Above: Neil Findlay
By Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective
The quote (actually a misquote) attributed to Mark Twain that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated, could equally well apply to the Scottish Labour Left. The vast majority of socialists in the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) campaigned for and voted “no” in the referendum campaign. This in itself was enough for many in Left groups outside the SLP to consign it to the dustbin of history, rather perversely given the long anti-nationalist history of the socialist movement.
Of course, and here I have some sympathy, this sat alongside other accusations that the Scottish Labour Left had made little impact ideologically on the SLP, was numerically small, and showed little sign of challenging for the political leadership of the party any time soon.
On Saturday 25 October, all of that changed. It wasn’t just that the room booked for the Campaign for Socialism’s post-referendum analysis in the STUC in Glasgow had standing room only; it was the renewed sense of purpose and commitment from so many of the speakers and participants.
First up among a high powered list of political, trade union and local council speakers were Elaine Smith and Neil Findlay, both MSPs.
Elaine Smith argued that the reason for Scottish Labour’s poor performance in its heartlands of Dundee, Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West Dumbarton was a lack of socialist analysis and socialist solutions.
“The root of the problem is class society; the root of the problem is inequality; the root of the problem is in-work poverty; the root of the problem is unemployment. The root of the problem is avaricious capitalism and our job and the job of the Labour Party, surely, is to root it out.” Neil Findlay spoke next, suggesting in some detail how Scottish Labour might go about the tasks that Elaine Smith had outlined arguing that Scottish Labour had to commit to:
• a policy of full employment;
• establish a national house-building programme to build
council houses and social housing on a grand scale;
• set up a living wage unit in the Scottish government that
would use grants, procurement and every lever of government
to raise the minimum wage to the living wage;
• re-democratise local government, financing services,
freeing councils to set their own taxes again and be held to account
for doing and so beginning to reverse the 40,000 job
losses across Scottish councils;
• end the social care scandal by making social care a rewarding,
fairly paid career and ending the indignity of shorttimed
• create quality apprenticeships and new college places
that set young people up for life and develop an industrial
policy that promotes manufacturing and new sustainable
• undertake a wholesale review of the Scottish NHS — recruiting
enough staff and rewarding them to ensure an NHS
for the 21st century and ending the increasing spend on the
• and, finally, build a charter of workers’ rights and new
legislation on equalities.
Neil Findlay’s contribution was all the more important given the announcement on the day before the conference that Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour Party had resigned, citing unacceptable interference from the UK Labour leadership, and ensuring a Scottish Labour leadership contest.
Neil Findlay has since announced his intention to stand for the vacant position, allowing the Scottish Labour Left to test the support for a Left agenda in the wider party. The anticipation of this challenge on 25 October generated considerable optimism. Since then, the respected left-wing MP Katy Clark has announced that she will stand for Deputy Leader alongside Findley.
This left programme is far from the Utopian promises of the Yes Left because it is actually deliverable and this Labour Left is far from a historical footnote. It may actually be on the verge of its most important hour.
The referendum being all over now and the Noes (or the “forces of sanity and reason” as we call ourselves) having it, I have to thank Shiraz Socialist and Tendance Coatesy for sticking to their socialist principles. The contortions that the left and Greens went through to defend their acting as troops for the Scottish nationalist movement have to be seen – well you can see them here, in an excellent round up by Bob of Brockley.
Also Shiraz Socialist’s die-hard enemies, Socialist Unity, have stayed staunch. Here’s an excellent piece by Tommy Kane.
