This is the second block of articles on the Scottish Independence Referendum in the discussion and debate being promoted by the RCN. The first block can be found at:- Scottish Independence Referendum
The Following Motions On The Scottish Independence Referendum Were Passed At The Annual SSP Conference At Glasgow On 31.3.12
1. An Independent Scottish Socialist Republic
Conference reaffirms the Scottish Socialist Party’s commitment to the establishment of an independent Scottish socialist republic.
In doing so, Conference welcomes that the Scottish Government has announced the Independence Referendum will be held in autumn 2014: commits the Scottish Socialist Party to working with other pro-independence organisations and individuals in campaigning for the best constitutional outcome for the people of Scotland – independence.
Believes pro-independence political parties and organisations should not be distracted by options short of independence, such as ‘Devo-Max’ or ‘Independence Lite’, but instead should concentrate on persuading Scots of the benefits and merits of restoring to Scotland the status of a normal independent nation.
Conference also agrees there would be little point in securing independence for Scotland, only to remake our new country along the lines of the failed British capitalist model.
Instead, Conference recognises the best option for the people of Scotland is the creation of a democratic Scottish socialist republic.
2. Independence Campaigning
This Conference declares that the SSP must help to maintain an independent working class perspective in the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign. This means that throughout this campaign the SSP should:-
- Maintain our class’s political independence and not be gagged or limited in our actions by cross-class organisations seeking Scottish ‘independence’ under the Crown, economically subordinate to the City, or within NATO and British military alliances.
- Actively defend the actions of our class (e.g. strikes and occupations) against the austerity measures imposed by Westminster, Holyrood or Scottish local councils, whether Con-Dem, SNP or Labour.
- Highlight and be prepared to take part in protest actions directed against NATO or British armed forces (including Scottish army regiments) for imperial ends.
- Publicly oppose any attempts by pro-Independence campaigners to win over religious support by appeals to reactionary social sentiment, e.g. on anti-gays, anti-abortion.
- Call on people to oppose and to resist all attempts by the UK state to resort to bureaucratic or anti-democratic methods (especially under the Crown Powers) to deny the effective right of Scottish self-determination.
- Counter British unionist attempts to mobilise reactionary and anti-democratic sentiment and forces cross the UK by extending our campaign to England, Wales and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) for support and solidarity.
The Scottish Independence Referendum
The independence referendum scheduled for 2014 will be a critical moment for the Scottish Left. We remain committed to an independent socialist Scottish republic, and yet the SNP has advanced proposals that fall far short of this. Indeed, in my view the SNP envisions a Scotland that is neither independent, nor socialist, nor a republic.
Some of those on the Left have argued that socialists will still have to advocate a yes vote on the referendum, since the SNP plan for an “independent” Scotland represents a step forward, no matter how minimal. Once again, socialists are being cajoled into supporting a “lesser evil” choice. I would suggest that, instead, we as revolutionary socialists refuse to join any organization or coalition that promotes a yes vote, especially one that includes the SNP. Our role is to remain independent of such groupings while presenting a critical analysis of the situation, along with our vision of a genuinely independent Scotland.
Salmond is attempting to make Scottish “independence” palatable to Westminster and the English ruling class. Thus the servile praise of the monarchy. This ploy announces loudly to all that Scotland will remain closely linked to England even after it becomes nominally independent. Furthermore, Salmond has declared that he hopes that Scotland will continue to use the British pound, which would cede control over monetary policy to Westminster and City of London financiers.
Still, the global context has markedly changed since Britain engaged in a process of decolonization after World War II. Scotland must also negotiate an acceptable transition with the United States, through NATO, and Germany, through the European Union. NATO will never agree to let Scotland to close its military bases now being used by U.S. troops as a waystation to military adventures in the Middle East and beyond. The decision of an “independent” Scotland to withdraw from NATO, and to steer clear of U.S. imperialism, would represent the type of challenge to the power structure that the SNP leadership is so anxious to avoid.
