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The SSP, ‘Independence First’ And The Scottish Independence Referendum

A Scottish internationalist and republican approach

Republican Communist Network, Platform in the SSP

1. Introduction

After February 15th, 2003 – the ruling class counter-offensive

Many socialists, participating in the massive global anti-war protests on February 15th 2003, held high hopes after decades of retreat by the working class and oppressed peoples across the world. Left and popular forces appeared to be making some real progress, contesting the New World Order being imposed on behalf of the global corporations, particularly by US and British imperialism. The imperial ruling classes had initially been politically unprepared for the scale of the new anti-globalisation and anti-war protests. However, they have been able to draw upon their considerable reserves of strength and, for the time being, roll back this challenge in the imperialist heartlands.

Creating a space for liberal imperial alternatives, by marginalising the most radical challenges, has been a key element in their fightback. Such a strategy allows the ruling classes to make tactical and even strategic retreats, if they are found to be necessary. As a result, the radical sting has largely been taken out of the mass anti-war movements, as more and more of their participants have been persuaded to fall in behind liberal imperial ‘alternatives’.

Many were persuaded that a vote for ‘liberal’ Kerry was necessary to stop neo-conservative Bush; a vote for social democratic Zapatero was necessary to oust the conservative Aznar; or a vote for Prodi’s social democrat-led coalition was necessary to get rid of Right populist, Berlusconi. In the UK, some looked to Liberal leader, Charles Kennedy as an alternative to Right social democrat, Tony Blair. Whilst, even in France, where the working class and oppressed have demonstrated most resilience, the Left lost its nerve, after its initial electoral successes at the expense of the Centre social democrats in the presidential elections. They ended up giving their support to conservative Chirac against Far Right, Le Pen. The revolutionary Left handed over political leadership to a section of the ruling class.

Where the Left has managed to hold out, it has set aside much of its own immediate (minimum) programme, and retreated to forms of populism, designed to appeal either to a currently, largely atomised working class, or to particular oppressed groups, such as Muslims. George Galloway’s electoral victory in Bethnal Green & Bow is an example of this. The Far Right has also appealed to an atomised working class through its own forms of populism, especially racism and Islamophobia. There is even some overlap with the Left, when it comes to claiming support for a lost Old Labour past, with its ‘real’ jobs and welfare measures, now largely abandoned by New Labour.

Back in May 2003, the Left’s initial hopes rose to new heights when six SSP MSPs took their seats, following the Holyrood election, soon after the mass protests on February 15th, which had brought 100,000 on to the streets of Glasgow. But, here too, there has been retreat. The SSP split in August 2006. On one hand there is the increasingly Scottish nationalist-accommodating SSP leadership, on the other Tommy Sheridan’s populist and loosely united breakaway alliance, Solidarity. Furthermore, as the ability of the Left to offer a full and united challenge, in the Holyrood elections on May 3rd 2007, recedes, the temptation to turn to the SNP, the main ‘liberal’ alternative to New Labour, grows.

SSP leaders have already signed up to the Scottish Independence Convention, alongside the SNP and the Greens. This ‘love affair’ is largely unrequited, since the SNP leaders are far more interested in cultivating Scotland’s business community, and wants as little to do with the SSP as possible. The Greens too would rather get into bed with one of the mainstream parties.

So instead, SSP leaders have turned to ‘Independence First’, a populist cross-class campaign. This mostly involves the nationalist fragments – the Free Scotland Party, the Scottish Independence Party and Soil nan Gaidheal - who feel betrayed by the SNP’s increasing accommodation to the UK state and big business; or ex-SSP members, such as those in the SRSM and former Scottish Socialist Voice columnist, Kevin Williamson, who feel the SSP is not nationalist enough. ‘Independence First’, whilst wanting to organise forces independently of the SNP leadership, and beyond any existing parties’ control, is still dependent on an SNP-led Scottish Executive to deliver its main demand – an ‘independence referendum’. Anticipating big gains for the SNP they have termed next year’s Holyrood contest, the ‘independence election’.

This contribution from the RCN represents a critique of the Left nationalist approach. The RCN is a socialist republican platform within the SSP. We advocate a Scottish Workers’ Republic as part of a World Federation of Socialist Republics. To achieve this, we pursue a Scottish internationalist strategy, promoting ‘internationalism from below’, alongside English, Irish and Welsh socialists, to break-up the British imperial, monarchist and unionist state. We see the republican struggle for genuine democracy as fundamental to any socialist strategy in these islands.

The likely reaction of the UK state to a campaign to win an ‘independence referendum’ will be outlined. The state’s response to earlier national democratic challenges, and its methods of dealing with these, will be investigated. Then the seriousness of the SNP leadership’s commitment to its own official ‘independence referendum’ policy will be questioned. Again, an historical approach will be adopted, highlighting the SNP’s long-term political trajectory from being a populist party, seeking full political independence and economic control of Scotland, to a Rightwards-moving social democratic party, trimming its aims to a world dominated by US imperialism and the global corporations. This will be followed by an examination of the weaknesses of the Scottish Left’s understanding of the issue of self-determination. It has been split into Left nationalist and Left unionist camps – allowing either an aspiring Scottish, or the existing British, ruling class to define its immediate political objectives. Finally, it will demonstrate the RCN’s republican socialist alternative strategy to achieve genuine self-determination, based on the ‘internationalism from below’ approach first adopted with the Calton Hill Declaration of October 9th 2004.

2. The ‘Independence Referendum’, The British Ruling Class And The UK State

i) The political nature of the UK

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a multi-nation state, incorporating the nations of England, Scotland, Wales and part of Ireland. The UK is also an imperialist and unionist state, and a constitutional monarchy with extensive extra-parliamentary Crown Powers. These can be used to reinforce the position of the British ruling class. Although British imperialism has been on the decline for almost a century, its ruling class has maintained this unionist state to defend shared imperial interests as best it can.

There never was a popular democratic struggle to form a ‘British nation’, unlike say the nineteenth century struggles to unite Germany and Italy. British state unity was achieved top-down, either by English (and after 1707, British) armed force, or by deals confined to the respective constituent countries’ ruling classes.

The idea of a ‘British nation’ won wider acceptance, in the past, primarily through the material privileges gained from Empire. This Empire has been in rapid decline since the end of the Second World War, and particularly from the 1960’s. Then the late 1970’s saw the beginning of the dismantling of the post-war, social monarchist, political settlement with its welfare state. This process was mightily accelerated under the Tories and New Labour, particularly after the defeat of the Miners Strike in 1985. Therefore, the constitutional chains binding the constituent nations together have become less effective in cementing the notion of a ‘British nation’. But, there is no constitutional right to national self-determination in the UK, so there has been no easy democratic solution to the growing tensions.

However, declining British imperialism has found a valuable source of ‘life-support’. US imperialism has awarded the UK state the local franchise to manage imperial and corporate interests in the North-East Atlantic. Therefore, the current political strategy of the British ruling class, designed to maintain its power over these islands, has enjoyed the support of both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

The leaders of the key states in the European Union have been unhappy over UK politicians’ closeness to the US. Despite these differences, they still give backing to the UK government, when it comes to dealing with problems ‘in its own backyard’. The EU has adopted a policy non-interference in the UK’s constitutional affairs, since the leaders of countries like France, Spain and Italy do not want to create a precedent for their own state’s national/regional movements. However, the Spanish government has recently had to experience the indignity of a European Parliament vote advocating a peaceable settlement of the Basque Question. However, the model being sought is based on the UK state-directed ‘Peace Process’ in ‘The Six Counties’. Therefore, the current UK strategy, for dealing with problematic national movements in Western Europe, has become the accepted model.

ii) The British ruling class only reforms the Union after overwhelming pressure

How is the prospect of an ‘independence referendum’ likely to be viewed by the British ruling class and the UK state? The British ruling class has learned many lessons in how to preserve its power and influence, throughout these islands and the wider world, in the face of both working class and national democratic challenges. It has devised a number of strategies for dealing with national democratic opposition. These range from outright repression, through internal cooption, to externally imposed subordination. The UK is a unionist, not a unitary, state, so the British ruling class has been able to adopt new political arrangements for its constituent nations, whenever national tensions arose, e.g. Direct Rule, Administrative Devolution, Political Devolution/Home Rule, or indirect political control (e.g. in the former Irish Free State between 1922 and 1937/48). Federalism has also been toyed with on occasion.

The preferred option of the majority of the British ruling, at present, is the internal cooption of the main parties fronting the national movements in ‘The Six Counties’, Scotland and Wales. This means promoting a ‘Devolution-all-round’ policy. However, Devolution in the UK has had a chequered history.

It was the growing strength of the Irish national movement, in the late nineteenth century, which persuaded the liberal wing of the British ruling class, led initially by Gladstone, to support Irish Home Rule - or Devolution, as it is now called. Liberals were split between Home-Rulers, and Imperial Direct Rulers, over the running of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This reflected wider British ruling class divisions over the issue.

The Tories, gung-ho supporters of triumphant British imperialism, were able to block Home Rule. Opposing the Third Irish Home Rule Bill of 1912, the Tories were supported by the anti-democratic House of Lords, the British Army High Command, the Ulster Unionists, and the loyalist paramilitaries of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Yet, their stance was so rigid that it led to departure of the ‘Twenty Six Counties’ from the UK state in 1921, after the dramatic impact of the 1914-18 First World War, and the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave.

Eventually, the immediate pressure of the Irish democratic challenge was contained through the partitionist, 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and by British backing for the anti-Republicans in the 1922-3 Irish Civil War. Home Rule was only implemented in ‘The Six Counties’, the one area where opposition to it had previously been strongest! The ensuing Stormont Home Rule model was hardly a glowing advertisement for advocates of Scottish and Welsh Home Rule! Home Rule largely fell off the political agenda in Scotland and Wales, although some sentimental support still remained.

In the late 1960’s, when national democratic opposition arose once again, first in Wales, followed by Scotland, a Royal Commission was established under Lord Crowther, replaced after his death by Lord Kilbrandon. The final report indicated that the liberal wing of the ruling class had returned to Devolution as a model to maintain control of their state, in the face of the new challenges.

The initial massive protests in ‘The Six Counties’, however, were conducted under a Civil Rights, not a National Rights, banner. It was the violence of the local ‘Six Counties’, and the wider UK, state responses to this campaign, which redirected the struggle onto an Irish national democratic road, led by Republicans. The shooting of 13 unarmed demonstrators in Derry, on ‘Bloody Sunday’, January 30th, 1972, was a key event in this change. An unintended side-effect of the conflict was the closure of the province’s own devolved parliament, the notorious, sectarian Stormont, in March 1972. This placed ‘The Six Counties’ under UK Direct Rule for the first time since Irish partition, just like Scotland and Wales.

From then on, liberal British unionists pushed a devolutionary strategy, not just for Scotland and Wales, but for Northern Ireland too. Indeed, the latter became their number one political priority. Quite obviously, the liberals’ ideal Stormont had to appear different from its recently deceased predecessor. British unionist/Irish nationalist ‘power sharing’ was the liberals’ aim. The Sunningdale Agreement was set up in December 1973. Unfortunately, liberal unionism, in the form of a few ‘moderate’ Ulster Unionists and the Alliance Party, turned out to be a rather weak creature. For a long time, though, the UK state had more success with the moderate nationalists of the SDLP. However, neither of the large Ulster unionist (Protestant) parties, nor their loyalist-voting base, were prepared to accept ‘power-sharing’ with Irish (Catholic) nationalists.

