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.”
As 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:
“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.
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.
We 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.
A Left debate on the future of Scotland.
Speakers: Pauline Bryan, Secretary of the Campaign for Socialism and member of the Red Paper Collective, for No and Robin McAlpine of the Radical Independence Campaign and Jimmy Reid Foundation, for Yes.
Blantyre Miners Welfare, 7pm, Wednesday 11 December 2013.
A Lanarkshire Morning Star Readers and Supporters Group event.
by Dale Street, Socialism First
Back in July of this year a senior aide to SNP First Minister Alex Salmond briefed the media that Salmond “would not object to the term ‘independence-lite’ as a description of what was on offer at next year’s referendum.”
Last week’s publication of the SNP government’s White Paper “Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland” demonstrated that, for once, Salmond was as good as his word.
The Queen will remain Head of State. Scotland will remain a member of the European Union. Scotland will remain a member of Nato. And the pound sterling will remain the currency.
Just for good measure, all the BBC’s output will still be screened in Scotland, passports will still be the same colour and format as British ones (except, obviously, for the word “Scottish” on the cover), and National Lottery tickets will still be on sale, with Scotland receiving its “fair share” of funding.
In other words, the 650-page White Paper was simply a very wordy version of Salmond’s recent discovery that an independent Scotland will maintain five of the six existing ‘unions’ with the UK.
Although the political union, created by the Treaty of Union of 1707, would be ended, the five other ‘unions’ would remain: European Union, currency union, Union of the Crowns of 1603, defence union (i.e. NATO), and a social union.
(An example of the “social union” as understood by Salmond, is: “People in England will still cheer Andy Murray, and people in Scotland will still support the Lions at rugby.”)
The reason for the SNP’s emphasis on how little would change in an independent Scotland is that most people in Scotland don’t want independence.
Opinion polls consistently show a 60% to 40% split against independence amongst those who have a definite opinion, with around 15% of the total electorate undecided.
In order to try to construct a majority for independence, the SNP’s chosen tactic is to argue that life under independence will not be much different from life now.
As numerous political writers have put it, it is an attempt to change the question from “Why independence?” to “Why not independence?” Clearly, over the next ten months the “Braveheart” metaphor is going to be noticeable for its absence
Of course, things will not be entirely the same in an independent Scotland. But insofar as there is any change, then, according to the White Paper, it will all be for the better.
The bedroom tax – mentioned 37 times in the White Paper – will be scrapped. Royal Mail will be renationalised. The National Minimum Wage will increase at least in line with inflation. The state pension age may (or may not?) be lower than in the remainder UK (RUK).
Trident will be scrapped by 2020. Children aged three and four will be guaranteed 1,140 hours of free childcare. Energy bills will be cut. Pensions and mortgages will be unaffected, and there will be no increase in general taxation.
Corporation tax will be cut by up to 3%. Air Passenger Duty will be cut by 50%, prior to its eventual abolition. A Scottish Broadcasting Service will be set up. And for those worried about ‘defence’, there will be a Scottish security and intelligence service plus a Scottish Defence Force with an annual budget of £2.5 billions.
In an independent Scotland Scots will be £600 a year better off on average, according to the White Paper.
The fact that the White Paper doubles up as an SNP election manifesto –implementation of any or all of these policies would be a matter for the government of an independent Scotland – is another example of how the SNP hopes to win a majority for independence without really talking about … independence.
The raft of policies contained in the White Paper diverts attention away from the core question of independence – i.e. the relationship between the people of Scotland and the rest of the people of the UK – and replaces it with a hotchpotch of electoral bribes.
The party of independence for Scotland is so fearful of trying to argue the case for independence that it wants to run the independence referendum as if it were just another Holyrood general election.
And many of the electoral bribes are not as attractive as they might seem as first sight.