Reflecting on the referendum campaign it’s clear that it’s degenerated into the most polarising, divisive and diversionary political event of our times. Countering this view, some socialists in the Yes camp suggest that the campaign has engendered hope, inspired a revitalisation of left politics and saw record levels of political engagement. These supporters pronounce independence will bring freedom from subjugation and a renewal of democracy, others proclaim it will allows us escape from the supposedly different Scottish and English political cultures, while others assert firmly that a Yes vote can go some way to ‘smashing the British state’ (incidentally not at the top of people’s concerns on the doorsteps). Amongst some there also resides a belief that, at the very least, independence will bring social democracy and a fairer and more just Scotland, because, whisper it, ‘we are more progressive up here’. In order to sustain a clean and seamless Yes campaign these left proponents of this missive appear to have suspended their critical faculties, especially in relation to the SNP’s White Paper, and whether they like it or not, have encouraged a discourse that has appears to have focused predominately on the liberation of ‘Scottish nationhood’.
Greens went weird as well.
Scotland wants to invest in renewable energy, but the money for investment will inevitably have to come from further investment and money raised through oil and gas.
AND YET – one of three key principles of the Green Party is to reduce “dependence on fossil fuels”. Scottish Greens too say they want to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
So why are the Green Party supporting an outcome that makes a nation even more dependent on exploiting its oil and gas resources?
I wrote a piece of verse about the contradictory times we found ourselves in:-
And so ends the old order,
With Indyref fever full boil.
Lefties campaign for a border,
Greenies shout Yay for the oil.
As a corporate lawyer in Edinburgh, Helen would have advised her clients to vote No for prudential motives. However as she has now just moved to Australia to act as adviser to a senator in the Liberal Democrat Party, she has backed an iScotland because of its potential for a free market economy.
I hope “yes” wins the day, because I also think Scotland’s robust civic culture would make a fair fist of independence. The socialism would evaporate, sure, but the country would not fall prey to the “resource curse” so common among small, oil-rich nations. That Scotland gifted the world the skeptical Enlightenment would stand it in good stead. Its current inhabitants may prove themselves worthy heirs to Adam Smith, David Hume, and all the rest.
The Yes campaign was everything to everybody. As Ewan Morrison said the members campaigned to:-
Get rid of Trident, raise the minimum wage, lower corporation tax, promote gay and lesbian rights, create a world leading Green economy, exploit oil to the full and become a world leading petro-chemical economy, nationalise the banks, nationalise BP, be more attractive to foreign investment.
So now what happens? Yessers are re-grouping and now some have badged themselves “45″, in memory of their percentage share of the vote. ’45 is a bizarre name for a Scottish nationalist group to give themselves.
Don’t they remember the last ’45 in Scottish history and its ultimate end?
Radical Independence, one of the left routes into nationalist politicking, are holding a conference.
The conference was launched earlier this year with a statement signed by dozens of campaigners, trade unionists, cultural figures and politicians, calling for the creation of an extra-parliamentary independence campaign that puts forward a radical, progressive vision of an independent Scotlan
Meanwhile the Greens have increased their membership and I would guess the SNP itself, however defeated they may seem to be, did run a campaign that pulled up the independence vote from lagging behind to scaring us shitless, may be gathering in old Labour supporters and will still be a power, especially if Nicola Sturgeon is as an effective leader as Salmond.
The Yessers are certain that all their newly energised population are not going to go away and that they can build a new independence movement. That would be appalling for Scottish politics, since the Noes, who have found this refereendum an ordeal which they have vowed will never be repeated, will then vote to keep the indy lot out. I cannot imagine anything less constructive to useful politics than a large chunk of the people voting primarily on this particular issue.
However perhaps it will just fizzle out. According to the Very Public Sociologist:-
Surely this view has been rendered null and void by the intrusion of many millions into the Scottish debates? Unfortunately, for all the networked organisations, the radical independence outfits, and non-affiliated people this is a movement under the undisputed leadership of the SNP. Its reach is powered by a soft left-populist rejection of Westminster and, despite the hopes I have for it, is likely to simply demobilise in the event of a Yes victory. I say this not because it’s convenient, but by looking at the mobilisation of similar movements elsewhere. Remember the mass movement against Le Pen in 2002? Where did it go? What happened to the defeated movement for Quebec independence? Or what about the mobilisation of the grassroots for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign? Even huge working class mobilisations under ultra-correct revolutionary leaderships can quickly fade, such as the ‘victorious’ anti-Poll Tax movement. With radical groups present but by no means hegemonic, I can see Yes heading the same way. I understand you may feel different, but enthusiasm in the absence of a unifying organisation can dim very quickly. Once the job is done, if the job gets done, what next? How can the momentum be maintained at the moment its SNP lynchpin works to shut it down?