Therefore, the hard-liners amongst the Ulster Unionist Party, and its even more reactionary competitors, such as the DUP and semi-fascist Vanguard Party, were able to mount a reactionary counter-offensive. This delivered the knock-out blow, which overthrew Sunningdale’s reformed Stormont proposals, in May 1973. The loyalist paramilitaries, in the UVF and UDA, and the RUC and UDR, all played their part too. And, behind the scenes, they received backing from significant sections of the UK state security services.

When it came to Scottish, and even more so to Welsh, Devolution the Labour Party itself was split. This allowed the two Labour government-initiated Devolution campaigns, and the 1979 referenda, to be undermined from within. Those sections of the UK state beyond direct parliamentary accountability also resorted to a number of unsavoury tactics. The ‘non-political’ Queen was wheeled out to attack those wanting to reform the UK state, military exercises were directed at a putative, nationalist, armed challenge in Scotland, and agent provocateur activity was promoted on the ultra-nationalist fringe. In Wales, the largely English-speaking South was played off against the more Welsh-speaking North.

Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly constitutionalist nature of the national challenges in Scotland and Wales, ensured that the UK state did not need to resort to the full armoury of Crown Powers wielded against the Irish Republicans. The SDLP, SNP and Plaid Cymru, all buckled under the pressure. The Scottish and Welsh Devolution proposals were defeated in the 1979 referenda. A minority Labour government had been maintained in office with the help of the Ulster Unionists and an Irish nationalist! The contradictions in pursuing a liberal devolutionary policy, in the face of growing ruling class opposition and declining electoral support, were too much. Labour was soon toppled and replaced by Thatcher’s Tories, now committed to Direct Rule-all round.

So, it appeared that Home Rule/Devolution option was a ‘bridge-too-far’ for the British ruling class, except in the reactionary form, found in ‘The Six Counties’ from 1922 to 1972. However, a number of political developments were to change this state of affairs and place Devolution firmly on the ruling class agenda.

iii) The British ruling class abandons hard-line Unionist, Westminster Direct Rule and adopts a ‘New Unionist’, ‘Devolution-all-round’ strategy

The post-1979, Thatcher-led, Tory government was a strong promoter of UK plc, along with its overseas British imperial investments. However, ‘successful’ ventures, like the Falkland War, could not disguise the final loss of much more significant imperial territories, such as Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and Hong Kong. Yet, this wider imperial decline only made Thatcher more determined to tighten the bonds that held her core state together – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. ‘The Six Counties’ became the keenly contested front line in her battle. The running of ‘The Six Counties’ had already effectively been handed over to the British Army and security forces, under the Direct Rule regime introduced by the Tory government, and eventually accepted by the next two Labour governments. Thatcher developed particularly close links to the unaccountable sections of the British state.

Later, the Tories invented their own inverted form of devolution, through their control of the Scottish Office. Thatcher piloted reactionary legislation in Scotland, most notoriously the hated poll tax in 1988. This proved to be a major miscalculation and provoked a new national democratic opposition in Scotland. The Anti-Poll Tax Campaign, along with the later opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill, Scottish water privatisation proposals, and school closures in Glasgow, provided the eventual base for the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance, the predecessor to the Scottish Socialist Party.

The Tories were more imaginative in Wales, appreciating the divide-and-rule potential of playing Welsh-speakers against English-speakers. They provided selective state support for certain Welsh language cultural initiatives. Nevertheless, even here, assaults on both the mainly English-speaking, South Wales coalminers, and the mainly Welsh-speaking, North Wales slate quarriers, helped to make more Welsh workers reconsider their previous opposition to Welsh devolution.

However, the major opposition to Thatcher’s Unionism came from the Republican resistance in ‘The Six Counties’. Here Thatcher continued the hard line criminalisation policy, initiated by Labour’s Northern Irish Secretary, Roy Mason. She closely allied herself with the reactionary Ulster Unionists. She decided to break the Republican resistance by facing down the IRA Hunger Strikers in 1981. Wildly underestimating these ‘criminals’ ability to galvanise the Irish nationalist population, she gloated over the deaths of the hunger strikers, only to witness Bobby Sands elected as Westminster MP and give a major fillip to the Republican opposition.

Faced with this wider opposition, Thatcher was forced to abandon her uncritical support for the hard-line Ulster Unionists. Instead she had to seek support both from the SDLP, whom she had virtually ignored, and from the Irish government, whose own ‘New Ireland Forum’ recommendations, dealing with ‘The North’, she had recently denigrated. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, detested by all Ulster Unionists, because of the role given to the Irish government, was the first step in the UK ruling class rethink over strategy to maintain the Union.

The hard-line unionism of Westminster Direct Rule began to slowly give way to liberal ‘New Unionism’. However, the biggest step taken was the Downing Street Declaration of 1992 when overtures were made to the Republican Movement, with the offer of direct involvement in a reformed, power-sharing Stormont. Devolution was back on the political agenda. However, the Tories were still too tied to the Ulster Unionists for their voting support at Westminster. Ulster Unionists were able to prevent any rapid implementation of this ‘power-sharing’ strategy. They began their continuing campaign of obstructionism towards liberal Devolution, still harking back to the old reactionary Stormont.

This is where New Labour stepped in. They took a leaf from Spain’s post-Franco constitutional reforms. These involved ‘Asymmetrical Devolution’ for Euskadi, Catalunya, Galicia, Andalucia and other areas. The extent of devolved powers depended on the relative strengths of the national and regional movements within the Spanish state. New Labour extended the Tories’ devolutionary proposals for ‘The Six Counties’ to Scotland, Wales, and potentially to the English regions too.

This ‘New Unionist’ project of ‘Devolution-all-round’ now enjoys the support of the majority of the British ruling class. The old Right opposition, now lacking significant ruling class backing, was ‘outgunned’ or outmanoeuvred in the 1997-8 Devolution referenda which brought a Parliament to Holyrood, an Assembly to Cardiff Bay, and a promise to reopen Stormont in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement.

iv) The ‘New Unionist’ project dovetails with US/ UK imperial plans for the New World Order in the North East Atlantic

The Irish government was the ‘mute’ partner in this ‘New Unionist’ project. It was awarded a presence in the largely phantom North/South Ministerial Council, and on the tokenistic Council of the Isles. However, it was not only the Irish government that provided backing to this project. President Clinton visited Belfast to show the US state’s full support for the Good Friday Agreement. Bush has continued with this support. 9/11 has enabled the US administration to exert additional pressure on Irish Republicans to end all ‘terrorist’ activity. The UK government can also depend on the backing of the major EU powers.

The ‘New Unionist’ strategy to co-opt and to tame any national democratic opposition dovetailed perfectly with the British ruling class strategy being developed to maintain an imperial presence in the world. Taking on the role of US imperialism’s staunchest European ally, the British ruling class has been awarded the North-East Atlantic franchise for the maintenance of the ‘New World Order’. The UK state, with its devolved administrations, and with the help of a subordinate Irish state partner, has created an agreed political framework for these islands. This allows the global corporations to pursue an aggressive neo-liberal policy of privatisation and deregulation, the better to maximise corporate profits. And, through the Irish and British ‘social partnerships’, trade union leaders can be depended upon to throw their weight behind the various ‘New Unionist’ institutions too.

The supporters of the old hard line Right have not gone away, particularly in ‘The Six Counties’. Here, they have continued to slow down the ‘New Unionist’ project, but as yet, they have not persuaded any significant section of the British ruling class to completely abandon it, or to give them the unqualified support Thatcher initially gave to the Ulster Unionists from 1979-85. Yet, Paisley’s hard-line DUP has managed to water-down the nationalist-accommodating elements of the Good Friday Agreement and protect privileges for the local middle class, in return for his acceptance of British government measures designed to advance neo-liberal economic objectives in ‘The Six Counties’. This is the essence of the new ‘deal’ made at St. Andrews in October 2006.

Nevertheless, the British ruling class’s overall ‘New Unionist’ strategy for these islands still has more powerful backers, domestically and abroad, than any previous ruling class strategy to maintain the UK. This is the political context in which any campaign to win an ‘independence referendum’ and the subsequent vote must be considered.

v) The response of the UK state to a campaign to win political independence for Scotland

SNP leader, Alex Salmond, has declared that if there were to be an SNP-led Scottish Executive, after the May 2007 Holyrood elections, it would enact legislation within 100 days to permit an ‘independence referendum’ to be held. However, the referendum itself would not be organised until considerably later(1). The first reaction of the current New Labour-led Scottish Executive to the prospect of such a Holyrood-initiated, ‘independence referendum’ was to say that such constitutional matters are reserved for Westminster (2). However, one of the problems with ‘Asymmetrical Devolution’ is that it creates certain constitutional anomalies. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly has the power to initiate a referendum on Irish reunification. Of course, the drafters of this Agreement were pretty sure that such a referendum would not be held anytime soon, since the whole purpose of Partition was to provide the numbers to maintain the Union in ‘The Six Counties’!

The decision, whether to permit a referendum or not, is decided not on constitutional principle, but on whatever tactical considerations concern the UK government of the day. Although the necessary powers ostensibly lie with Westminster, Crown officials, such as the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, would make the real decision about whether, or how, any referendum would be conducted. So, even if a pro-referendum Holyrood majority was elected after May 2007, the first hurdle to be overcome, in organising an ‘independence referendum’, would be obstruction by UK state officials. They could block the proposal entirely, they could try to take control of the framing and organisation of any referendum, or they could go ahead and choose their timing to maximise the unionist vote.

Furthermore, when it comes to the campaigning period, preceding and accompanying any referendum, the UK state can draw upon a whole array of anti-democratic powers. Non-elected, leading figures in the running of the state, from the judiciary, senior civil servants to the senior officers of the armed services, all pledge an oath of loyalty to the Crown, certainly not to the people. Their accountability to Parliament is limited. Whenever it matters, these people can be depended upon to advance the ruling class’s current interests.

Any SNP-led Scottish Executive would face a choice between defying the UK state and taking direct responsibility for organising a referendum itself, or accepting a Westminster-sanctioned compromise referendum. In the run-up to the 1979 Devolution referendum, despite this policy enjoying the support of a section of the British ruling class, the SNP was completely unable to counter the limited, but effective, use of the state’s extra-parliamentary Crown Powers. Those corporate business interests currently being wooed by the SNP are hardly likely to support any Scottish Executive defiance of the state’s Crown Powers. Sir Tom Farmer’s title suggests otherwise!

New Labour may be increasingly unpopular. Gordon Brown’s (and Jack McConnell’s) latest attempts to praise the benefits of the Union may not be that convincing, coming from the mouth of a politician who has lied over failing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why ‘neutral’ figures such as the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, have entered the political fray to defend the Union.

