraq war but warmly supports the role of Scottish regiments in Afghanistan.

[11]             Edinburgh’s much vaunted finance sector is, in effect, a branch office of the City. This was  highlighted by the spectacular fall of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland, and the subsequent (Labour initiated) British government bailout.

[12]             One example of this has been the SNP government’s insistence that Megrahi was guilty of the Lockerbie bombing, and was only released from Barlinnie prison on “compassionate grounds”. The SNP does not want to alienate the powerful Scottish legal establishment, by suggesting they were complicit (with US and UK security service backing) in a miscarriage of justice at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands. The ‘inherently compassionate’ nature of Scotland’sjustice system, compared to that in England and Wales, would not be obvious to anyone else who had been through it!

[13]             And, even in the unlikely event of this happening, the British ruling class would not just give up, and warmly embrace ‘Independence-Lite’. They will use all the constitutional, political (including their US connections) and economic power at their disposal to obstruct this. Indeed, they would be mightily aided in this, by the constitutional powers they still held in Scotland under the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals.

[14]             Although in both of these cases Salmond’s vaunting pride was not directly affected, since he was not the party leader at the time, something he was not slow to hint at!

[15]             Few people in Scotland take such promises seriously, after Sir Alex Douglas Hume’s promise that a ‘No’ vote in the 1979 Devolution referendum would lead to an incoming Conservative government bringing in a better devolution measure!

[16]             Salmond was an energy economics advisor for the Royal Bank of Scotland, after working for the influential joint public-private sector Government Economic Service.

[17]             The SNP are in coalition with the Conservatives in two councils – Dumfries and Galloway and East Ayrshire – and with a dissident pro-independence Conservative in Midlothian. However, the Labour Party claims to be anti-Tory on principle, whereas the SNP is anti-British unionist party. This stance does not rule out cooperation with Scottish members of any of the unionist parties, in a similar way that the SDLP and Sinn Fein were prepared to make deals with the Ulster Unionists, long before that was very reluctantly reciprocated.

[18]             Although, the likelihood of the British Left taking the lead from the Conservative/Lib-Dem/Labour unionist alliance opposition to the SNP is indeed remote, despite the victory of the Left populist and strongly British unionist, George Galloway in Bradford. His ‘real Labour’ electoral appeal did not work in Glasgow in the Holyrood election last year, in the face of competition from the ‘real social democrats’ of the SNP.


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Apr 06 2012

SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM DEBATE, Part 2

This is the second block of articles on the Scottish Independence Referendum in the discussion and debate being promoted by the RCN. The first block can be found at:-

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

 

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THE FOLLOWING MOTIONS ON THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM WERE PASSED AT THE ANNUAL SSP CONFERENCE AT GLASGOW ON 31.3.12

1. An Independent Scottish Socialist Republic

Conference reaffirms the Scottish Socialist Party’s commitment to the establishment of an independent Scottish socialist republic.
In doing so, Conference welcomes that the Scottish Government has announced the Independence Referendum will be held in autumn 2014: commits the Scottish Socialist Party to working with other pro-independence organisations and individuals in campaigning for the best constitutionaloutcome for the people of Scotland – independence.

 

Believes pro-independence political parties and organisations should not be distracted by options short of independence, such as ‘Devo-Max’ or ‘Independence Lite’, but instead should concentrate on persuading Scots of the benefits and merits of restoring to Scotland the status of a normal independent nation.

Conference also agrees there would be little point in securing independence for Scotland, only to remake our new country along the lines of the failed British capitalist model.

Instead, Conference recognises the best option for the people of Scotland is the creation of a democratic Scottish socialist republic.

Ayrshire Branch

2. Independence Campaigning

This Conference declares that the SSP must help to maintain an independent working class perspective in the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign. This means that throughout this campaign the SSP should:-

1.             Maintain our class’s political independence and not be gagged or limited in our actions by cross-class organisations seeking Scottish ‘independence’ under  the Crown, economically subordinate to the City, or within NATO and British military alliances.

