Scotland: Nothing progressive about nationalism
Sarah McDonald reports on a clumsy attempt to railroad Left Unity Scotland into support for a ‘yes’
On Saturday May 24 a meeting was held in Edinburgh with some comrades in Left Unity Scotland. The aim of the so-called ‘aggregate’ was to pass a motion committing Left Unity in Scotland to support Scottish independence in the September 18 referendum. It was an attempt to force through a Scottish nationalist position by those in LU who support the Radical Independence Campaign, orchestrated principally by Mick Napier (formerly of the Socialist Workers Party and a leading figure in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign).
However, the organisers of this Scottish ‘aggregate’ called it at short notice and, it is claimed, did not consult all members of Left Unity’s interim Scottish executive or the newly elected Scottish representative on the national council (who opposes Scottish independence). Comrades from LU’s Glasgow South branch, which is led by anti-nationalists, also claim they were not involved in the meeting’s organisation. Glasgow South responded at its own meeting on May 27 by calling on the LU leadership not to recognise the validity of the Edinburgh meeting or its motion.
Up until now Left Unity’s position, agreed at the March 29 national policy conference, has been one of ‘neutrality’ on the independence referendum. While some of the forces involved in LU’s national leadership, such as Socialist Resistance, have fully embraced Scottish nationalism, there are still many comrades involved in LU, both in Scotland and nationally, who oppose Scottish independence from a principled perspective of working class unity. But at the policy conference an anti-nationalist motion from Glasgow was effectively gutted by two amendments, leaving it bereft of even the sentiment of working class unity - in Britain and across Europe (ironically the conference had, mere moments previously, just voted for the Communist Platform motion on Europe, for working class unity on a European scale - the polar opposite of the second amendment to the Glasgow motion passed by conference). A pro-nationalist motion, proposed by Steve Freeman (a comrade who has completely collapsed politically), was also defeated, albeit narrowly. Both votes are indicative of the diversity of opinion on this crucial question within LU. If, therefore, the Edinburgh meeting is declared legitimate and its motion is accepted as LU Scotland’s position on the matter, this would represent a decisive shift in policy.
According to reports, the Edinburgh meeting was attended by a mere 10 comrades, with nine voting in favour and one against. LU has not had much of a presence in the city, so it was an interesting choice of venue. Comrades from Glasgow South branch did not attend - but rejection of the alleged impropriety of the meeting is mixed with a reaction to an ongoing dispute, whereby a young female activist claims to have been bullied by comrade Napier over her support for ‘no’ - a potential embarrassment for the ‘safe spaces’ crew. In my view the manner in which the meeting was allegedly organised would be reason not to participate, whereas the presence of a comrade accused of hostile or bullying behaviour would not.
Anyway, it is worth exploring the content of the motion that has now been posed as LU Scotland’s official position.
LU Scotland notes that:
1. The issue of Scottish independence is a democratic question.
This is very true. The right to self-determination is a democratic question and one on which we ought not to be neutral. We are for the greatest possible unity of peoples. Therefore in the specific case of Scotland, we support the right to self-determination (ie, Scotland should not be forced against the will of the Scottish people to remain in the union), but crucially we in the CPGB advocate unity. We argue against those who propose to weaken our class by splitting it along national lines.
2. Scottish opinion is increasingly polarised between unionist parties committed to austerity and a public opposed to government policies.
Not so true. Perhaps this is badly worded, but the Scottish public are not to be found on one side, while the “unionist parties” are on the other. Are we to infer that, on one side, we have Labour, Tories and the Liberal Democrats and, on the other, the people of Scotland under the leadership of the Scottish Nationalist Party (and RIC)? If that were true, the polls would look a lot different. We would be looking at projections of an overwhelming victory for the ‘yes’ camp on September 18, rather than a majority for ‘no’.
3. The ‘no’ camp is dominated by Tory and New Labour, who will be strengthened by a victory in the September referendum to continue with austerity policies.