We can be fairly sure that, as in the lead-up to the 1979 Devolution referendum, there will be far more such figures, who can be directly drawn upon, to give the unionists a helping hand when needed. With UK governments enjoying the full confidence of US imperialism, we can also expect more interventions, like that made recently by Lisa Vickers, US Consul in Scotland. She has questioned the SNP’s call for independence and, in particular, its continued formal opposition to NATO membership!


i) Scotland’s different socio-cultural traditions and their political manifestations

Left nationalists tend to believe in the intrinsically ‘progressive nature’ of the Scottish people, and hence of the SNP. At one time, the British Left held similar views about the ‘German Nazi-defying’ and ‘NHS-supporting’, ‘British people’ and the Labour Party. Left nationalists claim that Scottish independence would almost automatically allow the Scottish people’s progressive yearnings to be satisfied. They sometimes claim there is overwhelming opposition, amongst the SNP’s rank and file, to the British monarchy and to British imperialism. Somewhat strangely, republican feelings have yet to register in a successful SNP Conference motion, or in a clear statement from the SNP leadership. Meanwhile, the same leadership loudly declares its support for the Scottish regiments of the British Army, which have served imperialism so well from Culloden to Crossmaglen and from Belfast to Basra.

Scotland, like most other countries, has its socialist, liberal, conservative, populist and reactionary socio-political traditions. However, these have not been neatly reflected in distinct political parties. These traditions can either be politically divided, or take a politically hybrid form.

Of course, socialism is itself divided between its revolutionary (communist) and reformist (social democratic) tendencies. However, in the absence of a revolutionary political situation in Scotland, reformist social democratic politics has been overwhelmingly dominant amongst socialists. Even self-declared communists have largely had to concentrate their activities on immediate, rather than revolutionary, programmes.

Given the imperial, unionist and monarchist nature of the UK state, some communists in Scotland (and, of course, Ireland) have developed socialist republican politics to counter this state, and to open up the road to a possible communist future. However, both the Left social democracy found within the Labour Party (and the old CPGB and STUC), and the Left populism within the SNP, have prevented this tendency forming its own clear political party. The SSP has largely been dominated by these two other political tendencies. Whilst there has been growing support for socialist republicanism, as represented by the political legacy of John Maclean and James Connolly, this is still largely sentimental, rather than informing the SSP’s practical politics.

Social democratic politics have also been dominant in wider Scottish society for some time. This is represented most clearly in the Labour Party. This social democracy has had deep roots in the working class of Scotland, largely through Labour’s links to the trade union movement. The openly British imperialist and unionist-accepting, Right-wing of social democracy has usually had the upper hand within the Labour Party. However, social democracy has had its Left wing too. This attained its greatest influence in the early 1920’s and in the 1970’s. In effect, with its Right and Left faces, Labour’s social democracy has bridged the liberal/socialist gap.

Officially, the conservative tradition in Scotland is usually equated with the Tory Party, drawing its support from the landed aristocracy and big business interests. However, like the Labour Party, the Tories too represent hybrid traditions, with its conservative Centre and its reactionary Right. The reactionary Right has been able to find support from the petty bourgeoisie and the loyalist sections of the working class. Both wings of the Tories support British imperialism, the Union and class privilege, but the conservative tradition is more prepared to accept the external trappings of change. This means adopting the minimum liberal measures necessary to preserve the essence of the existing order. ‘New Unionism’ had its origins with the Tories.

Despite being represented by formally separate parties, engaged in political competition, there has been a considerable consensus between mainstream Labour and Tory. But this consensual centre of gravity has moved Rightwards, as the post-Second World War, Gaitskellite, ‘social monarchist order’, has given way to the Blatcherite, ‘neo-liberal monarchist order’.

Liberalism, which drew its main support from a bourgeois middle class, was the dominant tradition in Scotland, in the nineteenth century. Many workers and small farmers were of liberal persuasion too, wanting ‘fair wages’ or ‘fair prices’ in the capitalist marketplace. Liberalism found powerful political expression in the Liberal Party, but had wider cultural bases of support, not least amongst the Free Church of Scotland. However, as industrial capitalist class divisions became starker, the Liberal Party lost support, both to conservatism on its Right, and to social democracy on its Left. Today, liberalism is more divided organisationally. The Lib-Dems remain the clearest political party representing this tradition, but, in some ways, Labour’s Right social democrats represent this tradition too, and it has even found some minority support amongst the Tories.

Scotland has also had quite a large petty bourgeoisie, in farming, fishing, shopkeeping, and other small businesses, with particular social weight in rural areas and small towns. This has given rise to a populist politics, which shades both to the reactionary Right (in the past, giving support to the Tories) and to the progressive Left. Left populism, with a republican and anti-imperialist colouration, has also been found, amongst the SNP’s membership, particularly in the urban areas.

The ranks of the SNP have been able to accommodate both wings of this populist tradition. However, despite this strong populist undercurrent, the SNP leadership has increasingly adopted social democratic politics instead, reflecting their ideological dominance in wider Scottish society (and indeed, the UK and Europe). This also reflects the social weight of junior managerial and professional groups, from both the private and public sectors, amongst the SNP membership.

Left nationalists like to point to the shrinking support for the Tories in Scotland. They equate this with the demise of reactionary imperialist, unionist, monarchist and overtly pro-capitalist forces. What such a view fails to recognise is that social democracy has occupied much of the Tories’ political ground and, in New Labour, is every bit as pro-imperialist, is more cleverly unionist, also supports (a ‘people’s) monarchy, and is strongly neo-liberal.

The progressive thinking encompassed in some SNP Conference policies, or expressed by some of Labour’s still-remaining rank and file, and shown by some surveys of Scottish popular opinion, will not automatically translate into a ‘progressive’ independent Scotland. Other political and economic forces, particularly US and British imperialism, along with big business (including Scottish-based companies), will make concerted efforts to contain, or to bend any popular national movement and its leadership, the better to meet their needs. They have many constitutional, economic, social and cultural powers, extra-parliamentary forces, media support and powerful overseas allies at their disposal.

Left nationalists fail to acknowledge the extent to which the centre of gravity of official politics has already moved to the Right in Scotland, and the effect this has had upon the currently fragmented and disorganised popular forces, struggling to find a political voice.

The SNP leadership is still at a relatively early stage on the road from the ‘independence is our no.1 priority’ ‘Old SNP’, to the ‘independence-lite’, ‘New SNP’. Nevertheless, they are following a similar path, to the former ‘Clause Four’ Labour Party, on its road to anti-socialist, ‘welfare and justice-lite’ New Labour. Like New Labour, the SNP leadership is accommodating to a US, imperial-dominated, world order, to the power of the global corporations, and to neo-liberal economics.

ii) The SNP leadership – from the Norwegian to the Irish model of ‘independence’

The SNP, with its openly declared policy of forming an independent Scotland, has undergone a number of transformations in its life. Since the 1960’s, the SNP has changed its political character from being a populist nationalist-led organisation to becoming an essentially social democratic-led party. In Alex Salmond it still has a Centre social democratic leader, but like Neil Kinnock, at a similar stage of Labour’s evolution to New Labour, he is presiding over a political shift to the Right.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, earlier populist SNP policies largely reflected the party’s initial small business or petty bourgeois support. The SNP opposed both the centralised British state and the European Economic Community. Norway was then the main political inspiration for the SNP’s populists. Today, former SNP depute leader, Jim Fairlie’s FSP still harks back to these earlier days. In effect, the FSP mainly promotes the sort of anti-EU policies in Scotland, which the UK Independence Party pushes more successfully in England.

However, in the early 1980’s, a new, more social democratic, SNP leadership emerged, which showed its willingness to accept a big business dominated world. It advocated ‘Independence within Europe’. The EU still seemed to offer a ‘social market’ alternative to Reagan’s and Thatcher’s ‘free market’ policies. Furthermore, taking a pro-EU stance also seemed to complement the SNP’s political strategy of loosening the UK state’s bonds from below, by the weakening of the UK’s state’s powers from above. The British Union was meant to give way to the European Union, albeit with looser political ties, allowing Scotland a voice on the ‘top table’. The new SNP leadership began to point to the advantages the independent Irish state held, especially when it came to wringing money from the EU.

With the growing political effects of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and of the USSR in 1991 though, the SNP leadership began to adapt more to the US ‘free market’, rather than the EU’s fading ‘social market’, model. In the 1990’s they adopted a policy of tax cuts for external corporate investors. The precedent used was Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. A key current SNP policy to attract big business support is to lower Corporation Tax in Scotland from 30% to 20%.

Until Ireland became the trendy darling of global corporate investors, the SNP had remained remarkably coy about this particular country. Ireland had once been part of the UK, but it had only won partial political independence for ‘the Twenty Six Counties’, after a War of Independence between 1916-21, followed by a Civil War from 1922-3. This was not a precedent the thoroughly constitutionalist SNP wanted to highlight.

‘The Six Counties’ still remained part of the UK state, albeit with its own devolved Stormont government. The officially-promoted, state sectarianism, and the brutal UK state response to the Civil Rights Movement, triggered an armed struggle by the Irish Republican Movement, which lasted from 1969 to 1996. Even when Scottish regiments of the British Army were used to suppress Irish national resistance, there was not the slightest hint of ‘Celtic solidarity’ emanating from SNP leaders. Indeed any hint of debate on the issue within the party was quickly suppressed.

However, from the mid-1990’s, the Downing Street Declaration and the Good Friday Agreement seemed to offer the prospect of leaving these ‘Irish problems’ behind. This allowed the SNP leadership to be more enthusiastic in advocating an ‘Irish road’ for Scotland.

Irish governments, whether Fianna Fail or Fine Gael-led, have pursued similar corporate business-promoted, neo-liberal, economic policies. This led to an economic boom, highlighted by the ‘Celtic Tiger’ epithet. Government/business/trade union ‘social partnerships’ have mightily helped this boom. They have turned the union bosses into a free personnel management service for the employers. This has led to a somewhat lopsided boom in terms of the main beneficiaries. The big rise in corporate profits, property prices, management salaries and perks in Ireland, which has benefited capitalists and the upwardly mobile middle class, has come about as a direct consequence of cuts in workers’ pay and conditions, greater resort to low-paid, unprotected migrant labour, and serious under-investment in public health, education, housing and transport.

Ireland has now developed its own corporate sector, typified by the anti-union, swashbuckling, Ryanair. The SNP hopes to build up support from the executives of specifically Scottish-based corporations. Brain Souter and Anne Gloag, owners of multi-national Stagecoach, are two examples of this new breed of corporate owners. Just as Ryanair profited from air transport deregulation, so Stagecoach has profited from bus and rail deregulation. If Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary is known for his vicious anti-trade union policies, then the SNP-supporting, Anne Gloag acts just like an aristocratic landlord, harassing her Beaufort Castle Estate tenants and calling for a public subsidy to run her properties!

Until the 1922 Treaty, there were no large independence-supporting Irish companies. The owners of companies, such as Guinness, were pro-Union. However, the SNP has already built up some support from leaders of large Scottish companies and actively seeks more support from this sector. Neither Scottish-based companies, nor their executives, have been excluded from participating in the wider British economy. Many Scots also hold junior management positions, in both the private and public sector. Whenever members of the boss and managerial classes show any nationalist leanings, it is not the overthrow of the politico-economic order they seek, but a larger share of the wider imperial tributes. Their notion of Scottish independence is winning the New World Order’s local managerial franchise for the area extending from the Tweed to Muckle Flugga.

