The RCN discussed the forthcoming Scottish Independence Referendum at its Dundee aggregate on March 25th. Papers were presented by Allan Armstrong, Eric Chester and Susan Dorazio. Allan and Susan presented general papers covering the principles behind any campaign for Scottish self-determination. Allan and Eric also provided papers with more immediate proposals.
The RCN also noted that other Socialists had already made contributions to this debate. Two articles in particular, by George Mackin and Gregor Gall, have been published on the new Frontline website.
We are publishing the papers presented to the RCN aggregate on this website, and also providing links to those on the Frontline website.
It was agreed that an independent Socialist campaign (e.g. Socialists for a Scottish Republic) needed to be launched, but that the question of how to vote in the referendum could be taken nearer to the event, when the balance of class forces involved became clearer.
1. Thinking Through a Socialist Campaign for Scottish Independence
All sides are bringing a sense of urgency to the task of organizing a campaign for a referendum on Scottish independence. This is totally understandable for historical, political, and personal reasons.
However, I believe that it is in the best interest of the revolutionary Left to take time to consider a range of perspectives and strategies rather than getting caught up in the agenda, and the methods, of the corporate politicians in Westminster and Holyrood. According to them, the terms of the debate are obvious and pretty much set. Now it’s just up to the rest of us to find our place in it.
Fortunately, it’s not too late for the Scottish Left to seriously consider, debate, and eventually formulate our own position– one that enables us to engage in the independence campaign now, as well as to pave the way for what will undoubtedly be a long and intense struggle for a Socialist Scotland within a Socialist Europe. To my mind, this would be a strategy that challenges an “up or down” vote, and that sets in motion the principle of internationalism from below by viewing a movement for national self-determination as essentially a deep-seated drive for justice, democracy, and collective and individual liberation. Identification with other social movements also helps curtail political opportunism, whereby electoral activity becomes an end in itself.
The point of this strategy is to put a clear and direct light on what it should and could mean for Scotland to achieve independence in the 21st Century. Thus, a socialist referendum campaign would call for separate referenda on issues that are critical for the Scottish working class. These include the monarchy, NATO, the EU, and the pound sterling. At the same time, and just as important, is the task of working to create internationalism from below by honoring and acting on the deep connections– past and present– between the Scottish working class and that of England, Wales, and Ireland.
That is, our programme and tactics need to develop simultaneously from the collective processes of democracy and from the passion and idealism of a social movement. This would be an electoral campaign based on a revolutionary analysis of capitalism, our socialist/communist principles, the history of social movements, and the belief that a global democratic socialist society is possible.
We know that the question “Do you want an independent republican socialist Scotland?” will not be on the ballot in 2014. For this very reason, an explicitly socialist position on the terms of independence that will be of long-term benefit to the Scottish working class should be the center-piece of our programme and maintained throughout the campaign. It may even necessitate a “no” vote if we get stuck with only an up-or-down option. But how else can we keep alive our vision of socialism as an alternative to the failed economic and political system that is bringing misery to so many lives world-wide and will continue to do so until we organize to replace it?
Lessons on the interplay between tactics for immediate gains and the yearning for freedom can be learned from such social movements as those for woman’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery, the formation of trade unions, civil rights, gay rights, women’s liberation, and abortion rights. In all these cases, human rights and liberation from oppression propelled the development of these movements, in spite of the conflicts and divisions that occurred within them. Indeed, their strength lay in opening the terrain for discussion and debate. Such needs to be the case with Scottish independence as we find ways to be a strong voice for revolutionary socialism within the array of positions and proposals.
In short, I think that the essence of this short- and long-term project for national self-determination is the necessity for linking up democratic electoral processes with liberation consciousness.
Susan Dorazio, 15th March 2012
2. A Socialist Strategy for the Scottish Democratic Movement
The historical background
1. The UK was formed as, and remains, an imperial and unionist state with substantial anti-democratic Crown Powers. One feature of these is the constitutional denial of the right of self-determination to the UK’s constituent nations – partitioned Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. These powers give the British ruing class and its supporters considerable leeway to resort to extra-constitutional methods to suppress any national democratic movements.