2.              Actively defend the actions of our class (e.g. strikes and occupations) against the austerity measures imposed by Westminster, Holyrood or Scottish local  councils, whether Con-Dem, SNP or Labour.

3.             Highlight and be prepared to take part in protest actions directed against NATO or  British armed forces (including Scottish army regiments) for imperial ends.

4.             Publicly oppose any attempts by pro-Independence campaigners to win over religious support by appeals to reactionary social sentiment, e.g. on anti-gays, anti-abortion.

5.             Call on people to oppose and to resist all attempts by the UK state to resort to bureaucratic or anti-democratic methods (especially under the Crown Powers) to  deny the effective right of Scottish self-determination.

6.             Counter British unionist attempts to mobilise reactionary and anti-democratic sentiment and forces cross the UK by extending our campaign to England, Wales             and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) for support and solidarity.

 

Edinburgh South Branch

 

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THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

 

Eric Chester

The independence referendum scheduled for 2014 will be a critical moment for the Scottish Left. We remain committed to an independent socialist Scottish republic, and yet the SNP has advanced proposals that fall far short of this. Indeed, in my view the SNP envisions a Scotland that is neither independent, nor socialist, nor a republic.

Some of those on the Left have argued that socialists will still have to advocate a yes vote on the referendum, since the SNP plan for an “independent” Scotland represents a step forward, no matter how minimal. Once again, socialists are being cajoled into supporting a “lesser evil” choice. I would suggest that, instead, we as revolutionary socialists refuse to join any organization or coalition that promotes a yes vote, especially one that includes the SNP. Our role is to remain independent of such groupings while presenting a critical analysis of the situation, along with our vision of a genuinely independent Scotland.

Salmond is attempting to make Scottish “independence” palatable to Westminster and the English ruling class. Thus the servile praise of the monarchy. This ploy announces loudly to all that Scotland will remain closely linked to England even after it becomes nominally independent. Furthermore, Salmond has declared that he hopes that Scotland will continue to use the British pound, which would cede control over monetary policy to Westminster and City of London financiers.

Still, the global context has markedly changed since Britain engaged in a process of decolonization after World War II. Scotland must also negotiate an acceptable transition with the United States, through NATO, and Germany, through the European Union. NATO will never agree to let Scotland to close its military bases now being used by U.S. troops as a waystation to military adventures in the Middle East and beyond. The decision of an “independent” Scotland to withdraw from NATO, and to steer clear of U.S. imperialism, would represent the type of challenge to the power structure that the SNP leadership is so anxious to avoid.

And then there is the European Union. This is no longer just a common market, but rather an increasingly tightly integrated economic unit in which power is becoming more centralized, with the Germans wielding the real clout. An “independent” Scotland seeking to remain within the EU will almost certainly have to sign on to the new fiscal treaty that greatly restricts a country’s ability to determine its budget. It is highly likely that Scotland will have to join the Eurozone after a probationary period, if it is determined that it is entering the EU as a “new” member.

In a globally integrated economy dominated by transnational corporations, the entire question of national independence becomes problematic. Only a transformation to socialism can provide a meaningful solution to this problem. Still, the difficulties confronting Scotland go beyond this. As the SNP attempts to negotiate a smooth exit from the United Kingdom, its leaders will enter into deals that entangle Scotland in a dense web of agreements that place this allegedly independent country in a subordinate position. In the end, it is probable that the Scottish working class will be no better off than before, and it is possible that the working class will be worse off, confronting even more drastic austerity measures, than if Scotland had continued to move toward a devolved autonomy.

Given the choices being offered, our role as revolutionary socialists is to reject all of them and to, instead, advocate a positive alternative to the existing situation, a choice in which Scotland becomes truly independent. The referendum being offered has all of the characteristics of the usual election in a capitalist country in which voters get to choose between an array of parties with similar policies. In Scotland, this means the sham choice between the SNP and Labour. The RCN rejects this as a meaningful choice. We should do the same for the independence referendum.

