Socialism and Scottish independence

Nick Rogers argues that a break-up of Britain would not advance the cause of socialism

Would the break-up of Britain advance the cause of socialism? Is the creation of more and more smaller, nationally based states something to be encouraged? Nick Rogers of the Scottish Socialist Party answers in the negative

The breakthrough by the Scottish Socialist Party at the Scottish parliamentary elections in May, when it secured six MSPs and 6.8% of the second vote, reflects a level of credibility and support that is of historic significance in the context of British politics. It also propels the SSP into the front rank of socialist organisations in Europe.

The party is a founder member of the European Anti-Capitalist Left and, together with the Rifondazione Comunista of Italy, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire of France, the Left Bloc of Portugal, the Danish Red-Green Alliance, and the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Alliance in England, will draw up a joint election manifesto for next year’s European parliamentary elections. The theoretical positions the party develops as well as the practical actions the party takes, therefore, will have a resonance across the continent.

The proposal that the Scottish Socialist Party take the lead in setting up a convention that will campaign for Scottish independence and seek to reach agreement on the mechanics for achieving it was approved by national council on August 31. Whether or not the SSP is able to persuade either the Greens or the SNP to cooperate in this venture remains to be seen. What is less open to question is that the debate inside the SSP around the initiative, and particularly the arguments advanced by Alan McCombes, have raised issues that have important implications for socialists everywhere.
Nationalism and globalisation
In the introduction to his article, ‘Why socialists should back independence for Scotland’, Alan McCombes sets out the internationalist credentials of the SSP, but dismisses the argument that socialist should “favour bigger and broader states as a step towards breaking down the barriers that divide people” (Scottish Socialist Voice August 22). This is in part a return to the discussion aired during last year’s SSP debate on the euro.

In actual fact it can hardly be denied that national borders have repeatedly divided the international working class - not least during the bloody inter-imperialist conflicts of the first half of the 20th century. To the extent that contemporary capitalism creates bigger and broader state formations such as the European Union, socialists should welcome the opportunity to build parallel workers’ organisations that can challenge capitalism on an ever wider scale. Why else, other than to confront the realities of the European Union, are European socialists coming together in the European Anti-Capitalist Left?

Yet the centrality of Scottish independence to the SSP’s whole political strategy makes it difficult for the party to orientate itself correctly on these issues. It is telling that Frances Curran during the Scottish parliamentary election campaign condemned the SNP’s policy of independence within Europe as compromising Scottish sovereignty.

The theoretical background to these issues is discussed in detail in a paper Alan co-wrote with Frances Curran two years ago for the 2001 conference of the International Socialist Movement (ISM), ‘The future of socialism in Scotland’ (www.redflag.org.uk/ism/ISMconf01_scotland.html). The paper makes explicit the link between Alan’s stance on the national question in Scotland and his analysis of recent international developments.

He and Frances write: “It is one of the striking paradoxes of the last decade that, while the ruling powers of the planet have sought to smash down national boundaries, the trend from below has been in the opposite direction.” Alan and Frances note the increase in the number of nation-states in the world from 62 a century ago to almost 200 today and go on to observe: “… there is a general international upsurge in support of movements for national and regional autonomy and national independence. In an indirect way, this is part of the anti-globalisation movement: it represents a revolt against the growing centralisation and uniformity of capitalism …. These centrifugal forces are likely to intensify. Opposition to the project of European integration will probably gather pace, while within states such as Spain, Italy, France, Belgium and the UK regional and national movements are likely to escalate.” Later Alan and Frances speak approvingly of “movements for national independence from Kashmir to Kurdistan, from Catalonia to Quebec”.

The phenomenon of globalisation covers a variety of trends and processes in contemporary capitalism. Alan and Frances define globalisation as a process of breaking down national boundaries. It is true that the last 20 or 30 years have seen a huge increase in trade, in foreign investment, in the movement of speculative funds around the world, and in the cross-ownership of corporations. Capitalist relations now predominate in virtually every part of the world and capitalism is established as a truly global economic system. The alternative social systems of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe have collapsed, opening new markets and investment opportunities. New industries and zones of development have sprung up in parts of Asia and Latin America. Components can be built in one country, assembled in a second and sold in a third.