Yessers now say they will be mocked when they sing what has become Scotland’s anthem, Flower of Scotland, especially the lines “to be a nation again”. Well, perhaps they could dump it. It’s an embarrassing dirge, with terrible lyrics, remembering a victory over a particularly weak English king 700 years ago. It is even more embarrassing in that it was written in the late 1960s, not the 1700s.
At the opening of the new devolved Holyrood Parliament Burns’ great hymn to democratic humanity was sung by Sheena Wellington. Couldn’t we adopt the last verse as the anthem? The ideas behind it are not nationalistic but universal and noble.
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.
By Dale Street (cross-posted from Workers Liberty):
“Don’t mention the war!” — that well-known line from an episode of the 1970s sitcom “Fawlty Towers” — should have been the header for the emergency motion entitled “Situation in Ukraine” passed by last week’s TUC congress. (1)
The motion ignored Russia’s ongoing political and military attack on Ukraine’s right to self-determination. It misrepresented the (real but limited) influence exerted by fascist organisations in Ukraine. And its concluding demands sounded left-wing but were in fact politically incoherent.
The motion noted comments by the NATO General Secretary that its recent summit in Wales had been held “in a dramatically changed security environment”. It further noted that this statement came only a day after a Pentagon announcement that 200 US troops were being sent to Ukraine for “training exercises”.
But there is a deliberate triple omission here. The “dramatically changed security environment” is the fact that for the first time since the Second World War the territory of a European country has been seized by that of a neighbouring big power.
In March Russia annexed Crimea. This was followed by Russia supplying separatist forces in south-east Ukraine with weapons, munitions, “volunteer” fighters, military instructors, and political leadership.
In August, with the separatists staring eventual defeat in the face, Russia launched an invasion of south-east Ukraine. It still has troops there. All of this has been omitted from the motion.
The second omission is that the “training exercises” now underway are indeed “training exercises”, and were planned long before Russia launched its campaign of military aggression against Ukraine.
The final omission is that while the motion condemns the presence of 200 US troops in Ukraine it fails to mention the tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks periodically concentrated by Russia at the border with Ukraine.
After briefly expressing concerns about the human suffering caused by the conflict, the motion expressed further concerns about “attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascist groups, including the Odessa Massacre which saw that city’s trade union centre burned to the ground.”
The fact that the Odessa trade union centre was not “burned to the ground” is a side issue. More issue is the misrepresentation. Trade unionists should indeed oppose attacks on trade unionists and the empowering of fascist groups. And there are organised Ukrainian-fascist groups in Ukraine, even if they currently enjoy only very limited support: in last May’s presidential elections their candidates each secured only around 1% of the vote.
But there are also pro-Russian and ethnic-Russian fascist organisations in Ukraine. These organisations figure prominently in the separatist leadership, which includes members of the fascist “think tank” Izborsky Club. Russian and French fascists have also been identified in the ranks of the separatist armed forces. (2)
The motion concluded with three demands.
The General Council should consider how best to support those fighting for trade union rights and against fascism in “the Ukraine”.
But this would mean support for Ukrainian trade unions, whose leaders have repeatedly condemned the separatist movement and Russia’s attacks on their country. In fact, given the role played by fascists amongst the separatists, it amounts to a call for support for the Ukrainian military!
There should be an immediate permanent ceasefire and a peaceful negotiated settlement.
But this would require willingness on both sides. As the TUC adopted this motion separatist leaders declared that they were not bound by the terms of the ceasefire agreed in Minsk (3) and that their goal was to sieze the bulk of Ukrainian territory in order to create “Novorossiya”. (4)
And the use of British forces in the Ukrainian conflict should be opposed.