A yes vote will only provide Salmond and the SNP with a blank check to negotiate the terms of independence with Westminster and the European Union. It would be different if voters were presented with a series of referendums in which Scots had the opportunity to decide on the key issues. Without this, promoting a yes vote is merely assisting the SNP to create the facade of an independent country without any of the real substance.

Perhaps an historical example will be helpful. In 1921, the British government grudgingly presented an independence option to the Irish Republican Army. Britain would grant independence to much of Ireland, but Ulster would remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Ireland would still be ruled by a monarchy, Britain would retain control of its military bases and the new state would not have total control over its taxes. A majority of the IRA leadership accepted this deal as a step toward full sovereignty. The radical minority rejected the deal as a sham. There was no popular vote on the deal, which remained in place for more than two decades. Of course, the six counties are still ruled by Westminster.

We don’t have the strength that the Irish radical left had in 1921, but there is no reason to quietly acquiesce to a fraud. If we refuse to enter the SNP-led coalition to promote a yes vote, we can still be actively involved in the debate on the referendum along the following lines:-

We can write and distribute literature presenting our vision of a truly independent Scotland, and pointing out the vast gap between this vision and that of the SNP.

We can join with others in calling for a referendum now on key issues such as the monarchy.

We can attend forums on the independence referendum, presenting our perspective in a nonsectarian and yet straightforward manner.

We can join with other groups throughout Europe who are demanding that their country leave the European Union.

We can take part in coordinated solidarity actions that oppose the cuts and condemn the role of the EU in enforcing these cuts.

__________________________________

 

Allan Armstrong replies to  to Eric Chester

I think Eric’s approach here represents a retreat into socialist propagandism (e.g. if it is not Socialist independence, it is irrelevant). What socialist propagandism seeks to do is to win over individuals to small organisations (e.g. SPGB), but is extremely wary of becoming involved in wider campaigns with others who might not agree with all their politics. One thing that socialist propagandists want to be able to say is that they have never betrayed their principles; but that is because they don’t engage in the actual struggles of our class.

It is certainly the case, that if you if do engage in class war, you will take casualties and there will even be some who pass over to the other side. That is why we need united fronts with a strong republican communist pole of attraction to counter this. Being an activist within a particular struggle can certainly be a hard business, and there are no guarantees that you will win. However, the most profound lessons are learned in ‘the school of struggle’. Offering ideal paper plans from the sidelines (propagandism) will certainly lessen the casualty rate amongst those adopting such a stance, but will most likely be seen as irrelevant to those actively involved in struggles.

The issue of Scottish self-determination is a very hot political issue, with a lot of wider implications – e.g. the UK’s continued presence on the UN Security Council. In other words, the division that has opened up amongst sections of the Scottish Establishment provides us with an opportunity to press considerably further than the very tame constitutional proposals made by the SNP.

Furthermore, the issue of Trident is very important. The Unionist bloc has been vehement in its opposition to the ending nuclear bases, with Scottish Labour playing a particularly obnoxious role – arguing that it would lead to the loss of thousands of Scottish workers’ jobs (using such arguments they would have opposed the closure of the Nazi death camps, because of the impact it had on gasfitters’ and train drivers’ jobs!).

Meanwhile, the SNP leadership, which long ago abandoned any real opposition to NATO, is now making moves to get the party to adopt a pro-NATO position (this follows on from their acceptance of the British monarchy). Noises are already being made, particularly by SNP Defence spokesperson (and party campaign manager), Angus Robertson, to ditch opposition to Trident too. This is one area where Socialists could make real headway.

Like Eric, there is little that enthuses me in the SNP’s actual constitutional proposals. What arouses my interest is the opportunity to engage in a struggle, which can significantly alter the current terms of the political debate. However, there would be a big difference in the future political situation if the British unionist bloc was able to significantly defeat even the SNP’s very mild proposals. It’s not for nothing that the Ulster Unionists, Loyalist organisations and the BNP have thrown their weight behind the mainstream Unionist counter-offensive, hoping to push things even further down the road of reaction. As in 1979, any significant referendum defeat would lead to a major ramp up of the British unionist, imperialist and anti-working class offensive.

