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.
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