Reflecting on the Referendum Campaign

By Tommy Kane

Reflecting on the referendum campaign it’s clear that it’s degenerated into the most polarising, divisive and diversionary political event of our times. Countering this view, some socialists in the Yes camp suggest that the campaign has engendered hope, inspired a revitalisation of left politics and saw record levels of political engagement. These supporters pronounce independence will bring freedom from subjugation and a renewal of democracy, others proclaim it will allows us escape from the supposedly different Scottish and English political cultures, while others assert firmly that a Yes vote can go some way to ‘smashing the British state’ (incidentally not at the top of people’s concerns on the doorsteps). Amongst some there also resides a belief that, at the very least, independence will bring social democracy and a fairer and more just Scotland, because, whisper it, ‘we are more progressive up here’. In order to sustain a clean and seamless Yes campaign these left proponents of this missive appear to have suspended their critical faculties, especially in relation to the SNP’s White Paper, and whether they like it or not, have encouraged a discourse that has appears to have focused predominately on the liberation of ‘Scottish nationhood’.

Coming from a diverse range of views they all have one thing in common; a coalescing of grievance and anger at every recent failed policy or foreign adventure, a belief that solutions can only be found through the construction of a border and a seemingly faith based conviction that everything bad will, in time, become good but only if we vote for independence. If we don’t then, so the story goes, we are all doomed.

These assertions really need some interrogation. This message of hope is actually wrapped in real despair and pessimism that says nothing good can ever come from Britain. This is despite the fact that all material gains won over the past 70 or so years have come from a united Labour and Trade Union movement forcing them through. This fight back and material advancement for working people through the Labour and Trade Union movement is a force that has, incredibly, been written off by far too many sections of the left during this debate as they focus on the bad and ignore the good. All too easily they forget where the NHS, welfare, public services, social housing, and even the Scottish Parliament, emerged from

What about the Wallace style cry of freedom?  Scotland has not been a victim of British subjugation. Rather it has been an integral part of the oppression of others during the days of colonialism and empire. I have recently returned from British Colombia where contemporary Canada reflects relentlessly over the collective oppression of the first nation’s communities there. These national musings confirm how there are Scots fingerprints all over that process since way back at the beginnings of the Hudson Bay Company. Capitalist exploitation of the working class has of course occurred but that’s a class issue, the central resistance to which came from organised labour from across these isles.

Democratic advance and getting the Government we vote for is another refrain. But, didn’t the 890,000 people (that’s right nearly a million), just under 36% of the vote, who voted either Tory or Liberal in the last election get the government they voted for and the rest didn’t? What about the last Scottish election when those who voted SNP got the Government they voted for but the rest of us didn’t? Is that not democracy in action, that the party with most votes forms a Government and the party with the least doesn’t? Aside from this arithmetical exercise its also worth pondering how the current SNP Government has, ironically, been the most centralising Scottish Government on record and has diminished local government with no apparent desire to expand democracy to local government in the event of a Yes vote.

Nationalism is at the core of this debate. Yet many of the left have campaigned zealously for independence despite knowing full well they have provided cover for this exclusionary ideology. Nationalism both creates and implies difference. We see it here with explicit and implicit suggestions that we Scots are inclined to be more progressive and social democratic (the nationalist vote and the last General Election results show how this is an extremely problematic assertion). This Scottish strain of nationalism, like most others, also abandons notions of workers solidarity (at first hand through political trade union unity and common struggles) and seeks an outcome that necessitates the dividing of workers.

My interpretation of socialism is not based on excluding or abandoning my comrades; rather it’s built around core principles like solidarity, support and struggle (understanding that there are no shortcuts). I’m not about to change that view now and take a lifeboat, particularly with the fight we have on our hands to defeat the Tories. As Lenin states my foremost starting point “assesses any national demand, any national separation, from the angle of the workers’ class struggle”. This ‘national liberation movement’ has paid little attention to the consequences for working class struggle elsewhere in Britain, apart from reckless, complacent and blasé assertions about Scotland being a good example to our brothers and sisters in England.

Let us also be clear. This Scottish brand of nationalism has no intention of dealing with the rising structural inequality that has happened across the whole of the neo-liberal globalised world; including Britain. Indeed, they never mention wider global, economic forces, come to it neither do many of their left fellow travellers. Political self-determination is all that matters in their view with no strategy at all to deal with promoting, let alone achieving, any semblance of economic self-determination.

The only strategy to deal with those forces is made clear in the only programme for independence published and available. The SNP White Paper is unequivocal. They intend to capitulate to those global pressures that have resulted in the huge and growing inequality in the wider world, Europe and UK today. The White Paper outlines a vision of a Scotland that will be slavishly obedient to the free market and do whatever is necessary to reassure market nerves. That’s what the proposed corporation tax cut is all about (how can that result in anything other than a catastrophic race to the bottom and more damage to working people in Scotland and the rest of Britain). That’s why they didn’t support the Labour amendment to introduce a living wage in the Procurement Bill earlier this year and that’s why they don’t support a 50p tax rate and a mansion tax.  Of course whenever anyone dare raise such points the response is that it’s nothing to do with the SNP; If only that were so. They are the Scottish Government; they will control negotiations and the writing of the constitution and it is they that will be at the heart of everything in the event of a Yes. Conversely, I accept that the likes of the Common Weal have published some interesting papers, but their promotion of corporatism which ignores class conflict represents another lurch into the rhetoric of nationalism; while they and their colleagues in the Radical Independence movement and others such as the SSP and Solidarity have very little prospect of electoral success any time soon. Indeed in the last General Election the Greens and SSP could not even muster 1% between them.

Left supporters for Yes have instead offered tacit support to many of the White Paper promises. Indeed many have shared platforms with representatives of Business for Scotland to promote an independent Scotland. A key signal of how for many class has been trumped by the politics of nation. If it’s a Yes we better get used to this. When faced with turbo charged austerity, required to find favour with and gain the confidence of the markets, the Scottish people will be urged to take the hit and suffer the pain for your country, how we are at a new dawn and early the beginnings of a new state and we need to do it for our children and grandchildren etc. It will be a political landscape dominated, just like Ireland for decades after the formation of the Free State, by a consciousness of nationhood and not class.