I voted ‘Yes’ to Labour’s even milder Scottish devolutionary proposals in 1979, despite the background of Callaghan’s capitulation to the IMF, imposition of the Social Contract, and criminalisation offensive in the ‘Six Counties’ – because I could see what bleak future was in store for us if Scottish devolution was defeated. And so it proved to be – with knobs on!

Now, if there currently was a mass movement that was able to break free from the constraints of the SNP government’s constitutional nationalist approach to ‘Scottish independence’ through a Holyrood initiated (and Westminster and Crown Powers limited) referendum, I would be for bypassing their constitutional road, and for organising a mass movement to organise a Scottish Constituent Assembly in defiance of the UK. Unfortunately this is not the case.

The best opportunity we have of creating such a movement, or the seeds of such a movement, is to form a Socialist Campaign for a Scottish Republic, which engages in the ongoing struggle for Scottish self-determination. This would be based on the principles of the SSP Edinburgh South branch motion (see motions passed at the 2012 SSP conference above) . It would also use the opportunity to constantly challenge every political retreat the SNP makes (and those they already have made) in the face of unionist and imperialist pressure. Whereas the SNP will always be looking to key elements of the Scottish Establishment and corporate capital, and be constantly ready to strike deals with the UK state and US imperialism, Socialists would be basing their campaign on meeting the needs of the exploited and oppressed.

I think that Eric is partly aware of the unsatisfactory nature of a purely propagandist campaign, that confines itself to highlighting the benefits of a Scottish socialist republic free from the constraints of US and British imperialism and the EU bankers. Yes, some outside current Socialist organisational ranks in Scotland may well agree with us that such a proposition is a very nice idea, but will then say, yes, but how do we get there? They don’t believe this can be done just with an ideal plan.

Eric does realise that something else is required. However, Eric’s alternative of campaigning for a series of referenda – e.g. end the monarchy, or break with NATO – is in effect trying to use the existing UK constitutional machinery to achieve ends that can never be won in this way. Furthermore, there is no constitutional mechanism for people to set up any of these referenda. It needs a party to win a parliamentary majority to do this. Even if this is done, the British ruling class still has all the Crown Powers at its disposal to ensure any such referendum is conducted on lines that benefit them.

Ending the monarchy will come in one of two ways – either a mass movement that completely defies the existing constitution (prompting the ruling class to consider ditching the monarchy – probably by abolishing the actual monarchy, but handing over the substance of the Crown Powers to a new President – a bit like in the USA!). Or, there will be a genuinely revolutionary government (and that rules out the SNP!), which simply abolishes the monarchy and the Crown Powers.

In practical terms, I think we should be throwing our weight behind getting a genuine united front organisation set up, e.g. Socialists for a Scottish Republic. This would include the SSP and the ISG, probably ex-SSP and ex-Solidarity members, possibly even open republicans in the SNP and working class campaigning organisations. The RCN would be involved in a continuous political struggle against those of a Left nationalist persuasion (who would indeed be pulled towards Salmond) within such a campaign. However, people can change and we are far more likely to have some influence in the wider struggle by becoming involved in such a campaign, than by confining ourselves to the role of a propaganda organisation.

Allan Armstrong, 17.4.12

Also see my articles at:-

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

2. A Socialist Strategy for the Scottish Democratic Movement.
4. Some Proposals for Socialists working in the Scottish Democratic movement.

 

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ON SELF DETERMINATION

by James Kelman

In an American journal I read a prominent English writer was described as ‘very British’. What can it mean to be ‘very British’? Could I be described in this way? Can my work be described as ‘very British’? No, not by people in Britain, or by those with a thorough knowledge of the situation. The controlling interest in ‘Britishness’ is ‘Englishness’. This ‘Englishness’ is perceived as Anglo-Saxon. It is more clearly an assertion of the values of upper class England, and their validity despite all and in defiance of all.

