The scripted reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s victory

corbynwinsimages (12)The scripts say it all.  Boffy’s blog has recorded two Tory spokespeople giving identical responses on television to the victory of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party.  Looking at the BBC web site the SNP leader gave two identical answers to two different questions.  They’ve worked out their script beforehand and they’re sticking to it and it ain’t that impressive.

The Tories now know they have an opposition as opposed to competition.  Warning about the dire consequences of some things that many people actually agree with opens up the debate beyond the previous claustrophobic confines of what passed for politics.  They, the Labour Party, are a “serious risk” say the Tories.

Well so much for having no chance of being elected.

Watching the BBC and its litany of Blairite talking heads warning of the problems ahead isalmost amusing – picking a shadow cabinet, prime minister’s questions – how will he cope?; no experience – like has he ever helped pump up a credit bubble; and – the bit I’ve just watched – printing money!!  “The voters don’t understand the technicalities but they know it doesn’t make sense” says a Blair advisor, and you can be sure he doesn’t want them to know either.  Let’s just forget the Blair government’s presiding over a deregulated city that allowed banks to create massive amounts of money that dwarf the Corbyn plans for useful investment.

The BBC questions his ability to keep the Labour Party together after getting almost 60 per cent of the vote, while letting the potential right wing splitters off the hook.

The answer of the SNP leader was also scripted and like all good career politicians she stuck to it, regardless of the question.  She wants a progressive alliance with Labour against Tory cuts, which admits the initiative is really with Labour and only it has the power to defeat the Tories.

Still, while saying she wants an alliance she manages also to say the opposite – “it is clearer than ever that the only credible and united opposition to the Tories, actually north and south of the border, is the SNP”.

Does anyone think that makes any sense?  United – north and south of the border? The Scottish National Party?

All talk of the SNP wanting the Labour party to succeed in opposing the Tories is obvious nonsense. Where would the nationalist platform stand if the Labour Party actually defeated the Tories?

To be fair Nicola Sturgeon explains why it’s nonsense in the short 1 minute 18 second interview – “if Labour cannot quickly demonstrate that they have a credible chance of winning the next UK general election, many more people in Scotland are likely to conclude that independence is the only alternative to continued Tory government.”

Which is of course exactly what the SNP wants.

What about the SNP quickly demonstrating that it will oppose austerity once in office in Scotland?  Or are we to forget they have actually been in it for over 8 years?

So “we no longer have Red Tories” the journalist said – ouch! So Sturgeon repeats the BBC line – “the reality today is that, at a time when the country needs strong opposition to the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn leads a deeply, and very bitterly, divided party.”

So does the SNP want Jeremy to defeat the right wing of the party?  Or would it suit its purposes better for it to remain divided?  But since only a British Labour Government could scrap Trident as opposed to just shift it down the road where does that leave the apparent radical credentials of the SNP?  If nationalism sees itself getting stronger on the back of the working class movement failing isn’t it maybe time the left supporters of nationalism had a rethink?

Texting away to my daughter today I warmly welcomed the election of Jeremy Corbyn, said there was hope and quoted an old socialist slogan ‘lotta continua’ –the struggle continues.  But perhaps this is not quite right.

Jeremy Corbyn is not a revolutionary and his platform of ‘people’s quantitative easing’ is not that radical (see here and here) as he himself admits, and getting corporations to pay their taxes while saying the current taxes on the banks are about right, is not earth shattering.

But what it may be is eye opening and the beginning of something bigger.  So it’s not that the struggle continues but that in an important way it is beginning, and beginnings always bring hope.

Of course the left is always characterising whatever it does as the beginning, often to hide the fact that what it is doing is the same as before and it is failing, or it is actually the end and has already failed.

But you can’t really say that about the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the British Labour party.



