Tag Archives: independence

Republican Socialist Solidarity

Independence Demo

Below we are posting the statement agreed by the RSA Steering Committee in London on Feb. 14th in response to Cameron and Osborne. This is followed by a statement of solidarity sent to republican socialist organisations in Scotland by Steve Freeman, member of the Republican Socialist Alliance and Left Unity Party in England. He was a speaker at the ‘After the UK – the future of 4 nations’ session at the RIC national conference in Glasgow on 23.11.13.



The Tories are facing their Waterloo. As the rivers flood and their credibility sinks the Tories and the whole British Establishment are preparing for their final battle with the people of Scotland. The Prime Minister’s speech at the Olympic Park in East London launched his appeal for the people of England, Northern Ireland and Wales to back the Tory war effort. George Osborne, the Chancellor joined in a co-ordinated pincer movement to sabotage the Scottish economy in the event of a Yes vote. The Hammer of the Scots was soon backed up by the discredited Clegg and the discreditable Miliband.  

The SNP government has offered to keep the pound and pay homage to the British monarchy in exchange for control of Scotland’s assets. But with the pound stolen, the obvious retaliation is to end the monarchy and become a republic. But Scottish business, which backs the SNP government, fears a republic will unleash the forces of “people power”.



This week has seen the British Establishment step up their war against the SNP government plan for constitutional change to be put to the Scottish people in September 2014.

The Prime Minister’s speech at the Olympic Park in East London (February 7 2014) launched the attack by appealing to the people of England, Northern Ireland and Wales to back the Tory government in this struggle by appealing to British patriotism and commending the bloody history of the British Empire.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (February 13 2014) supported by Clegg and Miliband threatened to sabotage the Scottish economy by refusing the option of a currency union in the event of a Yes vote. This ‘united front’ of the three main Establishment (or monarchist) parties is the kind of unity which occurs, as in the Falklands war and the Iraq war, when the political class believe the fundamental interests of the state are at stake.

Whatever view we take of the SNP government plan for Scotland there are certain demands which the left in England, Northern Ireland and Wales must support.

We call on the labour movement, trade unions and socialist organisations, and the people of England, Northern Ireland and Wales more generally to support:-

1.  The right of the Scottish people to self determination.

a) The right of the Scottish people to a referendum without threats of economic sabotage or covert action sanctioned under the UK state’s Crown Powers.

b)  The right of the Scottish people to form an independent sovereign democratic state.

2.  A yes vote in the referendum

We will support those in Scotland who are calling for a democratic republican and internationalist approach to the referendum. We note this approach is being taken by the Radical Independence Conference which is critically supporting a Yes vote in September 2014. We will urge support for this approach by all progressive forces in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum organised by the SNP government, we will support those in Scotland who intend to continue the struggle for self determination to secure an independent sovereign democratic social and secular republic with the closest voluntary relations with the people of England, Wales and Ireland.

3.  People united  

We call on all labour movement, trade unions and socialist organisations in Scotland to support those in England, Northern Ireland and Wales who defend their right to self determination and the sovereign rights of the Scottish people to republican self government.

Steve Freeman, 13.2.14


Scotland, Democracy and Socialism

Washing Line Wish 

The prospect of independence for Scotland raises many vital questions related to the constitutional and democratic framework such a new state could create. Ben Wray is a member of the International Socialist Group, an activist in the Radical Independence Campaign and works for the Jimmy Reid Foundation as a researcher. In this article, written in a personal capacity, he examines some of these questions.

In this essay on democracy, I am going to work backwards. I’m going to start by looking at the ideal  democracy for a socialist. I’m then going to look at what would be positive, intermediary steps in our current context that would help work towards this ideal future, as well as extending democracy to improve people’s lives in the here and now. I will look at this in the context of the independence referendum next year. Continuing the reverse order, I am then going to look at the SNP’s vision for democracy in an independent Scotland, which is the dominant one within the independence movement, and examine to what extent this will advance the cause of democracy and what the limitations of it are. Finally I’m going to end up at where we are now with Britain’s ‘representative democracy’, which I am going to define as ‘neoliberal democracy’.

The intention of this structure is to show a red thread that runs from our overall goals to our immediate tasks, that connects the socialist theory to the practical realities of our political context. In looking at it this way, hopefully what will become clear is that socialists cannot just engage in propaganda for a socialist democracy, but have to play a leading role in agitating for democratic advancement under capitalism and building coalitions and alliances with others who want to do the same.

This ‘war of position’ strategy, to put it in Gramscian terms, is the only way for socialists to build up the forces and the credibility in which our socialist democratic model will be on the agenda. Democracy is both our goal and our strategy, as Leon Trotsky put it “Socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen”. This isn’t to say revolutionary changes aren’t also necessary, but like all previous transformations, the overcoming of capitalism will be part revolution and part transition – such is the dialectic of history.

 Socialist Democracy

Democracy is at the heart of the socialist idea. Under capitalism, democracy is limited to a specific political sphere of elections every four or five years, whilst the economic aspects of life are dominated by the dictatorship of capital. Socialism eradicates the division between political and economic spheres of life: workers have democratic control over where they work, students over where they study, communities over where they live, and so on. And it is at this level – worker, student and community participative democracy – where elections take place for delegates to represent them at local, regional, national and international level. Those representatives are immediately recallable and their decisions revocable based on the democratic will of the majority.

How do we decide at what level decisions are made? Quite simply, enfranchisement should be based on the extent to which one is affected by the decision. Local parks affect people most in that particular communtiy, ditto schools, roads, sporting facilities and so on. Decisions over international trade will usually affect those at the national and international level and therefore delegation from community and worker level will be required.

What about when democratic council’s of people contradict? So for example, over pricing of goods which affects workers and consumers? Or the disposal of waste which affects workers, the wider community and the international community in terms of environmental harm? Worker’s councils are not the only form of council that will exist, they will coincide with consumer councils and environmental councils which will seek to come to common agreement, and if they can’t it will be delegated upwards to representative bodies that can come to agreement.

Therefore socialism is about a transformation of democracy, where participative democracy and a new, more accountable form of representative democracy combine into a coherent whole where accountability, responsibility and, ultimately, power starts from the bottom up.

Of course, we do not know exactly what a socialist democracy would look like until we get there. The whole idea is premised upon the creative energies of ordinary people to shape their own future, and therefore it is not just impossible but also contradictory to our methodology to say ‘this is exactly how socialism would work’.

Neither is there one vision for a socialist democracy. My very basic outline above takes more from the ‘participative economics’ school like Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert, but other socialists would have extensive criticism’s of Hahnel and Albert. The details are not important here, what is important is to identify socialism as being about the democratisation of economic, social and political life so that inequalities are undermined by a structure that puts everyone on an even level with equal access and distribution of wealth and power.

Transitional steps

How do we work towards this goal of a socialist democratic model? We should have learned by now that simply to proclaim it will never be good enough. There has been a long tradition of propagandism in the British socialist movement going back to the Social Democratic Federation in the 19th Century who, much to the annoyance of Marx and Engels, shunned struggles in the real world as ‘a distraction’ in favour of study circles and public forums that proposed a socialist future without providing any realistic strategy to get there. More recently, British Trotskyism has raised ‘the programme’ up as the pinnacle in socialist thinking. Trotsky had written ‘The Transitional Program: The Death Agony of Global Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International’ in the context of a struggle between socialists and fascists across Europe during the 1930’s recession and an imminent second world war. Many Trotskyists have followed this model dogmatically, which was specific to Trotsky’s context where socialist revolution was on the agenda, and the results have been continual failure.

