The Scottish referendum result – Part 1

a4431e01-6a57-468e-adb9-e40e8a65087dThe Scottish people have voted by a significant majority against the proposal that Scotland be an independent country.  They therefore voted for continuation of the voluntary union of Scotland with England and Wales; against the view that the creation of a new Scottish State was the way forward in dealing with their social and economic problems; and against nationalist division that would undoubtedly have increased dramatically in the event of a Yes vote.

All these are positive outcomes from the vote.  From a socialist point of view the result maintains the current state arrangements that provide better circumstances for workers in Britain to unite and fight against austerity and for a new society than the proposed nationalist alternative.  Since the interests of workers are essentially the same irrespective of nationality this positive aspect is also reflected in the blow, however large or small it is, to other nationalist movements in the rest of Europe that seek to ‘free’ nationalities in richer areas from having to make any transfers to people in poorer ones.

This means that no great step forward has been taken but that a big step backward has been avoided.

A lot therefore depends on what happens next.

A late surge in the Yes vote monitored by opinion polls in the two weeks before the referendum struck fear into the No campaign.  This removed all the previous complacency it had demonstrated and both the success of the Yes campaign and the removal of complacency among ‘No’ voters resulted in the extremely high turnout of 84.6 per cent.  In the end 55.3 per cent voted ‘No’ and 44.7 per cent voted ‘Yes’.

This result shows that while the result was ‘No’ it was ‘Yes’ that won the campaign; not the argument.  Glasgow voted ‘Yes’ by 53.5% to 46.5% while Dundee voted even more strongly for separation – by 57.35% to 42.65%.  North Lanarkshire also voted Yes by a small margin – 51.1% to 48.9%.  Not all cities voted Yes however and Aberdeen and Edinburgh voted ‘No’ decisively, by 58.6% and 61.1% respectively.

Glasgow is particularly striking even though the turnout there was lower than elsewhere.  In this city, in which barely over 51% voted in the 1997 devolution referendum, 75% voted this time.  This is put forward as the prime illustration of why the Yes vote rose dramatically.  It was made up of voters newly registered; younger voters, poorer voters and thus disproportionately of those with little to lose.  It was a vote built on hope, emotion and a ‘we can do this’ attitude.

For many in this camp politics is primarily about courage and optimism and the view that things cannot get any worse.  Salmond put this rather romantic approach best when he said that “the dream shall never die.”

By contrast, in this view, the ‘No’ vote was a reflection of the ‘No’ campaign, fearful and negative.  Oh, and it’s ‘old’ as well.  Older voters, who by virtue of having something to lose are more selfish, have been portrayed as the backbone of the ‘No’ vote.

This, anyway, is the story some nationalists are telling themselves, with their approach being one of refusing to accept the result and believing that they must continue to push for independence.  Now instead of ‘once in a lifetime’ the independence issue is only settled ‘at this stage’.  Promises of uniting after the vote have very quickly been dropped.

The rowing back on this promise is inevitable if, as all shades of nationalists have argued, from the left to the right, progress can only come through independence.  Division is intrinsic to nationalism, by definition.

This caricature of the vote has, like all caricatures, enough likeness to reality to provide an element of truth.  But as a wise philosopher once said, the truth is in the whole, and partial truths are not the truth.

Young nationalists might like to consider whether older voters thought not only of themselves but also of their children and of their future.  They might reflect that it is primarily older workers who will have a memory and real experience of mass class struggle for a better society by the British working class movement.  They might also wonder whether they are better placed to appreciate that things indeed could get worse.

And nor should the fashion for flags or words conceal the underlying basis of the ‘No’ campaign.   The majority of Scottish people do not see the English or Welsh as foreign, which is what ‘independence’ would have to mean if it were to mean anything.  This common view can currently only take on the language and identity of Britishness, which Scottish nationalists have tried to imbue with a purely reactionary connotation but which is, for example, actually preferred as a self-description more by those with black or Asian ethnicity in the UK than by those with white ethnicity.  Over three centuries of history has created acceptance of a common polity which is the bedrock of the ‘unionist’ vote (another word Scottish nationalists use pejoratively).

Youthful hope and rebellion are not themselves left wing never mind socialist and the poorest sections of the working class are generally not the best organised and therefore often cannot be expected to have the greatest class consciousness.

It is not only the comfortable middle class who voted ‘No’ otherwise there would not have been a ‘No’ majority.  The hopes and dreams of the young and poor are real but they are dreams.  The reality they seek is a new state that would be every bit as neoliberal as the existing UK state they seek to escape.

We can be sure of this because the British state is not unique in being neoliberal and in Europe it is the smallest states that bear the most pressure to be so.  The Irish State, the Baltic States and others in Eastern Europe are all involved in the competition for investment and trade that Scottish nationalists want to join.  Claims to social justice ring very hollow when placed beside the only concrete nationalist promise of tax changes, which was reduced corporation tax, something all these states pursue, not least to sustain their ‘independent’ existence.

The ‘Yes’ campaign reacted to the repeated questioning of the economic project of separation by acting as if it was an affront to their identity, without considering that if the arguments were true then reality would not bend to hope, optimism or declarations of courage.

Nevertheless young nationalists and many working class people did see something real when they voted ‘Yes’ but what the saw was not their declared objective of social justice in an independent Scotland.  This cannot come from a state that sits on top of a capitalist economic system; and Scotland was very definitely still going to be a capitalist society.

What they saw was an impressive grass roots campaign which fought under the banner of social justice and fairness.  Many young people will not be alive to the fact that just because this is what the people in the campaign wanted does not at all mean that this is what the campaign would have delivered, were it successful.  And no one can afford to go through life confusing their wishes for reality.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and this old saying applies particularly in politics.  The values of justice and fairness that many believed they were fighting for are abstract and vague without being grounded in fundamental economic and political change which only a wholly new social system can deliver.  This was not on offer by either side of the debate.

Impressed by the ‘Yes’ campaign it would have been impossible not to recoil and turn away from the truly awful ‘No’ campaign.  As I remarked to my daughter who voted in the referendum: the best argument the ‘Yes’ campaign had was the ‘No’ campaign and this was no good reason to vote Yes.

Neither campaign could promise real social change because both were based on nationalism – Scottish or British.  The Scottish had the virtue of promising that its state would be all things to all people: low taxes for big business but big welfare for unfortunate workers.  It also had the benefit of the existing British State demonstrating that such contradictions are always resolved to the detriment of working people.  The Scottish variety could promise “something I could believe in”, as one young ‘Yes’ voter cried, but only because of the lack of understanding that it is not the nationality of the state but the social system it presides over that is fundamental.