Scottish socialists debate independence 1

RCSO_I_43_02_COVER.Qxp_RCSO_I_43_02In this post and the next one I review the arguments employed in a debate carried out by two socialists in Scotland on Scottish independence carried in the latest issue of the journal ‘Critique’.  The debate between Sandy McBurney and Neil Davidson is entitled ‘Marxism and the national question in Scotland’ and can be found, with a bit of looking, for free on the net.

The Scottish question remains important and will gain in importance if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership of the British Labour Party.  It is one thing to reject a right wing Labour party for the fools’ gold of Scottish nationalism (although Miliband was to the left of the SNP) and quite another to reject a groundswell of radicalism in favour of division.

If Corbyn wins it will not be the end of that particular struggle but only the beginning. If the left in Scotland rejects this movement in favour of continued division and alignment with the SNP in prioritising independence they will have to deepen their capitulation to nationalism in order to insulate themselves from the reality of a radical movement made up of those whose passivity has been the purported reason for seeking a separate state.

This review of the arguments therefore doesn’t make any pretence to impartiality with regard to the competing claims and differences.

*                     *                       *

Sandy McBurney starts his argument from the need to deepen and defend the unity of the British working class in order that it to move forward and he obviously sees Scottish nationalism as an impediment to that unity.

This nationalism is dominated by the Scottish National Party, which he recalls being labelled ‘Tartan Tories’ in the 1970s and 1980s.  He notes its record in office as one of enforcing austerity and notes that it opposes a 50p tax on the rich; opposes rent controls (although there is a promised change on this) and an energy freeze; voted against a motion by the Labour Party in the Scottish parliament that a living wage be paid to those working on Scottish government contracts and did not support the view that blacklisting of union militants should be outlawed.

He therefore points to the disparity between nationalist rhetoric and actual practice.  He says that the working class was split in the referendum but that its most organised sections were right to reject the independence con-job.

He rejects as ridiculous the idea that the SNP is in any sense anti-imperialist and therefore rejects the left nationalist argument that the pro-independence movement is by virtue of this left wing and progressive.

He sees no upsurge in radical and socialist politics in Scotland as a result of the referendum campaign but has seen a big growth of tens of thousands joining the SNP. The recent Scottish Socialist Party conference, he says, had 140 people at it and quite a few leftists have left their organisations to join the SNP. “I’ve been on recent anti-war and anti-austerity demonstrations in Glasgow and to recent left meetings and they’re smaller than they were 10 years ago.”

Instead the effect of nationalism on much of the Scottish left is that “many erstwhile socialists in Scotland now oppose a British-wide socialist party on principle and do all they can to stop one developing.” Some of this nationalist left now call for support for the SNP and Sandy McBurney notes that Tariq Ali called for this at a Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference.

[It may be noted here, as I mentioned in the introduction, that the development of the campaign around Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Party leader thus exposes the real divisive politics of nationalism.  Instead of being part of this reawakening of mass leftist mobilisation across Britain the pro-nationalist left will be forced to explain their hatred of the ‘Red Tories’ after having written off workers joining these ‘Tories’.  A Labour Party led from the left, even a quite moderate left, would undercut all their arguments and every purported justification for Scottish separatism from English and Welsh workers.]

Despite the illusions of Ali and the RIC the plans of the SNP would not lead to an end to austerity but massively more austerity as the gaping hole in its budget plans has demonstrated.  The SNP is not therefore a Scottish Syriza or Podemos, which were products of the workers’ movement, but is more like the nationalist movements in Northern Italy, Catalonia or the Flemish movement in Belgium, which claim they are being held back by the poor – not a very socialist argument.

Left nationalists in the RIC on the other hand have claimed that ‘thousands of jobs’ in a ‘re-industrialised economy’ would be guaranteed by a Yes vote in the referendum. This, McBurney says, is lying to working class people that even the SNP refrained from, including the claim that the minimum wage would be a living wage, which the SNP had not promised, notwithstanding the invention of the RIC.