Power is a function of its privileged ruling elite. To be properly ‘British’ is to submit to English hierarchy and to recognize, affirm and assert the glory of its value system. This is achieved domestically on a daily basis within ‘British’ education and cultural institutions. Those who oppose this supremacist ideology are criticized for not being properly British, condemned as unpatriotic. Those Scottish, Welsh or Irish people who oppose this supremacist ideology are condemned as anti-English. The ‘British way’ is sold at home and abroad as a thing of beauty, a self-sufficient entity that comes complete with its own ethical system, sturdy and robust, guaranteed to outlast all others.

British people are led to believe that the Royal Family are admired, loved and glorified across the globe. Should another Solar System contain life upon any of its myriad planets its inhabitants will not only accede to the Christian church but also acknowledge the Head of the English Royal Family as Defender of the Faith, in competition with the Pope, standing next in line to God.

Writers like myself are guilty of being ‘too Scottish’; our ‘Scottishness’ is as an attack on ‘Britishness’ and acts as a disqualification. It is assumed that Scottish experience is homogenous whereas English experience offers a wide-ranging and worldly heterogeneity. Our work is attacked in pseudo literary tones for its perceived insularity. This also happens within Scotland; anglocentric Scottish critics condemn Scottish writers for their ‘lack of diversity’.

Being ‘too indigenous’ is the same as being ‘too working class’ and, predictably, the closer we move to the realm of class the clearer we find concerns of race and ethnicity. No one remembers that ‘Briton’ has something to do with Celticness. Being ‘too Scottish’ is seen as an assertion of a Celtic rather than Anglo–Saxon heritage. The marketability of certain individuals derives from the arousal of this racial stereotype. The proof of the English footballer David Beckham’s marketability is in his Anglo-Saxon ‘provenance’.

A colonial or imperial context helps clarify the argument. The key is class. ‘Scottishness’ equates to class and class equals conflict. Even within Scotland we can be criticized for this. The work of writers deemed ‘too Scottish’ shares a class background. Occasionally we are condemned for confining our fiction to the world of the urban working class. This suggests that for working class people cultural boundaries are fixed in place. Their world is an entirety of experience, culturally as well as economic. None can step beyond the limits of that world. It is a world barren of the finer things in life which are not only material but spiritual. Working class people cannot engage with art and philosophy. In their world there is no art and philosophy.

This elitism is straightforward and at the heart of the hostility but, as with racism, is seldom remarked upon within the establishment and mainstream media. It rarely occurs to critics that working class people might read ‘proper’ books or look at paintings as opposed to ‘pictures on the wall’. When it does occur to them it is treated as a phenomenon. They do not progress to the discovery that the life of one human being is as valid as another, that the life experience of one section of society is as diverse as another.

The bourgeoisie tend to go with the colonizers and the imperialists as a means of personal and group survival, and advancement. They quickly buy into the culture of the ruling elite. Indigenous languages and cultures are kept alive by those at the lower end of society. In India and much of Africa, as well as Australasia and North America, the voice of authority continues to be English. The lower order groups keep alive the local, the richness of the indigenous languages, the indigenous aesthetic, the culture – as best they can, not necessarily by choice or intention. Typically education is denied them, their languages and cultural markers proscribed, regarded as weapons. To use these language or cultural markers is seen as cultural vandalism or acts of terrorism, something the Kurdish people must contend with in order to survive.

Since the 18th century the cultural and linguistic movement of the Scottish bourgeoisie and ruling elite is total assimilation to Britishness where Englishness is the controlling interest. Scotland has its own languages too, and these are ‘living languages’, kept alive by people using them who, generally, are working class. Scottish literary artists have worked in these languages for centuries. Even where the writers are not themselves working class in origin the subject matter of the work is, as we see in some of the writings of Walter Scott or R.L. Stevenson.

