This article first appeared in Scottish Workers Republic (paper of the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement) Winter 2004 edition

Is the Independence Convention (IC) a positive step forwards towards an independent socialist Scotland? It is argued that what’s needed is the coming together of the various pro-independence forces to face down the pro-Unionist media and state. And this is to an extent true, but the trouble is that the IC will only progress at the beck and call of the SNP leadership. As such it is debatable whether the IC will even lead us to independence, let alone the Workers Republic!

This is the same SNP leadership that has been presenting itself as pro-big business, pro free-market, pro-EU. The same SNP leadership which increasingly views itself as part of the Scottish establishment, a Scottish ‘government in waiting’, or at least coalition partners with the unionist Lib-Dems. They can’t afford to ‘rock the boat’ too much and frighten big business. Just as Labour got into power by stealing the Tories clothes the SNP mimics Labour in the same manner slowly eradicating the small shreds of a social programme that distinguished them from the rest.

Scottish nationalists have generally looked upon themselves as representing the nationalism of the oppressed rather than the oppressor, but for many in the leadership of the SNP these lines are becoming increasingly blurred. Appealing to the defence of British imperialist regiments and promising a low-tax haven for big business are standards that show clearly certain sections of the SNP will continue to run Scotland in the interests of British imperialism post-independence.

Many republican socialists supported the SSP involvement with the IC largely unquestioningly, seeing it as a further commitment from the SSP on the national question. However this approach risks losing sight of the wider picture for the sake of scoring internal SSP victories against the pro-British elements.

In a document presented by Alan McCombes to the SSP NC in 2003, shortly after the IC was first proposed, Alan stated that there were two areas on which he had specific proposals; ‘campaigning issues’ e.g. Dungavel, Faslane; and in ‘preparing a constitution for an independent Scotland’. But here we are over almost 18 months later and no further forward. The SNP leadership of both Swinney and Salmond have remained distant; in fact Salmond went so far as to rubbish any idea of working with the ‘Trots’ of the SSP! With friends like these…!

In focussing on constitutional issues the IC risks duplicating the Constitutional Convention – and we don’t need reminding that it was a top-down establishment dominated body that effectively served to keep a lid on popular pressure for self-determination. More importantly the independence struggle should never be allowed to become an empty talking shop existing in isolation from the struggle of the masses.

Socialists & the Independence Convention

For republican socialists the political objective is clearly a democratic Socialist Republic of Scotland, in which the working-class control the wealth and resources of this nation. We must not fall into the trap of placing illusions in a republic in which the Scottish working-class will still be oppressed by capitalism and in which the forces of British, and global, imperialism still exert economic domination over the wealth and resources of Scotland.

However revolutionary Socialists should support the democratic demands for an independent republic. From the martyrs of the 1820 Rising to the great Clydeside revolutionary John MacLean, the banner of a Scottish republic has been raised by the most advanced sections of the workers’ movement. It has never been a serious option for the bourgeoisie as their class interests are tied up in the continuation of the imperialist system. It is a further necessity for us to advocate a constitutional solution which allows the Scottish working-class the freedom to pursue our interests as a class in the context of ‘normal’ class politics in the battle between socialism and capitalism. This solution demands the right of the Scottish people to exercise total sovereignty over our own affairs.

However, far from challenging imperialism at its launch meeting, one of the movers of the IC, an SNP councillor from East Lothian, stated unashamedly that he was proud of the role that Scots had played in the Empire and in building British imperialism! A strange position for a nationalist surely? Maybe not when you consider the approach taken by the SNP to the question of imperialist troops in Scotland – the ‘Scottish’ Regiments. Stranger perhaps that republicans and socialists should feel at home with such sentiments?

As socialists we should beware any attempts to bury our social agenda – rather we should make it clear that it is our Social agenda which guarantees that we are the real freedom fighters for the great mass of the Scottish people- the working-class. Any movement which is going to break the shackles of imperialist domination over our nation must rally to its flag those of ‘no property’, as all other classes have been implicit in supporting British imperial interests in Scotland – economically, politically and culturally.