Neil Davidson in response starts off by stating that his conception of the working class internationally doesn’t stop at the English Channel.  His claim is that his support for Scottish independence is therefore more internationalist in outlook than those like McBurney who support unity of the British working class.  His conception of internationalism “also extends to Basra, Gaza and places Britain has bombed in its imperialist alliance with the US over the last 20-30 years.”

The impression given is thus of a more internationalist orientation.  But this is only an impression, because what Davidson actually says is not that he is in favour of greater international working class unity but that his conception of this unity is determined by who Britain has bombed in the last 20-30 years.  As I shall show, what this is meant to do is not explain how workers unity internationally can be better created by taking a wider view of it, within which a separate Scottish state would play a role, but to provide some internationalist gloss for support for Scottish nationalism and Scottish separation.

Of course, as said and commented on before, Davidson is at pains to claim that his is not actually support for nationalism – supporting Scottish independence does not mean supporting Scottish nationalism.  As also noted before, he attempts to turn the tables on such a claim by saying that if this were so then supporting a unitary UK state would equally be nationalism.  However since he believes that supporting Scottish independence is not nationalism he must therefore himself believe that supporting, or at least accepting, a continuing UK state is also not nationalism.  As I have said before I agree with the latter point but not the former:

“He (Davidson) 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. . . 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 argues however that Scottish independence would be a blow against British imperialism by weakening it.  It should be noted that if this argument were true it would be true even if the new Scottish state was led by the SNP, which is why Sandy McBurney rejects the argument that the SNP are in any way anti-imperialist – only the British working class are such a force.

As we have seen, Davidson frames internationalism in terms of who British imperialism has bombed – “maybe we should be thinking about them when we consider these arguments about imperialism.”  So even internationalism becomes part of a Scottish nationalist narrative, in which a rather simplistic anti-British rhetoric allows its speaker to elide the Scottish contribution.  Maybe we should also be thinking of this Scottish contribution to the bombing when we consider the arguments and whether a Scotland with NATO membership, as the SNP plan, would be any different.

irqdownload (1)So, along with a number of left nationalists he places great emphasis on the difficulties that would be involved in the British state retaining nuclear weapons if they were forced to move them from Scotland.

It’s hard to resist pointing out the illusions involved in this approach.  Davidson notes the contradiction between SNP support for NATO and opposition to nuclear weapons on the Clyde.  But why on earth does he think a right wing neoliberal party would resolve such a contradiction by retreating on the right wing policy and not on the left one?  Perhaps he discounts the possibility that the SNP would use up political capital gained from achievement of independence to do a U-turn on nuclear weapons, rather like they have already done on membership of NATO itself.

Likewise it’s relevant to point out that this nationalist talisman is not that progressive.  While opposition to nuclear weapons at the British level is a demand for their scraping and if successful would involve this; the demand of the nationalist left is that they be moved, presumably to England.  In other words it isn’t a demand to scrap them but simply shift them to those who should be allies in getting rid of them.  Even if successful this nationalist demand far from guarantees their abolition while in the meantime it can only divide on nationalist lines any pan-British opposition.

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.

The UK general election – part 1: ‘they’re all the same’

images (9)“Were you watching the election last night?” the doorman asked me when I walked into work on Friday morning.

“Yeah, five more years of Tory cuts”, I answered disconsolately.

“They’re all the same”, he said.

A common enough view.  Certainly the view of the left who stood for election, hoping for a vote while realistically knowing that they had no chance of being elected and discounting the effect of taking votes away from the Labour Party.

But not the view of others.

‘The Guardian’ reported that once the result became clear bank shares went up as the threat of more restrictive regulation receded and higher taxes on bankers’ bonuses loomed less large.

Around £1billion was added to the value of the energy company Centrica with the disappearance of the prospect of tougher rules in the energy sector.  The share value of companies that provide outsourced services (privatisation to you and me) also rose, as did those of Sports Direct, whose shares rose by £95m without a Labour threat to their use of zero hours contracts.