It’s unsurprising that the biggest issue worrying ordinary Scot’s is the potential for economic carnage. Many people get that there is a huge uncertainty attached to pensions, welfare, public spending, wages etc. Perhaps the biggest and most obvious issue is the currency. Yet despite that uncertainty and the real potential for hugely negative consequences from the SNP plans, or lack of them, many people on the left have suspended their critical faculties on this potential for even further negative material outcomes for working people. Only nihilists, fundamentalists and true believers and others who think they have nothing to lose may suggest that this is a mere technical point. It’s not. If we enter a currency union then we will have to agree to the ceding on monetary policy (already acknowledged in the white paper) and more than likely fiscal policy too. After all why would a (what would then be) foreign bank, underwrite our economy and become lender of last resort to a foreign country whose banking system is 12 times its GDP (IE its highly risky) without ensuring a huge say over taxation and spending.

This does beg the following questions. Where is the independence in that and how can you build the better and just society under such conditions? If it is a yes people on the left must argue for Scotland to have its own currency, only then could we have sufficient control of the economic levers to have a chance to do things differently and progressively, but this would take a long time to achieve stability and sustainability and would create huge pain for ordinary working people in the meantime. Unlike those advocating independence from a comfortable vantage point and who will be able to ride that wave of pain ordinary people will be faced with even more challenging economic times. That might be ok for the nihilists in our midst. For the likes of myself on the other hand, who actually live and socialise amongst the great working class (who many on the left cite but don’t normally go near) this is just not good enough. Particularly when working people are spun the line that everything bad will become good with no mention of the likely impending and increased pain.

Polarising as it has been it would be wrong not to acknowledge that the Yes/No debate has got people engaged and thinking about the type of country they want to live in. Whatever happens on the 18th it is now apparent that the political landscape has changed forever and that political change has to occur. For those on the left taking a No position we have argued from the outset that we are not Better Together under the present conditions. There has to be a change from the hugely damaging austerity and neo-liberalism. But, the view taken has been that independence and mere constitutional change has never been the answer to dealing with these huge enemies to working people.

So no matter the actual result it’s now clear that a huge swathe of Scot’s are, on the 18th September, going to express massive dissatisfaction at the status quo; the capitulation to neo-liberalism; and the normalisation of its outcomes of huge poverty on one hand, and eye-watering, record levels of obscene wealth enjoyed by those at the top, on the other. This expression by the Scottish people must be listened to. We must pay attention and understand how we found ourselves fighting this unnecessary fight,  and then push for a new paradigm of politics that addresses the concerns raised by so many of the Scottish people. Not just on bringing new powers to Holyrood but also in the type of policies devised and developed at Holyrood and indeed at Westminster.

This has to mean the Labour Party once and for all rejecting the politics of New Labour and once again returning to a programme and discourse that talks of inequality and poverty as obscenities, that proudly advocates redistribution and progressive taxation, proposes the repeal of Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws (which allows us to far more easily provide workplace solidarity where and when necessary) and which promotes renationalisation and public ownership. In short, it has to demonstrate that a vote for No was not for the status quo but for progressive change for all working people across these isles.

A Short-cut to Nowhere

Far from being a certain route to social democracy, as some suggest, Scottish independence is a short-cut to nowhere, says WILL BROWN. We need a longer term strategy for a progressive unionist future.

A key argument on the left of centre in Scotland, repeated this week by George Monbiot in the Guardian, is that independence will allow Scotland to achieve what it cannot in the UK: social democracy. Friends in Scotland echo this, saying people are fed up with the status quo and just want a chance to change.

And indeed, the referendum campaign in Scotland, especially at grassroots level, has revitalised activism, and encouraged people to question future possibilities and engage in discussions about political alternatives in a manner that stands in startling contrast to the pervading media image of disillusion, apathy and cynicism about politics. Organisations such as Common Weal and National Collective, and events like Yestival are signs of a political debate far more passionate and imaginative than that offered by the mainstream parties.

In these times, who could not be tempted by the chance to separate, to begin afresh, as many on the left are, in England as well as Scotland? It is an impulse that animates, not just nationalists, but many advocates of regional devolution too: a chance to govern ‘our own area’ freed from the constraints of Westminster and the City.

Yet, this position sits uncomfortably with the history of socialism and social democracy in Britain. Social democracy in post-war Britain was indelibly a unionist creation, as was the broader socialist movement that emerged from the late 19th century. One only has to skim through the profiles of ILP pioneers and politicians on this web site to understand that socialist and social democratic politics in Britain are … British.

No nation within the UK can claim a right to that heritage, separate from another. Indeed, one would have to acknowledge that it wasn’t even only a British creation, but one which melded and made room for politics from elsewhere too – including from Europe and from Britain’s colonies.

Denying the role of England and English political activists and politicians, the role of the union, in creating the very social democracy that many pro-independence campaigners seek to ‘rescue’, does a huge disservice to the many political activists who have worked and continue to work for social democracy north and south of the border.

One has to ask of the left who are supporting independence, what price solidarity? What of the solidarity across the UK that forged campaigns for the vote, against unemployment, for the NHS, and today, against austerity and the bedroom tax? It wasn’t the left in England – or even a majority of English voters for that matter – who inflicted the poll tax on Scotland.

But it was a united movement, north and south of the border, that brought an end to that Thatcherite abomination, and it could be too with the bedroom tax. One is tempted to suggest that some of the left-wing supporters of independence need to remove the blue Saltire from their eyes and see a bit more red.

Hard truth

Perhaps one could live with this traducing of history if the political prospects looked good, if indeed independence could propel Scotland towards a revitalised social democracy. The hard truth is they don’t look any better there than in the UK as a whole. The pursuit of separation, tempting though it may be, is more a sign of desperation than of long-term strategic thinking for those on the left.