Parallel with these developments, governments and employers have launched a neoliberal offensive to undermine trade union rights, reduce wages and conditions, cut social expenditure and privatise and deregulate services and industries.

At the same time the global system remains dominated by the most developed capitalist nations. The United States, the nations of the European Union and Japan continue to generate most of the world’s wealth. Their corporations remain the largest and most powerful. The richest nations dominate the international financial and economic institutions. Poor and weak nations are pressured to open their markets and sell off vital services to western corporations. Their nascent industries are destroyed. Their farmers are out-competed by subsidised exports from the granaries of north America and Europe. Extortionate debt repayments distort economic and social priorities. And over those recalcitrant nations that refuse to do the bidding of the world’s powerful hovers the threat of overwhelming military retaliation.

These tendencies are both interlinked and in conflict. For instance, insofar as the economies of east Asia grow stronger and east Asian corporations perform confidently on the international stage, the basis for the current imperialist international division of labour is undermined. The most successful Asian economies continue to follow economic policies of close links between domestic corporations and governments, planning and credit and exchange controls that are anathema to the orthodox economists of the World Bank. Yet it is the neoliberal orthodoxy that is imposed on the very poorest nations of the world - a set of policy prescriptions that both attack workers and their movements in all countries and reinforce the predominant position of the richest nations in the global economy. Nor have US and European corporations proved backward in seizing opportunities to set up manufacturing and assembly units in free trade zones around the globe that can be rapidly switched to exploit the lowest wages and laxest tax regimes.

Alan and Frances condemn the “centralisation and uniformity” of capitalism. Yet a far more pressing concern than, say, the opening of MacDonalds and KFC branches in one major city after another is the stark disparity in wealth and levels of development that scar our world. The major task of socialism on an international scale is to create a great deal more uniformity of wages and conditions and in the life chances of people around the globe. That requires a centralisation at a global level of democratic decision-making and economic planning.

But, whatever aspect of globalisation you examine, it is unclear how breaking up existing states constitutes a form of resistance. The decolonisation movement was responsible for creating most of the new 20th century nations Alan and Frances cite - an undoubtedly progressive transformation. Yet, in a sense, the destruction of the colonial empires of the European powers cleared the way for the reshaping of global capitalism and imperialism that we are seeing reach fruition in the globalisation of today.

In the 1920s and 30s international trade and foreign investments fell far below the levels of the pre-World War I period - in part because rival imperial powers were able to hunker down behind tariff walls and imperial preferences and exploit the resources and peoples of empires from which imperial rivals were excluded. The partition of the world by the European powers had to end before capital and goods could begin to flow around the planet without interruption, before the United States could rise to its present dominant global position or before some of the formerly colonised nations of Asia could develop advanced industrial and technological sectors that are able to compete in a global economy. Again, the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union has powered the most recent acceleration of globalisation, with capitalism globally triumphant and US military bases in the central Asian republics of the former USSR.

Moreover, the United States for one is adept at manipulating small and weak states. States that break up are certainly smaller and most likely weaker. US manipulation can include turning national questions to its advantage. Alan and Frances mention Kashmir and Kurdistan outside of the advanced capitalist world. Pakistan for virtually the whole of its history has been pretty much a client of the United States - a particularly valuable arrangement when India was a leading member of the non-aligned movement. Throughout this period the United States backed Pakistan on Kashmir, raising the issue, for instance, in the United Nations to bring pressure to bear on India’s leaders. The British partition of India, for that matter, is a notorious example of a division of peoples along the lines of a putative sense of nationality that has soured national and inter-religious relations on the sub-continent ever since.

Similarly, the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan enabled the United States and Britain to justify the northern no-fly zone, pump aid to Saddam Hussein’s opponents and to open a northern bridgehead during this year’s invasion of Iraq. In Turkey, a Nato member, the United States is naturally a lot less forthright in its defence of Kurdish rights.

Of course, socialists recognise national rights in principle in whatever context. It is also important to take on board the land and human rights of indigenous peoples around the world - not only in North America and Australasia, but in South America, parts of Africa, India and elsewhere in Asia.