“Enquiries came in just after midnight” said one London estate agent, from prospective clients who no longer had to ‘worry’ about Labour’s ghastly mansion tax.  Even bookmakers did well, with Ladbrokes share value rising as the plan to crack down on fixed odds betting terminals, the ‘crack cocaine’ of the industry, disappeared, as Labour’s promise of a crackdown became a ripped up betting slip.

But the report in the ‘Financial Times’ on Saturday put it best, beginning its article like this. .

“. . as the surprise exit poll results came in shortly after 10pm on Thursday night, the mood in the Cavalry and Guards club on Piccadilly turned from funereal to one of incredulous celebration.”

“Earlier in the evening , diners at the Mayfair gentlemen’s club had wallowed in gallows humour as they declared that the election result could mark a fin d’époque for the wealthy in London. . . This stiff upper lip turned to genuine joy as it transpired that the fortunes of the Conservative party had exceeded both the opinion polls and the party’s wildest dreams.”

“This could turn into the biggest celebration ever”, said one Tory supporter. . “We can cancel the removal vans. Non-doms watching the exit polls are unpacking their bags”, said his friend.”

All overstated of course, but those who won’t acknowledge any truth in the report are blowing out of the wrong end.

In some ways I find such reports reassuring.  The super-rich, the real capitalist class, are daily invisible and even the reports of their reaction to the result are through their minions who sell their shares for them or sell them houses or advise them and the rest of us that higher taxes for the rich are a jolly bad thing.

These reports reveal the existence and power of those behind the system, who benefit most from its inequality, and provide glimpses of the class structure within the capitalist mode of production.

While the thought of champagne-popping celebrations in London gentlemen’s’ clubs are valuable because they provide an instinctive and visceral view of what the election victory means it really is no more than that.  The existence and power of the capitalist class, which can appear rather abstract and esoteric in Marxist analysis, is impersonal and largely invisible not only because we don’t run across the mega-rich every day but because it is the system itself which is the problem.  The super-rich are just the personalised expression of the social relations of the system, just as the rich hangers-on of these people such as the estate agents, city dealers and tax advisors represent themselves as the appearance of their mega-rich clients.

Understanding the system and how it works and what the alternative to it is are therefore fundamental.  Understanding the class nature of society and what side you’re on is what’s called class consciousness and it is oddly reassuring that at least one section of society understands theirs.

However the impersonal and systematic nature of capitalism makes this difficult for workers and in so far as they do recognise their own interests this is often expressed in distorted ways. Sometimes very distorted ways, as shown in the election results.

So a lot of the explaining of the election result takes off from the appearance that, for example, Miliband was a bit of a geek and Cameron much more Prime Ministerial.  While Sturgeon, a career politician in the Scottish parliament since 1999, is genuine and sincere and not like the other career politicians; one who could be trusted not so much despite the record of the SNP in Government but sometimes in more or less total ignorance of it.

At only a slightly more sophisticated level of analysis it is claimed that the election was lost because Labour did not have a coherent narrative.  They allowed the Tories to get away with lying that the recession was a ‘Labour recession’ caused by excessive Government spending instead of a financial crisis that affected the world.  They had a confused message that promised to reduce the deficit but also to protect public services and they appeared to both stand for and not stand for robust social-democratic politics.  All very true of course but hardly convincing by itself.

After all, if Labour sent mixed messages the Tory story was beyond belief. They waved the big scary deficit monster in everyone’s faces while promising to pass a law that appeared to prevent them from putting up taxes.

They were going to cut welfare, and not in a nice way either, but nobody would really get hurt, or rather they refused to say who would get hurt.  They had done it before they said and therefore could be relied upon to do it again.  Their record spoke for itself they said, except their record on welfare cuts didn’t at all support their claims.

While the deficit was their number one priority and hard choices had to be made they were still going to cut taxes and give the NHS an increase of £8 billion!  Was anyone supposed to believe this rubbish?