In today’s global economy, the prospects for social democratic policies in any one country are poor. Certainly since the late 1970s, but before that too, almost every attempt to implement social democracy has had to face crises brought on by the reaction of capital, in the form of currency traders, bond traders and investors. In major economies, from the UK in 1945 to France in the early 1980s (and France today for that matter), social democratic governments have had to tack and weave in the face of adverse international economic winds.

Most have eventually changed course; many capsized in the storm. As Vince Mills has argued cogently on this web site, the idea that such experiments would be more sustainable at the scale of a Scotland-sized economy, as compared to a UK-sized economy, seriously underestimates the constraints small nations face in today’s international system.

There is an assumption among many on the left that political independence automatically delivers a real, de facto independence from international capital. Yet the strength needed to make such left of centre experiments survive is more likely to be found within a larger economy and, even then, would need the kind of broad public support and active popular participation that has been so lacking from so much of Labour’s history. Without these defences, the pursuit of independence seems more like a strategy for hiding in the long grass hoping the tigers of international capital will forget you are there.

It is true that the prospect of even a modest social democratic programme in the UK is fraught with difficulties. It is this that makes the temptation to go it alone in Scotland so strong. (Of course, independent Scotland, by denying Labour so many seats in Westminster, makes it even more difficult to achieve on a UK-wide basis.)

But independence is a short-cut to nowhere. At best, it offers a short-lived honeymoon. At worst it offers the kind of instant crisis-management, ‘facing up to economic realities’ and ditching of principles that have greeted so many social democratic governments. How long will it be before we hear a leader of independent Scotland echo Callaghan in ’76 and tell the disillusioned electorate that ‘in all candour this is no longer possible’?

The prospect of crisis, and the pathologies of diminished expectations that would surely follow, are all the more pressing given Alex Salmond’s amazingly ill-considered currency policy. About the only point on which I have ever agreed with George Osborne is the question of currency union. No UK chancellor with an ounce of sense (and, more importantly no English, Welsh or Northern Irish taxpayer) would agree to a currency union without cast-iron commitments, limits on Scotland’s fiscal and financial policies, and regulation. After the crash, after Greece, Spain, Iceland and Ireland, it would be astonishing if anyone would be so cavalier with future prosperity as to agree to the kind of deal Salmond is seeking – giving Scotland all the financial freedom and England all the liabilities.

In reality, ‘independent’ Scotland would have only tough choices: a deal in which Westminster and the Treasury put severe constraints on all the major levers of Scotland’s macroeconomic management; a deal for joining the Euro that would come with equally stiff requirements; or ‘unofficial’ use of the pound (‘sterlingisation’) in which the Scottish government operated without any control over interest rates, no central bank and almost no ability to borrow money from the markets. The choices are limited and however hedged about it might be with nationalist denunciation of ‘London’, the EU or ‘international capital’, Scotland would be forced to accept one of them.

Progressive alternative

So what is the alternative to independence? What prospects can be held out to those north of the border craving a change, any change, from the status quo of austerity?

The perception south of the border is that one of the signal failures of the No campaign has been an inability to articulate a Labour defence of union and vision for a progressive unionist future. Shackled within the all-party Better Together campaign, and by Labour’s own record in government, the very idea of an alternative unionist future has been hidden, allowing the Yes campaign to paint the referendum as a stark choice between unionist austerity and independent social democracy.

Alastair Darling’s woeful performance in the second TV debate owed something to this obvious trap, making it easy for Salmond and his jeering acolytes in the audience to taunt him about austerity, the bedroom tax and NHS privatisation. Questioned about what union had ever delivered, Darling even failed to make the obvious point that the NHS itself is a unionist, Labour creation. Of course Labour’s record in office also constrained what this particular Labour politician could credibly argue.

Thankfully, there is now some acknowledgement that the No campaign needs a clearer sense of what a Labour future might hold for the UK, a UK including Scotland. The absence of a Labour defence of union has belatedly prompted recognition from the Party that it needs to remind voters of the possibility of an end to Tory rule even without independence. It has also spurred Gordon Brown back into the political fray (although he too is shackled by his years of subservience to the City) and prompted Jim Murphy’s 100 streets in 100 days’ campaign.

From a more left-wing position there is the argument Vince Mills has made from the Red Paper Collective, pointing out that the short-cut of independence represents a failure to face up to the power of the City and the power of capital, and the constraints and difficulties this puts in place. The need to present a progressive alternative to independence, to challenge the SNP’s false dichotomy of independence or Tory rule, could hardly be more pressing.

Admittedly, the idea of a progressive political future is a hard sell wherever you may be. The forces ranged against us, the antipathy to socialist values (north and south), the dead weight of past Labour governments, and the absence of a clear progressive voice from today’s leadership all make the siren call of independence so much the stronger.

But a longer-term strategy is needed, one which acknowledges the difficulties faced by left-of-centre politics wherever they may be: a strategy that is aware of British social democracy’s shared unionist history (warts and all); a strategy that builds on past solidarity between socialists north and south of the border, rather than one that abandons that shared struggle; and, perhaps above all, a strategy that learns from, and is energised by what has been so good about Scotland’s referendum campaign – the grassroots activism, the popular participation, the opening up of the parameters of political debate, and the willingness to imagine a better future.

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This article is from the Independent Labour publication: http://www.independentlabour.org.uk

What’s in a Yes vote for Scottish Youth?

By Zoe Hennessy, general secretary of the Young Communist League.

 

The youth vote has been important in the battle of ideas surrounding the Scottish independence debate, particularly since the Scottish government rightly made the decision to grant 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in this referendum. 

This is something that the Young Communist League supports, and we argue that it should be extended to all elections. Given the current economic climate there is a lot at stake for young people, and it will be my generation which inherits the fallout from this vote. However, neither of the major campaigns has addressed the roots of the issues currently facing young people. 

