Vince Mills, Chair of the Campaign For Socialism, looks at the problems with the campaign for an independent Scotland.
An English visitor to the Scottish Labour Party Conference in Inverness on April 19-21, or for that matter the Scottish TUC Congress in Perth a week earlier, might have been forgiven for being confused. Was Scotland exempt from the politics of austerity? Had the Bedroom Tax passed us by? The press and the fringe meetings and the late night arguments quickly passed over the consensus on the iniquities of the ConDem assault and quickly fixed on what divides us — the Independence Referendum.
Most of the left outside the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain have taken the position that the best way to address austerity and the other horrors visited on us by the ConDems is to vote for independence. The assumption is that people who live in Scotland are more ‘progressive’ than our southern neighbours. The Social Attitudes Survey says not. The Scots and the English more or less share the same views, for better or worse, with the exception of Scottish attitudes on tolerance of foreigners, which is slightly better than the English.
The theoretical premise requires more consideration. It is argued by a range of left groups that if Scotland were to secede from Britain it would mean the end of the British state and all that flows from it. It is put articulately by my friend the ex-Labour MSP John McAllion, who is now a member of the Scottish Socialist Party.Writing in Red Pepper, he argues:
“The choice is really very simple. Go on as before inside an antiquated and reactionary state that legally shackles trade unions and has no political space for socialism. Or begin to break that state apart in the name of progress and social advance and in doing so release the energy and the potential of a left across Britain that has for far too long been in retreat.”
John is very clear that freed from the shackles of the British state the Scottish state will embrace a radical, left politics. There may be some possibility of that if the move to independence were being driven by a class conscious left intent on creating a socialist project in the teeth of capitalist opposition. But it is not. It is being led by what John would happily agree is a class alliance supported by bankers, global capitalists and a large number of Scotland’s middle classes. The SNP has made it clear the constitution for the new Scotland will be located comfortably within the limits of neoliberal economic and political orthodoxies. Likely inclusions are the monarchy, sterling as the national currency and membership of the EU. How’s that for shackles?
But actually it is not the main problem with John’s utopian nationalism. He is confusing the geographical entity that is Britain with the state power of capitalism. It is here that we need to ask our comrades how they believe introducing a challenge to capitalism is possible when the ownership of Scotland’s economy, including its banks and trade, will be controlled from the City of London. The effect of independence will be, in addition to the possible rupturing of the united British working class movement at trade union level, to remove Scottish voters from any influence on the politics of the Westminster Parliament which has the potential to challenge the power of capital as part of a wider progressive movement for change.
So perhaps the emphasis at the STUC and the Scottish Labour Party was right. The priority must be resistance to the politics of austerity. But defending a British wide trade union and labour movement, capable of taking on the power of British capital focused in the City of London, is essential to that fight. For this reason the Campaign for Socialism and the Glasgow University Labour Club, both LRC affiliates, are working together to campaign for a socialist alternative to both the vacuities of left nationalism and the class collusion of the Better Together Campaign.
For more details: Socialism First