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What’s in a Yes vote for Scottish Youth?

By Zoe Hennessy, general secretary of the Young Communist League.


The youth vote has been important in the battle of ideas surrounding the Scottish independence debate, particularly since the Scottish government rightly made the decision to grant 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in this referendum. 

This is something that the Young Communist League supports, and we argue that it should be extended to all elections. Given the current economic climate there is a lot at stake for young people, and it will be my generation which inherits the fallout from this vote. However, neither of the major campaigns has addressed the roots of the issues currently facing young people. 

And what are the issues?

Youth unemployment is still running at around 18 per cent across the UK. Benefit sanctions are increasingly meted out with no regard to a family or individual’s welfare. 

This is forcing many off the welfare system completely, resulting in the need for foodbanks skyrocketing across Britain. 

Graduates are leaving university with debt running into the tens of thousands and little hope of a job. 

According to research published earlier this year by recruitment agency Total Jobs, nearly 40 per cent of graduates are looking for work six months after graduating, while a quarter are still unemployed after a year. 

These figures also mask those working on zero-hours contracts in highly exploitative industries and those stuck in their “stop gap,” working mostly in the retail sector on 12 and 16-hour contracts for considerably less than the living wage, and forced to move back in with their parents.

The opportunities to organise trade unions in these workplaces is in my experience extremely difficult. 

Trade unions are not recognised at many of these workplaces, and where they are the agreements are dominated by compliant trade unions and partnership agreements, which basically denies workers the right to strike or take action short of a strike. 

Also if you’re constantly reliant on your boss giving you, and not someone else, overtime on top of your 12 hours, you need to show willing. 

This makes it difficult for workers to raise their heads above the parapet and creates a race to the bottom. 

It erodes existing rights within the workplace. Workers have to be constantly available for overtime, and workers who are reliant on overtime often need to be “helpful” to their employer. 

Workers often stay on later for no extra money, or work through their breaks. 

Young people are so desperate for jobs that when they finally get one it is hard to break their feelings of helplessness and “doff your cap to the boss” mentality. 

Internationally the Westminster government, together with Nato and the EU, continues to play a bloody role on the global stage. 

Eleven years after the illegal invasion of Iraq, which brought young people out onto the streets in their tens of thousands, it is clear that the occupation has done little except radicalise a generation of Islamic extremists and bring misery and uncertainty to millions of Iraqis. 

In Ukraine the EU-Nato-US alliance has used its wealth and influence to back an openly fascist coup, resulting in the deaths of many workers and anti-fascists. 

The Communist Party of Ukraine, which has the democratic mandate of 2.5 million Ukrainians, is facing a concerted bid to ban it — a court decision is due this month — and its MPs have been removed from parliament. 

Israel is waging an all-out offensive against the Palestinian people and is currently shelling schools and hospitals and other UN safe zones. A huge number of the casualties have been children. 

So what are the Scottish National Party’s plans to address these domestic and international issues young people face? 

After all it is currently leading the Scottish government, and is the only major party with a plan in the event of a Yes vote. 

It will be the SNP leading the charge on the domestic front, and it will be the SNP leading the negotiations on the international treaties.

To say the SNP is irrelevant when the Scottish people gave it a democratic mandate in the last Scottish Parliamentary elections is clearly not in line with reality. 

University students from Scotland and most of the EU already don’t pay tuition fees, but will there be money to continue to fund schools and universities, the NHS, the welfare state and the rest of the public sector? 

To make an independent Scotland business-friendly the SNP plans to cut corporation tax, which will reduce its income from that source by some 15 per cent. 

If we remain in the sterling zone, which is looking unlikely, it will mean that the interest and borrowing rates will be set by the Bank of England, over which the people of Scotland will no longer have any democratic mandate. 

If Scotland adopts the euro, borrowing will be capped by the undemocratic and anti-worker European “troika” — the EU, IMF and European Central Bank — which has inflicted misery on the lives of millions of young people across the eurozone. 