But the right to national self-determination, which socialists unreservedly support, does not imply an obligation for nationalities to break away from larger states. National self-determination means precisely what it says - the right of the people in a territory to decide for themselves what national arrangements they will make. The options range from equality within a democratic unitary state, through autonomy, federation, all the way to outright independence. Socialists should not presume that a single model will fit the requirements of all national questions.

The most important socialist demand should be that democratic rights and freedoms, including language and cultural rights, are extended to all the citizens of a state, including national minorities. Alan and Frances make a distinction in their paper between predatory, expansionist nationalisms and those nationalisms that demand national equality and self-determination. There is some truth in the distinction. But never forget that today’s oppressed nationality can become tomorrow’s national oppressor. Take Serbian nationalism over the last 60 years. Serbs heroically resisted Nazi aggression during World War II and paid with massive loss of life. Then, within the last 15 years, Serbs were stirred by Milosevic to oppress the muslim majority in Kosova. Now, in the next turn of history, the Serbian minority in Kosova faces grim persecution.

The overwhelming priority for socialists is to unite the exploited and oppressed of all nationalities. Nowhere is this imperative more pressing than across the African continent, where the economic and social failures of the last four decades have produced ethnic conflicts and rivalries. Many of the borders inherited at independence cut across ethnic groups. Many nations were never able to sustain viable economic development. The political economy of much of Africa is crippled by imperialist subjugation. The IMF and World Bank effectively run the economies of several African nations. The United States is proposing to build military bases to safeguard the supply of African oil.

In Africa the need for political arrangements and economic development that cut across national borders has long been understood. Last year the African Union was launched (to replace the Organisation of African Unity). This is a new attempt to kick-start African integration, with Thabo Mbeki from the south of the continent promoting the neoliberal Nepad (New Partnership for African Development) and Colonel Gaddafi from the north advocating rapid moves towards political union.

The problems facing this endeavour are legion. The most compelling is the lack of a pan-African capitalist class to provide a dynamic impetus to the process. Most infrastructural links in Africa are between the hinterland and the coast - in order to facilitate the export of minerals and agricultural products to the outside world - rather than from one African country to another. Business links follow much the same pattern. Thus it may well fall to socialist parties and movements representing the interests of Africa’s workers and rural masses to take up the task of confronting Africa’s poverty and underdevelopment by integrating the economies and states of the continent.

Within the European Union, by contrast, European capitalism over a 50-year period has created pan-European institutions that are beginning to match at the political level the degree of integration of the European economy. It is possible that some of the EU’s northern periphery (including Britain) may peel away from the EU project, but there is no prospect of disintegration within the core nations. Indeed Rifondazione Comunista (PCR) calls for the creation of European workers’ organisations and a Europe-wide socialist party that will take up European social and economic demands and seek to transform the institutions of the EU in order to prepare the ground for a socialist Europe. It will seem bizarre to the PCR that the leading thinkers of the SSP look instead to the break-up not only of the EU but of the existing European states.

Certainly, the ruling powers in Europe seek to carry through a neoliberal agenda within the borders of the EU and they behave in an imperialist manner at trade talks and other global arenas. But that is the nature of capitalist states in the present era. In Britain we have plenty of experience of Thatcherism under both the Conservatives and New Labour. The proposals for cutbacks and privatisation emanating from Brussels have yet to match what has already been imposed on the British working class. How would the disintegration of the EU and the European nation-states make it easier for Europe’s working class to resist the economic pressures to erode rights and conditions that are applied to all states and would be applied with equal vigour to an independent Catalonia, Sardinia or, for that matter, Scotland? A united working class fightback across Europe is required.

And the lack of a genuine European nationalism will make it difficult for European leaders to match the imperialist dynamic of the United States - the total of Europe’s fragmented military expenditure, for instance, is only half that of the United States.

