On the Hopes of Radical Independence

by Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective


There is a constituency, which if recent opinion polls are to be believed, is more likely to vote for independence than other demographics.  The most recent Ipsos MORI poll reveals a significant surge in support for independence among young people – 58% of 18-24 year olds say they will vote ‘Yes’, more than double the 27% recorded in October 2012.

 It is not clear whether this has influenced what I will call the Radical Independence Movement, or indeed whether the Radical Independence Movement has had some influence on younger people, although I doubt it. Nevertheless it is surely a timely reminder that those of us who want class and not nation to be the central appeal of constitutional change need to understand what young people in general want constitutional change to achieve and, more specifically, what those young people committed to a left position, however vague, hope that independence will bring.

 And I have to say it is indeed vague.  The successful Radical Independence Conference held last November had five guiding principles for their vision:

A Scotland that is

  • Green and environmentally sustainable
  • Internationalist and opposed to Trident and war
  • For a social alternative to austerity and privatisation
  • A modern republic for real democracy
  • Committed to equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of gender, race or sexuality

 There  is, you will have noted, no specific reference to anything that might form the basis of a strategy for transition to a more radical Scotland, like public ownership, or a positive legal framework for trade unions. Indeed I have seen mission statements for large corporate companies that could cope with most of these principles, but to be fair that is not the point.

It is the very vagueness of the platform that is being set out by this perspective that allows  it to have such wide appeal. Our job has surely got to be to raise with Radical Independence supporters the formidable barriers to social change that we all face and argue that an independent Scotland, on the terms that it will be offered, will make it more, not less difficult,  to achieve the goals they seek.

It is here that we need to insist that the reality of an independent Scotland is dealt with. According to the SNP that will be based on a written constitution. The SNP has already made it clear what the basis of that constitution will be and should Scotland vote for independence, their constitution, located comfortably within the limits of neo-liberal economic and political orthodoxies, is unlikely to be challenged by any other of the mainstream parties in Scotland.

What would that mean for the five principles suggested by the Radical Independence Movement?

Let us begin with a Scotland that is Green and environmentally sustainable

The SNP of course missed its first legally binding climate change target on Green house Gas emissions and blamed the cold weather. The reality is that neo-liberalism which would be an essential aspect of the Scottish constitution, by dint of EU membership if nothing else, is a major obstacle to tackling capitalism’s cannibalism  of renewable resources.  A point not missed by Green MSP Alison Johnstone  a supporter of Radical Independence who said “Passing the Climate Act didn’t make the problem go away. That requires really bold action on housing and transport that we’re just not seeing from the Scottish Government, despite the potential to provide a great deal of employment in construction.” But such  actions would be inimical to neo-liberal thinking, actions that would remain inimical in a Scotland under such a constitution, made more so by the difficulty of small European nation seeking to look to alternatives to the EU’s neo-liberalism within or outside the EU.

What about an Internationalist Scotland that is opposed to Trident and war. Again a Scotland that is part of the nuclear NATO alliance, almost certainly another element in our constitution, will find it difficult to escape the obligations placed on it by the US leadership in support of NATO’s nuclear capacity, whether or not an independent Scotland is ever actually able to rid itself of Trident.

But perhaps the social and economic core to the Radical Independence Movement’s claims is the call for a social alternative to austerity and privatisation. It is here more than anywhere that we need ask our comrades how they believe introducing what I assume to be a challenge to capitalism is possible when the ownership of Scotland’s economy, including its banks and trade will be controlled from the City of London, as will its currency,  under SNP plans. The effect of independence will be, in addition to the possible rupturing of the united British working class movement at trade union level, to remove Scottish voters from any influence on the politics of Westminster parliament which has the potential to challenge the power of capital as part of a wider progressive movement for change.

As for a modern republic for real democracy, the SNP insistence on the monarchy, no doubt also enshrined in the constitution will make that one a long term aspiration. At least as long as it is for the UK as a whole.

Which leaves us with the commitment to equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of gender, race or sexuality. Leaving aside attitudinal issues like prejudice although even here class and poverty play a part with those will the lowest educational attainment most likely to think discrimination is acceptable, the biggest problem Scotland faces remains the unequal distribution of wealth in relation to women. According to the Equal Opportunities Committee at Holyrood women in Scotland are being driven into low-paid and low-status work – cleaning, care jobs and administration  and are also suffering most by rising unemployment. This is not just an issue of gender,  though it is, it is also an issue of class and an issue of class that is exacerbated by the current politics of austerity, endorsed by the EU to which we may be committed by our constitution.

We have to make it clear to our comrades in the radical independence movement that they have not advanced any strategy to show how we would reverse the power of Capital.  The neo-liberal clamp on political development would if anything be tightened in a Scotland with less political and economic power than it currently has by dint of surrendering its influence on the British state while the British state would continue to control its economy and currency.

I am not fond of quoting Gordon Brown but it is difficult to find a better summary of where the Radical Independence movement in its naive acceptance of the consequences of an SNP independence project would lead us. Brown claimed it would be   “a form of self-imposed colonialism more reminiscent of the old empire than of the modern world”.

That future comrades,  is a future which is neither radical nor independent.


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