And then there is the European Union. This is no longer just a common market, but rather an increasingly tightly integrated economic unit in which power is becoming more centralized, with the Germans wielding the real clout. An “independent” Scotland seeking to remain within the EU will almost certainly have to sign on to the new fiscal treaty that greatly restricts a country’s ability to determine its budget. It is highly likely that Scotland will have to join the Eurozone after a probationary period, if it is determined that it is entering the EU as a “new” member.
In a globally integrated economy dominated by transnational corporations, the entire question of national independence becomes problematic. Only a transformation to socialism can provide a meaningful solution to this problem. Still, the difficulties confronting Scotland go beyond this. As the SNP attempts to negotiate a smooth exit from the United Kingdom, its leaders will enter into deals that entangle Scotland in a dense web of agreements that place this allegedly independent country in a subordinate position. In the end, it is probable that the Scottish working class will be no better off than before, and it is possible that the working class will be worse off, confronting even more drastic austerity measures, than if Scotland had continued to move toward a devolved autonomy.
Given the choices being offered, our role as revolutionary socialists is to reject all of them and to, instead, advocate a positive alternative to the existing situation, a choice in which Scotland becomes truly independent. The referendum being offered has all of the characteristics of the usual election in a capitalist country in which voters get to choose between an array of parties with similar policies. In Scotland, this means the sham choice between the SNP and Labour. The RCN rejects this as a meaningful choice. We should do the same for the independence referendum.
A yes vote will only provide Salmond and the SNP with a blank check to negotiate the terms of independence with Westminster and the European Union. It would be different if voters were presented with a series of referendums in which Scots had the opportunity to decide on the key issues. Without this, promoting a yes vote is merely assisting the SNP to create the facade of an independent country without any of the real substance.
Perhaps an historical example will be helpful. In 1921, the British government grudgingly presented an independence option to the Irish Republican Army. Britain would grant independence to much of Ireland, but Ulster would remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Ireland would still be ruled by a monarchy, Britain would retain control of its military bases and the new state would not have total control over its taxes. A majority of the IRA leadership accepted this deal as a step toward full sovereignty. The radical minority rejected the deal as a sham. There was no popular vote on the deal, which remained in place for more than two decades. Of course, the six counties are still ruled by Westminster.
We don’t have the strength that the Irish radical left had in 1921, but there is no reason to quietly acquiesce to a fraud. If we refuse to enter the SNP-led coalition to promote a yes vote, we can still be actively involved in the debate on the referendum along the following lines:-
We can write and distribute literature presenting our vision of a truly independent Scotland, and pointing out the vast gap between this vision and that of the SNP.
We can join with others in calling for a referendum now on key issues such as the monarchy.
We can attend forums on the independence referendum, presenting our perspective in a non-sectarian and yet straightforward manner.
We can join with other groups throughout Europe who are demanding that their country leave the European Union.
We can take part in coordinated solidarity actions that oppose the cuts and condemn the role of the EU in enforcing these cuts.
Allan Armstrong replies to to Eric Chester
I think Eric’s approach here represents a retreat into socialist propagandism (e.g. if it is not Socialist independence, it is irrelevant). What socialist propagandism seeks to do is to win over individuals to small organisations (e.g. SPGB), but is extremely wary of becoming involved in wider campaigns with others who might not agree with all their politics. One thing that socialist propagandists want to be able to say is that they have never betrayed their principles; but that is because they don’t engage in the actual struggles of our class.
It is certainly the case, that if you if do engage in class war, you will take casualties and there will even be some who pass over to the other side. That is why we need united fronts with a strong republican communist pole of attraction to counter this. Being an activist within a particular struggle can certainly be a hard business, and there are no guarantees that you will win. However, the most profound lessons are learned in ‘the school of struggle’. Offering ideal paper plans from the side-lines (propagandism) will certainly lessen the casualty rate amongst those adopting such a stance, but will most likely be seen as irrelevant to those actively involved in struggles.
The issue of Scottish self-determination is a very hot political issue, with a lot of wider implications – e.g. the UK’s continued presence on the UN Security Council. In other words, the division that has opened up amongst sections of the Scottish Establishment provides us with an opportunity to press considerably further than the very tame constitutional proposals made by the SNP.
