Category Archives: Scotland

Can We Achieve Left Unity in Scotland? Frontline Meeting and AGM

SSP Conference Fringe Meeting and Frontline Annual General Meeting

Saturday 20th April, 5 p.m. (after SSP conference)

St. Augustines, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.

Can We Achieve Left Unity in Scotland?

Speakers

Gregor Gall. Frontline Editorial Board

Pete Ramand. International Socialist Group

Chair – Alister Black, Frontline editor.

The crisis of capitalism has led to an attack on workers by the Tory government and an unprecedented level of cuts. In Scotland we face a constitutional debate in the run up to next year’s referendum on Scottish independence. Yet the left remains divided and marginalised just when it should be taking centre stage. The Radical Independence Conference pointed towards the potential to overcome division and present a left vision for an independent Scotland. This meeting will discuss the possibilities and obstacles. All welcome, please come and have your say.

Frontline AGM

We will also be having the Annual General Meeting for Frontline in which we will elect our Editorial Board. If you want to get involved with Frontline whether  writing articles, taking photos, or helping with our web presence we welcome your contribution.

Radical Independence Conference and Beyond

Untitled-1Alister Black reports on the success of the Radical Independence Conference, and what comes next for RIC. He also looks at the issues facing socialists who are campaigning around Scottish independence and how best we can build a strong socialist force in the post-referendum world.

November’s Radical Independence Conference was a highly significant event both for the Scottish left and the independence campaign. It brought together 900 participants from a broad range of political backgrounds for a day of debate and discussion.

It sought to thrash out a radical consensus on the type of independent Scotland that we want – one where social justice, equality and workers rights were central. It talked about a Scotland where the environment and culture were cherished and peace and internationalism were at the heart of our policy.

Who was there? What was clear was that this was nobody’s ‘front’ organisation. The conference was attended by Greens, with Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie speaking at the opening plenary. There were also those who were not embarrased to call themselves nationalists coming from the left of the SNP and ‘Labour for Independence’ supporters. There were many from campaigns such as CND and those who were members of no organisation.

The socialist left were, of course, well represented. It was significant, given the poisonous splits of the past few years which have seen groups denounce each other in meetings, the media and the courts, that there was little visible rancour. Whilst there were not exactly hugs being exchanged, people listened to each other and behaved respectfully for the most part.

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and International Socialist Group (ISG) were the largest contingents of the socialist left in Scotland who were present.

The mood at the conference was reminiscent of the social forums that galvanised much of the left in Europe and Latin America in recent years. Broad movements that could agree on much.

Unanswered Questions

There are some underlying questions that need to be addressed in regards to how RIC intends to participate in the fight for a Yes vote. Most agree that economic questions will be the key factors determining how most Scots will vote. RIC needs to make the case for independence in a way that demonstrates that jobs, conditions, social services, health and housing will be in a better place in an independent Scotland which rejects the capitalist consensus.

Just how to best organise across campaigns like those against cuts, the ‘bedroom tax’ and in defence of public services is more difficult. However, whilst important, campaigning on issues like Trident and Palestine alone, or focusing on campus votes will not win the thousands in the schemes and workplaces of Scotland  that we need to win.

Just what RIC’s economic vision is was also unclear from the conference which unfortunately did not have a session on the economy. Questions we need to answer include, what will we do with the banks, how will we secure the resources to make sure all Scots have a job, an education and somewhere to live?

Next Steps

Organisers and participants were on a high following the conference. It was no surprise therefore that proposals were soon made to step up and expand the remit of RIC. At a recent steering committee group an aside was made regarding changing the name of the RIC facebook page from Radical Independence Conference to Radical Independence Campaign. Moving from being a conference to being a campaign is quite a significant move and one which a few will have issues with. But with hundreds having contacted RIC on top of the 900 attending conference, it was to be expected.

The next steps planned are to hold local assemblies across Scotland, including areas where the left has never had a strong presence such as Inverness and Dumfries and Galloway. The aim is to form grassroots groups across Scotland with immediate campaigning priorities being voter registration and building for the anti-Trident weekend of action.

Another plan is for a series of ‘Red Papers’ from campaigners and academics laying out our vision of an alternative Scotland in more detail. A campaign appeal of £10, 000 has been launched.

Yes Campaign

How does this fit in with the official ‘Yes Scotland campaign, with its team of full-time staff, big budget and the electoral experience of the governing Scottish National Party? Yes Scotland also has plans underway to establish local groups across Scotland. For example they want to see a local group in every council ward in Glasgow and in every village and town in the nation.

The answer is that the independence campaign is a movement. It is a movement which ranges from wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs to impoverished socialists. RIC is the left of that movement. It aims to speak for working people, for the poor, for those who will suffer from cuts and from the crisis-ridden capitalist system.

Whilst attitudes towards Yes Scotland differ within RIC, many are active in both. Yes Scotland recently invited young trade-unionist Cat Boyd to speak at the well-attended Glasgow launch of the campaign on behalf of RIC and First Minister Alec Salmond sent a congratulatory message to the November Radical Independence Conference.

So far there is little evidence to suggest that the two are rival campaigns.

At launch meetings for the official Yes Scotland campaign, campaign officials have made it clear that the campaign will not be talking about policy or ‘taking sides’ over issues like council cuts. RIC is not held back by those constraints and it can speak for those for whom independence does not just mean hauling down the Union flag and replacing it with a Saltire.

What next for the Scottish left?

The success of the Radical Independence Conference has raised questions about the future for the socialist left in Scotland. If we can all get together in a room and agree on a broad range of issues, then why can we not have some kind of united front or electoral list in preparation for new political realities post-referendum, whichever way the vote goes?

