Skip Navigation?

Full Marks For Republican Initiative

Following the success of the October 9th Calton Hill demonstration, the RCN puts the case for the Scottish Independence Convention to be built on republican principles.

RCN Resolution to SSP conference February 2005

The impact of the October 9th Calton Hill Demonstration

The Calton Hill Declaration and the demonstration, on October 9th, opposing the official royal opening of the Scottish Parliament, was one of the SSP’s most successful initiatives last year. Everybody present was surprised at the numbers who turned up to the demonstration on Calton Hill, since the publicity only went out at the last minute. About a thousand people attended but quite a few more arrived after the event, since one of the radio news reports gave the wrong time!

Furthermore, there was favourable press coverage. Alan Crawford wrote for The Sunday Herald:-

A red flag rammed into the barrel of a cannon on the path up to Edinburgh’s Calton Hill yesterday ensured that no-one could mistake the crowds gathering high above the city for part of the official celebrations to mark the royal opening of the new Scottish parliament building.

This alternative event, with republican speeches, poetry, music, jokes and song, was a colourful and avowedly anti-monarchist affair called to pronounce a declaration of independence for an independent Scottish republic.

The declaration (available in English, Gaelic and Urdu), which has attracted the support of many of the country’s most celebrated authors, including AL Kennedy, Iain Banks, Alasdair Gray, James Kelman and Irvine Welsh, is intended to mark the start of a cross-party campaign for independence.

The Sunday Herald’s columnist, Ian Bell, also highlighted the importance of such support:-

Scotland’s poet laureate, Edwin Morgan, appointed by McConnell himself, has signed up for the Scottish Socialists’ Declaration of Calton Hill and disowned the hierarchical and anti-democratic institutions of the British state... Republicanism is a thread that has run through Scottish political life for a very long time. It is more than just a puerile nationalism opposed to a puerile unionism. You could side with the novelist Iain Banks, a supporter of the declaration, who believes that attending anything involving the Windsors ‘just encourages the blighters’. You could also agree with Alasdair Gray, as I do, that anti-Englishness, the standard insult you hear when these matters come up, has nothing whatever to do with the desire to be free of ‘that union of military, financial and monarchic establishments calling itself Great Britain’.

Republicanism is the last piece in the jigsaw of national self-respect. It clears away the last obstacles to genuine democracy, says that nothing, least of all the hereditary principle, should be allowed to come between a people and their political system. History replies, of course, that there have been plentyof failed republics. Republicanism has not always kept France safe. The glorious founding principles of the United States have been debauched repeatedly to the point where, yet again, two very rich men are squabbling over the right to run the world. Winning a republic guarantees nothing.

But Scotland, it seems to me, has a peculiar historical responsibility to itself. Yesterday, moreover, some people were prepared to recognise that responsibility... The event, for my money, can be described rather more simply: it was a way of speaking up for what Tom Paine called common sense.

Alan Crawford pointed out the wider support for this demonstration of republican common sense:-

There were old men in flat caps, young women in fashionable boots, anarchists in trenchcoats, socialists in combat fatigues, babes in prams and elderly ladies in headscarves.

The Republican Communist Network is proud to have been in the forefront of promoting republicanism in the SSP. We hope the success of this event will persuade SSP members of the need to advance the Party’s other initiative, the Scottish Independence Convention, on sound republican principles. This is why we are using the motion allowed to Platforms at Conference to win support for this stance.

Given the undoubted growing support for republican sentiment in the party what possible objections could there be to such a move? Well, it could come from two directions.

The CWI’s Economism thwarts democratic advance

The CWI Platform, in particular, has put forward an alternative motion to Conference, which, in effect, puts the Calton Hill and Scottish Independence Convention initiatives into cold storage. They believe that, unless such initiatives are avowedly socialist, and confine their appeal to socialists, then the SSP is doomed to go down the Scottish national capitalist road.

If the CWI were to find anything in Ian Bell’s article to agree with, it would be the following, Winning a republic guarantees nothing. And so far, they would be quite right. The problem with the CWI Platform’s thinking is its Economism. This means that they see no significant gains for the working class in any democratic advance. The abolition of the UK’s draconian Crown Powers, which have been used on many occasions, most recently to launch an imperialist war, is of little consequence for the CWI. Why? - because it would still leave the capitalist nature of the economy untouched.

The CWI equate socialism with economic (and social) issues. So, let us consider the same logic applied to a major industrial struggle, say, an all-out strike for a substantial wage rise. Would the CWI approach the strikers and say they were largely wasting their time, unless they went out on a specifically socialist strike for the abolition of the wages system? Of course not.

We can take this further. What is the socialist attitude towards the existence of trade unions? As many a worker, labouring under the present government/employer/trade union leader partnerships, can testify today, ‘Winning a trade union guarantees nothing.’ Everything associated with principled trade unionism can be undermined, in exactly the same way that everything associated with principled republicanism can be undermined. The existence of trade unions assumes the existence of a continued boss class, just as the existence of a political republic assumes the continued existence of a ruling class. However, what trade unions and republics offer socialists, under capitalist conditions, are more advantageous opportunities for further struggle. Of course, the most favourable condition for effective trade unions is industrial struggle; just as the best condition for the achievement of a democratic republic is political struggle.

