The UK general election part 2: DIY austerity

8841963_origDuring the election, instead of selling themselves as a vote for independence the SNP presented themselves as the leaders of Scotland’s opposition to austerity who would make the new Labour Government keep true to its word of opposing austerity.  As I have and others have said, this was a lie.  The SNP opposed a vote for Labour in England and Wales since they supported the Greens and Plaid Cymru.  So where was this Labour Government to come from?

The SNP vote cannot therefore be characterised as any sort of left vote except in the sense I mentioned earlier: that workers often express their interests in very distorted form.  In this case in the form of nationalism that put forward the idea that Scots are uniquely opposed to austerity and the English not.  The SNP vote can also be said to be a nationalist one because a nationalist solution to austerity was proposed, even if it was supported by some who would not want to go as far as independence.

If the Scots were uniquely opposed to austerity they would also have demonstrated opposition to the cuts transmitted by their own Scottish parliament led by the SNP.

This party has slipped seamlessly from standing in order to put a backbone into a new Labour Government to the election being “a vote to make Scotland’s voice heard loudly” in Westminster.  Those who think there isn’t really any difference should read the last sentence again.  They should also consider if the SNP in any way contributed to getting the Tories out.  As I have also said before the only Tories they wanted out was the ‘red’ variety.

The absence of Labour in Government, which they said would be reliant on them, now means their real reliance on those in power in London is exposed.  Like the nationalists that they are the SNP demands privileges that they would not even consider for others.  So the new Tory Government has to listen to the ‘voice of Scotland’ even though they are 50 per cent of Scottish voices with 1.45 million votes.  UKIP on the other hand won 3.88 million votes, over two and half times the SNP vote. Should their voice not be louder?

However, now that the Conservatives are in Government the SNP will be seeking to cut a deal with them to increase devolved powers – so much for excoriating Labour and their promises not to do deals with the hated Tories.  The Guardian on Saturday reported an SNP advisor saying that Sturgeon will now negotiate with the Tories and that all the repeated promises that the party would never work with the Tories were based on the Conservatives forming a minority coalition government – not an outright majority.

Perhaps this approach seems obvious to SNP supporters but it isn’t at all obvious to anyone else.  If, as it claimed, it stood in this election against austerity why isn’t it trying to cut a deal on reducing austerity instead of more constitutional powers?

The election demonstrated that the SNP and Conservative Party were good for each other.  The inherently anti-English message of independence produced an anti-Scottish response led by the Tories and UKIP who were able to argue that a Labour Government in hock to a party bent on destruction of their nation was a mortal danger.  Both the Tories and SNP knew what they were doing in this mutual loathing.

Now, as the mutually beneficial conflict between the rival nationalisms continues to play itself out, it will become clear that English nationalism is bigger and uglier – because England is bigger and nationalism throwing its weight about is always ugly.

Boris Johnson has advocated giving the SNP greater devolved powers for the Scottish parliament – “some kind of federal offer”.  This is not such a novel departure since the Tories were already more radical than Labour before the referendum in what they promised as devolution in place of separation.

An offer by the Tories of full fiscal autonomy would call the SNP’s bluff since they know full well that Scotland could not afford such an arrangement given the fall in oil prices.  In effect it would be DIY austerity.

The SNP will argue that it wants any new arrangement to maintain current levels of financing.  In other words a settlement that allows Scotland the benefit of higher oil prices should they return but no down side when they don’t.  The English oppressors in the meantime will have to subsidise higher levels of public expenditure in Scotland.

When the Tories make mincemeat of these demands the SNP can then make the case that the dastardly anti-Scottish Tories are at it again and only independence will allow them to borrow more, make savings on Trident and make the independence sums add up again irrespective of the oil price.  Something they haven’t been very convincing at doing so far.

In the meantime increased tax and spending powers may allow the SNP led Scottish parliament to cut corporation tax, as will the Stormont administration in Belfast with the new tax varying powers that the Tories have already promised.  They can then unite with their Celtic cousins in the Irish State in a joint project of cutting each other’s throat.

The debate has begun on what the lessons are for Labour with the Blairites already dominating the media agenda that Ed Miliband was too left wing.

Such an argument hardly squares with the Labour rout in Scotland and nor with Labour gains in London.  It was obvious when Miliband became leader that he had to distance himself from the Blair legacy of the Iraq war and the obsequious defence to the city of London and the financial interests behind the crash.  We’re now asked to believe that a return to this politics is the way back.