A Scottish currency remains prohibitively expensive.

In any case, the Scottish government’s desire to remain in the EU will mean that the public sector will still be subject to the EU’s competition laws and the NHS will still come under the remit of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). 

This will force the Scottish government to put contracts out and accept the lowest bidder — or risk being sued by multinational companies. 

Will work in the low-paid, casualised economy change in an independent Scotland? 

The SNP recently voted down the Labour Party’s initiative to make private companies taking up government contracts pay the living wage, which is not a promising sign. 

More importantly, the SNP’s white paper explicitly promotes class collaboration in the form of partnership agreements. 

This will not strengthen industrial democracy but will weaken workers and their trade unions and their ability to challenge austerity, as has happened in Ireland.

What about the international agenda? 

Many on the left side of the Yes campaign have claimed that a Yes vote will “break Britain” and smash its centuries-old imperialist agenda. 

However, it is clear that an independent Scotland will retain its membership of the increasingly militaristic and undemocratic EU and Nato, meaning we will continue to be tied to those military agendas in eastern Europe and across the world. 

It is clear that despite pressure from groups such as the Radical Independence Campaign the SNP’s policies have remained right-wing. This is unlikely to change in the event of a Yes vote. 

At different times and to varying degrees young people in Britain have begun to reject the politics of austerity and imperialism. 

The huge student protests in 2010 and 2011 briefly politicised young people and made the parliamentary vote much closer than it would have otherwise been. 

Subsequent protests and the Occupy movement have been receptive to anti-capitalist politics, but the labour movement so far has not capitalised on them. 

Six weeks ago 50,000 marched in London against austerity under the banner of the People’s Assembly.

There have been huge demonstrations across Britain against the atrocities Israel has been committing against Palestinian people. 

The public are angry at Westminster’s role in supporting and arming Israel, and the mass media for its complicity in justifying it.

The Scottish government should be commended for calling on Westminster to mount an arms embargo. However, this is not an argument for independence. By remaining part of Britain, devolved structures can mount pressure on Westminster policy, and so are more likely to effect a global change. 

These recent protests show that England does not need Scotland to lead the way. 

What the working class of Scotland, England and Wales needs is mutual campaigns which target its common enemy: big business owned and organised at a British level. 

If we are going to effectively mount campaigns against austerity and privatisation, if we are going to keep the NHS and the rest of the public sector out of the hands of the EU and TTIP, then this will need to be done at a British level. 

If we are going to challenge Britain’s neoliberal and imperialist global stance, then this needs to be fought at a British level.

When young people are tentatively looking for alternatives to capitalism, to offer nationalism as an alternative to socialism is to lead a generation up a blind alley. 


A Critique of Critique

By Dale Street


Oh dear.

The magazine “Critique” – formerly a “Journal of Soviet Studies and Socialist Theory” with a specific focus on Stalinism, but now just a general “Journal of Socialist Theory” – has decided to back independence for Scotland!

“Critique” has always prided itself on having a better grasp of Marxism, a deeper understanding of the nature of the transitional epoch, a clearer analysis of the decline of the law of value, and a more profound insight into the application of the Marxist method and political economy than the rest of the left.

But now, having boldly decided to confront a real issue in the real world, the mighty theoretical endeavours of the “Critique” Kathedersozialisten have brought forth an article which would be an embarrassment to the most theoretically-lumpen member of the Radical Independence Campaign.

“Scotland is in principle no different from other parts of the world subjugated by British imperialism,” discovers the bemused reader from the opening paragraph of the article in question. (1)

Apart, one might say, from the fact that Scotland was an integral part of the British-imperialist metropolitan centre which subjugated other parts of the world. Historically, Scotland has been an agent of imperialist oppression, not a victim of it.

In fact, what made British imperialism “British” was the Treaty of Union of 1707.