2. Since the decline of the UK as an independent imperialist power after World War 2, the British ruling class has sought to maintain its position in the world as a junior partner to US imperialism. The UK state is NATO’s most reliable member. As a result of this commitment, the UK has a particularly bloated military budget, a continued commitment to nuclear weapons, and has been involved in almost continuous imperial wars.
3. The period of British imperial decline began after the First World War, became more apparent after the Second World War, and accelerated from the late 1950’s. With British imperialism acting as the ‘glue’ which held the British state together, this decline has led to the rise of national democratic movements seeking self-determination for each of the UK’s constituent nations. These movements combine politics, economics and culture. They enjoy a support wider than any one particular party.
4. In Scotland, the struggle to lead the national democratic movement has largely been fought for between the social democratic Labour Party and the populist SNP. Socialists have only played an episodic role, more often confining themselves to cheering on either the liberal unionists or constitutional nationalists, i.e. acting as Left unionists or Left nationalists.
5. In the mid-1970’s, old Labour, with STUC prompting, moved to adopt a liberal unionist policy of Scottish devolution within the UK. Labour claimed that Scottish self-determination could be exercised within the Union. Labour’s policy was then linked to a defence or an extension of the welfare state, in order to retain working class support.
6. However, Labour’s first attempt to lead the Scottish democratic movement was seen off when a decisive majority of the British ruling class moved sharply against their earlier tentative support for political devolution (recommended by the Kilbrandon Commission) in the late 1970’s. They successfully split the Labour Government and Party, and defeated the move to limited self-determination represented by the 1979 Scottish devolution proposals. This ushered in a period of conservative unionist reaction, linked to a greatly stepped up offensive against the working class under Thatcher.
7. It was only with the resurgence of national movements in the 1980’s (beginning in partitioned Ireland during the Hunger Strikes, and extending to Scotland after the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign), and the renewed national democratic challenges faced by the UK state, that the majority of the British ruling class moved to supporting political devolution (liberal unionism) once more. This process was begun under the Tories with the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, but they refused to extend this to Scotland or Wales (confining themselves here to administrative and cultural devolutionary measures).
8. Blair’s New Labour Party produced the successful liberal unionist political formula for UK constitutional reform with ‘devolution-all-round’. With ruling class backing and the trade union leaders securely subordinated to the government and employers under ‘social partnerships’, New Labour was able to deliver in the 1998 devolution referenda in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, Labour leader, Donald Dewar came up with ‘Independence within the UK’ to counter the SNP’s policy of ‘Independence in Europe’. However, this was no longer tied to any traditional social democratic vision of a strengthened welfare state (old Labour), but to ‘neo-liberalism with a human face’, i.e. promises of less brutal ‘modernisation’ (counter-reforms) than the Tories. This was coupled to a few isolated reforms, e.g. abolition of Section 28 and Highland land reform.
9. Between 1997 and 2010, New Labour presided over a neo-liberal offensive of accelerating counter-reforms and increased resort to imperial wars. This undermined Labour’s traditional social democratic, working class electoral base. By 2007, New Labour had lost its position at the head of the Scottish democratic movement.
10. At the time of its limited resurgence in the late 1960’s, the old SNP advocated political independence in a form that would be recognised by the UN. They were opposed to rule from either Westminster or Brussels. This was linked to their pro-small business economic policies. They also advocated some social democratic-style policies, albeit more limited than those of old Labour, who termed the SNP ‘Tartan Tories’ and anti-Catholic. This meant that the SNP only developed a weak presence in most traditional working class areas, especially in Glasgow. They found their main support in small town Scotland outside the Central Belt.