This young ‘Yes’ voter said that their ‘yes’ vote “had nothing to do with hating the English or nationalism” and many ‘yes’ voters have taken this view – that their vote was not a vote for nationalism.

In one sense this is very important.  In another it matters not a jot.  It matters not a jot because, as explained above, the objective significance of actions are often very different from the subjective intention of the person acting them out.  They may do bad things for the best of reasons and may simply be subject to the law of unintended consequences.  It does not therefore matter whether there is a nationalist intention behind the creation of a new Scottish State because the creation of a new Scottish State is a nationalist project.

The only justification for a new Scottish State is a nationalist one, whether this is consciously acknowledged or not.  If we take the view that ‘independence’ is the best or only way to social justice then this can only mean that it is very unlikely or impossible in a united polity with English people.  English people are thus a break on progress.  If this is not so then why would one seek separation?

Much was made of the observation that ‘we’ (i.e. Scots) would get the Government we vote for by independence.  Besides the fact that it is more than possible that a majority will vote against the party that gains office within Scotland, and the certainty that this party will lie to get there and break its promises when it does,the greater point is that this argument rests on the argument that it is impossible to share an electoral space with the English on an equal basis because there are more English people than Scots (or Welsh).

For a socialist this is not a problem because in such an election the working class and its potential allies are a majority, and their nationality is immaterial, the support of which has to be fought for.  For a nationalist this English majority is the problem and those supporting the nationalist project inadvertently buy into it.

Much was made of Scottish ‘freedom’ but freedom from what and who?  What economic and social forces that cause injustice now would not also exist in an independent Scotland?  Right-wing politics; an exploitative economic system; a bureaucratic state which the people do not control; a world economy that threatens capital flight if inroads on the rich are promised -all would exist in an independent Scotland.  Yet a ‘Yes’ Vote would have disguised all this beneath the enthusiasm of ‘independence’ and creation of ‘our’ new state that all Yes voters would have had responsibility for creating.  Hope, optimism, courage and a ‘we can do this’ attitude would have blinded many to what was happening.

There would be lots of John F Kennedy speeches asking, or rather telling everyone – “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”   Neither is right.  It’s what you can do for yourselves, the construction of your own power that will deliver a new society.  In this sense the activist ‘Yes’ campaign gave a tiny glimmer of what this might be like but only negatively, if its political programme is ignored and its failure to root itself as a class organisation is discounted.

To be continued.

‘Yes’, a non-nationalist argument for Scottish independence. Part 3

Scotland-marchjDavidson mentions “that one immediate consequence of Scottish independence would be to place a question mark over the existential viability of Northern Ireland” and that “Sinn Fein would almost certainly begin agitation for an all-Irish referendum on reunification.”

A question mark has always hung over Northern Ireland’s existence which is why politics is permanently structured into parties for and against it. Sinn Fein has already accepted the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland State through support for the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements so any call for an all-island referendum does not and will not remove the unionist veto on reunification.

This shows the difference between the referendum in Scotland that will allow a feely expressed vote that would be implemented and a putative referendum in Ireland that would not have binding effect, would not from the outset guarantee the wishes of the majority and would be preceded , accompanied and followed by threats, intimidation and violence.  We know this because we have seen it before.

Unionists will not cease being unionist because Scotland separates from the UK.  Their loyalty is ultimately to themselves and to whatever privileges they still have, think they have or want to reacquire.  They were willing to smuggle German guns into Ireland to fight their own Government’s declared decision to grant Home Rule at a time when Britain and Germany were involved in an arms race and heading towards war.  Scottish separation will not promote any anti-imperialist end in Ireland and no wing or branch of the Scottish independence movement could honestly claim one.  From the SNP to the Scottish Socialist Party they have shown themselves to have no fundamental objection to British rule in Ireland and the SSP’s guttural ‘full-blooded’ socialism saw blood drain from its face at the prospect of taking an anti-imperialist position on Ireland.

There is therefore no evidence for Davidson’s claim that “independence can be supported as a means to an anti-imperialist end, rather than as part of the political logic of Scottish nationalism.”  The independence movement is led and dominated by a pro-imperialist party and the argument has all been about the logic of nationalist separation.  So much is this the case that this nationalism has infected and taken over much of the Left.

Davidson calls for the ‘fragmentation’ of the British State as if this was some great anti-imperialist goal when it simply amounts to creating a new capitalist state based on nationalist identity where one based on multi-national identity existed before.  It is what people are for and not what they are against that defines a movement’s politics and there is nothing progressive about this ‘positive’ nationalist programme.

The splitting of the British State is proposed by the left as if it was some analogue of the Marxist view that the capitalist state should be destroyed, ‘smashed’ is the usual term used, but setting up two capitalist states where one previously existed is clearly something entirely different.

It is not even that smashing the capitalist state is the primary goal of Marxists.  This is only necessary as the necessary adjunct to creating a workers’ state where the positive rule of the majority is assured.  But clearly what is being proposed as some sort of solution, however interim, is not a workers’ state but a new capitalist one.  One that is apparently endowed with all sorts of positive attributes, necessarily so otherwise there would be no justification for calling for its creation.

But even this is not the true objective of Marxists.  What Marxists want is not to replace one state with another, even a workers’ one.  What Marxists want is a society where the state is so weak it withers away and all the functions that are carried out by the State are carried out by society itself through mechanisms of workers’ and popular self-organisation

So, for example, schools are managed and controlled by teachers, parents and the local community with any support functions such as advice on education policy, that might be seen as a state role, being provided by organisations of those concerned with these issues such as teachers, academics, educational psychologists, parents’ representative’s and pupil representatives.  How much to spend on education, whether to prioritise primary, secondary, tertiary or continuing learning would be a result of debate within society and not restricted to professional politicians and unaccountable civil servants.

This vision is very far from much left striving for an enlarged social-democratic state that dominates society.  It is light years from seeing some sort of solution arising from a new capitalist state.

It is no reply to this view to claim that the demand for a new, national, capitalist state is a stepping stone to this objective, which is anyway a very long-term goal.  This is because the steps towards it have actually to be steps towards it.