The same paragraph deals with that Treaty in a single sentence: “The English bourgeoisie at the beginning of the eighteenth century virtually forced the Scottish bourgeoisie to join with England by threatening economic and other sanctions.”

And the impact of the collapse of the Darien Venture, which demonstrated Scotland’s inability to establish a colonial empire of its own? Or the long history of pro-unionist thinking in Scotland which preceded the Treaty of 1707? (See, for example: Colin Kidd’s “Union and Unionisms”.)

(On a brighter note, at least the reader is spared any suggestion that Scotland was bought and sold for British gold by a parcel of rogues – even if such an argument would certainly not jar with the overall politics of the article.)

After some brief but inchoate ruminations about “John McLean” (presumably a reference to: John Maclean) the article trots out the “Scotland today, the rest of the world tomorrow” line:

“If indeed the break-up of the UK would lead to the break-up of a number of countries, and so the power of the ruling class in those countries, and possibly, therefore, a weakening of the ruling class in general, one might consider it an additional reason to support the independence of Scotland.”

Yes indeed!

All those quaint nation-states created in the nineteenth century which were so admired by Marx and Engels as integral to the development of capitalism and the creation of a unified working class – what a good idea it would be to restore them to their preceding pristine state of feudal particularism, and thereby “break up” the power of their ruling classes!

And the same logic should surely apply to the existence of the European Union as well. Which means: UKIP has got the right line on Europe (break it up), but the wrong line only on Britain (don’t break it up).

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Far worse:

“The SNP has tried to argue for independence on social-democratic grounds. They have made higher education, medical prescriptions and care for the elderly free. The Labour Party opposes these concessions.”

Not quite.

Labour, not the SNP, introduced free care for the elderly and scrapped tuition fees. Labour also voted in support of free prescriptions.

(In 2012 Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont certainly floated the idea of re-introducing charges, although that has (so far) remained a dead letter. And any attempt to adopt them as party policy would certainly generate major ructions in the Party.)

Equally surprising is the article’s failure to challenge the SNP’s social-democratic pretensions.

The SNP has opposed Labour calls for an energy prices freeze, a 50p higher income tax rate, and rent controls. It has also opposed Labour calls for an enquiry into police actions during the miners’ strike, and the inclusion of payment of a living wage and a ban on blacklisting as a condition of securing public contracts.

The one specific policy commitment given by the SNP in the event of independence for Scotland is that corporation tax will be lower in Scotland than in England. This is certainly not social-democratic. But it does not even merit a passing mention in the article.

There then follows a lengthy piece of text covering the experiences of French social-democracy in power, the world division of labour, Scandinavian post-war politics, the chimera of market socialism, the falling price of oil, the experiences of post-colonial countries, Quebec, and the failures of nationalist governments.

Despite virtually ruling out the possibility of a post-independence Scottish government engaging in the necessary “large-scale investment in and through the public sector”, the article reaches the preliminary conclusion:

“(An independent) Scotland might manage to manoeuvre its way through the next twenty years or so without too much trouble, or at least with less trouble than if it was part of the UK.”

This conclusion is surprising in three respects.

Firstly, it has emerged from nowhere: nothing which precedes it provides a basis for such a conclusion. In fact, much of the preceding argument and analysis appears to be heading for the opposite conclusion.

Secondly, what we have here is a socialist magazine which consistently emphasizes that capitalism has reached a dead end and that society is now in the epoch of transition to socialism ‘bigging up’ the prospects for an independent capitalist Scotland – and then presenting this as part of the ‘socialist’ case for a ‘yes’ vote on 18th September.

Thirdly, it is not even consistent with a position stated later in the same article: “The political economy of the present context dictates that bourgeois solutions [such as an independent Scotland????] at a time of historic capitalist decline, when that decline is reinforced by a depression, are unlikely to work.”

The article concludes with a foray into the “socialist history of the question of independence”. This is, after all, an article published in the pages of “Critique”.