If they looked like they were confident of winning, while almost no one believed they would, it had to be because Eton and all the other posh schools they go to teach smarmy self-confidence and born to rule self-belief, while their management of the economy would appear to reflect that PPE at Oxford now means a piss poor education.

At a more persuasive level it has been argued that the improving economy allowed the Tories to claim that their austerity policies were working, and Labour appeared to have no convincing rebuttal to such claims.  In some respects therefore the Tories got lucky.  The recent upturn is very likely to be very temporary as the most recent figures for economic growth herald the downturn to come.  The recent upturn has therefore been based on short-term cyclical movements and one-off factors.

To really be able to rebut the Tories on this point would therefore have required a more advanced understanding of economic development than Labour was ever going to argue for, and frankly a more advanced understanding than many workers show themselves ready for at the moment.

It is nevertheless true, that despite these problems, the fact is that for many austerity has not ‘worked’ and has still led to the longest period of falling living standards for a very long time regardless of the latest limited improvement.

Finally it has been argued that the Labour party was caught between competing nationalisms in Scotland and England.  This would appear obvious but if you really believed the claims of the SNP it’s not.  This is because the SNP stated that the general election was not about independence.  They stated this because despite all the hype, the SNP lost the referendum, they might lose it again if they tried to have another one soon and they know they have perhaps only one more chance.  The sharp drop in the price of oil since the last one means the independence sums don’t add up.

Getting the ‘Red Tories’ out?

Sun Scotland England Tory SNP divide and conquerI was walking down Buchanan Street in Glasgow on Saturday afternoon when I came across a group that all had large red stickers on them saying ‘Red Tories Out’, which is Scottish nationalist-speak for the Labour Party.  The leaflets they were giving out called for a vote for the Scottish National Party so that it could ensure that a new Labour Government was socially just.  What on earth is going on?

‘Red Tories Out’?? The Labour Party is not in office in Holyrood in Edinburgh and equally obviously not in office in Westminster in London, so what exactly do this group of nationalists want Labour out of?  Since they assume (for the sake of their argument) that they are utterly opposed to the real Tories being in power and the only real alternative is the Labour Party, the only answer consistent with their proclaimed strategy is that of no Labour MPs in Scotland but a majority in England and Wales, one big enough to allow their favoured scenario of a Labour Government dependent (or so they want) on SNP support.

No matter how they dress it up the reactionary nationalist logic of division surfaces each time the left in Scotland trumpets its supposedly radical political credentials.  The Labour Party is shit; Scots need an alternative but Labour’s good enough for English workers, and we’ll just ignore the fact that we need it as well in order to defeat the hated Tories.  But just to show how this isn’t really our strategy we’ll support other parties in England and Wales standing against Labour.

‘Red Tories Out’ turns out to be not just out of Scotland but everywhere.  Except if successful this would let the real Tories in as Labour voters supported the Greens and Plaid Cymru, assisting the Conservative Party to capture marginal seats where Labour is the only conceivable alternative.

Of course this would mean that these nationalists wouldn’t be open to the charge of hoping to foist Labour on the English while it wasn’t good enough for them, but then they would have to explain to everyone what’s left of their supposed overriding priority in this election of getting rid of the Tories.

Something in their argument has to give and what gives is their proclaimed support for a Labour Government supported by the SNP.  What you see is what you get and when you see ‘Red Tories Out’ stickers it means what it says, no more and no less.  When you see aggressive heckling of Labour in a Glasgow street you’re seeing the real vitriolic hatred of the Labour Party.

It is the Labour Party that has stood in the way of the SNP objective of ‘speaking for Scotland’; the SNP having some time ago captured swathes of Scottish Tory support.  It is a Tory Government in Britain that strengthens their claims that only independence can rid Scotland of the Tories and it just such a Government that would provide the grounds upon which another tilt at separation might be launched.