Propagandism has failed because it does nothing to relate to the political context as it exists in the real world. It is abstract and utopian and, therefore, entirely unconvincing to the vast majority of working class people.

The majority of people do not make political choices based on ideologies and programmes, but on answers to the most important problems they are facing in the here and now. Our aim therefore should be to find answers that are feasible given the political context and at the same time point the way towards our ultimate goal. If we can prove that our answers are better than others, then they are more likely to listen to what we say the next time we propose something. At the same time, if we can implement some of our transitional measures, they should by their very nature help to empower and embolden working class people to go further.

We therefore need transitional, or intermediary, steps. Steps that may seem very limited compared to our aims but taken in the context of the political situation as a whole, may be perceived as extremely ambitious to most people.

So, what would these transitional steps be specifically in terms of democracy in the context of the Scottish independence referendum?

Industrial Democracy: 

The empowerment of workers is the cornerstone of a socialist democratic model, but proposing workers control of all industries is not something that could feasibly happen in the present context of hyper-neoliberal Britain. We therefore have to propose measures which extend the democratic rights of workers and trade-unions and, where possible, propose a model of public ownership which is democratic and bottom-up.

The bare minimum is that workers rights in Britain should be able to match the best standards in Europe. Britain has some of the worst employment rights in Europe and is 26th out of 27 on a measurement of worker-participation, only ahead of Lithuania. A new Jimmy Reid Foundation paper proposes an industrial democracy model for Scotland which includes basic trade-union and employment rights: universal collective bargaining rights for recognised trade-unions regardless of the trade-union density existing in the workplace, full rights to strike and picket, compensation rights over unfair dismissal and employee buy-out rights. It also includes worker-participation and board-level representation rights: day-to-day staff-related affairs would be run by joint committee’s of staff and management and workers and trade-union representatives would be entitled to 1/3rd of seats on company boards with the same rights as other board representatives such as full access to company accounts.

These measures proposed do not fundamentally challenge property relations, but should be seen in the current political context. The situation at Grangemouth for example, where trade-unions were trampled over and workers were lied to and Royal Mail privatisation where the government privatised quicker than workers were able to strike. In this context these proposals are a step towards workers democracy because they mean the idea of workers having a say in how companies are run is registered on the political map. Once workers start becoming used to having a say, it is more likely they are going to want more. Therefore measures which strengthen trade-unions and embolden workers can only be positive.

In terms of public services, Andy Cumbers new book Reclaiming Public Ownership outlines extensively how democratisation of public services is not only fairer, but more efficient.  In bigger insitutions, like the NHS, where there has been cases of management bullying and worker exhaustion, in NHS Lothian for example, staff councils should elect representatives to sit on the board, along with input from service users who should also have representation. The idea is to build a structure which breeds a culture whereby those who do the work believe they are the ones who shape how it is organised.

Smaller organisations such as mutuals and co-operatives should be encouraged where workers can run enterprises themselves.

 Radical Decentralisation

This notion of self-governance should be extended to local democracy. First, in terms of using national resources for the collective interest. For example if you look at the renewables industry, whilst it may only be profitable for companies to organise on a national basis, it is easier and cheaper for many communities to supply their own energy because the wind blows and the sun shines where they live. In Denmark, 80 per cent of the wind energy sector is community owned.

Secondly, in terms of organising the distribution of public services. Local councils in Scotland are not really local and therefore are not really democratic as there are few lines of accountability between the citizen and their representatives. Scotland has the least local ‘local democracy’ in Europe. Subsequently, private capital and local councils are often in league with each other, which is why many are rightly sceptical of a ‘localism’ agenda if it means putting more power in the hands of local councillors.

Instead what we need is radical decentralisation of government, whereby we have a community-led local government allowing people in the area to dictate what their public investment budget is spent on. This is not the big society, which is a cover for cutting budgets and asking the voluntary sector and community activists to deal with the fall-out. It is saying instead that a much larger proportion of taxes should be allocated to people to spend in their communities, which in turn will create more jobs and a bigger tax revenue to re-invest again into their community. This doesn’t mean national government isn’t neccesary to deal with national issues and to redistribute wealth from rich to poor and from wealthy areas to poorer areas. But much of our lives is spent in the community we live, and that should reflect itself in governance terms.

There are healthy precedents for this in Brazil. Cities such as São Paolo and Porto Alegre have organised a section of their public investment budget by ‘participatory budgeting’: Communities meet up to discuss their local investment needs  and delegate people to state their case for investment. Over 80,000 people, overwhelmingly from the poorest parts of the city, participated in participatory budgeting meetings in Sao Paolo and they radically improved access to public services in the periphery of the city which had previously been cut off. One of their major focuses was housing, and since they had 40% of the city investment budget they could back it up with action. They reported that:

“In addition to working on slum upgrading in 30 slums…31,000 housing units in 2002 distributed as follows: 9,000 mutirões, 3,000 city center projects, 3,000 risk zones, 1,000 social locations, 5,000 state program, and 10,000 federal program.” 

Local democracy has to be transformed into community empowerment, and whilst all the resources of a local area are not going to be in the hands of the community overnight, the budgetary power of the state should as much as possible be in the hands of those it is suppose to be spent to help.

National Government and political parties

Finally, we need to have intermediary measures to address politics at the national level in Scotland. I will discuss the limitations of Holyrood more in the next section, but here what is important is to challenge the dominance of a political class running government forever. Politicians aren’t liked, they aren’t popular and they aren’t trusted. The problem is that the Right currently have a more coherent answer to how to solve this than the Left – have fewer politicians. Cutting back on politics is popular because of the unpopularity of politics, but of course all that would do in this context is put more power into the hands of civil servants, of accountancy firms and of capital. The left needs to have an answer about politics and political parties, and the first part of the answer has to be that we need a citizen’s democracy.

The Electoral Reform Society Scotland (ERS) recently organised an event based on participatory democracy techniques to look at how democracy could be improved. The report mentions many laudable ideas like 50/50 gender balance, but the main idea that came out of it was for a second chamber made up of citizen’s. Their final report, titled ‘politics is too important to be left to politicians’, argued that:

“This ‘National People’s Forum’ would be made up of randomly selected citizens’ who would serve a set term. Various recruitment methods were discussed, ranging from elections to jury selection type methods, to lotteries, perhaps at a constituency level. A further suggestion was that members of the chamber should be recruited from elected town meeting or community councils…Overall, the idea was that sitting in the second chamber would be seen as a form of service to the community…the idea of ‘democratic leave’ was also considered as a means of facilitating participation.”

Creating a citizen’s democracy where candidates serve one term would take out the poison of party politics and bring in more genuine grassroots participation into the national parliament. In British Columbia, a federal state in Canada, they introduced a system similar to that proposed by the ERS to decide on a new electoral system. This citizens’ chamber started off with majority support for the measure proposed by the media, but after a process of deliberation amongst one another and consultation with experts and constituents through town hall meetings they decided on another system which was of a more radical nature.