Lenin receives a passing mention, but it is Rosa Luxemburg (who would never have even dreamt of supporting independence for Scotland) who is the hero of the hour.

Although “Luxemburg was right, in the abstract, when she said that independence was impossible under capitalism and irrelevant under socialism”, this did not prevent her from “supporting national independence in Turkey, in the Ottoman Empire, particularly for the Armenians.”

As the article explains, this was because:

“Where, as in Turkey, there is no working class movement, there can be no question but that independence will help to right an historic wrong. … Both on the grounds of civil rights, as it were, and to correct a historic wrong, independence is a reasonable solution, as a first draft, as it were.”

Yes, that’s right.

The position of Scots in the UK in the twenty-first century is being likened to that of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire of the early twentieth century – who were victims of genocide in Luxemburg’s own lifetime.

The argument that independence is justified (or at least is “a reasonable solution, as a first draft, as it were” – whatever that might mean) where there is no working class movement is used to back up a call for independence where there is a working class movement. (Ever heard of “Red Clydeside”?)

And where a “historic wrong” was allegedly committed 307 years ago, the answer is turn to back the clock of time a full three centuries in order to “correct” that wrong.

(But why, indeed, go back only as far as 1707? The Union of the Crowns of 1603 strikes me as being a pretty dodgy affair as well.)

Finally, for any readers who have not yet lost the will to live and who have struggled on to this point in the article, the crucial question is now posed: “How should one vote?”

The article explains: “The demand has to be for national autonomy within a united socialist framework. Clearly, this is not on offer.” Since a socialist solution is not offer, and even though “”abstention may have the strongest case”, the article recommends, however tentatively, a nationalist non-solution:

“It is a fact that the British bourgeoisie is strongly opposed, and indeed that the global bourgeoisie is worried by it. On that basis there may be a marginal reason to vote ‘yes’, without any illusions, and [with] many regrets.”

It is indeed a cause for regret if any socialist votes ‘yes’ on 18th September. But not half as much a cause for regret as ploughing one’s way through an article that seems to have been written by someone who personally thinks its arguments are singularly unconvincing – and is quite right to hold that opinion – but puts them forward nonetheless.

One final added element of piquancy about the article is the curious contrast which it forms with comments on the Russian annexation of Crimea contained in the preceding issue of “Critique”.

“Abstractly considered, the annexation of territory of another country has to be opposed,” explains “Critique”. But as far as the annexation of Crimea is concerned: “Looked at from the point of view of the left, or the working class, it is not something over which to fight.”

Perhaps “Critique” would benefit from having more Crimean Tartars and less spokespersons for Scottish nationalism on its editorial board?




In reply to George Monbiot

By Dale Street


Today’s “Guardian” carries a truly dire article by George Monbiot entitled “Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm – England is dysfunctional, corrupt and vastly unequal. Who on earth would want to be tied to such a country?”

Monbiot begins by inviting his readers to “imagine the question posed the other way around”, i.e. what if Scotland were independent and the referendum were on whether to “surrender its sovereignty to a larger union.”

In terms of formal logic, he may as well have invited his readers to “imagine” that the referendum on 18th September is about whether Scotland should vote to join Putin’s territory-grabbing Russian Federation or the head-chopping Islamic State.

Arguing about how people should vote in a real referendum about (a) on the basis of how you think they would or should vote in a non-existent referendum about (b) is just plain nonsensical.

And evasive. And politically dishonest. Because instead of addressing the actual issues raised by the referendum, it allows Monbiot to take refuge in flights of imagination.

“What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent?” asks Monbiot, as if that was the choice on offer (in reverse) on 18th September.

And an economy based on attracting low-pay employers through cuts in corporation tax in a country without a reserve central bank and a currency of its own – the SNP’s actual economic policies – is not the same as “an economy based on enterprise and distribution.”

But Monbiot simply and majestically declares: “How is the argument altered by the fact that Scotland is considering whether to gain independence rather than whether to lose it? It’s not.”