And what are the issues?

Youth unemployment is still running at around 18 per cent across the UK. Benefit sanctions are increasingly meted out with no regard to a family or individual’s welfare. 

This is forcing many off the welfare system completely, resulting in the need for foodbanks skyrocketing across Britain. 

Graduates are leaving university with debt running into the tens of thousands and little hope of a job. 

According to research published earlier this year by recruitment agency Total Jobs, nearly 40 per cent of graduates are looking for work six months after graduating, while a quarter are still unemployed after a year. 

These figures also mask those working on zero-hours contracts in highly exploitative industries and those stuck in their “stop gap,” working mostly in the retail sector on 12 and 16-hour contracts for considerably less than the living wage, and forced to move back in with their parents.

The opportunities to organise trade unions in these workplaces is in my experience extremely difficult. 

Trade unions are not recognised at many of these workplaces, and where they are the agreements are dominated by compliant trade unions and partnership agreements, which basically denies workers the right to strike or take action short of a strike. 

Also if you’re constantly reliant on your boss giving you, and not someone else, overtime on top of your 12 hours, you need to show willing. 

This makes it difficult for workers to raise their heads above the parapet and creates a race to the bottom. 

It erodes existing rights within the workplace. Workers have to be constantly available for overtime, and workers who are reliant on overtime often need to be “helpful” to their employer. 

Workers often stay on later for no extra money, or work through their breaks. 

Young people are so desperate for jobs that when they finally get one it is hard to break their feelings of helplessness and “doff your cap to the boss” mentality. 

Internationally the Westminster government, together with Nato and the EU, continues to play a bloody role on the global stage. 

Eleven years after the illegal invasion of Iraq, which brought young people out onto the streets in their tens of thousands, it is clear that the occupation has done little except radicalise a generation of Islamic extremists and bring misery and uncertainty to millions of Iraqis. 

In Ukraine the EU-Nato-US alliance has used its wealth and influence to back an openly fascist coup, resulting in the deaths of many workers and anti-fascists. 

The Communist Party of Ukraine, which has the democratic mandate of 2.5 million Ukrainians, is facing a concerted bid to ban it — a court decision is due this month — and its MPs have been removed from parliament. 

Israel is waging an all-out offensive against the Palestinian people and is currently shelling schools and hospitals and other UN safe zones. A huge number of the casualties have been children. 

So what are the Scottish National Party’s plans to address these domestic and international issues young people face? 

After all it is currently leading the Scottish government, and is the only major party with a plan in the event of a Yes vote. 

It will be the SNP leading the charge on the domestic front, and it will be the SNP leading the negotiations on the international treaties.

To say the SNP is irrelevant when the Scottish people gave it a democratic mandate in the last Scottish Parliamentary elections is clearly not in line with reality. 

University students from Scotland and most of the EU already don’t pay tuition fees, but will there be money to continue to fund schools and universities, the NHS, the welfare state and the rest of the public sector? 

To make an independent Scotland business-friendly the SNP plans to cut corporation tax, which will reduce its income from that source by some 15 per cent. 

If we remain in the sterling zone, which is looking unlikely, it will mean that the interest and borrowing rates will be set by the Bank of England, over which the people of Scotland will no longer have any democratic mandate. 

If Scotland adopts the euro, borrowing will be capped by the undemocratic and anti-worker European “troika” — the EU, IMF and European Central Bank — which has inflicted misery on the lives of millions of young people across the eurozone. 

A Scottish currency remains prohibitively expensive.

In any case, the Scottish government’s desire to remain in the EU will mean that the public sector will still be subject to the EU’s competition laws and the NHS will still come under the remit of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). 

This will force the Scottish government to put contracts out and accept the lowest bidder — or risk being sued by multinational companies. 

Will work in the low-paid, casualised economy change in an independent Scotland? 

The SNP recently voted down the Labour Party’s initiative to make private companies taking up government contracts pay the living wage, which is not a promising sign. 

More importantly, the SNP’s white paper explicitly promotes class collaboration in the form of partnership agreements. 

This will not strengthen industrial democracy but will weaken workers and their trade unions and their ability to challenge austerity, as has happened in Ireland.

What about the international agenda? 

Many on the left side of the Yes campaign have claimed that a Yes vote will “break Britain” and smash its centuries-old imperialist agenda. 

However, it is clear that an independent Scotland will retain its membership of the increasingly militaristic and undemocratic EU and Nato, meaning we will continue to be tied to those military agendas in eastern Europe and across the world. 

It is clear that despite pressure from groups such as the Radical Independence Campaign the SNP’s policies have remained right-wing. This is unlikely to change in the event of a Yes vote. 

At different times and to varying degrees young people in Britain have begun to reject the politics of austerity and imperialism. 

The huge student protests in 2010 and 2011 briefly politicised young people and made the parliamentary vote much closer than it would have otherwise been. 

Subsequent protests and the Occupy movement have been receptive to anti-capitalist politics, but the labour movement so far has not capitalised on them. 

Six weeks ago 50,000 marched in London against austerity under the banner of the People’s Assembly.

There have been huge demonstrations across Britain against the atrocities Israel has been committing against Palestinian people. 

The public are angry at Westminster’s role in supporting and arming Israel, and the mass media for its complicity in justifying it.

The Scottish government should be commended for calling on Westminster to mount an arms embargo. However, this is not an argument for independence. By remaining part of Britain, devolved structures can mount pressure on Westminster policy, and so are more likely to effect a global change. 

These recent protests show that England does not need Scotland to lead the way. 

What the working class of Scotland, England and Wales needs is mutual campaigns which target its common enemy: big business owned and organised at a British level. 

If we are going to effectively mount campaigns against austerity and privatisation, if we are going to keep the NHS and the rest of the public sector out of the hands of the EU and TTIP, then this will need to be done at a British level. 

If we are going to challenge Britain’s neoliberal and imperialist global stance, then this needs to be fought at a British level.