11. A more social democratic Left emerged (the 79 Group) within the SNP, which tried to build the party’s support in Labour’s traditional heartlands. They switched the SNP to a support for ‘Independence in Europe’, and raised clearer social democratic demands. The SNP began to make some advances at the cost of Labour (particularly during the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, marked by Jim Sillars’ by-election win in Govan in 1988).
12. The SNP tried to compete with Labour for leadership of the Scottish democratic movement. After failing to get the Scottish Constitutional Convention to adopt the SNP’s independence proposal as an additional option in a future referendum, they eventually ended up as pressure group for New Labour’s proposals. They supported a ‘Yes’ vote in the 1997 Scottish devolution referendum. (In this respect they acted a bit like the Broad Lefts pressuring trade union bureaucracies to beef up, implement, or not retreat from their official policies).
13. From the late 1980’s, and particularly under Salmond’s (ex-79 Group) leadership, as New Labour increasingly ditched what remained of its social democratic, welfare state commitments, the SNP was able to move on to the electoral terrain they had abandoned. Like New Labour, the SNP’s main commitment is to ‘modernisation’ (counter-reforms in the interest of big business). Their prime orientation is to win over key elements of the Scottish establishment, and hopefully global corporate backers. However, the SNP has also selected a few social democratic economic policies, e.g. free prescriptions, opposition to university fees, which has enabled them to position themselves (through the process of triangulation) to win over ex-Labour voters.
14. In order to win over Scottish establishment and corporate business backing, the SNP began to redefine Scottish self-determination as ‘Independence-Lite’. This meant the acceptance of the Crown Powers (supporting the monarchy) the power of the City of London (keeping the pound) and the British High Command (Scottish regiments to remain part of a shared British Army). In effect, the SNP had moved to Scottish Labour’s old (but now rejected) ‘Independence in the UK’ stance. This accommodation may be further accentuated by the SNP leaders’ links with Scottish bankers from British banks with HQs located in Scotland (RBoS, BoS), and the current crisis facing the euro. The SNP has also promoted policies to attract the global corporations (e.g. cuts in corporate taxation) and appeals to ‘maverick’ businessmen, (e.g. Brian Souter, Donald Trump and now Rupert Murdoch). They have also taken social positions to the right (triangulation once more) of New Labour on abortion and gay rights, hoping to win over the support of the influential Catholic hierarchy (who earlier had been decidedly hostile), whilst making similar overtures towards socially conservative Muslim bodies (amongst whose older representatives, Labour had once enjoyed much support before the Iraq War.)
15. The SNP leadership has indicated its willingness to accept ‘Devolution-Max’ as a ‘down payment’. The SNP’s wannabe Scottish ruling class backers recognise the declining power of the UK and British imperialism. They are prepared to bide their time to inherit ‘their just desserts’. The last thing they want though is any mass action. This would upset their cosy relationship with elements of big business and the Scottish establishment. The SNP leadership fully accepts the current global economic order, i.e. corporate capitalism, and the necessity for austerity measures to prop it up. They want the continuation of most of the features of the UK state, only with ‘a good lick of tartan paint’, i.e. a ‘Scottish Free State’ in a similar position to the post-Civil War, Irish Free State (but without the preceding republican phase!)
16. With the current decline of US and British imperial power, these states’ respective ruling classes do not want any of the uncertainties opened up by a wider Scottish democratic movement making its’ voice heard (e.g. challenges to continued imperial wars, NATO and nuclear bases, the UK’s status on the UN Security Council, or to the ‘necessity’ for the sternest austerity measures). Therefore, as in 1979 (but only more so), the British ruling class currently opposes the limited self-determination proposals on offer – Devolution then, ‘Independence-Lite’ now. It will use all the required constitutional and extra-constitutional methods at its disposal under the Crown Powers to ensure that the SNP’s proposals are blocked. The current ineptitude of the unionists parties’ public counter attacks on the SNP will only ensure that the British ruling class is more likely to resort to the hidden measures at its disposal under the Crown Powers to get its way. They will also find allies in the governments (and states) of the US, and probably the EU (although this could change if divisions between British and European finance capital open up further).