As in: “How is the argument that we are all at risk of falling off the edge of the earth if we walk too far in a straight line altered by the fact that the earth is round, not flat? It’s not.”

The next ‘link’ in Monbiot’s ‘chain of argument’ (which is in fact a succession of unsubstantiated assertions and factual inaccuracies tied together by logical incoherencies) is the statement: “Those who would vote no could be suffering from system justification.”

System justification, as Monbiot explains, is when victims of injustice rationalize and legitimize the injustice they suffer, e.g. when women think that it is right that they are paid less than men.

Having provided an explanation of the term, Monbiot writes: “It might help to explain why so many people in Scotland are inclined to vote no.”

Monbiot offers no evidence at all for this conclusion. But his total lack of evidence is secondary to the utter arrogance of the conclusion.

Without bothering to look at the real and entirely rational reasons why real people in the real world will be voting no on 18th September, Monbiot dismisses such people as self-deluding and self-harming imbibers of the ideology of the ruling classes.

(English writer living in Wales writes article for London paper calling for a yes vote on 18th September. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper denounces Westminster arrogance towards Scots. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper dismisses millions of Scots as psychologically damaged. You couldn’t make it up.)

By contrast, yes voters – those who want to keep the pound, the monarchy, EU membership, NATO membership and capitalism in general – are not subject to any Monbiotesque foray into cod-psychology.

Then Monbiot homes in on the contradiction in UKIP’s policies: They want the UK to quit Europe (and thereby regain its sovereignty) but oppose independence for Scotland (which means Scotland continues to lack sovereignty).

But UKIP is not the no campaign. It’s an easy target for Monbiot, and one he homes in on. But this is just another act of political evasion on his part. It allows him to sidestep the fact that the overwhelming majority of no campaigners are for continued membership of the European Union.

Why does Monbiot use UKIP as emblematic of the no campaign rather than the rather larger Labour Party? Because its suits his polemical purposes and is another element of the political dishonesty in which his article is steeped.

And if UKIP’s inconsistencies can be cited by Monbiot as “a crashing contradiction in the politics of such groups”, why is he silent on those yes voters who want Scotland out of Britain and out of the EU?

True, there is no contradiction between wanting Scotland out of Britain and out of the EU. But it does demonstrate the one driving force within the yes campaign is not the noble goals which Monbiot attributes to it but a narrow inward-looking nationalism.

A “crashing contradiction” if ever there was one.

There then follows a lengthy treatise by Monbiot on all the evils of the current British political system: inequality, neo-liberal economics, freedom of the rich to exploit, numberless abuses of power, royal prerogative, first-past-the-post voting … … And so the list goes on, and on, and on.

“Broken, corrupt, dysfunctional, retentive: you want to be part of this?” asks Monbiot with a rhetorical flourish.

No, socialists don’t want to be part of it.

But our answer to the evils of capitalism tediously listed by Monbiot – as if the vote on 18th September was a referendum on whether to scrap capitalism – is not to create another border in the world, to pander to the nationalist lie that Scots and English cannot live side by side in the same state, and to create another unit of capitalist accumulation in the world.

Monbiot also gets so carried away by his denunciations of the evils of capitalism that he is blind to his own factual inaccuracies. He describes, for example, first-past-the-post voting as “another triumph for the no brigade”.


Scottish elections are based on proportional representation – thanks to the “no brigade” (Labour and Lib-Dems). And the “no brigade” Lib-Dems also back PR for Westminster elections. So too – surely the ultimate humiliation for Monbiot – does UKIP.

Monbiot also overlooks the fact that the Scottish Parliament which legislated for the referendum on 18th September owes rather a lot to the “no brigade” (i.e. its creation by the last Labour government) and was created by the very British state which, according to Monbiot’s article, is simply beyond reform.

But why allow anything as vulgar as a fact to stand in the way of yet another incoherent rambling diatribe that misrepresents a nationalist project to divide peoples along national lines as a left-wing challenge to capitalism.