Such a policy would have led the Labour Party into an even more confused message than it already had and would have left it with little or nothing to distinguish itself from a Tory Party promising deficit reduction, tax cuts and more money for the health service.

Even the rise of UKIP and the part of its vote that was taken from Labour cannot be seen as an endorsement of a move right.  In this case just how far right would you have to move to rival the xenophobic policies of that lot?

I remember two weeks ago listening to a vox pop on radio 4 from a constituency in the North of England.  A young man was saying he was voting UKIP as a protest against Labour even though he did not at all agree with UKIP policies because he wanted Labour to be more left wing!  I’m not for a moment suggesting that the working class UKIP vote is a left wing protest but some of it is a working class vote that is Labour’s to win.  These voters are not all irredeemably reactionary.  It is rather another example of some workers expressing their class interests as they see them, in a very distorted and disfigured way.

They are demoralised workers who blame immigrants, foreigners or Europe, or simply the establishment understood in some vague way, for the precarious position they find themselves in.

These people did not vote Tory and they did not do so because demoralised or not they don’t confuse their interest with those of the Tory classes and their smarmy representatives.  They just can’t identify their position with an uninhibited and robust defence of their class interests from a socialist perspective.  Perhaps because they haven’t been presented with it or because they have grown cynical with promises of it in the past that haven’t been delivered on.

There is no Blairite answer to workers who blame immigrants for lack of affordable housing, low wages, unemployment and failing health and education services.  There is a left wing answer and however weak it may be from a Marxist perspective it certainly makes more sense than voting UKIP.

The parliamentary arithmetic looks very bad for Labour, behind the Tories by almost 100 seats and suffering almost complete wipe-out in Scotland.  But that is only half the story.

Their vote increased by more than the Tories, and that despite the losses in Scotland.  They may trail by 99 seats but they lag only by 6.5 percentage points of the vote.  The Tories are not in as strong a position as they appear.

First they have a small majority and second they are about to go through a debate about Europe that has the potential to split them extremely badly.  This will take place most likely against the backdrop of gloomy economic news and growing unpopularity as the reality of their election promises come home to roost.  Cameron may seek to provide raw meat to the most Thatcherite elements of his party in order to provide himself with some room to keep the UK inside the EU.

Right now the opportunity exists to have a debate in front of working people about the wide range of policies that they need to advance their interests.  This arises from the debate on who will be the replacement leadership of the Labour Party.  It will not of course be a debate pitting a pure revolutionary programme (however understood) against a cowardly watered down Keynesianism.  But what could ever lead anyone to expect that?  This is where the working class is at and no amount of wishful thinking will make it otherwise.

Will those organisations claiming to be Marxist be able to place themselves in the middle of this debate?  Will they even want to? The debate will happen anyway and many will look to it for a new way forward beyond the despair that the new Tory regime will inevitably create.

5 thoughts on “The UK general election part 2: DIY austerity

  1. I would make a distinction between my subjective preference or opinion and the scientific stance of the Socialists party. A Socialists Party with a policy of neutrality would not mandate its supporters to vote for or against Scots Independence, provided of course that the basics of democratic rights were not at risk. What this means is that individuals would not be subject to party discipline if they voted yes or no. If I had the misfortune of residing in Scotland I might have had a vote. I would have still voted yes, just to see what happened next. I would not have advised others to follow my lead, as I always take the road less travelled. Incidentally, I don’t like Scotland, it is the home ground of all of those Presbyterian sects that I despise. I keep well clear of the place and so should you! The policy of neutrality is one for a Socialist party and applicable only in certain circumstances.

  2. Here is my understanding in a nutshell. I began feeling sympathetic to Scots independence. Why? Because I am sympathetic to Irish independence. I then had to think more about it. I looked back to find that the Marxist guideline had been set out by Lenin and later advised by Trotsky that the workers party should support the right of self determination under the understanding that it was a democratic struggle that was only historically or accidentally connected to the international struggle for socialism. Yet this political heritage from Lenin and Trotsky is not foolproof, it is only a guideline. It kind of worked when the Marxists were promoting anti imperialist struggles against capitalism in its colonial heyday. Even then it was susceptible to nationalist capture. Today things have moved on to the point where the right of national self determination has to be given a more flexible interpretation, especially in Europe. I think there is merit in saying that it can be given a more neutral or passive interpretation in certain circumstances. By a neutral passive I mean not actively supporting the national campaign and the political struggle on its behalf.

