Mar 02 2016

THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS

 

This article, written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) in 2015, has now been updated to include a new section 3 on Scotland. It has been moved from its earlier site.

Section A –  The UK State and Britishness

Section B –  From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Insider’ to the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsider’ to the new ‘National Outsider’

Section C – Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ 

 

A. THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS

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Introduction

The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of the national outsider in relation to Britishness, for the people of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This has been done through the further development of the concept of the outsider used in Satnam Virdee’s significant book Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider [1]. Here he outlines the creation of the racialised outsider [2]. Mary Davis’ earlier, but also significant, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement (3),  wrote, in effect, about the gendered outsider, without using the term.

The first part of this article will look at the historically changing position of racialised and gendered outsiders in the UK before the second and third parts address the changing position of the national outsider. Here it will be shown how the post-war British Labour government provided widely accepted ‘insider’ Britishness status for those who held hybrid Scottish and Welsh and ‘Ulster’ British identities. This though excluded the Catholic Irish living in Northern Ireland, giving a continued basis for an Irish nationalist politics based on the Irish national outsider. For a brief period in the 1960s the development of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement raised the possibility of widening the sectarian nationality-based ‘Ulster’-Britishness to create a new more inclusive Northern Ireland-Britishness, However,  an alliance of the Ulster Unionism, Loyalism and the UK state  thwarted this, leading to the re-emergence of a reinvigorated Irish republicanism, which drew support from those still treated as national outsiders by the UK state.

Furthermore, in the context of a  continued imperial decline of the UK, the 1960s saw the existing Scottish-British and Welsh-British identities becoming more effectively challenged. This led to a prolonged attempt by the liberal wing of the British ruling class to try to democratise these identities within a political framework of Devolution. The failure of the Sunningdale Agreement in the face of reactionary unionism, and the 1979 Scottish and Welsh Devolution Bills through conservative unionist opposition, followed later by the lukewarm liberal unionist nature of the 1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, have contributed to the emergence of significant numbers of Scottish and Welsh national outsiders in relation to the UK state, whilst still not fully integrating the previous Irish national outsiders. Today, the apparent inability of the UK state, with its strong conservative unionist, and growing reactionary unionist forces, to sustain a more widely supported political settlement has led considerably greater numbers to reject any notion of ‘Britishness’, particularly in Scotland.

 

1) The notion of ‘outsider’ and ‘toleration’ in relation to the role of the UK state in creating and maintaining Britishness

In some ways the position of black people in the UK from the late eighteenth century, addressed in Virdee’s book, represents an updated version of the toleration that appeared in the early days of capitalist development. This toleration was extended both to religious and ethnic minorities who performed a significant economic role within certain states. Such toleration was found in some city-states, e.g. Venice [4]and then in some mercantile capitalist states, e.g. the Netherlands, England, then the UK. These states produced regulations and developed practices that altered the status of those they tolerated, either for better or worse.
Continue reading “THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS”

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Dec 04 2014

EMANCIPATION & LIBERATION RIC 2014 conference special magazine

We are posting the two lead articles from Emancipation & Liberation, issue no. 23, produced for the 3000 strong Radical Independence Campaign conference held in Glasgow, in the Clydeside Auditorium on Saturday, November 22nd. The first is by Murdo Ritchie (RCN), the second by Allan Armstrong (RCN).

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WHEN DECADES HAPPEN – AFTER THE REFERENDUM

 

“There are decades in which nothing happens and there are weeks in which decades happen.” Lenin

When 1,517,989 voters (44.7%) declared they were prepared to abandon their primary, legal national identity to build a better Scotland, it was clear that Scottish national independence was coming. The defeated felt triumphant; the victorious worried.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement on the morning of the ballot declaration was filled with wishful thinking, “the debate has settled for a generation or as Alex Salmond has said, perhaps for a lifetime. So there can be no disputes, no re-runs –we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.” The media may have declared the result decisive but the numbers and mood told otherwise.

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Sep 24 2014

LETTER TO THE MOMENTARILY DISHEARTENED

Murdo Ritchie (RCN) gives his take on the situation we face immediately after the referendum. This was first posted on Murdo’s blog at http://murdoritchie.blog.co.uk/2014/09/23/letter-to-the-momentarily-disheartened-19453755/

 

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It IS a wonderful campaign. David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown are deluding themselves if they really believe the Prime Minister’s press statement that, “now the debate has been settled for a generation or as Alex Salmond has said for a lifetime.”