A citizens’ chamber is a form of ‘mini-public’. A mini-public is when an accurate cross-section of the population is brought together to discuss and debate an issue and come to a decision on it, like jury duty but it can be organised through various means. Wouldn’t mini-publics be a much better form of consultation for politicians than just listening to lobbyists and carrying out the occasional ‘public consultation’ which sets questions in a way to get pre-determined answers? If every parliamentary committee had to seriously consider the verdict of a mini-public which had three months to genuinely deliberate an issue, it gets round the problem of the same voices from the media to lobbyists to civil servants who churn out reason after reason about why radical proposes can’t be done and how they’re unpopular, but they don’t have any serious measure of what people actually think.

There is another aspect to national politics which has to change. There has to be an ideological acceptance that the only way for a democratic society to exist is if there is an equal society. Redistributive measures through taxation, therefore, are essential to create a more equal economic balance of power which can create the only circumstances for a more equal democratic balance of power over the long haul. The evidence for this is laid out in detail in The Spirit level and there has been no serious intellectual argument against it.

We all know, however, that ideological issues are contested ground, to put it mildly. Socialists will always start from a position of weakness, as the class we aim to stand up for are not in power. Therefore the role of political parties cannot be ignored in the democratic argument. Parties that are not democratic in themselves cannot genuinely claim to support a democratic society. This should not be mistaken for the over simplistic argument that parties must themselves organise in the way they want society to organise, ‘be the change you want to see’, as it is commonly put. This misunderstands the purpose of a party, which is not to find the best way to run their local nursery or university, but to defeat other political parties in a political battle in order to get the sort of democratic changes we want in society on the table. This takes a whole different sort of method to get the desired results than a democratic process which is about running society.

Nonetheless, for socialists to have any chance of competing our standards have to be somewhat higher than the mainstream parties in Scotland. Labour reached new lows in Falkirk when they decided to kick Unite members out and suspend the local parties democratic rights so that Miliband could please the right-wing press. The SNP are little better on this score, known for being hyper-centralised so much so that only a handful of people seem to have any input in their independence strategy (when you ask most SNP MSP’s they seem to have as much idea as I do about what the leadership are doing/thinking). Both SNP and Labour have policy which means if they don’t like a local candidate it is the right of the party centre to eliminate the decision of the local branch and change the candidate.

We need a real people’s party that reflects the demographics of Scottish society. This means far more women, more ethnic minorities and more working class people standing for positions in the national and local leaderships than is the case in the mainstream parties. A worker’s wage as practised by the SSP when they had MSPs at Holyrood is also important. Representatives must also be accountable to the national leadership and to the branch/constituency group they are elected from – rogue MSPs are not an option for the left, they need to be more disciplined than any other section of the party to the democratic decision of their fellow members at local and national level. Clear evidence of failure to be accountable should threaten their candidacy the next time an election comes around, no matter how popular they are. Representatives should set an example with mini-public meetings in their constituency – they should be seeking to find out the answers of their community after deliberation of their policies.

Democratic accountability should not just be held on representatives in a proper’s people’s party. Ordinary members should be responsible for continual renewal of the organisation so that it doesn’t become stagnant. Democracy can’t flourish in a stale environment because it doesn’t reflect an engagement with real social forces anymore, just those who have built up loyalty to a party. Therefore a continual process of engaging new people, attempting to teach them new ideas and skills and at the same time learning new ideas and skills from them is essential.

Finally, there are the policies and political practise of a genuine people’s party. If a party is to claim to believe in the ability of the majority to run society it needs to argue for that in the here and now, as I have outlined above, and do so in creative ways which are engaging, but more importantly it needs to prove in practise that it is going to support self-governance. A people’s party should be actively involved in co-operatives, housing associations and new practical forms of empowerment not because we believe it will overthrow capitalism, and not to recruit to our particular party, but because it is a good example and with good examples comes the possibility for change and learning.

Equally, we have to be willing to build alliances and coalitions with those from other parties to win improvements in democracy; sectarianism towards Labour, SNP, Greens and so on doesn’t show a willingness to put people before political loyalties. Some of the best moments in the SSP was when the party won support for measures on a cross-party basis at Holyrood despite its size, because it showed it could punch above its weight to get measures through which helped working class people.

We evidently don’t have a party with the ambition to do this or the roots to do this on any sort of national scale at the present moment. But the case for a party will not go away just because it hasn’t worked before, because the need for it is glaring – we just have to do it better, with better ideas, better organisation, a better internal culture and better tactics and strategy.

‘Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands’?

The independence referendum presents a context in which the intermediary steps proposed above for Scotland have a chance of getting a hearing. Creating a new Scottish state presents greater opportunities to define its form than the entrenched interests in a British state that has not significantly changed since women won the vote in full in 1928. But the dominant independence vision, set out in the White Paper on independence, comes from the SNP and when it comes to democracy it is not particularly radical.

There are good things. The prospect of worker-participation on boards has been raised. They have made it clear that the first term of an independent Scotland would shape a new constitution, which whilst perhaps not the best way to write a consitution it at least has an element of deliberation between all parties represented.

But the overwhelming democratic argument is the main pitch for the Yes side as a whole: ‘Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands’. Every time the Scottish electorate go to the ballot box, they’ll get the result they voted for, unlike the British system which regularly churns out government’s Scottish voters specifically voted against, like with the present tory-liberal coalition government. The slogan also refers to the fact that Scotland as a nation will have its place in the world, being able to have its distinctive input into international organisations and international debate.

It would be silly for socialists in the independence movement to staunchly reject this argument. It is true that there is a clear distinction between how the Scottish electorate votes and the governments that are elected in Westminster, and therefore that basic democratic deficit should be closed and Scotland will benefit from it closing. Additionally, the proportional representation system is just much more democratic than the first past the post system in Britain because a far greater proportion of the electorate are represented.

But what we should take issue with is the extent to which this argument represents a transformation in democracy. I would argue that such a change is of a quantitative substance, rather than a qualitative one. By this I mean that a Scottish representative democracy in Scotland is more representative and more democratic than the British system, but it will not in and of itself mark a fundamental shift in the form of democracy we have in Scotland. Because of this it will not mark a transformation in how the majority of Scottish people involve themselves in the political process, i.e they involve themselves passively and leave most decisions up to a political class. That will not qualitatively change just because ‘Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands’.

Evidence of this is in the launch of the Scottish Parliament in 1997, which was also seen by many as an opportunity for a transformation in democracy. As it has turned out, voter participation in Holyrood elections is as low and often lower than UK elections as a whole. Furthermore, as a Reid Foundation report pointed out recently:

“over 70 per cent of the Scottish population lives on an income lower than the average salary of £24,000. Of those who have influenced parliamentary committee’s (excluding elected politicians) only about three per cent have an income lower than the national average.”

Additionally, private capital’s access to Holyrood could be considered even greater than at Westminster. Lobbying forums like the Scottish Parliament-Business Exchange and the Futures Forum open up parliament to business in a way that other interest groups cannot compete with. The Lobbying Bill going through Holyrood will help to limit this, but the facts of the past decade or so of Holyrood still remain – it has by no means been a transformation in Scottish democracy.

Independence can create a space in which it is possible for a qualitative shift in democracy, but the same class inequality of wealth and power will remain unless the left gets organised to make sure the interests of the majority of Scots are forced to the front of the agenda in a new Scotland. The re-emergence of the left in the independence movement through the Radical Independence Campaign and the Common Weal project can only help that post-referendum process take off.

 Britain: neoliberal democracy

Looking at Britain can help to understand what we don’t want to become in an independent Scotland. Britain is one of the oldest ‘representative’ democracies in the world, yet it has slipped far behind democracies the world over in terms of actually representing the will of the people. Stuart Wilks-Heeg, the author of a recent report by Democratic Audit on democracy in Britain, has gone as far as to question “whether it’s really representative democracy any more?”