Nor have Scottish politicians been excluded from the running of the wider British state, as the current positions of Gordon Brown and John Reid testify. But this cooption is not merely confined to unionist politicians. The SNP’s George Reid has moved from being Holyrood’s Presiding Officer to becoming a UK state Privy Councillor, a member of the political elite, which can be called upon ‘to run the country’ in any political emergency.

Therefore, complementing the SNP’s economic aim of being awarded the local managerial franchise, the SNP’s political aim is to have all Westminster’s powers transferred to Scotland, and to give the local institutions of the UK state a good ‘lick of tartan paint’.

When (some) Scottish business leaders give their support to ‘independence’, it is certainly not the original Republican radical democratic, or anti-imperialist, Irish model they have in mind. Instead they want to create their own ‘Scottish Free State’, where UK’s Crown Powers can still be called upon to uphold their class interests. What these bosses already have they will do the utmost to protect, but being ambitious, they also want more. This means that any future ‘Scottish Free State’, which they ran, could possibly take apart the remaining public welfare provision, just like an earlier ‘Irish Free State’ ditched Lloyd George’s Liberal welfare measures. However, a ‘Scottish Free State’ would not hand its population over to the tender mercies of Catholic charity; more likely to the ravenous maws of private companies, albeit using saltire-adorned signboards and notepaper!

We can already see a hint of how the SNP could act in national office. In September, the SNP-controlled Falkirk Council imposed 5000 new contracts, upon its employees, to get round equal pay legislation for women. These involved cuts in pay! Here the SNP just followed the precedent set by the Labour fiefdom of North Lanarkshire!

Campbell Martin, the Left populist MSP, expelled from the SNP, has charted the already considerable impact of such corporate-business accommodating policies on his former party. He has pointed to Jim Mather, their ‘Enterprise’ spokesman, a keen advocate of the free-market pro-globalisation backed by the economic strategists of the White House. He wants fiscal autonomy to allow Scotland to compete in the world market.

This begs the question of just how far down the SNP would see Scottish wages and conditions driven to allow workers to compete with oppressed people globally who build the obscene wealth of the multinationals(3).

Former SNP leader, John Swinney, has even floated the idea that the SNP adopt the latest neo-liberal fad to line the pockets of the rich – flat taxes.

iii) The rise of the Right and the decline of the Left in the SNP

There is even the prospect of a new political realignment on the Right. The SNP’s Michael Russell, co-author of Grasping the Thistle(4), openly advocates a pro-US, neo-Unionist and neo-liberal agenda. His immediate demand is not for an ‘independence referendum’, which he opposes, but for ‘fiscal autonomy’ for Holyrood. This also has the support of Tories, such as depute Scottish leader, Murdo Fraser and currently expelled, Brian Monteith. The former boss of Scottish Enterprise, Crawford Beveridge, has also indicated his support for such a move. Right wing, former unionists, such as the historians, Niall Ferguson, and Tory, ‘Clearances-denier’, Michael Fry, have recently declared their support for Scottish independence, now that the Blatcherite neo-liberal offensive has lost some of its steam and needs a new standard-bearer in Scotland(5).

A new openly Right-wing independence party would certainly be encouraged by the press, including George Kerevan, renegade ex-Trotskyist, one-time Labour councillor, one-time SNP parliamentary candidate, and a current depute editor of The Scotsman. His model is Mario Dumont’s Right-wing nationalist and neo-liberal, ADQ, which received 18% of the vote, in the last provincial election. And, far from weakening the Right in the other parties, the creation of the ADQ has been a pacesetter for neo-liberal policies across the mainstream parties in Quebec, including the traditional nationalist, Parti Quebecois(6). In Ireland, the considerably smaller Right wing, Progressive Democrats have performed a similar role.

However, even without such possible new pressures, the SNP leadership has already gone far in remodeling party economic policy to suit the global corporations. Michael Russell, learning the lessons of David Owen’s premature Social Democratic Party may well decide not to leave the SNP. Instead, he could direct his efforts to helping to forge the ‘New SNP’. Russell has been selected for a winnable seat on a Regional List for the 2007 Holyrood election.

In contrast, Left forces in the SNP, as in the Labour Party, have got steadily weaker over the years. Back in 2000, the (then) Left Alex Neil stood for party leader against the Right’s John Swinney, winning 33% of the vote. Despite Swinney’s poor performance in the job, the next Left challenge for leadership, from Bill Wilson in 2003, only received 16% of the vote. When it came to the three-cornered leadership fight in 2004, between Centre social democratic, Alex Salmond, Roseanna Cunningham and Right-wing, Mike Russell, there was no longer even a Left challenge. ‘Republican Rose’ had long abandoned any radical politics (further emphasised by her current opposition to child adoption rights for gay couples(7)). Mike Russell managed to get 10% of the vote. Furthermore, in the SNP’s simultaneous depute leader contest, the Right’s Fergus Ewing (24%) outvoted the Left’s Christine Graham (21%). Nevertheless, even their combined vote still failed to meet that of the mainstream, social democrat leadership-backed, Nicola Sturgeon. The current SNP leadership recently manoeuvred Michael Matheson, a former leadership supporter of Scotland’s sovereign independence and social justice, out of the SNP’s Shadow Cabinet. Only Christine Graham remains.

Although the Left can still get enough support at SNP Conferences to vote down openly Right-wing motions, the Centre social democratic leadership is moving Right, not Left. They are part of the overall mainstream political drift to a neo-liberal consensus, not a counter to it. The SNP leadership, like New Labour’s, knows how to get round inconvenient conference policies. Moreover, it is often former Left social democrats, such as Kenny MacAskill and Alex Neil, who are moving to the Right fastest. Kenny MacAskill, Shadow ‘Justice’ Minister, is the author of the Right social democratic manifesto for the SNP, Building the Nation – Post-Devolution Nationalism in Scotland(8). He has even anticipated Mike Russell in suggesting that the SNP ditches its own ‘Clause Four’ - ‘an independent Scotland’ - and, in effect, goes for renegotiation of the Union. This means trying to strike a better bargain for Scotland’s elite than that gained in the original 1707 British imperialist deal!

Alex Salmond, Party leader, and also one-time Left social democrat, is moving at a slower pace towards a ‘New SNP’, but still towards a similar ‘independence-lite’ political position. He is not talking about challenging the current British ‘New Unionist’ strategy to dominate these islands. Instead, he hopes to build upon the UK government-initiated, British-Irish Council of the Isles(9). He wants Scotland to have its own independent representatives on this tokenistic body, designed to adorn the Good Friday (now the watered-down St. Andrews) Agreement, and other devolutionary measures. A Nordic Council of equal nations it is not. Furthermore, the whole purpose behind the underlying ‘New Unionist’ strategy is to create the political stability necessary for the global corporations to maximise their profits and pursue their deregulation and privatisation drives on these islands.

iv) SNP leaders growing political accommodation to US imperialism

SNP leaders are also in the process of making a similar political accommodation to US imperialism. For it is US imperialism that provides the diplomatic and military backing, which allows these global corporations to control the world’s economy, and the rich to flaunt their wealth. This is the reality the SNP leadership accepts.

The SNP’s rank and file will still try to block the most obvious moves to the Right. The popular policy of removing nuclear bases from Scotland is as close to the hearts of SNP supporters, as defence of the National Health Service is to Labour supporters. That is why both the New Labour, and the emerging ‘New SNP’ leaderships, have devised strategies to circumvent such longstanding party policies. New Labour has ensured that the NHS is still government controlled and funded, but also that its workings on the ground are increasingly handed over to rapacious private companies. Thus, global corporations have been able to inflate their profit margins, subsidised by the state and underwritten by the taxpayer.

SNP leaders have to get round a clear party policy opposing Scotland’s membership of NATO. However, this policy is no longer mentioned in party publicity. The SNP distributed a new pamphlet, Raising the Standard(10), at the founding meeting of the Scottish Independence Convention. It has a whole section on Scotland and the World, including relations with the EU, the Commonwealth and the UN, but it is completely silent on NATO! MacAskill, Russell, and former defence spokesperson, Colin Campbell, openly advocate Scotland’s continued membership of NATO(11). This is too much for most SNP members, so Angus Robertson, Shadow ‘Defence’ spokesperson is developing a new policy to circumvent this. The very unpopular direct support for NATO (c.f. privatisation of the NHS) is to be side-stepped by attempts to get support for the more ambiguous ‘Partnership for Peace’(12) (c.f. ‘the internal market’).

If NATO were to offer Scotland a non-nuclear option, then the SNP leadership would find the ‘Partnership for Peace’ much easier to sell. NATO’s present distribution of bases in the North Atlantic still reflects the now redundant policy of containing the USSR. Current US military strategy largely depends on the use of its own very technically advanced, rapid deployment forces anywhere in the world. In the first stage of a particular overseas intervention, armed forces from other states are mainly deployed for cosmetic, diplomatic purposes, not as a matter of military necessity.

However, once US forces have gained their immediate objectives (e.g. the toppling of a hostile regime) then the US state has become keener, in the face of growing ‘post-war’ setbacks, to involve others. This is so a compliant new political order can be installed and maintained, and the profitable contracts handed out to the appropriate corporations. The UN has been pressured into providing suitable troops under an international ‘peace-keeping’ umbrella. This also frees up some more of the US front-line troops for further involvement elsewhere.

US policy makers are moving towards the creation of a two-tier structure for NATO. The top tier leadership will take responsibility for the initial ‘shock and awe’ military interventions. These will only involve those states prepared to do US bidding without question. Successive UK governments, anxious to extend the lifetime of British imperialism, albeit in a subordinate, ‘spear-carrying’ role, obviously have a central role in this tier of NATO. Former New Labour, ‘Defence’ Minister, George Robertson’s chairmanship of NATO, highlights this.

However, the US is working on a second tier of NATO. Participating countries do not have to directly join NATO. This is designated, in Orwellian-speak, the ‘Partnership for Peace’. It will mainly be responsible for US imperialism’s follow-up operations. UN sanction will be sought for these. The second-tier countries will not be required to provide first wave troops, or to have nuclear bases. In the first wave, ‘all’ that will be required of them is the temporary ‘stop-over’ use of their airfield and naval base facilities. This was how the US government got round Ireland’s official neutrality policy at Shannon Airport. In the second phase, the members of the ‘Partnership for Peace’ would provide the ‘peace-keeping’ forces for continued occupation. In the past, Ireland has also provided such second-line imperial forces, under a UN cover, in both Congo and Lebanon.

The ability of US imperialism to get ostensibly oppositional forces to fall in behind this two-tier strategy is demonstrated by the role of the French and Spanish states. The French, and Spanish post-Aznar, governments have been opposed to US military intervention in Iraq. The French government, however, voted for UN backing for the occupation of Iraq, once the first phase of the war was over. In Spain, the new incoming Zapatero government, after pulling troops out of Iraq, redeployed units to Afghanistan, taking some of the pressure off US troops stationed there. Both Spain and France gave assistance to the US in overthrowing the elected Aristide government in Haiti. In this they were assisted by Lula’s Worker Party-led government in Brazil, such is the pressure, the US state places upon even one-time radical forces.

The current SNP leadership would be prepared to come to a new deal with US imperialism. The official website, already states that

Scotland will maintain active defence commitments with its friends and allies through the United Nations, European Union and Partnership for Peace(13).