Given that there are no proposals to use British troops in the “Ukrainian conflict”, the purpose of such a clause is – at first sight — unclear.
In fact, the clause fits into the overall politics of the motion.
A few Dave-Spart left-wing truisms (support for trade unionists, anti-fascism, opposition to NATO) grafted onto a Basil-Fawlty attitude of “don’t mention the war” (no mention of Russian troops, Russian weaponry, Russian fascists, or Russian invasions).
Trade unionists should argue for their unions to adopt policy based on events in the real world: Russia, Hands Off Ukraine!; Ukrainian-Russian workers unity against oligarchs and neo-liberalism in both countries; Against fascism — both Ukrainian and Russian!
NB: Eric Lee adds
The wonderful Maxine Sullivan sings Loch Lomond. Somehow, this seems appropriate right now:
So we really have gone crazy up here. The polls tighten, the campaigners for an independent Scotland, the Yessers, who thought they could pat themselves on the back for making a respectable showing, now have a chance of winning.
Heady, exhilarating – for those on the Yes side and for those who are cheering them on. For us Unionists – and I never thought of myself as such a thing, just a British citizen with dual nationality living in Scotland – these last weeks have been nerve-wracking. Acute anxiety is my normal state of mind now, and others
feel the same.
The charged, hysterical atmosphere is like the outbreak of World War I, except instead of emanating from the newspapers it’s from the Yes campaign, which has captured the patriotic side of the argument. The cries of traitor, treachery, quisling, the message that this is a heroic struggle and only the cowardly and feart will be on the wrong side of history, the solemn announcement that I have voted Yes, with the same pride as I have joined up to fight for King and Country and the proud badges waved on Facebook profiles. Those of us who think this is a march – well not to disaster but at least disillusion and certainly not the land of vibrant egalitarianism they are prophesying- are handed out metaphorical white feathers.
“I’ve been called a traitor, a quisling, tory scum, a hun, and a diet Scot, because I support Scotland’s place in the Union. “
There is the endless lies and propaganda and the rumours of secret weapons, such as the hidden oil field that the UK government is keeping under wraps.
42% of Scots believe in this.
And for armchair generals, substitute armchair economists, for moving flags forward and back to show territory won and lost and the attendant mood swings, think poll-watching, and for the Somme and Paschendale think in the short term at least a tanking economy, austerity, high unemployment, emigration. Ah, but all those will be ours. If it’s a mess, it’s OUR mess.
As some Noes have said, I have seen the intelligent minds of my generation turn into blithering idiots.
The Yessers have campaigned in poetry – offering hope that all ills will be removed by independence. Their ad in today’s Metro showed a baby hand against an adult hand “Vote Yes and keep Scotland’s future in your hands for good”. The No ad gave a list of points of contradicting false claims on the NHS, currency etc by the SNP. The Noes are definitely prose, and reasoning, the Yessers offer a fantasy Scotland. And when did reality ever match up to fantasy?
Ewan Morrison has a brilliant article on the cult-like atmosphere of the Yes campaign and compares it to the SWP.
As a ‘Trot’ we were absolutely banned from talking about what the economy or country would be like ‘after the revolution’; to worry about it, speculate on it or raise questions or even practical suggestions was not permitted. We had to keep all talk of ‘after the revolution’ very vague because our primary goal was to get more people to join our organisation. I learned then that if you keep a promise of a better society utterly ambiguous it takes on power in the imagination of the listener. Everything can be better “after the revolution”. It’s a brilliant recruitment tool because everyone with all their conflicting desires can imagine precisely what they want. The key is to keep it very simple – offer a one word promise. In the case of the Trotskyists it’s ‘Revolution,’ in the case of the independence campaign it’s the word ‘Yes’. Yes can mean five million things. It’s your own personal independence. Believing in Yes is believing in yourself and your ability to determine your own future. Yes is very personal. How can you not say Yes to yourself? You’d have to hate yourself? Yes is about belief in a better you and it uses You as a metaphor for society as if you could simply transpose your good intentions and self belief onto the world of politics.