Wilks-Heeg’s report compared British democracy to other OECD countries on various scales and found it well behind. On all indicators of a democratic systems’ representativeness Britain was in ‘catastrophic decline’.

In another report titled ‘The crisis of the British Regime’, Adrian Cousins takes statistics from various opinion polls to analyse the trust and belief that the public have in British political institutions. The results are stunning.

Two examples will suffice here: The “percentage who ‘almost never’ trust the British governments of any party to place the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party” has risen from 10% in 1974 to 40% in 2009; whilst the “percentage of respondents who believe there’s a ‘good deal of difference’ between political parties” has declined from 82% to 12%.

Interestingly, whilst trust in politics, banks and the police have hit rock-bottom, trade-unions have remained the most trusted in opinion polls out of the institutions of modern Britain.

More broadly, it’s clear that as neoliberalism has become increasingly hegemonic, democracy has waned. It’s not difficult to see why this would be the case: since profit is king, the need for the mass of society to engage critically with the general organisation of things is unnecessary.  The role of the citizen is to be as functional as possible within this framework. So university courses are increasingly departmentalised, so that we bring our children up to be, say, fantastic chemical engineers, but to not know or care about why they are doing the chemical engineering and for whom they are doing it.

Neoliberal politics is, therefore, a tool of governance, not representation. We elect parties who we think will be most effective at managing the capitalist economy, and the problems that come with it. When Blairites endlessly bang on about Labour being ‘a party of government, not protest’ this is what they mean: that the task of politics is to most effectively run a system in which corporations rule the economy, poverty and growing inequality are facts of life, and so on. The ruling ideology is the only possible ideology that can rule.

We should stop calling our Westminster system a ‘representative’ democracy because the government elected does not intend to meet the will of the people and does not receive votes of the overwhelming majority of the people. We should instead call it neoliberal democracy: yes there is a vote once every five years, but the vote is strictly for the party who the electorate believe is best at governing a neoliberal economy. No wonder voting turnout is in steady decline.

Political parties must fit into this neoliberal democratic framework: just as the choices for the electorate are limited to different brands of neoliberalism, so are the competing leaderships within the main parties.

It is complacent and elitist to understand this disengagement as being all down to ‘apathy’, a commonly used term by political people to rationalise how shoddy their democratic system is without having to take any responsibility for its shoddiness.  The reality is that many more people than thirty years ago will sign a petition, participate in a boycott or join a demonstration. These same people just don’t believe that the ‘democratic’ system and its political parties are going to really represent their wishes. It’s not so much that people are apathetic about the political system, it’s that the political system is apathetic about them.

Wilks-Heeg puts the increase in political disengagement into its proper context:

“Over time, disengagement skews the political process yet further towards those who are already more advantaged by virtue of their wealth, education or professional connections. And without mass political participation, the sense of disconnection between citizens and their representatives will inevitably grow.”

Inequalities of wealth breed inequalities of political power, and vice-versa. Consequently any transformation in democracy has to be willing to start challenging the division of life between political and economic, democracy and jobs, representation and participation. At the top of the British system, the elite knocked down these divisions a long time ago for themselves: there is a revolving door between the economic elite and the political elite at Westminster. It’s the task of socialists to back policies and actions that will help knock down those divisions for the rest of us.


Socialism is about the empowerment of the working class to govern society. This is easy to believe in, what is much more complicated is to engage in a process that is actually going to help us get there. Our starting point must be to support measures which help empower and embolden the working class right now. Independence is one of them, but in and of itself it is limited unless it’s connected to a more radical project of democratic transformation which begins to break down the division between politics and economics.

The neoliberal democratic model attempts to reduce politics to a game of which fraction of the political class is best at governing a hyper-capitalist global economy. Therefore measures which strengthen the hand of workers, communities and bring citizens into the fold at a national level are helpful to the struggle for a socialist society. As part of the independence movement socialists have to be confident about our view that ultimately we need to eradicate class division and the rule of capital over labour, ordinary people can run society themselves for the good of everybody. At the same time, we have to be willing to listen, engage and build alliances and coalitions alongside other forces who will support more limited reforms in the here and now. As Marx said, ‘democracy is the road to socialism’ and we won’t get very far down that road unless we stand beside other progressive forces to start building towards that better future now.

Another England Is Possible

Steve FreemanSteve Freeman is a Republican Socialist from England. He recently spoke at the Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow.

As Scotland moves towards the 2014 referendum something is stirring in England. People are increasingly distrustful and alienated from the Westminster parliamentary circus. The Crown’s austerity policies and the redistribution of wealth to the super-rich have added to the anger. The following is based on my contribution to the discussion at the Radical Independence Conference held in Glasgow on 16 November with Bernadette McAliskey and Mary McGregor in which I spoke about the future for England.

My own political thinking has been shaped by the changing relationship between England and Scotland. I became interested in this in 1978 and came to Scotland and first met Allan Armstrong. We began to co-operate around the debate in the SWP about the 1979 Devolution referendum.

It is worth remembering, as a member of the audience reminded me, that although there was a slight majority vote for Devolution it was defeated in parliament by Tam Dayell’s 40% rule. The Callaghan government fell and Thatcher and the Tories came to power and proceeded to shift the political terrain against the working class.

Thatcher and neo-liberalism were the real victors of the defeat of Devolution in 1979. It was twenty years before another opportunity arose. Today when Unionist politicians warn of the dire consequences of supporting the SNP plan for Independence we should remember 1979. If the Unionists win the Tories will gain a great boost in authority and this will encourage them to step up their attacks on the working class in Scotland and England. Once the danger to Unionism is safely out of the way it will be ‘no more Mr. Nice Guy’ – like Osborne’s budget announcement of increased investment in Scotland under the Barnett Formula –after a ‘No’ vote this formula will be scrapped.

I was back in Scotland in 1997 with the next referendum on a Scottish Parliament and helped Mary McGregor and other comrades do leafleting in Glasgow. It is a great honour to be back again this time on a republican socialist platform with Bernadette and Mary. Next weekend I will be attending the Left Unity conference in England and will bring greetings from Scotland.

In 1978 I referred to this at the national question and in 1997 as the Scottish question. Today I think of this as the English question. What are we going to do about England? A largely Scottish audience might be forgiven for thinking this is a problem for the English people. But as internationalists and socialists it has to be seen as ‘our’ problem since it will impact on the working class North and South of the border one way or another. Reactionary forces are more than ready and willing to exploit any division between the people of Scotland and England. ‘We’ have to find a democratic, republican and internationalist answer.

This England

England has 57 million people which includes18-20 million workers with 4 million on the minimum wage. The productive power of this section of the people makes the English working class a very important constituency for any progressive movement in Scotland. This is one way in which working class oriented socialists differ from nationalists. Our aim is to build greater unity and solidarity between the working class in England and Scotland and this means recognising that Unionism is a barrier to unity, through its effective denial of democracy and self government.

The British ruling class know that the battle to save the Union has to be fought for in Scotland and England. The main Unionist parties, the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour, will want to win the support for the idea that we are all ‘better off together’. In fact we are all getting worse off together as the Unionist political system keeps inflation up, cuts taxes for the rich, whilst the employers hold wages down.