Trident will go. But there will be a ‘don’t ask – don’t tell’ policy on visits to Scottish ports by NATO-country ships carrying nuclear weapons. And the billions saved on weapons of mass destruction is to be spent instead on weapons and military forces of modest destruction.
There will be no nukes on Scottish soil – but plenty in Scottish waters.
The cut in corporation tax means a race to the bottom as an independent Scotland tries to attract foreign investors. It’s good that the National Minimum Wage will rise in line with inflation – a much higher proportion of the workforce is likely to be dependent on it.
The promise to cut energy bills turns out to be a promise to transfer responsibility for spending on increasing domestic energy efficiency from the power companies to the Scottish government.
Out of the well-known goodness of their hearts, the power companies will then supposedly pass these savings on to consumers by cutting their bills. (And surely the power companies already make enough money without being in need of what amounts to a public subsidy?)
An SNP government will scrap the bedroom tax in 2016 – but in the meantime it is failing to provide local authorities with sufficient funds to meet the demand for Discretionary Housing Payments.
An SNP government will also extend free childcare to three and four-year-olds in 2016 – but the SNP has the power to do that right now. Questioned about why it was not doing so, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explained:
If we did that now, then the revenues would flow straight to the UK Treasury rather than staying here in Scotland to help us fund that policy, to help us support that properly. That is why we need the full powers of independence.
In simpler terms: People going out to work as a result of the expansion of childcare would pay taxes. Right now, those taxes, unsurprisingly, go to the UK Treasury. But, for the SNP, it’s better to have less childcare (and less employment) than to have more money going to the Treasury.
By that ‘logic’: Until the arrival of independence mass unemployment would be a great deal for Scotland – the unemployed would pay nothing in taxes to the UK Treasury, but the UK Treasury would pay out billions in welfare benefits.
(The issue of expanding childcare looms particularly large in the White Paper and its presentation. This is because women are one of the groups most resistant to supporting independence. Hence the inclusion of a specific election bribe targeted at women in a White Paper about independence.)
In responding to publication of the White Paper/SNP election manifesto the thrust of criticism in the media and from the cross-party Better Together campaign was that the White Paper was a contradictory wish-list in which the sums did not add up.
They had a point.
It would not be up to Scotland alone, for example, to decide whether there would be a currency union with the RUK or ongoing membership of the EU.
But the White Paper simply assumes that, despite statements to the contrary from both the UK government and the EU Commission, the rest of the world (plus the BBC and the National Lottery) will carry out the SNP’s policies.
And some weighty academic research has also repeatedly concluded that the SNP’s assumptions about the income of an independent Scotland are unrealistic. “The Times”, for example, singled out:
The questionable assumption that between 2011-12 and 2016-17 onshore tax revenues would grow by 23%, a stellar performance compared with the preceding five years, when they grew by only 3%.
Less than consistently, the SNP argues that a currency union would be “common sense” because economic cycles in Scotland are much the same as in the UK as a whole.
So much for the longstanding SNP argument that independence is needed because Scottish economic cycles diverge from those in the rest of the UK, but Westminster governments consistently adopt policy in response to UK, not Scottish, economic cycles.
Promises such as scrapping Air Passenger Duty and the reliance on oil production to fund spending also sit uneasily against promises of a more environmentally friendly independent Scotland.
But much of the media and Better Together criticism of the White Paper is only a mirror image of the SNP’s politics. While the latter promise everything in an independent Scotland, the former predict only doom and gloom.
Neither side in the debate links the issue of Scotland’s constitutional status to basic questions about a root-and-branch attack on the social and economic inequalities and the environmental destruction inherent in all capitalist states.
The best that the SNP can offer is a vision of a slightly ‘fairer’ society, albeit one funded through attracting multinationals by tax cuts and increased income from non-renewable sources of energy.
The mainstream campaign for a ‘No’ vote does not even go that far.
They do not present the constitutional status quo (or increased devolution, which is what most Scots support) as a ‘better’ way to achieve social change. They run an essentially conservative campaign based on little more than scaremongering.