NATO’s nuclear base at Faslane could yet be closed down (although this would still be opposed by any likely British government, still wedded to the UK’s own imperial pretensions) Meanwhile, Kinloss and Leuchars could still be used for US air force ‘stop-overs’, under the ‘Partnership for Peace’. Furthermore, SNP leaders remain strongly committed to the UK’s Scottish regiments. They would no doubt be happier, if these soldiers swapped their current, union jack-flagged, British khaki helmets for saltire-flagged, blue UN helmets. However, these regiments would still perform an imperialist role in a US dominated world.

v) A seat, desk and flag at the UN or genuine self-determination

Many Scottish (and of course, other) nationalists’ idea of political independence is being awarded a seat, desk and flag at the UN General Assembly. This mirrors the SNP leaders’ desire to have local Scottish managers gaining seats on the boards at major corporate Head Quarterss.

The UN is structured in such a way that a world dominated by imperialism appears to be the natural order of things. The Security Council (with its five powerful permanent members - the US, UK, France, Russia and China) towers over the UN General Assembly to an even greater extent than any national state government executive dominates its own national legislature. For historical reasons, two other important imperial powers, Japan and Germany are excluded, so the UN is not an efficient representative of competing imperialist interests.

US imperialism dominates the world, and does not feel bound by decisions made by other lesser imperial powers (and their respective allies) on the Security Council. It is openly contemptuous of the General Assembly and the UN’s agencies. If the US, fails to get its way, it acts unilaterally, without any fear of effective sanctions.

Constitutionally, all members of the General Assembly are ‘independent’ states. To achieve this political status, they have to gain the support of the five veto-holding, permanent Security Council members. ‘Independent’ states with seats in the General Assembly include occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, overthrown parliamentary democracies such as Haiti and Thailand, personal fiefdoms such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and micro-states such as Andorra, the Comoros, St. Vincent, and Tuvalu. Palestine and its elected government are not recognised.

Self-determination and democracy are not the key factors in winning a seat in the UN, its Charters notwithstanding. Recognising and accommodating to the existing imperialist dominated world order is what is required, otherwise you face US sanctions or coup attempts, like Castro’s Cuba and Chavez’s Venezuela.

This is the world order that the SNP leadership accepts. If Scotland is ever to gain a seat in the General Assembly, it knows that it is primarily the US state, and its corporate backers, they will have to persuade. The US may have been quick to approve UN recognition for the ‘independence’ of a host of new European states from Estonia to Montenegro, but ‘the right to self-determination’ had little to do with this. In every case US imperial and corporate interests were advanced by such recognition, which is the only reason why they were supported.

However, there remains a major stumbling block to winning UN recognition for an independent Scotland. The UK government is the no.1 ally of US imperialism! To win US imperial and corporate support, the SNP’s proposed ‘independent’ Scotland would have to offer them a better deal than British imperialism. Otherwise, that Scottish component of the British ruling class, along with those career-hungry lower managers, would have to renegotiate the 1707 Union, and come to some new arrangement to better exploit the people of these islands and beyond. Neither of these ‘independence’ options would offer many attractions to the working class in Scotland! Both would be followed by a ‘Dutch auction’ of pay and conditions.

vi) The low priority of any ‘independence referendum’ for the SNP leadership

Those who look to a post 2007 SNP-led Scottish Executive, to make ‘independence’ their immediate priority, are in for a big disappointment. This is not the political direction in which the SNP leadership is currently moving. Salmond frequently highlights the low priority of the leadership’s commitment to the official ‘independence referendum’ policy. He wants to delay the implementation of any such referendum until the later days of any SNP-led Scottish Executive, the better to woo Scottish business. He also wants to reassure the executives of the global corporations, and to prove to the US government, that an SNP-led government would be dependable upholders of their interests.

Right, neo-liberal, Michael Russell believes that the ‘independence referendum’ policy should be dropped. Right social democrat, Kenny MacAskill believes any referendum should be delayed to a second term of an SNP-led Scottish Executive. Just as the conservative opposition to the 1979 Scottish Devolution referendum could take advantages of divisions within Labour’s camp, so current British unionist opposition to any ‘independence referendum’ may be able to take advantage of divisions in the SNP camp.

But, even if an SNP-led Executive was forced to hold a referendum, which they then lost, possibly partly through internal divisions over the issue, they could still continue to act as the local Scottish branch managers of the British state. They only have to look to Quebec, and the nationalist PQ, to see that losing ‘independence referenda’ did not prevent this party from continuing to run the province on behalf of the Canadian state. PQ has now lost two such referenda, in 1980 and 1996, but its main job of defending and enhancing Quebecois business interests in the competitive US corporate-dominated North American Free Trade Area has been maintained.

The current courtship rituals, between the SNP and Lib-Dem leaderships, in the run-up to next year’s elections, are even more revealing, with their alternate aggressive posturing and tentative overtures(14). Salmond is smart enough to know that, even if the SNP does make considerable gains at Holyrood next year, it is very unlikely to win an overall majority. The SNP will have to form a coalition, with the unionist Lib-Dems being their most likely main partner. The Lib-Dems are unlikely to give their whole-hearted endorsement to any ‘independence referendum’; something certain sections of the SNP leadership would no doubt welcome to get them off the hook!

Therefore, the terms of any agreed referendum would be pretty restricted. A so-called ‘independence referendum’ has just been held in Catalunya, by mutual agreement between the local conservative/social democratic nationalist, Catalan Convergence administration, and the social democratic, Spanish ‘unionist’, Zapatero government. Esquerra Republicana, the Left nationalists who led the Republican Catalan government during 1936-9 Spanish Civil War, and who now form part of the Catalan administration coalition, refused to give their support to this largely cosmetic measure, designed to better protect the integrity of the Spanish state.

It would be interesting to see if some of these nationalists in Scotland would lower their sights further, if the only parliamentary deal, which could be cobbled together next May, included the Lib-Dems. Some Left nationalists in Wales are already supporting the newly-formed, but mainly traditionalist-led, Dewis Group in Plaid Cymru. The Dewis Group is arguing for a grand coalition of Lib-Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, after the Welsh Assembly elections next year. The Left nationalists supporting this would also like to add to this coalition what is left of Forward Wales, which once looked to the SSP as a model! The Dewis Group seeks further Devolution measures from the UK state. These are quite compatible with a further development of the British ruling class’s ‘New Unionist’ strategy to maintain its control over these islands.

vii) ‘Independence First’ and the SNP

It is worth remembering that the SNP Left initially opposed the leadership’s proposed ‘independence referendum’. They saw it as device by the leadership to sideline ‘independence’, the better to get on with managing the Scottish branch office of the British state, as a prelude to some neo-Unionist deal. As the SNP leadership begins to show signs of doubt over its own policy, populist nationalists, inside and outside the SNP, particularly in ‘Independence First’, have now become the most vocal champions of the ‘independence referendum’.

There is a contradiction here for a declared non-party campaign. ‘Independence First’s scenario for the implementation of an ‘independence referendum’ depends on a particular party, the SNP, emerging as the leadership of a future Scottish Executive. Yet, the SNP leadership is anything but enthusiastic. They sent nobody to the ‘Independence First’ public launch, march and rally on September 30th.

‘Independence First’ includes members expelled from the SNP for their republicanism. Therefore, they must be aware of the current SNP leadership’s Rightwards political trajectory. ‘Independence First’ wants saltire-waving, extra-parliamentary mobilisations to chivvy along the very cautious SNP leadership. First, this is to ensure that an SNP-led Executive does actually implement its official referendum policy; secondly, to increase the pressure on an SNP-led Scottish Executive to deliver an early referendum, before it loses any wider support.

‘Independence First’ probably also realises that the SNP is unlikely to be able to form a Scottish Executive by itself. This is why they are urging the other Holyrood, ‘independence-supporting’, parties and independents, such as the Greens, the SSP, Solidarity, and Margo Macdonald, to prop up an SNP-led Executive, as an alternative to the unionist Lib-Dems.

The commitment of the Greens to Scottish independence is pretty shallow. Their first preference is to join a New Labour-led, or Lib-Dem-led, Scottish Executive. Nevertheless, like the SNP leaders, the Greens are so anxious to take office, they could be persuaded to join an SNP-led Scottish Executive too. Any socialist MSPs would (hopefully) continue to uphold class struggle, which would soon bring them into conflict with an SNP Scottish business-promoting Executive.

However, there is another political reason for ‘Independence First’s claims to be forming a movement. This reflects the widespread public disillusion with all official politics and parties. ‘Movementism’ is a populist ideology, with both Far Rightist and Anarchist Leftist roots. Kevin Williamson, now disillusioned with the SSP, has gone further than others in outlining an essentially anarcho-nationalist strategy for ‘Independence First’. However, he has not formally adopted the black flag of anarchism, but thinks that the ‘Scottish people’ can be united under the saltire, in opposition to the ‘Anglo-British’ state.

It is such thinking which provides a common cover for Left and Right populists, or allows a political slide from one to the other. Scotland’s own Far Rightist, Soil nan Gaidheal, is also an advocate of a nationalist movement, rather than a nationalist party. It too celebrates the saltire, a medieval and specifically Christian symbol. However, it then goes on to place a strong emphasis on establishing a ‘Third Way’ for Scotland, which is neither multinational capitalist, nor international socialist. Emphasis is placed on unique Scottish cultural and spiritual values, rather than any class division and materialist thinking. Soil nan Gaidheal is highly militaristic, drawing on the traditions of the crusading Knights Templar and the Jacobite-supporting, claymore and targe-carrying, Highland warriors. When its members are not dressed in Jacobite attire on demonstrations, some adopt the camouflage fatigues and forage caps (adorned by a saltire) of the European Far Right.

The use of the characterisation ‘Anglo-British’, by Left nationalists, is also revealing. It downplays the specifically Scottish, Irish and Welsh components of British unionism. For the majority of the Scottish ruling class gave its support to the British Union and Empire in 1707. If there was some initial reluctance, their support soon became enthusiastic. If Wales’ and Ireland’s respective incorporation into the English and UK states was mainly the result of foreign conquest, the new regimes were also able to draw some support from the old native aristocracies too. The Ulster loyalists’ red hand symbol was originally the badge of the powerful Irish O’Neill clan. Some O’Neill leaders made their peace with the UK state and became powerful Unionist supporters.

Even today, well-attended Orange Order marches, held throughout Scotland’s Central Belt, do not depend on ‘Anglo-British’ support bussed in from England. They are formed overwhelmingly from the ranks of Scotland’s own loyalist section of the working class and petty bourgeoisie. Any outside buses are most likely to have arrived from ‘British Ulster’s ‘Six Counties’! And any one observing marches of ‘our’ loyal brethren, whether in Glasgow, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, West Lothian, or Drumcree and North Belfast, will see the Scottish saltire proudly displayed, alongside the ‘red hand’ of Ulster, loyalist paramilitary banners and the ‘butchers’ apron’. And yes, that saltire is right there in the union jack too!

However, since ‘Independence First’ wants to unite all patriotic Scots, from the likes of Brian Souter and Ann Gloag to ‘Rab C. Nesbitt’ and ‘Mary Doll’, awkward class divisions have to be downplayed. Workers must temporarily suspend their own economic and social struggles to conduct a united political campaign, alongside their Scottish bosses, in order to win an ‘independent’ state. After this has been achieved, battle can recommence.

