Democracy on the agenda in Scotland

Campaign for Genuine Self-Determination launched

“We believe the people of Scotland should show the same contempt for this rigged referendum as we showed for the poll tax.

With these words Mary Ward, CPGB supporter and Scottish Socialist Alliance candidate for Dundee West in the general election, launched the Campaign for Genuine Self-Determination in Glasgow on Monday July 21.

She told the press conference: “We live in historic times. All across Scotland there is a mood for change - there is a strong and real sense of national identity, coupled with a sense of grievance which exists due to the democratic deficit in Scotland.

The hostility over rule from Westminster has intensified over recent years. In that time however, we have seen a number of examples of fightback: the poll tax, which was imposed on Scotland first, and more recently campaigns against council cuts which have taken place throughout the country. It is the militancy of these struggles that we fight to emulate in this campaign.

Tony Blair knows there is a movement in Scotland. What he seeks to do is silence that movement by buying us off with a puppet parliament.

Mary spelt out the aim of the campaign to fight for a parliament with full powers, for a democratic republic in Scotland. She emphasised that she, along with the CPGB, fought for a federal republic - the voluntary union of the peoples of Scotland, England and Wales. “But that must be ultimately for the people to decide. For a Scottish parliament to be meaningful, it must have the power to decide Scotland’s relationship with the rest of Britain - up to and including independence.

In the lead-up to the general election and afterwards, Blair and his Labour cronies in Scotland have done everything they can to buy off the people’s democratic aspirations with the toothless talking shop that is their excuse for a parliament. The day of the press conference, the papers in Scotland unveiled the truth behind a report in The Observer, which claimed that Labour had conceded that parliament could vote on independence in order to win the support of the Scottish National Party.

Of course, no such power was on offer from a party so completely loyal to the undemocratic UK monarchical state as New Labour. Just another cynical backroom deal, hotly denied by the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, had been struck. The lucky, lucky representatives of a new Scottish ‘parliament’ will be able to debate and maybe even vote on whether they are in favour of independence, but wise old uncle Blair could not possibly allow them to actually enact the result of any vote. The Scottish people can discuss their future all they want, but they certainly can not determine its outcome themselves: those decisions will remain firmly in the hands of Westminster.

Just as over all issues, such as the health service and education, Labour’s first few months in office have been a huge PR exercise in how to look radical without actually doing very much. How to present a face as the people’s friend while overseeing the removal of our basic rights of education, health and democracy, to name just a few.

It was the same with Scotland: “Faced with this situation - the status quo or Labour’s sop - no real choice exists. We are being asked to consent to being ruled in an undemocratic way under the constitutional monarchy,” Mary added.

The press in Scotland, reporting the conference, on the whole took a predictably cynical stance - apart from BBC Radio Scotland, which interviewed Mary and welcomed an intelligent opposition to the majority consensus (it was notable that Michael Ancram’s press relaunch of the Tories’ ‘no, no’ campaign on the same day received no interest at all). Opposition to Labour’s sop has over the past few months been quite successfully muted by the Labour and establishment machine. The memory of 1979, when the promise of a parliament was lost, has contributed to the reduced expectations of the Scottish people this time round.

The SNP is to announce its response to the white paper on Labour’s sop, which is published this Thursday (July 24), and how it will vote on the referendum, after its national council meeting on August 2. But it is now pretty much accepted wisdom that it too will campaign for a ‘yes, yes’ vote.

Scotland Forward, the organisation set up under a blaze of ignominious glory to lead a high-profile campaign for a ‘yes, yes’ vote, has been invisible in the lead-up to the launch of the white paper. Its work is being carried out for it by the press in Scotland.

The left has gone on holiday. Scottish Militant Labour, having narrowly won a vote at the Scottish Socialist Alliance to join Scotland Forward, found this organisation - not unexpectedly - too rightwing, and its preferred tactic too class collaborationist for its members to throw themselves into. Now it is doing its best to ignore the run-up to the referendum. It is instead concentrating on campaigning around the minimum wage. As will the Socialist Workers Party, which has never tired of telling the Scottish people that the national question is irrelevant: they should stop worrying about politics and get back to bread and butter issues.

Under these conditions the Campaign for Genuine Self-Determination is a lone voice, vilified as Tory unionists’ or simply wreckers’. Mary responded: “We are none of these. And we have had the courage to stand up and fight in another way.” As the only campaign with the confidence to stand up and demand genuine democracy, it has received more interest on the street than in the press. Though many feel they have no option but to vote for the sop, they are quite well aware that it falls far short of what is needed. Many have a lot of sympathy for the campaign, if this has yet to be turned into active support.

Whilst the establishment hopes to end discussion on democracy in Scotland through Labour’s referendum, the campaign aims to ensure that this is merely the beginning: “We believe that the debate must go on and that the time to fight for our democratic rights is now, not later,” Mary continued.

Our call for an active boycott of the referendum aims to mobilise the mass of the people around the fight for genuine democracy. National aspirations need to be linked with social need. Our campaign is aimed at the working class of Scotland and the whole of the working class oppressed under the same UK state.” Representatives of the Campaign for Genuine Self-Determination in England were at the conference to answer questions from the bemused press, who wondered why on earth people in England would want to fight for a Scottish parliament.

This campaign goes to the heart of the absence of democracy under the constitution as exists today. The working class in England have as much interest in overturning that constitution through their own struggle for genuine democracy as the working class in Scotland.

Mary concluded her speech by saying: “This is an important moment. Working class people must take up the fight for our democratic rights. We must fight this attempt to channel our aspirations into a meaningless gesture. After years of fighting for Scottish democracy for me to support a yes, yes’ under these conditions would be like giving in.

We’ve not come this far to settle for an insult. And as someone who knows the Labour Party from the inside, I know the resistance that exists within the hierarchy towards democracy for Scotland.

Working class people can and must take the struggle for democracy into their own hands. This boycott campaign is not about sitting at home. Precisely the opposite. We must take the fight for democracy onto the streets”.

Helen Ellis