John Mitchell, an independent Scottish republican and member of the SSP

As always Allan Armstrong’s analysis of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) is a welcome, well-developed and considered response. Indeed Allan’s critiques in previous editions of Emancipation & Liberation have helped clarify my own thoughts on this matter. It seems strange that anyone proclaiming themselves a republican could take issue with what is said in his latest contribution. However, as Allan points out, there are ‘republican socialists’ who have seemingly relegated republicanism, let alone socialism, to the distant future in order to participate in the pan-nationalist alliance, Independence First. Given these theoretical somersaults currently taking place Allan’s principled republican stance aims to remove the ambiguity from the SSP’s republican agenda.

Overcoming RCN objections to the SIC?

Despite Allan’s valid criticism of the SIC though I get the feeling that much of the RCN objection could be overcome on paper simply by altering any future referendum on the constitutional question to accommodate a republican position within a multi-option STV set-up. Perhaps, however, I am wrong?

If, as seems likely, the SIC plans to limit itself largely to the question of a referendum this move would allow the SSP the total freedom to campaign within and outwith the SIC on a republican basis.

Could the SNP, which walked out of the Constitutional Convention in the 1989 over the issue of a multi-option referendum, now turn around and deny that democratic option when they are already committed to holding a referendum on it within the first term of a future independent Scottish parliament? Well, probably! But it would take an opportunist turn which surely the SSP and, nominally republican, Greens, could expose to their embarrassment. But would this republican option change the SIC? Would even the formal rejection of the Crown Powers by the SIC fundamentally change it?

You see the one major criticism I have to make of the RCN paper is that in attacking ‘nationalists’ in the SSP (the left prefix having been dropped somewhere along the way) it only advances a left republican position as an alternative. This is a criticism that can justly be levelled against previous contributions from the RCN on the ‘national question’ as well, and is a matter to which I shall return.

Certainly the thrust of Allan’s latest paper is that the differences centre on the matter of the Crown Powers. However when Allan criticises the ‘stagist’ approach of independence first, then a republic, then (presumably) socialism, the RCN’s alternative is merely to jump one step ahead and offer a republic first then (presumably) socialism. The stages haven’t disappeared; it’s just that there are less of them!

Crown Powers:-Principle or Diversion?

Allan’s basic criticisms of a post independence Scotland (under the crown) are correct, but the thing is that even a post independence Republic would still face many of the same pressures. Whilst there may not be the opportunity for the ruling class to exert the direct political control exercised through the Crown Powers, there will still be the direct economic, and therefore political, control exercised not just by the native ruling class, but also by perfidious Albion herself.

For confirmation of this we need only look across the water to the 26-Counties, and Allan’s comments thereon. (Whilst the situation there may be muddied through the unresolved national liberation struggle, to all intents and purposes a 32- County Republic would differ little in these terms from the 26-County version.)

Allan rightly points out that it is a low tax haven for the global corporation, where Shannon Airport is used repeatedly by the US Airforce in a breach of Irish neutrality and where the 26-County government jails the Shannon 5 on behalf of Shell. Elsewhere he notes that Irish UN ‘peace keepers’ helped to provide cover for the joint Belgian Union Mining company/CIA initiated overthrow of the radical Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960. While Allan rightly berates the SNP for highlighting the 26-County ‘Celtic Tiger’ as a model form of independent nationhood, he neglects to mention that this model arose without a Crown Power in sight!

Indeed the 26-County statelet has, both as Free State and Republic, acted as a junior partner to British Imperialism. Put into the superb terminology Allan uses to analyse the relationship between Washington and London it could read thus:

The Irish Republic has won the political franchise to manage the Southern part of Ireland on behalf of the global corporations and US/British Imperialism.

There is no reason to believe that the removal of Crown Powers from a post-independent Scotland would result in a different scenario. That is unless the republican agenda that removes these powers is inherently anti-imperialist, but that anti-imperialism has to have a far wider remit that restricting itself to the use of Crown Powers.