Some, like the Scotsman commentator George Kerevan went further writing “New movements are difficult to predict or direct, which is why they are movements not parties. But the emergence of RIC suggests that there is a space in Scotland for a Red-Green Republican Left Party (or coalition of parties) committed to Scottish independence – a grouping that could command 10 or maybe 15 per cent of the popular vote on a good day.”

Certainly the experience of similar parties in Catalonia, the Basque Country and elsewhere would support such a claim. There are real obstacles to overcome even with the lowest level of unity. The split in the Scottish Socialist Party around the Sheridan trial left a bitter legacy with many simply leaving politics and others deeply hostile to working with those who split ever again.

But nature and politics abhor a vacuum and there is clearly a space to the left of Labour and the SNP. New generations of activists have no interest in the splits of the past and will be attracted to organisations who are unsectarian and hold socialist unity as a principle. A new electoral list, coalition or party remains necessary to give us the strength to stand up to the neo-liberal onslaught that we will face regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

Scottish Socialist Party

The SSP has survived, although it is clearly in a much weaker state than in its heyday when it united virtually the entire Scottish left and had six members elected to the Scottish Parliament. The number of branches and activists has shrunk but recently it has been recruiting and holding well attended public meetings.

Attitudes towards RIC within the SSP are not homogenous. Some, particularly the youth, were enthusiastic and played a key role in building the conference and indeed, SSP conference voted to back RIC. Others within the leadership seemed suspicious and played down the potential for a big conference, a perspective that was not borne out. SSP co-convenor Colin Fox sits on the Yes Scotland board and has strongly encouraged members to throw all their energy into the official campaign with RIC being seen as a sideshow.

The Yes Scotland campaign is seen as a way to appeal to a broader layer of pro-independence activists both inside and outside the SNP and to hopefully bring some of them into the SSP.

Whilst ‘building the party’ is ABC for socialists and it is healthy to recruit to the SSP, it is not an end in itself and it is important that other socialists are not simply seen as rivals. The danger is that unless the party has a more strategic approach to the variety of social movements making up the pro-independence campaign it could lose opportunities and lose members. The SSP was founded on the principle of uniting the left and sectarian attitudes should be an anathema to it.

International Socialist Group

The International Socialist Group are one of the newest groups on the left. They formed recently from a split within the Scottish SWP which saw most of the youth and student members leave to form the ISG. The ISG have been the driving force behind RIC and have been able to work constructively with the rest of the left.

The largely student membership base of the ISG has advantages and disadvantages. Their members are young and have time, energy and elan – all of which have been clearly seen in the RIC. They reflect the makeup of the recent youth and student campaigns, inspired by the Arab Spring and the rise of Syriza in Greece. The downside of this is a lack of any base in the workplaces and communities and the problem of membership turnover as courses end. The ISG have been clear that they see their organisation as transitional and are open to collaborating with other forces.

Socialist Workers Party

As detailed in Gregor Galls article in this issue of Frontline, and many other places, the SWP are in crisis. The Scottish SWP are already reeling from the ISG split and now face further division. Leading members such as Neil Davidson and many of the key activists in Edinburgh have come out against the leadership. Whilst in Glasgow most seem to back the leadership.

The SWP has had some involvement in RIC and has continued to attend RIC meetings and events. Whilst there is an element of ‘kremlinology’ in trying to predict what will come next for the SWP, it is clear that things are moving. Another significant split in the SWP in Scotland will mean some kind of re-alignment of forces.

Everything solid melts into air

The Radical Independence Conference offered hope to activists in Scotland. In particular it offered hope to the new generation of young activists many of whom can barely remember the anti-war demos of ten years ago, let alone the poll-tax battle or miners strike.

Those older activists who have been through those battles owe it to them to listen. We also owe it to them to help teach the lessons of those struggles. To do that we need to think about what is best for socialism not just what is best for our particular socialist party.

We also need to consider the shifting elements of the Scottish left, the wider groups of unaligned activists and the thousands of current and former SNP members who are unhappy at the party’s shift to the right over issues like NATO membership.

There are no easy options and no guarantees of success in any strategy but socialists seeking to change the world need to recognise that Scottish politics is changing, with or without them.

Independence Campaign – Tactics for Socialists

Socialists on march for Scottish Independence

The deal between Westminster and Edinburgh has truly launched the debate around the Scottish independence referendum. In this article Kevin Leetion looks at the options facing socialists, how to engage with the official Yes campaign, the prospects for a radical independence campaign and the relationship between the two.

With the independence referendum now less than two years away the respective campaigns are now underway. In the ‘no’ corner we have Better Together, the coalition of the three principal unionist parties who have reasoned that they should pool their resources and energy to argue for the maintenance of the United Kingdom. The opposite corner is mainly occupied by Yes Scotland, the official campaign endorsed by the SNP (as well as the SSP and Greens), which has been criticised by some for a stuttering start and inability to improve polling numbers. Some have also pointed to disagreements between ‘yes’ supporters as a sign of weakness and ineffectiveness. While there may be some validity in the first argument (although Better Together have hardly set the heather alight, so to speak, relying on relentless negativity and fear-mongering) the second somewhat misses the point. The ‘no’ campaign has been conspicuous by its unity: its rejection of universal benefits; its pledge to maintain nuclear weapons; its commitment to the current economic model and continued austerity. However, this is far from a strength.

Choices

Socialists now face a choice- where are our energies best spent and how do we organise ourselves? Is it right that the primary aim is to secure a ‘yes’ vote and that the political choices ought to be left to the first post-referendum election? If instead we believe that a socialist message is vital to ensuring that we actually get a ‘yes’ vote then what implications are there for our orientation towards other aligned and non-aligned independence supporters?

This is not the place to detail all the arguments for independence which have been well covered on the pages of Frontline and elsewhere, however, before deciding what to do we need to remember why we’re doing it. For this purpose, it’s helpful to think of three different types of arguments often cited in support of independence (it’s important to stress that this is not an endorsement of each and every one of the following arguments and is meant to be illustrative rather than comprehensive).