A second reason given by Davidson for supporting independence is that increased devolution, the alternative to independence, has now become a means of delegating responsibility for the imposition of neoliberalism, and in this way a means of legitimising and imposing its demands on the population. This is done through greater involvement of the middle class in decision making.  Independence on the other hand would increase “the ability to hold elected politicians to account” and “in particular, it would make it more difficult for the SNP to blame Westminster for the decisions that it has taken with regard to imposing the austerity programme.”  All this “without fostering any illusions in the ability of individual states to remove themselves from the pressure s of the capitalist world economy.”

So Davidson says the SNP would not have any excuse but actually accepts that it has something better than an excuse – that it would face the reality that Scotland cannot insulate itself from the pressures of the world capitalist economy.  The Irish State has had no excuse that its austerity programme is caused by the Brits but the demands of the world capitalist economy is a much more powerful argument to justify its actions.  The need to defend the Irish State and to accept the demands of US multinationals, for example that they pay next to no tax, has been accepted by the majority of the Irish people.  This is so even when they are told the State is bankrupt, their taxes must go up and state services and investment cut drastically.  Armed with a nationalist victory the SNP will find no difficulty in doing the same and the negotiations with Westminster after any Yes vote will provide ample opportunities to blame ‘London’ for failure to deliver all the good things promised from ‘independence.’

The fundamental problem with ‘holding elected politicians to account’ is not the nationality of the state, not its extensive or reduced geographical scope, but the fact that it is a capitalist state that imposes political decisions and a capitalist economic system that sets the framework and rules under which the state functions.  One can therefore no more make the capitalist state accountable to the people than one can make the capitalist economy accountable to the people and this goes for the politicians who preside over it, who may change from election to election.

The capitalist economy is run for profit and no state can make it run in any other way.  The mass of working people have no democratic control over the decisions of the state and the state itself is dependent for its existence on the profitable working of the capitalist economy.

Whatever limited effect can be imposed on the state or workings of the economic system depend fundamentally on the power of the working class and whatever allies it creates – through trade unions, campaigns etc.  Unity of the class is vital for this which is why socialists oppose nationalist division, most particularly where it does not already exist.

The argument that devolution is effectively delegation of responsibility for imposing neoliberalism could equally be said of ‘independence’, perhaps with even more force.  The argument that it is the middle class who would disproportionately take part in decision making is one that applies to much of the middle class support for independence.  This support sees a refashioned Scottish State as giving rise to opportunities for itself in jobs and patronage.  A reflection of this has been the widely publicised controversy about too many English people in the governance and administration of Scottish arts; an example of the xenophobic face of nationalism that supposedly doesn’t affect its Scottish variety.

Davidson states that “socialists may wish they were not faced with this issue” but they are and “we are rarely granted the luxury of deciding the terrain upon which we have to fight.”  Of course the latter is true but this does not justify taking a nationalist position upon this terrain.

One might be charitable and agree that socialists may wish that they were not faced with this issue but the evidence is that the majority of the Left in Scotland positively fought for it.  The question of independence is not something imposed on this Left but something they have earnestly desired.  The divisions engendered by it are therefore their responsibility to the extent that they are responsible for the nationalist advance. In mitigation it must be admitted that this is not that much.

Unfortunately this is now also true of Davidson, who there is some reason to believe did not want this issue to grow to its current prominence.  However the most worrying aspect of the position of this Left and of Davidson is that even if there is a No vote, as Davidson himself expects, neither he nor the majority of the Scottish Left will accept this decision.

It would appear that they will still fight for independence even if the majority of the Scottish people oppose it.  No doubt they will still do this under the banner of self-determination even though they will be rejecting it.

The nationalist cause has created and deepened political division within the British working class and the vote in Scotland will demonstrate that it has done this within the Scottish working class as well.  The duty of a socialist is to defend and promote workers unity and in this case to build up and repair any damage done to it.  Continued campaigning for a new Scottish State when the majority have rejected it would reinforce division.

Even where independence is justified it is incumbent on socialists to promote workers unity, expose the lies of nationalism and expose the antagonistic interests of workers and bosses of the same nationality.  The majority of the Scottish Left has signally failed to do any of this.

Tagging behind the nationalist demand for independence, even if rejected by a No vote, would only further demonstrate that their programme is a nationalist one despite Davidson’s claims to the contrary.  It would signal yet another postponement of any struggle based on class interests.

And what if there is a Yes vote?  Would this Left drop the nationalist stuff and discover some sort of appetite for socialism?  Unfortunately the evidence of the Independence campaign is that they would then go on to demand ‘real’ independence, whatever that is.

concluded

 

‘Yes’, a non-nationalist argument for Scottish independence. Part 2

1aWhen Davidson gets to his non-nationalist argument for Scottish independence he gets the essential question correct.  He says:

“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.

‘Yes’, a non-nationalist argument for Scottish independence. Part 1

185coverThe May/June issue of Radical Philosophy has an interesting looking article entitled ‘Yes’ A non-nationalist argument for Scottish Independence, written by Neil Davidson who has written books on Scottish history and until recently was a member of the Socialist Workers Party.

So what is this non-nationalist argument?  Well we are well into over half of the article before this is directly addressed but it is this first part that is actually the most interesting.

But first Davidson mentions what he calls a pro-independence argument that can only be held in England.  This argument is that an independent Scotland would be social-democratic or even socialist and would inspire the English Left to seriously challenge neoliberalism.  If this were actually the case it would indeed be an argument for Scottish separation but it is not one that could only be held in England.  Why would it not be an important consideration for socialists in Scotland?  Or have the perspectives of supporters of Scottish separation unconsciously narrowed so much?

Davidson however notes that the powers already devolved have led only to “modest” although “real” reforms and that “there is nothing intrinsically progressive about Scottish statehood” although, as we shall see, the Left nationalist case is that there is something intrinsically progressive about separation.

Davidson points out contradictions within the Scottish National Party programme – opposition to nuclear weapons while supporting NATO membership and a low corporate tax (Irish-style) while promising Scandinavian-style welfare – and paints this as the starting point of the left critique of the independence movement.

While this may be true of some it is not the starting point of the Marxist critique of Scottish nationalism.  The so-called contradictions of SNP policy might be better understood as the usual double-talk of capitalist politicians.

Indeed for Davidson this double talk from the SNP, or its leadership at least, extends to the demand for independence itself.  He asserts that maximum devolution or ‘devo max’ is the constitutional option probably supported by most Scots, which begs the question of what is democratic in his support for separation, and is also what the SNP  leaders hope to achieve and what they think they can achieve.  This, he says, would also probably be acceptable to most Tories.

