CfS’ Mike Cowley’s response to John Harris.
(Published in The Guardian, 28th November, 2013)
John Harris (If I were Scottish I’d grab the chance of independence, The Guardian – 25th November)* identifies the problem, but then optimistically posits the flourish of a constitutionalist’s pen as the solution to the Westminster-centric neoliberal consensus he rightly deplores. But as Grangemouth so clearly exposes, globalised capital remains indifferent to national borders. When all that is solid has melted into air – and the Transatlantic Trades and Investment Partnership adopts a global outlook which the most devout internationalist might be proud of – it is only by exercising equivalent muscle in the form of collective state regulation and democratic control that we can resist the corporate drive to commodify every corner of our lives, whatever our nationalities.
The alliances which might challenge the dominance of corporate power around the world do not as yet exist in Scotland, so claims that it provides terrain for a different settlement are overstated. It is ironic also that on the other side of the debate, the state levers referred to by the United with Labour campaign are precisely those which the last government proved so reluctant to deploy, and for this government are a democratic impediment to profit maximisation.
Mike Cowley: Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism
*John Harris’ orignial article:
For an extended article by Mike Cowley on Grangemouth
Class, Nation and Socialism – The Red Paper 2014
The Red Paper Collective http://www.redpaper.net
Recorded at the STUC, Glasgow 2013.
Glasgow Caledonian University Archives
Available by post from Scottish Centre for Work Based Learning, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA £11.00 including postage payable to ‘The Red Paper Collective’.
Also available in Waterstone’s
Press Release on Behalf of the Campaign for Socialism for Immediate Use
Scottish Labour Left says nationalise Ineos
The Campaign for Socialism* convenor Elaine Smith MSP said “Ineos have behaved disgracefully throughout this dispute. Workers in the plant have been threatened, bullied and now, finally, told they are being fired, all because they refused to accept an unjustified attack on their wages and working conditions. The loss of income will impact directly on those who have lost their jobs, but also in the local community in Grangemouth, where much of the money was spent. The ripple effect of this closure will be felt for a generation.
There have been plain untruths spread by Ineos to try and deflect from their real agenda, and instead have tried to attack Unite the Union who have mass support on the site. Initially, the role of Stephen Deans and the dispute in Falkirk was employed to try and provoke confrontation. Stephen was completely exonerated by both the Labour Party and the police after the matter was investigated. Ineos have also employed dubious accountancy practices to try and claim that the plant isn’t profitable. This is simply not true as work commissioned by Unite has suggested that not only is the plant profitable, but that Ineos have been avoiding paying tax in the UK .
This site is too important a resource to Scotland and the wider economy. The SNP appear to be looking for a buyer to take the plant over without considering the possibility that the government itself could do this. We therefore call for the government – be it at Westminster or Holyrood – to act immediately and take Grangemouth in to public ownership. It is only by democratic ownership that we can ensure that this vital public resource is run for the benefit of those who work there and for those who rely on its oil throughout the country. We also call on the Scottish and British Labour Parties to support this demand.”
For further information please call:
Paul McFarlane Secretary on: 0780 085 1638
Vince Mills, Chairperson: 0781 461 5224
Stephen Low: 0795 685 2822
*The Campaign for Socialism was set up in 1994 to campaign against the removal of clause 4 from the Labour Party’s constitution. Since then it has campaigned for democratic renewal and socialist policies for Scottish Labour through events and its journal, The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.org.uk It is currently heavily involved in promoting the people’s Charter and campaigning against the bedroom tax. Its convener is Elaine Smith MSP.
By Stephen Low, Labour Party Member
It is in ‘the national interest’ that Grangemouth remain open say the Scottish Government, refusing to countenance closure. They are however seemingly content with the idea that this be accomplished by the Ineos workforce sacrificing wages and pensions and redundancy terms and shift allowance. The national interest is being defined as the continuation of production at the plant and the refinery across the road, and only this. It’s an illustration of who counts as ‘the nation’ and gives us an idea of whose interests count as national priorities.
Reactions to what’s been going on in Grangemouth brought to mind this observation by Neil Davidson, it comes from a (decidedly lukewarm) review of a book by Gregor Gall
First, Gregor regards the strength of Scottish national identity as an advantage people in, say, Yorkshire do not possess. But the opposite is true. One of the greatest problems which faces the left in Scotland is precisely the way in which virtually every issue is viewed through the distorting lens of the ‘national question’, even when that has nothing to do with it.
