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.
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.
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.
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.
This article is from the Independent Labour publication: http://www.independentlabour.org.uk
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.
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 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.
by Vince Mills
One of the interesting, though perhaps more bizarre aspects of the current independence debate in Scotland is how some sections of the Scottish Left have been shifting to the right and even slipping into the nationalist camp, apparently without noticing it; others have adopted a strategy which hints at radical change but in their effort to achieve this, promote its ideological antithesis.
This latter position is most clearly articulated by the SWP and a range of other groups and individuals in the Radical Independence Campaign. Their argument that they support independence and not nationalism is premised on the belief that there will be a disintegration of the British state following a Yes vote.
The former is most closely associated with the remnants of the Scottish Socialist Party and others, like the Labour for Independence group (origins and purpose contested) who previously might have voted for, or even have been members of the Labour Party; it is a straightforward recognition that fundamental change is not on the agenda and some form of limited social democracy is the best we can hope for. Of the two it is position that carries more weight.
It may be difficult to believe that socialists in Scotland, many of whom were loud in their condemnation, and correctly so, of Labour’s seduction by right wing ideas under Blair, can support a nationalist agenda, but here is how Colin Fox, the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, received the launch of the SNP’s economically right wing White Paper:
“The white paper sets out a vision of independence that represents a significant advance for Scotland in my view – affording us the right to self-determination and the chance to build the type of nation we want.”
To be fair to Colin he highlights its weaknesses as well as what he sees as its strengths, but it is the political shift of a Party that once presented itself as an advocate of radical socialism that is important here. As spokesperson of the SSP, Colin is acknowledging that in itself the White Paper marks an advance (despite its neo-liberal economic assumptions) but that, more importantly it offers the ‘chance’ to build the kind of nation we want thereby signalling that the SSP will accept independence even if it does not lead in a left direction. In other words, by accepting independence as an objective in itself, he is thereby re-defining the SSP as a nationalist party. And if that is not enough, despite attacking the limitations of the White Paper, Colin signs up the left to work for independence among working class voters despite any guarantees of a better Scotland:
“Left-wing organisations that support independence such as the Scottish Socialist Party have a crucial role to play in persuading working-class voters who are justly sceptical of the sort of change Alex Salmond and the SNP have in mind that they would still be better off with independence.”
Why they would be any better off if the SNP’s pro NATO, pro EU Pro monarchy, pro low business tax Scotland, as it almost certainly would be, is based on two unstated assumptions. The first is that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP and the second is that the politics of an independent Scotland will indeed be more progressive.
These are both unfounded. It is indeed the SNP’s white paper we are voting on, a party which had the highest share of the popular vote in the recent European election and the last Scottish Parliament elections and has the greatest number of councillors. It is by any measure the dominant political force in Scotland and is not about to disappear any time soon.
Meanwhile the myths bubbling up around Scottish ‘exceptionalism’ are surely bursting. In May in the run up to the European elections, where UKIP managed to win a seat in Scotland the Glasgow Herald had already reported: “UKIP policies to curb immigration, cut overseas aid and crack down on benefits claimants are backed by a majority of Scots, a surprise new poll suggests…”
This poses a significant political and largely ignored challenge (by the SNP) to its desire to increase productivity by growing Scotland’s population through increased immigration.
To the left of the SSP’s analysis we have the SWP and other Radical Independence supporters who argue that a Scottish secession will somehow or another lead to the break-up of the British state. This assumes of course that the British state can neither be reformed or transformed though existing democratic institutions but, as the old light bulb joke would have it, can only be smashed. Leaving aside the debate on the nature of the British state and whether in Keir Hardie’s view it is a ‘useful donkey’ or in Marx’s that ‘it is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’, the question that needs to be answered by its Left advocates is how a Scottish secession fundamentally weakens it, in either an independent Scotland or in rUK.
Bear in mind that the state that will most likely emerge in Scotland will be deeply tied to that of the rUK through our integrated economy, (perhaps through a currency pact). In rUK, the power of finance capital, umbilically linked to the brokers of political power, will remain untouched in the City of Westminster where it will still control the flows of capital in and out of Scotland.
A real challenge to the power of capital in an independent Scotland would require in the words of James Stafford in Renewal a “chaviste economic strategy of nationalisation, investment and redistribution …” it would also mean “…capital and exchange controls, as well as the swift abandonment of EU membership. This is a recipe unlikely to meet with either success or popularity in a small, open, wealthy and European economy like Scotland’s; even less so during the brief initial period when the framing conditions for Scottish independence would be decided …”
As Stafford suggets above, such a strategy would at the very least require an honest dialogue with and compelling narrative offered to Scottish working people and their institutions about the difficult and dangerous political terrain they were about to move onto. Not only has such dialogue not been entered into, while sections of the ultra-left massage each other’s delusions about the possibility of radical change following the referendum, the main Yes campaign of which they are part sets out quite a different future.
