Around the left: Waving the saltire
The front page of the latest Scottish Socialist Voice leaves no doubt about its message. ‘Forward to a socialist Scotland’ is the headline above a collage of demonstrations in Scotland with Tommy Sheridan prominent in the front, all wrapped in the Scottish flag. Despite the semi-hysterical response from some Scottish Militant Labour members to Jack Conrad’s categorisation of their politics as national socialist there is no doubt as to the speed with which they are bounding in that direction.
It should be remembered that the Scottish flag makes up part of the Union Jack (or the butcher’s apron). National flags are not something genuine internationalist socialists wrap themselves in. SML’s own brand of socialism in one country - which is what we mean by the term national socialist - is not content now with the confines of the existing British state, as we have indicated in this paper on numerous previous occasions. Under the guise of fighting for an extension of democracy through advocacy of Blair’s sop parliament, it is agitating for the break-up of the state and the creation of a new independent Scottish bourgeois state. SML can intone socialism as much as it wants, but the reality of its project is one which puts the saltire at the head of working class struggles.
Instead of what it terms the SNP’s free market capitalism, the unsigned article on the front page calls for a “real parliament ... One that will wage war on poverty and inequality and begin to transform Scotland into a modern socialist democracy” (Scottish Socialist Voice August 14, my emphasis). SML has clearly shown its true colours. Rather than believing socialism can only be achieved by the international victory of the proletariat, it believes a nationalist break-up would make it easier for Scotland to legislate in socialism in one country. A quotation from Robbie Burn’s famous poem is used to argue it is the Tories that are out to buy and sell the Scottish people’s democratic rights. Apparently it is the likes of Donald Findlay et al who are the ‘parcel of rogues’ and not the Labour government.
This is despite the fact that it is Blair who is actually using, what SML itself not so long ago termed, a ‘rigged referendum’ to buy off the people of Scotland. Both the Tories and the Labour Party fear the development of a mass movement around this question, but instead of straightforward unionism Blair has moved to quell it with a sop. He has made it very clear that he wants it to strengthen the union not weaken it, and that Queen Elizabeth II will remain sovereign through her Westminster parliament.
But instead of being the imposers of a “rigged referendum”, and enough of a class enemy to stand against in the general election, SML now presents the Labour government as the democrats. Indeed, in the introduction to a centre page article by Philip Stott he says that against the Tories and “rightwing fundamentalist nationalists” stand “the trade union movement, the Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Scottish Socialist Alliance and the working class of Scotland”. By lining up with such openly and avowedly anti-working class enemies as Jim Wallace and Paddy Ashdown, not to mention Mandelson, Dewar or Salmond, SML is creating illusions not only in nationalism but in the progressive potential of the establishment to provide solutions for the working class. This to me is class treachery.
Sections of SML are salivating at the idea of a slice of the Edinburgh cake. An article in The Herald (August 15) makes it clear that its wing of the SSA at least is looking forward to the prospect of Tommy Sheridan MSP. Depending on the circumstances, we may well give it critical support in that. But the real issue is that as always SML, in the tradition of the organisation, is trading principle for short term gain. And in doing so it is pushing for the historic unity of the working class in Britain to be smashed. Stott argues excitedly that despite the shortcomings of the proposed parliament, Dewar has promised that there will be no glass ceiling - “In other words there will be no limit to the parliament’s freedom to evolve towards independence”.
Stott’s aspirations bear an uncanny resemblance to those of Alex Salmond, except with ‘socialism’ thrown in. But maybe even Salmond would say that too. A ‘Scotland’s future: where we stand’ column on the same page says it is for “Working class unity across Britain, across Europe and throughout the world”- no mention of a socialist federal republic of Scotland, England and Wales which was in its programme last time I looked. Another principle conveniently dropped? Or was that just a tactic too, Philip?
The last thing the working class of Scotland needs is to be taken in a nationalist direction. It has been too long the tragedy of the Irish working class that it has been tied to the coat-tails of the nationalist movement, rather than developing its own revolutionary party. That is why we are fighting so hard to challenge this turn of SML. We are not playing games, comrades. It would be unprincipled and opportunist if we did not challenge you sharply at this time. The recent hostile and bruised reaction of some - but not all - SMLers is interesting in this context. I think it bears evidence of another agenda.
The SML leadership does not and cannot honestly believe we are calling it fascist. The term national socialist has been used many times by Jack Conrad and Weekly Worker journalists over the last few months with no such reaction. The pamphlet has been out almost two months now. Philip Stott, its North East organiser, attended our school only a few weeks ago on behalf of the organisation and made no mention of it as a problem.
So why turn the heat on now? Have some in the SML leadership decided our criticisms are too hard-hitting and decided to try to kick us out of the SSA. Have they decided that they want to damage our credibility in front of their membership? Having worked with us throughout the general election and in other campaigns, debated with us and responded in our paper to our - often sharp - polemics, why the distance now? I believe a serious reply is needed. Not sulks and hysteria on the basis of something we never said.