By Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective
An English visitor to the back to back Scottish labour Party conference in Inverness, or the STUC congress in Perth in April earlier might have been forgiven for being confused. Was Scotland exempt from the politics of austerity? Had the bedroom tax passed us by? A wee bit of an exaggeration perhaps but for sure the press and the fringe meetings and the late night arguments quickly passed over the consensus on the iniquities of the ConDem assault on benefits and quickly fixed on what divides us. The Independence Referendum.
To be fair, most of the Left outside the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) have taken the position that the best way to address austerity and the other horrors visited on us by the ConDems is to vote for independence. This is predicated on one assumption that has no evidence to support it and one theoretical premise that is badly flawed.
The first assumption is that people who live in Scotland are more ‘progressive’ than our Southern neighbours and consequently . The Social attitudes survey says not. The Scots and the English more or less share the same views, for better or worse, with the exception Scottish attitudes on tolerance of foreigners, which is slightly better than the English.
The theoretical premise requires more consideration. It is argued by a range of Left groups that if Scotland were to secede from Britain it would mean the end of the British state and all that flows from it. It is put articulately here by my friend the ex Labour MSP John McAllion, who is now a member of the SSP, writing in Red Pepper:
“The choice is really very simple. Go on as before inside an antiquated and reactionary state that legally shackles trade unions and has no political space for socialism. Or begin to break that state apart in the name of progress and social advance and in doing so release the energy and the potential of a left across Britain that has for far too long been in retreat.”
John is very clear on two things. The first is that freed from the shackles of the British state the Scottish state will embrace a radical, left politics. There may be some possibility of that, if the move to independence were being driven by a class conscious Left intent on creating a socialist project in the teeth of severe capitalist opposition. But it is not. It is being led by what John would happily agree is a class alliance supported by wealthy bankers, global capitalist entrepreneurs and a significant section of Scotland’s petit bourgeoisie. Yes I know Better Together would fit the same bill, but nobody is arguing they will clear the way for socialist advance.
The SNP has made it clear there will be a constitution for the new Scotland and the basis of that constitution is also fairly clear. It will be located comfortably within the limits of neo-liberal economic and political orthodoxies. Likely inclusions are the monarchy, membership of the EU, sterling as the national currency and membership of the EU. How’s that for shackles.
But actually it is not the main problem with John’s utopian nationalism. He is confusing the geographical entity that is Britain with the state power of capitalism. It is here more than anywhere that we need ask our comrades how they believe introducing 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. 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.
So perhaps the emphasis at the STUC and the Scottish labour Party was right. Not that resistance to the politics of austerity must not be a priority, but that defending of a British wide trade union and Labour movement capable of taking on the power of British capital focused in the City of London is essential to that fight.