One of the central problems facing socialists who support Scottish independence is that only a minority of working class people share our position. If we are to convince those who currently do not agree with us to vote yes we will have to provide them with reasons for doing so: the strategy advocated by some in the SNP of refusing to talk about politics until after the referendum is sure-fire way of losing it. In particular, the struggle against austerity cannot be postponed until 2014. It would be dishonest to pretend that the mere fact of establishing a Scottish state will automatically better the conditions of the Scottish working class: it will not. Indeed, the nature of an independent Scotland will largely depend on how far we are successful in resisting the latest phase of neoliberalism and democratising Scottish society before the referendum takes place.
It can be argued, however, that independence will open up a range of possibilities which would not otherwise be available in the current period. But to even get the opportunity to make these arguments it is necessary to be clear that voting for independence is quite distinct from voting for the SNP, who may not even be the governing party in a post-independence parliament. The focus of the campaign cannot be based on what the SNP might or might not do. If the move to the right signalled by policies like remaining in NATO and retaining Bank of England control over interest rates continues, many people will simply conclude that there is no benefit in voting for a new constitutional settlement dominated by yet another neoliberal party which supports the Western imperialist alliance. Clearly, it is important that the SNP is still committed to removing Trident, but as a general proposition people have to be persuaded to vote for independence in spite of the SNP, not because of it. What reasons can we offer them?
The first and most obvious is the possibility of breaking-up the British imperialist state, or – to put it in language that might be understood by those uninitiated into the arcane vocabulary of the radical left – the possibility of preventing any further wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq to which so many Scots were opposed. This has both ideological and practical implications. David Cameron has already made it clear that the centenary commemoration of the First World War in 2014 will be used to promote a reactionary and militaristic notion of Britishness: Danny Boyle’s Olympian celebration of the NHS is unlikely to be repeated. (The rejection of Britishness does not of course involve an embrace of Scottishness, not least because so much of Scottish identity is equally dependent on the Empire.)
There will of course be siren voices from the ranks of the Labour Party and trade union officialdom arguing that working class unity depends on maintaining the unity of the British state and the possibility of Labour becoming a future government over the whole territory of that state. We should not underestimate how influential these arguments can be, but the answers to them are obvious. Labour never challenged international capital even in the days when social democracy was in rather more robust good health than it currently is and, as far as imperialism is concerned, the last Labour government took Britain to war more often than at any time since the era of decolonisation. Working class unity is not achieved by the national organisation of trade unions, but by the willingness of trade unionists to take solidarity action in support of each other – as the international strikes against austerity across southern Europe scheduled for 14 November will demonstrate.
Scottish independence from the British state would damage British imperialism and its alliance with the USA in three ways. First, the removal of Trident from Scottish territory will cause severe problems for the RUK in maintaining its nuclear arsenal, given the enormous expenditure necessary to construct deep water conditions comparable to those available on the Clyde – although it cannot be said often enough: we cannot rely on the SNP to carry this through. Second, the RUK would face moves from India and an alliance of Latin American countries led by Argentina to remove it from the Security Council of the UN. Third, Sinn Fein would certainly demand a referendum on the re-unification of Ireland; and so the unravelling would continue.
Independence would also mean the possibility of calling a halt to the current neoliberal strategy of devolving responsibility for imposing the cuts from central government down to the devolved administrations, city mayors, local councils and, in some cases, citizens themselves. (This incidentally, is why the Con Dems would be quite prepared to move towards Devo Max, so long as they can prevent independence and the collapse of Britain at the military-diplomatic level.) Without fostering any illusions in the ability of individual states to remove themselves from the pressures of the capitalist world economy, the ability to hold elected politicians directly to account is preferable to the current endless displacement of responsibility. Independence would have the additional benefit of making it more difficult (if not impossible) for Alex Salmond to blame Westminster for the decisions of the SNP in relations to cuts, such as the recent onslaught on FE.
Finally, the process of campaigning for independence has to go hand-in-hand with resistance to austerity. The former is part of a political attack on the state which is imposing the austerity programme, but the only way to ensure that a Scottish successor state is not similarly committed to the neoliberal agenda is to build self-confidence and solidarity in trade unions and working class communities now.
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Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Neil’s, can be found here.