    But then what does neutral mean when it comes down to having to maybe oppose a nationalist campaign and struggle in favour of self determination? I think it means saying socialists should actively oppose a political struggle for national self-determination when the political identity and end of the movement is evidently reactionary.

    I define reactionary as being some nationalist organised campaign that is based on a claim to a universal right to enjoy
    democratic rights that is evidently bogus and hypocritical. A nationalist organised campaign or struggle that includes as a matter of course and logic the oppression of the democratic rights of minorities or the threat of the removal of normal democratic rights like the right to free speech, to assembly and for workers free organisation in unions etc is evidently reactionary

    In circumstances of the above the said socialist neutrality interpretation should mean actively opposing the nationalist led campaign or struggle for national self determination. It is for the above reason that I oppose the Ulster unionist right of self determination when it is raised, not by using the dubious technique of deciding that a political movement like Ulster Unionism is not the expression of a ‘real nation’, but on the basis of the strong evidence that it is indeed reactionary vis a vis the rights of minorities.

    This brings me to Scotland. In this case I eventually declared for the neutrality interpretation of national self determination. I looked at Scotland and saw no reason to actively oppose the campaign for Scots independence. I did not see any reason to think that an Independent Scotland would abrogate the democratic rights of the English or the Irish residing in Scotland. I did not see evidence to make me think that the normal democratic rights of workers would be curtailed in the new independent Scotland. I could not conclude that it was a nationalist organised campaign and struggle that was evidently reactionary. Because I saw a moderate and democratic campaign on behalf of self determination I did not set out to oppose it. I also did not support it, I never said that the campaign was based on socialism, would lead logically to socialism, or indicated that workers in Scotland were more politically advanced than other British nationals.

    My problem with your analysis is that while you start out by recognising the Scots have a democratic right to self determination, you jump right in without hesitation to say the campaign and struggle being orchestrated in Scotland is evidently reactionary. But you have not defined reactionary as I have done ie within the framework of bourgeois rights, a political movement that includes curtailing and suppressing the democratic rights of others. By reactionary you must mean not socialist or not in the interest of the British and international working class. I am very sceptical about this line of argument. Using this open ended socialist- political platform makes almost any campaign and struggle potentially reactionary. Just one example, green environmental campaigns and political parties could be dismissed as being by definition reactionary. I am conscious that in recent history it was was argued firmly by some that socialists should defend the Socialists Federation of Yugoslavia against reactionary nationalist claims for autonomy and then independence on the basis that the State was a Workers and Socialist State, or a degenerate or deformed Workers State. Of course I understand the very different historic circumstances that pertain in Britain. You are not saying Britain is a some sort of Socialist or Workers State that must be defended against nationalism. But you are saying that Britain has a united and historic socialist movement worthy of defending against Scots nationalism that you believe is reactionary. This is honourable enough but I still don’t think you have show to a reasonable degree that the interest of the historic British workers movement is of higher moral political standing than the democratic right of Scots to have national self determination, if a majority is in favour of it. In short the difference is that you think that Scots nationalism is so reactionary that it should be stoutly opposed while I think it is not reactionary enough to make me move form a position of relative neutrality and passivity to one of being in outright opposition. You do not have to convince me that the political changes in Scotland are not to the immediate benefit of socialism rather you have to persuade me they are evidently reactionary. The recent election was won by the Tories because of the large and permanent middle class base of that party, helped by the upturn in the economy, and assisted by the weakness of New Labour. I don’t think the Scots factor was important. I do believe though it will assist the nationalists movement in Scotland, especially when Osborne announces his new round of welfare cuts. The poorer part of the population, the part most reliant on welfare well seek some sort of solace in the thought of a future break up of Britain. I watched a TV session from the Scottish parliament this morning on measures to mitigate the changes. Some will think that a little is better than nothing, and praise the SNP for the small blessing.

    • You say that you take a neutral position but I recall you saying that you supported a Yes vote in the referendum. That is not a neutral position. If you are now saying that you would now support an abstention if such a vote were held again then that would be some sort of progress.

      You are sceptical of a class analysis but given my understanding of society as fundamentally conditioned by classes and their interests, arising from how society produces and reproduces itself, you will have to do more to convince me that bourgeois democracy is the defining consideration for workers and socialists.

