Allan Armstrong has written an extended review of ‘Scotland After Britain’, written by James Foley and Ben Wray, with Neil Davidson, entitled Papering over the Cracks, Covering up the Tracks. The Contents, the last chapter and Conclusion can be read here.
PAPERING OVER THE CRACKS COVERING UP THE TRACKS
A review of Scotland after Britain by James Foley and Ben Wray with Neil Davidson
b) A review of Scotland After Britain (SaB) compared to Breaking up of the British State (ButBDS)
c) SaB – Chapter 3, The Emergence of a Movement for Scottish Independence 2012-14
d) The emergence of openly Right accommodationist forces, their attempt to terminate RIC and further moves to the Right
e) Examining the theoretical underpinnings of SaB’s politics
f) ‘Brexit’ – papering over the cracks
g) Republicanism – covering up the tracks
Republicanism – covering up the tracks
There is considerable dishonesty in the author’s Conclusion: The Two Souls of Nationalism. Using Hal Draper’s, The Two Souls of Socialism as a basis, the authors announce their support for Popular Sovereignty. Now this concept was first introduced to the November 30th, 2012, RIC conference by socialist republicans. A debate was organised between myself (from the affiliated RCN), a member of Republic and Neil Davison, then a dissident SWP member. He was chosen by ISG-S to promote their viewpoint.
Allan argued for republicanism as the sovereignty of the people up against the UK’s sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster and all its anti-democratic Crown powers. This was widely publicised on the Left by bella caledonia. The Republic speaker argued for a much more limited concept of republicanism as opposition to the monarchy in favour of an elected head of state (whether that be the UK or Britain – a distinction he and many others on the Left, often do not appreciate). Neil however, argued that promoting republicanism was a diversion from the need to build support for a socialist revolution, following which the queen would be removed. Like Republic his view of republicanism was anti-monarchist. Although, in true SWP style, ‘Down with the Royalty’ could be raised at particular royal jamborees, to emphasise their highly privileged lifestyles compared to the working class facing austerity. But after that, on to the next campaign.
At this point, the republican socialist concept of the ‘sovereignty of the people’ was largely that – a concept. However, as the ‘IndyRef1’ campaign took off, with RIC and other autonomous ‘Yes’ campaigns organising the length and breadth of Scotland and beyond, the sovereignty of the people became a reality counterposed not only to the sovereignty of the UK, but the SNP leadership of ‘Yes Scotland’. This practical exercise of the sovereignty of the people contributed to the Edinburgh RIC motion which was overwhelmingly passed at the well-attended National Forum held in Glasgow on May 17th, 2014.
AFTER A ‘YES’ VOTE ON SEPTEMBER 18th
Organisation after September 18th
- A ‘Yes’ vote on September 18threpresents an expression of ‘the sovereignty of the people’. Political arrangements based under the Westminster principle of the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament are no longer valid.
- The official ‘Yes’ campaign will be ended after September 18th. RIC should aim to bring people together soon as possible after this date. The aim would be a bigger convention than the last two RIC conferences.
- Suggested organisations to be involved could include existing local ‘Yes’ groups, other ‘Yes’ campaigning organisations, organisations which had not been able to take a ‘Yes’ position but may now want to become involved in the making of a new Scotland, e.g. trade unions, community organisations, specific campaigns, e.g. disability.
- On this basis regular wider forums (people’s assemblies) would be held in as many areas as possible to influence the negotiating and constitution-making processes.
From this point, republicanism as the sovereignty of the Scottish people overtook the rather milk-and-water, anti-royalist RIC principle, which had been conceded by the ISG-S to bring the SSP on board – A modern republic for real democracy. Both the ISG-S and SSP were quite happy to have this relegated to a third principle, behind the first principle:- For a social alternative to austerity and privatization. This was seen to be the heart of the Left social democratic approach, which inspired those from an SWP or ex-SWP background or an old Militant background (but now in the SSP). The second principle, Green and environmentally sustainable, was designed to win the support of the Scottish Greens.
However, as more and more RIC members, and indeed many others in the wider ‘Yes’ movement, became increasingly aware of the dirty tricks of the UK state, then the need to prioritise a constitutional challenge became much more widely appreciated. And after May 17th, 2014, National Forum, this was no longer the thinking of just one RIC affiliated organisation, the RCN, or indeed other republican socialists in RIC, but of the RIC nationally.