In the Yes Campaign’s ‘Your Choice’ pamphlet, in a section headed “WELCOME TO SCOTLAND 2020” it cites the example of Barbara “Today: Up to her eyes in paperwork, Barbara wishes she had more time to focus on what she does best – running the most popular pub in town. 2020 A hardworking businesswoman, Barbara has always had what it takes. Now freed up from high business taxes and red tape, she has a thriving pub on her hands and her employees are happy and productive thanks to the new guarantee to raise the minimum wage at least in line with inflation.”
So, on the one hand a section of the Scottish Left espouses national independence for its own sake in the hope that it provides a chance for a better future, while another pretends to promote revolutionary change through support for independence, while in effect supporting a campaign for a Scotland of entrepreneurial aspiration.
Whatever the result of the referendum, both these left factions will be marginalised, but all the more marginalised if it is a No vote. This is not because they have not tried to have strategic engagement with the working class. They have tried very hard to engage, to the extent of abandoning their own objectives in favour some quite toxic to the left. The problem is that they do not have a credible strategy for serious social change. That is not an area where the Labour Left can feel an excess of confidence either which is why, as soon as the vote in September is over, the Scottish Labour left needs to meet and discuss our strategy and programme for fundamental change. A No vote must also mean another country.
by Stephen Low, a Labour Party member and part of the Red Paper Collective
Nationalism has many potential outcomes, but they are all based on a concern for ‘our people’ not ‘the people’
Scottish nationalism, we are always told, is civic, tolerant and open, different to other nationalisms. So welcoming in fact that many signed up to independence will argue that it isn’t really nationalism at all.
From Billy Bragg’s distanceit all looks very cuddly. Up close though, finding safety in numbers through a process of division, it looks a lot less pleasant.
Taking just a few examples: demonstrators gather outside the BBC and unfurl banners denouncing people as ‘anti–Scottish’, claiming that only the ‘corrupt media’ stops people supporting Independence.
A writer, Alan Bissett, prominent enough to be invited to perform to the conference of the governing nationalist party, describes current constitutional arrangements as ‘Subjugation; cultural, political and economic’. The acme of liberal independence supporting commentators, Gerry Hassan, expresses satisfaction that the Scots ‘are becoming a people’ and ‘developing voice in its deepest sense’.
It’s easy to recognise tropes here familiar from other, less favourably looked on nationalisms. Principally that only by asserting ourselves as a nation can we throw off alien influences and truly be ourselves. Perhaps then, Scotish nationalism isn’t all that exceptional after all.
Responding to JK Rowling’s endorsement of a No vote, a writer from the ‘National Collective’ declares Scotland is ‘a State of Mind’. Independence is all about ‘the story we choose to believe in’.
How very open, how very welcoming; anyone can be Scottish, provided they share our state of mind.
Except this, naturally, involves embracing independence. The status of those of us unwilling to do this isn’t quite spelled out. Neither is the corollary; if anyone can be Scottish by sharing ‘our’ state of mind. Also, what if, like myself, you don’t? If the ‘story you choose to believe in’ is a multi- or even non-national one, are you somehow less Scottish?
This is as much about exclusion as it is inclusion. And it is this process, more than independence that is developing momentum. Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation and one of the gurus of the Radical Independence Campaign, used to describe non Indyfan lefties as ‘fellow travellers‘ for whom they should ‘keep a seat at the table’. He now issues dire warnings that ‘We are not afraid of you, we are going to win and history will remember you for how you behaved’.
Of course, all of the above matter much less than the SNP and the Scottish government.Recently, Nicola Sturgeon drew a distinction between ‘essentialist’ and ‘utilitarian’ nationalists. This isn’t anything to do with fundamental outlook, just a tactical difference about the timing of state formation. The deputy first minister went on to explain, in a phrase redolent of Michael Gove on steroids, that she wanted a new Scottish constitution to ‘embody the values of the nation’.
What those values might be were (thankfully) left undefined. Add to this the vaguely sinister sounding intentions of education secretary Mike Russell that the views of scientists on research bodies ‘might be aligned’ with those of the Scottish government.