And as Salmond calls any requests for some sane answers on the currency and other questions “scaremongering” so do the Yes campaigners
From Tom Bradby, a reporter for ITV:-
The essential trouble is that the ‘Yes’ campaign’s argument here is high on emotion, but short on sensible detail. I have said before and wholly stick to the view that their long-term analysis is pretty fair, save perhaps for some exaggeration of the revenue they are likely to glean from North Sea Oil.
… But the ‘Yes’ campaign here is about to bring its incipient nation into being based on an economic policy that would literally be laughed at if it were produced at Westminster.
Alex Salmond has barely set foot inside the House of Commons for a decade and yet on the question of a currency union he claims to know what politicians there are going to do better than they do themselves – and certainly better than all those Westminster analysts whose job it is to talk to these people and study their mindsets, day in day out. It is frankly absurd. Anyone who lived through the Euro crisis at Westminster knows that, but point it out and you are guaranteed a volley of abuse.
all reporters I chatted to yesterday agreed that the level of abuse and even intimidation being meted out by some in the ‘Yes’ campaign was making this referendum a rather unpleasant experience.
And whilst I am sure both sides have been guilty, the truth – uncomfortable as it is to say it – is that most of the heckling and abuse does seem to be coming from the Nationalists…
I don’t think Scotland will turn into Yugoslavia or the Ukraine, or a Middle East country where Shi-ites and Sunnis who have lived as neighbours for generations start killing each. Family fallouts, a reeling economy and poisonous politics are not the end of the world. This is still part of a state that is on the whole civilised. How angry I am that a bunch of nationalists, deluded progressives and ideologues are trying to break it apart.
Borders divide the working class more than they divide capital. That is the core socialist argument for voting no to separation in Scotland’s referendum on 18 September.
The core argument can be overruled where one nation is conquered and ruled to ruin by another. Then, the national oppression creates divisions as evil as any border. Separation lifts the oppression. Workers are better united by a common struggle in which the workers of the oppressor nation side against their own ruling class’s sway over others.
But Scotland has been an equal partner in British capitalism for centuries. Scottish capitalists were equal partners with English in ruling the British Empire, not victims of it. The core argument applies.
Already Scottish workers will stand outside the big strike on 14 October, because public sector pay terms are a shade different in Scotland.
Some will say that’s all right, because Scottish terms are a shade better than England. But a united struggle could win much better than that shade of not-quite-as-bad.
It is still true today, as when Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, that “the struggle of the proletariat [working class] with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle”.
The first move in workers’ struggles is almost always against conditions, settlements, and laws within the borders where they live. Working-class liberation can be won only by a struggle which unites workers across the world around common aims, transcending those local details. Each new border creates a new hurdle to jump in the effort to unite workers globally. It can be jumped; but it is a new hurdle.
Global capital, however, flows across borders easily. It uses borders to its advantage, by imposing a race to the bottom. Governments compete to win and keep global capitalist investment, by offering lower and lower tax rates for the rich and for business, easier and easier regulation, and more and more beaten-down workforces.
Individual workers move across borders. But often with difficulty: look at Calais, a border within the EU! Even where individual workers can move easily, whole working classes can’t move.
Working classes cannot threaten a government with losing its working class to a neighbour unless it cedes better conditions to workers. Yet global capitalists threaten governments with capital-flight unless they match their neighbours’ sweeteners.
The Scottish National Party promises that in a separate Scotland the NHS will be safer and the Trident nuclear submarines will have to be moved to England.
But it makes no sense to set up a new national frontier on the strength of those promises. It makes no sense to rank such unstable promises above the fundamental, long-term truth that the working class benefits from borders being reduced and removed.