The present situation is fraught with danger because in England millions of people are unhappy with a parliamentary ‘democracy’ that is failing them. There are two expressions of this disillusionment. On the right the failure or decline of ‘democracy’ is down to foreigners in the guise of the European Union, immigrants, welfare too generous for poor people, and rebellious Scots. UKIP is the party gathering up and reinforcing these views. Nigel Farage, the uncrowned King of Little England, was recently given a big raspberry by Scottish protesters.

Fortunately Little Englanders are not the majority. Many are looking at the Scottish Parliament and some of its social democratic policies – no privatisation of the NHS, no student fees, care for the elderly – and wonder whether England could have its own Parliament. In 2011 the Occupy movement organised a protest at St Pauls Cathedral taking up the issue of the City of London and demands for ‘real democracy’. The latest focus for political discontent has been the Russell Brand interview with Jeremy Paxman which gave expression to widespread alienation especially among young people.

In his New Statesman article Brand says “when people talk about politics within the existing Westminster framework I feel a dull thud in my stomach and my eyes involuntary glaze”. He continues “like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites”….”I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance…As far as I am concerned there is nothing to vote for … a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm.”

England’s Commonwealth

In looking for an answer Brand stumbles across Oliver Cromwell’s address to the Rump parliament in 1653 when he condemns the House of Commons as a “den of thieves” inhabited by “a pack of mercenary wretches” who would “sell your country for a mess of pottage” and who had “grown odious to the whole nation”. But Brand retreats somewhat when he remembers that Cromwell was no saint himself and had starved and murdered Irish Catholics. Nevertheless an intelligent comedian like Brand is looking at the right period in our history but the wrong time.

In 1649 England became a ‘Commonwealth’ or republic. The Levellers, the republican party of the revolution, stood on the brink of creating a democratic state whilst the Diggers began to occupy the land. We need to wind the clock back to the start of the revolution over ten years earlier in Scotland when the Covenanters rose in rebellion against Charles Stuart and defeated his invading army. This triggered a wider rebellion in the English parliament and led to the civil war.

In 1644 an army of Scottish Covenanters and Cromwell’s Ironsides joined forces in a united front to defeat the Royalists at the battle of Marston Moor near York. It was one of the decisive turning points of the revolution. For those who may imagine that a Scottish rebellion and a united front with forces in England are confined to the 17th century then look at the Poll Tax. A Scottish movement against the Poll Tax in 1989 joined with progressive forces in England and delivered the fatal blow in the Trafalgar Square Riots which more or less ended Thatcher’s rule.

England’s left

Let us leave our history and return to the present. In England the left remains deeply divided between the Labour Left, the Socialist Party, the SWP and a range of independent socialists and small groups. A new initiative started by a Ken Loach appeal has drawn the Indies and small groups to form Left Unity. Left Unity decided to allow its supporters to present Platforms. It is interesting to examine what was thrown up. It tells us about the past and the future of the English left.

The main stage is occupied by the Left Party Platform which identifies with the 1945 Labour government and intends to recreate the ‘spirit of 45’. In opposition was the Socialist Platform linked with the 1917 revolution and wants a revolutionary party to abolish capitalism. Both main platforms reflect an implicit and sometimes explicit British perspective. They are properly called the British Broad Left platform and the British Socialist Platform. These are the politics of the recent past which their supporters want to repeat despite its manifest failures.

Fortunately there is an alternative Republican Socialist Platform. This platform uses words not used in the other platforms like ‘England’, ‘Scotland’, the ‘social republic’ and the ‘English Commonwealth 1649’. This may make sense in Scotland but not in England. ‘Strange’ ideas are not welcome in conservative England. The word ‘republic’ is not popular either, labouring as it does under the weight of over three hundred and fifty years of British counter-revolution. The platform will not get much support. But it is the one which will have to be taken seriously and reckoned with not least it relates to a future which is rapidly coming up over the horizon.

Meanwhile the Left Party Platform and the Socialist Platform are set to dominate the Left Unity conference like two bald men fighting furiously over a comb. I hope to report to your readers on what happened from a republican socialist perspective on another occasion.


Next year will be a big year in Scottish politics. So I am pleased to be invited to speak at the Radical Independence Conference and have an opportunity to express my solidarity and seek your support. Republican socialists in England, the few of us that there are, need your help. As internationalists we must get the working class movement in England to understand the importance of the referendum for its own future. Then we create a virtuous circle by helping each other.

The working class movement in England must be shown that this is not a two sided contest between Unionists, parading as internationalists, and Nationalists who want to grab more for the Scottish capitalists in a deal with the US and the EU. If the working class sees this, and only this, they will think a plague on all their houses. In so far as the official Trade Union movement takes sides it will likely go with Unionism as ‘internationalism’ reflecting the politics of the Labour leadership.

The struggle around the referendum must come to be seen as a three cornered fight between Unionists, Nationalists and Republicans, the latter calling for a Scottish Republic and the only democratic form of self determination on offer. Any united front between Nationalists and Republicans is surely temporary and confined to the referendum vote. The case for a Yes vote is that although both Unionists and Nationalists are supporting the continuation of the monarchy, a yes victory will provide better conditions to advance towards a Scottish Republic provided the Republicans appear as an independent force and not simply as the tail-end of the Nationalists.

The Republicans must therefore present themselves as Internationalists. This is not about nationalists simply disguising themselves as ‘internationalists’. The Unionists will use a bogus internationalism to make their case against narrow Nationalism. But Unionism is internationalism-from-above, imposed on the Scottish people in 1707. Republican-Internationalism comes ‘from below’ by agreements for mutual class solidarity and support. In practical terms it has to be built during the referendum by carrying the message to the trade union and socialist movement in England with the help from supporters in England.

There is a final point which I did not include in my talk not least because I have only begun to think about it. Those few of us campaigning for a Republican Socialist Party in England would be greatly helped if a Republican Socialist Party (Scotland) was established. There is surely a great vacuum on the left in Scottish politics since the demise of the Scottish Socialist Party. Although the SSP is still fighting on it is surely a shadow of its former self from the high point before the Sheridan debacle.

How can the Republican-Internationalists become a significant force in Scotland without a new party? How can Republican-Internationalists present an alternative to the SNP and act as a beacon for the left in England? The SSP was a product of the 1997 referendum and the need for the Scottish left to raise its political profile. Surely the same applies today. The SSP was a trail blazer. Now is the time to get back on track but with the emphasis not so much on ‘Scottishness’ but republican-internationalism. A new party should be formed in 2014 if not in time to fight the referendum then to continue the struggle in an ‘Independent’ Scotland. But if the referendum is lost and the movement demoralised, what better time to signal there is another way to another Scotland.

A Marxist Case for an Independent Scotland


Eddie Cornock writes on the Marxist arguments for independence.

Marxists have an ambivalent attitude towards the national question. On the one hand, they are wary of the dangers of ‘bourgeois nationalism’ whereby the ruling class employ a divide and conquer strategy to split people by language, race, ethnicity, or religion, so as to distract the working class from engaging in a class struggle against their capitalist oppressors. On the other hand, Marxists defend the right of ‘oppressed’ nations to self-determination, up to and including independence, because, as Lenin explained, ‘nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice’. (The Collected Works of V I Lenin, Volume 36, pp 608-609)

On the question of Scottish independence, the Left in Scotland is similarly caught on two minds. There are those in the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) who maintain that independence would disunite the British working class and only go to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. However, others on the Left, most notably in the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and the Communist Party of Scotland (CPS), believe that the breakup of the British state is a precondition for securing progressive, socialist change for the residents of these islands since it would open up opportunities for the Left, both in Scotland and south of the Border, to promote a radical political agenda that otherwise would remain excluded from mainstream politics.