Furthermore, the issue of Trident is very important. The Unionist bloc has been vehement in its opposition to the ending nuclear bases, with Scottish Labour playing a particularly obnoxious role – arguing that it would lead to the loss of thousands of Scottish workers’ jobs (using such arguments they would have opposed the closure of the Nazi death camps, because of the impact it had on gasfitters’ and train drivers’ jobs!).
Meanwhile, the SNP leadership, which long ago abandoned any real opposition to NATO, is now making moves to get the party to adopt a pro-NATO position (this follows on from their acceptance of the British monarchy). Noises are already being made, particularly by SNP Defence spokesperson (and party campaign manager), Angus Robertson, to ditch opposition to Trident too. This is one area where Socialists could make real headway.
Like Eric, there is little that enthuses me in the SNP’s actual constitutional proposals. What arouses my interest is the opportunity to engage in a struggle, which can significantly alter the current terms of the political debate. However, there would be a big difference in the future political situation if the British unionist bloc was able to significantly defeat even the SNP’s very mild proposals. It’s not for nothing that the Ulster Unionists, Loyalist organisations and the BNP have thrown their weight behind the mainstream Unionist counter-offensive, hoping to push things even further down the road of reaction. As in 1979, any significant referendum defeat would lead to a major ramp up of the British unionist, imperialist and anti-working class offensive.
I voted ‘Yes’ to Labour’s even milder Scottish devolutionary proposals in 1979, despite the background of Callaghan’s capitulation to the IMF, imposition of the Social Contract, and criminalisation offensive in the ‘Six Counties’ – because I could see what bleak future was in store for us if Scottish devolution was defeated. And so it proved to be – with knobs on!
Now, if there currently was a mass movement that was able to break free from the constraints of the SNP government’s constitutional nationalist approach to ‘Scottish independence’ through a Holyrood initiated (and Westminster and Crown Powers limited) referendum, I would be for bypassing their constitutional road, and for organising a mass movement to organise a Scottish Constituent Assembly in defiance of the UK. Unfortunately this is not the case.
The best opportunity we have of creating such a movement, or the seeds of such a movement, is to form a Socialist Campaign for a Scottish Republic, which engages in the ongoing struggle for Scottish self-determination. This would be based on the principles of the SSP Edinburgh South branch motion (see motions passed at the 2012 SSP conference above) . It would also use the opportunity to constantly challenge every political retreat the SNP makes (and those they already have made) in the face of unionist and imperialist pressure. Whereas the SNP will always be looking to key elements of the Scottish Establishment and corporate capital, and be constantly ready to strike deals with the UK state and US imperialism, Socialists would be basing their campaign on meeting the needs of the exploited and oppressed.
I think that Eric is partly aware of the unsatisfactory nature of a purely propagandist campaign, that confines itself to highlighting the benefits of a Scottish socialist republic free from the constraints of US and British imperialism and the EU bankers. Yes, some outside current Socialist organisational ranks in Scotland may well agree with us that such a proposition is a very nice idea, but will then say, yes, but how do we get there? They don’t believe this can be done just with an ideal plan.
Eric does realise that something else is required. However, Eric’s alternative of campaigning for a series of referenda – e.g. end the monarchy, or break with NATO – is in effect trying to use the existing UK constitutional machinery to achieve ends that can never be won in this way. Furthermore, there is no constitutional mechanism for people to set up any of these referenda. It needs a party to win a parliamentary majority to do this. Even if this is done, the British ruling class still has all the Crown Powers at its disposal to ensure any such referendum is conducted on lines that benefit them.
Ending the monarchy will come in one of two ways – either a mass movement that completely defies the existing constitution (prompting the ruling class to consider ditching the monarchy – probably by abolishing the actual monarchy, but handing over the substance of the Crown Powers to a new President – a bit like in the USA!). Or, there will be a genuinely revolutionary government (and that rules out the SNP!), which simply abolishes the monarchy and the Crown Powers.