      The crux of your comment is that “I still don’t think you have shown to a reasonable degree that the interest of the historic British workers movement is of higher moral political standing than the democratic right of Scots to have national self determination.” To repeat – I am in favour of defending the right of the people in Scotland to self-determination. I think they should exercise it by supporting voluntary union with England and Wales. This is just as much an exercise of self-determination as voting for separation. It was in fact the decision a majority of the Scottish people voting supported. Why do you not accept it or even now support it?

      Such a vote reduces the threat of nationalist division of workers. Even the campaign of the SNP without victory in the referendum has stirred up nationalist division and the evidence for this in the growth of the SNP, UKIP, little England Toryism and Labour defeat seems to me pretty obvious. The interests of the British working class are not, as you put it, ‘a higher moral standing’, because it is not a question of some higher moral calculus that weighs British working class interests against the right of all classes in Scotland to set up an separate capitalist state. It is a question of what will create the best conditions for British workers (which in case you have forgotten includes the Scots) to assert their class interests, which exist irrespective of nationality.

      You continually demand further demonstration of the correctness of this argument and I have, in a number of posts, demonstrated the lack of Scottish oppression, the existing workers unity that would be weakened by separation and the reactionary character of Scottish nationalism and the SNP – yes, from the viewpoint of the British working class, which (to repeat again) includes Scottish workers. All this is far from ‘jumping right in’ as the number of posts in the blog devoted to the question amply demonstrates.

      You claim not to be convinced – fair enough. But you, in order to substantiate your argument, will have to start producing evidence and argument that Scottish nationalism is not reactionary, is progressive or would do no harm. What you claim to have witnessed in the nationalist campaign goes no further than acceptance of the assurances of the SNP and the illusions of a left that now looks stupid for saying a vote for independence was not a vote for the SNP. This, and repetition of a statement of abstract principle, plus some watching of the Scottish parliament on TV, which again takes bourgeois nationalism at its word, is nowhere near enough foundation for your argument.

      We don’t want the poor to “seek some sort solace” in nationalism, as you put it, we want them to organise as a class against their exploitation and oppression. Can we agree on that?

  3. I doubt that you have got this assessment right. I do think there is an important ideological cleavage between the SNP vote and the UKIP vote in this sense. The SNP one is a vote for State intervention against the free market whilst the UK vote is one on behave of the free market against State intervention. It can be confusing because UKIP is posing as a movement to end the free movement of European labour. But just below the ideological surface, UKIP lives in dread of more European State intervention, something that might even lead to socialism. The SNP does not have the same dread of State intervention on a European scale or on the domestic front. Your blog referred to this a little while back when you argued that the SNP was more akin to a crony capitalists layer out to colonise the State on the basis of a narrow class interest.

    I think you have improved your analysis by recognising that the workers who vote for the SNP are expressing their class interest in a very very distorted way. This seems to me, as an outsider to Scotland perhaps closer to the truth of the matter. Many working class Scots believe that they are voting to defend the historic gains of the welfare State and the choice is between an SNP that says it will protect those gains of the past and a Labour party that says that it won’t. The working class vote for the SNP is then a left leaning nationalist delusion.

    The question then becomes how to deal with the left nationalist delusion. I have criticised some of your articles on this in the past because you have said that the way to counter the nationalist delusion is to counter it with the Marxist principle of Internationalism. i disagree with this because I don’t think this call to principle is concrete enough. You can’t beat a left nationalist delusion by appealing to something than only exists in speeches and declarations of intent. I have encountered this problem in conversations with working class people who constantly complain about the number of foreign workers entering the work force. Workers complain that they are facing a new and unprecedented situation in that for the first time they have to compete for jobs and conditions with workers drawn from 28 countries. In the past they only had to compete with workers close to their town, region and nation. The workers point out that their towns are criss-crossed with employment agencies with good local knowledge of the jobs market that specialise in bringing in ‘foreign workers’

    The historical and left nationalist claim is that the government and State of a capitalist society can be pressed into assisting the workers in to improving their bargaining hand in relation to international society and economy. The nationalist delusion of the left or right is in an absolute belief in the power of the State over society. Every nationalist movement is a vindication of the State. Marx was quick to recognise that with the capitalist mode of production the State is made to serve the dominant class interests of society. The State is static, the society is dynamic. It is only in exceptional circumstances that the general rule of subordination of State to society does not apply. The State can only squander the wealth and income the society allows it to have. This general rule asserts itself more than ever because the State has stayed national just as the interests of society have expanded beyond all law making capacity. If Marx is correct then political nationalism under capitalist conditions is delusional.