The next couple of decades provide a unique opportunity for the European working class to overcome a century and a half of division and, by challenging global capitalism in one of its wealthiest heartlands, take a giant leap towards the creation of a socialist world. Is the SSP prepared to play the role in this enterprise that its importance merits?
Scottish independence and US imperialism
In his Voice article of August 22, Alan applies his ‘nationalism and globalisation’ thesis to the specifics of Scottish independence and reaches the conclusion that “The break-up of the United Kingdom would be a devastating blow for capitalism and imperialism on a world scale.” This is quite a striking claim to make. Remember, Alan is seeking to “support any advance towards Scottish independence even on a non-socialist basis” in order to establish common cause with the Scottish National Party, the Greens and assorted independents in the Scottish parliament. So Alan wishes to persuade us that the creation of an independent Scotland, whoever held office at Holyrood - the SNP, New Labour or a coalition that might include the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives - would seriously undermine global capitalism.

Alan’s case is as follows: “Britain today plays a central role on the world stage as the staunchest ally of the US in its drive to conquer the resources of the planet for multinational capitalism …. Scotland is a vital cog in the western military machine, with a disproportionate share of British army regiments and vital nuclear, submarine and air bases. Edinburgh is the fourth biggest financial centre in Europe. Eighty percent of all European oil reserves lie in Scottish waters. Politically, militarily and economically, the breakaway of Scotland would represent a traumatic setback for the British ruling classes and body blow for US imperialism.”

British politicians are quite often accused of exaggerating the importance to the United States of the so-called ‘special relationship’ with Britain, but they rarely outdo Alan’s tribute to Britain’s role in US imperialism. It is true that Britain is a close and important US ally, providing military facilities, troops, aircraft and warships, diplomatic support and now at Fylingdale’s early warning facilities for the proposed US militarisation of space. And the importance of that role has grown considerably during the unilateral US and British action in Iraq. But even during this period the United States has retained other allies - Spain, Italy and most of eastern Europe within the EU, for instance. It would hardly be otherwise for a global power that packs enormous economic weight and more military hardware than most of the rest of the world put together.

It may just be that even this neo-conservative US administration may be looking to play a cleverer diplomatic game in future. With his opinion poll ratings falling, George Bush has approached the UN security council to seek a mandate for the US presence in Iraq - a move widely seen as a setback for the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. In a sign of the changing mood the Democratic contenders for the 2004 presidential race are lining up to criticise Bush’s Iraq strategy.

Any slackening of the US commitment to pre-emptive strikes and permanent global warfare will not see an end to the pursuit by the United States of its imperialist interest. But there will be a return to a ‘multilateral’ building of alliances and the use of international institutions. This was the strategy of George Bush senior and Bill Clinton, who between them oversaw the first Gulf War and two wars in the former Yugoslavia - and the demolition of an aspirin factory in Sudan. The difference was that they succeeded in bringing on board a larger number of allies. One consequence was that Britain’s importance for US military strategy was reduced. It was an era when commentators complained that Clinton spent more time courting France and Germany than his supposed closest ally and ideological soul-mate, Tony Blair.

The fact is that the United States has military bases right across Europe and could relocate its forces should it have to depart from any of its bases in Britain. Probably the biggest service Britain provides the US military machine is the leasing to the US of the island of Diego Garcia - in effect a vast aircraft carrier in the northern Indian Ocean. Diego Garcia was central to the US war effort in Afghanistan and Iraq. But a global power retains a wide variety of options in deploying its forces.

So exactly how are we to take Alan’s claim that a Scottish breakaway from Britain would by itself represent “a body blow for US imperialism”? What would be the likely impact on US imperialism of Scottish independence in the circumstances of rule by either the SNP or New Labour? First of all, neither propose to take Scotland out of Nato. So Scotland’s army regiments and air bases would still be available for joint action with the US. As would the numerous US air bases throughout England and the non-Scottish military forces retained south of the border.

The biggest military issue raised by a Scottish breakaway, however, would be the nuclear submarine base at Faslane. This hosts Britain’s independent nuclear strike force - four Trident nuclear-armed submarines, each carrying up to 16 Trident II D5 missiles. The nuclear technology was purchased from the United States and the missiles rely on US satellite-tracking to reach their target when launched - so give Britain very little in the way of military independence.