A more serious indicator of what might be in store was given when Ed Balls and George Osborne, invoking the national interest of the rest of the UK, said they didn’t support a currency union with an independent Scotland. They were immediately decried by the First Minister and his supporters as ‘bullies’ ganging up on Scotland.
In the howls of anguish that followed, it was taken as read that assertions by the UK couldn’t be valid in themselves, they were merely attacks on Scotland. The ‘Scottish’ interest wasn’t just deemed to be the most important or priority viewpoint, but the only legitimately held opinion.
The economics or even politics of the situation (eg If Balls or Osborne were interested in having a supranational banking arrangement deciding governmental borrowing limits, they would have joined the Euro) were abandoned in favour of the financially illiterate spasm of ‘It’s our pound too’.
Stripped to its essence, it was a case of the leader of a nationalist party building support for a policy by saying foreigners were attacking the country. If that looks like it has worked then don’t think it will stop on September 19. Nationalist ends won’t be willed in the referendum without embedding nationalist means to sustain them afterwards.
Clearly the SNP aren’t some sort of Jobbik style proto fascists. But suggesting that ‘Technocratic Administrative Boundary Adjustment’ or ‘Blood and Soil’ are the only two possible settings on the nationalist dial isn’t right either.
Nationalism has many potential outcomes, but they are all predicated on defining and separating, with concern for ‘our people’ not ‘the people’. Real progressive politics does the opposite. People at home or in the places that will shortly be abroad if there is a yes vote in September would do well to remember that.
by Vince Mills
Socialism First, like the Red Paper Collective has adopted a class approach to the independence debate arguing that ultimately what we should be asking is what is the best way to bring about an irreversible shift of wealth and power in favour of working people.
Although many on the Left agree with that there is disagreement with those advocating a Yes position because our position seeks to outline an analysis based on what we argue will be the actual dominant forces that shape a new Scotland that a Yes vote would give, as opposed to the arguments of those who believe that voting yes will by itself release revolutionary new forces. Instead we pose the necessity of a British wide strategy for challenging the power of neo-liberalism.
The independence that is on offer is that driven by the SNP, a party which has the highest share of the popular vote in the European and Scottish Parliament elections and the greatest number of councillors. It is by any measure the dominant political force in Scotland and is not about to disappear any time soon.
There are two major concerns for the Left in the independence debate. The first is the necessity to defend public services and second is the second is the longer term strategy necessary for winning socialist advance.
Let us look more closely at the economic case for independence. In his recent book: Seventeen contradictions and the end of Capitalism David Harvey writes: “The world is broadly polarised between a continuation (as in Europe and the United States) if not a deepening of neo-liberal, supply side monetarist remedies that emphasise austerity as the proper medicine to cure our ills; and the revival of some version, usually watered down, of a Keynesian demand side and debt-financed expansion ( as in China) that ignores Keynes’s emphasis upon the redistribution of income to the lower classes as one of its key components. No matter which policy is being followed, the result is to favour the billionaire’s club that now constitutes an increasingly powerful plutocracy both within countries and (like Rupert Murdoch) upon the world stage.”
Both of these strategies are being offered by key supporters of the independence project. On the one hand there is the commitment to lower corporate taxation and straight forward rejection of any strengthening of workers’ rights as advocated by the SNP leadership and on the other hand there is Commonweal strategy as outlined by the Jimmy Reid foundation that seeks to build on the limited welfarism of the Scottish Parliament posing at its core the need for partnership between Capital and Labour. It hardly needs stating that since neither advocates a fundamental challenge to the basis of class society nor a significant transfer of ownership in terms of wealth, they do not constitute the basis for a secure public services in Scotland.
And yet those arguing for independence, left and right believe that they can end austerity, although they may disagree about how they would do that.
The SNP argues that they can challenge austerity by growing the Scottish economy through a combination of sustaining the existing economic staples like oil and gas and food and drink and by borrowing money.
This growth depends on increasing the working age population through higher levels of immigration leading to better productivity leading to 2.5% growth per annum. The Finance Secretary, John Swinney also recently set out proposals to borrow heavily in the first three financial years after the planned formal split.
This, like all capitalist strategies is excessively rosy about the capacity of the market economy to deliver economic stability. For example, in relation to oil and gas as you know this has been the subject of raging arguments but no-one is saying that oil and gas reserves are not declining; the argument has been about the rate of decline and what we might expect as likely tax take from an industry that is notoriously fickle in rates of return.