    The election we have just experienced was based on the thought that a new government can fix the many problems made for society by the crisis hit international economy. But just how credible is this promise? The national government can fix some of the smaller problems made in society by the international economy but cant really fix the big problems, this is the platform of liberalism. The theoretical message of liberalism is that the State should not even try to solve society’s problems, of course it does not act in line with its ideal theory all of the time, it is selective. The political alternative is that the State should act to solve society’s problems, this the liberals call State Interventionism, Statism or socialism. The school of liberalism has always assessed nationalism as a form of Statism. The road to the hell of socialism is via nationalism. This is what Hayek argued in the Road to Serfdom. Noam Chomsk explains in his books how during the supposed cold war Washington feared nationalism even more than communism. The Cuban revolution began as a nationalists revolution before it became a Communists one..

    Marxism in theory seems to be closer to liberalism than it is to nationalism. The capitalist State offers no solution to the problems made by a capitalist society. Yet in practice the ‘Marxists’ tend to side with the nationalists who believe in the power of the State to solve society’s problems. This is the twist that we find ourselves in. In politics it is always hard to bring theory and practice together.

    • I would take up a number of points that you have made.

      First that there is a fundamental cleavage over the role of the state between the SNP and UKIP; the former favouring state intervention while the latter much less so. This avoids the similarities which are more profound.

      Both are bourgeois parties although supported mainly by the petty bourgeoisie and by workers demoralised by the Labour Party. Both are nationalist with the English and European states the respective enemy. Both seek not so much an enlargement or diminution of the state but invest their programme and hopes in an existing state which is deprived of full powers to set people ‘free’, including the free enterprise system; UKIP through getting rid of Brussels red tape and the SNP through freedom to reduce corporate taxes.

      The SNP presents itself as ‘progressive’ but has until recently had a core support that has expressed the view that it would rather have a Tory Government than a Labour one if it meant more SNP MPs. They just got their wish. This is not surprising since the SNP hoovered up a significant part of the Scottish Tory vote some time ago. UKIP spokespeople meanwhile are keen to declare that they are not a right wing party.

      Nonsense I know but then so are similar declarations by the SNP. While complaining about the threat to the NHS (that they have devolved control over!) they have spent less on it as a percentage than the recent Tory-Lib Dem coalition. The SNP have also reduced the relative share of education spending compared to England.

      UKIP is anti-liberal in the civil liberties sense but the SNP have shown similar tendencies through moves to scrap centuries old corroboration laws, which they were forced to row back on; centralisation of the police force in Scotland; passing laws that criminalise football supporters (especially those that express Irish nationalism as opposed to the Scottish variety) and letting the new police force continue the harassment of children. Their centralising tendencies are further demonstrated by their freezing of council tax which means that 86 per cent of revenue comes from central government.

      As you say yourself – “every nationalist movement is a vindication of the state.”

      How do the SNP get away with it?

      This brings me to your second point that I want to make some observations on – “You can’t beat a left nationalist delusion by appealing to something than only exists in speeches and declarations of intent.” The first part of this sentence acknowledges the delusional nature of left nationalism, or to put it another way “something than only exists in speeches and declarations of intent.”

      I do not have the space to expand on what the material basis of these illusions is but I will just mention that part of the explanation is that the so-called left wing Scots are not so left as some apologists of nationalism would like to believe. There is therefore less illusion for many SNP supporters than must arise from the misguided view that Scotland is left wing. There is therefore less to explain.

      So an opinion poll in 2014 found that 7 out of 10 Scots side with UKIP over immigration, more than half want international aid cut, while 6 out of 10 say benefits should only be available to those who have lived in the UK for at least five years. (quoted in ‘Scottish Affairs’ 24.1 (2015) The Annals of the Parish: Referendum Year 2014, p5).

      So a lot of left delusion is precisely that.

      I have disagreed with earlier comments of yours which denies the reality of a British working class, with a long history of struggle and a real corporeal reality in trade unions and the Labour Party. Whatever their shortcomings, they exist. My argument is that however bad Labour is it is no step forward to rush into nationalism.

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