It is just such a pity that the capitalist class does not play by these rules! They are out to maintain and extend their class power in all circumstances. They never suspend their struggle to hold on to what they already have. If we abstain from class struggle they will only use this opportunity to make further gains at our expense. Whenever Scottish capitalists, big or small, talk about political ‘independence’, they mean something quite different to what workers or well-meaning radicals might understand by the term.

Our class enemies are not just the ruling class ‘Anglo-Brits’ from south of the border, but those ‘Jock-Brits’ and would-be ‘Jock Free Staters’, who would make their own deals with British and US imperialism. A campaign for genuine self-determination has to recognise this and take it into account when planning its own strategy. ‘Independence First’ believes they can set aside the issue of the monarchy (the Crown Powers) and NATO membership (US imperial control) until a successful ‘independence referendum’ has been won.

All the evidence shows that you can not ignore these two powerful anti-democratic forces, since they certainly will not be ignoring you – even if the demand for an ‘independent’ (UN-recognised) Scotland seems so reasonable. This demand is not in the interests of the US and UK ruling class, at the moment. That means, either following the current SNP leadership’s political drift, to ensure that their ‘independent Scotland’ becomes acceptable to US and UK imperial interests; or pursuing an open republican and anti-imperial strategy, seeking international allies. The ‘Independence First’ strategy falls between two stools, and is likely to meet a similar fate to Labour’s 1979 Scottish Devolution Referendum, if an SNP-led Scottish Executive takes office next year.


i) An ‘Independent Socialist Scotland’ – the origins of an ambiguous slogan

Current SSP and Solidarity leadership support for ‘Independence First’ raises the question of how did these organisations end up tail-ending Scottish nationalists, rather than fighting for a distinct republican socialist strategy?

The CWI, better known as Militant, was the principal organisation behind the formation of the SSA in 1996. The importance of the issue of Scottish self-determination was clearly recognised. The CWI developed the ‘independent socialist Scotland’ slogan to address the issue. Ironically, this group was well known for its Left unionist positions (particularly with regard to ‘The Six Counties’.) Therefore, it is not surprising that this slogan has proved to be quite ambiguous in practice. There are widespread disagreements over what an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ means, and over the strategy by which it could be attained.

The slogan’s keenest advocates belonged to the openly Left nationalist wing of the SSP, particularly those in the SRSM and Kevin Williamson. The SRSM and Kevin, however, seem to have been somewhat disorientated by the ‘Tommy Sheridan Affair’. Tommy was one of the first to sign up to ‘Independence First’. But the SRSM’s main bugbear, the SWP, has also joined Tommy’s breakaway, Solidarity, so the SRSM feels unable to follow him. It is obviously with great regret that the SRSM has parted with Tommy. They saw him as the SSP leadership’s most vocal advocate of a ‘Scottish road to socialism’.

Although the SSP leadership has also fallen in behind ‘Independence First’, it has not given its backing to the SRSM’s main political demand - the entrenchment of ‘independent socialist Scotland’ in the party’s constitution. The idea behind this was to wall off the SSP from any non-Scottish influences, particularly if they emanated from ‘London-based’ organisations, such as the SWP (and the CWI). Since ‘socialism’ is something to be aspired to in the future, Left nationalists see the key words defining the SSP’s immediate politics as ‘Scottish’ and ‘independence’. And, for Left nationalists, the leading ‘independence party’, despite its shortcomings (such as proscriptions directed against the SRSM!) is the SNP’.

Now, in contrast to the Left nationalists, the loose Workers Unity Platform (consisting of some in the Glasgow Critique group, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and the CPGB) has represented a consistent Left unionist tendency in the SSP. It has completely rejected the ‘independent socialist Scotland’ slogan. Above all, it wants an all-Britain (or, in the case of the CPGB, possibly an all-UK) party. Unfortunately, whereas the Critique group, Workers Liberty, and the CPGB, were able to unite in Scotland within the SSP, somehow, when it comes to their ‘superior’ all-Britain option, they are unable to unite. Nor, of course, have the larger Left unionist organisations, the SWP and CWI, been able to unite in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. These Left unionist groups promote a number of their own party-building initiatives instead!

When the SW Platform joined the SSP in 2002, it became the main Left unionist force in the SSP. The SWP did not entirely reject the ‘independent socialist Scotland’ slogan, although it does not believe it has any current political purchase. The CWI, despite inventing the slogan, became noticeably cooler towards it, after they witnessed the growth of Left nationalist sentiment, both within their own ranks, and the wider SSA/ SSP. Nevertheless, both the SWP and CWI have gone along with Tommy Sheridan’s insistence that an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ be a central political slogan for Solidarity too. However, for these two Left unionist groups, this slogan represents little more than their Plan B, should their preferred Plan A, a ‘British road to socialism’, prove not to be viable.

Although the CWI and SWP presently pursue an essentially Left unionist course, they could yet flip over to Left nationalism, if the British unionist state began to seriously fragment. There are a number of precedents for such a political transformation. When the official, Communist Party-led, federal unionist states of the USSR and Yugoslavia began to fall apart, former loyal, one-state, Party supporters transferred their allegiance from federal unionism to national separatism. One-time CPSU member, Yeltsin, began to identify with Russia, whilst former CPSU members, Shevardnadze, Karimov and Nazarbayev, identified with Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, respectively. Former Yugoslav CP members, Milosevic and Dukanovic, switched their respective allegiances to (Greater) Serbia and Montenegro.

The British unionist state has faced a number of national democratic challenges over the last four decades. The strongest of these has undoubtedly been the struggle for a united Ireland, mainly taking place within ‘The Six Counties’. However, there have also been political challenges in Scotland and Wales. In the face of all these, one wing of the British ruling class tried to batten down the hatches of UK Ltd, through the imposition of Westminster Direct Rule. The other wing tried to loosen up the bolts, which rigidly held the UK together, by promoting Devolution instead. Most Left unionists have given their tacit support to this devolutionary strategy, believing it can better maintain the British state unity necessary to unite the ‘British working class’.

The growing national tensions within the UK state help to explain how it was that the CWI, a Left unionist group, came up with the slogan, an ‘independent socialist Scotland’. The reason for the CWI’s shift, to an ostensibly Left nationalist position in Scotland, was due to the greater political pressures exerted by the national democratic movement in Scotland, compared, as they saw it, to those emanating from Wales and ‘The Six Counties’. This particularly seemed to be the case in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’, during the Anti-Poll Tax struggle in Scotland. Elsewhere, the CWI never felt the same need to abandon their essentially Left unionist outlook. Furthermore, in contrast to most of the rest of the Left, the CWI failed to see any national democratic struggle in ‘The Six Counties’ at all - just ‘two warring tribes’ slugging it out.

Therefore, what the CWI wanted was some protective ‘red cover’ to counter the nationalist challenge in Scotland. They have no conception of the ‘New Unionism’ being developed by the British and Irish ruling classes to deal with the national democratic challenges in these islands. The CWI’s lack of an overall strategy, to counter this ‘New Unionism’, is highlighted by their different political positions in the four nations sharing these islands. Each of the CWI’s political positions represents a local reaction to the ruling class’s ‘New Unionist’ project, not an integrated strategy to counter it. The CWI support a formal adherence to an ‘independent socialism’ in Scotland, Home Rule in Wales, and, in practice, partitionist politics in Ireland. They push for increased Socialist Party representation in the Irish Dail, but confine themselves to trying to get trade unionist and community-based representatives, into Stormont, and the Northern Ireland seats at Westminster.

The CWI made no attempt to locate their new strategy for Scotland within the revolutionary democratic and republican tradition in these islands. This is best represented by James Connolly and John Maclean, with their respective support for Irish and Scottish Workers’ Republics, as part of the struggle to break-up the British Empire and to advance international socialism/communism. Instead, the CWI largely confined itself to the electoral threat posed by the SNP.

If the SNP fought for an ‘independent (and obviously capitalist) Scotland’, the CWI hoped to be able to trump this, particularly in working class areas. Therefore, whenever there appears to be a surge in SNP support, the CWI calls for ‘an independent socialist Scotland’. However, the CWI keeps this slogan in reserve. It is primarily for propaganda use, and has no immediate practical implications. To date, whenever the Union-state appears under threat, the CWI has backed the liberal bourgeoisie’s practical proposals for maintaining unity – Devolution in 1979 and again in 1997. In other words, they have not yet moved beyond Left unionism in practice.

ii) The origins of the Left unionist/Left nationalist split in the CWI, SSA and SSP

However, key debates occurred within the CWI, as a result of their leading role in the Anti-Poll Tax campaign. This struggle proved that there was political life outside the Labour Party, to which Militant had been so strongly committed. It also demonstrated the growth of national democratic sentiment in Scotland, especially since the very British, unionist Tories tested out this extremely unpopular piece of legislation here first. After the defeat of Militant-led, Liverpool Labour council in the mid-1980’s, the CWI’s focus shifted to Scotland, particularly Glasgow. When Jim Sillars, the SNP’s Westminster candidate in the 1988 Govan by-election, sensationally defeated Labour, this highlighted the significance of the national question in Scotland. It was in response to these political developments that the CWI eventually adopted the ‘independent socialist Scotland’ slogan.

Yet, it was the CWI’s decision to grant their Scottish members more autonomy, which opened up the possibility of a Left unionist/Left nationalist division within their ranks in the future. A key step was taken when the CWI sanctioned the setting-up of an SSA, one year before the 1997 General Election, when New Labour ended eighteen year’s of continuous Tory rule.

When New Labour took office the, then still united and CWI-dominated, SSA leadership gave its support to New Labour’s Devolution proposals for Scotland. They even managed to win wider SSA support for affiliation to Donald Dewar’s ‘Vote Yes, Yes’ campaign, despite considerable opposition, including from within their own ranks. As yet, there was no unbridgeable gap between the two emerging wings of the CWI. The Devolution proposals could be supported from both a unionist perspective (as in the case of New Labour and the Lib-Dems), and from a nationalist perspective (as in the case of the SNP). From a unionist perspective, Devolution meant granting more powers to the local Scottish management of the UK state, the better to preserve it. From a nationalist point of view, Devolution meant the provision of job training for a future Scottish managerial takeover. The CWI could still encompass variations on both these views.

However, it soon became obvious, once a devolved Scottish Parliament had been established, that parliamentary initiative for greater local managerial control would pass to the SNP. New Labour’s primary objective on the Scottish Executive was to minimise any conflict between the local Scottish branch office and the Westminster head office of UK plc. The new Scottish Executive even put the new tax-raising powers, already approved in the referendum, into cold storage. The new Parliament building was constructed opposite Holyrood Palace to emphasise the British monarchist and unionist connection.

Therefore, a majority emerged within the CWI’s Scottish leadership, led by Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan, who wanted to give the formal slogan of an ‘independent socialist Scotland’ some immediate political content. However, they still used the CWI’s underlying method to justify this. They looked to opinion poll survey results, either of growing Scottish national identification, or of electoral support for the SNP (and later, for the Greens and SSP). In this they followed the method long used by Militant to register what they saw as increased support for ‘socialism’ – growth in electoral support for Labour (coupled to Left motions won at Labour Party and trade union conferences).