In this essay, the following questions will be addressed with the aim of building a Marxist case for an independent Scotland:

• What is Scotland’s current status?

• How did Scotland lose its independence?

• What support has there been for Scottish self-determination?

• What’s the Marxist perspective on the national question?

• Is there a Marxist case for Scottish independence?

Scotland’s current status

Scotland is a country (i.e. a geographical region) that occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain and is part of the sovereign state known as The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK). It has a population of just over five million, compared to 52 million for England, 3 million for Wales and 2 million for Northern Ireland which make up the other parts of the UK. Although it lost its status as an independent nation-state when it became a constituent part of the UK over 300 years ago, few if any would deny that Scotland remains a nation.

Under the terms of the Acts of Union of 1707 that created the UK, Scotland’s legal system constitutes a distinct jurisdiction in public and private law from those of England and Wales and Northern Ireland. The continued existence of legal, and also educational and religious institutions distinct from those in the remainder of the UK have all contributed to the continuation of Scottish culture and national identity since the Union of Parliaments.

In 1999, a devolved legislature, the Scottish Parliament, was created with tax varying powers (i.e. power to vary (down or up) the basic rate of UK income tax by up to 3p in the pound) and authority over many areas of home affairs following a referendum in 1997. However, as Enoch Powell once observed: ‘Power devolved is power retained’, and consequently the devolutionary settlement for Scotland has had only a limited impact in terms of UK government arrangements and Parliamentary business at Westminster. There remains in place a Secretary of State for Scotland in the Cabinet, and at Westminster, Scottish Question Time, and a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and a Scottish Grand Committee, both of which have a complement of English Conservative MPs to ensure that party balance reflects the overall balance in the House of Commons.

Be that as it may, in 2011, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won an overall majority at the Scottish Parliament and as a result a referendum on independence is to be held in the autumn of 2014. This will determine whether Scotland becomes once again a sovereign nation-state or remains a constituent part of the UK.

Scotland’s loss of independence

Tradition has it that Scotland emerged as a sovereign kingdom in 843 under the rule of Kenneth MacAlpin although this is now disputed by historians. What is not disputed is that his successors during the Middle Ages ruled a unified kingdom roughly corresponding to the geographic boundaries of modern day Scotland.

When King Alexander III, died in 1286 he left an infant granddaughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway as the heir to the Scottish throne. However, Margaret herself died four years later in a tragic shipwreck en route to Scotland. Following the death of Margaret, an opportunity arose for Edward I of England to place a puppet king, John Balliol, on the Scottish throne. When a rebellion broke out against Edward’s suzerainty, he sent troops to subjugate Scotland.

The resulting Wars of Scottish Independence were fought in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Scotland’s ultimate victory in the Wars of Independence under the leadership of Robert the Bruce confirmed Scotland as a fully independent and sovereign kingdom.

In 1603, King James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English and Irish thrones when his aunt, Queen Elizabeth I, died childless. Although there was a Union of the Crowns, Scotland continued to be ruled as a separate state for the next century.

On 1 May 1707, however, Scotland entered into an incorporating political union with England to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain. This union resulted from the Treaty of Union agreed in 1706 and enacted by the twin Acts of Union passed by the Parliaments of both countries, despite popular opposition and anti-union riots in Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland. Therefore, from 1707, Scotland ceased to exist as an independent sovereign state.

Support for Scottish self-determination

The 1787 massacre of striking weavers by British soldiers in Calton, which then was a village in the outskirts of Glasgow, is generally recognised as marking the beginning of an organised, Scottish labour movement. The Calton weavers’ banner on the day of the massacre showed Scotland’s national hero from the Wars of Scottish Independence, William Wallace, striking down the beast of tyranny.

Scots Wha Hae was written by Robert Burns, Scotland’s Bard, in 1793 to give covert support to those like Thomas Muir of Huntershill who were being persecuted for their republican and nationalist views. It has since been adopted as the SNP party song on account of its strong patriotic sentiments.

Burns deliberately, if obliquely, with Scots Wha Hae set out to support the radical movement against the reactionary Pitt government in London and its despotic manager in Scotland, Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville.

Another indication that there has been a longstanding popular struggle for Scottish self-determination was the Radical War of 1820. This ill-fated insurrection and general strike rallied workers behind the slogan “Scotland Free or a Desert”.

That tradition was carried into the 20th century by the likes of the pioneering trade unionist and politician, James Keir Hardie, who managed to secure a commitment to Scottish home rule from the political parties he helped create, namely the Scottish Labour Party, Independent Labour Party and the British Labour Party.

Perhaps most notably of all, the struggle for worker’s rights and Scottish self-determination was upheld by the Red Clydeside leader and Marxist teacher, John Maclean, who called for an independent Scottish Socialist Workers’ Republic. He believed that workers in Scotland could develop in a revolutionary direction more swiftly than their counterparts in England and Wales since Scottish society had been structured along the lines of “Celtic communism” in the past. He argued that “the communism of the clans must be re-established on a modern basis” and raised the slogan “back to communism and forward to communism”.

An upsurge of Scottish nationalism occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s. This coincided with the discovery of oil reserves in the North Sea that opened up the possibility of a prosperous future for an independent Scotland. However, what is often forgotten is that there was a manifestation of large-scale support for the principle of Scottish self-determination prior to the 1960s. Around two million Scottish people between 1947 and 1950 signed the Scottish Covenant which was a petition to the United Kingdom government to create a home rule Scottish parliament.

The national question

It’s a matter of historical fact that people typically based on shared culture, religion, history, language and ethnicity and living within recognised geographical boundaries have strived successfully to breakaway from the rule of perceived oppressors and form self-governing sovereign ‘nation-states’. Since World War Two, well over a hundred new independent states have joined the international community, most recently in 2011 with South Sudan.

The recognition of national struggles for independence led Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to develop a theory of the national question although it was left to Vladimir Lenin and others later on to provide detailed elaboration and development of the theory.

In the Communist Manifesto, written in late 1847, Marx and Engels explained that the coming into existence of new nation-states was the result of class struggle, specifically of the capitalist class’s attempts to overthrow the institutions of the former ruling class and establish the economic, social and political conditions most conducive to their class needs.

Marx and Engels in their writings produced three themes which were to be important for the future development of the Marxist theory of national self-determination:

1. Only the national liberation of the oppressed nation enables national divisions and antagonisms to be overcome, and permits the working class of both nations to unite against their common enemy, the capitalists.

2. The oppression of another nation helps to reinforce the ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie over workers in the oppressing nation-state: ‘A nation that enslaves another forges its own chains’. (Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 21 p120)

3. The emancipation of the oppressed nation weakens the economic, political, military and ideological bases of the ruling class in the oppressor nation-state and this contributes to the revolutionary struggle of the working class of that nation-state.

Lenin, building on the foundations laid by Marx and Engels and applying them to the new era of imperialism in the early years of the twentieth century, put great emphasis on the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. Through defending the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, he believed, socialists in oppressor states demonstrated solidarity with workers of oppressed nations and laid the basis for an internationalist, socialist-inspired alliance between the workers of all nations against their common enemy, the capitalist class.

