In the first part of this post I noted that some ‘Yes’ voters said that their decision was not a vote for nationalism. I said that in one sense this is very important but that in another it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because, as I explained, the objective significance of an action is often very different from the subjective intention of the person acting it out.
On the other hand subjective intentions are important because if these voters were really for social justice, and saw independence only as a means to this, then these voters are open to arguments that there is a very different and much better road to take in order to fight against austerity and for a new society, one based on internationalism and not on nationalist division.
It must be clear to such people that the referendum was deeply divisive not only between Scotland and England and Wales but also within Scotland itself. Much has been made of the bullying of the British establishment and big business, and I will come to this, but it is also clear that big sections of Scottish nationalism ran an aggressive campaign that is incapable of seeing political questions in other than rancorous and bitter nationalist terms in which the Scottish people are either courageous or fearties, confident or scared, proud or filled with low self-esteem. Many No voters claim to have felt intimidated.
The nationalists have lost the vote but they clearly believe the relative success of their campaign may allow them to continue to push the nationalist agenda. Already Salmond is claiming the promises of the ‘No’ parties are a trick, and by implication calling into question the basis of the referendum result.
The promises of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties were one of two factors at the end of campaign which appear to have made some difference to the vote, with this one being the most important in this respect. It is also therefore important that the promises of these parties are carried through and that additional devolution is given to Scotland.
The purpose of this is not to make the lives of Scottish workers better. The SNP and nationalist movement have made much of getting increased powers for the Scottish parliament but such is the political shallowness of Scottish nationalism that it hasn’t even used the powers it already has. The SNP has refrained from increasing taxation, and spending more on state services, for the same reason the Tories in England have opposed it. Political attitudes are not so very different north of the border.
This is not the sign of a popular movement bursting with ideas to transform Scotland into a social democratic nirvana but a cynical populist one that damns Thatcherism while stating “we didn’t mind the economic side so much”; condemning Labour for sharing platforms with the Tories while the SNP relied on them as a minority administration to stay in office, and now demanding more powers when it hasn’t used existing ones.
The main purpose of ensuring the promises are kept is to confirm the validity of the result and to stymie the nationalist project. This project has already engendered division within Scotland but has also fanned the flames of English nationalism. That there is nothing inherently progressive about devolution is demonstrated by the Tories attempt to compete with the nationalism of UKIP by demanding ‘English votes on English laws’ and a diminution of the role of Scottish and Welsh MPS at Westminster.
The plans being hatched by the Tories have implications for the spread of resources across the UK and most of them aren’t good. The demand for redistribution of such resources demanded by Scottish nationalists is a game that can be played by English nationalists, although of course the former can easily see through the greed, selfishness and divisiveness of the latter. Other people’s nationalism always looks narrow-minded and egotistical.
For Scottish workers, and for their English and Welsh brothers and sisters, the fight against austerity and for improvements in their position cannot be won either by relying on the combined promises of the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat parties on devolution or by deepening nationalist division within and without Scotland. An entirely different road needs to be taken.
If, for example, the Radical Independence Campaign is sincere that independence was not a goal in itself, but only because its supporters believed it made social justice and equality easier to achieve, will it now fight as equals with workers in the rest of Britain against austerity? Or will it divide these forces by seeking change only within Scotland? Will it argue that English and Welsh workers should join them in a campaign or will they maintain that these workers should remain separated and do their own thing?
Do they believe that justice and equality relies on independence or that such ideals are by their very nature international ones? Do they really believe that further nationalist demands will further workers unity or will even be successful?
Is self-determination only the right to say ‘Yes’, and just what sort of self-determination would this amount to?
If they maintain the demand for independence as a necessary part of their work against austerity then they not only cut themselves off from English and Welsh workers, they also cut themselves off from half of Scottish workers.
The second new element in the latter days of the campaign was the prominence of threats by big business in the event of a Yes vote. The pound sterling fell in value, dropping over 2 per cent against the dollar in the days following an opinion poll showing the ‘yes’ campaign with a small lead. A fall in the value of the currency would mean that Scottish workers would pay more for imported goods.
Five Scottish banks said they would relocate their headquarters south of the border in the event of independence. The chair of the BT group, deputy chairman of Barclays and president of the Confederation of British Industry said independence would destabilise investment in Scotland and Aegon and Standard Life also said they would move their registered offices.
The ‘Financial Times’ (FT) reported that funds data provider EPFR had said that $672m had left UK equity funds during the week, the second biggest since its records began in 2001, and one of Germany’s biggest asset managers was going to reduce its holdings of UK equities and bonds. Share prices were therefore falling.