17. The first time that Socialists were visibly competing to lead the Scottish democratic movement was after 1919, during the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave. John Maclean went on to champion a Scottish Workers Republican ‘break up the UK and British Empire’ strategy as part of the wider international communist challenge. He took his inspiration from the wider Irish democratic movement’s challenge to the UK state, and the political legacy of James Connolly. The defeat of the International Revolutionary Wave after Kronstadt in 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty (with its acceptance of Partition) of 1922, and the Irish Civil War (1922-3), coupled to Maclean’s own death in 1923, ended this Socialist challenge for leadership of the Scottish democratic movement.
18. The marginalisation of this Socialist challenge led to the British Left (both official CPGB and the social democratic ILP), including its Scottish, Welsh (and for some, its Northern Irish) components, championing a ‘British road to socialism’. They largely accepted the existing unionist state as the framework for implementing their socio-economic reforms. Thus, whenever national democratic movements arose, the British Left tail-ended others’ constitutional proposals. Some supported liberal unionist measures (devolution); whilst others supported the constitutional status quo, i.e. they acted as conservative unionists. Both wings of the British Left sought to maintain a British state.
19. The next time Socialists began to compete for the leadership of the Scottish democratic movement was between 1998-2004, with the rise of the SSP. The SSP took substantial support away from the SNP at this time. An internal debate occurred in the SSP over whether to tail-end the SNP (Left nationalism), or to mount an independent campaign (Socialist republicanism). The highpoint of this challenge occurred in 2004 with the Declaration of Calton Hill and its associated demonstration.
20. The split in, and the decline of, the SSP has had the effect of fully handing over the leadership of the Scottish democratic movement to the SNP. This is also accentuated, at present, by New Labour’s refusal to advocate meaningful liberal unionist reform – ‘Devolution-Max’. They prefer to get into bed with the Tories in a conservative unionist anti-SNP alliance. As a result of the parliamentary majority gained in the 2011 Holyrood election, the SNP leadership is now in the position of being able to put forward its version of Scottish self-determination for the 2014 ‘Independence’ Referendum (‘Independence Lite’ – with or without the additional option of either ‘Devo-Max’, or the even more limited ‘Devo-Plus’).
21. At present, Socialists, and a still relatively quiescent working class, are not in a position to determine or significantly influence the course of events. This means that we are unable, with the present balance of class forces, to amend the terms of the forthcoming ‘Independence’ referendum. Therefore the battle is currently confined to whether the referendum offers only an ‘Independence-Lite’ option, or whether this is supplemented by either a ‘Devo-Max’ or a ‘Devo-Plus’ option. The option of a genuinely politically independent Scotland, i.e. a Republic (i.e. no Crown Powers), is not one of the referendum choices.
22. As long as the unionists maintain their united conservative approach, the greater their opposition (Tory, Lib-Dem, Labour, Ulster Unionists, BNP), the more the SNP’s own ‘independence’ proposals will be associated with the desire for greater self-determination in the eyes of the wider Scottish democratic movement. We are currently in a 1979 (strong British ruling class opposition), not a 1997 referendum (strong British ruling class support) situation. A defeat inflicted by the unionists, even for these very mild proposals would, as in 1979, produce a further rightward shift in politics in Scotland and the rest of the UK. One effect of this would be a further ratcheting up of the anti-working class austerity offensive, and an even greater willingness to get involved in imperial wars. Any Socialist group that was seen to have contributed to this situation by recommending either a ‘No’ vote or abstention, would likely become even more marginalised.