The SNP used to promise that a separate Scotland would join the “arc of prosperity” of small states on the edge of Europe: Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Finland.
Then Iceland, Ireland, and Finland were among the hardest-hit by the 2008 world economic crash and its sequels. Norway is better off only because of its huge oil reserves. Separation will not stop the decline of the North Sea Scottish-British oil reserves, or make the exploitation of declining reserves eco-friendly.
Scottish separatists used to mock socialists who opposed separation on the grounds that we were implicitly defending the British monarchy, NATO, and the British financial system.
Now the SNP says that its separate Scotland will still have the British monarchy, NATO, and the British financial system. Socialists and democrats who oppose separation do not defend the status quo.
Our arguments — against increased nationalism and creating borders — are a world away from the official “no” camp. We have no truck with UKIP types who want to keep the status quo and the Act of Union out of “patriotic” commitment to the United Kingdom.
Will Hutton, no socialist but clear-headed on this issue, put it well in the Observer of 7 September:
“If Britain can’t find a way of sticking together, it is the death of the liberal enlightenment before the atavistic forces of nationalism and ethnicity — a dark omen for the 21st century…
“[But the only alternative is] to trump half-cock quasi-federalism with a proper version… a federal Britain… a wholesale recasting of the British state…
“The first casualty would be the Treasury, which would… become a humbler finance ministry. The next casualty would be the House of Lords…”
For united working-class struggle within a democratic federal Britain, within a democratic federal united Europe! Read the rest of this entry »
By Chris Deerin
(reblogged from From Zoo Ears)
Farage and Salmond: better together?
‘Leaving the EU is about making Britain more successful. At its most basic, it is the ability to take our own decisions. No one cares more about our success than the people who live here and that, ultimately, is why leaving the EU is the best choice for our future.
‘By leaving we can work together to make Britain a more ambitious and dynamic country. The big difference will be that Britain’s future will be in our own hands. Instead of only deciding some issues here in Britain, it will allow us to take decisions on all the major issues.’
These rousing passages are a straightforward encapsulation of the Ukip credo: the kind of thing that spouts easily from Nigel Farage’s lips. They represent the argument the party put before voters in the last European election, where it ended up with more MEPs than any other party.
However, the words aren’t Ukip’s. They are taken from the official website of the SNP. I have simply replaced ‘independence’ with ‘leaving the EU’, and ‘Scotland’ with ‘Britain’. Restore the originals and you have the exact beliefs of Alex Salmond.
As both the Scottish and EU referendum debates develop, the similarities in the cases being advanced by the SNP and Ukip become ever more striking. Both, for example, are at pains to insist their desire for a breach is not based on any suspicion towards or distaste for ‘the other’, whether that ‘other’ be French or English. The dark history of nationalism makes this a necessity.
An anti-EU campaigner will often tell you that he ‘adores Europe’, owns a cottage in the Dordogne and is married to a Belgian or a Luxembourger. A Nat will profess his love for holidays in Cornwall and point out that his favourite auntie lives in Corby.
EU better-off-outers will explain that a Briton has different political and cultural preferences to those of an Italian or a Dane, valid though those other preferences may be. There is no authentic common feeling between us. So why does it make sense to pool our decision-making? Similarly, an SNP politician will say that England and Scotland have taken different ideological paths – one a hop to the Right, the other a skip to the Left. Our shared identity has splintered. It makes practical and democratic sense to break apart the Union and create separate political entities.
Both like to talk of creating a new, smaller, sleeker nirvana-state – let’s be Sweden, or Norway, or Switzerland, they say. Let’s be anything other than what we are.
It may be painful for many Yes voters to accept, but the SNP and Ukip share a founding spasm. It is one that rejects the status quo, that sees only the negative in what exists, that backs away from the values of shared responsibility, fellow-feeling and solidarity, and it is one that could fundamentally change all of our lives. Both are willing to gamble our security, prosperity, influence and key relationships on the basis of a romantic, untested theory. Read the rest of this entry »