Some quick thoughts on Scottish independence

Some quick thoughts on Scottish independence

For most people outside Scotland, myself included, the debate over Scottish independence has been largely peripheral. I've come across it occasionally, but bigger things have always taken my attention and I've only found myself discussing it in depth when with comrades from Scotland. This is perhaps a mistake, since the vote in 2014 will have ramifications for both Scotland and the rest of the UK, and there is a marked lack of libertarian communist analysis on the issue.

Referendums aren't great, liberating acts of direct democracy. They offer us no revolutionary change and the debate around the question is framed by various sections of the ruling class. This is as true for the independence referendum as for any other - the options on the table being four variations between the status quo and full independence for Scotland.

In no case is the Scottish electorate offered a say on the form that this variation takes. Not that this is a surprise, since whether the UK remains as it is, or we have an independent Scotland, or we get "devolution plus" as an in-between option, the socio-economic status quo prevails. Extended social democracy or some form of state socialism are not up for the vote. Let alone libertarian communism.

You'd think this a fairly obvious point. Yet some sections of the left are looking at this referendum as though it is a revolutionary moment. I have been told by one comrade that Scottish independence is important for "smashing the British state and British imperialism." A motion at PCS conference (which I think was guillotined) offered support for "an independent, socialist, nuclear free Scotland."

Away from such hysterical rhetoric, the Scottish Socialist Party argue that whilst "swapping the Union Jack for the Saltire would not rid Scotland of inequality, low pay, pensioner poverty and the other problems inherent in any capitalist economic system, ... it would allow normal class politics to develop more naturally than ever before." Since nationalism "has acted to deflect attention away from the real source of Scotland’s problems," removing the nationalist tension created by being part of the UK would "clear the way for politics to be fought out on the basis of ideology and class rather than on the basis of nation."

The problem with this line of reasoning, however, is that it seeks to move past nationalism essentially by rolling with it. But if there are marginal gains from independence it will only help to intensify nationalist sentiment. As a member of the Glasgow Anarchist Federation said on this site, "having the political class closer to home doesn’t necessarily make replacing them any more difficult. If anything, the intensification of the nationalist project championed by all apparently ‘progressive’ opinion could have a significant effect in mystifying power and class relations and undermining the self-organisation of the working class in favour of its passivity and support for new forms of failed ideas."

The Scottish National Party's own pronouncements bear out this fact. Whilst devolution has brought some social democratic benefits, such as free prescriptions and university places, the SNP have declared that they want to set competitive tax rates. In other words, using lower taxes to draw in business and investment. Hardly conduitive to a social democratic expansion of the welfare state.

Combine that with the Scottish deficit, and the logic of capitalism (which an independent Scottish government will be tasked to manage as the UK government are now) demands austerity. The Guardian has compiled some useful data on this, showing that public spending per head is higher in Scotland than any other part of the UK bar Northern Ireland. It also shows that Scotland's share of North Sea Oil revenues is only significant if granted on the basis of geographical share rather than per capita share, which seems unlikely. Even then, there is an £10.7 billion deficit to deal with.

Faced with such, an independent Scotland will have to make cuts. There may be alternatives along the lines of the general PCS argument against UK austerity, but the plain fact is that without the working class exercising its power to force such (which we don't have), that is a moot point. The Scottish government will do what the markets demand and be as staunch defenders of capital as the UK government.

But what of "smashing the British state"? Well, to be frank, I rank that up there with the people who cheered for France over England at football "because of imperialism1." It's a shallow internationalism that, rather than analysing situations on the basis of class interests, opts to choose one state over another. As the Glasgow AFed member points out, "British imperialism is a pale shadow of its former self, probably doesn’t require Scotland and isn’t of intrinsic importance to capitalism anyway." Not to mention that Scotland is not under the yoke of an oppressive military regime, or the victim of external aggression. Hence "national liberation" potentially coming from a cross on a ballot paper rather than as a result of armed struggle.

This all being said isn't an argument in favour of the union any more than the problems of the UK government are an argument for independence. Both camps ultimately represent class interests other than our own, no matter how much parliamentary leftists might argue otherwise. Even whether independence will make the lives of working class Scots (and Brits in general!) better or worse is a question of the degrees of capitalism.