What if the ‘yes’ camp were to win? Would the Scottish National Party not have to preside over austerity? Look at Alec Salmond’s former Celtic tiger inspiration, Ireland, if you want an example. The reality of austerity would see the SNP forced to scrap its more social democratic policies if an independent Scotland were to survive at all within global capitalism.
4. The ‘yes’ camp includes not only nationalists positioned to the left of Labour, but also the majority of working class and progressive opinion who support a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum as a method of fighting the austerity policies of the coalition government.
True up to a point - the ‘yes’ camp will have support from “nationalists positioned to the left of Labour”, but also from those positioned to its right - all Scottish nationalists, one would assume, would be on board. As for the “majority” of working class opinion, that is just nonsense. It is true that support for independence has risen in the industrial heartlands. But this clearly does not translate into a ‘yes’ majority. In terms of “progressive” opinion, here it is more a case of the pseudo-left and despairing liberals going over to a Scottish left nationalism of their own making.
This involves making the foolish claim that people in Scotland are almost inherently more “progressive” - less racist, xenophobic, more community-spirited - than people in the rest of Britain. This line of argument evidently excuses the divisive anti-English ideology of nationalism, and it also reveals a complete failure of historical thinking. Eg, the Conservatives won over half of all Scottish seats in the 1955 election. The decline of the Tories can, in part, be put down to the rise of the SNP. Pro-capitalist British nationalism replaced by pro-capitalist SNP nationalism - what could be more progressive? Not to worry - there will be no austerity measures in an independent Scotland, no ‘racist’ immigration laws, no blaming of outsiders, etc.
Of course, the idea that Scotland is a beacon of toleration is laughable. Go into a pub of a Saturday night after a Rangers match you will hear all manner of macho, homophobic, anti-English xenophobic talk (and, depending on where you go, you could get beaten within an inch of your life for being a Catholic too). For more on this, see Greg Philo’s blog Socialism and Nationalism on the delusions Scottish exceptionalism.1
LU Scotland agrees that:
1. Socialists should not be seen to defend the integrity of the British state or adopt a position of neutrality when there is a potential to weaken that state.
The first part of this clause is acceptable. We do not defend the British state or British imperialism. Those on the left, such as George Galloway, are wrong to use British nationalist arguments. The second part of the sentence is what is at issue. What the comrades deliberately fail to mention is that the weakening of the British state by the secession of Scotland would also lead inevitably to the weakening of the working class and its institutions. Not every blow to the state translates into a victory for us. If there were a nuclear explosion, killing millions and destroying cities and infrastructure, it would be a blow to the state. Not something we ought to be advocating, though.
2. LU should be clearly aligned with the campaign to secede from the UK and fight within this camp for working class interests and anti-militarist policies.
The most fundamental interest of the working class is the overthrow of the global system of capitalism. This cannot be done effectively within the confines of a single country, but must at least begin on a European scale. The working class has no interest in dividing itself on the basis of smaller and smaller states. Therefore the first part of the sentence is in contradiction with the second.
LU Scotland resolves to campaign on a socialist and internationalist basis with others for a ‘yes’ majority in September.
Yet again, just as with the Scottish Socialist Party, Committee for a Workers’ International, Socialist Resistance, Socialist Workers Party, International Socialist Group and a list of individuals who really should know better, this motion tries to square that circle: ie, separatism and international socialism. The problem that these comrades continually encounter is that, no matter how they contort their politics, the circle cannot be squared. Socialism is international or it is nothing. There can be no such thing as an ‘independent socialist Scotland’. Neither can you be a nationalist and an internationalist at the same time. There may be a dynamic, ‘radical’ independence campaign that strikes a chord with some so-called ‘progressive’ elements, but one thing is for sure: it will not lead to socialism.
There is no principled socialist campaign for Scottish independence. In this referendum, there is a principled ‘no’ position advocated by comrades such as those in Glasgow South LU. The other alternative, as we in the CPGB have advocated, is a boycott position that neither aligns us with the British establishment nor the Scottish nationalists.