RIC – a year of campaigning and growth

It is a full year since the launch of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) last November in Glasgow. This was the largest gathering of the Left seen in Scotland for many a year. Since then the campaign has taken off, with local branches established throughout Scotland. RIC members have been involved in a wide range of campaigns.

These have included protests again the ‘bedroom tax’; the weekend of action against Faslane nuclear submarine base; directly challenging Nigel Farage on his ‘visit’ to Edinburgh pushing UKIP’s uberreactionary agenda; opposition to former Greek premier Papandreou’s invitation to the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh; and supporting campaigns of solidarity with Palestine. There was also a sizeable RIC contingent on the Scottish independence march in Edinburgh on September 11th.

Thus RIC has seen its job as mobilising across the board on economic, social, political and cultural issues, and has located its campaigning in an international framework. On the basis of this approach there are likely to be even more people attending the second conference than the first.

The issue that initially brought RIC together was the SNP government’s Independence Referendum, now less than 10 months away on September 18th, 2014. At the moment, the political conditions for winning a ‘Yes’ vote do not appear to have been achieved. Yet, in the increasingly volatile world we inhabit, new issues could still arise, e.g. a major scandal involving the government or members of the British establishment, which could alter the political context the referendum is conducted in.

However, to date, neither the SNP government nor the official ‘Yes’ campaign, have been able to effectively counter the combined unionist onslaught represented by ‘Project Fear’, the behind-the-scenes activities of the UK state, and its US and EU backers.

The attitude of the British ruling class and the unionist parties

Quite clearly, there is a difference between the ruling class attitude to having the SNP running one of the UK state’s devolved institutions, Holyrood, and allowing the SNP government to create the political conditions that could lead to the unravelling of the UK state and wider British ruling class power in the current ‘New World Order’.

The British unionist parties, particularly Labour, certainly do not like the SNP running Holyrood. This limits their opportunities for granting patronage, and hence winning wider influential backing, thus reducing the possibilities for advancing political careers. The British ruling class, though, can live with this, since the SNP in office has shown itself to be an impeccably constitutional party, which accepts the ‘rules of the game’ and the constraints of Westminster and City of London imposed austerity.

But the British ruling class does not relish the uncertainties that a diminished imperial UK state and British economy would face, even under ‘Independence-Lite’ – the possible loss of the UK seat on the UN Security Council, and the international ramifications for the City of London having to reform sterling in the midst of the current global financial crisis. This is why they are so united in their anti-Scottish independence stance.

The SNP government – the voice of a wannabe Scottish ruling class

The SNP government argues that the best way to disarm this unionist challenge is to concede most of the political ground to them. They accept that a future ‘independent’ Scotland would still be subject to the draconian anti-democratic Crown Powers (the real significance of their pro-monarchy stance); the austerity diktats of the City of London, and the endless wars promoted by the US/British imperial NATO alliance.

However, far from being appeased, the British unionists sense they have the SNP government on the run, and have further stepped up their offensive.

The real reason, though, why the SNP government
has vacillated so much, is that their ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals are not designed to extend popular self-determination to the majority of people in Scotland. They go no further than meeting the needs of a wannabe Scottish ruling class. The SNP government wants no more than a junior managerial buyout of the Scottish branch of UK Ltd, the better to resume business within the existing British economic and wider global corporate order. This is something SNP big business backer, Jim McColl, has been quite open about, and which SNP right winger, Mike Russell, has favourably described as ‘Independence within the Union’.

The SNP government looks to the unionists, not the people of Scotland, in its ‘Scottish Free State’

Furthermore, if there were to be a majority ‘Yes’ vote next year, the SNP government has no intention of pushing for a Constituent Assembly, involving the people of Scotland in directly determining our own future. Instead, it intends to take the existing unionist MSPs into its negotiating team with the Westminster government, to set up a ‘Scottish Free State’.

Despite the political illusions held by many, the current leaders of the SNP will not wind up their party after ‘independence’. There is no historical precedent for a nationalist party ever doing this. Those backing the party expect their ‘due rewards’. Instead, post-independence nationalist parties extend their base by wooing the business backers who supported the pre-existing political order. This is why the SNP government is already making overtures to the unionists. Just think of the of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fail parties in Ireland, and the Indian and South African National Congress parties, and their longevity in office.

The official ‘Yes’ campaign is an SNP government front, under the tight national control of SNP (and one Green) full-timers. The non-party, ‘neutral’ ‘Yes’ campaign, Chief Executive, Blair Jenkins OBE, was quick to give his public backing to the SNP leadership’s pro-NATO stance last year. Dennis Canavan (independent, ex-Labour), Patrick Harvie (Green) and Colin Fox (SSP) may be permitted to adorn official ‘Yes’ platforms and make some critical points; but should they step too far out of line, the campaign full-timers would soon step in. The national ‘Yes’ campaign material is kept politically bland. It avoids such issues as SNP government and local council cuts, or providing convincing policies to counter those British unionist challenges over sterling, NATO membership and the EU.