(The full review is here)
Regrettably this has been much in evidence in relation to the situation in Grangemouth, were this happening in say Millford Haven or Ellesmere Port it would be being discussed as a naked act of class aggression. Instead we have, as the merest glance at #Grangemouth or #ineos on twitter show, the situation being viewed, as through a glass (labeled referendum) darkly. Airing constitutional grievances takes precedence over condemning the naked greed and social criminality of Jim Ratcliffe and his management team.
(Of course if this were happening in Ellesmere Port or Millford Haven some of the loudest commentators on this outrage would have little to say – but that is a separate matter)
Alex Salmond, is at time of writing saying he hopes to find another buyer – but even if one cannot be found the plant is too important to close. This is to be welcomed – not least because it seems to not rule out nationalisation. Obviously the key lesson in all this is that significant elements of national infrastructure should be in the hands of public and not private interests, however the First Minister has been an enthusiast for the business community for some time so let’s not get too ambitious. For the moment this is the best we are likely to get.
Welcome though Salmond’s comments of Wednesday are, he was significantly less than even handed last week. It’s not being parti pris to suggest that then it was Johann Lamont who was on the side of the workers, she said that Ineos should withdraw the new contracts and then negotiate. Salmond meanwhile was saying that the plant should reopen and Unite should honour their no strike offer whilst talks took place. The withdrawal of the, desperately unfavourable new contracts wasn’t mentioned. Whilst this gives the appearance of even handedness it would have made Unite’s negotiating position untenable (conceivably of course it might have delayed the unlovable Mr Ratfink’s decision to put the plant into liquidation.)
It’s extremely unlikely Alex Salmond has no care for the workforce in Grangemouth (he’s not a monster whatever Better Together say). That said, proletarian solidarity isn’t his guiding principle either. The concern of Mr S is the national interest. It is how this is defined that should be the point of interest for socialists.
The wages, shift allowances, redundancy payments and pensions of the workforce who carry out that production are not matters on which the First Minister (or anyone in the UK Government) has seen fit to comment. “Which is as it should be” it will be argued. These are matters of between employer and employee – not for a government to determine. Save that the Government has expressed its concern (via John Swinney on Newsnight Scotland) for the 800 workers directly employed in the Ineos chemical plant as well as for the industrial future of Scotland. The maintenance of decency in employment is surely a legitimate component of both these concerns.
A buyer may be found, and as I write the media are talking of a ‘last ditch offer’ from Unite to Ineos accepting many of the conditions the company has proposed. Perhaps this will keep the petrochemical plant open. Ineos meanwhile will certainly pursue a union busting attack on terms and conditions on the workforce at the refinery across the street. Will such a settlement really be in the interests of the nation?
The real national interest surely would be served by Government enforcing a situation that preserves not merely the jobs, but the living standards of Stevie Deans and Mark Lyon and the thousands of other ordinary men and women who work along the Bo’ness Road. Any truly national interest would put the interests citizens above shareholders – and it is to the extent that politicians do this over the days and weeks ahead that they should be judged.
By Stephen Low, Labour Party member
How should socialists approach the question of whether or not to support Scottish independence? Put simply, by determining what will best serve the interests of the working class. So let us attempt this. Using as our yardstick not the blandishments foisted on us by the tax dodgers and millionaires of the YES campaign or its Better Together mirror image, but the ideas and concepts of classical socialist theory.
So how historically have issues around national independence been viewed?
The Social-Democratic Party’s recognition of the right of all nationalities to self-determination most certainly does not mean that Social-Democrats reject an independent appraisal of the advisability of the state secession of any nation in each separate case. Social-Democracy should, on the contrary, give its independent appraisal, taking into consideration the conditions of capitalist development and the oppression of the proletarians of various nations by the united bourgeoisie of all nationalities, as well as the general tasks of democracy, first of all and most of all the interests of the proletarian class struggle for socialism.
So Lenin at least was clear that supporting the principle of the right of self determination for all nations does not translate into unqualified support for every petty bourgeois secessionist project that comes along. Socialists are not, and should never be, nationalists. Our values, aims and concerns are humanist and global. The concerns of nationalists, by definition, are not. Nations are historical contingencies – they come and go – so supporting a drive for this or that state entity cannot be a matter of principle for socialists, only one of tactics and strategy.
There are of course situations where socialist support for particular national projects is more or less obvious. The freedom of colonies from imperial domination is one such clear cut example, as are situations where national minorities seek to escape from oppression. But does Scotland fall into either of these categories?
Scotland is not a colony of England. The Union of 1707 was not an act of imperial conquest – it was an agreed merger between the bourgeoisies of two countries. The Scots, shaken to the core by the failure of the Darien Scheme gained a new source of capital, and security via a partnership with a more established class. The English, turned a potential competitor – and source of challenge through alliances with European Absolutism – into a partner. For a developing capitalism it was a win-win situation. The capitalist class which then developed was British, not English, as was the blood soaked imperial project they then pursued .