In relation to borrowing, Swinney’s plans would see Scotland’s deficit rise to around 7 per cent, based on Holyrood estimates. This ignores three things. Firstly the cost of borrowing given Scotland’s standing as a new country without a track record is likely to be enormously expensive. Secondly , if there were a currency pact with the UK, any plans for such borrowing would have to be agreed with the Rest of the UK, hardly likely in the current climate and finally the EU, which the SNP is determined to join has instructed member states not to allow their deficits to exceed 3 per cent, never mind 7%. It is difficult to see Swinney’s promise as something other than a gamble for the swing in the electorate that they believe is necessary to win the referendum rather than a serious economic strategy.
In this situation without any recourse to the current Barnett formula, which allows the transfer of funds from the UK to its constituent parts, there is a strong likelihood that we would face cuts in public expenditure in Scotland because demographic change and the level of inequality mean need will grow, but the SNP want reduced levels of corporate taxation and the status quo in relation to personal taxation.
But there is another and just as important argument from a left perspective related to the issue of the economy. The level of productivity and the benefits that come from that depends on who owns the economy and what influence we, trade unionists and socialists can bring to bear on that ownership.
Scotland’ economy heavily externalised. The following statistics are based on data published by the Guardian. Nearly all Scotland’s North Sea oil and gas production is licensed to foreign firms. There is only one significant Scottish firm, First Oil. It produces just 6,000 of the total 1m barrels of crude produced every day.
• 90 banks and finance companies operate in Scotland with no Scottish registered office, including global firms such as Barclays, HSBC and Morgan Stanley. Their earnings flow directly to London or overseas.
• More than 70% of Scotland’s total economic output – excluding banking and finance and the public sector – is controlled by non-Scottish-owned firms.
• Of the large firms in Scotland, those employing 250 or more people, 83% are owned by non-Scottish companies.
• Well over 80% of Scotland’s whisky industry – the UK’s largest food and drink export – is owned outside Scotland. Nearly 40% of total output is in the hands of one London-based company, Diageo.
• More than 80% of Scottish farmed salmon, Scotland’s most valuable food export, is foreign-owned. About two-thirds of it is controlled from Norway.
What independence would mean is that Scotland would be subject to power of corporate capital vested largely in the City of London without any say in how that power is exercised because we would not have a vote for the UK politicians who have political jurisdiction over those institutions.
We did not create our history. Our forebears did and because of that the Scottish economy, and the Scottish people and the Scottish Labour movement are deeply integrated into the British economy. We need a strategy built on that reality, on existing working class institutions, primarily the trade unions, but growing beyond that into a British wide People’s Movement like the People’s Assembly, that is ultimately capable of winning the case for social ownership of the banks and financial institutions, the energy companies and the communication and transport infrastructures. That kind of advance will give us the basis for ending inequality and bringing about an irreversible change in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people.
By Greg Philo
How would you feel about being rich? As Mr Swinney says, we would be the sixth richest in the world, while the rest of the UK would be a mere 16th if they are lucky. So that is one up on the Southerners, who we have apparently been subsidising. – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-15423494
Even if this was true, how are so many people on the left lined up with such an appeal? The plan is that we take the resources , then leave the de-industrialised areas and dispossessed classes of the rest of the UK to cope with the uneven development of capitalism as best they can. How did we get into this state where an appeal which is so obviously divisive in terms of working class unity, is presented as progressive independence? I hear people on the left say we will set an example to the rest of the UK, but what example is it to the people in Durham or South Wales, except to dig for oil?
And there is another current feeding an intensely divisive nationalism which some do not wish to discuss. When I asked my students what the main driving force was, some replied, ‘Oh we just hate the English!’ Others rejected this, and it is true that many people in Scotland want nothing to do with anti-English racism. There are a million Scots in the South, we have relatives and friends there. But it would be quite false to say that anti –English attitudes no longer exist. Teachers tell me it is quite common for racist comments about the English to be made in the classroom, an attitude which presumably comes from parents. A 2006 Government study of school children’s attitudes concluded:
SCHOOLCHILDREN in Scotland show a “worrying hostility” towards English people and should be taught to curb their prejudice during anti-racism education, an Executive report has recommended.
The police here recently issued figures showing an increase in physical assaults which were racially based against English people. These figures were partially contested by the Nationalists with Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish Community Safety Minister was rather confusingly reported as saying:
Although there had been an increase in Anti-English incidents, over the last four years the average level has “remained consistent”
Some incidents attracted a lot of attention, especially that of a disabled man being pulled from his car and attacked for having a Union Jack and a young boy being punched in the street for having an England football shirt. The crucial point is that a rise in nationalist fervour is likely to intensify a divisive racism. I was in Scotland all through the ‘Braveheart’ period and for some it was a grim time to be English, as recorded in this report:
Some interviewees suggested that any hardening and proliferation of anti- English attitudes was in large part attributable to the influence and success of films such as Braveheart and, to a much lesser extent, Rob Roy. The Braveheart ‘phenomenon’ was keenly felt by many of those we interviewed:
Braveheart was showing and as soon as the film was finished there were car horns honking and people were out on the streets and I thought ‘wow this is very scary’. And I’ve heard of people who were living in Falkirk who were English … driven out of the cinema and stuff by Scots consumed by this sort of crazy nationalistic spirit (male 38).