Boris Johnson and the NHS

By Vince Mills

One of the enduring ironies of the referendum campaign is the extent to which the ‘Yes’ camp has attacked the ‘No’ camp for using negative tactics and scare stories and then used precisely the same tactics themselves. What is worse, is that in the process concerns that we on the left share and would want to analyse are subjugated to the simple Yes/No binary, closing down the space for a serious discussion.

The most important area for consideration here is the NHS, but before we look at that, let us consider the issue of Boris Johnson. Enough has been written about the mop top with prime ministerial ambitions to fill a wilderness of dustbins, but not enough of that has focused on the reactionary core of the man’s politics – his elitist upbringing, neo-liberal instincts and social prejudices.  Politically there is probably little to separate him from Cameron except that he has managed to develop a populist appeal based on what is seen as ‘personal authenticity’ which disguises the awful consequences of the politics he espouses – food banks, a working poor and a trade union free economy, a precondition of the first two evils.

In Scotland the possibility of Johnson’s accession to the prime ministership focused less on the swarm of political plagues that would infest Britain should he succeed and more on what it might mean for further powers for the Scottish Parliament. Here is the Scotsman:

“The London mayor stated his opposition to devolving greater tax responsibilities to Scotland as a poll showed he had opened up a big lead over his rivals as the politician the public would like to see replace Tory Party leader David Cameron.

Nationalists last night seized on the intervention to warn that Mr Johnson’s comments offered a “grim insight” into Scotland’s future devolution prospects in the event of a No vote and a Johnson premiership.”

This of course entirely contradicts the implications of Scotland voting ‘Yes’ that its supporters are wont to promote.  The SNP has offered endless assurances that negotiations over the currency and Trident and the myriad of other matters will be a walk in the park given the desire for agreement on the part of the rUK government they insist will follow the acceptance of a ‘Yes’ vote. If Johnson wins, according to their interpretation, we will have a politician with a popular base who appears to be hostile to concessions, thereby increasing the risks to getting a settlement on issues the SNP consider core, like the currency. Admittedly this is less of an issue for those in the ‘Yes’ camp who support an independent  Scottish currency, but that takes us back to the issue of who is actually calling the shots in the independence campaign and like it or not it is not Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan

The obfuscation of serious socialist dialogue evident in the Johnston case is magnified when it comes to the question of the NHS. In fact the NHS in Scotland has been a considerable success, certainly in comparison to its travails in England and it therefore demonstrates the effectiveness of devolution in delivering Scottish solutions for the Scottish context. As Dave Watson on Unison noted in June in the openDemocracy site:

“Since devolution, the NHS in Scotland has taken a very different path to that of NHS England. It has embraced co-operation rather than competition. And new figures show that Scots reckon that it delivers for them.”

Not that it has saved the Scottish NHS from PFI/PPP and the left certainly needs to discuss how, for example, additional borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament could help address that issue.

But that is not the discussion we are having at the moment, however.  Instead in language every bit as ‘scary’ as the scaremongering the ‘No’ campaign is accused of, leading ‘Yes’ politicians predict the end of the health service in Scotland as we know it. Here is the BBC website:

“Earlier this year First Minister Alex Salmond warned of a “growing threat” to the Scottish NHS from an agenda of “privatisation and fragmentation” at Westminster.

“Under the Westminster system, cuts to spending in England automatically trigger cuts in Scotland,” he said. “So if private money replaces public funding in England, our budget will also be slashed no matter what we want or need.””

The argument being pursued here is that because the Barnett formula works on increased funding going to Scotland based on an increase in England, then a spending cut in England as a consequence of privatisation will mean less money will go to Scotland.

What is really egregious here is the failure to explain the full horrors of privatisation.  The private sector is not coming into the market to take money and offer care to patients who might otherwise have used public services – that form of privatisation is peripheral.  The point is that services are subcontracted out to the private sector, like hip replacements funded by public money!

