Category: Scottish Socialist Party

Moving Right – the Scottish Left and the Indy Ref

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.




Scottish Independence – there are no shortcuts to a British working class response.

By Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective

In an UK mired in austerity it is hardly any wonder that some sections of the Scottish left, as well as individuals who want a more just society, are attracted by the argument that they would be better placed to achieve socialism, or at least a move in that direction, if Scotland were independent of the UK.

What are the underpinning arguments for that position and what left strategies have emerged on the basis of these assumptions?

The first argument in favour of this position is that there is a significant difference between the Scots and the English in terms of the extent to which they favour progressive politics with the argument being, on balance, the Scots are more favourably disposed than the English.

In fact the evidence argues in quite the opposite direction.

A Nuffield foundation report in 2011 by Curtice & Ormston, concluded that in terms of being ‘more social democratic in outlook than England, the differences are modest at best’. They also note that “Like England, Scotland has become less – not more – social democratic since the start of devolution.”

DifferentUpHereAs Stephen Low points out in the Red Paper Collective website, the data extracted from British Social Attitudes (BSA) Surveys suggests that when it comes to our fifteen million closest neighbours, the 3 Northern regions of England, we are no different at all. Perhaps I should add ‘unsurprisingly’ since they are areas of high unemployment and industrial decline just like Scotland and surely this played a significant part in shaping attitudes to the welfare state and neo-liberalism.

The second argument to emerge from the left, the more revolutionary left, is that if Scotland left the UK it would lead to the break-up of the British State. Alex Salmond by contrast has been at pains to stress continuity. In the Andrew Marr show after the SNP conference last October he said:

“The state we currently live in is not Great Britain, it’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. ‘Britain’ won’t disappear as a geographical expression no more than ‘Scandinavia’”.

Former Labour MP and MSP, John McAllion, and now SSP member by contrast sees independence as a way of smashing the British sate where the British left has so signally failed. Writing in Red Pepper in 2012 he states:

ric“The choice is really very simple. Go on as before inside an antiquated and reactionary state that legally shackles trade unions and has no political space for socialism. Or begin to break that state apart in the name of progress and social advance and in doing so release the energy and the potential of a left across Britain that has for far too long been in retreat.”

It is very clear from what John writes that he believes that the power of capital somehow depends on, and is sustained by the constitutional relationship that exists between Scotland and the United Kingdom. Neither John nor other socialists who make this case explain how the power of capital, which would remain vested in the City Of London would be undermined by what Salmond recognises is a mere geographical re-arrangement, not social and political transformation of society.

As the Red Paper 2014 points out The Scottish Business Insider list of the Top 500 companies in Scotland in January 2013 showed a Top 20 dominated by wholly-owned subsidiaries of foreign multinationals and London Stock Exchange quoted corporations.

A secession by Scotland would not change this. Quite the reverse, according to Eric Hobsbawn in Nations and Nationalism, it increases small state dependence on global capitalism.

“They are economically dependent in two ways: generally, on an international economy they cannot normally hope to influence as individuals; and specifically – in inverse proportion to their size – on the greater powers and transnational corporations… The optimal strategy for a neo-colonial transnational economy is precisely one in which the number of officially sovereign states is maximized and their average size and strength…is minimized”

Undeterred The Jimmy Reid Foundation, has come up with a detailed strategy for pushing an independent Scotland towards the Left but hardly one that grips the socialist imagination. It is called the ‘Common Weal’.

On ownership of the economy it says nothing about the top 20 companies and instead emphasises the role of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in transforming the Scottish economy. There are upwards of 80,000 such firms with a range of employees between 2 and 250 in Scotland and they are mainly in services. Few export directly. Many are suppliers to a single, larger firms like Ineos Grangemouth or BAE systems and hence vulnerable to changes at that level – hardly the engine of economic transformation.

Furthermore in so far as the Common Weal promotes Public ownership it is not primarily in class terms – giving democratic control of the economy to those who produce the wealth -and there is no serious discussion of how, for example, key sectors of the economy like transport and energy could be brought back into public ownership. Instead the Common Weal focuses on state interventions necessary because of market failure.

20131003020508-cw-alanbissett_1_From a left wing perspective the section on democracy and governance is positively alarming. It adopts an unashamedly partnership model for trade unions. It argues for “strong trade unions working collaboratively with employers not only on employee remuneration issues but also on strategic management issues”. This is the model which some Irish Trade unionists would argue has been devastating in terms of their capacity to resist austerity. It sits very well, by contrast, with the corporatist thinking of the big business backers of the SNP.