So the ‘Scottish Sun’ newspaper calls for a vote for the SNP while the English version supports the Tories.  The Tories demonise the SNP, making their nationalism more attractive in Scotland in the process, and the SNP ride the wave of increased nationalist division by decrying opposition to their participation in government in England as anti-Scots while basing their whole rationale for existence on the baleful influence of the English.

So it turns out that it is the position of the Sun that is the most consistent of the publicly proclaimed stances – Tories in England and Wales and the Tartan variety dressed in ‘anti-austerity’ clothing in Scotland.

Both on the face of it (‘Red Tories Out’) and looking at underlying political calculation, it is clear that Tory little-Englandism and SNP nationalism is seeking to exploit nationalist division to their own benefit while undermining the causes they say they aspire to – unity of the UK in the case of the Conservative Party and anti-austerity in the case of the SNP.

Reading ‘The Herald’ newspaper on Saturday it reported from focus groups that voters have stopped listening to the political arguments and have bought into the narrative of empowerment, derived from the independence referendum, and the perceived possibility of standing up for Scotland in the General election. ‘No’ referendum voters are therefore voting SNP.

This doesn’t look like a simple unthinking or emotional vote to me but a buying into nationalist assumptions that don’t withstand political analysis and argument.  And the most fundamental of these is that there is a ‘Scottish’ interest oppose to that of ‘London’.  The conflation of nationalism with the interests of workers allows promotion of nationalism to appear as the promotion of workers’ interests even while it does exactly the opposite.

The double standards and scarcely conscious hypocrisy of the Scottish left are symptoms of this nationalism and an apparent disengagement from political argument an expression of the soporific effect of nationalist illusions.

But it would be wrong to blame the nationalists alone.  The Labour Party, that object of nationalist hatred, deserves its own fair share of blame.  For a long time it has channelled Scottish workers opposition to what is now called austerity into nationalist and constitutional demands in order to avoid a response based on workers’ own struggles and socialist policies.  In this way it could pioneer the conflation of workers’ interests with Scottish interests, when the latter might be seen to be reflected in their own political dominance in the country.

This could be seen in their impotent opposition to Thatcher and support for devolution and now in the appointment of Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour Leader and his proclaiming of the Labour Party as the party best based to fight for Scottish national interests.  When it comes to fighting for national interests it’s hard to out-do nationalism.  It has taken Ed Miliband to make the most prominent case for workers interests irrespective of nationality.


While over in Glasgow I took in the Celtic match and logged on to a fans blog.  One poster derided concerns over the barracking of Jim Murphy while canvassing in Glasgow city centre, saying the guy was a Blairite and had responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had blood on his hands and deserved no sympathy.

Fair enough point you might think. As far as it goes. But where is it supposed to go?  A bit of shouting and obstruction hardly seems sufficient punishment for mass murder, does it?  But what would be appropriate punishment if that was the purpose of the barracking?

Well, for a socialist it is not this or that particular bourgeois politician that is the problem (and certainly not the answer).   So the SNP is opposed to ‘illegal’ wars?  Is legal mass murder any more acceptable?  Does a UN mandate legitimise imperialist murder? Just what sort of alternative is the SNP that the protestors against Murphy support? Just what sort of political mobilisation is it that rallies round a nationalist party whose fiscal manifesto is not essentially different from Labour’s yet considers itself self-righteously anti-austerity?

What matters for the future is building an alternative not only to bourgeois politicians but to the system itself that creates the social basis for these politicians, one which relies precisely on workers lack of engagement in political argument and analysis.

Right now such an alternative requires opposition to nationalist division.  It therefore means voting for the best option, given the choices available.  A vote for the Labour Party can be justified as one that will provide the best circumstances for fighting austerity, both by virtue of rejecting Scottish nationalist illusions and facing a reduced austerity offensive.

Nationalist separation on the other hand is a counsel of despair, one that asserts that British workers can never fight for an alternative.

  1. A friend has alerted me to an interview in Jacobin magazine with Neil Davidson, a supporter of Scottish separation, and I will take up the arguments raised by him in a future post.