Scotland also has its own philosophical, legal, religious, literary and educational traditions, and most of this too is marginalized. Scottish educators have to fight Scottish institutions to find a place for Scottish philosophy, literature and education itself. Many English people sympathize with their struggle but see the context to include the marginalized cultures and traditions of English counties like Yorkshire, Cornwall, Northumbria, Cumbria, Somerset and Lancashire. The difference is that Scotland is not an English county, it is a full British country. Many English people fail to grasp this point. Scotland will continue to be a British country whether or not we are governed from London, England. Great Britain is a geographical entity.

People are right to treat nationalism with caution. None more than Scottish people who favor self-determination. Any form of nationalism is dangerous, and should be treated with caution. I cannot accept nationalism and I am not a Scottish Nationalist. But once that is said, I favor a ‘yes or no’ decision on independence and I shall vote ‘yes’ to independence.

Countries should determine their own existence and Scotland is a country. The decision is not managerial. It belongs to the people of Scotland. We are the country. There are no countries on Mars. This is because there are no people on Mars. How we move ahead here in Scotland is a process that can happen only when the present chains are disassembled, and discarded, when the majority people seize the right, and burden, of self-determination.

The Scottish Nationalists have exposed its weakness here. Under their leadership once ‘independence’ is achieved they intend “to share Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State.” This is like the 17th Century when a tiny bunch of aristocrats ruled Scotland but shared kingship with England and Wales. The truth is the majority of Scottish people have never experienced self determination at any time in history. Injecting this anachronistic hierarchy into the proceedings is an absurd and backward step.

I am not a patriot. A ‘patriot’ is one who accepts national identity as grounds for a primary solidarity. It is patently absurd that the majority people should expect solidarity from the ruling elite and upper classes. In Scotland there is no justification for such a hope let alone expectation.

The British establishment left, right and centre are as one in their opposition to Scottish self-determination. This applies to the many Scottish politicians of the Tory Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal-Democrat Party who ‘cross the political divide’ to stand together in defense of the Union. It is useful to see this priority expressed so clearly. This type of united front is common in situations of war.

The Scottish Nationalists’ push to subject the majority people to a Royal Family pays homage to another tradition associated with ‘Scottish identity’: submission and servitude to the ruling elite. Manna for Empire builders and Colonialists. Dependency is at the root of this aspect of ‘Scottish identity’. There may be a ‘right’ of self-determination; on the other hand there may not. Even if there is such a right it need not be exercised. Siding with the imperialist is a better option: dogs brought to heel can be robbed of their bones.

Scottish people are encouraged by the establishment to take pride in their service to the Monarch, the Royal Family and all of its subjects. Scottish children are taught to glorify submission and servitude, embodied in the myth of “the Scottish soldier who wandered faraway and soldiered faraway” in the retention of British authority and the denial to the majority people both foreign and domestic, of the right of self-determination.

There are centuries of imperialist myth-making, misinformation and propaganda to disentangle. Clan allegiance has been strong in the highlands and islands of Scotland, as has religious difference throughout the country. This continued throughout the 17th and on through the 18th century until the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the clan system and Jacobitism were effectively destroyed.

The British State has sought to deny the right to self-determination consistently over the past few hundred years in Africa, the Americas, Ireland, the Indian Sub-continent, South East Asia or Australasia. The State has used every argument it can to cling onto power and when necessary applied the requisite dirty tricks, and finally moved in the army to achieve their objective, at whatever cost, including the slaughter of innocents.

Unfortunately religious difference remains significant into the 21st Century. The Scottish Nationalists support for such an intrinsically British institution will appears as a sop not only to Unionist sympathizers but to ‘the Protestant vote’. This opens a nasty sore on the Scottish political and cultural scene. Traditionally, Protestants are anti-Republican Unionists who regard the King or Queen of England as Defender of the Faith. Roman Catholics are believed to favor Republicanism. In Scotland many people confuse ‘Republicanism’ ‘Roman Catholicism’ and ‘Irishness’. Some believe them to be one and the same thing. The subtext to their ‘pro-Unionist, anti-Republican’ stance is sectarian racism: anti-Catholic, anti-Irish. Others in Scotland will view the Nationalist retention of the British Monarchy in these terms.