If an independent Scottish government insisted on the removal of the submarines, could a truncated British state maintain Trident? It is possible. The rest of the facilities that support Trident are based in England: the nuclear warheads are assembled at Burghfield, research and maintenance is conducted at Aldermaston, while Rolls Royce near Derby builds the nuclear reactors. The submarines were built at Barrow-in-Furness and Devonport has won the contract to refit them. Maybe they could be based in a naval port on the south coast of England.

If Trident were abandoned, however, the self-image of the British state as a nuclear power (sometimes described as the price Britain pays for its place as a permanent member of the security council) would be damaged. But the nuclear capabilities of the United States would be unaffected - if they did not want the submarines and missiles decom-missioned, they could buy them from Britain. Either way, it is difficult to see who in an independent capitalist Scotland is going to deliver Alan’s predicted “body blow” to US imperialism.

Of course we should not succumb to defeatism. The SSP has played an exemplary role in mobilising opposition to Faslane and has conducted highly principled campaigns against the wars of aggression conducted by Britain and the US over the last five years. And opposition across the world and in the United States itself can defeat the designs of the warmongers of Washington and London. Vietnam demonstrated that point. Iraq may yet repeat the lesson. But unsubstantiated hyperbole risks undermining the credibility of the SSP and blinding activists to the nature of the tasks that confront us.
The national question and the SSP
While it is a flight of fancy to imagine that Scottish independence will seriously disrupt US imperialism, the national question is nonetheless an important component of politics in Scotland. Alan McCombes and the SSP are right to take it seriously. Alan’s analysis in his Voice article of August 22 observes that there is a strong sense of Scottish national identity and among some Scots a sense of grievance and resentment.

There are a variety of factors involved in the ongoing national question in Scotland. Memories of the attempted suppression of Highland culture as part of the early trajectory of Scottish capitalism. The role of the British state in preserving a separate legal system, education system and national church. The incorporating of a romantic notion of Scottishness as part of the identity of 19th century Britain. And the post-war decline of Empire and loss of Britain’s heavy industrial centres, which impacted severely on Scotland’s central belt.

Above all, the fact that Scotland is a nation of five million people in a United Kingdom of 56 million means that, whenever an issue is viewed through the prism of national identity, “a sense that Scotland is a subordinate nation”, as Alan puts it, is likely to be reinforced. That is why the imposition of Thatcherism over a period of two decades, while Scots repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected the Conservatives at every election, gave the national question in Scotland a working class and left-of-centre coloration.

But the task of socialists is not to follow popular sentiment on every issue. We have to make an analysis of what we believe to be the reality of a situation and the strategic and tactical approach that will bring socialism closer. Applying these criteria forces us to question the conclusions Alan reaches.

Alan refers to the debate that frequently erupts in the SSP on whether Scotland is an oppressed nation. He rejects the view that Scotland is an oppressed colony of England - given the role Scotland played in Britain’s industrial revolution and imperial expansion and the fact that the same parliamentary regime operated both sides of the border, you can hardly argue otherwise. But Alan does assert that “Scotland has suffered at least elements of political, economic and cultural oppression”.

Surely, however, the key question for socialists is whether the exploitation and oppression suffered by Scottish workers is different in character from the exploitation and oppression suffered by English workers at the hands of the same state and to a large extent the same capitalist class. It is difficult to argue that it is.

Quite clearly there has long been a British working class and British labour movement. It is true that both Keir Hardie’s Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish TUC in the late 19th century supported home rule for Scotland (an early demand for devolution). But remember that when Keir Hardie failed to gain a parliamentary seat in Scotland he was perfectly happy to stand and win first in south Wales and then in east London. And the Welsh and London working class saw Keir Hardie’s Scottish nationality as no impediment to electing a representative of their class to parliament.

Furthermore, throughout the 20th century all the major working class struggles were conducted on an all-British basis. Even when it comes to Thatcher’s counterrevolution against the post-war working class gains, the ferocity of her attacks struck equally hard both sides of the border. The trial of the poll tax for a year in Scotland before its imposition across Britain made a major contribution in Scotland to a rising sense of national resentment. However, as Alan and the other leaders of the ISM well know, the campaign against the poll tax was an all-British affair. The non-payment campaign played havoc with local authority finances in England as well as Scotland. And it was a demonstration in London that focused the political discontent of the whole of Britain.