Consequently the amount of public money going into the Health Service in England is not falling. It is, according to a report produced by the Charity the King’s Fund which looked at a number of projections, increasing and according to the Treasury’s official Red Book for the 2014 Budget spending on England’s NHS was scheduled to increase from £105.6 billion in 2013/14 to £110.4 billion in 2015/16.

In light of this what are we to make of the Sunday Herald’s Panelbase poll on 17th August on the NHS.  Here is the question that was asked:

“Does the prospect of an increased role of the private sector in the NHS in England having an adverse effect on the Scottish budget which funds NHS Scotland make you likely or unlikely to vote for an independent Scotland?”

If it were true that the increased role of the private sector in the English health service would have such an impact on the Scottish budget then yes, that would be of concern. But as we have seen there is no such reduction. The ‘poll’ therefore was a cheap exercise in propaganda rather than an attempt to help understand attitudes to an area of national importance in both England and Scotland. Despite, or perhaps because of  the questionable wording of the Panelbase poll which the accompanying article claimed showed the NHS was the key to winning women voters, only 42% women said they likely to vote yes on that basis, 38% were unlikely and 20% women were undecided – hardly a ringing endorsement. 

Of course, and rarely mentioned by independence supporters, ‘we are doomed’ if Cameron and the right can win the next election. The UK polling site puts labour ahead in the polls by 36% to 33% which translates, using their methods, into a 32 seat majority for Labour.

I hope that if, as the polls suggest, there is a ‘No’ vote the Left can devote its energies to exposing the damage and the danger that Cameron, Johnson and their ilk pose and discuss radical alternatives including what additional powers a Scottish parliament will need to underpin successes like the NHS.

Up close, Scottish nationalism looks a lot like other nationalisms

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’

CybernatsScottish 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.

Robin McAlpine and Reality

by Graham Day – a Labour Party member in Falkirk

The Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Robin McAlpine appeared on Radio Scotland’s John Beattie show on Tuesday afternoon, to discuss Stirling Management School’s report Constitutional Change and Inequality in Scotland. In fact he mentioned that document only once, instead relying on his own blizzard of statistics. It is unfortunate then that they seemed to be wrong.

Claim: “Britain has the highest gap in earnings between men and women in the EU”

Figures from the European Commission show that, while bad, the UK gender pay gap is better than Estonia, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and the solidly “Nordic” country of Finland.

Claim 1

Claim: The UK is the “second lowest paid economy of the advanced economies”

No-one can ignore the dismal extent of low pay in the UK. However, figures from the OECD show that the incidence of low pay in the UK is lower than in the Republic of Korea, the USA, Israel, Ireland and Poland.


And the UK minimum wage, inadequate as it is, is one of the highest listed by the OECD.


Claim: “In the last thirty years there’s only two [advanced economies] which have seen a reduction in industrial production. France saw a reduction of about 4% and the UK which has seen a reduction of about 35%”.

It should be no surprise at this point to discover that OECD figures show that UK industrial production has in fact risen over the last thirty years. As has that of France.

Oh, and the one mention of the Stirling Management School report that he was on the programme to discuss? That was to tell us that:

“What this report from Stirling University is very important for and is very useful, is explaining to people that you don’t fix inequality by having a bad economy and then transferring some money from those at the top to those at the bottom, that doesn’t fix anything.”

In response to Colin Fox

Stephen Low, Labour party Member

The Morning Star carried an adulatory assessment of the Scottish Government’s White Paper by Colin Fox of YES Scotland and the SSP. (

The following is a longer version of a letter to the paper in response that was printed later in the week …

Colin Fox has read the Scottish Government’s Independence White Paper and is keen to tell Morning Star readers that it has a vision of independence that offers ‘a significant advance’. Unfortunately he seems to have been reading the 600 page document whilst wearing a wearing a pair of spectacles so rose tinted as to set new standards in florally shaded visual aids

Of course we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised at this as Mr Fox sits on the advisory board of the YES Scotland campaign. That sitting alongside him is former RBS Chairman and hedge fund executive Sir George Mathewson might just be the first reason to ponder just how significant any advance is likely to be. Not least given that a recurring theme of the document is warm words for the workers and firm commitments for business.