I’ve seen people with tears in their eyes after they’ve seen Braveheart, Scottish people with tears in the eyes, and the contempt they’ve had in their voice towards me being English (male 54).
– Ian McIntosh, Duncan Sim and Douglas Robertson (2004) ”It’s as if you’re some alien…’ Exploring Anti-English Attitudes in Scotland’. Sociological Research Online, vol. 9, no. 2,
The potential for division is obvious as such attitudes and the publicity they attract produce a response from the South and people start to speak in terms of ‘them’and ‘us’. In my recent focus groups there, I encountered a sense of puzzled betrayal as people made comments like ‘We know they hate us, but why do they hate us?’ This is important because I think it indicates a change. When I grew up in South London, there were jokes about kilts and accents certainly, and probably racist incidents but there was no folk narrative about Scots terrorists coming down and stealing cattle, no songs about the flower of England duffing up the Scots or any film like Braveheart. I know there can examples of racist attitudes towards Scottish people in England, but generally there was not a cultural attitude in that direction. The stereotypes for the Scots were different – good education system, good legal, good whisky , reminiscent of Tony Hancock’s description in The Blood Donor: “Fine Doctors the Scots and Engineers, it’s the porridge you know”. After all, we had built the empire with them, shoulder to shoulder; they were tough as well, the razor city, hard drinkers and hard fighters; as my mum told me, the enemy were terrified when they heard the bagpipes, a story told to her by my grandfather. The point is, they were on ‘our side’, as Barry Gibson writes, the Scots were ‘family’, – http://www.thefreelibrary.com/An+’unrequited+hate+affair’+with+Scotland.-a0277411221
But as everyone knows, family break ups can be very bitter, especially if one side perceives the other as motivated by racism and greed.
Socialism in One Country
Of course, there are better motives on offer. Some on the left tell us that this is the opportunity to oppose neo-liberalism, to defend social democracy and help the poor and dispossessed of Scotland. Once Scotland is independent and we are free of the Westminster parliament, all this is apparently possible. But neo-liberalism is not the Westminster parliament or the geographical expression which is the UK. It is the philosophy and practical application of Corporate Power in a global market based on profit and exchange. It is well served by a proliferation of small states who compete with each other to offer the most favourable terms for ‘business’. That is the rationale behind the commitment to lower corporation tax in the White Paper and why there is nothing on wealth taxes, nationalisation of land or even a guaranteed living wage. At present the SNP will not even agree to put up the top rate of tax to 50p. And it does not help for the Radical Independence left to keep saying that they are not the SNP and it will all be magically different in the future. We have the politicians that people vote for, in Scotland just as in Westminster. The Holyrood parliament has always had the ability to put up income tax and could have done so to help the excluded people of the de-industrialised West. But the politicians know that there is no appetite amongst the rich , the middle classes or those in jobs for higher tax. – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-26630498
This is shown in other policies. The freezing of council tax, for example, is popular but is actually a subsidy for the middle classes and better off, while the decline in public services which results, has serious effects on those who depend on them with no alternative.
So the appetite for social democracy and the political will for radical social change is in many ways limited, here as elsewhere. This brings another question to the fore, which is: how different are the people in Scotland from those below Carlisle? There are some on the left who believe in a sort of Scottish Exceptionalism. Certainly, there are many excellent things here, the tradition of the red Clyde, the anti-racist groups, the strong activism, Gramnet, the help groups for refugees, the belief in a public sector and a cultural strand that favours collective action and community. But much of this would apply to other areas which have had industry, strong unions and community action – the North East, for example, Teeside, Humberside, Durham, Yorkshire across to Liverpool and South Wales and more. London does represent an enormous accumulation of wealth but is also a centre of radical activity and politics. Wealth there is very unevenly divided, over half of its population rent their homes, so a rise in property values profits some and leads to the eviction of others.
