Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Comments on the Scottish vote for independence.

Which will it be?
Those of us connected to this blog have been having some discussions on the upcoming Scottish vote for or against independence.  A yes vote will mean the end of a 300 year old union.  But as Scottish friends of mine put it, it was an agreement made under duress, through coercion.  We are sharing some of the points made by the comrades on this issue. Start at the top.  The first comment is not connected to the others and is from a comrade in Northern Ireland.
Harry H: Comrades, l have never believed we should advocate a yes for independence. Politically this is bourgeois nationalism. Independence will divide the working class in Britain, industrially and politically. You only have to look at Ireland to witness how separate states have divided the working class, with separate governments and social issues that are unrelated to each state. Having separate currencies, different public services etc, has deemed it impossible to organise  United class action around these issues, even though the trade union movement, in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is an all Ireland body.
l believe Scottish Independence would divide the British working class, just like any European country and struggles would be isolated to the nation state. In Greece there have been 30 general strikes, around austerity, without the struggle spreading in any coordinated manner throughout Europe.
In relation to the North of Ireland, it has endured repression by British Imperialism for decades in recent times. Solders on streets, internment, state assassinations, and gunning down of civilians like Bloody Sunday. To raise the spectre of independence for Northern Ireland, as some left parties have done during the Scottish referendum, is political suicide. Northern Ireland is more polarised today than since the beginning of the troubles. It could develop in to a civil war. We should continue to demand British withdrawal and a socialist Ireland, but both must go hand in hand with a United socialist movement North and South.
S O’T: I was wavering there. But I am increasingly moving in favor of us advocating a vote against independence in this referendum. Yes for the right of self determination of Scotland and also England, Wales, Ireland, I have developed my position somewhat on the North of Ireland recently, I put it on this list some time ago, but in this referendum period we advocate a socialist federation of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

In the case of Ireland, if the socialist revolution would begin outside of the North of Ireland, especially England, and sweep across borders it could sweep into Northern Ireland and unify Ireland on a socialist basis but if this was not the case, if the revolution were more complicated and fragmented as would likely be the case, then a position would have to be taken that would avoid the issue of the North from being used to stir up reaction and allow the bourgeois to develop a civil war and repartition and put the socialist revolution down in blood.

This position should in my opinion be for a socialist federation of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland but in the case of Northern Ireland leave the actual issue of the border or borders until it was seen how things developed. In a case where the revolution did not begin in England and sweep across borders into Scotland, Wales and Ireland then Ireland should have the right of self determination as the other countries but in the case of the North I believe that the issue of cantons should be raised. Already these in reality exist.

In every village and city there are the different areas with the different flags and colors painted on the side walks and the streets. If and I believe it is a question of when the present situation of peace in the North breaks down then what will be vital is a program and policy that will prevent the area lurching into civil war. This I believe would be taking the road to cantons such as exist in Switzerland at present. 
RM: I have not felt comfortable calling for a yes vote.  We have been discussing this a bit at the pub where I hang out with some Scots, Punjabi English etc.  No one really supports it. Even the Scotsman is ambivalent because he is older. The comrades in the SSP are real eager but it’s hard for me to feel that way for all the reasons we have traditionally opposed such things.  Naturally, the decision is up to the Scots but its hard for me to call for a yes vote.
Stephen M:  Hi Richard,
Here's some comments on Scottish independence. Wales is also an interesting question and Northern Ireland, as Sean said, is very complex. Maybe I'll make some comments on Wales later.

For the first time in a very long time I was back in the UK a few weeks ago for family reasons. It is only the second time in 20 years, so I'm not as familiar with the British workers' movement as I used to be. Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to go to Scotland to get in touch with the real mood there and I have to admit that from continental Europe, I haven't been following it with the same interest as the population of the UK have. So these are still observations from a distance that Scottish and UK readers could better comment on or correct.

While I was in the UK, I had the (un)fortunate chance to watch the last televised debate between the pro-Scottish independence leader, Alex Salmond and No-vote Labour spokesperson, Alistair Darling. Scotland is overwhelmingly working class and heavily Labour by tradition, but Darling lost the debate because he never advanced any arguments in the interests of the working class. Salmond, on the other hand, won this crucial debate because he demagogically linked working class and left-wing rhetoric to nationalist ideas and sentiments. Salmond attacked the hated bedroom tax, food banks, the Tory attacks on the National Health Service, the loss of jobs and threats of unemployment, his links to unions fighting back and played a left card on ending the Trident nuclear programme based in Scotland.