Nor is it easy to see how Alan’s claims that the sell-off of North Sea oil to private corporations, the use of Faslane by Trident submarines or nuclear dumping in Scotland are examples of the national oppression of Scotland. North Sea oil was sold off to the highest bidder and the tax regime loosened because of the pro-business sympathies of the Westminster government, not because the oil was in Scottish water.

Scottish CND makes much propaganda out of the observation that all Britain’s nuclear weapons are based in Scotland. But numerous US military bases across England may at any time host US aircraft carrying US nuclear weapons. The bases are certainly nuclear targets - it is said, in fact, that nowhere in England is more than 20 miles from a nuclear target. England, just as much as Scotland, is contaminated by ageing, leaky nuclear reactors.

Alan’s analysis is most telling when it comes to the different balance of political forces in Scotland and England. In Scotland the Conservative Party verges on political irrelevance, the SNP opposes New Labour from the left (if with increasingly less conviction) and the SSP offers a genuine socialist alternative to the traditional parties. The system of proportional representation for Holyrood and the likely introduction of PR for local authority election in Scotland mean that a radical socialist electoral challenge can continue to make headway.

But to acknowledge the advances made by socialists north of the border in a more advantageous political environment does not lead inevitably to the conclusion that the Scottish working class and Scottish socialists should jettison their English comrades and attempt to advance towards socialism within a separate Scottish state.

Alan presents a rosy view of the “colossal democratic advance” Scottish independence would represent and the range of progressive policies a Scottish parliament would have the power to enact on the back of North Sea oil and “the fourth biggest financial centre in Europe”. Yet economic conditions in a post-independence Scotland may not be all milk and honey. Fluctuations in the international price of oil make that resource an extremely precarious foundation of economic security. And the economic conditions which banks and insurance companies favour, such as high interest rates and a high exchange rate, damage the rest of the economy. Moreover, speculative financial flows are likely to be highly responsive to economic measures that seek to transfer resources away from the wealthy.

The SNP’s recognition of the vulnerability of the Scottish economy explains why they propose to join the global Dutch auction of lowering corporation taxes to bribe multinational corporations to invest in Scotland. No doubt the SNP would also attempt to bid down the wages and conditions of Scottish workers. And there are few signs that they would stem the tide of privatisation.

Maybe a harsher environment for Scottish workers would place the case for socialism more firmly on the political agenda - although the lessons of the 1980s and 90s surely point in the opposite direction. But disillusion with the immediate results of independence might instead focus attention on the details of the independence settlement between Scotland and England and the division of resources and assets between the two nations could well be attended by a degree of national bitterness. Furthermore, a prolonged campaign for independence, especially if the leadership of the SSP insists on placing a national slant on virtually every political issue, will serve only to obscure the class nature of politics and inflame nationalist passions.

As for Alan’s prediction that the SNP would “almost certainly” split, with its members and voters deserting for other parties, including the SSP, wishful thinking is no basis for determining long-term strategy. An independence referendum is likely to be brought forward by a Scottish administration in which the SNP is a leading partner. The party would be at its political high point. There is no reason to believe it would go into rapid decline once independence is achieved.

In Scotland the SNP roughly fills the political space that in the rest of Britain is occupied by the Liberal Democrats. That party has demonstrated the potential longevity of a political formation with middle class and rural roots that varies the ideological face it presents to different electorates. After all, one-third of SNP voters do not support independence - striking evidence that the SNP’s support base transcends a single cause. So the political field in an independent Scotland may remain just as crowded.

It is also worth considering that a referendum would by no means necessarily produce a ‘yes’ for independence. There is no current majority for independence. Alan quotes a number of ICM polls between 1998 and 2001 that have produced an average level of 46% supporting independence. However, a report produced by Lindsay Paterson for an SNP seminar in August paints a different picture (see www.institute-of-governance.org/onlinepub/sa/paterson_attitudes-_tables.html). Her data covers the period 1997 to 2002 and is based on the Scottish Election Survey, the Scottish Referendum Survey and the Scottish Attitudes Survey. It shows support for independence falling from a high of 37% at the time of the 1997 Scottish parliament referendum to 29% in 2002.