But it appears as if ISG-S members were just carried along on the wave of Scotland’s rising Democratic Revolution. This was shown when they side-lined RIC to make their own electoral challenge in the form of RISE in 2016. At a preparatory Scottish Left Project meeting, the RCN argued for the ‘R’ in the proposed new organisation’s name, RISE, to stand for Republicanism. Instead, the ISG members argued that it should stand for Respect (a name with an inauspicious background in Galloway’s vanity party). The SSP delegate said he thought ‘R’ should stand for Republicanism too. But he wasn’t prepared to push it, since his role at the meeting was to ensure that Colin Fox became RISE’s lead candidate for Holyrood’s Lothian list.
So, with regard to republicanism, ISG-S had retreated back not only from the May 14th RIC s National Forum ‘sovereignty of the people’ principle, but even from the SSP’s milk-and water, anti-monarchist principle. This was a return to Neil Davidson’s ‘abolish the monarchy after the socialist revolution’. But ISG-S clearly understood this was not going to happen in any immediate future. In effect, such thinking acted as a Left cover for a constitutional tailing of the SNP in the here and now.
But following Brexit and the complete refusal of the Tory government to make any concessions acknowledging Scotland’s decisive rejection (as they initially made for Northern Ireland with a lower ‘Remain’ vote), the clamour for a new referendum grew again in Scotland. Massive AUOB marches gave expression to this pent-up feeling. As has already been shown, many people, including a younger generation, wanted to provide this with a political focus by reviving RIC. When RIC was eventually reformed on January 29th, 2022, its first two linked principles were based on the May 14th, 2014, National Forum decision – For a democratic, secular, socially just and environmentally sustainable, Scottish Republic and Action based on the sovereignty of the people not the UK Crown, leading to the setting up of a Constituent Assembly.
Another of RIC’s new Six Principles is worth considering. Principle 4 is Equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, disability or age. The issue of discrimination against transgendered people hardly arose in the rainbow alliance of ‘IndyRef1’. And when ISG-S opted to set up RISE, the opportunity existed to be ahead of the game over trans rights. Even Cameron’s Conservative government was prepared to consider moves in this direction, so it wasn’t seen as too controversial for the forthcoming election. Furthermore, the SNP hadn’t yet openly adopted such a position.
So, at RISE’s pre-election conference, Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) was invited to propose support for transgender rights in the Holyrood 2016 manifesto. This was seconded by a transgender RCN member. However, later the SNP government was to take TIE on board. But as politics slipped to the Right, some of the original ISG-S became critical of what they now termed ‘identity politics.’ They refused to fight ‘culture wars’, leaving this arena of struggle to the Hard and Far Right. They also adopted ‘anti-woke’ language, with its origins on the US AltRight. Thus, with 20 European (including the Republic of Ireland), Asian and Latin American states having adopted gender recognition reform, conter decided instead to adapt to the political trajectory of Johnson/Sunaks’ ‘Brexit Britain’, Trump’s USA and Putin’s Russian Federal Republic.
The fifth new RIC principle is Solidarity with the struggles for workers’ rights, democracy and self-determination, based on internationalism from below. This acknowledges the need for ‘internationalism from below’, also something that had become deeply embedded in RIC during ‘IndyRef1’. The RCN has been given responsibility for organising the ‘4 nations under the UK’ session at the 2013 RIC conference.  But RIC’s ‘internationalism from below’ solidarity organisation involved the ISG-S, Neil Davidson and RCN. Speakers were sent to, or invited from, England, Wales, Ireland (‘North’ and ‘South’), Catalunya, Euskadi, Quebec and Greece. Edinburgh RIC hosted a Welsh delegation in the last days of the ‘IndyRef1’ campaign. Local RIC groups also provided solidarity to Palestine, Kurdistan and Catalunya. Indeed, RIC made such an impact, that the STUC joined its rally in Glasgow on July 2nd, 2015, in Solidarity with Greece facing the draconian EU imposes Austerity. This was the largest demo in the UK over this issue.
The SaB authors’ approach to ‘Internationalism from below’ is similar to their attempt to appropriate ‘Popular Sovereignty’. They write as if they alone had suddenly come up with the concept. This is particularly sad, since (unlike the republican sovereignty of the people) ISG-S members did very much contribute to RIC’s ‘internationalism from below’ practice. So, although ‘internationalism from below’ began as an RCN concept, it was taken up by others, including the ISG-S. It became the shared practice of RIC. But this wider history is ignored in SaB.
SaB makes some supportable economic proposals in Popular economic sovereignty Commonweal has also done a lot of work and has produced Sorted. Adam Ramsay(openDemocracy) has made some good policy proposals in a recent article for bella caledonia. The real issue here, though, is the question of agency. Are these proposals directed at the SNP or Alba leaderships to take up and implement in their own bureaucratic fashion, or does their implementation involve and give power to wider democratic forces?