Darling ended up looking like an apologist for the Tories and the British bourgeoisie (which he is) and whose policies have meant untold suffering for the Scottish working class which fuel separatist feelings. Darling called the criticism of the National Health Service lies, concentrated on the question of the new Scottish currency and how much less North Sea oil would be worth based on future estimates. His points could have been made by any Tory minister. By going into a “Popular Front” alliance with the Tories over independence such Labour politicians have had to drop any class issues and avoid any “United Front” approach which would have emphasized the common interests of the Scottish workers and the rest of the British working class in their joint battle against the British bourgeoisie.

There are, of course, strong nationalist factors involved too. Scotland fought doggedly to defend its independence from England for hundreds of years and since unification they have always been treated as second-class citizens in the UK. The residual animosity towards the “Sassanachs” to use an old term is a contributing factor towards independence feelings. However, that is not to say the majority of Scots hate the English, but it is a reflection of the hate felt towards the English ruling class and its exploitation and subjugation of the Scottish people and the Scottish working class in particular.

For many Scottish workers who are inclined to vote Yes, anything can seem better than rule from the capitalist class in London. So Scottish independence appears to offer some tangible opportunity for progress and change when capitalism is in a blind alley and no socialist alternative is being offered by leaders of the Labour Movement, including its Scottish representatives.

In a distorted form, the independence sentiments among workers are a reflection of desires for control of their own destiny, in the absence of its articulation in class terms in the form of demands for workers' self-government and workers control of industry and government. The lack of an all-British revolutionary socialist alternative means these sentiments have become derailed into delusions that somehow Scottish independence will mean more workers' control of society, when in fact capitalist rule of industry and politics will not change, including its domination by the English bourgeoisie. In a capitalist world economy, just like all other small nations around the world, the Scottish workers will remain slaves to Imperialism, multinational companies and exploitation by English and Scottish capitalists.

In reality, Alex Salmond and the nationalists offer no real socialist alternative for Scotland. His policies are little more than an illusion of a better, more liberal form of Scottish capitalism. In truth, a new independent Scottish parliament will have no more power over capitalist interests than they do now under a devolved system within the Union. They will be the puppets of the multinational companies which control Scotland's riches. Scottish MPs will be no more able to resist the bosses demands for cuts, low wages and redundancies than they can now.

Salmond is a thoroughly petty-bourgeois representative of some sections of the Scottish capitalist class and middle classes. He attempts to reconcile Scottish independence with the interests of the British bourgeoisie, reflected in the fact that he promises to pay Scotland's share of Britain's National Debt to the capitalists and financiers and to maintain use of the British pound, which, of course, will mean control of the Scottish currency by the Bank of England.

Socialists unreservedly defend the right of the Scots to decide their own future, to have the right to self-determination and separation if they should wish and we would unequivocally defend their decision. But we cannot sew illusions in an independent capitalist Scotland. We have to point out that independence on a capitalist basis will be a disaster, just as bad as staying in the Union on a capitalist basis.

Furthermore, we have to point out that it can actually weaken the power of the Scottish working class in their struggle against the English and international bourgeoisie, who will still control its economy. The capitalists will play off English and Scottish workers against each other to drive down wages, worsen working conditions and make it easier to close factories and move production to other countries, just as they do now in the rest of Europe.

Likewise, the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland working classes will be severely weakened without unity with their Scottish sisters and brothers. Worse still, any possible splitting of the class organizations into Scottish and separate British unions, and also separate Labour Parties, would be a terrible step backward. It would also strengthen the power of the British bourgeoisie south of the border as it would mean that the Conservatives would probably have a continuous parliamentary majority in the rest of the UK (at least in right-wing coalitions) and it would make it virtually impossible for the Labour Party to ever form a government in the future, because so many Labour MPs are elected from Scotland.