The picture in Scotland is more mixed than the election results and our one Tory MP might suggest. There are very strong currents of right wing opinion here. In the last election, 412,855 voted Conservative, 465,471 voted Lib Dem, 491,386 voted SNP. So around 1.4 million voted for these while just over 1 million voted Labour. The dominance of Labour MPs ( with 41 of 59) has a lot to do with the electoral boundaries and system, rather than just political preference. Social attitudes here are very conservative on many issues.
On Asylum, Refugees and migration, 58% want less immigrants (amongst whom some include ‘the English’). The Oxford Migration Observatory also examined the preferred policies for Scotland on refugees if we became independent. Just 16% wanted more welcoming policies:
The most frequent choice was that policy should be less welcoming to refugees and asylum seekers (43%) than in the UK, while 29% preferred to stay the same as the UK and 16% would choose a more welcoming set of policies.
There is also terrible racism directed at Black and Asian people. An attack on a Black busker in Sauchiehall st., was recently filmed and shown on tv. The man had been in Glasgow for 15 years and made this comment:
It was the second or third day (after arriving). Someone said to me, ya fucking black bastard. I was a kid of 20 or so. Since then it has been like that every day.
– Sunday Mail 16.02.14
Every day? In the Glasgow equivalent of Oxford St.
For our recent book on refugees, we interviewed a community worker, in a focus group, who told us:
When asylum seekers came to Glasgow I felt I had got a promotion, I felt I was promoted even though I was born in Glasgow, from being racially beaten up, abused, marginalised for most of my life. When asylum seekers first came to Glasgow, I was now seen as Glaswegian. (There was a boy who said) ‘You’re alright now but I don’t like these new folk’. I had suddenly been promoted from the bottom rung to the next rung. He said ‘now’ because there was a new group of people who could be marginalised and to bully.
– Bad News for Refugees:139
Then of course there is the vicious sectarianism, the religious divisions, the Orange marches, plus the other opiates of the masses and our less than brilliant record on the beating of children and domestic violence. Opinions and attitudes are mixed and divided, sometimes in the same people – in my focus groups, an anti-Tory, Labour voting nurse will also tell me about the ‘scum’ on the council estates and the guy up the road who is fiddling a disability vehicle. There are many contradictions – strange to sit in a radical union meeting and hear an MSP, a trade union equalities officer on the need to fight for rights, who has just voted against Gay Marriage. Meanwhile the leader of the Tories who is gay gives an impassioned brilliant speech in favour. The truth is we are like a lot of other places, and we would do well to remember that when people speak of Scotland or the Scots as having a “will to socialism” or write that “social democracy is hard- wired into Scotland’s soul”.
We are not so special that we can effortlessly deliver socialism to the world. I have no interest in any nationalism and certainly not in the preservation of the UK Ltd. But the key questions are, how do we best organise the struggle for social change and what is the impact of creating new boundaries and divisions? How for example can we combat the uneven development of capitalism in this island and its disastrous impacts on the people of the north and west if we do not have representation in the Westminster parliament? Certainly we should have grass roots action and popular movements, but the capacity to make laws and control the movement of resources is actually important. And there is no point in complaining that the Westminster parliament does not always represent our views. It is the one that brought in the Bedroom Tax and the Poll Tax, but also the same one that abolished slavery, promoted women’s and gay rights, brought in the NHS and nationalised large parts of British industry. Just after that most radical period, in 1955 a majority of the people in Scotland voted Conservative. Sometimes we advance and sometimes not. There are no short cuts, it is a very long political struggle.
If we believe that the UK Ltd is a particularly appalling concentration of corporate interests and financial capital which launches illegal wars, then that is all the more reason to be in there fighting for better policies. Without political representation, the possibilities for opposition are lessened. We can lose struggles as in Afghanistan and Iraq, but then sometimes an intervention is stopped as in Syria. What happens in a separated future, if without our 59 MPs, a war goes ahead – do we just look on from above Carlisle, feeling morally superior?
All this does not suggest to me that independence would open the way to a socialist Scotland, much as I would like one. The radical left, as we understand it, is not represented in the Scottish Parliament, even with proportional representation. But more crucially, the idea of a new socialist politics being born with a yes vote seems to me very unlikely, as a major consequence would be a surge in the worst elements of nationalism, above and below Carlisle and all the divisions which that brings- we would be divided by a new border and also within our own society.
Who is a Real Scot?