When young people are tentatively looking for alternatives to capitalism, to offer nationalism as an alternative to socialism is to lead a generation up a blind alley. 

A Critique of Critique

By Dale Street

 

Oh dear.

The magazine “Critique” – formerly a “Journal of Soviet Studies and Socialist Theory” with a specific focus on Stalinism, but now just a general “Journal of Socialist Theory” – has decided to back independence for Scotland!

“Critique” has always prided itself on having a better grasp of Marxism, a deeper understanding of the nature of the transitional epoch, a clearer analysis of the decline of the law of value, and a more profound insight into the application of the Marxist method and political economy than the rest of the left.

But now, having boldly decided to confront a real issue in the real world, the mighty theoretical endeavours of the “Critique” Kathedersozialisten have brought forth an article which would be an embarrassment to the most theoretically-lumpen member of the Radical Independence Campaign.

“Scotland is in principle no different from other parts of the world subjugated by British imperialism,” discovers the bemused reader from the opening paragraph of the article in question. (1)

Apart, one might say, from the fact that Scotland was an integral part of the British-imperialist metropolitan centre which subjugated other parts of the world. Historically, Scotland has been an agent of imperialist oppression, not a victim of it.

In fact, what made British imperialism “British” was the Treaty of Union of 1707.

The same paragraph deals with that Treaty in a single sentence: “The English bourgeoisie at the beginning of the eighteenth century virtually forced the Scottish bourgeoisie to join with England by threatening economic and other sanctions.”

And the impact of the collapse of the Darien Venture, which demonstrated Scotland’s inability to establish a colonial empire of its own? Or the long history of pro-unionist thinking in Scotland which preceded the Treaty of 1707? (See, for example: Colin Kidd’s “Union and Unionisms”.)

(On a brighter note, at least the reader is spared any suggestion that Scotland was bought and sold for British gold by a parcel of rogues – even if such an argument would certainly not jar with the overall politics of the article.)

After some brief but inchoate ruminations about “John McLean” (presumably a reference to: John Maclean) the article trots out the “Scotland today, the rest of the world tomorrow” line:

“If indeed the break-up of the UK would lead to the break-up of a number of countries, and so the power of the ruling class in those countries, and possibly, therefore, a weakening of the ruling class in general, one might consider it an additional reason to support the independence of Scotland.”

Yes indeed!

All those quaint nation-states created in the nineteenth century which were so admired by Marx and Engels as integral to the development of capitalism and the creation of a unified working class – what a good idea it would be to restore them to their preceding pristine state of feudal particularism, and thereby “break up” the power of their ruling classes!

And the same logic should surely apply to the existence of the European Union as well. Which means: UKIP has got the right line on Europe (break it up), but the wrong line only on Britain (don’t break it up).

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Far worse:

“The SNP has tried to argue for independence on social-democratic grounds. They have made higher education, medical prescriptions and care for the elderly free. The Labour Party opposes these concessions.”

Not quite.

Labour, not the SNP, introduced free care for the elderly and scrapped tuition fees. Labour also voted in support of free prescriptions.

(In 2012 Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont certainly floated the idea of re-introducing charges, although that has (so far) remained a dead letter. And any attempt to adopt them as party policy would certainly generate major ructions in the Party.)

Equally surprising is the article’s failure to challenge the SNP’s social-democratic pretensions.

The SNP has opposed Labour calls for an energy prices freeze, a 50p higher income tax rate, and rent controls. It has also opposed Labour calls for an enquiry into police actions during the miners’ strike, and the inclusion of payment of a living wage and a ban on blacklisting as a condition of securing public contracts.

The one specific policy commitment given by the SNP in the event of independence for Scotland is that corporation tax will be lower in Scotland than in England. This is certainly not social-democratic. But it does not even merit a passing mention in the article.

There then follows a lengthy piece of text covering the experiences of French social-democracy in power, the world division of labour, Scandinavian post-war politics, the chimera of market socialism, the falling price of oil, the experiences of post-colonial countries, Quebec, and the failures of nationalist governments.

Despite virtually ruling out the possibility of a post-independence Scottish government engaging in the necessary “large-scale investment in and through the public sector”, the article reaches the preliminary conclusion:

“(An independent) Scotland might manage to manoeuvre its way through the next twenty years or so without too much trouble, or at least with less trouble than if it was part of the UK.”

This conclusion is surprising in three respects.

Firstly, it has emerged from nowhere: nothing which precedes it provides a basis for such a conclusion. In fact, much of the preceding argument and analysis appears to be heading for the opposite conclusion.

Secondly, what we have here is a socialist magazine which consistently emphasizes that capitalism has reached a dead end and that society is now in the epoch of transition to socialism ‘bigging up’ the prospects for an independent capitalist Scotland – and then presenting this as part of the ‘socialist’ case for a ‘yes’ vote on 18th September.

Thirdly, it is not even consistent with a position stated later in the same article: “The political economy of the present context dictates that bourgeois solutions [such as an independent Scotland????] at a time of historic capitalist decline, when that decline is reinforced by a depression, are unlikely to work.”

The article concludes with a foray into the “socialist history of the question of independence”. This is, after all, an article published in the pages of “Critique”.

Lenin receives a passing mention, but it is Rosa Luxemburg (who would never have even dreamt of supporting independence for Scotland) who is the hero of the hour.

Although “Luxemburg was right, in the abstract, when she said that independence was impossible under capitalism and irrelevant under socialism”, this did not prevent her from “supporting national independence in Turkey, in the Ottoman Empire, particularly for the Armenians.”

As the article explains, this was because:

“Where, as in Turkey, there is no working class movement, there can be no question but that independence will help to right an historic wrong. … Both on the grounds of civil rights, as it were, and to correct a historic wrong, independence is a reasonable solution, as a first draft, as it were.”

Yes, that’s right.

The position of Scots in the UK in the twenty-first century is being likened to that of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire of the early twentieth century – who were victims of genocide in Luxemburg’s own lifetime.