In practical terms, I think we should be throwing our weight behind getting a genuine united front organisation set up, e.g. Socialists for a Scottish Republic. This would include the SSP and the ISG, probably ex-SSP and ex-Solidarity members, possibly even open republicans in the SNP and working class campaigning organisations. The RCN would be involved in a continuous political struggle against those of a Left nationalist persuasion (who would indeed be pulled towards Salmond) within such a campaign. However, people can change and we are far more likely to have some influence in the wider struggle by becoming involved in such a campaign, than by confining ourselves to the role of a propaganda organisation.
Allan Armstrong, 17.4.12
Also see my articles at:-
2. A Socialist Strategy for the Scottish Democratic Movement.
4. Some Proposals for Socialists working in the Scottish Democratic movement.
On Self Determination
by James Kelman
In an American journal I read a prominent English writer was described as ‘very British’. What can it mean to be ‘very British’? Could I be described in this way? Can my work be described as ‘very British’? No, not by people in Britain, or by those with a thorough knowledge of the situation. The controlling interest in ‘Britishness’ is ‘Englishness’. This ‘Englishness’ is perceived as Anglo-Saxon. It is more clearly an assertion of the values of upper class England, and their validity despite all and in defiance of all.
Power is a function of its privileged ruling elite. To be properly ‘British’ is to submit to English hierarchy and to recognize, affirm and assert the glory of its value system. This is achieved domestically on a daily basis within ‘British’ education and cultural institutions. Those who oppose this supremacist ideology are criticized for not being properly British, condemned as unpatriotic. Those Scottish, Welsh or Irish people who oppose this supremacist ideology are condemned as anti-English. The ‘British way’ is sold at home and abroad as a thing of beauty, a self-sufficient entity that comes complete with its own ethical system, sturdy and robust, guaranteed to outlast all others.
British people are led to believe that the Royal Family are admired, loved and glorified across the globe. Should another Solar System contain life upon any of its myriad planets its inhabitants will not only accede to the Christian church but also acknowledge the Head of the English Royal Family as Defender of the Faith, in competition with the Pope, standing next in line to God.
Writers like myself are guilty of being ‘too Scottish’; our ‘Scottishness’ is as an attack on ‘Britishness’ and acts as a disqualification. It is assumed that Scottish experience is homogenous whereas English experience offers a wide-ranging and worldly heterogeneity. Our work is attacked in pseudo literary tones for its perceived insularity. This also happens within Scotland; anglo-centric Scottish critics condemn Scottish writers for their ‘lack of diversity’.
Being ‘too indigenous’ is the same as being ‘too working class’ and, predictably, the closer we move to the realm of class the clearer we find concerns of race and ethnicity. No one remembers that ‘Briton’ has something to do with Celticness. Being ‘too Scottish’ is seen as an assertion of a Celtic rather than Anglo–Saxon heritage. The marketability of certain individuals derives from the arousal of this racial stereotype. The proof of the English footballer David Beckham’s marketability is in his Anglo-Saxon ‘provenance’.
A colonial or imperial context helps clarify the argument. The key is class. ‘Scottishness’ equates to class and class equals conflict. Even within Scotland we can be criticized for this. The work of writers deemed ‘too Scottish’ shares a class background. Occasionally we are condemned for confining our fiction to the world of the urban working class. This suggests that for working class people cultural boundaries are fixed in place. Their world is an entirety of experience, culturally as well as economic. None can step beyond the limits of that world. It is a world barren of the finer things in life which are not only material but spiritual. Working class people cannot engage with art and philosophy. In their world there is no art and philosophy.
This elitism is straightforward and at the heart of the hostility but, as with racism, is seldom remarked upon within the establishment and mainstream media. It rarely occurs to critics that working class people might read ‘proper’ books or look at paintings as opposed to ‘pictures on the wall’. When it does occur to them it is treated as a phenomenon. They do not progress to the discovery that the life of one human being is as valid as another, that the life experience of one section of society is as diverse as another.