Moreover, Lenin maintained that small nations, as Scotland is, could also play a role in defeating imperialism which he regarded as the highest stage of capitalism:

“The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat to make its appearance on the scene.” (The Collected Works of V I Lenin, Volume 22, p357)

Marxists, therefore, support the proliferation of nation-states to the extent that it results in the emancipation of oppressed nations and promotes a growing awareness among workers, both in oppressor and oppressed nations, of their shared interests in opposing the capitalist system. Once capitalism is abolished and there is a transition to socialism, Marxists believe, state structures will gradually be dismantled, resulting in a stateless, classless communist world society.

Arguments for Scottish independence

Tom Nairn, arguably Scotland’s most influential left-wing intellectual of recent times and the author of The Break Up of Britain, famously claimed that the theory of nationalism is Marxism’s greatest failure. What he meant was that although Marxist theory correctly identifies the capacity of nationalism as a divisive, reactionary force that diverts the proletariat from the class struggle against the bourgeoisie it, nevertheless, fails to recognise fully the potential nationalism also has as a progressive force.

A case in point is the issue of the ‘civic nationalism’ (aka as liberal nationalism) championed by the Scottish National Party (SNP) and others in their campaign for a Yes vote at the 2014 Independence Referendum. Is it effectively a form of ‘bourgeois nationalism’ that would serve the purposes of the ruling class by dividing British workers and preventing the working class from uniting against them? Something Marxists would want to oppose. Or does it open up new possibilities to create a fairer, more equal and more democratic society in Scotland that could then act as a beacon for the working class in the rest of the UK? Something Marxists would be inclined to support.

In answer to the first question posed above, if the aforementioned civic nationalism is, as critics on the Left maintain, just another form of bourgeois nationalism then one would expect the business community to be overwhelmingly in favour of Scottish independence. That is not the case as indicated in a speech by Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director-general John Cridland when he said: ‘CBI Scotland council is not convinced of the business and economic case for Scotland seceding from the Union and judges that businesses – Scottish, English, British – would lose out from the fragmentation of our single market.’ (London Evening Standard, 06.09.2012)

In answer to the second question, all three parties (i.e. SNP, SSP and the Scottish Green Party) affiliated to the Yes campaign have a track record of supporting progressive reforms. Moreover, both the SSP and the Greens in particular see themselves as parts of global movements dedicated to advancing progressive causes and can be said to have a broad internationalist outlook rather than a narrow (bourgeois) nationalist focus.

On the issue of Scotland breaking away from the rest of the UK, Marxists cannot argue for independence on the grounds that Scotland is an oppressed nation within the UK since there has been no systematic attempt by the British ruling class, in modern times at least, to deny Scottish people their democratic rights including the right to secede from the UK. However, there are other reasons for supporting Scottish independence from a Marxist perspective, not least that working people in Scotland, in common with those in other parts of the UK, pay a heavy price for being ruled by the British state. The price of remaining in the UK includes the following:

Britain has a permanent seat at the UN Security Council due in no small part to being the fourth highest military spender in the world with expensive nuclear weapons based on the Clyde. The tax money diverted to military spending by our political leaders to maintain the illusion that Britain remains a world power is money denied for much needed improvement of education, health and welfare provision.

Britain is a belligerent state that has been engaged in twenty-two separate wars and conflicts since the end of World War Two. British interventions in the likes of Iraq in 2003 until 2011 and in Afghanistan from 2001 until presently have been largely counter-productive but nevertheless costly in terms of money and more importantly, human suffering and lives.

Successive British governments’ adherence to neo-liberal ideas that free capital flows, a deregulated financial sector and powerful private banks would be good for the economy has proved a costly mistake to the tune of £1.2 trillion. That is the amount incurred by the public purse since 2008 to bail out banks and financial institutions that were on the verge of collapse. As a result of the bailouts creating a financial black hole for the Treasury, an austerity programme has had to be implemented involving massive public spending cuts, job losses and a decline in living standards for working families.

Britain is officially described as a ‘parliamentary democracy’ but, nevertheless, has a political system which includes many features that are far from democratic. For example, we are not citizens but subjects of a hereditary monarch, a Head of State by accident of birth, who is also commander-in-chief of our armed forces; sovereignty or political power in the British state is invested in the ‘Crown in Parliament’ and not with the people; we have an unelected second chamber in the British Parliament, the House of Lords; we have an electoral system that underpins a two-party system which offers voters little real democratic choice and often results in Scotland being ruled by a party decisively rejected by the Scottish electorate. As a consequence of features like those outlined above, there is a ‘democratic deficit’ in Britain which is in addition to the other shortcomings that people living in the UK have to endure.

There are distinct disadvantages of Scotland remaining a part of the British state for the Scottish population as outlined above but for Marxists the vital question is would Scottish independence open up new possibilities for socialist advance not only in Scotland but in the other nations of UK as well?

Scotland has had its own devolved Parliament and government since 1999 and already significant divergences from the rest of the UK are apparent. For example, unlike in England, people living in Scotland benefit from free medical prescriptions, free social care, and no tuition fees for universities as result of Scottish governments coming under stronger pressure to pursue social democratic policies than governments of the UK. Independence would give Scottish governments increased powers to formulate the social democratic policies required to tackle more effectively the complex social and economic problems that currently beset Scotland. The improved capacity to align Scottish government policies with Scotland’s values, needs and opportunities would be one of the greatest benefits of independence.

However, in the event of Scottish independence not only would there be a transformation of the economic, social and political contexts for Scotland but also important consequences for the rest of the UK. For example, Trident would have to leave the Clyde and probably be scrapped on cost grounds; the UK would have a diminished status on the international stage and would likely ‘shrink’ its foreign and security policies; the severe British anti-union legislation would go north of the border, and be undermined south of the border; the loss of the Scottish bloc of Labour MPs would initially favour the Conservatives at Westminster but, nevertheless, could provoke a significant political realignment resulting in a boost to progressive centre-left politics; Wales and Northern Ireland would become a smaller periphery to the UK’s core in England and might well look to establish greater levels of autonomy or even full-scale independence in the case of Wales.

Be that as it may, it is important to note that independence is not the same as ‘separation’. We live in an increasingly interdependent world in which national independence goes hand in hand with international interdependence. An independent Scotland would continue to have close economic ties, cultural links, and bonds of kinship with the other nations of the UK no matter what new constitutional arrangements are made. Moreover, there would be no reason why the ‘unity of the British working class’ could not be maintained through existing trades unions and social movements operating across borders as happens in Ireland and North America. They would have the opportunity to show the way cooperation across national boundaries could and should be pursued to further the interests of working people and their families in the ‘globalised’ world we live in.

Lastly, a widely held misapprehension, including by many on the Left who oppose Scottish independence, needs to be cleared up. While it is true that the SNP, a pro-capitalist party, is the main force driving the campaign for Scottish independence and that some of its policies for an independent Scotland are far from progressive (e.g. low corporate taxation, retention of the monarchy, staying in NATO, retention of the pound sterling and financial regulation from London), a Yes vote cast at the forthcoming independence referendum will NOT be an endorsement for the SNP and its vision for an independent Scotland. It will be a vote for independence and the opening up of a range of possibilities for Scotland in the future.

In the event of a majority Yes vote in 2014, then it is likely a two year period of intense political activity and realignment will ensue, culminating in an historic election at which Scottish voters will deliver their verdict as to which of the competing visions for an independent Scotland they prefer. There is no great certitude that the SNP by 2016 will have retained its present configuration and political identity and even less certainty that it will emerge victorious, happy and glorious after the first election to be held in an independent Scotland for over three hundred years.