This is a striking admission of the manipulative nature of nationalism but what Davidson says about this aspect of the Scottish demand for independence has an even worse aspect.  The leadership of the SNP cannot come out openly for devo-max “without incurring the wrath of the fundamentalist-nationalist wing of his party, for whom anything less than independence is betraying the blood of Wallace and The Bruce, and so on.”

So what we have is nationalist fundamentalism driving the call for independence, leading the SNP party as a whole and trailing behind it the majority of the Scottish radical left, united in the call for a Yes vote.

And what this article purports to do is give us a good reason to join in.

Davidson doesn’t then give us his non-nationalist reason for following this nationalist-fundamentalist demand but instead goes on to critique arguments from the No side.

He states that the ‘No’ argument- that the demand for independence is a nationalist diversion from class issues that are essentially the same on both sides of the border – “does not deserve to be taken seriously”.  He does not however say why such a claim is mistaken and he does not say in what way the class issues that are primary and fundamental are not the same on both sides of the border.

He complains that supporters of Scottish independence are marked as nationalists but those supporting the status quo are not.  Why are those who want to maintain the current British state not British nationalists?  If they can detach their support for the British state from British nationalism why can’t supporters of Scottish independence divorce their support for an independent Scotland from Scottish nationalism?

There are two reasons.  Firstly Marxists can advocate a No vote, not by supporting the British state but simply accepting that it is a better framework to advance what they really value, which is the unity of the working class across nations.  On the other hand supporters of Scottish separation are compelled to defend the claim that Scottish independence, by itself, is progressive.

If there were some democratic content to the demand for independence on account of some lack of democracy arising from the union then there would be non-nationalist grounds for supporting formation of a new capitalist state, but there is none. Davidson is too knowledgeable about Scottish history to claim that this partner in Empire building is an oppressed nation.  So supporters of independence are reduced to calling for creation of a new border and a new capitalist state.  What is this if not nationalism?

The second reason is to do with the consequences of separation.  The argument presented on this blog before is that these would be wholly negative.  A new capitalist state would increase division where uncoerced union existed before.  It would strengthen the forces of nationalism by giving them a stunning victory that they would be stupid not to exploit.  A new state would engender competition, for example on reducing corporate taxes, and give nationalists many opportunities to demand support for ‘our’ new Scottish state and ‘our’ Scottish government.  A Yes vote would strengthen nationalism.  That’s why supporters of Scottish independence are accused of nationalism.

Davidson addresses other reasons why left objections to Scottish independence should be rejected, the most important of which is weakening of the British working class.

One aspect of this is the argument that the Labour Party would lose its Scottish MPs and would forever doom English workers to Tory rule.  Davidson correctly rejects this argument, describing it as a “type of political-emotional blackmail” although it is in fact a popular argument on the pro-independence Scottish Left who claim that the union dooms Scotland to Tory rule, although they seem less dismayed by Tartan Tory rule from the SNP.  Davidson correctly argues that the future electoral prospects of the Labour Party depend on the Labour Party.  But if this is the problem then this Party is the site of struggle, not a separate capitalist state.

A second argument refuted is that an independent Scotland would still be dominated by capital, much of it external in origin.  To this he responds “but who, apart from the most hopelessly naive ever imagined otherwise?”

This is ok as far as it goes, although reading some of the wilder left supporters of separation would give one the impression that a left wing Scotland will automatically take giant strides towards socialism free from union with England.  And most people who aren’t on the left are quite ignorant of the essential socialist argument about the internationalisation of capitalism.

The argument here however, which Davidson avoids, is whether there is any effect on working class power from the economy being dominated by foreign capital: in terms of capital’s ability to shift if it doesn’t get it way or ability to put downward pressure on union rights and corporate taxes for example.  In other words the question arises whether separation improves the framework and circumstances in which Scottish workers find themselves.  More developed analysis of this question instead of pat answers might indicate that it would not.

Davidson then addresses what he calls “by far the most serious left argument against Scottish independence” – “that it will undermine the British trade-union movement, by preventing cross-border unity”.

This however is only one aspect of the division of the British working class that would arise from separation, for by definition there would no longer be a British working class, but an English working class and a Scottish working class.  In itself this is an indication of just how important states are in defining the nature of the classes within their borders and one reason Marxists have opposed national division.

But for Davidson the disruption of unity is not an inevitable consequence of Scottish secession:

“Unity is not secured by the constitutional form of the state or by the bureaucratic structures of union organisation, but rather by the willingness to show solidarity and take joint collective action, across borders if necessary.”

Very true.  But can Davidson credibly deny that it is more difficult to create and maintain working class organisation across states than within them?  Is the whole history of the working class movement not that it is extremely difficult to create international workers unity because of the divisiveness of state organisation and nationalism?

Davidson notes that British unions organise in the Irish State but this rather disproves his argument since even in this case real unity, of objectives, of purpose and of action, is largely absent and much, much weaker than the unity within the purely British movement.  Irish workers face a different state with different policies, different economic and political conditions arising from different state organisation, and all this makes unity across Britain and Ireland much more problematic and difficult.

Can Davidson not see that the unity of English and Scottish workers is much greater than any unity of British and Irish workers?  As I have argued before, even within the one working class, within the Irish working class, the creation of two separate states North and South has deepened the division among Irish workers and is an enormous barrier to their unity.

Davidson gives the example of the Grangemouth dispute, the lessons of which I have looked at before, in order to argue that the existence of a UK-wide union did not prevent a debacle.  Quite true, but the issue is whether a Scotland-only union would have helped or whether, had the Grangemouth workforce belonged to a population which had decided it was better off without England and Wales, this would have stimulated solidarity action from English and Welsh workers.

Davidson also gives the example of coordinated strikes against austerity across European countries on November 12 2012.  The first point to make is that international strikes are rare.  The second is that the development of the European Union and particularly the creation of the Euro have played a large role in creating the grounds for international action by the working class.  National separation undermines these grounds.

Finally the left No argument which Davidson addresses is that “if Scottish independence is so unthreatening to capital, so divisive of the working class, why are most sections of the British – and, indeed, the European and US – ruling classes so opposed to it?”

Well, there is no indication that they are opposed to it because it will spur the development of a social-democratic or socialist Scotland that will inspire England as well.  That Davidson points out that the neoliberal ‘Economist’ magazine used to support Scottish independence demonstrates that it is quite possible to present an argument for an independent capitalist Scotland.  Indeed so much is this the case that this is the overwhelming argument being put forward by the Yes campaign.