The argument that independence is justified (or at least is “a reasonable solution, as a first draft, as it were” – whatever that might mean) where there is no working class movement is used to back up a call for independence where there is a working class movement. (Ever heard of “Red Clydeside”?)

And where a “historic wrong” was allegedly committed 307 years ago, the answer is turn to back the clock of time a full three centuries in order to “correct” that wrong.

(But why, indeed, go back only as far as 1707? The Union of the Crowns of 1603 strikes me as being a pretty dodgy affair as well.)

Finally, for any readers who have not yet lost the will to live and who have struggled on to this point in the article, the crucial question is now posed: “How should one vote?”

The article explains: “The demand has to be for national autonomy within a united socialist framework. Clearly, this is not on offer.” Since a socialist solution is not offer, and even though “”abstention may have the strongest case”, the article recommends, however tentatively, a nationalist non-solution:

“It is a fact that the British bourgeoisie is strongly opposed, and indeed that the global bourgeoisie is worried by it. On that basis there may be a marginal reason to vote ‘yes’, without any illusions, and [with] many regrets.”

It is indeed a cause for regret if any socialist votes ‘yes’ on 18th September. But not half as much a cause for regret as ploughing one’s way through an article that seems to have been written by someone who personally thinks its arguments are singularly unconvincing – and is quite right to hold that opinion – but puts them forward nonetheless.

One final added element of piquancy about the article is the curious contrast which it forms with comments on the Russian annexation of Crimea contained in the preceding issue of “Critique”.

“Abstractly considered, the annexation of territory of another country has to be opposed,” explains “Critique”. But as far as the annexation of Crimea is concerned: “Looked at from the point of view of the left, or the working class, it is not something over which to fight.”

Perhaps “Critique” would benefit from having more Crimean Tartars and less spokespersons for Scottish nationalism on its editorial board?

 

1) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03017605.2014.949046#_i8

 

In reply to George Monbiot

By Dale Street

 

Today’s “Guardian” carries a truly dire article by George Monbiot entitled “Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm – England is dysfunctional, corrupt and vastly unequal. Who on earth would want to be tied to such a country?”

Monbiot begins by inviting his readers to “imagine the question posed the other way around”, i.e. what if Scotland were independent and the referendum were on whether to “surrender its sovereignty to a larger union.”

In terms of formal logic, he may as well have invited his readers to “imagine” that the referendum on 18th September is about whether Scotland should vote to join Putin’s territory-grabbing Russian Federation or the head-chopping Islamic State.

Arguing about how people should vote in a real referendum about (a) on the basis of how you think they would or should vote in a non-existent referendum about (b) is just plain nonsensical.

And evasive. And politically dishonest. Because instead of addressing the actual issues raised by the referendum, it allows Monbiot to take refuge in flights of imagination.

“What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent?” asks Monbiot, as if that was the choice on offer (in reverse) on 18th September.

And an economy based on attracting low-pay employers through cuts in corporation tax in a country without a reserve central bank and a currency of its own – the SNP’s actual economic policies – is not the same as “an economy based on enterprise and distribution.”

But Monbiot simply and majestically declares: “How is the argument altered by the fact that Scotland is considering whether to gain independence rather than whether to lose it? It’s not.”

As in: “How is the argument that we are all at risk of falling off the edge of the earth if we walk too far in a straight line altered by the fact that the earth is round, not flat? It’s not.”

The next ‘link’ in Monbiot’s ‘chain of argument’ (which is in fact a succession of unsubstantiated assertions and factual inaccuracies tied together by logical incoherencies) is the statement: “Those who would vote no could be suffering from system justification.”

System justification, as Monbiot explains, is when victims of injustice rationalize and legitimize the injustice they suffer, e.g. when women think that it is right that they are paid less than men.

Having provided an explanation of the term, Monbiot writes: “It might help to explain why so many people in Scotland are inclined to vote no.”

Monbiot offers no evidence at all for this conclusion. But his total lack of evidence is secondary to the utter arrogance of the conclusion.

Without bothering to look at the real and entirely rational reasons why real people in the real world will be voting no on 18th September, Monbiot dismisses such people as self-deluding and self-harming imbibers of the ideology of the ruling classes.

(English writer living in Wales writes article for London paper calling for a yes vote on 18th September. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper denounces Westminster arrogance towards Scots. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper dismisses millions of Scots as psychologically damaged. You couldn’t make it up.)

By contrast, yes voters – those who want to keep the pound, the monarchy, EU membership, NATO membership and capitalism in general – are not subject to any Monbiotesque foray into cod-psychology.

Then Monbiot homes in on the contradiction in UKIP’s policies: They want the UK to quit Europe (and thereby regain its sovereignty) but oppose independence for Scotland (which means Scotland continues to lack sovereignty).

But UKIP is not the no campaign. It’s an easy target for Monbiot, and one he homes in on. But this is just another act of political evasion on his part. It allows him to sidestep the fact that the overwhelming majority of no campaigners are for continued membership of the European Union.

Why does Monbiot use UKIP as emblematic of the no campaign rather than the rather larger Labour Party? Because its suits his polemical purposes and is another element of the political dishonesty in which his article is steeped.

And if UKIP’s inconsistencies can be cited by Monbiot as “a crashing contradiction in the politics of such groups”, why is he silent on those yes voters who want Scotland out of Britain and out of the EU?

True, there is no contradiction between wanting Scotland out of Britain and out of the EU. But it does demonstrate the one driving force within the yes campaign is not the noble goals which Monbiot attributes to it but a narrow inward-looking nationalism.

A “crashing contradiction” if ever there was one.

There then follows a lengthy treatise by Monbiot on all the evils of the current British political system: inequality, neo-liberal economics, freedom of the rich to exploit, numberless abuses of power, royal prerogative, first-past-the-post voting … … And so the list goes on, and on, and on.