However, in order for socialists to make the biggest gains in such a political struggle, it is vital that we attempt to provide the political lead from the beginning. Ironically, the CWI don’t rule out future support for a Scottish Independence Convention. However, they would wait until workers have adopted this demand themselves. Now, how would this come about if socialists were not providing this lead? Workers would instead be led by the very Scottish nationalists the CWI is so concerned to distance us from!

Unfortunately, if the nature of any Scottish Independence Convention was left to the SNP, the prospect of a socialist Scotland would remain a remote prospect. The SNP could only bring about a ‘Scottish Free State’, with Elizabrit still remaining head of state, with a new Scottish ruling class able to draw upon the anti-democratic Crown Powers and with low tax haven status for the multinationals. And, as with today’s ‘independent’ Ireland, it is unlikely such a state would put up much opposition to NATO’s demands. The SNP appear to be more concerned with saving British imperialism’s Scottish regiments, than they are with saving working class squaddies’ and Iraqi people’s lives.

Scottish nationalism versus Scottish republicanism

However, there is another possible source of opposition to the proposed republican motion. There are some in the SSP, who argue that, since the SSP supports ‘Scottish socialist independence’,we should advance in stages - first, Scottish independence; later Scottish socialism. This, in effect, reduces the party’s role to that of being a junior partner in a future SNP-led coalition, either in government, or in a Scottish Independence Convention where we act as footsoldiers for the implementation of the SNP’s version of ‘independence’.

By following this path, the powers of the Crown and Westminster would be transferred to a new Scottish state. The democratic advance would be minimal, since most of the institutions of the British State would still exist in Scotland, but would now have a good lick of tartan paint! Even if there were a future referendum on the continuation of the monarch as head of state, the key anti-democratic Crown Powers would still be in place for ruling class use.

The very reason the SNP leadership want to preserve as much as possible of the existing state of affairs is to gain and retain the support of the multinational corporations, the US state and the EU. The corporations want stable political conditions to maintain their economic control and profits. Indeed, to ensure their continued support for any new Scottish government, they would want to see the introduction of new incentives, to improve Scotland’s competitive position relative to England and Ireland. This would mean further attacks on workers’ conditions.

How did the post-1922 Irish ruling class manage to create a situation, where two avowedly pro-capitalist parties, have alternated in power, for eighty years - with Labour only ever a junior partner in anti-working class coalitions? Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, have often invoked the conservative and reactionary elements in Irish culture and history to try and corral Irish workers into believing these parties protect their interests as native Irishmen and women. Meanwhile quietly, or now not so quietly, these same leaders have forged links with the economic and political leaders of the very states they claim to stand up against.

Funnily enough, both the Economist wing and some in the Scottish nationalist wing of the SSP advocate the same position in relation to our party adopting a principled, independent republican position - leave the immediate political demands to the nationalist party. ‘Labour’s turn comes later’, just as the then self-declared socialist Irish Labour Party proposed in 1918 - they are still waiting!

Tailending the SNP or winning their republican ranks to the SSP?

What should our attitude be towards the SNP? There are indeed genuine republicans in their ranks, just as there were once genuine socialists within the Labour Party. Alex Salmond may even be a sentimental republican, in a similar manner to the current leaders of the Australian Labour Party. However, he isn’t going to let sentiment get in the way of winning corporate and Scottish establishment backing for his vision of an independent capitalist Scotland. Many in the SNP have welcomed Salmond’s return as party leader for similar reasons to those who initially welcomed Tony Blair’s emergence as leader of the Labour Party in 1994 - the increased chances of electability. Salmond, former financial expert working for the Bank of Scotland, can not envisage any other road to ‘independence’ but one backed by the ‘great and powerful’. The SNP’s remaining social democratic and pacifist policies are likely to be ditched, with as little ceremony as those of Old Labour, the nearer it approaches any prospect of winning power.

However, the SSP demonstrated that it can exert its own pull on the ranks of the SNP, precisely when it takes initiatives like the Calton Hill demonstration. Republicanism is the ‘Trojan Horse’ which can split the SNP. Salmond wants republicanism in the SNP to remain a mere sentiment, to be invoked, along with the memory of the Bonnie Prince Charlie, at gatherings of the faithful - a bit like socialism at the Old Labour Party rallies! However, the breadth of the support for genuine republicanism was shown on October 9th. Many ordinary SNP members were in attendance.

The SSP’s stance already commands the support of many of Scotland’s leading cultural figures. This is highly significant. With a republican approach we can win their support for a Scottish Independence Convention, which begins to organise cultural events and rallies. We should also approach workers in struggle, highlighting the need to assert the sovereignty of the members in their workplaces over the bureaucrats in the union HQs. Industrial republicanism complements political republicanism. Eventually, through building such wider support we can begin to organise the large political mobilisations which can make a Scottish republic a reality. If the SSP are in the lead of such developments, then such a republic will both offer us more democratic freedoms and open up further doors, for economic and political advance, including John Maclean’s vision of a Scottish Workers Republic and international socialism.

We urge all SSP members to support our motion.