The contrast between Scotland and Ireland, could not be more stark. Scotland after 1707 was subject to what was at the time, the most rapid industrialisation process in history. Ireland, which was a colony received underdevelopment and famine. Marx and Engels certainly never viewed Scotland as an English Colony. They often discuss the status of Ireland outlining the mechanics of colonial exploitation, but despite frequently referencing Scottish conditions, the idea that the relationship with England is colonial is nowhere suggested.
Neither can it be argued that Scots are facing national oppression. That’s not to say people in Scotland are free. The merest glance at any of our cities is enough to show people are being oppressed: by poverty or racism, by unemployment and inadequate housing, blighted prospects and lack of opportunity. In other words the oppression in Glasgow is exactly the same as that endured in Manchester, Liverpool or London. No one is oppressed for being Scottish.
But what of the key question, will independence increase our effectiveness in confronting capital?
The Scottish economy is highly integrated into the UK economy. Scotland does more trade with the rest of the UK than with the rest of the world. Ownership in the Scottish economy is largely at a UK level. To take one significant example, Richard Leonard of the GMB writing for the Red Paper Collective has points out
“…the economic power owned by working people, but not controlled by working people in our pension and insurance funds is organised at the UK level with the largest UK pension funds… all British wide in their membership and organisation. So if democratic reform of pension and insurance funds is, as I believe it should be a significant element of a new left strategy to re-direct investment and provide for both popular socialised ownership and control in the economy it is at the UK level that reform will be at its most effective”
It might also be added that industrial decline on the Tyne and the Clyde have similar causes – and solutions. Suggesting that the former is an economic question yet the latter is a national one is ignoring the reality of class power.
If independence as such offers such little appeal for those whose focus is class – how about Independence as offered? The distinction is important. The Independence we get will be Alex Salmond’s not John MacLean’s. The SNP, will both negotiate before, and govern after, independence.
The SNP, the odd populist flourish aside, are still thirled to neo-liberalism and the whip hand it gives capital. They have consistently welcomed the Corporation Tax cuts in George Osborne’s budgets, and promised that Corporation Tax rates in Scotland will be lower than in England. A view Salmond has been assiduously promoting on visits to the US. Simultaneously the SNP maintain that there will be no need for personal taxation to rise post independence. Unless one is – as Messrs Salmond and Swinney quite publicly are – a believer in the Laffer curves at the heart of Reaganomics, the future funding of public services begins to look a little shaky.
North of the Tweed will be a government with an economic strategy based on attracting jobs to Scotland based on low corporate tax rates. If successful the impact on the North of England is not difficult to imagine. It is of course quite possible that the rUK might respond with business tax cuts of their own – hardly a gain for our class. Also the fiscal transfer function of resources between areas will also be lost. Of course for some of the less grounded supporters of Independence, most particularly the Ultra Left, the nature and policies of the SNP hardly matter. Independence will either on its own unleash radical potential – or post independence the SNP will split prompting some sort of realignment which it is assumed will benefit the left.
The confidence with which these assertions are made is in inverse proportion to the evidence for them. Since 1981 there have been 39 new states created in an era which no one (outside Latin America) is going to claim as one of great success for the left.
Equally the idea of an evaporating or self destructing post independence SNP is ahistoric. The pattern for movements and parties that have achieved state making projects is generally one of political dominance for years afterwards; India achieved independence in 1948 and has been governed by a still extant Congress for much of its existence, the ANC have continued post apartheid, Mapai dominated Israeli politics for its first forty years, Tanzania, Gold Coast, Zambia and many others all point to the likelihood of scenario where the SNP as they fully intend to will go on (and on).
Obviously it is not only the organisation of capital, and its supporters, that concerns socialists – but that of the working class. The trade union movement is overwhelmingly organised at a UK level. The movement could, doubtless, cope with the setting up of an independent Scotland, but it is difficult to see how it makes life easier. Not least as some, less class conscious to be sure, workers may wonder why they should make the effort to help people who found being in the same political entity as them so intolerable. This is assuming that Trade Unions continue to organise on all UK basis and do not divide along national lines as some Left supporters of independence are already arguing for.
Marx declared famously that the working class ‘has no country’. But as he also said the proletariat, “must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.”
The problem in Scotland is that independence is being pursued only in the bourgeois sense of the word. Rather than seeking a solution under the Saltire socialists, in Scotland and elsewhere would do better to remember Lenin’s advice to Zinoviev and his comrades prior to the Baku congress: ‘Do not paint nationalism red’
Originally published on http://www.thesocialistcorrespondent.org.uk/