Separatist road to Scottish socialism

In the penultimate week of the Scottish election campaign the national question has emerged centre stage. Last week the Labour Party was panicked by the palpable apathy sweeping the electorate. As a result, in desperation, they raised the national question. The Scottish National Party's drive for independence would have disastrous effects on Scotland's 'prosperous' economy. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Scottish secretary Helen Liddell all jetted up north to warn us of the dire consequences of 'divorce'. The SNP have recently been rather coy on their plans for independence. However, Labour has raised the stakes. Not only would independence wreak economic havoc, but would be illegal under the powers devolved to the Scottish parliament. This claim has enraged the SNP, which quite rightly insists that it should be the Scottish people who take the decision on independence, not Westminster. Self-determination should, yes, be an elementary democratic right. Yet the fact of the matter is that there is little or no evidence of any majority wanting independence ... and thus the break-up of Britain and working class disunity. In an article in the Sunday Herald on April 20, John Curtice (professor of politics, Strathclyde University) published a report showing that less than 30% of the Scottish electorate expressed any strong desire for independence. Of course, this does not deter either of the nationalist parties. Both the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party are committed to independence on principle. It would appear then that both the SNP and SSP intend to achieve an independent class state in Scotland by hook or by crook. This is the politics of separatism and, as such, alien to the basic programme of socialism, which always and everywhere puts the unity of the working class first. While we would support the right of the Scottish people to opt for independence, as communists we do not advocate - under present-day concrete circumstances - that they choose this particular road. That is what self-determination means. Those who do not or cannot grasp this surrender to petty nationalism and betray socialism. Nevertheless, as Curtice's findings indicate, there does exist mass discontent with the quasi-democratic constitutional monarchy system in the United Kingdom. The CPGB, for its part, has consistently advocated the abolition of the UK state and a fully democratic federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales. In a BBC Scotland Newsnight debate on April 17, SSP international co-ordinator Francis Curran put a left gloss on nationalism. She argued that her socialist brand of independence was "better" than the SNP variety. She also criticised the SNP's intention to delay a referendum on independence if they and the SSP together won a Holyrood majority on May 1. Comrade Curran said: "If the pro-independence parties win a majority in parliament" then the SSP would urge "a referendum within the first 12 months of the parliament". Comrade Curran went on to attack the SNP's position on Europe. The slogan "an independent Scotland in Europe" was merely swapping Westminster rule to Brussels. Curren is determined to build socialism in splendid isolation. There can be nods in the direction of solidarity with workers in the rest of Britain or in Europe. But the idea of international socialism is now an anathema for comrade Curren and co. Hence whenever the Stop the War Coalition called a demonstration in the UK's capital city, London, the comrades were determined stay put. They organised much smaller protests in Glasgow. The SSP have reinvented socialism in one small kingdom. Self-deludedly our leadership of Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes argue that an independent socialist Scotland could control its own economy and deliver wealth and prosperity to the people in Scotland. Globalisation seems to have escaped them. In all likelihood a reformist socialist Scotland would suffer a flight of capital and economic sabotage. A revolutionary socialist Scotland would almost certainly be subject to military threats and maybe the bloody reality of counterrevolutionary regime change. So the SSP sees no advantage in forging ever closer unity with the (especially after enlargement) massive working class movement in the European Union. Comrade Curran's role as SSP international co-ordinator therefore amounts to ensuring that the working class in Scotland is kept at a safe distance from their brothers and sisters in the rest of the UK and the EU. Once again nationalism passes itself off as internationalism. Meanwhile the Socialist Worker platform keeps a diplomatic silence on nationalism and chooses to fight on issues of a comparatively secondary or even minor nature. On the BBC, the SNP's shadow health and community care minister Nicola Sturgeon would not be drawn on exactly when her party would seek a referendum on independence. Wary of Labour's scare tactics, she proposed a 'consultative' mid-term referendum. The differences that separate the SSP and SNP appear to be substantial. The SNP promises to improve public services. But it is business as usual with capital and capitalists. On the other hand the SSP says it is committed to far reaching social changes. At a press conference on April 17, Tommy Sheridan, SSP national convenor, repeated his commitment to socialism, albeit in one country. Purple passages mixed with tartan hues. "We want Scotland to be independent from poverty, independent from low pay, independent from racism and independent from nuclear weapons. Our new Scotland will be democratic and therefore a republic, independent from monarchy and inherited privilege." He concluded: "Scotland is rich enough, mature enough and smart enough to stand on its own as a beacon of social justice throughout the world. We are not frightened of independence, we promote it with confidence." The aspiration of ridding society of poverty, injustice and inequality are shared by communists. However, what we question is whether independence would take us one step nearer realising those noble aims. Socialism begins with the existing state but immediately reaches to the global level. That, or it faces death - through internal decay or international strangulation. History tells us that we are correct and those who advocate other roads to liberation are sadly mistaken. How mistaken can be seen from a BBC Scotland TV broadcast, Your election: the leaders, on April 21. Tommy Sheridan indicated that his road to socialism is the tried and failed route of parliament and piecemeal reform. The state machine is not be smashed, rather used to introduce socialism from above. Asked how the SSP could afford to fund its programme, comrade Sheridan argued for the abolition of the council tax, fairer local taxation based on ability to pay, nationalising major industries and utilities and taxing big-business and the rich. However, confronted by the suggestion that capital might flee from the prospect of a socialist republic, he reacted almost like a Keynesian convert. Comrade Sheridan insisted that because of lower taxation and higher minimum wages there would be more money generated in the Scottish economy. This would persuade companies to invest in the Scottish workforce! Even more disturbing was his citing of Denmark and Norway as examples of countries where business and high taxation on the rich had resulted in prosperity. The comrade did though have the grace to admit that neither could be described as remotely socialist. They are examples of a 'mixed' economy and that is what the SSP's programme is designed to achieve in practice. A Scottish road to reformism. No one doubts the tremendous gains made by the SSP. Support for the firefighters in Scotland, building anti-war demonstrations in Glasgow, campaigns against low wages and poverty conditions are only a few reasons why the SSP has climbed in popular support. Certainly the unity of the left achieved in the SSP contrasts brilliantly with the becalmed and ineffective Socialist Alliance in England and Wales. But the lesson to be drawn should not be that separation brings rewards. It is unity. That the International Socialist Movement, the Committee for a Workers' International, Socialist Worker platform, Republican Communist Network and CPGB members in Scotland work together in one organisation breeds confidence and brings in a whole, much wider, layer of new members. Unity with the Socialist Alliance, an EU Socialist Alliance, unity on a global scale would inspire too. And that road has the undoubted virtue of being the only viable one. Anything else is to invite another ghastly defeat. Ronnie Mejka