Why Independence?

The first of these we might categorise as inherent reasons- in other words, arguments that say that independence in and of itself would be an advance. This would include, inter alia, arguments like: independence is more democratic as decisions would be taken closer to the people affected by them; independence is the ‘natural state’ for a country and important for national self-esteem; independence would bring about the break-up of the British state which would be a blow to imperialism[i]; and the economic argument, if accepted, that Scotland is net contributor to UK and would therefore be financially better off. At the same time, some will argue that there are inherent reasons against independence e.g. the break-up of the British working class; the weakening of the Scottish voice on the international stage; and the opposing economic argument, if accepted, that Scotland is a net beneficiary and would therefore be worse off under independence. Supporters of independence may either counter that these assertions are subjective or baseless speculation, or would argue that they are outweighed by the positives.

Opportunity

A second set of arguments might be categorised as opportunity-based reasons- that it’s not so much independence that’s the aim, but the possibilities that are opened up that would not be available under the status quo. This might include: the greater likelihood of a abolishing the monarchy; that the Scottish electorate would be inclined to avoid the austerity policies of the Westminster consensus and make a socialist alternative possible; the creation of a fairer,  more democratic polity; and the use of funds for sustainable and egalitarian ends rather than wars of aggression.

Here there may be a degree of overlap with some of the inherent arguments. For instance, the possibility of rejecting Tory rule once and for all is predicated on the idea that independence is more democratic and allows us to make that choice. Indeed, you might say that the very opportunity for a country to build something different, whether it is carried out or not, is an inherent reason to support independence (an extension of the increased democracy argument). What distinguishes the opportunity-based arguments is that they will be in direct competition with those of independence supporters with different political perspectives. For instance, a right-wing opportunity-based argument might be the ability to build a low-tax economy with minimal business regulations in order to attract investment. Either way, these scenarios are not the inevitable consequence of independence, rather a sample of the colours available on the post-referendum pallette.

Changing Terrain

Finally, there are a set of considerations based on the idea that the political terrain of Scotland will change after autumn 2014 as a result not just of the referendum but also of the continuing economic situation that will continue to have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable. No matter the result of the referendum the SNP faces an existential crisis. What does the party that unites a membership and voter-base of hugely divergent political views do when the single issue uniting them disappears? Political realignment may not be immediate but the basis will certainly be there. As such, there are a number of tactical reasons for socialists to fight for independence which would include: independence having greater support amongst the working class and young; the opportunity to work with leftists in other parties (and none) who are, at the very least, people that want change; and the possibility to work on a campaign that asks fundamental questions about how the economy and society are organised and which will undoubtedly capture the public attention.

It would be cynical and dishonest for anyone to base their support for independence entirely on these considerations without accepting any inherent or opportunity-based arguments. Instead we might think of these as ways the left can maximise its influence and rebuild in the context of a campaign to which it would otherwise still be dedicated. There is a future for an organised left, no matter the vote, but there is no other campaign that is so central to the resurgence of the left over the next two years. This means we have to enter into relationships with other supporters in a non-sectarian manner and reach out to new activists.

The categorising of these arguments is not just a taxonomic exercise but a distinction that should help inform the tactical choices that are in front of us. If we are to accept that there are inherent reasons, any inherent reasons, to support independence, and that these outweigh the inherent reasons against independence then it follows that we should orientate our efforts to ensure a ‘yes’ vote. Similarly, if we accept any opportunity-based reasons then we also have to accept that they cannot become a reality without first securing a ‘yes’ vote. As such, one obvious consideration is how best we can ensure a positive outcome to the referendum.

Yes Scotland

There are some on the left who believe that this outcome can only be secured by a disciplined and united ‘yes’ campaign that must put political differences to the side in pursuit of the common goal.  However, there is a second consideration to the opportunity-based reasons for support. We cannot just presume that they will come to pass, neither can we presume that these issues can be dropped for the next two years and neatly picked back up again once the vote has been secured.  There will be pressure from both opponents and proponents of independence, many of whom make up the leadership of the independence movement, for the nascent state to pursue an economic and political model that will ensure there is as much continuity as possible. This can only be challenged if there is a momentum to push beyond the cosmetic change of flags towards substantial and lasting change. This has to be achieved not only by ensuring that radical alternatives are debated and support for them is built but also by ensuring that the campaign itself organises and meaningfully involves as many as possible. This not only increases to chances of a ‘yes’ vote (a friend, neighbour, or colleague is more likely to persuade you than one of the ‘great and the good’) but instils a culture of activism and democratic engagement that should bode well for the new Scottish state. If thousands of activists have actively contributed to securing a ‘yes’ vote then they should be less willing to subsequently sit back and be passive in the vital period following the referendum.

Of course, the importance of raising socialist politics throughout the campaign is not just about getting us in a position to continue the process of transformation beyond 2014 but is also, we would argue, more likely to secure a ‘yes’ vote in the first place. The ‘yes’ campaign needs the votes of those that have been disproportionately let down by the union and a succession of governments, people who are also less likely, in general, to vote. These are people who could be excited by radical ideas, by a vision of a country where their needs and interests are put first for a change. An anaemic, uninspiring, apolitical campaign is insufficient to gain independence.

So how do these considerations fit in with our organisational options? There are some who argue that we should focus our energies within Yes Scotland (YS). Certainly, it is by far and away the biggest organised component of the campaign, officially endorsed not just by the SNP but by the SSP and Greens too. They have already organised a large and successful pro-independence demonstration and have weekly activities in all parts of the country focussed on discussing post-independence options, speaking to undecided voters and gathering 1,000,000 signatures.