I’ve met a number of people from the Yes campaign who appear depressed, but I doubt this will last. I never believed it would come near fifty per cent, so I’ve never been disappointed. Indeed I’m amazed that forty-five per cent of a high turnout were prepared to abandon their primary legal national identity to create a fairer Scotland. That’s a big number; that’s a big 1.6 million strong army.

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Jun 24 2014

LABOUR AND SOCIALIST LEFT UNIONISM IN THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE DEBATE

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Allan Armstrong (RCN) prepared a talk for the Conference of Socialist Economists Day School held in the Out of the Blue Centre in Edinburgh on June 21st. The article below  incorporates some of the discussion points that were raised. It provides a socialist republican analysis of the British Left and the case for an ‘internationalism from below’ alternative in the Scottish independence referendum campaign.  This talk is also a chapter in the extended article, Making Plans For Nigel, which can be viewed at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/06/26/making-plans-for-nigel/ A shortened version of this talk was also given as a contribution to the debate in the Left Unity Party – Glasgow South branch,  on December 13th.

 

On the British Left, continued support for maintaining the UK state and for upholding the internationalist nature of all-British party and trade union organisation stems from their understanding of the British ruling class and the United Kingdom. They view these as having played a key historical role in replacing the older feudal order in these islands, and other pre-capitalist societies in many parts of the world.

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Jun 06 2014

JUST SAY YES? – A Review of ‘YES – The radical case for Independence’ by James Foley & Pete Ramand

Murdo Ritche (RCN)  reviews Yes- The Radical Case for Scottish Independence
 by James Foley & Pete Ramand (Pluto Press, 2014). This was first posted on Murdo’s blog (http://murdoritchie.blog.co.uk) and has been slightly changed. 

JUST SAY YES?

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The cover and the title of this book summarize the contradictory tensions that flow all through the text. The word Yes takes up nine-tenths of the cover referring to the authors desire to give positive affirmation to September’s independence referendum. Much smaller, is the claim that it will present the radical reasons for national independence. However, rallying a vote and constructing a case are two entirely separate tasks. By attempting both, the authors fail to satisfactorily achieve either. The book is entirely constructed out of these kind of incomplete, unresolved tensions.

Continue reading “JUST SAY YES? – A Review of ‘YES – The radical case for Independence’ by James Foley & Pete Ramand”

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Oct 29 2013

SOCIALIST UNITY – THE RCN ASKS 12 QUESTIONS

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Aug 02 2013

BEHIND THE UNIONISTS’ ‘PROJECT FEAR’, THE UK STATE MASK SLIPS

Allan Armstrong (RCN) analyses two recent developments in the Scottish referendum campaign .

 

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The SNP government’s referendum on the future constitutional status of Scotland – ‘Yes’ for ‘Independence-Lite’ (or as Michael Russell terms it ‘Independence within the Union’), or ‘No’ for acceptance of the UK status quo – is still over a year away.

However, two events have occurred recently, which have considerable bearing on the conduct of the referendum campaign. It has been revealed that behind the scenes, some organisers of the mainstream unionist Labour/Conservative/Lib-Dem ‘Better Together’ alliance have dubbed their campaign ‘Project Fear’. Furthermore, the Guardian has reported that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been looking to ways of designating the Faslane Trident base sovereign UK territory, in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote. Faslane would become, in effect, Scotland’s own Guantamamo Bay.

This article examines the significance of these two events for socialists. Right from the start, ‘Yes’ campaigners have, with much justification, styled ‘Better Together’ the ‘No’ campaign, because of its overwhelming negative approach. Hardly a day passes without us being told about some new disaster that will occur, if people in Scotland dare to vote ‘Yes’. Therefore, the revelation that the main drive behind the ‘No’ campaign is ‘Project Fear’ is not that surprising, although somewhat embarrassing for its organisers.
Continue reading “BEHIND THE UNIONISTS’ ‘PROJECT FEAR’, THE UK STATE MASK SLIPS”

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Dec 20 2012

RADISSON BLU OR POST-RADISSON RED?

This blog has already commented on the earlier organising behind the Radical Independence Conference. It has also provided a fraternal critique of Britain Must Break, written by James Foley for the International Socialist Group (ISG), the organisation which initiated the RIC. Many others have commented on the conference itself (see end of articles below for links to these)

Below are posted two related articles. The first  examines the politics of the ISG and how these could  influence the future of the RIC. The second makes a comparison between the ISG (which has come out of the SWP tradition) and seeks to reunite the Left in Scotland, and the International Socialist Movement (which came from the CWI/Militant tradition) and sought to unite the Left through setting up the Scottish Socialist Party. Continue reading “RADISSON BLU OR POST-RADISSON RED?”

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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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