23. A useful analogy would be the 2011 November 30th strike. Any genuine Socialist could see that the prime reason why the public sector trade union bureaucracies organised this strike was- a) to provide some immediate pressure to be readmitted to the ‘corridors of power’ to negotiate another shabby deal (e.g. TUC, Unison leaderships), or b) to make fighting talk to jockey for position (e.g. the PCS) and increased membership (e.g. the EIS), by holding out until others capitulated, but then climbing down saying they have been let down by others. Logically, if Socialists had adopted such a narrow political focus, their pre-strike ballot recommendation would have either have been to vote ‘No’ or to abstain, rather to be than be led into action (then inaction) by this group of ‘posers’. However, this would have ignored the prior widespread demand and support amongst trade unionists for a real fight back on pensions. It was therefore important to relate to this feeling by recommending a massive ‘Yes’ vote to make this politically visible. Three million strikers showed there was a potential movement to take on the politicians’ (of all parties) and bosses’ austerity offensive.
24. However, there were then two additional options – a) the Broad Left (machine constitutional) approach of pressuring the same bureaucrats to take more action, i.e. ‘push them Left’, or b) the Rank and File (‘industrial republican’) approach of trying to develop independent action and take the leadership out of the hands of these bureaucrats.
25. By analogy, there is also a wider Scottish democratic movement pressing for greater self-determination. It is opposed to the British ruling class and UK state’s current clampdown. Not to become engaged in such a campaign would reflect a position of irrelevance, and would amount to abstention from the wider Scottish democratic movement in its struggle for greater self-determination.
Allan Armstrong, 17th March 2012
3. Outline of a Policy on the Scottish Independence Referendum
- Neither option that is likely to be available on the 2014 referendum is one that we as socialists can vote for as a meaningful step toward a genuinely independent Scottish republic. Devo-max would still leave critical decisions in the hands of Westminster. The limited form of “independence” being proposed by the SNP would still leave Scotland tied to the UK, in terms of the monarchy and, at least immediately, in terms of the currency, while also leaving Scotland tied to U.S. imperialism through NATO and the military bases. It will leave Scotland tied to the EU, in terms of budget decisions and, in the long-run, currency.
- We can not urge others to vote for either option. This means that we will not participate in coalitions and organizations that seek to mobilize people to vote for the independence option on the referendum, even if the coalition is critical of the SNP‘s perspective.
- Given these unacceptable options, we will spoil our ballots, perhaps writing “Yes to an Independent Scottish Socialist Republic.”
- If the Left were stronger, we would urge voters to boycott the referendum. Instead, we will emphasize the total inadequacy of the options being offered and organize pressure for further referendums on the monarchy, NATO and military bases, the EU and the currency.
- We will also present our vision of an independent Scotland, presenting a positive vision to the pro-business tax haven perspective of the SNP.
Eric Chester, March, 2012
4. Some Proposals for Socialists working in the Scottish Democratic movement.
A. The first requirement is for Socialists to create a united front organisation of Socialists, independent of the SNP and the Scottish Independence Convention (the scope and timing of its activities are determined by the SNP leadership) – e.g. Socialists for a Scottish Republic. This can raise the voice of Socialists and the working class in the wider Scottish democratic movement, and make a bid to take the lead. This would mean a campaign to demonstrate the limitations of the SNP’s constitutional nationalist, ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals, and any liberal unionist (Labour Party, STUC) ‘Devolution-Max’ or ‘Devolution-Plus’ proposals (if these ever emerge as a serious option). Furthermore, if things start to get nasty and the UK state resorts to the repressive measures at its disposal under the Crown Powers, it will need committed republicans to lead the type of defiance the SNP leadership will shy away from.
B. Such a campaign should be linked with, and brought into those struggles being fought against exploitation (e.g. against the current austerity drive) and oppression (e.g. women and gays fighting against discrimination; and the ending of religious interference in state bodies such as education and health). Salmond’s big business backers do not shy away from class conflict (Sir Tom Farmer’s support for the Con-Dems’ imposed austerity drive) or from reactionary measures (Brian Souter’s homophobic campaigns), since they want to shape a future Scotland in their interests now – and possession is nine parts of the law. If we want to see a very different Scotland, then we must be involved in class struggles during the independence campaign against the SNP’s big business and other reactionary backers.