Radical Independence Conference

An alternative lies in the building of the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) as a means to propagate a leftist alternative to the official campaign. A start has been made with the inaugural conference due in November and well-attended organising meetings held in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is noticeable from meetings thus far how many young people are involved, and others who are unencumbered by the negative experiences of the SSP split. In terms of building relationships and working with people who are crucial to the future of the left, the RIC is crucial.

YS is sometimes attacked as a mouthpiece of the Scottish Government, and there is a habit of conflating SNP policy with its own. At the very least, the RIC provides a space for discussing and promoting the opportunities presented by independence that a broad and ostensibly politically neutral campaign such as YS ever can. However, while YS certainly has to do more to convince people that it is not merely an extension of the SNP, the day-to-day work in which it’s engaged and the sheer scale of the campaign makes it integral to securing a ‘yes’ vote[ii]. While some may talk about building RIC so that it will come to lead the movement over the next two years this does not reflect the reality of the situation.  There is already a level of involvement in YS from people of all political persuasions that cannot be competed with within this time-scale. If the left had been in a stronger position over the last couple of years then perhaps this dynamic would be different but as it is the aim should not be to replace Yes Scotland, but to work critically and constructively within it, while simultaneously building RIC to push beyond 2014. To spurn the opportunity to work with thousands of activists, many with similar political views and ambitions as ourselves, would be nonsensical. If nothing else, how do we expect to propagate a radical message if we pass on the forum where we can work and build relationships with a sizeable number of people with whom we’d expect to find sympathy? A refusal to work with YS closes off avenues of engagement with pro-independence activists and considerably restricts our wider outreach- this is counter-productive in terms of securing a ‘yes’ vote, promoting a socialist alternative, and rebuilding the left beyond 2014.

Diverse Campaigning

The SSP has chosen to endorse both YS and RIC. This is right. While it is a challenge in terms of time and resources it is only this approach that can work. Indeed, there are even more organisations that are being built by socialist activists. The biggest of these is perhaps Women for Independence, which is working to address a problem not just with the campaign but with politics and society in general- ensuring that women have a voice. They are adopting an approach of listening as much as talking and include activists from across the political spectrum. Again, this is consistent with doing what needs to be done to secure a ‘yes’ vote while working with others with whom you can build positive relations going forward. Another smaller group, Trade Unionists for Independence, has the primary aim of building a network of activists to challenge the dominant arguments heard in the regional committees and branches of the unions, getting into areas where the SNP has limited reach and YS may not see as a priority.  Again, it is drawing together activists from different parties (including Labour) and none. Neither of these organisations see themselves as in competition with the official campaign, but do a job that complements the single YS objective of campaigning for a ‘yes’.

The aim for socialists is to create an environment where genuinely democratic and radical politics can take hold. To do that we need to work to get a ‘yes’ vote and promote radical alternatives- these are not mutually exclusive (the latter will contribute to the former). People need to mobilise and be inspired on a scale not seen in the last 10 years and that needs SSP members and others to maximise avenues of influence and get out to stalls and meetings. The campaign has started- we can’t get left behind.


[i] One might argue that the ‘break-up of the British state’ depends as much on the choices made after the referendum as much as the act of independence itself, in which case it should be considered amongst the arguments in the following paragraph.

[ii] A look at their website shows 30 official events for the month of November 2012 and there are likely to be even more organised locally by groups of activists, covering all parts of Scotland.

14 points to consider for the 2014 referendum

George Mackin considers the approach the left should take to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

Referendum consultation - press conference

1. The SNP as far as electoral politics goes, are at the moment the only show in town. 

“Something has fundamentally changed. Scottish Labour no longer holds exclusive rights to the votes of working class Scotland. People have had a lick of a different ice cream cone, and found it doesn’t taste of puppy dog tails.”     Jo Harvie, editor Scottish Socialist Voice

I have never tasted puppy dog’s tails but ah ken what Jo is on about. What does SNP ice cream taste like?  I think a little like the poisonous chocolate mousse offered to Rosemary in Rosemary’s baby. It’s creamy and yummy, but with a chalky under-taste to it. Delicious yet soporific.

Like all ‘isms’, Nationalism even the civic nationalism of the SNP has its potential threats. Nationalism as a state of yearning leads to the romantic pulling of heartstrings and can be intolerant of competing identities, the recent draconian football bigotry legislation being a case in point. Sing any song you like, display any symbol you like as long as it is Scottish.

The SNP strides the political scene as all other political parties wilt in general disarray under their revolutionary and all conquering slogan of ‘good governance’.

The SNP have learned from the New Labour experiment. They are a benchmark of political triangulation, just as New Labour were in their heyday. To borrow an old American saying they know how to politically work ‘both sides of the street’.

Pssst,  Tories want a council tax freeze, there ye go, middle class parents anxious about student tuition fees, look no further.  Hey if you are multi-national company and want a substantial cut on our Corporation Tax then buddy we can spare a billion or so.

There is a flip side to this largesse. For every spending commitment, there is an opportunity cost of lost social spending. The significant cuts in Further Education Sector, the drastic cuts and privatisation of local government services and subsequent job losses are all hidden from view. To even speak of them is to be slapped down as being a unionist as was my experience when discussing the fiasco that is the SNP/Liberal administration in Edinburgh.

The SNP may be politically defter, than the train crash that is the Scottish Labour Party but in reality they are two sides of the same coin.

2. You can’t chuck stones or half bricks 400 miles. 

One argument for independence that is not mentioned often but for me is a key one comes from the arch-unionist Walter Scott:  Ye cannae chuck stones 400 miles, or half bricks. Let no one fool you, Scottish bosses are no less malign than English ones but with independence they are closer to hand.