The continuing debate in Britain is led by the establishment and mainstream media and focuses on whether or not independence is ‘good for Scotland’. This is a red herring. It is an argument from self-interest and therefore secondary. The economic consequences of self-determination are important but are not and cannot be the central issue. Experts and specialists debate on the deployment of capital resources; defense and foreign policy, business & industry; health and welfare issues, religions and secularism. Shall Scotland seek to enter NATO, the UN, the British Commonwealth, and the European Union? What will happen to ‘our’ soldiers and ‘our’ army-towns, ‘our’ battleships, warplanes, tanks and submarines. What effects will independence have upon our relationships with the USA, with England, Wales and Ireland, not to mention Spain, Italy, Israel, Turkey and all those other countries keeping the lid on their own governance issues.

How we progress as a people will depend on how we contend with those and other matters. A people cannot be asked to settle in advance of independence how they shall act in hypothetical situations. We are being asked to provide a priori evidence of our fitness to determine our own existence before the freedom to do so is allowed.

Imperialists and colonizers lay down the judgment that there is no ‘right’ of self-determination. But that judgment has no place in the 21st Century. The right to self-determination inheres in every adult human being and distinguishes us from animals, mammals, birds, fowls or fish. No one grants us this right. It is not allowed to us by a benign authority. People exercise the right. It can only be denied to us, as it is denied to the vast majority of the world’s population.

Ultimately there is only one issue: the right to self-determination. Underlying the ‘good for Scotland’ debate is the denial of that right.

We are talking about freedom. We exercise freedom. If freedom be denied us we seize it as our right. Neo-fascism is illustrated where the burden of proof is placed upon human beings to provide evidence of their humanity. Some fall into the trap of accepting the burden of proof. They seek to provide evidence to establish their own humanity. They can only fail. Humanity cannot be ‘granted’ or ‘allowed’ them. They already are human. Their humanity is being denied. No one gives us our freedom. We take it. If it is denied us we continue to take it. We have no choice. If it is taken from us and we allow it to be taken from us then we are colluding in our own subjection.

The Scottish Nationalists pay allegiance to the concept of ‘hereditary subjection’ (and spiritual degradation), as embodied in the Queen of the British Kingdoms and I find this repugnant. The question is of historical as well as contemporary relevance. People have fought and died for a political freedom inclusive of Republicanism. They would turn in their grave. No one has the right to represent the voice of the Scottish people in a matter of such gravity. It is a massive setback but not insurmountable. It is my belief that the Nationalists’ brand of independence should still be grasped. We can learn from the past. Sooner or later the right to self-determination will be exercised by the majority of people in my country. When I vote ‘yes’ to independence I shall be voting towards that end.

James Kelman’s article can also be found at:-

http://www.nyartsmagazine.com/reviewed/on-self-determination

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Feb 26 2012

THE RCN CALL FOR SOCIALIST/COMMUNIST REGROUPMENT IN SCOTLAND

A STRONG AND UNITED LEFT IS NEEDED MORE THAN EVER

 WE HAVE NOT STOPPED THE CAPITALIST OFFENSIVE

 WE NEED TO LISTEN, LEARN, THEN MOVE ON

In our lifetime there has never been a greater need for unity of socialists and communists, nor has there been a greater fragmentation of the Left.

What we have had under capitalism is as good as it was going to get. Now employment protection, pensions, health services, housing provision and education are under sustained and organised attack with a disproportionate effect upon youth and women.

The post World War II gains are under attack by all the pro-capitalist parties, not just the Tories; yet still union representatives and various sects call on workers to oppose TORY or CON-DEM cuts.

Doesn’t it make you want to weep? It’s not just that these cuts are being implemented by all parties, it’s that all parties are doing so because capitalism requires it and they have no alternative to capitalism.

Capitalism is not in crisis in the sense that those who ‘run’ it have made mistakes; capitalism is doing what it has to do – subject economies to periodic painful depressions in order to survive.

This is the point. It is not possible in the long term to humanely manage or reform capital! Capitalism can be forced to grant limited concessions by organised militant action, but as soon as we let our guard down they will snatch them back as is currently happening.

