In a few days time we will know the result of Scotland?s historic vote on whether to leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country. If the vote is in favour it will obviously have major implications not only for Scotland but also for the future of the independence campaigns in other places in Europe such as Catalonia in Spain. Below are some arguments from two socialists outside the UK, for and against the separation of Scotland from the UK.
?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.?
?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 mobilisation of a radical wing of the independence movement will either lead to the formation of a new mass left party or a resurgence of the Scottish Socialist Party. The SSP’s perspective is that a socialist overturn in an independent Scotland is far more likely than in Britain as a whole, and 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.?