3. Middle Class Nationalism is not the worker’s friend

The SNP have no coherent political or economic philosophy. Once we have independence then we can have class politics they tell us, whilst draping a saltire around everything. Worker and bosses, we are pals here.  Come in your Majesty, ye will have hud yer tea, allow me to sit upon my bended knee. “Oh hello Donald Trump that is lovely head of hair on you, I didn’t know your relatives were from Scaatlaanndd”.

“Once we have independence then we can go for socialism”, I have been told  by an ex-SSP comrade now in the SNP; as if changing history was as easy as forgetting a shopping item and then going back to the shop because you forgot the frozen peas. Puuurrleease. Gonnae no say that.

The rightist Winnie Ewing famously said “stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”, to great applause year after year after year after year. In fact I think she gave the same speech at the SNP conference for nigh on a couple of decades to the enchanted faithful. Yet how can you stop the world as the world heats up and people starve and are in poverty in order to keep capitalism growing at the compound rate of 3%?

As James Conolly said in his article ‘Socialism and Irish Nationalism’:

(In this case replace Scotland with Ireland)

 “as a socialist I am prepared to do all one man can do to achieve our motherland her rightful heritage – independence; but if you ask me to abate one jot or title of the claims of social justice, in order to conciliate the privileged classes, then I must decline”


4.  We wish to see an end of the British State as much as we wish to see Scottish Independence. 

In many ways the Scottish National Party is a very British party – think of the ‘Save our Regiments‘ campaign, or its active and open support to retain the Queen and its deeply reticent attitude about speaking up about Ireland. For fear of giving offence they have one leg in the British and one leg out.  The much trumped Devo-Max as second favourite option, is in many ways reminiscent of Gladstone’s ‘Home Rule All Round’ slogan.

In Scotland, the SNP (who I voted for in the first ballot, this year) are keen to spin the line that the Queen is a harmless old lady. And we should keep the monarchy and only talk about Ireland. If we mention the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and since the banking collapse, we are not to discuss our sister country at all – like that mad wife in the Charlotte Bronte novel that is kept up in the attic and never discussed.

Now all the talk is back to us being Norway like in the Seventies! A confident wee nation at ease with ourselves, with no real divides between the haves and the have not’s. Yet still deeply disciplined in self-censorship. The Say Nothing Party.

A douce wee polite Jock-Brit nation. More tea and Battenburg cake Lizzy?
Such is the paranoia over the republican issue that the longstanding policy of a referendum on the retention of the royal family has been dropped and a Facebook page called Scottish Nationalist Republicans has been pressurised to drop its page from the social network system.

5. You can’t insult your way to socialism. Calling the SNP a ‘Tartan Tory’ party is inaccurate. 

The SNP like the Labour Party is a mass party with many talented people and decent people and like all  large political parties  blessed with the usual group of malcontents, miscreants, oddballs, arse-lickers and careerists. If you live in Scotland or have ever been witness to an election count, you will notice an almost Life of Brian hatred between the two main political parties. There is a visceral hatred which is certainly not healthy or conducive to political discourse. The narcissism of small differences.

6. Political parties are only the echo of the battle not the battle itself.  

Every week or so our hard-working SNP councillor pops through the door a new, well produced and well funded leaflet full of tired nationalist politicians and lots of saltires, so many saltires. Scotland this, Scotland that. Freedom and Scotland and yet more freedom and those nasty other parties that are denying Scotland’s destiny and not speaking for ‘us’ unlike Scotland’s party which truly speaks and stands up for Scotland. Fade and repeat. Same leaflet, week after week, slightly different format and pictures. The same text. More police, less council tax and yet more good governance.  The couthy, canny and canty party. Good for business, good for the people of Scotland. The sensible party. And the sensible party never use the C word – class. People who vote for the SNP = aspirational and people who do not and especially people who are not in the SNP fold are beyond the pale.  Not truly Scottish or even better, the catch all phrase a ‘unionist’.

Having said that, I like my councillor. To be honest I am ambivalent about the place of my birth, yet I hate the British state and I support independence (always have done) and will reluctantly vote for the Scottish National Party when there are no Green Party or SSP candidates. They are a broad church of people and on the whole I like them.  Some played an honest role when it came to the public sector strikes.  Mind you some of the Labour Party members also did.  Yet if I am honest about these political traditions, I feel alienated, disenfranchised and downright scunnered by them. The whole ‘show business for ugly people’ and the parsimonious democracy that is 21st century capitalism leaves me cold

7. Beware of the building up of the dichotomous sophistry of bourgeois nationalism. The war is with the outdated fetters of capitalism not with England and Paul.   

It seems that the whole of Scotland is to be parcelled out in Calvinist fashion into those who support independence or those who are in favour of the union. I have always hated and resented the building up of the dichotomous sophistry and this ‘with us or agin us’ political tactic annoys the crap out of me. Also Scotland is not Ireland so cut this nonsense out especially if you are a pro-monarchist, British Army and pro-multinational big business party.

8. Political parties that court favour with powerful elites when achieving power almost certainly will not stand up to power when in power. 

New Labour are a case in point. Obama in power, the same. How many examples would you like? They were never on the left.

Can you think of an example where a political party has been more radical than its stated objectives whilst out of power? I can think of a few, Thatcher and the like, all from the Right.

The SNP may be recruiting members by their thousands at the moment but more and more of them will be careerists rather thanidealists. Ever was it thus.

Independence is the repository of everyone’s wish lists like a child’s letter to Santa. Post independence tough choices will be made.  You can have lower Corporation Tax but do expect cuts in social welfare.

As Aneurin Bevan was oft to remark Socialism “is a religion of priorities“.

9. Scotland being independent opens up opportunities for the left. 

At the heart of this debate is what do we understand by the term internationalism? Are we seeking to build a truly democratic society from below – a politics that is based on decentralisation, diversity and cooperation?