That socialists should make up their minds by looking at what their enemies are saying is always stupid.  It is attractive only to those who don’t care to think for themselves and prevents any sort of critical thought.  Its exact stupidity is demonstrated here by the fact that the ‘Economist’ magazine changed its mind.  When the ‘Economist’ supported ‘Yes’ were socialists therefore to say ‘No’?  And after the ‘Economist’ changed its mind and decided ‘No’ was the answer were socialists to then say Yes?  Davidson is far too intelligent to go along with this but it is difficult to see what other point he is making here.

He says that he suspects the reason for the change of mind is “fear of the consequences for the British state, and consequences for capital invested in Britain” and this turns out to be his reason for supporting separation, as we shall see.

It is also fairly clear that opposition by most of big business, the EU bureaucracy and USA is because capitalism is increasingly international and needs international political mechanisms to assist its operation.  The international development of capitalism has been a feature almost from its beginning and was praised for its progressive potential by Marx and Engels in the ‘Communist Manifesto’, most remarkably because it gives rise to the class that will put in place an alternative – the working class.

To now seek national forms of economic and political organisation is backward, not only to the capitalist class but also to the working class.  The capitalist class in the referendum have made it clear that certain steps backward will not be taken such as leaving the European Union, setting up a new Scottish currency.  So Scotland will continue membership of NATO and financial regulation from London as well as an all-British energy market.

The working class is not obliged to support or go along with any of this but it is not in its interests to seek arrangements that will make it harder to organise internationally, while the capitalist class minimises the steps backward it has to take.

Socialism will be built on the international development of the forces of production, communication and society generally.  It will not be constructed on national roads to anywhere or anything.

In the next post I will look at what Davidson thinks the non-nationalist argument for Scottish Independence actually is.

 

The Darling Salmond debate – a short comment

_76766730_76764547The talking heads who appeared in the middle of and at the end of the debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond are there so we don’t even make up our own minds about what we had been watching.  There was nothing new they said, but there was, if only because the debate format allowed the two sides to get to grips with each other as opposed to facing interviewers with one eye on ‘balance’ and decorum.

What we learnt was that, even with the certainty of being asked what plan B was in relation to a future currency in the independent state – should it not be allowed into a currency union with the rest of the UK – Salmond persisted in thinking he could get away without answering the question.

Of course Darling had his own moment of uncomfortable grilling when he refused to answer yes or no to the question of whether an independent prosperous Scotland was possible.  However this is much less important – he says yes and so what?  It’s the view of one person who thinks Scotland would still be better off inside the UK.  He says no – so what?  He’s already said that cuts in living standards will still be required by independence so you either believe that or you don’t and that’s the real question here.

The question of the currency however is important because it reveals what is meant by independence.  The real issue with the SNP and the currency is not that they won’t tell everyone what plan B is but that they don’t actually tell us what plan A amounts to because to do so would tell us what the limits of any possible ‘independence’ would be.

Plan A, as Darling explained but the importance of which was partially lost in the shouting and Salmond’s discomfort, is to keep the pound sterling in a currency union with what will then be a foreign country.  Salmond’s claim that the pound belongs to the Scottish people through years of hard work made him sound like a UKIP Neanderthal .  His claim that it belongs as much to Scotland as to England and Wales is so stupid it has to rely on the widespread ignorance of much of the population about economics.  If it really did belong to Scotland he would not be looking to the Bank of England to be the lender of last resort.  That would be a job for the Bank of Scotland or, more likely, a joint Bank of the rest of the UK and Scotland.  Then ‘independence’ might have some fig leaf to cover its modesty.

Not that ‘real’ independence is a worthwhile or achievable objective anyway.  Independence would mean real autonomy, some sort of substantial self-sufficiency and separation from the rest of the world.  The most developed countries of the world are so inter-dependent that real independence would mean turning the clock back centuries.  Trade, investment, production of all sorts of goods and services, movement of people, creation and movement of ideas – all these are international.  What we eat, inhabit, read, watch, play, think about and discuss are international.  The nature and agenda in none of these is set in one country, not even in the USA.

As I have said before – small countries do what they are told by big countries and they join alliances to prevent this being too nakedly coercive, in other words they attempt to avoid the behaviour Scotland engaged in for centuries as part of the British Empire.  A currency union with the rest of the UK would see broad economic policy set in London but without any input into electing its government.  This was the real argument that Darling put but was largely ignored.

It was ignored because there is no nationalist alternative to the real decisions being made outside Scotland and not by the Scottish people.  Joining the Euro would see the major decisions on economic policy being set by the biggest economic and political powers, particularly Germany.  The advantage of the Euro is that it involves a much larger framework which mirrors more adequately the real international development of the economy and the social forces it unleashes.

In short Salmond, while he looked stupid over plan B, could not actually withstand much of an examination over plan A.  Such an examination would reveal that all the honeyed words about a just and prosperous Scotland is dependent, not on the existence of an ‘independent’ state, but on the workings of an international economic system that has nothing at all to do with justice or democracy.

Trade, investment, movement of people, technological development, unemployment, poverty, job insecurity, working terms and conditions – all are the result, not of decisions by ‘London’, by the UK state or by any democratic or even undemocratic vote anywhere.  They are the result of how the economic system works, by how the capitalist system functions at an international and global level.

Trade, investment and technological development are all the result of the pursuit of profit, not the pursuit of justice or prosperity.  Unemployment, poverty, job insecurity, zero hours contracts and shit wages and conditions are all the result of this pursuit.  Neither Darling nor Salmond stated that they were going to change this dynamic of the system one iota.

And this brings us to the big argument that Salmond used again and again and that really did have force.  If Scotland were independent (no matter how real this would be) the Scottish people would get the government they voted for unlike now where, as Salmond said, they voted for only one Tory MP but got a Tory Government.

Of course there are people (a majority) within Scotland who did not vote for the SNP but are stuck with them as the Government, and places in England that did not vote for the Tories and are similarly stuck.  Even with a proportional voting system the SNP form the Scottish Government with a majority of the seats (over 53%) but with only a minority of the vote (44%) on a turnout of just over 50% – that is a government based on less than a quarter of the electorate.

That the proper starting point of democracy is the nation, however defined, is obvious to those who are nationalist but is not obvious to those of us who are not and who think that nationalism is reactionary and a political viewpoint that belongs to a very unhappy history.  For a socialist a Scottish state would be no more ‘ours’ than the British one is now.