C. Socialists should also actively seek support from those involved in the Scottish cultural arena. The rhythms of cultural contestation are not so directly tied to those of the socio-economic struggle, and often anticipate later political upturns (e.g. the post-1979 referendum upsurge in radical Scottish cultural activity, which preceded the support for greater Scottish self-determination from the late 1980’s). The cultural arena currently forms the most vibrant section of the wider Scottish democratic movement.
D. Socialists should fight on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis, by taking the campaign into England, Ireland and Wales. The SNP leadership has its own ‘internationalism from above’ links. They support the British Crown, British bankers, and global corporate executives – to name but a few. The break-up of the UK and the US/British imperialist alliance is in the interests, not only of the working class across these islands, but across the world.
E. Furthermore, the Euro-banker-dominated Council of Ministers and European Central Bank are taking on an increasingly imperial role, most obviously in Greece. Attempts are being made to blackmail nationally based working class resistance and threaten workers with complete economic marginalisation, if they do not bow to the Euro-bankers’ demands. Therefore, the aim of any successful ‘break-up of the UK state’ campaign is not to fall in behind the current EU leadership (or to become cannon-fodder in a fight between the British bankers of the City and those of the EU, especially Frankfurt), but to link up with Socialists in the other European countries, to offer an ‘internationalism from below’ European-wide Socialist perspective.
F. How we vote on the day of the Scottish ‘independence’ referendum will be determined by the political weight Socialists and the wider working class can bring to bear in the Scottish democratic movement. The aim would be to take the lead in the struggle for greater self-determination from the SNP, particularly in a situation when its leadership falters in the face of a British ruling class resort to its Crown Powers. This would then mean by-passing the existing Holyrood parliament (which under the Crown Powers has its sovereignty lying in Westminster, and is effectively controlled by the UK state) and pushing for a Constitutional Convention, independent of such direct political constraints. However, to arrive at this situation there would need to be large scale independent working class action, prepared to defy the current British ruing class’s austerity drive and its other reactionary policies (e.g. continued participation in imperial wars), and hence confident about being able to force its own proposals for the exercise of Scottish self-determination on to the political agenda.
G. If, however, the effective leadership of the Scottish democratic movement remains in SNP leadership hands, then a tactical ‘Yes’ vote would likely be needed in the 2014 ‘Independence’ referendum. This would be the only form of greater self-determination on offer (as in 1979) to head off a stepped up British unionist/imperialist and employer offensive. (To use an analogy from the field of trade union struggle – if you are unable to win the £20 pay rise you originally demanded and fought for, then you might have to settle for a £2 pay rise, especially if the alternative is either nothing or a pay cut!) This is an important argument against adopting an abstentionist position as a principle.
H. There will be a division amongst others on the Left in Scotland between those arguing for a Left nationalist political strategy of pressuring the SNP (political ‘Broad Left strategy) and those arguing for a Socialist republican strategy to take the Scottish democratic movement out of the hands of the SNP (a political ‘Rank and File’ strategy). Given the currently low state of working class opposition, this latter strategy may appear very ambitious. However, we saw the collapse and despair of those in the Scottish democratic movement, who staked all on backing Labour’s 1979 devolution referendum proposals for the exercise of Scottish self-determination, after they failed. The current SNP proposals are also doomed to disappoint, whether before or after the first hurdle of the 2014 ‘Independence’ referendum. To avoid a repeat of the wider political demoralisation in Scotland after 1979, it is vital that an organisation like Socialists for a Scottish Republic has developed a big enough presence that the more conscious can turn to it when the SNP falters and fails to deliver.
Socialists need to become active contenders for the leadership of the Scottish democratic movement.
Allan Armstrong, 17th March 2012
George Mackin considers the approach the left should take to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.
Gregor Gall looks at what a socially just Scotland would look like and how that differs from the vision of the Scottish National Party.
Other articles, which have already been published on this website and are relevant to the wider debate can be found at:-