In theory, the Better Together campaign could argue for the status quo (or increased devolution) on the basis that a Westminster government could use the resources of the larger unit of the British state to redistribute wealth and power in order to create a fairer society.
In fact, because the campaign is an alliance between a latter-day Scottish brand of New Labour, Lib-Dems and the Tories, it is inherently incapable of promoting a pro-union case which challenges inequalities and injustice.
Over the next ten months socialists need to intervene in the ‘constitutional debate’ (which the SNP wants to reduce to an extended general election campaign) from a class perspective.
For socialists, the ‘social union’ that counts is not one that revolves around tennis players and rugby teams but the existence of an integrated labour movement (notwithstanding the independent status of the STUC) based on a free and voluntary association of organised labour in the constituent elements of the UK.
The ‘social union’ which counts is one based on the class interests, values and political attitudes which are shared by workers in Scotland and the rest of the UK: 63% of people in England agree with the statement “there is one law for the rich and one for the poor”, as do 61% of people in Scotland.
But for both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns the labour movement is just so much voting fodder. Its only role in politics is to be either electorally bribed into a vote for independence-lite or scaremongered into a vote for the status quo.
What is needed, and long overdue, is a campaign which challenges the politics of the mainstream ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns and counterposes united labour movement mobilisation to the sterility of the current referendum ‘debate’.
The Red Paper Collective’s response to the SNP’s White Paper for Independence.
Class, Nation and Socialism – The Red Paper 2014
The Red Paper Collective http://www.redpaper.net
Recorded at the STUC, Glasgow 2013.
Glasgow Caledonian University Archives
Available by post from Scottish Centre for Work Based Learning, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA £11.00 including postage payable to ‘The Red Paper Collective’.
Also available in Waterstone’s
Press Release on Behalf of the Campaign for Socialism for Immediate Use
Scottish Labour Left says nationalise Ineos
The Campaign for Socialism* convenor Elaine Smith MSP said “Ineos have behaved disgracefully throughout this dispute. Workers in the plant have been threatened, bullied and now, finally, told they are being fired, all because they refused to accept an unjustified attack on their wages and working conditions. The loss of income will impact directly on those who have lost their jobs, but also in the local community in Grangemouth, where much of the money was spent. The ripple effect of this closure will be felt for a generation.
There have been plain untruths spread by Ineos to try and deflect from their real agenda, and instead have tried to attack Unite the Union who have mass support on the site. Initially, the role of Stephen Deans and the dispute in Falkirk was employed to try and provoke confrontation. Stephen was completely exonerated by both the Labour Party and the police after the matter was investigated. Ineos have also employed dubious accountancy practices to try and claim that the plant isn’t profitable. This is simply not true as work commissioned by Unite has suggested that not only is the plant profitable, but that Ineos have been avoiding paying tax in the UK .
This site is too important a resource to Scotland and the wider economy. The SNP appear to be looking for a buyer to take the plant over without considering the possibility that the government itself could do this. We therefore call for the government – be it at Westminster or Holyrood – to act immediately and take Grangemouth in to public ownership. It is only by democratic ownership that we can ensure that this vital public resource is run for the benefit of those who work there and for those who rely on its oil throughout the country. We also call on the Scottish and British Labour Parties to support this demand.”
For further information please call:
Paul McFarlane Secretary on: 0780 085 1638
Vince Mills, Chairperson: 0781 461 5224
Stephen Low: 0795 685 2822
*The Campaign for Socialism was set up in 1994 to campaign against the removal of clause 4 from the Labour Party’s constitution. Since then it has campaigned for democratic renewal and socialist policies for Scottish Labour through events and its journal, The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.org.uk It is currently heavily involved in promoting the people’s Charter and campaigning against the bedroom tax. Its convener is Elaine Smith MSP.