The fact is that the unions and the Labour Party owes much of their existence and their strength to the role of the Scottish working class in building the British Labour Movement. We shouldn't forget that it was the Scottish union leader, Keir Hardy, who was a key founder of the British workers' movement, who became the first independent Labour Member of Parliament representing the whole of the British working class. First elected from an English constituency, he later went on to become an MP in Wales.
The current leaders of the Labour Party, like Darling, are traitors to the heritage of Keir Hardy and traitors not only to Scottish workers, but to the working class throughout Britain. Whether or not the Scottish people vote for independence, the unity of the British working class must not be broken. Workers' organizations much remain united in single organizations across the north-south border.

There is no future for the Scottish working class either inside a capitalist United Kingdom or an independent capitalist Scotland. The international crises of capitalism and the world recession since 2007 show that there is no escape from the effects of world capitalism for small capitalist nations. The Scottish people will only be fully liberated and independent if the British and international capitalist class is overthrown and that cannot be done without unity between the British working class of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and internationally.

The overthrow of the British ruling class, including the Scottish bourgeoisie, is the only solution. While unequivocally defending and respecting the right of Scotland to break away, we have to counterpoise the demand for maximum self-government in a broader Socialist Federation of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England as the only real alternative to the continuing capitalist nightmare. This would include maximum devolved powers to all regions of Britain and democratic control extended right down to the workplaces and public services. Democratic workers' control and management of the means of production, of services and the banks and financial institutions throughout Britain is the only real way that workers of whatever nationality, ethnic minority or religious group can gain “independence” from the bourgeoisie in London, Edinburgh, Belfast or Cardiff and really achieve the power of self-determination and control over their lives and their destiny.

