“For socialists the question is about whether or not independence strengthens the working class. But the working class with which we should be concerned is not only British, still less only Scottish, but international. Furthermore, the question cannot be posed in a purely economic way: strength comes from ideological and political clarity as much as from organizational capacity. So what, then, are socialist arguments for independence that would meet these requirements? The most obvious is the possibility of breaking up the British imperialist state.”
So having got the issue right he immediately moves away from it. From identifying the key question – how does the nationalist demand affect the political position of the working class, not just in Scotland, but internationally, including England and Wales – he starts to talk about the British State.
The purpose of this can only be that he sees the only, or at least main, merit in separation as the weakening of the British State caused by Scottish separation increasing the relative strength of the international working class. But since the simultaneous weakening of the British working class is so easily dismissed by left nationalists, and the example set internationally – one of promoting the creation of new national states – is not addressed, this isn’t really their argument. It certainly isn’t argued in this article.
Davidson refers to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but the SNP supported the 1990-91 war against Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, supported the intervention in Libya and has already done a U-turn on membership of NATO. It would have supported the second Iraq war had the US and Britain gotten the fig-leaf of a UN resolution to cover their small difficulties. There is therefore nothing inherently anti-war about Scottish nationalism, or any new Scottish state, which is hardly surprising given Scotland’s enthusiastic participation in building the British Empire.
There were of course demonstrations in Scotland against the Iraq war but there were also huge demonstrations in London numbering the hundreds of thousands that were part of a feeling across Britain of united opposition to the war. The vote in Westminster against intervention into Syria shows that the British State is not very different from a putative Scottish one and is prepared to consider its own interests before joining in the next imperialist adventure. There’s nothing principled in it, at least nothing progressive, but that exactly sums up the posturing of the SNP. if we lump them in with the war-mongers of the Labour Party, Tories and hand-wringing Liberal Democrats, the political forces dominating Scottish politics don’t look very different from the rest of Britain.
The SNP has promised that the new Scotland will remain in NATO so that’s the biggest pointer to where Scotland’s place in the world will be. Not much weakening of international imperialism there.
It is however the SNP promise to remove nuclear weapons from the Clyde that is held up as some sort of totem of the progressiveness of Scottish separation. So much so it would appear that some see it as the reason to support separation.
This promise of the SNP conflicts with their proposed NATO membership and Davidson acknowledges that “the SNP cannot be relied on to carry through the removal of Trident without mass pressure from below.” So there is no change from the current situation as far as that is concerned. So what difference would Scottish separation mean?
There have, after all, been mass mobilisations against nuclear weapons twice before, with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s and 1980s. In effect Davidson is ruling out a more successful repeat of these except if Scotland becomes independent but doesn’t say how this would work.
He seems to say that the SNP promise will encourage the demand to be taken up that the weapons be moved out of Scotland when it separates. In one way it’s hard to think of an example in which ‘not in my back yard’ politics would less appropriate. In the British movement the demand was that they be scrapped. Left Scottish nationalists demand that they be moved down South. If indeed they were moved the nationalists couldn’t demand that the new reduced British State scrap them because that would be none of their business, as the British State would be very quick to remind them.
Let us see how this might work. There is ‘independence’ and the left attempts to set up a campaign to remove Trident missiles from the Clyde. The campaign would face a strong SNP that had just won the referendum and would have lots of capital to expend taking unpopular decisions to set up and defend the fledgling state.
Faced with tough negotiations with the Government in London it could easily barter nukes on the Clyde in return for using the pound sterling, or sharing financial regulation, or support from London for negotiating entry into the EU, or negotiating pension arrangements, or negotiating Scotland’s share of the debt, or facilitating the timetable for separation.
In other words lots of potential excuses to ditch the promise to get rid of the nukes. The SNP could even still blame it on the ‘London parliament’ for being oppressive, holding it up as yet another reason to strengthen the forces of Scottish nationalism rather than have campaigns that divide the Scottish people.
On the other hand the Left campaign would be asking that the nukes be moved down the road, which would save Scottish workers from what exactly? If it made a difference by moving them, they can hardly expect the support of English workers and those English people opposed to nuclear weapons. So not much chance of building an international campaign on this basis.
The only effect of Scottish separation would be to weaken the reasons for Scottish workers to oppose nuclear weapons and weaken any common action with English workers. Such would be the result of the nationalist demand for moving them instead of the radical demand for scrapping them.
The question of nuclear weapons is one illustration of the central argument that Scottish separation would weaken the British state and weaken its imperialist role in the world: “Scottish secession would at the very least make it more difficult for Britain to play this role, if only by reducing its practical importance for the USA.”
But left Scottish nationalists are rather late coming to this cunning plan to weaken British imperialism and have rather missed the point. British imperialism has been in decline for over a century. Britain leant from the Suez debacle in 1956 that it can do nothing important if the US does not permit it. Even in Suez the British did not attempt to act alone but connived with France and Israel to invade Egypt. Even so, some historians have declared that it “signified the end of Great Britain’s role as one of the world’s major powers.”
On the anniversary of the Falklands War sections of the British establishment complained that if Argentina mounted the same operation again Britain would not have the resources to take the islands back. In June the ‘Financial Times’ had a front page story reporting that analysts from within the British armed forces had warned that cuts in the British defence budget were endangering the US-UK military partnership.
The article stated that ‘Robert Gates, former US defence secretary, said this year: “With the fairly substantial reductions in defence spending in Great Britain, what we’re finding is that it won’t have . . . the ability to be a full partner as they have been in the past.’ It would seem that the cuts of successive British Governments are already having the progressive effect that the left nationalists claim Scottish secession will have, but without the downside.
The strength of British imperialism has already declined by much more than Scottish separation could possibly achieve. Has the prospect for socialism increased during this time? Has the strength of the working class increased as a result? The answer is no and rips apart this ‘non-nationalist’ argument for Scottish independence.
The strength of the working class internationally is primarily a function of the united organisation and political consciousness of the working class itself. On both counts Scottish nationalism weakens it and both organisationally and ideologically weakens the internationalism on which working class politics must be built.
No amount of claims that imperialism will be divided, when the EU and NATO will continue to include Scotland, can be allowed to divert attention from the essential nationalist logic of Scottish separation.
To be continued.