We need to move beyond capital’s parasitic stranglehold on human society. We need to find a way to organise to that end.

PAST FAILURES

Many groups/organisations/parties on the Left point to achievements of which they are proud – recruitment, a prominent role in key struggles, electoral successes or producing quality publications are examples. Yet the Left is weaker and more fragmented than for many decades and, in Scotland, the once strong SSP is a shadow of its former self*. Self-proclaimed revolutionary ‘parties’ or proto-parties put most of their efforts into fighting each other. Why is this?

  • Gurus, self appointed leaders and media attention seeking personalities have set up and controlled too many of our organisations. Democracy has not been open or even practised.
  • Members and recruits are ‘given the line’ to repeat. They are told what to think instead of being encouraged how to think.
  • Front organisations are set up with little if any democracy mainly in order to recruit.
  • Broad Lefts share this same democratic deficit and limiting aspirations.
  • New activists become disillusioned and misdirected – just think of some of the slogans (and weep again) ….

….Fight The Con-Dem Cuts.. it’s capitalism we are fighting against and all the parties supporting it and all the organisations supporting them, including the Labour Party, the TUC, STUC and the SNP.

…Make Poverty History… you mean, make capitalism history and all the parties and organisations supporting it.

We need to move beyond populism, reformism, electoralism and egotism.

CONDITIONS FOR REGROUPMENT

A fundamental issue is the democratic and interpersonal nature of how we interact. We won’t get far without open, comradely and non-sexist behaviour.

We need a framework that lays out rights and responsibilities of individuals, groups, platforms, networks and organisations that come together. We need a style of discussion and debate that allows us to listen, reflect, and question. We need to discourage the sectarian ‘We have our line and we will vote en-bloc’ behaviour.

We need to start from a few fundamental realities:-

It is the capitalist mode of production that constitutes the underlying problem. It is a system of exploitation with its wage slavery and domestic drudgery, and its denial to the majority of the guaranteed material means to provide a decent living. It is also a system of oppression with its patriarchy and consequent sexism, its competitive states, national chauvinism and racism, and its denial of real democracy and human dignity. It is a system of necessary and recurring crises, continuous wars and environmental degradation.

Capitalism promotes a selfish individualism based on ‘having’. We must offer an alternative, based on that aspect of being human which capitalism suppresses – our shared social existence. Then we can prioritise ‘being’ over ‘having’. Therefore, it is not enough to fight against capital. We must fight for a system of human emancipation and liberation – i.e. communism organised on the principles:-

1.  “From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs.”

2.  “Where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

We need to develop an Immediate Programme based on meeting our real needs which, through the development of independent working class politics and organisation,  allows us to fundamentally break with capitalism and move towards the first phase of communism, i.e. socialism.

We should lead by example. We will be judged by the way we behave within our organisation.

 NEXT STEPS

We in the Republican Communist Network are joining in the call for a regroupment of the Left and will help to facilitate this.

We are NOT suggesting the setting up of another Party – that would be a decision for those who had come together under this regroupment, once a sufficient base of support had been won amongst the working class.

We ARE suggesting that the points within this leaflet should form part of the discussions for a regroupment. Others will certainly have additional points to discuss.

A fuller description of our current thinking can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/12/23/beyond-the-ssp-and-solidarity-forgive-and-forget-or-listen-learn-and-then-move-on/

Please contact us if you are interested in joining the call for a new regroupment at RCN, c/o PO Box 6773, Dundee, DD1 1YL or www.republicacommunist.org/blog. This is NOT a recruitment tactic (although we would like to hear from you if you are interested).

Please add your voice to the call for a regroupment at whatever meetings/demos/strikes you participate in.

UNITED WE STAND A CHANCE OF A BETTER FUTURE

 DIVIDED WE FACE INCREASING BARBARISM UNDER CAPITALISM

 WE MUST LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES AND MOVE ON

* see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/02/11/the-rcn-platform-and-the-ssp/

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