Thesis on the national question in Scotland

After a wide ranging discussion this thesis was passed unanimously by a CPGB aggregate on Sunday March 8

1. Nationalism and Marxism are antithetical. Nationalism considers nations and national cultures positively. The national differences between people are viewed as essentially healthy and something to be sustained into the distant future.

2. Marxism considers nations and national distinctions negatively. We want to create conditions whereby nations, nationality, nationalism and the state all wither away. Marxists militantly oppose every form of nationalist ideology, whether this be represented by an established state or those forces seeking to constitute a new state through a breakaway.

3. Scottish Militant Labour does not defend the Marxist point of view. It positively promotes a Scottish national socialism (which comes via a bourgeois parliament and introduces nothing more than minimal social democratic reforms, leaving by their own admission wage labour and hence the capital-labour relationship intact). Their socialism is national, statist, bureaucratic: ie, it is objectively anti-working class and thus anti-socialism.

4. Instead of working class unity against the existing United Kingdom state SML now seeks a breakaway Scotland: presumably leaving it to the workers in England and Wales to overthrow the UK state. SML therefore has a programme to weaken, not overthrow it. And to achieve that paltry aim it separates itself from Taaffe’s Socialist Party and more importantly must in due course call for an end to the historic unity of the working class in Britain. The TUC and its affiliates are unlikely to survive intact the creation of an independent Scotland. Hence, as capital becomes increasingly global, SML would irresponsibly divide the forces of the working class.

5. It is essential not to conflate all nationalisms as equally reactionary. The nationalism of an established capitalist state is inherently conservative. Fascism, the most degenerate form of bourgeois nationalism, is counterrevolutionary and thoroughly anti-democratic. But petty bourgeois nationalism may contain a revolutionary democratic content. We unconditionally support that content. At the same time it is vital not to abandon or water down criticism of petty bourgeois nationalism or advocacy of an independent working class approach to the national question.

6. The relative decline of British imperialism has laid the basis for a new Scottish nationalism (not the revival of a mythical nationhood going back to Kenneth mac Alpin or Macbeth). From the mid-19th century onwards being Scottish was to share in the “lucrative” booty of the British empire. Now it means cuts, insecurity and a denial of rights. As the ruling class frantically and destructively turns inwards in its drive to increase the rate of exploitation and thus restore some level of world economic competitiveness, the old identification in Scotland with the state has been replaced by an alienation from it.

7. Given the perceived absence of a viable socialist alternative, petty bourgeois nationalism comes to the fore. In the form of the SNP it promises to secure for Scotland a better position in the world economic pecking order through the formation of a new, independent Scottish state within the European Union.

8. The masses in Scotland certainly view themselves as nationally disadvantaged within the United Kingdom. It is not only opinion polls that tell us that. Every election, every grievance, every strike is coloured by the national question. And no income statistics showing Scotland on a par with East Anglia and only just behind the South East will convince them otherwise. Such philistine arguments - advanced by the Socialist Workers Party - will not make the Scots forget their nationality nor the undemocratic denial of their right to self-determination within the United Kingdom.

9. The CPGB considers itself obliged to criticise those such as the SWP, Socialist Labour Party and Revolutionary Communist Party who downplay or dismiss the national question in Scotland by appealing for the “unity of Scottish, English and Welsh workers” around routine trade union demands and “true socialism”. Such elements are in effect English chauvinists. Their socialist rhetoric is merely the opposite side of the status-quo unionism peddled by John Major’s Tories.

10. That is why we must ruthlessly expose Blair’s proposed Edinburgh parliament along with his “rigged referendum”. Blair’s parliament is little more than a glorified county council. It will not be allowed to modify the constitution by one iota. The people of Scotland will not become citizens. They will remain subjects of the crown. What Blair offers is therefore nothing more than a cynical device, a prophylactic designed to strengthen Labourism and preserve the constitutional monarchy. It is a change to prevent change.

11. Communists will boldly take the lead in fighting for a multi-option referendum and the right of Scotland to elect a parliament with full constitutional powers: ie, a constituent assembly. To that end we will use the general election and every other means of agitation and propaganda. If Labour is elected and Blair refuses to concede Scotland’s right to decide its own future, we will not join with the Tories in a double ‘no’ vote. Communists advocate an active boycott of Blair’s “rigged referendum” around the slogans, ‘Self-determination - nothing less’ and ‘Boycott Blair’s rigged referendum’.

12. To all intents and purposes the referendum campaign has begun in the run-up to the general election. Major, with his ‘1,000 years of uninterrupted history’ nonsense, and Stephen Dorrell’s draconian pledge to abolish Labour’s parliament have put the constitution centre stage of British as well as Scottish politics. It is in the heat and fluidity prior to the referendum that calls for parliamentary walkouts, an illegal Scottish assembly, councils of action, mass demonstrations, civil disobedience, industrial disruption, etc should first be agitated and planned for - not after.

13. Communists support the right of nations to self-determination, up to and including forming an independent state. We are for peaceful and democratic secession, as opposed to any kind of coercive or violent maintenance of unity. The use of force to maintain unity, as for example in Northern Ireland, is an admission that the state’s territory has divided into oppressed and oppressor nations. Unlike SML the CPGB unconditionally defends the right of the oppressed to take up arms to win its democratic rights from the oppressor.

l4. Support for the right of self-determination does not mean that communists desire separation. On the contrary, advocacy of separation is for communists something exceptional. For example between Ireland and England/Britain there is a whole history of violence and brutal oppression. We therefore demand the immediate withdrawal of British troops and the unity of Ireland.

15. Separation only becomes a communist demand if unity is imposed by force. The relationship between England and Scotland has not been primarily characterised by violence - at least since the 1707 Act of Union.

16. Our policy is decided on the basis of the actual historical conditions and circumstances in each case. Communists in general favour voluntary unity and the largest possible states as providing the best conditions for the corning together and merger of peoples. Under present circumstances there would be nothing remotely progressive about a Scottish army, a customs post at Gretna Green and the splitting of the historically bonded peoples.

17. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a unity of hereditary crowns not the voluntary union of peoples. The right of self-determination does not exist in the UK constitution and cannot exist under any form of monarchical government in which the people are not sovereign. Given the huge disparity between the populations of England on the one side and Scotland and Wales on the other, the UK is permanently dominated by the English. The people of Scotland and Wales cannot freely determine their own future within the constitution. Hence there exists an inborn democratic deficit.

18. The CPGB is for the immediate abolition of the constitutional monarchy and the abolition of the Acts of Union. We communists seek to mobilise and unite the working class of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a united political struggle for a federal republic and a united Ireland (as Engels and Lenin argued, a federal republic in Britain would represent a democratic step forward from the constitutional monarchy - it is not, it must be stressed, some universal principle).

19. This is both a democratic and transitional aim. The federal republic establishes the voluntary union of the peoples of Great Britain. If this is achieved, as we intend, using proletarian methods, it also means the revolutionary destruction of the constitutional monarchy and thus the realisation of our minimum programme.

20. The Scottish question must not be left only for Scots. It is a democratic question which must see the whole working class in Britain united around a correct strategy. Only by mastering the gamut of social contradictions can the workers raise themselves from the economic, trade unionist struggles of a slave class to that of a political and potential ruling class.