An Edinburgh parliament would be no more an expression of the needs of working people than a London one.  Both would be dependent on, and be in support of, an economic system that will produce inequality and insecurity no matter what its nationality.  Scotland may have less Tories but it is no less capitalist, no less unequal and no less unjust.  Many previous Tory supporters now vote SNP while others hide their fundamentally right wing views behind the hypocritical and dishonest posturing of the Liberal Democrats.

The real question is – what is the best state framework in which to unite working people of all nationalities to fight for a new economic and social system?

And the answer to this is undoubtedly one in which national divisions are reduced – not built up and increased.  There should therefore be fewer borders, not more, which points to further unity not division – to a united Europe not a further divided state.

It therefore means not only rejecting Scottish separatism but refusing to accept British nationalism as the goal – rejecting Salmond and Darling.

It means seeking further unity among ourselves and not relying on the likes of Salmond to further divide us or on either Darling or Salmond to unite us in a Europe built to the demands of bankers and big business.

It means not relying on States to create a just, prosperous and fair society but realising that ultimately this depends on fighting and creating one ourselves.

The Left against Europe 1

DSC_0122The failure of David Cameron to prevent Jean Claude Juncker becoming President of the European Commission drew widespread comment that it will now be harder for Britain to stay in the European Union (EU).  If the Tory Party wins the next British general election Cameron is committed to an in-out referendum by 2017.  Under pressure from The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and from within his own Eurosceptic ranks he has developed a policy that has temporarily settled the in-fighting within his Party.

In Ireland referenda on the development of the EU have been fairly frequent.  In 2001 Irish voters rejected the Treaty of Nice by 53.9% with only 34.8% of the electorate voting.  The vote was held again in 2002 and the Treaty was passed by 62.9%, with 49.5% of the electorate voting.

In 2008 53.4% voted against the Lisbon Treaty (on a turnout of 53.1%) so once again the vote was re-held to get the ‘right’ result. The next vote in October 2009 resulted 67.1% voting in favour of the treaty, once again on a higher turnout of 59%.

The Left in Ireland has been in the opposition within these EU referenda and opposed the original entry into the European Economic Community in 1972, which was decisively approved in a referendum by over 80% of those voting.  In Britain the Left also opposed British membership of the EEC in a 1975 referendum, which was passed by a majority of 67.2% in a turnout of 64.0%.

When I was in a second hand bookshop in Glasgow some weeks ago my attention was therefore drawn to an old copy of New Left Review from 1972, which was a special issue on ‘The Left Against Europe’.  The whole issue was devoted to one article written by Tom Nairn on the ‘great debate’ in Britain in the previous year whether Britain should join the Common Market, as the EEC was popularly called.  This debate eventually led to a vote in the Westminster Parliament to join and accession into membership in 1973, before the new Labour Government elected in 1974 held a referendum in 1975 to ratify staying in.

Nairn states that the debate was far from ‘great’ and that quotation marks enclosed the phrase from the outset.  It continued what he called a ‘stale and exasperated argument about the topic which had dragged on for years.’  The Cameron promise shows that it still continues.

The ‘great debate’ Nairn says “never at any moment approached ‘greatness, or even excitement.”  Nairn uses it however to examine the Left’s opposition to the EEC and this examination is worth looking at to see what lessons it provides for today.  The issue of the EU matters to the Left and working class as much as it still does for the Tory Party.

Whether Britain stays in or leaves also matters to the Irish State.  Its original membership was only viable if the British also joined and Britain leaving would create a real problem.  Only last week it was reported that a delegation from the German Parliament’s Finance Committee had issued a report – that the Irish tax regime “had failed to reach one of the goals of Irish economic promotion, namely to be less dependent on Britain.  Instead Ireland has moved from de facto full dependency on Britain to a shared dependency on Britain and the US in developing and securing employment.”

Nairn puts the British decision to join down to the hegemonic interests of finance in the City of London and the timing down to global monetary instability prompted by the dollar crisis that eventually forced the dollar off convertibility to gold in August 1971.  He quotes the Economist magazine stating that a future attempt at monetary union within the EEC will see Britain in the inside, with the strongest financial centre and having a dominant say in what gets done.

Not quite how things turned out but this story isn’t over and the choice to join the Euro is one that still faces the British capitalist class.

Nairn notes the virtual unity of the Conservative Party in seeking membership of the Common Market and the limited opposition of a marginalised rump led by the arch-bigot Enoch Powell, who by coincidence, has had the depths of his bigotry recalled by a flag supporting him going up in a loyalist area of Belfast.  Today the decline of the Tory Party into a backward, reactionary and ultimately self-defeating nationalism is evidenced by the ascendancy of Eurosceptics within that Party.

It is examination of the attitude of the Left however that is the purpose of this long 120 page article.  The opposition of the Labour Party to joining the Common Market in this ‘great debate’, or the vast majority of it at least, is put down to pure opportunism.  Under the leadership of Harold Wilson it opposed joining for purely party political purposes, Wilson having attempted to lead Britain into the EEC when in power between 1964 and 1970.

The ability of Labour to perform this U-turn is put down to the fundamentally nationalist character of the party.  For Nairn, the Labour Party is not fundamentally a class or popular Party but a nationalist Party and its reformism and ‘betrayals’ of the working class a result of its nationalism.  This nationalism is one shared in a basic sense by its supporters and voters, which explains why – despite the betrayals – they still support and vote for it.  Otherwise the phenomenon of continued support despite continued betrayal become inexplicable, unless workers are to be understood as fundamentally stupid – voting again and again for people who betray their beliefs and expectations.

Nairn records the opposition of the Left of the Labour Party in particular and its opposition to the Common Market on the basis of ‘internationalism’ and ‘socialism’.  In this respect the themes of the ‘great debate’ resonate today.

  • The Left in the Labour party presented Britain as more internationalist than the inward looking European States.  Open, free trading Britain was compared to the protectionist EEC.  Didn’t Britain look beyond the petty European states towards the countries of the Commonwealth and Britain’s wider role in international affairs and international bodies?  The latter providing the basis for a real socialist foreign policy.
  • Entry into the EEC would erect obstacles to the fight for socialism in Britain and prevent further socialist measures by a future Labour Government.  The EEC is a capitalist club and entry would mean the loss of the potential for socialism that does exist.
  • Refusal to enter this club would pose the question of an alternative, which would allow a socialist answer to be given.
  • The independence of Britain would allow the real popular character of the British nation to be revealed through its labour movement in a way that would be impossible within the rules of the EEC.

So what does this remind you of?

Well, swap Scotland for Britain and you have much of the Left nationalist case for Scottish independence today.