Back in 2015, when the public face of the Scottish Left Project encouraged wider debate, the RCN too made some economic, social and political proposals. But these economic and social proposals were just that, a contribution to a wider debate. Furthermore, other widely based organisations, which had developed considerable experience in particular fields, e.g. over land reform and environmental degradation, were seen to be vital in policy formation. However, a linked RCN contribution also emphasised the centrality of democratic involvement in economic and social reforms, but just as important, within the campaigning organisations and parties promoting them
So, what are we to make of SaB’s proposal of “establishing a republican constitution… maximising citizen involvement in the construction of the state through a democratic constitutional convention”? – a constituent assembly – RIC’s May 17th, 2014, proposal. Once again, the overriding thing is that the organisations (e.g. RIC) and principal political organisations involved must themselves be models of democratic practice. But in this, as we have seen, the old ISG-S, RISE and now conter have been glaringly lacking. You may need to break a few eggs to make an omelette, but you’ll never make an omelette out of hot air.
SaB’s attempt to rewrite history amounts to ‘covering up the tracks.’ This is just part of a wider attempt to roll back Scotland’s 2014 Democratic Revolution. However, with the authors still young enough to advance their careers, and looking to political forces from above, rather than from below, they could well become the latest wave of ‘young fogeys’. However, it is not Jacob Reese-Mogg’s earlier ‘new fogey’ dress style and nostalgia for the ‘great days of Empire’ they want to take on. That is passe. Adopting the edgy Alt-Right use of language and a nostalgia for the post-1945 Social democracy and Campist politics are for today’s ‘young fogeys’.
But such a makeover means airbrushing from history, the ISG-S’s own earlier positive contributions, as well as those of many others in RIC. An upturn in class struggle, beyond the control of social democracy (the Labour Party and the SNP) and trade union bureaucracy, could still pull some back, just as Scotland’s Democratic Revolution did. But for that to be consolidated, this will mean looking again at the past record of parties, autonomous organisations and international organisation. Such renewal needs to be on a very different basis, based on genuinely democratic methods. But, just as important is the creation of a wider democratic culture.
This will mean assessing our struggles, as they develop, not by how they measure up to some externally imposed ‘internationalism’, whether that be British Labourism, the official Communist Third International, or the various sect-internationals. It also means challenging Scottish nationalism. Scotland has its own deeply rooted ‘Internationalism from Below’ traditions, shown by the United Scotsmen in the 1790s, the 1820 general strike and insurrection, the Highland Land League/Scottish Land Restoration League in the 1880s, John Maclean’s Scottish workers’ republicanism from 1920, and indeed the ‘IndyRef1’ campaign, which could be seen as part of wider international challenge, with its focus in the Arab Spring, the Indignados in Greece and Spain, and the demands for the exercise of national self-determination in Catalunya and Euskadi.
Such resistance goes along with an accompanying vibrant cultural expression. And this can also become a significant arena for retaining and retrieving the memory of struggles, which get marginalised after political setbacks and defeats. Artists and creatives have contributed to the revived RIC’s new sixth principle. Support for Scotland’s artistic and cultural revival and all its languages. This builds on the National Collective and its ‘Yestival’ tour during `IndyRef1’ and on such cultural figures such as Hamish Henderson (OBE declined).
This review has not been shoehorned into something acceptable to Left academia and is unlikely to be acknowledged there. But it is hoped that others outside academia’s closed walls, and some who, needing a job, know they are trapped there but seek a life and politics beyond, could engage with the arguments raised in this review. Neil Davidson provided a good example of this method of working. The other SaB authors invoke his name but not his practice. Meanwhile, as well as providing solidarity to all those resisting every aspect of exploitation and oppression, we can also take part in the cultural celebration which challenges the doom mongers on the Left.
Freedom Come All Ye!
 SaB, p. 209-33.
 https//republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/08/15/wales-and-scottish-independence-leanne-wood-president-of-plaid-cymru/ and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/09/19/messagr-from-edinburgh-ric-to-the-go-for-it-rally-at-cardiff-on-september-13th/
 see https://edinburghric.org/archive/ which has a comprehensive coverage of Edinburgh RIC activities, including international solidarity.
 SaB, pp. 218-20
 SaB p p.225-27
 http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/11/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy-part-2/ – c) To party or not to party? d) autonomous organisations, e) International organisation – Allan Armstrong