A new nation brings with it new questions of who belongs in it. Nationalism can very quickly divide people into who are Real Scots and those who are not. So Facebook entries on Independence now include ominous words like ‘the Will of the Scots’, ‘Scottish blood’, ‘the Scottish people’, and not wanting to be ruled by ‘England’. And this is from people who regard themselves as being on the left. Since I have been identified as a critic I am now being asked ‘Do I deny the Scots are a people?’, and, ‘ How can I disrespect my ‘host nation’ in this way?’ After many years here, for some I am still the guest while people born after I came are ‘the hosts’. Until quite recently, there were large numbers of bumpers stickers on cars saying ‘I am a real Scot, I am from Kilmarnock’, (or Falkirk, or Irvine etc). Of course there were none saying, ‘I am a Real Scot, I am from Islamabad’ , or South London.
A rise in nationalism begins to legitimise questions which would previously have been unacceptable. The view that English people should not be in senior positions or there are “too many” of them can surface quite openly. I have twice been public meetings where it has been said that there will be more room for Scottish academics after Independence, with less English ones. It’s extraordinary that someone like Alasdair Gray could publish a piece on the English as being ‘Settlers and Colonists’ and could write this:
By the 1970s the long list of Scots doing well in the south was over balanced by English with the highest positions in Scottish electricity, water supply, property development, universities, local civil services and art galleries.
-‘Settlers and Colonists’, in Unstated 2012:103
He must include me, as that is when I came up. But can we seriously imagine a major left wing literary figure in the South writing about Scottish people coming to England and not properly respecting or understanding English culture?
Am I a ‘settler’ or a ‘colonist’?
The SNP has ridden the tide of nationalism very successfully. It did not take off with opposition to neo-liberalism, but with the discovery of oil, whose nationality was also claimed to be Scottish. In the October 1974 election, you could not move here for yellow posters with the slogan ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’. On this basis, they took 30% of the vote. But a nationalism which draws upon who is a Real Scot and how many English are here, is intensely divisive.
Some on the left are now providing cover for these grim tendencies by arguing that this is all about independence rather than nationalism; in future, all will be welcome and there will be no difference between people. But if this the case, then why draw a line between Berwick and Carlisle, or argue that the Scots are in some way ‘Exceptional’?
The divisions extend through the left, with people on different sides now denouncing each other as ‘scum’ and ‘quislings’. See for example the Trades Council Debate in Clydebank, (3/10/13) which was filmed so you can watch if you can bear it. A particularly grim moment is the response to an English woman: ‘Away back home ya bitch!’ – http://clydebanktuc.org/
This will take some time to heal whatever the outcome of the vote, but I think also that a yes vote would also have implications for the Scottish economy which would intensify these problems and jeopardise the welfare of very many people.
Class Unity and Uneven Development in Foreign Countries
A key issue in understanding future developments is that when a new nation is established, it becomes an economic competitor. There can be collaboration, but the essential principle is of each country pursuing its own interests. Once no taxes are paid to the ‘old’ country and there is no political representation there, then no favours are owed, there are no electoral constituencies to be satisfied. So without any of the factors discussed above, it would be quite normal for resources and direct investment to be moved from an independent Scotland to the south. Politicians on both sides are reluctant to speak much about this. Any mentions from the union side are denounced as a ‘threat’ and ‘bullying’, while the nationalists like to say that everything will go on much as now with no great shock to the economy. But it is quite obvious that independent states do not typically keep their government departments in another country (as for example DFID, now in East Kilbride). The same would apply to income tax collection, (Centre One , also in East Kilbride), and probably also to defence contracts. Why would heavy subsidies in green energy be put into another country when these would be gratefully received by constituencies stretching from Cornwall to Carlisle? We currently receive 28% of UK subsidies. – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/scottish-independence-blog/2014/apr/08/scotland-scottish-green-energy-taxes
The finance sector here is also largely owned and/or operates substantially in the south (as in ‘Scottish’ Widows, owned by Lloyds). Much of this would be very likely to move, especially given the rather flaky relationship now on offer with the pound sterling. There are many other examples which are not even publicly discussed – like the Research Council grant funding which comes to our major universities and is centrally allocated. Needless to say this isn’t given to foreign countries.
I am not mainly concerned with economic arguments as such but rather how such changes will impact on the potential for class unity and collective action. Nationalism divides and different perceptions form on each side. There are some here who argue that ‘Scottish oil’ has subsidised the south. But in the South people would note that Scotland’s share of revenues from this are now less than half of 1% of UK GDP. (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/12/scotland-deficit-12bn-alex-salmond-damages-case-independence-economy-oil-revenues-fall). There are many there who believe that it is Scotland which is subsidised. They would point to our free university tuition, care for the elderly, no prescription charges and around 11% more spending per person than the English average (though still less than for London).