“Broken, corrupt, dysfunctional, retentive: you want to be part of this?” asks Monbiot with a rhetorical flourish.

No, socialists don’t want to be part of it.

But our answer to the evils of capitalism tediously listed by Monbiot – as if the vote on 18th September was a referendum on whether to scrap capitalism – is not to create another border in the world, to pander to the nationalist lie that Scots and English cannot live side by side in the same state, and to create another unit of capitalist accumulation in the world.

Monbiot also gets so carried away by his denunciations of the evils of capitalism that he is blind to his own factual inaccuracies. He describes, for example, first-past-the-post voting as “another triumph for the no brigade”.

Pardon?

Scottish elections are based on proportional representation – thanks to the “no brigade” (Labour and Lib-Dems). And the “no brigade” Lib-Dems also back PR for Westminster elections. So too – surely the ultimate humiliation for Monbiot – does UKIP.

Monbiot also overlooks the fact that the Scottish Parliament which legislated for the referendum on 18th September owes rather a lot to the “no brigade” (i.e. its creation by the last Labour government) and was created by the very British state which, according to Monbiot’s article, is simply beyond reform.

But why allow anything as vulgar as a fact to stand in the way of yet another incoherent rambling diatribe that misrepresents a nationalist project to divide peoples along national lines as a left-wing challenge to capitalism.

The “Guarantees” of the Radical Independence Campaign

by Martyn Cook, Labour Party member

The leaflet in this post appeared on Twitter recently, and is being distributed by the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) this week.  It lists a series of “guarantees” that a Yes vote will bring.  What I have failed to establish so far is where these “guarantees” come from.  RIC make a song and dance of the fact that a Yes vote isn’t necessarily for the SNP or their White Paper, but this leaflet – and the wider conduct of the SNP – clearly undermine this position.                                            The RIC leaflet

In terms of the leaflet, there is clearly a contradiction at the heart of the “guarantees”.  On the one hand, RIC need to be able to establish some ground upon which these policies will be passed in an independent Scotland.  On the other hand, they are desperate to dissociate themselves from the SNP/White Paper.  As such, the RIC leaflet makes a series of claims that are seemingly based on very liberal interpretations of the White Paper or just plucked out of the air altogether.

For example, RIC claim that a Yes vote will “guarantee” an end to benefit sanctions.  In terms of benefit sanctions the White Paper doesn’t claim to end them, it only wants to “launch an urgent review of the conditionality and sanctions regime.” (pg159)  It then goes on to “guarantee” that there will be an end to foodbanks in Scotland, which, while obviously desirable, is a goal that even the much lauded Scandinavian countries are struggling to prevent the growth of. 

RIC then claim that a Yes vote “guarantees” and end to ATOS and the Work Capability Assessment of the benefit assessment process.  With ATOS, they are already giving up the welfare assessment contracts due to campaigns across the whole of the UK.  The White Paper doesn’t call for an end to Work Capability Assessments and in fact will continue most of the system for some unspecified time. (pg 164)

There will also be, allegedly, 30,000 new civil service jobs, but this seemingly is fabricated from other unnamed sources as the White Paper doesn’t put a figure on civil servants (pg 575) and, funnily enough, doesn’t mention the jobs that will inevitably go as a result of independence.

A Yes vote then “guarantees” that the minimum wage will be set at the living wage.  Except, of course, in the White Paper, the minimum wage will not be made equal to the living wage; the living wage will simply get “support and promote[d]” after a Yes vote. (pg 396)

The childcare one is a dead give-away though, as that’s just an SNP policy, who almost every “radical” Yes campaigner claims we aren’t voting for. Clearly, that only holds true until it’s convenient or sounds good to say we’ll have those policies after a Yes vote.

With regards to the rest of the “guarantees”, Labour have already adopted it as policy or go beyond what is here (ie, the Bedroom Tax will be scrapped across the UK, and not just in Scotland); has alternatives that are costed (will tax banker’s bonuses for a job creation scheme); will increase the minimum wage and encourage the Living Wage as well, and also increase child care. So to imply that Westminster is an unchangeable institution that doesn’t have the potential for bringing about transformation doesn’t stack up.

The contortions and stick-bending that the Yes Left are having to incorporate to try and justify a Yes vote being class-based or socialist is clearly at breaking point.  RIC are desperate to claim that a Yes vote will allow for radical change, but at the same time are simply providing a fig leaf to cover the fact that it is the SNP’s White Paper model of deregulated trickle-down economics that will be delivered with a Yes vote.

This has been apparent for some time.  Yes Scotland is supposedly a cross-party organisation, but a cursory glance at each of their positions on currency is revealing. The Greens would like a new currency. The SSP would also like a new currency. The SNP, however, would much prefer a currency union. And low and behold, what is the cross-party Yes Campaign’s position?  A currency union…. 

Salmond has already positioned himself as framing the referendum as vote for the SNP’s White Paper.  He is on record in Parliament as stating the following:  “I say to Ruth Davidson that, on September 18, if people in Scotland vote for what is in the white paper and the proposals to keep the pound, that is exactly what will happen and any Scottish politician who does not recognise the sovereign choice of the Scottish people will pay a heavy price.” 

This was underlined again in his second debate with Alasdair Darling of the Better Together Campaign last night.  Salmond repeatedly made reference to a Yes Vote reflecting the “sovereign will” of the people and a Yes vote providing a “mandate” for a currency union.  Again, this is the SNP/White Paper position he is stating.  The SNP have a majority government and will still have that influence and power if there is a Yes vote when they undertake negotiations with the UK government.  It is clear that they will be proposing the White Paper position throughout - a Yes vote has provided a “mandate” for this.

RIC and Yes Scotland

RIC and Yes Scotland

 

RIC are happy to pose with the SNP and the likes of Business for Scotland as an example of how apparently broad the Yes Campaign is.  However, no matter how small or inconspicuous they try and make the SNP’s sign in a group photo, it is clear they dominate the Yes campaign’s policy and vision.