Pat B: Hi Comrades,
I tend to support the campaign for Scottish independence although I completely respect the arguments on the other side. Unfortunately, in Steve's useful analysis I don't think that he has done any justice to the socialist case for independence and as a result it is not as balanced a review of the options as it could have been. 
For example, Steve does not really talk about the very negative consequences for British imperialism of Scottish Independence which is surely an important factor that should feature in our analysis. It is for this reason, that a large majority of the international socialist left movement is now supporting the idea of Scottish independence.   
Secondly, although Salmond's campaign has been a cravenly reformist one even in terms of an independence movement - accepting the continuation of the monarchy, the domination of sterling and the Bank of England, and so on, I think that a Yes vote is likely to start a rapid momentum towards total separation from the monarchy, sterling etc.
Thirdly, the large amount of progressive voters in Scotland has already caused Scotland to move towards more social democratic welfare policies than in the rest of the UK, which is why, as Steve correctly points out, Salmond has had to emphasise more radical issues in his debates with the No campaign. I think that this tendency will only accelerate after independence.
Moreover, the campaign for independence has by its nature tended to radicalise the population. Whatever tactical statements Salmond has put forward in order to reassure the more conservative voters, the core of the independence campaign is pro-democratic, anti-British establishment and anti-Tory.
 Of course, no one on the socialist side of the Yes campaign is arguing that an independent capitalist Scotland will be able to solve the problems of the Scottish people. But it will remove the Scottish Nationalists' arguments for independence which have cut across class politics for a long time. Once Independence is achieved, Salmond and his ilk will be increasingly exposed for the tartan Tories that they really are.
With the correct strategy on the Left there is every chance that the left inside the Scottish Labour Party will grow, while the radical wing of the independence movement is likely to foster the formation of a new mass left party - this is  the strategy of the Scottish Socialist Party who recognise that their Party has been irretrievably damaged by the Sheridan fiasco. Their perspective is that a socialist overturn in an independent Scotland is far more likely than in Britain as a whole. On this I think that they have a good case.
Fourthly, the same process in Scotland could well be followed in Wales which would again require the radicalisation of the majority there.
As to the situation in England, naturally, it will set back the class struggle for a time. But there is actually a working class majority in England which over time will inevitably assert itself in reaction to the anti-working class policies of the Tories and Liberals. And, surely we shouldn't be arguing for the interests of the English workers over those of the Scottish and Welsh workers? In any case, if capitalism was to be overthrown in Scotland, wouldn't this obviously alter the balance of forces in our favour in England as well as elsewhere.
 I won't comment on Northern Ireland as I think that this raises too many other questions.
Lastly, I think we are in danger at looking at things in a very out of date way. In an increasingly integrated EU is the continued unity of the UK really that important? Even the way that Steve poses it in terms of a united socialist federation of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sounds incredibly anachronistic. Surely, if we are talking about a socialist federation we should be calling for a socialist EU / European federation at the very least.
Of course, I agree with Steve's commitment to the maintenance of an integrated labour movement.
I hope that these few comments give a little more balance to the discussion. Whichever position we take on this issue, Steve is right that it is partly a reflection of the bankruptcy of the Labour leadership which has forced many Scottish workers into going down a road that they may not have wanted. Thus we end up having to choose between capitalist options rather than having a socialist one on the table. Unfortunately, it would serve no purpose to take a neutral stance on this. But I think that either position, for a socialist Yes or a socialist No is justifiable and neither should be seen as a matter of principle.   
Stephen M: I think Pat makes some relevant points and certainly we could not rule out his perspective for the likely developments in a break-away Scotland and the consequences for British Imperialism. His point of view does bring more “balance” to the discussion as he says and he is also right that I didn't give enough emphasis to the weakening of British Imperialism if Scotland secedes.
But, I think Pat, one the other hand, is a little too categorical of the consequences of independence and that getting “balance” in any discussion of perspectives means accepting that there a wide variety of variations that could emerge and not rule out there being more than one possible scenario. Perspectives are notoriously difficult to work out because of the numerous influences and sometimes unforeseeable factors which can come into play and the different weight they can bring to bear on future developments. I think we need to approach perspectives flexibly, as a working hypothesis in which we identify the more and also the less likely developments in the near future, but, at the same time, being aware that the current most likely perspective can be altered or even eliminated by the dynamic interplay of numerous factors which we can't predict.
Pat points to a number of likely developments, which could make up our “working hypothesis.” Essentially, he says that independence for Scotland will hasten socialist revolution there and also undermine British Imperialism, thus making socialist revolution more likely throughout Britain and, I think we could add to that, the Republic of Ireland. Of course, from our general Marxist analysis, revolution is inevitable in the British Isles at some pint. The question is would an independent, capitalist Scotland strengthen the working class and accelerate that process. That is the staring point, I think, from which we work out our position on the vote.
Pat's perspective is that independence will strengthen the Scottish working class, principally by clearing the path for socialist revolution once independence is achieved and the nationalists are exposed and discredited. This is definitely one likely perspective that we need to keep in our hypotheses for a post-independent Scotland. But I don't think that independence is a necessary precondition for socialist revolution as this seems to imply. There is no solid reason that it will help the socialist revolution. Did independence for the Republic of Ireland pave the way for socialist revolution? No and this was despite the fact that the independence struggle had a strong socialist character and was led by two revolutionary socialists, Connolly and Larkin, rather than the petty bourgeois Alex Halmond and the SNP. Independence led to decades of right-wing rule under Fine Gael and Finna Fail. For that matter, how many ex-British colonies experienced socialist revolutions following independence? The point is that there is no certainty at all that independence for Scotland will accelerate socialist revolution and no reason to use that as a justification for advocating a Yes vote.