Even among working class people and the young there is not a majority for independence (all data for 2002). Support rises to 40% among unskilled workers, 33% among 18-24-year-olds. While 46% of those deemed to have leftwing views support independence, only 25% of Labour voters and 31% of trade unionists do. John MacAllion’s recent claim that 40% of Labour voters support independence may be a misreading of this data: 44% of those who support independence are Labour voters.

What is more, support for independence is unstable and potentially fragile. The British Election Panel Study asked the same group of people whether they supported independence on five occasions between 1997 and 2001. While 51% consistently rejected independence over that period, 21% supported independence on one occasion, but only five percent gave it the thumbs-up in each of those five years.

Lindsay Paterson’s data does show strong support for a devolved Scottish parliament. Scotland’s democratic deficit is not its lack of independence - that would require the majority support of Scots - but the lack of a clear mechanism by which Scotland can express its opinion on separation.

Working class defeats and retreats in the 1980s and 90s crystallised Scotland’s sense of national grievance. A rise in working class struggles, however, would cut across the borders of Britain’s national units. The firefighters’ strike has already shown that. The splendid victory for Glasgow’s medical secretaries led by an SSP member, trade union activist and now MSP inspired medical secretaries in England to take similar action. If British workers can coordinate action in England, Wales and Scotland, it is close to a dereliction of duty that socialist organisations in Britain are unable to match this level of common work.

Over the next four years - and quite possibly for much longer - socialists in Britain face a common state and capitalist class. The existence of a British state cannot be wished away. The Iraq war is being prosecuted by a British military machine. It surely makes sense to maximise Scottish contingents on marches against the occupation of Iraq held in London, where turnout is likely to have the largest political impact on the British state - while organising Scottish events (and local events in England) for those who are unable to travel to London.

It is the British state that is providing early warning support for the US missile defence system - Fylingdale’s location in Yorkshire should not reduce the outrage of Scottish activists at this latest ramping up of US militarism or lessen their determination to oppose it. And it will require an all-Britain campaign to convince trade unions that it is time to break with New Labour and provide support to parties that are prepared to fight for the interests of their members. The achievement at the RMT’s national conference will be much easier to duplicate if there is a credible socialist challenge across Britain.

Alan in his Voice article lists a range of policies that are reserved to the Westminster parliament: control of North Sea oil, asylum laws, pensions, most taxes, the minimum wage. The Scottish Socialist Party has been masterly in using the Scottish parliament to highlight inequality and injustice and in putting socialism on the agenda of Scottish politics. Tommy Sheridan and now all of its six MSPs, by giving up half of their salaries to the SSP, have set an example that starkly distinguishes them from the normal run of careerist politicians.

But on those vital policy areas over which the Scottish parliament has no jurisdiction we need to go further than bemoaning Scotland’s supposed lack of democratic rights. The SSP does campaign vigorously on many of these issues. We also need to make common cause with socialists and workers in England and Wales. In this way we could actually gain a degree of leverage against a united capitalist class and state.

The current state of organisation of socialists in England and Wales is deplorable. The major political groups on the left have not been prepared to take the risks that Scottish Militant Labour took in throwing in its lot with other socialists and donating its newspaper and much of its organisational apparatus to building a united socialist party. In five years branches have been built across Scotland, the SSP’s membership is higher than for the whole of the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales and the party has established a deserved reputation as a combat organisation on behalf of the working class.

Socialists in England and Wales bear the primary responsibility for turning around the situation south of the border. But the SSP has many lessons to teach. The party and its leadership should begin to take new risks in building all-British campaigns on those many issues that impact on the working class of the whole of Britain.

If the SSP is prepared to form a common electoral slate with European socialists, including English socialists - and the party should go further in building a common European organisation and common European campaigns - what sense does it make to fragment the efforts of socialists in combating the British state?