Do we, like HG Wells, envisage replacing capitalist globalisation with a world government? Do we believe like the Morning Star that the left should be in favour of larger broader states and any break from this would be a regressive step since it would divide working class forces?

However, Alan McCombes in a recent article follows this logic to its logical conclusion-

Logically the same arguments should be applied to the development of the European Union. Those trying to push forward towards a European superstate represent historical progress; while those Swedish and Danish trade unionists and women’s organisations who successfully campaigned against the euro were putting their own narrow interests above the greater historical project of internationalism.

Moreover, socialists in Canada and Mexico – and the rest of Latin America too, for that matter – should be advocating union with the United States of America on the grounds that such a continental state would unite hundreds of millions of working people from the Amazonian jungle to the Arctic Circle. After all, a manual worker in Toronto or Guadalajara has more in common with a worker in a Detroit car factory than with a Canadian banker or a Mexican landowner.

Also to take this particular tact is to understand the key forces which created the United Kingdom. The British state was created to unite the ruling classes of the respective nation states and you only need to take a look at Ireland to realise that this particular historical project played in disuniting the working class of the constituent nation states.

Will socialism be achieved as the product of a single big bang, a simultaneous, world-wide revolt of the working class and the oppressed? Or, because of differing national conditions and traditions, will social change be more fragmented and disjointed? Will it tend to develop at local and national level first, before spreading outwards?

10.  The Radical Left should support independence in a non-sectarian and positive manner. No one likes a smart arse and no one has the monopoly of truth. 

The 2014 referendum presents an opportunity to energise the radical left forces in Scotland.

The Scottish Socialist Party and the radical left in general is in a beleaguered and fragmented state at present.  There is no use in pretending that it will be play the major role in campaigning for a yes vote. The Scottish National Party will dominate the agenda.

The left needs to organise a separate campaign outlining a radical vision of what an independent Scotland may look like, if we are willing to fight for it.

That is not to say that we do not help out in the main campaign and engage with the widest possible pro-yes constituency- to quote Jimmy Maxton if you cannot ride two circus horses at the same time, then you shouldn’t be in the circus.

11.  There is no such thing as a completely free nation. We are all Jock Tamson’s Bairns. We all share a common humanity.  

There is no such thing as a completely free nation- we are all economically and environmentally interdependent.  James Connolly over a century ago neatly encapsulates the dilemma of national liberation but not economic liberation. Again another Connolly quote – I make no apology for quoting him twice –   

 If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.

England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed.

Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin – is only national recreancy.

It would be tantamount to a public declaration that our oppressors had so far succeeded in inoculating us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality that we had finally decided to accept those conceptions as our own, and no longer needed an alien army to force them upon us.

As a Socialist I am prepared to do all one man can do to achieve for our motherland her rightful heritage – independence; but if you ask me to abate one jot or tittle of the claims of social justice, in order to conciliate the privileged classes, then I must decline.

12. The key reason for the rise of nationalism in Scotland is a political revulsion against neo-liberalism. 

By the end of Second World War people from the British Isles fought together successfully to defeat Fascism. This brought a great sense of purpose and solidarity. The election of the Labour Party saw the delivery of the welfare state and the national health service – those two key reforms played a big part in putting a human face on the British State.

The break in the political consensus in the mid to the late nineteen seventies saw an attack on these institutions and were deeply unpopular with huge swathes of Scottish people, who in turn were anxious to maintain the benefits of the welfare state.

It was natural that people voted for the Scottish Labour party but rather than seeking to reverse Thatcher- ism in many ways New Labour picked up the neo-liberal baton and ran with it. Hence their current malaise.

The Scottish National Party after eighty or so years of immense hard work and self sacrifice were the main recipients of votes from an ever growing, angry, disenchanted Scottish electorate. Yet I would not write off all ordinary members of the Labour Party, especially the trade unionists. As for the leadership and Jim Murphy I am mindful of my granny’s quip, God rest – “ah ma wee torn-hole, the things ye see when you huvane goat a gun“.

13.  The Scottish radical left has a proud tradition of supporting the break up of the British State. Marx is central to our understanding of this historical epoch. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

The mainstream middle class nationalist parties have only been around in the last 80 years or so the radical left in Scotland has a proud tradition for calling for a Scottish Republic, stretching at least back to Thomas Muir and Robert Burns in the late eighteenth century.

Scotland has also a proud Marxist tradition. James Connolly and John MacLean in particular and both from poor backgrounds, which is unusual – most of the main socialist theorists have been primarily bourgeois in origin.

Those particular thinkers have plenty to say about the current situation we are under; in particular the nature of the British State and how nationalism relates to internationalism.  Both were adamant in stressing that affluent elites should not define what constitutes nationhood and freedom.

I know the left in Scotland is in a mess and is deeply fragmented but Marxist ideas are still I believe pertinent for the here and now. Let’s not keep our mouths shut and rely on the well read, the well wed and well fed define for us our freedom for fear that we wake up to meet the new boss who is the same as old boss. This is a time for ‘Imagine’ but it is also, as many Irish people on the left would no doubt warn you, a time not to be fooled again.

Tradition only takes you so far in politics. In the last fifty years or so there has been a lot wrong with the radical left and in particular the vulgar Marxist tradition.

(I find it deeply regretful that a lot of younger people, some even within the SSP do not have a deeper understanding of Marx and his deep humanism).

At the risk of sounding like a posh third year drama student – what is needed  is a counter hegemonic project worldwide, not daft guys wi’ tartan trews singing Killiecrankie- although let it be noted for the record I’m not averse to a wee sing song, from time to time.

Whether Capitalism will resolve the problems and the injustices that the world faces remains to be seen. I don’t think it will fall through its own contradictions; it will need to be pushed.