The CWI’s leadership, dominated by British Left unionists, became increasingly uneasy at the nationalist implications of their Scottish leadership’s push for greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. This Scottish leadership, in turn, wanted to switch from the CWI’s own longstanding version of the ‘British road to socialism’, focused on winning a ‘socialist majority’ at Westminster, to a Scottish ‘road to socialism’, based on winning a ‘socialist majority’ at Holyrood. Faced with the practicalities of the opposing interpretations of the ‘independent socialist Scotland’ slogan, the CWI split in 2001.

The majority of the Scottish section formed the new ISM. They also formed the majority of, first the SSA, then the new SSP, leaderships. Having broken with Left unionism (at least with regard to Scotland, although not, as yet, with regard to ‘The Six Counties’!) the new ISM/ SSA/ SSP leaderships further developed their already evident Left nationalist approach, with regard to the political issue of Scottish self-determination. As a result, the SSA and SSP have tended to tail-end the most widely-supported political project, at any given time, designed to win greater powers for a Scottish Parliament.

The CWI’s longstanding policy of support for the ‘independent socialist Scotland’ slogan, meant to be held in reserve for emergencies, was now pushed by the new ISM as a political policy to be used on a much greater number of occasions. This reflected the ISM’s greater concern with the immediate shortcomings of Holyrood as an arena to win reforms - in particular, its lack of political powers. In the process, the ISM has developed a particular road to Scottish independence. Every increment of power, gained by a growing Scottish state machine, is seen to be merely preparing the ground for full political independence in the future, thus paving the way for the ultimate ‘independent socialist Scotland’.

Therefore, from the SSP leaders’ political perspective, the SNP is currently seen to be progressing along the same political road. However, the SNP want to take an earlier fork on the route, sign-posted, ‘Scottish capitalist independence’. Until then, the SNP is viewed as providing the transport for the first stages of the journey to an ‘independent socialist Scotland’. Some time ago, Left unionists also saw the Labour Party as (somewhat reluctant) companions on ‘the British road to socialism’.

Last year, the ISM itself split and liquidated itself. Two new and competing successor organisations have emerged. There is the United Left, on one hand, which forms the dominant grouping still in the SSP; and there is Tommy Sheridan, backed by a number of former SSP regional full-timers, on the other, who have now formed the breakaway Solidarity. However, both the SSP leadership, and Tommy and his ex-ISM followers in Solidarity, retain the same Left nationalist approach, highlighted by their adherence to the same ‘independent socialist Scotland’ policy, their current support for an ‘independence referendum’ and their orientation towards ‘Independence First’.

However, the SSP leadership has not yet finally chosen the best vehicle to drive this ‘independence referendum’ forward. In 2004, the still-united SSP leadership initiated the SIC. This was modeled on the earlier Scottish Constitutional Convention (set up in 1989), which, under the whip of unpopular Tory rule, had originally promoted radical devolutionary measures, before bowing later to New Labour’s own much-watered down devolutionary proposals.

The SNP leadership gave the SIC its tentative backing at the founding meeting on November 30th, 2005. More recently though, the SNP leadership appears to have been distancing itself from this SSP initiative. The ructions in the SSP no doubt provide them with a handy excuse! The SSP leadership is now falling in behind ‘Independence First’, as the campaigning organisation to promote an ‘independence referendum’.

iii) From socialist support for a ‘New Labour’ government in 1997 to socialist support for an SNP-organised ‘independence referendum’ in 2007

The possibility of an SNP-dominated Scottish Executive in 2007 now looms large for the current SSP leadership. They believe an ‘independence referendum’ could be implemented, after next year’s Holyrood elections. They have some awareness of the present SNP leadership’s timidity, but they look to past SNP Conference motions to show the ‘progressive’ nature of the SNP’s rank and file. Thus, current SNP policy is opposed to participation in the House of Lords, to Scotland’s membership of NATO, to nuclear bases and nuclear power in Scotland, and to the continuing war in Iraq. Furthermore, now that the British ruling class is itself divided over the issue, Salmond has astutely promoted the SNP as an anti-war party, through widely publicised motions at both Westminster and Holyrood.

Therefore, the SSP leadership hopes that, if the SNP’s rank and file, along with others committed to independence in the SSP, the Greens, and beyond, could be mobilised by ‘Independence First’, then the cautiousness of the current SNP leadership could yet be overcome.

Ironically, the SSP leadership is advocating a very similar type of politics to those British socialists who, a decade ago, argued for a socialist vote for Labour, to get rid of the Tories and open up the road for ‘progress’. At that time, there were also Labour Party Conference motions against further privatisations and for a minimum wage. Yes, Tony Blair’s New Labour leadership left something to be desired, but once the General Election was over and the Tories were gone, then the leadership’s timidity would be overcome. If not, the overwhelming desire for change, and the ‘socialist instincts’ of the Labour Party rank and file would ensure that, Things could only get better!

Back in 1997, New Labour’s leaders had no intention of bowing before the desires of the party’s rank and file. Instead, these leaders used their growing ‘electorability’, shown by opinion polls to marginalise the party rank and file and to increase their room for manoeuvre. SNP leaders are now following a similar political course. And, as the possibility of the SNP forming the largest Holyrood bloc, after the May 2007 elections, increases, its leadership will move further Right.

So, if the 2007 Holyrood contest in Scotland turns out to be an anti-New Labour election, it will bear a certain resemblance to the anti-Tory Westminster election of 1997. Then, it was the Rightwards-moving, New Labour and Lib-Dems, both committed to neo-liberal policies, which proved to be the beneficiaries, not the Labour rank and file, and certainly not the working class. Instead, New Labour stepped up the bosses’ attacks on our class, once the Tories had lost their steam. When it came to support for imperialist wars, privatisation and deregulation, New Labour went considerably further than their Tory predecessors.

Next year, the SNP look like the most probable electoral beneficiaries (going by recent election results and opinion polls). If the SNP leadership ends up forming a new Scottish Executive, it may have to implement the ‘independence’ referendum in some form, if they want to retain support amongst the party’s rank and file. However, they could easily show the kind of support for this policy, that New Labour demonstrated when they implemented their official ‘minimum wage’ policy. Blair did introduce this particular Party Conference demand, albeit at a poverty level! Some employers, however, used the regulation to reduce their wages to the new lower level, whilst there has been a big growth in illegal, super-exploited migrant workers, to undercut any positive benefits. An ‘independence referendum’ could well be diluted in a similar way by any SNP-led Scottish Executive. Like New Labour before them, the SNP leadership’s main aim is to show its trustworthiness in the eyes of US imperialism, the global corporations and the Scottish bosses.

On May 3rd 2007, the real divisions will not be between unionists and nationalists, but between those advocating a shared pro-imperialist, global corporate, neo-liberal agenda, whatever their tactical differences (New Labour, SNP, Lib-Dem and Tory) and those trying to offer a real alternative. Indeed, the most likely new, post-2007, Scottish Executive, should New Labour lose, would be an SNP/Lib-Dem coalition – a nationalist/unionist alliance! The ‘self-determination’ option in any SNP/Lib-Dem-initiated referendum could be pitched even lower than New Labour’s ‘minimum wage’!

Therefore, the 2007 Holyrood election presents the Scottish electorate with the very similar ‘choice’ to that offered by New Labour, Tories and Lib-Dems to the British electorate back in 1997. When most of the British Left was offering their ‘socialist’ support to New Labour, the SSA, almost alone, argued for a genuine independent socialist alternative, and put up its own candidates in Scotland. We argued strongly against building any socialist illusions in New Labour. Having later reaped the benefits of this approach, it would be a tragedy, if a decade later, the SSP was to build any socialist illusions in an SNP, now even more openly committed to neo-liberalism than Labour was in 1997.


i) The long-term decline of British imperialism and the UK state – what sort of outcome do we seek?

British imperialism and the UK state are in long-term decline. However, this does not mean that the existing British ruling class is going to give up its privileges without a fight. The UK state (and British Empire) began to break-up in Ireland, between 1916-21. ‘Twenty Six Counties’ left the UK’s direct jurisdiction, but the British ruling class has been able to prevent further break-up, even in the face of a second major challenge, in the ‘The Six Counties’, between 1969-96. Whether it was the Black and Tans in the past, or continued state funding for the non-decommissioned, loyalist paramilitaries of the UVF and UDA today, the UK state will resort to whatever measures it feels are needed to prolong its life. The UK state is not going to give up easily on Scotland – too much is at stake – whether it be military bases, North Sea Oil, or simply, British imperial standing in the wider world.

However, even if an UN-recognised independent Scotland were to be attained, this does not necessarily open up a vista of progress and prosperity for the majority. The current situation in UN-recognised Ireland shows that imperialism can shape political ‘independence’ to meet its own requirements. One-time divisions between the US and UK, which gave the Irish state a little more political room for manoeuvre, have been overcome. Ireland’s neutrality is now ignored, Dublin is a burgeoning new centre for finance capital, Irish companies have been quick to adopt the cost-cutting and bullying techniques of the big corporate players in the world, whilst the remaining state-owned companies are being sold off at bargain basement prices. The very rich get very much richer, whilst the numbers on insecure, poorly paid contracts, facing growing personal debt, extortionately-priced housing, poor schooling and inadequate health-care, grows daily.

This ‘Celtic Tiger’ is the model for those business interests, who promote their own version of ‘Scottish independence’. They have not the slightest intention of temporarily putting their class interests to one side. Maintaining and extending the control they already have is their number one priority. This determines their attitude to others who may hold a very different vision of Scotland’s future.

The RCN is sometimes accused of being divisive by Left nationalists in not being prepared to set aside the demand for a ‘democratic and secular republic’, or for withdrawal from NATO, until ‘victory’ has been achieved in an ‘independence referendum’ and a new Scottish state has been established. But, there are a number of problems with this ‘put these things off until later’ approach.

First, the British ruling class will resort to its anti-democratic Crown Powers to defeat, derail, or co-opt the campaign for an ‘independence referendum’. The weakest link will be the very timid SNP leadership. Failure to recognise this, means that the most that could be obtained from the essentially constitutional campaign, proposed by ‘Independence First’, is some further devolution of UK state powers and a new accommodation with the British ruling class. Genuine self-determination can only be achieved by adopting an overt republican stance from the beginning, in order to prepare people for the real opposition a such a campaign will inevitably meet. Only if people have been politically prepared beforehand, can immediate wider mobilisations be organised to challenge this ruling class opposition.

Furthermore, ‘New Unionism’, the current British ruling class political strategy, enjoys the support of US imperialism. The intervention of the US Consul, into the current debate, is just a hint of what is likely to be in store for the future. Even in the unlikely event of US imperialism transferring its political support to an ‘independent Scotland’, this would only result in Scotland being allotted a new role by US imperialism, in their New World Order - rather like Ireland at present. Any campaign, designed to win genuine a self-determination, and open up the prospect of popular democratic control, represents a threat to those global corporate interests, which are dependent on US forces to enforce their domination. Therefore, it is necessary to pursue an anti-imperial course to counter the US state’s overt and covert opposition. This means we need to give support to those worldwide struggles for democracy, and for economic and social justice, which are contesting imperialist attempts to impose their New World Order.

ii) Nationalist and socialist republican views of political independence and internationalism

Nationalists and socialist republicans view political independence in quite different ways. When nationalists approach the issue of greater political independence, they want to know how independent Scotland is going to be from England, not how much democratic control the Scottish people has over a Scottish state. Nationalists are less interested in the class nature of such a state, than how ‘Scottish’ its institutions are. This can be clearly seen in the SNP’s defence of the Scottish regiments of the British Army. It also explains why some nationalists were aggrieved because successive unionist governments were slow to award prominent Scotsman, SNP supporter and celebrity, Sean Connery, a knighthood! And, on the nationalist fringe, you still have people promoting Jacobite pretenders for a Scottish monarchy!