However, wherever there are local ‘Yes’ groups, which often reflect the more immediate concerns of the people involved, and who are much more open to the critical arguments of RIC, then joint work is worthwhile. In many areas RIC has been able to distribute its own material alongside the official ‘Yes’ material. Where we get a real chance to engage in discussions and debate with others, such opportunities should be taken.

Grangemouth and the bleak future offered by the Tories, Labour and SNP

The recent sudden ‘solidarity’ shown between the SNP Holyrood and Con-Dem Westminster governments during the Grangemouth crisis has been very revealing. Both accepted that Grangemouth workers must first bow to the infamous dictates of Ineos principal shareholder, Jim Ratcliffe, before government provides further financial bribes to meet the voracious demands of this corporate hood.

Furthermore, we have just witnessed the first fruits of the Miliband/McCluskey Labour rapprochement – the abject capitulation of UNITE, despite the majority of the Grangemouth workforce initially rejecting the Ineos management demand to sign new much worsened contracts or lose their jobs.

As we go into the second year of the campaign for Scottish self-determination, this raises a key strategic issue for RIC. What is RIC’s role? Does it see itself as merely a Left pressure group upon the SNP government and the existing official ‘Yes’ campaign? Such thinking may draw sustenance from apparent SNP willingness to entertain the social democratic, neo-Keynesian suggestions found in the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s ‘Common Weal’ proposals. However, the SNP leadership is astute enough to know that, in its political competition with Labour, it needs to triangulate to the Left. Indeed, even the ultra-moderate Ed Miliband, partially under the pressure of events in Scotland, has now made some very tentative paper moves in this direction. Yet, this all remains talk and empty ‘promises’ for the future.

The SNP government was very quick to bow before Ratcliffe’s threats. It continues to promote cutbacks, in real terms, in local government spending. It has offered well-paid Scottish NHS senior managers a 4% pay increase, but limits those who actually deliver the service to 1% – a pay cut in a time of mounting inflation. These actions, rather than any pro-‘Common Weal’ spin, give us a truer indication of how any SNP government would really behave after 2014.

Grangemouth highlights the need for RIC to offer an independent challenge based on genuine self-determination

If the SNP leadership’s capitulation over NATO was a major impetus behind the support for last year’s Radical Independence Conference, then what has happened at Grangemouth should make clear what the real role of RIC must be after today’s conference. Be they Tory, LibDem, Labour or SNP, they all agree that workers, but not bosses and politicians, must accept worse pay and conditions under the current global order.

Furthermore, this is also the position of Len McCluskey and the Broad Left UNITE leadership – only they would add union full-timers to those enjoying a protected and privileged position. Workers, though, should just accept their lot and be grateful. This also highlights the hollowness of the Red Paper Collective’s politics. They have been building up illusions in the possibility of reforming Labour through Broad Left leaders like McCluskey.

Thus, the real role of RIC should lie in mounting a challenge for the leadership of the campaign for Scottish self-determination. This means looking further than the SNP government’s and the official ‘Yes’ campaign’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals. These amount to no more than the transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood, through a ‘gentlemen’s agreement conducted behind our backs. The RIC should be mounting an open campaign for a democratic, secular, social Scottish republic, to be put before a democratically elected Constituent Assembly.

Genuine self-determination means extending democracy to all the organisations we need to defend and advance our economic, social, cultural and political needs

Even, if the SNP government were to win a ‘Yes’ vote, it is clear that, after Grangemouth, it would quickly bow to the demands of corporate capital. They would quickly come to new mutually advantageous terms with the British ruling class, the UK and US states, within the corporate dominated ‘New World Order’.

A major reason why socialists are not making more impact at present amongst the wider working class is due to the continued lack of much fight back. This leads to a more general lack of political self-confidence. This has been accentuated by the decay and further bureaucratisation of workers’ own organisations – highlighted by the Grangemouth fiasco; but also of the socialist parties – demonstrated by the ‘Tommygate’ debacle.

This is why most workers are currently looking, more in despair than hope, to either a future Labour government or to the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ in the face of the ruling class austerity offensive. This response can only lead to further demoralisation. That is why it is so important for RIC to involve itself in any working class resistance that does arise.

It is false argument to say that RIC should only involve itself in ‘bread and butter’ issues. Such a view reflects a very limited view of what constitutes meeting human needs, and a rather patronising attitude about the range of workers’ concerns. The RIC already has a good record of supporting those campaigning organisations which together meet the spectrum of human needs – economic, social, environmental, cultural and political – including international solidarity. This needs to be continued and further developed.

Most socialists in Scotland are aware of the complete lack of democratic accountability of Labour politicians and officials. Others can see the increasingly corporate and imperial friendly ‘New SNP’ going down the same political path as New Labour.

The ignominious collapse of the UNITE leadership shows that the rot goes much deeper. We need to rebuild all our campaigning organisations anew, including the trade unions. Jerry Hicks’ impressive rank and file challenge to McCluskey in the UNITE General Secretary election earlier this year, highlights the potential for such an approach. Every campaigning organisation needs to be under its members’ full democratic control, with no privileged and unaccountable officials. The RIC can itself provide a wider example of this democratic way of organising.

‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – the issue of genuine self-determination will not go away

Furthermore, even a substantial, but not majority vote for ‘Yes’, in a situation where the SNP government had lost control of the wider campaign for Scottish self-determination, but where the UK state faced mounting independent working class challenges, would offer our class better prospects than a passive slim majority for ‘Yes’. This could also lead to more meaningful self-determination for our class. Just tailing the SNP government and the official national ‘Yes’ campaign hands the initiative to those wannabe Scottish ruling class backers of ‘Independence-Lite’, who, in turn, constantly appease British unionists, the UK state and US/British imperial interests.

The UK remains a declining imperial power, something the British ruling class clearly understands. This is why it has sought extended life-support by allying itself with US imperialism. Now both Osborne and Salmond are looking to rising Chinese imperialism to bail out the British and Scottish economies. They know they are not in a strong longer term position.

The demand for genuine Scottish self-determination would no more be seen off by a ‘No’ vote in 2014, than the more limited Devolution demand was seen off by the ‘No’ vote in the 1979 referendum. Many of those careerists, presently hoping to gain from the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals, may well jump ship, just as their equivalents did after 1979. Others though, particularly those working in the artistic sphere, will contribute to a further deepening of cultural resistance in Scotland, just as they did after 1979. Cultural renaissance often precedes renewed political challenge.

In 1979, many workers could not see that voting ‘No’ was, in effect, voting ‘Yes’ to Thatcher’s planned neo-liberal offensive. For some today, voting ‘No’ amounts to a misplaced hope that they can avoid future uncertainty and still find some protection within the current UK set-up. However, as in 1979, any ‘No’ vote would invite a stepped-up British ruling class offensive, whether under a Labour, Labour/Lib-Dem, Tory/Lib-Dem, Tory, or Tory/UKIP government. This austerity offensive would be even harsher than that under Thatcher.

Back in 2010, Alistair Darling, then Labour Chancellor, today’s ‘Better Together’ chair, actually promised us such a bleak future, if Labour were to be re-elected. Today, Miliband’s newest appointee as Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves, has promised to be even harsher on welfare than the current Tories, if Labour are elected at Westminster in 2015 – clearly music to the ears of ‘anti-universal benefits’, Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont.

It took nine years, after 1979, before the Anti-Poll Tax challenge fatally undermined the then UK ‘Westminster Direct Rule’ constitutional status quo in Scotland. A new challenge to the current ‘Devolution-all-round’ constitutional set-up, would arise considerably more quickly in today’s turbulent conditions of permanent economic, social, environmental and political crisis.

This is why the Left needs to think strategically, and not just jump on others’ bandwagons, elevating tactics to ‘principles’. The ruling class always ensures it has a ‘Plan B’. We should not just treat every issue as the latest campaign, to be dropped a soon as there is a setback. Thinking strategically means we are in for the duration.

The need for RIC to stick to an ‘internationalism from below’ approach

The issue of Scottish self-determination is currently the biggest challenge facing the UK state, now that the British ruling class has contained and marginalised the republican challenge in Ireland. They have achieved this through the constitutional entrenchment of a sectarian political order in ‘the Six Counties’, under the Good Friday Agreement and its successors.

The British ruling class is now openly drawing support from conservative and reactionary Unionists throughout these islands, including Northern Ireland, to thwart any ‘Yes’ vote. Beyond these parties lie the right populist UKIP and BNP; and the British face of fascism – the Loyalists, SDL, EDL and WDL. Whether any of these are receiving covert British security service backing we don’t yet know, but their record of collaboration in Northern Ireland has been well demonstrated.

Just as the Scottish-British, English-British, Welsh-British and Ulster-British sections of the wider British ruling class want to maintain the current UK constitutional set-up, whilst the Scottish wannabe ruling class wants no more than an enhanced and more privileged position within the existing British union and global corporate order; so workers and others throughout these islands share a common interest in the break-up of the UK state and the US/British imperial alliance.

Their alliance is designed to enforce the rule of corporate capital throughout these islands. Our alliance should be designed to lead to ending the rule of capital, opening up the prospect of international cooperation to create a society based not enhancing on the bosses’ profits, but meeting our needs.

Meanwhile, whole sections of the British Left have turned their backs on those workers throughout Europe, who have taken action against the draconian austerity measures imposed by the Troika of the EU/ECB/IMF Troika. The dominant anti-EU Right (UKIP, Tory Right, DUP et al) in the UK opposes the EU because it is too ‘generous’ to workers and too ‘considerate’ of civil rights! Yet, instead of joining a EU-wide Anti-Capitalist Alliance challenge, the majority of the British Left intends to join the ‘No2EU’s Britain-only, ‘UKIP-light’, Euro-parliamentary campaign in 2015.

Last year’s RIC conference kicked off with speakers from France, Greece and Euskadi. This year, RIC has a specific session with speakers from Ireland and England as well as Scotland, committed to the breakup of the UK state and the US/British imperial alliance. We are neither British nor Scottish nationalists; but Scottish internationalists seeking active support from, and offering solidarity to, workers and others, throughout these islands, Europe and beyond. In mounting an independent campaign for genuine Scottish self-determination, RIC must continue to campaign on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’.