Marx who famously decried that he was not a Marxist was asked by his beloved daughters in a family game what was his favourite maxim? He replied ‘nothing is alien to me’ and as for his favourite motto he replied ‘everything should be doubted’. Translated from Latin, naturally.

No-one has the monopoly of truth and nothin’ is alien. Although we may love aspects of the Scottish culture we are people of  multiple identities and we belong to this blue planet rather than some arbitrary boundary line.

We are fundamentally humanists caught up in the nexus of this world for such a very brief and wonderful time. Let us reject all smelly orthodoxies and all forms of primate dominance. We will be long gone of course. We are close to the dead and soon will be food for the worms. Yet what we do matters on this earth and we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and judge how we lived and what we did with our lives. Fundamentally socialism is matter of humanist ethics.

14. If Scottish people can run their own affairs. Scotland people can run their own industries.

We are the country who decided in the Sixteenth Century we had the right to pick our own church ministers. Democracy and mitigated scepticism is a central plank of the Scottish Enlightenment thinking and indeed Scottish Working people’s culture. The democratic intellect runs deep within Scottish culture.

All hail the Scottish Republic. We are citizens not subjects and we bend our knee to no one. Not only do we protest but demand a democratic future for our children’s children and for this blue planet and all living things upon it large and wee.

To quote, John Holloway in his book ‘Crack Capitalism’-

“We do protest and we do more. We do and we must. If only we protest, we allow the powerful to set the agenda. If all we do is oppose what they are trying to do, then we simply follow in their footsteps. Breaking means that we do more than that, that we seize the initiative, that we set the agenda.”

Let’s raise a glass to a far off time when there is no state, or flags or boundaries.
Get in tae them! We have a world to win.

 

Whither the Scottish Labour Party?

Stephen Curran and Johann Lamont campaign in Glasgow Southside

Labour in Scotland have had the toughest days in their history, steamrollered by the SNP at the last Scottish elections and facing further losses in May’s council battle. Vince Mills, a left activist in the party takes a look at where the party finds itself.

Perhaps ‘wither the Scottish Labour Party‘ might seem like a better title for an article on the shape of the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) after its Spring conference in Dundee. Or at least such might be the impression on a neutral commentator looking at the half empty Caird Hall that was a persistent feature of the conference for most of the ordinary business of the gathering.  Mind you the Caird Hall looked like Vatican square on Easter Sunday compared to the remnants of the Liberal Democrats who huddled together in Inverness. The Caird Hall certainly filled up for Johann Lamont’s first speech as leader of the Scottish Labour Party on the Saturday afternoon of conference.

And with that new leader, who won with the full support of the unions and the left of the Party and, at least according the polls, with a position on devolution that is supported by most Scots, this conference seemed like the perfect time for the SLP to take back the centre left ground occupied by Salmond’s SNP.

Kremlinology

Did it? Here we are going to have to resort to Kremlinology.  The usual means of understanding shifts in political direction in Labour’s tradition –  debates pushing particular positions leading to changes in policy – these have long since gone. Managerialism has become embedded in the culture and indeed the very structures that could deliver positions for debate that might be embarrassing to the leadership have been stripped out.

So to understand whether there is a change taking place, at least in the Party’s upper echelons, you have to look at who the leader is promoting, what hints are being offered in key speeches and how the unions’ concerns are being treated. Let us start with promotions. Neil Findlay MSP for the Lothians and unapologetic leftist was given a role on the backbenches. This may seem unremarkable but would have been unheard of in previous regimes.  Such has been the strength of the right that there was no need to trouble itself with inclusion even if in the exclusion of, for example, Elaine Smith, now depute presiding officer, you excluded the MSP with the largest majority in Scotland, risking the obvious inferences from her Labour electorate.

The speech that Johann Lamont delivered also hinted that things could change. She said, for example:

“I know that many of our comrades in the trade union movement left us in May because they felt we had let them down. And so I will work with my trade union colleagues to re-engage with union members and demonstrate that our cause is a common cause.”

Independence Referendum

At this point of course you are entitled to ask what the cause is and how can it be delivered jointly. Here the managerialist response kicks in. Unite had considered proposing an emergency motion at conference the effect of which was to seek a special conference to debate the constitutional question. However to accept this may have looked like a challenge to the leader who, it is well known, favours a one question referendum with a flat ‘NO’ as the response.

Consequently the motion was withdrawn and in its place there was an executive statement briefed in advance to the press, announcing the creation of a commission to consider Labour’s response to the constitutional issue comprising MPs, MSPs, Trade Unionists and missing, as far as most leftist delegates could work out, party members. So too was the role of the party collectively, whose role in endorsing or rejecting the conclusions that the commission might come up with remains unclear.

Suspicions that minds were already made up and that party members real role was as supporting cast were not helped when in advance of, and subsequent to, the conference SLP members received a helpful reminder from the Party leadership that the Scottish government was having a consultation on the referendum. The message from Scottish Labour not only pointed you to the consultation; it filled the answers in for you. Here is part of the pre-written response:

“There should only be one question in order to give a definitive answer on whether or not Scotland remains part of the UK. I do not support attempts to muddy the water with further questions on other matters. I want the referendum sooner rather than later and do not see the need to wait almost three years.”

Whatever your position on this – I favour a second question – there has been no widespread discussion or debate in the SLP about it; there has only been the statements of the leadership.  Furthermore many in the Trade Union movement including those unions affiliated to Labour, are spread over a range of positions from independence on the one hand, a small but significant section, to  a variety of positions  up to and I suppose including the status quo, although few are actually articulating that position.

