Eric Chester argues that support for Scottish self-determination, which has informed RCN policy on Scotland’s independence, is not relevant and that a more pragmatic approach should be taken to decide whether or not to support independence. Eric also warns Socialists about the considerable dangers involved in supporting EU membership for Scotland.
Socialists have always been wary of the pitfalls of nationalism, even the nationalism of an oppressed people. Socialists have always emphasized the vital necessity of international working class solidarity, and yet nationalism presupposes a bond that cuts across class lines.
The issue is not one of the right of self-determination. There can be no doubt that the people of Scotland have the right to separate themselves from the United Kingdom. Indeed, even Westminster concedes that right, at least in theory. As socialists, we uphold the right of Scotland to become an independent state. The question is not whether a vote on Scottish independence should be binding, but whether we, as socialists, should advocate a ‘yes’ vote.
In my view, socialists should only support a movement for independence if a break up of the old state will lead to a substantial gain for the working class, and will advance the struggle for a socialist society. Thus, the issue needs to be addressed as to whether the referendum on Scottish independence meets these criteria.
As of now, we don’t know exactly what is being proposed. Salmond and his minions are engaging in secret negotiations to set the terms of Scottish independence. Nevertheless, although many of the specifics remain hazy, those proposals that have emerged into public view are not promising. There is every sign that the SNP is not really interested in establishing a truly independent Scotland, but rather seeks to establish a Scotland that remains linked to the United Kingdom, but is also increasingly integrated within the European Union. The result could well be a sham independence that leaves the Scottish working class no better off, and, perhaps, even worse off than it is now.
Already Salmond has announced that an “independent” Scotland will continue to be subordinate to the British monarchy. This is not a purely symbolic issue. In addition to the financial costs involved, the royals secretively exert their influence on policy questions, both to further their own narrow interests and to advance their conservative agenda. Furthermore, the Crown Powers enable the British government to depose an elected government, as occurred in 1975 when Australia’s prime minister, Gough Whitlam, was removed from office. The question of Scottish independence is being determined by popular referendum. Why should this not also be the case for the fundamental question of maintaining the monarchy or creating a democratic republic?
Salmond understands that many Scots have become disenchanted with the SNP’s vision of independence, and with good reason. He is therefore stressing that an independent Scotland would close the Faslane Naval Base, the home port of Trident submarines that carry nuclear missiles. These submarines are an anachronistic heritage of the Cold War, and are also extremely expensive to maintain and to build. It is possible that Faslane will be closed by 2020, when this version of Trident is mothballed as obsolescent, whether the independence referendum is carried or not.
Nevertheless, Scotland does play an important role in aiding the United States in its never-ending imperialist ventures. Military bases located in Scotland provide the NATO alliance with forward bases from which to launch attacks on countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The SNP has already caved into pressure and agreed that an “independent” Scotland would remain within NATO. The use of Scottish bases by conventional strike forces under U.S. command is far more important than continuing to provide a home port for outmoded nuclear weapons.
Then there are the crucial issues related to the economy. Salmond has already stated that an “independent” Scotland would remain within the sterling zone. This means that monetary policy, the determination of the rate of interest, would continue to be set in London by the Bank of England, and not in Scotland. The ability of a state to control and direct the economy depends, in significant part, on its ability to determine monetary policy. Furthermore, the Bank of England, in conjunction with other British financial agencies, would still have the authority to regulate Scottish banks. Given the horrendous record of the Bank of England in the run-up to the 2008 bank collapse, this does not bode well for the future.
Still, Salmond and the SNP understand that the British economy is on the decline, and that the dominant economic power in Europe is Germany. Salmond has, therefore, insisted that an “independent” Scotland will remain a member of the European Union. It has become increasingly clear that an independent Scotland would have to re-join the EU as a new member state. At the very least, this would require acceptance of the current fiscal treaty, which greatly restricts the ability of EU states to utilize deficit financing to counter economic downturns. The UK is one of only two EU members who have refused to sign on to the fiscal treaty. Furthermore, it is very likely that, after a transitional period of careful scrutiny, Scotland would be required to join the Eurozone. The calamitous experience of Greece and Spain demonstrates the enormous risks that come with entry into the Eurozone. Thus, it is very possible that the SNP version of “independence” could lead to the Scottish working class suffering from even harsher austerity programs than those currently being enforced by the Con-Dems.
Voting ‘yes’ on the referendum is, in effect, authorizing Salmond to negotiate the terms of an independence agreement with Westminster, and probably with NATO (the U.S.) and the European Union as well. Given the past record, there is no reason to believe that the Scottish working class would benefit should the referendum be approved; indeed, quite the contrary.
In the two years until the referendum vote, socialists focus on putting forward our vision of a truly independent Scotland. As a start, this would entail the creation of a republic, thereby ending hereditary rule, the banning of nuclear weapons, the closing of all military bases to British or NATO forces, and Scotland’s withdrawal from NATO. It would also mean that Scotland would issue its own currency, while bringing the banking system under public control. An independent Scotland would determine its own budget, and not have it subject to a veto by the European Union.
A genuinely independent Scotland, as outlined above, would represent a significant step forward for the Scottish working class, and would create the basis for organizing for a ‘yes’ vote on the referendum. As socialists, we need to advance this vision of independence so as to present a meaningful alternative to the sham version of independence being promoted by the SNP.
We can not permit our viewpoint to be subsumed into a broad coalition organized to mobilize voters to cast a ‘yes’ vote. Such a coalition will, of necessity, be subordinate to the SNP. As socialists, we can not be gulled into silence by the flimsy excuse that divisive issues must be shelved for now since an independent Scotland will, sometime in the future, render the final decision. Agreements entered into now could impact Scotland well into the future. An agreement to lease a military base to the UK or NATO for a period of decades would be very difficult to rescind, as Cuba and Guantanamo Bay demonstrate. Once having entered the Eurozone it would be difficult to leave, as Greece has so painfully proven.
As socialists, we need to articulate our distinctive vision now, not sometime in the vague, distant future. We strive now to create a truly independent Scotland while, at the same time, joining with democratic socialists from around Europe, and around the world, who seek to establish a federation of socialist states that an independent Scotland could enthusiastically join.
31st October 2012
For other contributions by Eric Chester to the debate within the RCN on Scottish independence see:- Scottish Independence Referendum