In my opinion, the creation of an independent Scotland could equally become an impediment to revolution. I think there is a possibility is that if the Yes-vote wins, then nationalism could be reinforced for a period at the expense of class politics and class struggle. Initially, there might be a sense of euphoria among many Scots and even if no reforms are immediately forthcoming and the nationalists could expect a period of grace, wherein people will want to give them a chance. Until actual independence is implemented in 2016, the nationalists could argue that continuing socio-economic problems are teething problems of the transition period, which will be resolved after real independence. Even after independence problems would be explained away as an overhang from union with the UK and continuing sabotage by the English bourgeoisie.
At the same time, strikes and protests over jobs and living standards would be denounced by the nationalists as unpatriotic actions undermining Scottish independence and damaging the development of the Scottish economy. They might even organize lumpen youth to attack picket lines and workers' meetings. “Temporary” sacrifices would be asked for in the interests of “getting the nation on its feet.” The nationalists would call on “all Scots” to unite and put aside class interests for “the sake of the nation.”
Independence may bring with it a certain confusion and disorientation on the part of the Scottish working class. Who now is the class enemy? After hundreds of years fighting an English-dominated bourgeoisie in the context of the United Kingdom, who now are we pitted against once we are alone? Is our enemy the Scottish bourgeoisie or the English and if we are still fighting the English who still control most of the economy, how do we fight them now on our own?
Therefore, there may be confusion on how the class struggle should be continued once there is no direct political link to the UK and other British workers. Rather than accelerating the class struggle and the socialist revolution, Scottish workers may feel isolated and their class confidence could even decline. In a situation of crisis where no mass socialist alternative was present the divisions which occasionally flares up between Scottish Protestants and Catholics could becomes a real sectarian conflict, nurtured by the bourgeoisie and the nationalists to divide the working class. The point is that there are lots of possible scenarios and we can't categorically say that the road to socialist revolution will be accelerated by independence.
In my opinion, the problem of the leftist Yes-vote groups is that they are deCLASSifying the issue of independence by viewing this in terms of the “Scottish people” struggling for independence and relegating the independent role of the working class to a point sometime in the future after independence. Of course, the self-determination of the whole of the Scottish people is an important part of the matrix, but there is a danger of drowning the working class in the current independence movement. At best, some left groups misguidedly see this as some sort of mass “working class independence movement” and therefore fail to attack the Scottish nationalists and layers of the bourgeoisie who are behind them.
The position of the pro-Yes Left is based on a number of misconceptions and a tendency to capitulate to a form of Popular Frontism, mirroring that of the Labour right-wing in the No-vote block. At worst, (and I'm not saying people are Stalinists) but the position of the pro-independence Left comes dangerously close the old Stalinist position of alliances with progressive petty-bourgeois democrats and even the progressive elements of the bourgeoisie, because the socialist revolution can only be on the agenda once the “national democratic revolution” has been completed. Therefore, until such time, the workers' movement must subjugate itself to the petty-bourgeois leadership of nationalist democrats.
However, I think firstly that this is giving an imbalanced view of how Scottish workers view the vote and tends to suggest that all the advanced workers are supporting independence. I don't believe that is necessarily the case and that the views among workers is much more complex and sometimes contradictory. Some advanced workers support independence, but equally, many advanced workers are against it. It is not straight forward that workers voting No are backward layers with illusions in British capitalism, the monarchy and the Establishment. Some do, but a large section of these No-voting workers already see through the nationalists for what they are and have few illusions in an independent capitalist Scotland. Consequently, calling for a Yes vote can mean we are cutting ourselves off from an important section of advanced workers. That's also why I still think the demand for a fully devolved Socialist Federation of the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Ireland and England is still relevant in reaching not only Yes voters, but No-voting workers.
Of course, many advanced workers do see independence as a blow against British capitalism as I explained in my other article. But, just as there is a layer of backward workers voting No because of illusions in British capitalism, so are there many backward workers in the Yes camp, who have enormous illusions that Scottish capitalism will be better than British capitalism. Thus consciousness is very mixed and confused and should not be seen as a mass working class vote for independence. Therefore, we can fall into the trap of alienating important layers of advanced workers, by advocating a Yes vote.
Lastly, I don't have time to go into the complex reasons why it is different issue for Wales. As a Welsh person I know that this is quite a different thing in Wales and it would be totally wrong to suggest that Wales will simply mimic or follow the Scottish path of separatism after Scottish independence. The nationalists of Plaid Cymru only have a base in rural areas and have very little following among the working class - the overwhelming majority of whom consider independence for Wales as impractical and damaging, if not absurd.  
RM: Comrades,
I would like to add one small point to the issue of a yes vote being a huge setback and defeat for British capitalism.  This is a very welcome prospect indeed but it is also a considerable problem for US capitalism.  The UK has been US capitalism’s staunchest ally through thick and thin.  Now we see that “failed state syndrome” is not limited to third world countries and former colonial territories.  I do not know enough about the balance of forces in Scottish politics but everything I read and from what the comrades have said, it is much to the left of the rest of the UK.
We can only imagine the horror at an independent Scotland opposing US foreign policy or, at worst, calling Israel a terrorist state like Morales.  There is an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal and its clear where the WSJ stands raising all the concerns the No campaign doesThe dominant journal of US capitalism is actually threatening the Scots warning them that, ”Scotland’s place within the Western family is far from assured…” and warns further, “…Don’t think Vladimir Putin isn’t watching with interest.”  The Scots have certainly stirred up a global hornets nest and given the global capitalist class something to worry about.

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