The Labour Left

The extent to which the new Scottish Labour leadership is really ready for dialogue and change in a way that would upset the SNP’s bandwagon is still in doubt.  The left response at conference at any rate was a clear desire for even greater unity.  At both the Campaign for Socialism‘s fringe meeting, comprising predominantly constituency activists  and that of Revitalise the Scottish Labour Party, which is an informal network of trade union and constituency activists, there was a stark acknowledgement that the left could only survive as an alliance between the trade union movement and individual activists and that they could only have an impact through serious organisation and democratic convergence on policy positions and support for left candidates.  Consequently there are moves to transform the informal Revitalise into a more formal and better resourced organisation.

Even supposing this succeeds and nudges Labour left, it will not be in time to stop some embarrassing defeats for the Party in May. Labour may well lose overall control in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire although the former is more likely than the latter.  Glasgow is riven with disputes and petty jealousies and an organized schism in Glasgow First, formed around a group of deselected councillors. However, in the absence of any electoral project that can offer a serious left alternative Labour setbacks may provide grist to the mill of those in the SLP trying to grind out a victory over Blair’s legacy  – a managerialist party machine imbued with neo-liberal politics.

For a Socially Just Scotland

Gregor Gall looks at what a socially just Scotland would look like and how that differs from the vision of the Scottish National Party.

Saltires on N30 strike demo
Saltires on N30 strike demo

The now unfolding public debate on independence in the run up to the referendum in late 2014 provides for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put the case for a socially just Scotland. So long as the debate is not parked in the cul-de-sac of constitutional politics and constitutional wrangles, it should be relatively easy to ask the mainstream political parties and opinion-formers just what is their vision for a socially just Scotland is. And, if they come up short, then use the occasion to put forward a radical vision of what is needed to achieve a socially just Scotland. This is because there is no point having the debate, the referendum or voting for independence (or ‘devo-max’ if it makes it on to the ballot paper) unless we can imagine a better, more socially justice and equal society in Scotland. So a lot is up for grabs.

“Progressive Beacon”?

The SNP in particular has a blind spot in any search for a socially just, independent Scotland because while it has some reflexes to the left on social issues, it is positively neo-liberal in its economic policies. And economics easily trumps social issues in the capitalist mainstream. So for Salmond to have recently pronounced that Scotland after independence – under the SNP – could become a ‘progressive beacon’ for other countries is, frankly, way off the mark. This is because the centre piece of the SNP politics is not so much an independent state under capitalism – which it is – but that through state-sponsored trickledown economics, the economy in Scotland can grow and everyone and their living standards will be levelled up in the process. The key policy in all this is to cut the rate of corporation tax to something like that of the Irish Republic. But we must recall the Republic became massively unequal despite the overall economic growth and such a pursuit of inward investment as part of a programme of economic deregulation created the conditions for the extended age of austerity that Irish citizens are now experiencing after the ‘boom’ turned to ‘bust’.

In economic terms, Salmond and the SNP take the view that all new jobs are good jobs regardless of their terms and conditions. This could be seen by Salmond’s welcoming on two recent occasions of Amazon’s investment in Scotland. He did not even think to attach any conditions – like those of union recognition or a living wage – to the receipt of public funds that Amazon received for making these investments. Jobs that create spending power to the SNP are the source of economic and social betterment. But it does matter what kind of jobs are created and how they are remunerated. It also matters that they are secure jobs. Equally, it matters that low paid jobs should not be subsidised by a social wage because, in effect, this means the taxpayer is subsidising employers and letting them off from paying a level of wages that requires no social wage prop up.

Social Justice

In other words, the notion of genuine and deep-seated social justice (never mind socialism) is absent from the SNP’s economic policy. Salmond wants to create economic growth and let others determine who benefits from it. In effect, this means the employers and existing power elites will make these decisions. That is probably why many employers are not fazed by independence and many are for it – especially if corporation tax is lowered.

It then seems that the SNP’s ability to win the ‘yes’ vote in the referendum is – all other things being equal – very much weakened but its inability, if not unwillingness, to demonstrate how and why an independent Scotland could and would be better for the mass of citizens in Scotland. This is not to say that the SNP is not a socialist party – clearly, it is not – but that it is hardly even a social democratic party either. Social democracy is defined not just as the search for social justice within capitalism but the willingness and ability to do so through progressive reforms where state intervention ameliorates the processes and outcomes of the market. In other words, reforms.

The vision on the left which supports independence should stress above all else the possibility of determining people’s own economic relations and, thus, social destiny. Whilst a republic should be part of this vision (especially as the SNP wants to maintain a constitutional monarchy), the key reason why citizens should vote at all and for independence will hinge upon whether they believe their living standards and those of their kids will be better in terms of jobs, health, education and so on.

But this in itself is not enough because a vision of this better life could be a neo-liberal one of growth and expansion as per the SNP. The two extra ingredients that are needed are a) a more just and equal society and b) an environmentally sustainable one.

Jock Tamson’s Bairns

The phrase ‘we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ still means a lot in Scotland and indicate that the political centre of gravity is to the left and essentially social democratic on many issues. In order to provide a representation and outlet for the values bound up with ‘Jock Tamson’s bairns’, the arguments for independence must comprise arguments for a redistribution of wealth – something that will scare many of the SNP’s business supporters. Equally well, we cannot allow the progressive vision of an independent Scotland to be one of economic growth at all costs – even assuming it was more fairly distributed – because of the environmental devastation that would create.

None of this makes an argument for or against independence as such. The key issue is whether the situation of independence is an opportunity to advance a radical left agenda. And it seems, there is far more of a possibility to do so in the run up to and under independence than under the status quo (whether of ‘devo-max’ or not). I use the term ‘possibility’ rather than ‘probability’ because the weakness of the left cannot suddenly be magically solved under independence. However, with the focus of debate likely to be on ‘what kind of Scotland do we want?’ and with more latitude to determine this in Scotland itself than ever before, the argument for independence seems substantially stronger than the argument against.

Gregor Gall is Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Hertfordshire