In both scenarios, it remains true that what will win positive gains in the present - and a better world in the future - is organised class struggle. Regardless of the referendum, our class remains relatively weak and unable to press its own interests in most areas of life. We need to build up a strong, militant workers' movement from the ground in order to change this. That task remains regardless of whether the union does.

I guess the only conclusion I can come to is that I'm neither really in favour of or against Scottish independence. Either way, it offers little in the way of practical answers to our class's problems. An independent Scotland will not be a socialist (let alone communist!) Scotland, nor is it by its own merit the path to such a thing. Those who pretend otherwise are simply hanging trite leftists slogans onto "good" nationalism.

Posted By

Jun 20 2012 21:14


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Fall Back
Jun 26 2012 22:45

While in terms of our activity as communists I think "indifference" has it right, I don't think it's a question of it not mattering.

I don't think it's an issue we can "campaign" on, or take sides - or indeed do anything really beyond saying both sides are bullshit and sticking to doing what we are doing.

However, that all said, I don't think we can ignore the potential effects - if independence was to happen, it would be an absolute disaster for the working class on both sides of the border. The torrent of nationalist sentiment that would be unleashed is terrifying tbh. The stoked up tensions over division of resources would be fucked and the dividing up of workers organisation and collctive bargaining on national lines would smash us back even further.

Tricky one really, as while I think it would a massive tragedy that I really hope won't happen, there's fuck all we can really do other than be passive observers. Anything that got us involved would just cover us with the same shitty stench. It doesn't feel like much of an answer, but I don't really think it's an issue where we *can* have answers - the entire framing is hostile to us. Sadly, I think our only options are to keep organising along communist lines, and a lot of fucking hoping.

Jun 27 2012 13:35
Fall Back wrote:
if independence was to happen, it would be an absolute disaster for the working class on both sides of the border. The torrent of nationalist sentiment that would be unleashed is terrifying tbh. The stoked up tensions over division of resources would be fucked and the dividing up of workers organisation and collctive bargaining on national lines would smash us back even further.

As long as you don't actively get involved for the unionist side of the debate then fine, your entitled to that opinion/prediction.

Rob Ray
Jun 27 2012 15:51

Silvermoon still ignoring my questions I see, in favour of repeating the same tired line about how wonderful it'll be to have Scottish politicos being told what to do by international markets rather then English ones. wall

Jul 28 2012 01:12

Thats an optimistic take on the potentiality of 'restructuring scottish civic society'. I'd say that whats been happening in football governance over the fall of rangers fc would give anybody cause for concern for allowing more scope for the articualtion of parochial interests to come into play.

And this emotive chat of 'national liberation', 'colonised state' but at the same time a disengenous ' i realise scotlands role in the empire...'. i mean come on tae fuck! As for the crofters having to move to the cities, shit like that happened all over the UK following the agricultural revolution period. The very fact of using the emotive this is what happened to the crofters as if it was something unique that had a national dimension is not something that would be conducive towards a class based approach and instead promotes an ideology of resentiment that can definately push us towards a more narsty populist brand of nationalism..

FWIW - i used to nievly think that having independance in scotland would due to factors such as the aforementioned voting patterns cited, make scotland likely to go in a more social democratic direction than the rest of the UK. I also rather optimistically thought that this would perhaps stimulate debates in engerland to go in that direction also when the benefits of such a policy direction is manifest. But really when one considers a) the aforementioned international forces towards neolibralism, and b) that daily mail type attitudes are probably as common as elsewhere in the UK, its hard to imagine even that happening.

So really the best i can come up with in indifference, indeed id slightly prefer the option of us staying in the UK in the context of team GB in the olympics that will hopefully lead to pressure for Scottish Football to be integrated into the english FA, cause lets face it the football up here is shit..

Nov 13 2012 16:53

scotland devolved independence

Opinion piece from Alex Salmond, First Minister for Scotland on scottish independence.Some interesting points if you haven't heard it all before. wink

Nov 13 2012 22:17

cant tell if genuine ^