By Stephen Low, Labour Party Member
It is in ‘the national interest’ that Grangemouth remain open say the Scottish Government, refusing to countenance closure. They are however seemingly content with the idea that this be accomplished by the Ineos workforce sacrificing wages and pensions and redundancy terms and shift allowance. The national interest is being defined as the continuation of production at the plant and the refinery across the road, and only this. It’s an illustration of who counts as ‘the nation’ and gives us an idea of whose interests count as national priorities.
Reactions to what’s been going on in Grangemouth brought to mind this observation by Neil Davidson, it comes from a (decidedly lukewarm) review of a book by Gregor Gall
First, Gregor regards the strength of Scottish national identity as an advantage people in, say, Yorkshire do not possess. But the opposite is true. One of the greatest problems which faces the left in Scotland is precisely the way in which virtually every issue is viewed through the distorting lens of the ‘national question’, even when that has nothing to do with it.
(The full review is here)
Regrettably this has been much in evidence in relation to the situation in Grangemouth, were this happening in say Millford Haven or Ellesmere Port it would be being discussed as a naked act of class aggression. Instead we have, as the merest glance at #Grangemouth or #ineos on twitter show, the situation being viewed, as through a glass (labeled referendum) darkly. Airing constitutional grievances takes precedence over condemning the naked greed and social criminality of Jim Ratcliffe and his management team.
(Of course if this were happening in Ellesmere Port or Millford Haven some of the loudest commentators on this outrage would have little to say – but that is a separate matter)
Alex Salmond, is at time of writing saying he hopes to find another buyer – but even if one cannot be found the plant is too important to close. This is to be welcomed – not least because it seems to not rule out nationalisation. Obviously the key lesson in all this is that significant elements of national infrastructure should be in the hands of public and not private interests, however the First Minister has been an enthusiast for the business community for some time so let’s not get too ambitious. For the moment this is the best we are likely to get.
Welcome though Salmond’s comments of Wednesday are, he was significantly less than even handed last week. It’s not being parti pris to suggest that then it was Johann Lamont who was on the side of the workers, she said that Ineos should withdraw the new contracts and then negotiate. Salmond meanwhile was saying that the plant should reopen and Unite should honour their no strike offer whilst talks took place. The withdrawal of the, desperately unfavourable new contracts wasn’t mentioned. Whilst this gives the appearance of even handedness it would have made Unite’s negotiating position untenable (conceivably of course it might have delayed the unlovable Mr Ratfink’s decision to put the plant into liquidation.)
It’s extremely unlikely Alex Salmond has no care for the workforce in Grangemouth (he’s not a monster whatever Better Together say). That said, proletarian solidarity isn’t his guiding principle either. The concern of Mr S is the national interest. It is how this is defined that should be the point of interest for socialists.
The wages, shift allowances, redundancy payments and pensions of the workforce who carry out that production are not matters on which the First Minister (or anyone in the UK Government) has seen fit to comment. “Which is as it should be” it will be argued. These are matters of between employer and employee – not for a government to determine. Save that the Government has expressed its concern (via John Swinney on Newsnight Scotland) for the 800 workers directly employed in the Ineos chemical plant as well as for the industrial future of Scotland. The maintenance of decency in employment is surely a legitimate component of both these concerns.
A buyer may be found, and as I write the media are talking of a ‘last ditch offer’ from Unite to Ineos accepting many of the conditions the company has proposed. Perhaps this will keep the petrochemical plant open. Ineos meanwhile will certainly pursue a union busting attack on terms and conditions on the workforce at the refinery across the street. Will such a settlement really be in the interests of the nation?
The real national interest surely would be served by Government enforcing a situation that preserves not merely the jobs, but the living standards of Stevie Deans and Mark Lyon and the thousands of other ordinary men and women who work along the Bo’ness Road. Any truly national interest would put the interests citizens above shareholders – and it is to the extent that politicians do this over the days and weeks ahead that they should be judged.