It is easy to see how a split would become bitter if perceived to be motivated by greed and racism. As the political and economic negotiations became tougher, there would be a lot of blaming here of ‘the English’. There is scapegoating – it is what happens when countries divide. The rightwing press in the South would leap on stories of attacks of English people. They are already running pieces like this and some commentators are now lining up to argue how the South would be better off without ‘the Scots’. I need hardly say that it is not a good idea for a small group of five million people to have an economic fight with sixty million who live next door.
Now of course, nationalists here would reject this description but it is very dangerous for the welfare of people above Carlisle if separation is perceived in the South as based on a grab for economic resources by the would-be ‘sixth richest nation’. The reaction in the south is likely to be ‘hell mend you’ and this would legitimise pulling the plug on the Scottish economy while the rest of the UK would simply hoover up the direct investment and subsidised regional development.
One result of such a shock to the Scottish economy would be to put pressure on government finances and to intensify the potential gap here between government income and public expenditure. Because Holyrood politicians have no appetite for increasing tax, then there would be cuts in spending, including or perhaps especially welfare. So it is a cruel trick on the poor to say they will be rich in the new Scotland. As it is, with the existing arrangements, the poorest groups have some protection. Spending on welfare and health has been relatively well sustained and we were able to protect people from the worst effects of policies such as the bedroom tax. But a new state would face a much grimmer prospect , buffeted by the winds of globalisation, in the queue for corporate investment with no one owing it any favours. In this, the shots would be called by the 500 people who own half of Scotland plus the middle classes and those with jobs, and it is obvious who would lose out.
If this sounds alarming, then bear in mind that it is on the mild end of the scale of what happens when countries divide. I am not suggesting that we will be like Ukraine but in the move from subsidy mode to ‘who owns what’, relationships can very quickly become icy. Above Carlisle we have a lot to lose from this. An increase in anti-English sentiment would prompt many people to leave. Scotland’s tourist industry gets 60% of its income from England. And while this bitterness and division is being generated, what happens to the collective struggle against neo-liberalism and crucially against the uneven development of capitalism in the island as a whole?
The Break-up of Britain
A key issue which faces us in this is not the secession of Scotland, but of London and the south-east. That golden triangle is now drawing in talent, investment and resources, at an extraordinary rate. As Vince Cable said, it is acting as ‘a giant suction machine’ draining the life out of the rest of the country. – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25444981
It also attracts massive international investment. Recently, the Chinese company APB Holdings revealed that it would be building a second Canary Wharf with the intention of focusing the headquarters of key Asian corporations in London. Boris Johnson announced that this would be the single biggest Asian development in Europe and construction would start this year. What is remarkable about this investment is that it was barely covered in the media – there is just so much of it. London and the Thames valley have become the focus of hundreds of thousands of key workers, not just in finance, but in design, hi-tech and information technology companies including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Oracle and Dell, plus communications, advertising, media, pharmaceuticals and many other industries. The problem is that all of this is going on just a bus ride from Buchanan Street and each year I see many of my students make that journey. One now owns a large TV company making programmes like The Voice and Who Do You Think You Are? He has told me that he could name off the top of his head at least ten other top people in his industry from Scotland, now all in the South.
Such a relentless process of uneven development can only be altered by very strong regional planning. It requires physically moving jobs and investment , including transferring government departments or media conglomerates such as the BBC, plus the development of new infrastructure, broadband, cross rail links to join northern cities laterally and the focussing of research, training and development in targeted areas. The problem with independence is that it removes any representation which we have in that planning. The movement of people south would continue, but there would be little we could do about it, short of re-building Hadrian’s wall. So we need to be part of a new alliance by which the north and west effectively force new policies on the south east.
There are many other areas for collective action. We found very strong public support when we suggested a substantial wealth tax, by which the richest 10% would contribute one fifth of their wealth to pay off the national debt. The opinion poll which we commissioned showed 74% of the UK population in favour (http://www.glasgowmediagroup.org/the-wealth-tax). There is also a strong public desire to stop tax avoidance, for public ownership of the railways, and key industries such as electricity and gas. The struggle for decent wages, the defence of the NHS, home building programmes, jobs for young people, apprenticeships and training also have extensive popular support. This politics has to be forged and fought for, through peoples parliaments, strong union links, effective political representation and demands for space in the media to explain the alternatives to austerity politics. I think the current debate on independence has got in the way of all this. It offers the division between those above and below Carlisle, the internal fracturing of our society and a fall in the living standards of the poorest. For us, socialism should come first and last and should not be used as a cover for a nationalism which would reduce our ability to take part in the wider changes that are so desperately needed.