The bourgeoisie tend to go with the colonizers and the imperialists as a means of personal and group survival, and advancement. They quickly buy into the culture of the ruling elite. Indigenous languages and cultures are kept alive by those at the lower end of society. In India and much of Africa, as well as Australasia and North America, the voice of authority continues to be English. The lower order groups keep alive the local, the richness of the indigenous languages, the indigenous aesthetic, the culture – as best they can, not necessarily by choice or intention. Typically education is denied them, their languages and cultural markers proscribed, regarded as weapons. To use these language or cultural markers is seen as cultural vandalism or acts of terrorism, something the Kurdish people must contend with in order to survive.
Since the 18th century the cultural and linguistic movement of the Scottish bourgeoisie and ruling elite is total assimilation to Britishness where Englishness is the controlling interest. Scotland has its own languages too, and these are ‘living languages’, kept alive by people using them who, generally, are working class. Scottish literary artists have worked in these languages for centuries. Even where the writers are not themselves working class in origin the subject matter of the work is, as we see in some of the writings of Walter Scott or R.L. Stevenson.
Scotland also has its own philosophical, legal, religious, literary and educational traditions, and most of this too is marginalized. Scottish educators have to fight Scottish institutions to find a place for Scottish philosophy, literature and education itself. Many English people sympathize with their struggle but see the context to include the marginalized cultures and traditions of English counties like Yorkshire, Cornwall, Northumbria, Cumbria, Somerset and Lancashire. The difference is that Scotland is not an English county, it is a full British country. Many English people fail to grasp this point. Scotland will continue to be a British country whether or not we are governed from London, England. Great Britain is a geographical entity.
People are right to treat nationalism with caution. None more than Scottish people who favor self-determination. Any form of nationalism is dangerous, and should be treated with caution. I cannot accept nationalism and I am not a Scottish Nationalist. But once that is said, I favor a ‘yes or no’ decision on independence and I shall vote ‘yes’ to independence.
Countries should determine their own existence and Scotland is a country. The decision is not managerial. It belongs to the people of Scotland. We are the country. There are no countries on Mars. This is because there are no people on Mars. How we move ahead here in Scotland is a process that can happen only when the present chains are disassembled, and discarded, when the majority people seize the right, and burden, of self-determination.
The Scottish Nationalists have exposed its weakness here. Under their leadership once ‘independence’ is achieved they intend “to share Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State.” This is like the 17th Century when a tiny bunch of aristocrats ruled Scotland but shared kingship with England and Wales. The truth is the majority of Scottish people have never experienced self determination at any time in history. Injecting this anachronistic hierarchy into the proceedings is an absurd and backward step.
I am not a patriot. A ‘patriot’ is one who accepts national identity as grounds for a primary solidarity. It is patently absurd that the majority people should expect solidarity from the ruling elite and upper classes. In Scotland there is no justification for such a hope let alone expectation.
The British establishment left, right and centre are as one in their opposition to Scottish self-determination. This applies to the many Scottish politicians of the Tory Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal-Democrat Party who ‘cross the political divide’ to stand together in defence of the Union. It is useful to see this priority expressed so clearly. This type of united front is common in situations of war.
The Scottish Nationalists’ push to subject the majority people to a Royal Family pays homage to another tradition associated with ‘Scottish identity’: submission and servitude to the ruling elite. Manna for Empire builders and Colonialists. Dependency is at the root of this aspect of ‘Scottish identity’. There may be a ‘right’ of self-determination; on the other hand there may not. Even if there is such a right it need not be exercised. Siding with the imperialist is a better option: dogs brought to heel can be robbed of their bones.
Scottish people are encouraged by the establishment to take pride in their service to the Monarch, the Royal Family and all of its subjects. Scottish children are taught to glorify submission and servitude, embodied in the myth of “the Scottish soldier who wandered faraway and soldiered faraway” in the retention of British authority and the denial to the majority people both foreign and domestic, of the right of self-determination.