Again taking the example of the 26-Counties Allan notes that the Guinness family made their peace with the Irish Free State after 1922. However when he correctly observes that we could expect a similar move by Scottish unionist business as it repositioned and remarketed itself as Scottish, if Scotland becomes ‘independent’ under the Crown, he fails to clarify that the exact same situation would exist were Scotland to become independent under a Republic! Capitalism will continue unhindered whether an independent Scotland retains the Crown Powers or not that is so long as we allow the question of the anti-democratic Crown Powers to assume the prominence that are being ascribed to them presently. For example Allan also states that, If the new Scottish constitution wasn’t republican from the outset, a new Scottish ruling class would still be able to resort to those Crown Powers. Whilst this is unquestionably true it must be noted that the absence of Crown Powers has not altered the strength or ability to oppress the working-class of, for example, the US ruling elite. In any case in times of ‘national emergency’ or ‘crisis’, some sort of Emergency Powers Acts can always be voted through on behalf of the ruling class by any parliament, giving a democratic facade to the same situation.

Building an anti-Imperialist Workers’ Republicanism

To build an anti-imperialist republicanism it is essential to challenge not just the lingering political effects of Imperialism but its underlying economic rationale. After all we are dealing with a form of total economic control exercised not though ‘gunboat diplomacy’ or direct political control, but through the continued existence of the capitalist system. Without challenging capitalism, we will not fundamentally challenge the structure of imperialism.

That’s not to say that complete self-determination for Scotland will not present problems for British Imperialism, of course it will. Imperialism does not like constitutional upheaval unless it is in its own interests, and taking history as a precedence there are no conceivable circumstances under which it would be in the interests of Imperialism to breakup the British imperialist state.

Likewise there are no conceivable circumstances under which the genuine anti-imperialist could, or should, oppose the struggle for complete self-determination from the British imperialist framework, such a position belongs unquestionably in the camp of Social Imperialism. The question is how to show leadership of the national liberation struggle and move it decisively to the Left, not jumping on any bandwagon that comes along.

However we can be under no illusions that even under a Scottish Republic the economic interests of British imperialism would still rule the roost. It was for these very reasons that Connolly issued the warning that,

If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country.

Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle

It is a message over a century old that has not lost its relevance and which we ignore at our peril.

After all, the political front of all states under capitalism is merely a screen behind which the ruling class exerts its control. It is only by confronting Britain’s imperial interests which exist through its economic control, not just its direct political control, that a genuine anti-imperialism will be unleashed.

Primary to this is not the question of Crown Powers, but that ownership of the land and resources of Scotland are the common property of the Scottish people. A notion which immediately attacks the basis of capitalism and private property, that is it attacks the underlying economic basis of imperialism. A sentiment that is found within Connolly’s influence on the 1916 Declaration of Independence which asserts the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland. It’s about drawing together a whole programme of such demands that place the Left to the forefront of the national liberation struggle and that brings to the fore a radical, progressive and working-class agenda.

Yet the crux of the RCN argument with the SSP majority is that a Republic is a more democratic form of bourgeois democracy than ‘independence under the Crown’. Let’s be clear that any anti-imperialism that constricts itself to questions of bourgeois democracy rather than the social relationships which govern society under Capitalism is just as guilty of the stagist approach taken by the so-called nationalists within the SSP.

The time is past ripe for the establishment of socialism in Scotland. In any developed, industrialised nation the question of socialism should never be off the agenda for the working-class. In those industrialised nations with an unresolved national liberation struggle, notably in these islands, Scotland, Wales and Ireland the only answer is the Workers Republicanism of James Connolly and John MacLean. Republican Socialists should have no time for reforming capitalism, for installing new regimes to manage capitalism in Scotland or generally propping up the decaying rule of imperialism.

Comrades it is this reformist agenda that is the heart of the problem in the SSP. Allegations of nationalism merely attack the symptom rather than the cause. Instead the only genuine anti-imperialism is one which calls for no separation of the class struggle from the national liberation struggle; on with the class war; onto the Scottish Workers’ Republic!