The FT also reported that Trusts with investments in fixed assets in Scotland such as wind farms had been engaged in an investment strike and that corporate investors had pulled more than $14bn from 36 funds with primary operations in Scotland since January. The FT also pointed out that big Scottish companies have more customers in England than in Scotland, such as Standard life, which has 90% of its British clients south of the border. Seventy per cent of Scotland’s external trade is with the rest of the UK and in a survey, 65% of 200 of the City of London’s top investors believed Scotland’s economy was ‘at risk’ if it voted Yes.
The message was that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote big business would stop investing, would move out, tax revenues of the new state would fall, its currency would devalue and jobs would be lost.
The reaction of Alex Salmond and the SNP was revealing. Just like its response to the UK-wide parties’ claims that they would not participate in a currency union, Salmond and the SNP did not accuse big business of bullying and threatening behaviour but of ‘scaremongering’ in a campaign orchestrated by David Cameron.
In other word big business didn’t really mean what it was saying and there was nothing to worry about – an independent Scotland would be good for them. Of course they didn’t address the problem that it wasn’t just a matter of what big business were saying but of what they were actually doing.
Salmond and the SNP could not directly challenge big business aggression because their whole case is that an independent Scotland would benefit it. The leadership of Scottish nationalism is not anti-business, it is not ant-capitalist. Its reaction to opposition by big business to their plans demonstrated that they are pro-capitalist, hence the weakness of their response.
The capital that supports the SNP and Scottish independence is generally small sized and there is nothing more progressive about small business with its more parochial political outlook and big business with its more global concerns.
Only one prominent independence supporter took up a different response. Jim Sillars, a left nationalist, stated that the oil company BP would face a “day of reckoning” and nationalisation because of its opposition to independence. However by and large the mainstream nationalist movement left him on his own and the last thing the SNP wanted were threats to business in its campaign for a business-friendly Scotland.
Not that Sillars threat was any sort of alternative. Nationalisation would either be limited or it would produce a flight of capital. In itself, unless there is fixed assets in the country, investment and money can move quickly out of the country and avoid nationalisation. The Scottish State is in no position to pursue such a strategy to utmost effect and would sooner rather than later back down in the very, very unlikely event it pursued any sort of nationalisation. The Scottish state cannot manage and operate the Scottish economy. It would be the Soviet Union writ small.
In any case the nationalisation of the Scottish economy would not be the introduction of socialism but would rather represent a move towards national autarky with a more and more internationally isolated economy. This is the road to regression, not to the future. State ownership is not socialism; it is not the exercise of workers’ power. Look at the activities of the State today? Do Scottish workers run the state currently? Do they have any hands –on control of it now?
The state is a strictly hierarchical structure with a bureaucracy and it is this bureaucracy that would manage and run state-owned industry under such a policy, not its workers. That’s how all nationalised industry has worked. In effect the state becomes the capitalist.
Real socialism on the other hand would mean BP workers owning and managing the company just as workers across the economy would own and manage their own workplaces and firms, joining together to reproduce the cooperative character of their company outside it across the wider economy.
Unfortunately the cooperative movement is currently too small and politically undeveloped to step up to the challenge of running society and the labour movement has not taken upon itself the task of making this its goal. The sabotage of big business and the strangulation of bureaucratic state control would both produce disaster but the working class is not yet in a position to put its own rule forward as the solution.
This is nevertheless the real solution to the problems posed in the referendum debate. The alternative to austerity is a new social system that priorities the satisfaction of social needs and not private profitability. The answer to the demand for a democracy that satisfies the demands of the majority is a society where this majority controls society itself, not seeks the promises of career politicians to do it all for them.
Only a state structure and apparatus that isn’t separated from workers but whose management and control is a part of their working lives can end the subordination of working people to the bureaucratic state. A country that really is ‘ours’ can only exist where the productive infrastructure of society that satisfies it varied needs is owned directly by society itself and directly managed by it.
The possibility that such a society can exist is demonstrated by existing cooperative production. What such production needs is its extension, its politicisation by socialists and the creation of a new workers’ cooperative State that protects this form of production.
It is ironic that Monday’s ‘Financial Times’ contained an article in the Fund Management section of that paper which was headlined ‘power to the (working) people works’. This provided evidence that even financial asset investment it is firms that are majority owned by their workers or have some form of workers’ ownership that perform best.
Rather than seeking a new capitalist state as the answer, the lesson of the referendum is that the most impressive power comes from working people themselves when they begin to organise. Instead of falling in behind any variety of nationalism working people should set out a programme that advances and develops their own power so that one day it is their own independent power that becomes the alternative.