This is not to say that a No vote in itself is progressive or will provide answers but if, for socialists at least, the challenge is to bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families, then we must be able to challenge the dominant forces of capital.  For Scotland, these forces are by and large organised and operate at a British level, and will continue to impact on us even after a Yes vote. 

What we need to argue for is not a breaking away from the UK, but increased democratic controls over the British economy.  The urgent need for economic democracy is the only “guarantee” that this referendum can provide.

Boris Johnson and the NHS

By Vince Mills

One of the enduring ironies of the referendum campaign is the extent to which the ‘Yes’ camp has attacked the ‘No’ camp for using negative tactics and scare stories and then used precisely the same tactics themselves. What is worse, is that in the process concerns that we on the left share and would want to analyse are subjugated to the simple Yes/No binary, closing down the space for a serious discussion.

The most important area for consideration here is the NHS, but before we look at that, let us consider the issue of Boris Johnson. Enough has been written about the mop top with prime ministerial ambitions to fill a wilderness of dustbins, but not enough of that has focused on the reactionary core of the man’s politics – his elitist upbringing, neo-liberal instincts and social prejudices.  Politically there is probably little to separate him from Cameron except that he has managed to develop a populist appeal based on what is seen as ‘personal authenticity’ which disguises the awful consequences of the politics he espouses – food banks, a working poor and a trade union free economy, a precondition of the first two evils.

In Scotland the possibility of Johnson’s accession to the prime ministership focused less on the swarm of political plagues that would infest Britain should he succeed and more on what it might mean for further powers for the Scottish Parliament. Here is the Scotsman:

“The London mayor stated his opposition to devolving greater tax responsibilities to Scotland as a poll showed he had opened up a big lead over his rivals as the politician the public would like to see replace Tory Party leader David Cameron.

Nationalists last night seized on the intervention to warn that Mr Johnson’s comments offered a “grim insight” into Scotland’s future devolution prospects in the event of a No vote and a Johnson premiership.”

This of course entirely contradicts the implications of Scotland voting ‘Yes’ that its supporters are wont to promote.  The SNP has offered endless assurances that negotiations over the currency and Trident and the myriad of other matters will be a walk in the park given the desire for agreement on the part of the rUK government they insist will follow the acceptance of a ‘Yes’ vote. If Johnson wins, according to their interpretation, we will have a politician with a popular base who appears to be hostile to concessions, thereby increasing the risks to getting a settlement on issues the SNP consider core, like the currency. Admittedly this is less of an issue for those in the ‘Yes’ camp who support an independent  Scottish currency, but that takes us back to the issue of who is actually calling the shots in the independence campaign and like it or not it is not Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan

The obfuscation of serious socialist dialogue evident in the Johnston case is magnified when it comes to the question of the NHS. In fact the NHS in Scotland has been a considerable success, certainly in comparison to its travails in England and it therefore demonstrates the effectiveness of devolution in delivering Scottish solutions for the Scottish context. As Dave Watson on Unison noted in June in the openDemocracy site:

“Since devolution, the NHS in Scotland has taken a very different path to that of NHS England. It has embraced co-operation rather than competition. And new figures show that Scots reckon that it delivers for them.”

Not that it has saved the Scottish NHS from PFI/PPP and the left certainly needs to discuss how, for example, additional borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament could help address that issue.

But that is not the discussion we are having at the moment, however.  Instead in language every bit as ‘scary’ as the scaremongering the ‘No’ campaign is accused of, leading ‘Yes’ politicians predict the end of the health service in Scotland as we know it. Here is the BBC website:

“Earlier this year First Minister Alex Salmond warned of a “growing threat” to the Scottish NHS from an agenda of “privatisation and fragmentation” at Westminster.

“Under the Westminster system, cuts to spending in England automatically trigger cuts in Scotland,” he said. “So if private money replaces public funding in England, our budget will also be slashed no matter what we want or need.””

The argument being pursued here is that because the Barnett formula works on increased funding going to Scotland based on an increase in England, then a spending cut in England as a consequence of privatisation will mean less money will go to Scotland.

What is really egregious here is the failure to explain the full horrors of privatisation.  The private sector is not coming into the market to take money and offer care to patients who might otherwise have used public services – that form of privatisation is peripheral.  The point is that services are subcontracted out to the private sector, like hip replacements funded by public money!

Consequently the amount of public money going into the Health Service in England is not falling. It is, according to a report produced by the Charity the King’s Fund which looked at a number of projections, increasing and according to the Treasury’s official Red Book for the 2014 Budget spending on England’s NHS was scheduled to increase from £105.6 billion in 2013/14 to £110.4 billion in 2015/16.

In light of this what are we to make of the Sunday Herald’s Panelbase poll on 17th August on the NHS.  Here is the question that was asked:

“Does the prospect of an increased role of the private sector in the NHS in England having an adverse effect on the Scottish budget which funds NHS Scotland make you likely or unlikely to vote for an independent Scotland?”

If it were true that the increased role of the private sector in the English health service would have such an impact on the Scottish budget then yes, that would be of concern. But as we have seen there is no such reduction. The ‘poll’ therefore was a cheap exercise in propaganda rather than an attempt to help understand attitudes to an area of national importance in both England and Scotland. Despite, or perhaps because of  the questionable wording of the Panelbase poll which the accompanying article claimed showed the NHS was the key to winning women voters, only 42% women said they likely to vote yes on that basis, 38% were unlikely and 20% women were undecided – hardly a ringing endorsement. 

Of course, and rarely mentioned by independence supporters, ‘we are doomed’ if Cameron and the right can win the next election. The UK polling site puts labour ahead in the polls by 36% to 33% which translates, using their methods, into a 32 seat majority for Labour.

I hope that if, as the polls suggest, there is a ‘No’ vote the Left can devote its energies to exposing the damage and the danger that Cameron, Johnson and their ilk pose and discuss radical alternatives including what additional powers a Scottish parliament will need to underpin successes like the NHS.