From a Marxist point of view the most important question as regards nationalism is whether support for a specific national movement would advance the interests of the working class or not. When a struggle for national independence weakens the forces of imperialism and brings tangible benefits in terms of improved living standards and more democracy to the working class, then socialists should support the cause; when a nationalist movement justifies imperialism and threatens the advances secured by the working class, socialists should oppose it wholeheartedly.

Nationalism, therefore, has to be judged concretely, on the basis of the particular effects that its actions have in a specific context. In the case of Scotland, the choice at the forthcoming independence referendum is stark. Vote No and continue as before inside a neo-imperialist and reactionary British state that imposes legal restrictions on trade unionism, attacks the living standards of working people and provides military and diplomatic back-up for the USA to help maintain a neo-liberal world order. Or vote Yes and begin the dissolution of the UK in the name of political progress and social advance and in so doing help realise the potential for the Left not only in Scotland but across Britain that has for far too long lain largely untapped.

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.


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.


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.

The Left Road to Scottish Independence

Sandra Webster, co-convenor of the Scottish Socialist Party, looks at the launch of the campaign for Scottish Independence and asks how socialists can make a difference.

Yes Campaign Launch
Launch of Yes for Scotland campaign. Image: (c) Craig Maclean.

With the launch of the YES campaign in May 2012, the clock has now started ticking towards an Independence vote in June 2014. In these early days it is crucial that as voices from the left in Scottish Politics we have a duty to clearly explain to the Scottish people the benefits an independent Scotland will have for them over the current union with with England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Westminster politics.


Some politicians are keen to emphasise that the morning after the referendum nothing will change. We will wake up having decided to vote for independence with nothing having changed. We will still be subjects of good Queen Bess but she will now be Queen Of Scots. All that will be different is we will have autonomy over our political and economic affairs, (well up to a degree anyhow). This position is an example of how politicians think ordinary people cannot understand or desire a different society. If they want an Independent Scotland that is just the same why not stick with the status quo? Politicians can only persuade the voters if they offer a new vision of Scotland which will improve all our citizen’s lives.

Democracy in a peoples’ republic would not be a vote every five years, but a continuous process of engagement and accountability punctuated by electing members of parliament and local government.


The position of being an active citizen in a people’s republic is much more of an active role than that of a passive citizen. Citizens participate in the vision of how their country looks. It is a bottom up movement, not just dictates from a few who currently hold power. It is a challenge to all and means a proper dialogue and a way of ensuring more voices are heard not just those with the ability to shout loudest but the groups who are currently marginalised and with more barriers challenging them to be more fairly represented.


As a member of the SSP and along with my socialist comrades, we all strive for that vision of Scotland. We want a kinder, fairer society where an accident of birth no longer determines your status in society. We want a society where we don’t need people to look up to and defer to and where our worth is not determined by our economic worth but the contribution we make to society; whether that be a highly paid hospital consultant, a cleaner who keeps our wards hygienic, or a parent who stays at home to support their children or looks after a relative with a chronic illness. Our challenge then is to sell our vision, get into communities and let them know that Independence is about them and for a purpose.


We are used to being among groups of people who are passionate about their politics and have probably made up their minds whether to vote Yes or even No. However we must remember the low turnouts in elections in Scotland and the rest of the UK. The simple truth is how do we persuade the over fifty percent of the registered electorate to even vote let alone vote Yes? As people of the left in touch with communities we need to take the arguments to people where they live and work not just assume that because of the high profile the Vote Yes campaign will have they feel they have the enfranchisement to do so.

Reaching Out

Historically our message and support has been to working class communities. We supported the miner’s strike, we campaigned against the poll tax. We are involved in campaigns such as school and hospital closures and fuel poverty and the Welfare Reform Act. We can with our ordinary work, spread the word that although Independence is not a panacea, it is the start of a debate about how we can create a different kind of society.

Dare To Be Different

From conversations I am having with people not normally involved in politics, I know the message that something better change is not enough for them. They are asking difficult questions about the economy, spending on the most vulnerable, the monarchy, the left. People don’t want just the vision of a Scotland on a shortbread tin. The SNP may say they are the only party to represent Scotland, but as voices of the left we have to ensure that people know that the Scotland some of them promote can be radically different – a people’s republic.

A Positive Message

The No Brigade have already begun to spread their message. It is evident that they are going to use scaremongering techniques playing on people’s concerns. Propaganda will represent an Independent Scotland as a weaker divided nation like a rowing boat on a sea of recession, facing insurmountable challenges. Their message is of “Rule Britannia”, us all cosily tucked up in a double bed of red, white and blue union jacks. Labour, the Liberal democrats and the Tories all in this together? Strange bedfellows indeed. We have to challenge their criticisms with our intelligent rhetoric and be positive. Let people realise the real reasons they are so concerned with the dissolution of the Act Of Union. It is not about their concerns for us, but for the greater good of those already in positions of power.

The Left and Campaigns

The YES campaign has been launched. It is all shiny and new and very optimistic. I was at its launch and was worried about the narrow spectrum of society represented. It has the huge political apparatus of the SNP party political machine behind it. However it’s message is one that it does not belong to any any political party. I also attended the first organizing campaign of the Radical Independence movement. I was enthused by the large turn out and the energy and optimism of everyone presented. At my workshop about equalities there was a genuine desire to include as many people as possible. We should be behind both of these groups. I look forward to the Radical Independence as a time for people coming together with visions of a new Scotland opposed to that of the negativity of the Unionist parties. We should also be involved in the YES campaign and use it to highlight the message and the reality of an Independent, Socialist Scotland.

We need to talk about Scotland

As comrades we have common values, I’m biased of course, but think we are the kindest people in the world. I know I always have my comrades at my back to support me. Of course we have our differences and these can’t be forgotten but we have a shared vision of an Independent Scotland. As a member of the SSP I will be working with my party up to 2014 never forgetting who we are and what we believe in. Lets ensure that our message is heard and not diluted. We have been campaigning for Independence from the very beginnings of our party. Let’s not allow the Unionists to throw mud in our direction which they will be doing at every opportunity as the greens found to their cost last weekend. We need to be positive about our message about our nation.

A Shared Vision

So let’s not pretend to the people of our nation that we’ll get independence first and work out the finer details later. Let’s lay out our strategy and vision of Scotland. It’s a beautiful one and one with much to offer ordinary people. Let’s make it a people’s republic where all are equal. Let’s dare to make a radical change. Let’s remind people that Salmond promised a Nuclear Free Scotland and hold him accountable. Most of all lets hold ourselves accountable.

The Road Ahead

The next few years with the lead up are going to be challenging ones for us all. Cuts to services are going to have an impact on all our lives. The Unionists will blame the Scottish government for cuts to budgets saying imagine how bad it will be under Independence. On the other hand the SNP will lay the blame at Westminster. They have no duty of care to those most affected. Let’s remember who we represent and always be on the side of those who need us most.

Looking Ahead

I describe myself as a Feminist, Socialist and Republican. These are ways I have labelled myself and I am proud of them. Although we all describe ourselves in different ways. I hope we can remember the commonality we have and move towards the referendum with a positivity and an knowledge that independence is the best choice for our nation. We on the left carry our red banners with pride let’s carry an optimism about an independent Scotland in our hearts too and a message that will ensure more voices have the confidence to vote YES in the 2014 referendum.

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.


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