The Red Paper Collective is only too conscious that exposing the limitations of arguments for a Yes vote from the Left might be taken as counsel for despair.

On the contrary if the English working class is, as it must be, as likely to challenge the exploitative nature of capitalism as their brothers and sisters in Scotland, then together we can challenge capital at its heart in the City of London. I say this without the slightest doubt that winning the people of Britain to a radical anti neo-liberal project is enormously difficult. But if we want to challenge the power of capital that is what we must do. There are no short cuts.

peoples-assemblyWe need a strategy built on existing working class institutions, primarily the trade unions, but growing beyond that into a British wide People’s Movement that the People’s Assembly aspires to, a movement that advances the case for social ownership of the economy starting with the banks , and financial institutions, the energy companies and the communication and transport infrastructures that will give us the basis for transforming this rotten, unjust society into one which is fit for human beings.

Spot the Difference

Here’s a debate between Alan McCombes (‘SSP’s leading socialist theoretician’) debating Neil Davidson of the SWP from 2003:


The debate was organised because of a proposal for a Scottish Independence Convention.
The motion was “Is Scottish independence progressive?” Alan argued ‘yes’ while Neil took the ‘no’ position.


Fast forward 9 years to 2012 and here’s the same Neil Davidson arguing for Scottish independence:


What’s changed? 


From the “Concluding Remarks” in the second video it seems to do with devolution in some way.  What, exactly, that way is remains exceptionally hazy.  The shift in position is glazed over in about 45 seconds.   If anyone can explain the 180′ turn then please comment below.

Radical Misconceptions

By Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective

An English visitor to the back to back Scottish labour Party conference in Inverness, or the STUC congress in Perth in April earlier might have been forgiven for being confused. Was Scotland exempt from the politics of austerity? Had the bedroom tax passed us by? A wee bit of an exaggeration perhaps but for sure the press and the fringe meetings and the late night arguments quickly passed over the consensus on the iniquities of the ConDem assault on benefits and quickly fixed on what divides us. The Independence Referendum.

To be fair, most of the Left outside the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) have taken the position that the best way to address austerity and the other horrors visited on us by the ConDems is to vote for independence. This is predicated on one assumption that has no evidence to support it and one theoretical premise that is badly flawed.

The first assumption is that people who live in Scotland are more ‘progressive’ than our Southern neighbours and consequently . The Social attitudes survey says not. The Scots and the English more or less share the same views, for better or worse, with the exception Scottish attitudes on tolerance of foreigners, which is slightly better than the English.

The theoretical premise requires more consideration. It is argued by a range of Left groups that if Scotland were to secede from Britain it would mean the end of the British state and all that flows from it. It is put articulately here by my friend the ex Labour MSP John McAllion, who is now a member of the SSP, writing in Red Pepper:

“The choice is really very simple. Go on as before inside an antiquated and reactionary state that legally shackles trade unions and has no political space for socialism. Or begin to break that state apart in the name of progress and social advance and in doing so release the energy and the potential of a left across Britain that has for far too long been in retreat.”

John is very clear on two things. The first is that freed from the shackles of the British state the Scottish state will embrace a radical, left politics. There may be some possibility of that, if the move to independence were being driven by a class conscious Left intent on creating a socialist project in the teeth of severe capitalist opposition. But it is not. It is being led by what John would happily agree is a class alliance supported by wealthy bankers, global capitalist entrepreneurs and a significant section of Scotland’s petit bourgeoisie. Yes I know Better Together would fit the same bill, but nobody is arguing they will clear the way for socialist advance.

The SNP has made it clear there will be a constitution for the new Scotland and the basis of that constitution is also fairly clear. It will be located comfortably within the limits of neo-liberal economic and political orthodoxies. Likely inclusions are the monarchy, membership of the EU, sterling as the national currency and membership of the EU. How’s that for shackles.

But actually it is not the main problem with John’s utopian nationalism. He is confusing the geographical entity that is Britain with the state power of capitalism. It is here more than anywhere that we need ask our comrades how they believe introducing a challenge to capitalism is possible when the ownership of Scotland’s economy, including its banks and trade will be controlled from the City of London. The effect of independence will be, in addition to the possible rupturing of the united British working class movement at trade union level, to remove Scottish voters from any influence on the politics of Westminster parliament which has the potential to challenge the power of capital as part of a wider progressive movement for change.

So perhaps the emphasis at the STUC and the Scottish labour Party was right. Not that resistance to the politics of austerity must not be a priority, but that defending of a British wide trade union and Labour movement capable of taking on the power of British capital focused in the City of London is essential to that fight.