US and UK-based companies will not find it hard to adopt a Scottish local identity, if necessary. Scottish branches of Asda (the notorious anti-union, US multinational, Walmart) already hang saltire pennants in their hypermarkets. The Sun has special Scottish and Irish editions, in which anti-Scots and anti-Irish items, printed in their England edition, are edited out! Identity politics is quite compatible with the new turbo-capitalism of the global corporations. Any identity can be provided with its niche market. It fits in well with their view of the world, where people are offered ‘consumer choice’ rather than real political choice.

There are some Left nationalists, amongst the SSP, Solidarity, SNP and ‘Independence First’, who adhere to a form of sentimental socialist republicanism. However, this is largely reserved for rally speeches and has little immediate practical content. In the meantime, they argue that we should ally with our class adversaries to set-up a ‘class-neutral’, ‘independent Scotland’. Once this has been achieved, class struggle can recommence but under the new ‘fairer’ rules. This approach can only ensure the future ‘rules’ (constitution) will be established by those who already wield considerable socio-economic power, and who are also prepared to retain many of the anti-democratic Crown Powers inherited from the old UK order.

Nationalists also tend to downplay the ‘internationalism’ of the existing, or would-be, ruling classes, when it comes to preserving their power. This is because these nationalists want to pursue the chimera of a class-cross alliance against the ‘Auld Enemy’. Aspiring new ruling classes tend to be cannier. Yes, they will accept all the domestic cross-class support they are offered – as long as it is in a subordinate role and does not threaten their class interests. But should their power be challenged by the ‘lower orders’, they are quick to seek the support of other ruling classes, including their former adversaries.

To date, national sections of the British ruling class have been able to draw on the extensive powers given to them through the bureaucratic, top-down ‘internationalism’ provided by the UK state. However, if the majority of Scotland’s bosses decide to go ‘independent’, they will also be quick to ensure that new ‘international’ bodies are in place to protect their mutual interests.

The current meetings involving the British and Irish governments, or a more effective version of the currently stalemated, North-South Council of Ministers in Ireland could be created – an Anglo-Irish-Scottish Council of Ministers. Such a political body could have agreed ‘shareholdings’, which reflected each member state’s stake in the local North East Atlantic franchise of the New World Order. New international corporate carve-ups may need new international political agreements – Ryanair increasing its share in Scottish aviation, and Stagecoach moving in on Bus Eireann and Ulsterbus! The real business of the respective members’ neo-liberal governments could also be fronted by a reformed Council of the Isles. This is the ultimate logic of the emerging ‘New SNP’ strategy.

To counter this, socialist republicans have to be internationalist too. We appreciate that Scotland has always been a class-divided state. We only champion what has been, and what is, historically progressive, and actively oppose those reactionary and conservative aspects of Scotland’s history, culture and politics, as well as exposing the limitations of their liberal and social democratic alternatives. And England, Ireland and Wales, too have their progressive, as well as their reactionary and conservative, traditions. The political independence we should all seek is from the imperialist, unionist and monarchist UK state. Current British policy condemns all workers in these islands to a vista of permanent war, economic insecurity, and environmental deterioration. Our potential allies lie in the working class in England, Ireland and Wales and beyond. Scottish internationalists need to form alliances with socialist and republican forces in these three nations - an ‘internationalism from below’.

iii) Championing the democratic road

Another common accusation directed against the RCN, is that we stand outside the struggle, because we are not prepared to fight for anything short of a ‘Scottish Workers’ Republic’. This view is fundamentally false. For example, as communists we look forward to a society where the wages system is ended. Nevertheless, we support the struggles of workers fighting for higher wages in the here and now. This improves workers’ economic position and our class’s organisational strength. We take a similar view of political struggle. Whilst we also look forward to a society where workers exercise direct democracy, through elected and recallable councils, we support all struggles to extend genuine democracy in the here and now.

However, just as we would never join a campaign to win ‘our’ bosses new business orders and contracts (i.e. we make new sacrifices, whilst they make new profits), so we would not join a political campaign to win ‘our’ bosses a better distribution of, and share in, the existing political power set-up, which is designed to control, exploit and oppress us.

Successful economic struggle lowers our rate of exploitation, and enhances our control at workplace level. Successful political struggle undermines oppression and increases our democratic control in wider society. Therefore, when we struggle for genuine self-determination for Scotland, we should aim, not to transfer, but to abolish, the UK state’s Crown Powers. This is why any campaign, designed to increase the political weight of the working class in Scotland, has to have a republican thrust.

Those, who argue that the bosses will still rule under a republic, are quite right. Before 1981, the bosses were still able to rule the UK without the Tories’ Anti-Trade Union Laws; but there can be little doubt that it is our side, not theirs, that has been more weakened by their subsequent introduction. This is why socialists and trade unionists campaign for their abolition. If the Crown Powers were to be abolished, this would strengthen our side, not theirs. And yes, class struggle would still continue, but there would be a better balance of class forces, from which to make further advances. The struggle to increase democracy is vital to any longer-term socialist strategy.

This is why the RCN warmly welcomed the SSP-initiated Calton Hill Declaration of October 9th, 2004. This was firmly founded on republican and internationalist principles. The very successful demonstration held to protest against the royal opening of Holyrood, pulled in many people beyond the nationalist fragments, and was warmly welcomed by progressive cultural figures, and journalists from the mainstream press. Rank and file SNP members showed their willingness to join with international socialists in a principled campaign. Most significantly, socialists were taking the political lead, not tail-ending nationalists representing other class forces.

When the SSP leadership proposed setting up a Scottish Independence Convention, the 2005 SSP Conference voted to support an RCN-initiated motion, to ensure that it was set up to achieve the following aims:-

  • a) The creation of a sovereign democratic Scottish republic with the abolition of all Crown Powers.
  • b) A declaration of Scotland’s military neutrality and withdrawal from NATO.

However, in line with the general retreat of the European Left, since the 2003 highpoint, SSP leaders have also increasingly handed the political initiative over to others. The ‘Tommy Sheridan Affair’, and the subsequent split, have tended to obscure this shared political retreat by both wings of the party. Tommy and Alan McCombes united to make a powerful plea, to the February 2006, SSP Conference, to overthrow the previous year’s republican and anti-imperialist, Conference policy. This made it easier to fall in behind the SNP’s political strategy, by conjuring up the myth of a shared interest in the 2007 ‘independence election’.

SNP leaders are now keeping their own ‘independence referendum’ policy at arms-length, to give them more room for manoeuvre to enter a Scottish Executive Coalition. They also seem to have abandoned the Scottish Independence Convention. This should come as no surprise, as they look to the unionist Lib-Dems for Coalition partners. The largest political party left pursuing the ‘independence referendum’ strategy, originally dreamt up by the Right of the SNP, (but now abandoned by them in favour of ‘learning the ropes’, fiscal autonomy, a renegotiated Union, and acceptance of NATO) is the SSP.

After failing to maintain official SNP support, SSP leaders then signed up to ‘Independence First’ without any internal debate. However, ‘Independence First’ supporters were successful in winning the October 2006, SSP Conference to its ‘independence referendum’ strategy, after their September 30th march and rally in Edinburgh. As yet, they have had no such success with the official SNP, who shunned this event. As a result, ‘Independence First’s base remains largely confined to the nationalist fragments, reproducing their contradictions – a penchant for staunchly patriotic, saltire-waving and kilt-wearing men, led by pipe bands wearing the UK’s traditional Scottish regimental-style dress, and playing tunes inspired by their imperial exploits!

Yet, despite the SSP leadership’s commitment to ‘Independence First’, many of the latter’s key members have now left the SSP, because it is not nationalist enough! This, of course, frees them up to campaign openly for the SNP, in next year’s ‘Independence Election’ even if the SNP shows no willingness to welcome them into its arms!

Now, the RCN was also successful in winning its motion at the October 2006 SSP Conference:-

This Conference agrees to supplement the SSP’s economic and social manifesto and campaign for the 2007 Holyrood election, People Not Profit, with a political and democratic manifesto and campaign, Citizens not Subjects.

Conference further agrees to include the following demands

  1. 1. Defend our civil rights - Oppose state ID cards.
  2. 2. Defend communities under attack - Support asylum seekers and migrant workers in the face of racist laws and attacks.
  3. 3. Support workers’ freedom to organise - Oppose the Anti-Trade Union laws.
  4. 4. Support people’s freedom to demonstrate – Oppose the Criminal Justice Act.
  5. 5. Extend the franchise – Votes for over 16’s.
  6. 6. Support the Calton Hill Declaration - Oppose the state’s Crown Powers.
  7. 7. Support worldwide popular resistance to US and British imperial wars – Close down NATO’s military bases in Scotland.
  8. 8. For a democratic and secular Scottish republic.

Quite clearly the RCN locates the struggle for genuine self-determination for Scotland within a republican and anti-imperial framework. Significantly, no mention was made of this successful motion in the Scottish Socialist Voice Conference report the following week. This is because the SSP leadership has yet to move beyond a sentimental republicanism compatible with its essentially Left nationalist strategy. For, if this motion were to be properly implemented, it would soon place the SSP in opposition to those in the SNP, who want to strike a new deal with UK Unionism and US imperialism. It also points the SSP towards finding allies in a common struggle against the anti-democratic, British state measures and the Westminster laws which affect all workers and ‘subjects’ in these islands. Again, this is an anathema to some amongst the nationalist fragments in ‘Independence First’, who want nothing to do with ‘the English’.

This shows that real political gains can not be made by pursuing allies, who represent hostile class forces with a very different vision to the SSP. Since SNP leadership’s overriding aim is to improve the position of Scottish businesses and bosses in the New World Order, it should not be surprising that our leadership’s pursuit of allies from this quarter has produced little of substance. The desertion of that section of the nationalist Left, represented by the SRSM, and by some in ‘Independence First’, shows the political pull of the SNP’s Scottish nationalism, now that their electoral star appears to be rising once more. Yes, the pulling down of all those union jacks would be most welcome, but political independence and popular democracy means a lot more than just having these replaced by saltires.

When our class is in retreat internationally, it is certainly more difficult to hold on to principled politics. However, this does not mean we have to stand aloof, holding up the perfect socialist/communist programme, just waiting for converts to sign up. Nor, does it mean confining our activities to just fighting defensive ‘bread-and-butter’ campaigns, however necessary these may be, when our class is under continuous attack.

The democratic republican and anti-imperialist internationalist principles incorporated in the Calton Hill Declaration and the Citizens Not Subjects manifesto, can be used to connect with people’s immediate needs, as well as to highlight the real nature of the state we are up against, pointing the way to broaden the political struggle in the (not so distant) future. Our day will come!

Allan Armstrong. 2.12.06