The White Paper’s commitment on childcare is mentioned by Mr Fox. This is certainly a good thing and to be welcomed. It might though be reasonably pointed out that childcare is already a Scottish Government responsibility. So why wait for independence? Luckily Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s Deputy First Minister has explained. The aim of the policy is to make it easier for women to return to work and “If we did that now, then the revenues would flow straight to the UK Treasury rather than staying here in Scotland”. How very progressive.

Focussing on the brand new bright tomorrow of Independence also means that the inconvenient fact that SNP Government in Scotland currently delivers two fewer hours a week free childcare than the Tories currently do in England can be glossed over . That the pledge is no more extensive than that given by Labour for England is of course not to be mentioned either.

Nuclear weapons will be removed from Scottish soil it is confidently asserted. The actual commitment is merely to negotiate with a view to removal (anyone who can’t see a deal whereby missiles stay on the Clyde until alternative facilities are built, in return for a reduced share of UK debt is reduced isn’t paying attention). Scotland may, eventually, be nuclear free – people who think this will disarm the UK are kidding themselves.

The pledge to reduce fuel bills is similarly open to some critique given the response by the SNP’s energy minister to Ed Milibands’s pledge to freeze fuel bills was that it would be “completely unworkable”. Since then the response by the SNP to rising fuel costs has been exactly the same as the tories – protect the profits of the big six by shifting renewal responsibilities on to the taxpayer.

He is inaccurate in stating that there is a proposal ‘to give seats on company boards to workers’. There is merely a commitment to consult with business and unions on this. Two points are relevant here. The first is that in the example given which the Scottish Government describes as being ‘good practice’ the worker on the company board had as a precondition to give up all of their Trade Union responsibilities. We can also perhaps gauge the extent to which the SNP is committed to making a difference here by their actions. The Scottish Government recently passed legislation on Post 16 Education – in the course of this the SNP ( and the Greens) voted down a Labour amendment to put Trade union reps of the Boards of Colleges. This is not a party who are interested in Industrial democracy or worker representation

Mr Fox doesn’t like the proposals to maintain the Bank of England – but as a tiny appendage of a bourgeois project he can do nothing about it. The reality is that Independence means Scotland will be using the pound as its currency with even less democratic input into fiscal and monetary policy than at present. It is a recipe for Euro style disconnect.

The Corporation Tax cuts, which are so fundamental to the SNP’s Independence plans they are actually given a timetable are (thankfully) condemned by Mr Fox . Yet the implications of these for workers in the rest of the UK aren’t something he spares any concern for at all. Introducing tax competition across the UK will just result in a race to the bottom, hardly a gain for working people either side of the border.

The situation brings to mind the adage attributed to GK Chesterton, “The problem when someone stops believing in God isn’t that they believe in nothing – it’s that they believe in anything.”
Many on the Left in Scotland, having written off the working class as being an agent of social change, have latched onto independence. They have flung themselves into the campaign for a ‘free Scotland’ in a bid to radicalise it. Since they have done so, the number of political parties committed to NATO has increased by one, leaving George Osborne in charge of monetary policy and financial regulation has become Scottish Government policy, the SNP have embraced the concept of cap on benefits and rather than using their current powers to ameliorate the Bedroom Tax, the Scottish Government prefer to use it as a political football which will remain in play until after the referendum.

Questions of democratising capital at the level it is owned and controlled, of settling accounts with our own ruling class where they are, of reducing the number of, rather than merely shifting nuclear weapons – only have meaningful answers at a UK level. Those who think the SNP’s independence proposals offer a radical option in these circumstances are customers at the same optician as Mr Fox rather than looking at the world as it is.