Just as the EEC is supposed to be more capitalist that the British state (God knows how) so Scotland is less reactionary than Britain (which is even less comprehensible).  London rule is capitalist but somehow Edinburgh rule is less capitalist!

Left nationalists proclaim the international potential of Scottish independence in the same self-refuting way the Labour Party did in the 1971 ‘great debate.’  Nationalist separation is somehow internationalist.  Why?  Because somehow, again unexplained or simply incredibly, there exists more potential for socialism in Edinburgh than London; just as the nations within the EEC and the EEC itself were assumed to be barriers to socialism that the British imperialist state wasn’t.

Today one part of the imperialist state – with a history of disproportionate participation in empire building – is again more socialist, or with the potential for it, than Britain as a whole.  Again while Scottish Left nationalists claim that the real Scottish nation is more left wing so did the Labour Party claim the real British nation was more socialist than the capitalist EEC, including such historical bastions of reaction as Paris and Rome.

Finally, even posing the nationalist question somehow gives rise to a socialist answer, or less extravagantly, gives rise to the potential for a socialist answer.  But it’s as if, if you ask the right question in the right way somehow socialism will pop up almost naturally as the answer.  And where is the evidence for this even when, as in Ireland for example, the capitalist crisis brought the Irish State to bankruptcy and exposed double standards that made working class people pay for the reckless gambling debts of the rich?

What more striking exposure of the rottenness of capitalism could be imagined?  Yet still there has been no alternative created and still in both Ireland and Britain there is no successful resistance to austerity – the most immediate question to which the socialist movement has been unable to provide an answer.

What this exposes, among many other things, is that the essence of socialism is not the displacement or even destruction of this or that aspect of capitalism or its state but the development of the working class.  Capitalism can only be superseded, at least progressively, by the development of something positive.  Unfortunately the Left thinks always in negative terms – of what it is against – and when it looks to achieve even this it posits the existing capitalist state or some configuration of it, usually its own nationalist version, as the mechanism of transformation.

It is ironic that Tom Nairn ridicules the claims that the the fight against the Tories, for national ‘independence’, against inflation and for socialism were, in 1971, ‘all the same thing’.  This is exactly the same claim made today in 2014, except we might replace inflation with austerity and support the claims of ‘Scotland’ instead of ‘Britain’.   He shows how Labourism rejuvenated itself and re-established unity within its own ranks by claiming to unite British workers in opposition to bureaucracy and international capitalism.  Except all this rested on the unity of British workers with the British state, shackled by the chain of nationalism.

But the question of Scottish separation is a derivative lesson to be drawn from reading ‘The Left Against Europe’.  The major lesson is the need to give real content to the socialist claim that it is international by its very nature.  Not an aspiration, not simply a goal to reach, an attitude to strike or an opinion to hold dearly but a practical and immediate part of its political programme.

What he says about this will be taken up in the next post.

Forward to part 2

A Scottish road to nationalism

Scotarmy

‘Is the a Scottish Road to Socialism?’, edited by Gregor Gall, Scottish Left Review press, 2007.

‘Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose’, edited by Gregor Gall, Scottish Left Review press, 2013

I have mentioned before that the Yes side of the Scottish independence debate appears to present a positive message that contains hope and optimism while the No campaign appears negative and doubting.

Speaking to my daughter and sister however, it is similarly the case that the Yes campaign also has its powerful negative argument.  This consists of the claim that to vote No is to vote for the status quo and the status quo is neither popular nor acceptable.

But why is the status quo so bad?  What causes it to be like this?

For anyone who calls themselves socialist, by definition the problem is the social system.  One that produces disaffection everywhere and therefore cannot arise from ‘London rule’.  Socialists are also, or rather they should be, well used to nationalist campaigns that put the ills of society down to the nationality of the state, and which therefore obscure real causes.

Some on the left however have argued that Scottish workers and Scottish society generally is more progressive and that this justifies separation from England and Wales, in order to forge ahead in creating a more egalitarian society that can form a better starting point for the creation of socialism.

In a number of places within the two books reviewed the idea of making a fresh start is raised.  However what this demonstrates is not that some formula has been discovered that wipes the slate clean and allows past defeats to be overcome, but that the left has no answers to the problems that have beset socialism.  This means that these will still be there after independence, in worse circumstances and to a worse degree, should the objective of a separate Scottish capitalist state be achieved.

Even if it were true that the Scottish working class is more progressive, for a socialist this would mean finding ways through which Scottish workers could lead the rest of the British working class, of which they are an integral part.  Instead Scottish nationalists seek the creation of a separate state, one that can only be capitalist in current circumstances, and give it the role of catalyst for progressive change.

The key role of the state in substituting itself for the activity of the working class as the agent of change is demonstrated not only in the unavoidable claims that a Scottish state will be more progressive simply because it is Scottish but also in claims made for the unalterably reactionary nature of Britain as a political unit and the UK state.

In order to respond to the argument that, if they are more advanced, Scottish workers should lead their English and Welsh sisters and brothers, it is asserted that this cannot happen because there is something in  British politics or the UK state which just cannot be changed.  Behind the seemingly positive message of Scottish advance, of Yes to independence, is a pessimistic and very negative view of the British working class.  What lies behind the smokescreen of hope is a mountain of despair:

“There is a very simple answer to the question, ‘is socialism possible in contemporary Britain?’  On the basis that it is possible, the answer is yes, but it isn’t going to happen.” (Is the a Scottish Road to Socialism, p 57)

“. . . key vested interests are so entrenched within the very fabric of the UK state that it is difficult to see them ever relinquishing control.”  (Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose p. 45)

“Labour can offer no guarantee that it can deliver greater capacity for providing ‘Scottish solutions to Scottish problems’ whilst defending the union.” (Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose p. 59)

“We find ourselves in a unitary, multi-national British state that is politically locked into a neo-liberal world order.  In 2014, we have the opportunity to break free from that state and to start again in a newly independent country.” (Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose p. 117-118)

“I find it simply impossible to look at Britain and conceive of any strategy at all that might even bring a hint of socialism to London. . . If we want change in our lifetimes, we’re going to need independence” (Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose p. 128)

“There is not a scintilla of evidence that Labour can be reformed, that significant forces wish it to be reformed or that any UK socialist party can emerge to replace it.” (Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose p. 157)

“This is what needs to be understood about Britain, that it is structurally incapable of being progressive.” (Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose p. 164)

Since Scotland is an integral part of Britain and the state in Scotland a component part of the British state, the damnation of Britain and the British state is really an equal damning of Scotland.  Except that what these authors really mean is that it is England and the English that are the problem.  Otherwise their assertions make no sense whatsoever.