United Work

This should not be mistaken as advocating a retreat to the ivory towers of revolutionary purity. Such a move would be sectarian and needlessly divisive at this stage. There is a need for united work across a range of organisations and individuals in the struggle to remove the British presence from Scotland. However this united work has to be built on a principled basis – not merely appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Socialists should not fear working with nationalists within the context of the national liberation struggle, but the world is littered with examples of socialists who have ended up betraying the working-class in such struggles. Only by analysing the objective conditions, and history, of the Scottish struggle can we prevent this.

For republican socialists in Scotland one central question must certainly be how to unite fellow minded progressives across a range of political organisations, trade unions, community campaigns and the like. I’d argue that to build an organisation which is not even prepared to challenge the feudal powers of the English monarchy – let alone the social relationships which exploit and oppress thousands of us on a daily basis – is no starting point.

The argument that goes, ‘independence first and then socialism’ is seriously flawed. Changing the flags that fly on official buildings across Scotland will change nothing when big business still rules Scotland. Only an end to imperialism i.e. economic domination over our economy and resources – will bring about a situation when the Scottish people are truly sovereign and liberated. This is the only road to freedom but it’s a road that needs courage and determination to tread.

Need for an Anti-imperialist Front

In Scotland today the majority of the far left are now (at various stages of acceptance) united behind the banner of a Scottish Socialist Republic. Whilst everyone knows the situation in the SSP is far from perfect, and contains sections who are in outright opposition to the national liberation struggle, it cannot be denied that in itself this still represents a huge advance from the situation just 10 years ago. The target now is primarily amongst the nationalist left, as well as to the wider working-class not necessarily members of any political parties. Moreover the appeal should be on such a basis as to bring out the anti-establishment radicalism that still exists amongst supporters of independence.

This message is one that the SNP leadership does not want to hear, but eventually the rank and file must sit up and listen. By leaving the social agenda to later times, the best the SNP Left can hope for is to put a human face on capitalism – but it will remain capitalism – still a system that brutalises, exploits and destroys. Republican socialists in the SNP need to organise not just to fight against the Unionists but also the quickening rightward drift in their own party. Such an agenda in the SSP should further isolate the Unionist rump.

The working-class should not have to put off our own agenda. By fighting for a Workers’ Republic we win our own liberation and in doing so liberate our nation. We need to tie all our demands against poor health, substandard housing, low wages and so on, in with the struggle against the imperialist system. To take the message of liberation – of class struggle and republicanism hand-in-hand – out into the streets and workplaces. We don’t need independence to create new masters – we need to put an end to all masters. Anti-imperialist politics are the key to this.

Freedom for Scotland means freedom from imperialist exploitation. Freedom from that exploitation can only come from a fundamental change in social ownership, when the wealth and resources of Scotland are transferred from the hands of the imperialist plunderers and put to use for the common good of the Scottish people collectively.

Giving the IC a firm basis in anti-imperialist politics will be a start in this direction. Only when we accept that the Scottish people cannot in any sense be free until we remove the political, economic and cultural legacy of imperialism can we begin to move forward in a meaningful manner. Anything less than this is a tacit acceptance of the imperialists propaganda that their way is the only way and that their system is the only system.

Basic Points of Principle for an Anti-Imperialist Front

  • Creation of a democratic Scottish Republic
  • Scottish people exercise sole sovereignty over all parts of Scotland, its islands and territorial or coastal waters
  • Oppose all forms of Imperialist control over the wealth and resources of Scotland.
  • Disbandment and/or withdrawal of all imperialist forces in Scotland
  • Opposition to any and all manifestations of British imperialism

Such an anti-imperialist organisation should seek solidarity with the growing anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world, in Nepal, Venezuela, Iraq, Palestine, Bolivia and so on. An anti-imperialism that will build practical solidarity with thousands of Irish republican supporters in Scotland. An anti-imperialism that is inherently against all capitalist wars for control over economic resources. An anti-imperialism that will embrace communists, socialists, anarchists, republicans, progressive nationalists, anti-nuclear campaigners, anti-war groups – in a way that the IC just can not begin to inspire to.

In short we need a body that will mobilise the marginalized and the dispossessed, confront British imperialism head-on and demand our inalienable right to real independence.

Think about it. As the forces of global economic domination come to Gleneagles next year for the G8 summit what better reception could they have than for us to be marching united under the banner of the Scottish Anti-Imperialist Front?