There are centuries of imperialist myth-making, misinformation and propaganda to disentangle. Clan allegiance has been strong in the highlands and islands of Scotland, as has religious difference throughout the country. This continued throughout the 17th and on through the 18th century until the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the clan system and Jacobitism were effectively destroyed.
The British State has sought to deny the right to self-determination consistently over the past few hundred years in Africa, the Americas, Ireland, the Indian Sub-continent, South East Asia or Australasia. The State has used every argument it can to cling onto power and when necessary applied the requisite dirty tricks, and finally moved in the army to achieve their objective, at whatever cost, including the slaughter of innocents.
Unfortunately religious difference remains significant into the 21st Century. The Scottish Nationalists support for such an intrinsically British institution will appears as a sop not only to Unionist sympathizers but to ‘the Protestant vote’. This opens a nasty sore on the Scottish political and cultural scene. Traditionally, Protestants are anti-Republican Unionists who regard the King or Queen of England as Defender of the Faith. Roman Catholics are believed to favor Republicanism. In Scotland many people confuse ‘Republicanism’ ‘Roman Catholicism’ and ‘Irishness’. Some believe them to be one and the same thing. The subtext to their ‘pro-Unionist, anti-Republican’ stance is sectarian racism: anti-Catholic, anti-Irish. Others in Scotland will view the Nationalist retention of the British Monarchy in these terms.
The continuing debate in Britain is led by the establishment and mainstream media and focuses on whether or not independence is ‘good for Scotland’. This is a red herring. It is an argument from self-interest and therefore secondary. The economic consequences of self-determination are important but are not and cannot be the central issue. Experts and specialists debate on the deployment of capital resources; defence and foreign policy, business & industry; health and welfare issues, religions and secularism. Shall Scotland seek to enter NATO, the UN, the British Commonwealth, and the European Union? What will happen to ‘our’ soldiers and ‘our’ army-towns, ‘our’ battleships, warplanes, tanks and submarines. What effects will independence have upon our relationships with the USA, with England, Wales and Ireland, not to mention Spain, Italy, Israel, Turkey and all those other countries keeping the lid on their own governance issues.
How we progress as a people will depend on how we contend with those and other matters. A people cannot be asked to settle in advance of independence how they shall act in hypothetical situations. We are being asked to provide a priori evidence of our fitness to determine our own existence before the freedom to do so is allowed.
Imperialists and colonizers lay down the judgment that there is no ‘right’ of self-determination. But that judgment has no place in the 21st Century. The right to self-determination inheres in every adult human being and distinguishes us from animals, mammals, birds, fowls or fish. No one grants us this right. It is not allowed to us by a benign authority. People exercise the right. It can only be denied to us, as it is denied to the vast majority of the world’s population.
Ultimately there is only one issue: the right to self-determination. Underlying the ‘good for Scotland’ debate is the denial of that right.
We are talking about freedom. We exercise freedom. If freedom be denied us we seize it as our right. Neo-fascism is illustrated where the burden of proof is placed upon human beings to provide evidence of their humanity. Some fall into the trap of accepting the burden of proof. They seek to provide evidence to establish their own humanity. They can only fail. Humanity cannot be ‘granted’ or ‘allowed’ them. They already are human. Their humanity is being denied. No one gives us our freedom. We take it. If it is denied us we continue to take it. We have no choice. If it is taken from us and we allow it to be taken from us then we are colluding in our own subjection.
The Scottish Nationalists pay allegiance to the concept of ‘hereditary subjection’ (and spiritual degradation), as embodied in the Queen of the British Kingdoms and I find this repugnant. The question is of historical as well as contemporary relevance. People have fought and died for a political freedom inclusive of Republicanism. They would turn in their grave. No one has the right to represent the voice of the Scottish people in a matter of such gravity. It is a massive setback but not insurmountable. It is my belief that the Nationalists’ brand of independence should still be grasped. We can learn from the past. Sooner or later the right to self-determination will be exercised by the majority of people in my country. When I vote ‘yes’ to independence I shall be voting towards that end.
James Kelman’s article can also be found at:- On Self-Determination