Somehow the unreformable nature of the British state and British politics does not apply north of the border.  Apparently a Scottish capitalist state can be reformed.  Such a new state will not be part of the neo-liberal world order.  How?  God knows – for even a workers revolution in Scotland that placed political power in the hands of a completely democratic workers’ state could not escape being locked into a neoliberal world order.

Only in a scenario of immediate spread of the revolution could it have any hope of surviving and still be something worthy of the description socialist.  But such a prospect would immediately depend on not just solidarity but spread of the revolution to, of all places, England and Wales.

Aware of the self-defeating argument that Scottish workers are better off being separated from England the argument is then put that the great leap forward by Scottish workers would act as an example which English and Welsh workers would follow.

The two problems with this is, firstly it isn’t shown how this cannot be done more easily by Scottish and English workers remaining united and avoiding nationalist division.  And secondly, the example that Scottish nationalism is giving to English workers is not the need for solidarity and unity but that English workers are incapable, that the Scots are better off advancing by themselves and that this is the way forward for them to follow.  So, if there is a No vote, what our left nationalists are really saying is that English workers should dump the Scots.

Left nationalists might reply that it is not English workers but the ‘British’ state that is unreformable but the nationalist argument is that this state cannot be dealt with by British workers but only by Scottish workers leaving it.  This can only mean that a new Scottish capitalist state will somehow be more reformable and/or that English workers are a drag on Scottish workers in defeating the British state.

Except it is not proposed to  destroy the capitalist character of the British State but simply to set up two capitalist states where previously only one existed.  Much is made of the dominance by the British state by the financial interests of the City of London, but Scottish separation is not going to do anything about that.  This dominance has been around for at least a century, it is not something new brought about by recent ‘neo-liberalism’.  As the Irish contribution to ‘Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose’ explains, the new Irish state did nothing to reduce the power of the City of London when it was created.

What it did do was spawn a tiny competitor to it, the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin, which has been described as the wild west of international finance.  Irish workers now assert the sovereignty of their state through tax deals with US multinationals and no-union factories. The SNP promise exactly the same.  In the 1970s it promised that Scotland would be like Switzerland and in the 21st century that it would be like the Celtic Tiger, until it crashed and burned.

The example being set by left nationalism in Scotland is that the ills of capitalism, ‘neoliberalism’ and austerity, should be fought through small nations seeking independence.  Not by seeking the broadest unity of workers.

Independence is supported because it would be a defeat for the British state and the British state is a barrier to working class socialism.  In so far as it goes this is correct but what it leaves out is much more important than what it says.  It is not only the bones of the left nationalist argument but its whole physiology.  This makes it simple, simple minded and wrong.

Socialism is the movement of the working class and its conquest of economic, social and political power, irrespective of nationality.  It can exist only at an international level.  This too is a simple description.  But even at this simple level is shows the incompatibility of left nationalism with socialism.

In the case of Scottish nationalism the capitalist nature of the British state is confused with its being British which allows opposition to it being British hiding the fact that whatever replaces it will still be capitalist.  Scottish left nationalism seeks a new start on the basis of a newly independent nation but since Scotland is already a nation what they mean is that the new start depends on creation of a new capitalist state.  Unfortunately for such ideas, socialism is not the result or product of state action no matter how new or progressive that state is.

Nationalism, no matter how left it is, always confuses action by the state for socialism, so it calls upon the state to redistribute wealth and take control of resources ‘for the people’, whereas socialism calls upon workers to take ownership of production itself and build the power of its own organisations so that one day these can replace the state.  Internationalism is not the solidarity of one progressive state with another but is the international action of workers – from organising in parties and unions internationally to creating and building workers’ cooperatives internationally, across borders, not favouring the population within certain lines on a map.

The betrayal of socialism involved in the embrace of nationalism by sections of the Scottish left is revealed by this state-centred conception of socialism, although this is hidden from many because socialism is popularly identified with state action and in particular by the growth of gigantic, bureaucratic state power, exemplified by the Soviet Union.  This is one reason it remains unpopular among the mass of workers.

It is revealed in assertions that Scottish nationalism is really internationalist.  Often such claims are made on the basis of comparisons with the struggle for a separate state in Catalonia or the Basque Country or even Ireland, but what this reveals is not internationalism but the solidarity of nationalisms.

The point of nation states is that they compete with each other, sometimes through alliances with other nations.  In fact it is usually through alliances with other nations, but this doesn’t make such alliances examples of internationalism.  The Axis and Allied powers in World War II were not rival internationalisms except in the sense of being rival imperialisms.

For small countries such alliances are doubly necessary and necessarily involve subordination to bigger and more powerful states.  An ‘independent’ Scotland would be no different.

So the argument that independence is to be supported because it will be a significant defeat for the British state is weak because it will simply create two capitalist states where one previously existed.  It will set a rotten example for workers who seek solutions to austerity and will only exacerbate competition between nations from which workers will suffer.

National separation in the case of Scotland will not settle nationalist grievance but intensify it through Scottish competition with England.  It will not significantly weaken the international imperialist system either economically, since Scotland will remain a capitalist society, or politically, since Scotland will remain part of the EU and of NATO.

What it will do is promote nationalist solutions to the problems of capitalism, or ‘Scottish solutions to Scottish problems’ as one author put it.  It will further division of the British working class and make more difficult the radicalisation of this working class into a movement for a new society.

Apologists for Scottish nationalism claim that Scottish workers can still belong to British trade unions, although why they would want to if the British labour movement is an irredeemable failure is nowhere explained.  The history of Ireland shows the powerful divisive potential of creation of separate states even within a single national working class.  Partition has dramatically increased divisions in the Irish working class and not just along religious lines.

The small pro-nationalist left organisations in Scotland have already revealed their true colours when it comes to claims to internationalism.  Almost their first step is creation of separate Scottish organisations.  They are oblivious even to the possibility of supporting Scottish independence while seeking by their own organisation to demonstrate their longer term goal of workers unity by being part of a British socialist party.  This is because working class unity and internationalism has no real practical significance for their programme, activity or organisation.

There is therefore something positive in a No vote that rejects the despair of nationalism.  This is hope and faith in the unity of the British working class, an historical reality with a tradition that has overcome internal nationalist divisions in the past. The future of the Scottish working class lies in its unity with the rest of the British working class and building towards unity on a European scale, not national separation.