Max Headroom

We continue mapping the left’s revived interest in the national question. Here James Foley from International Socialist Group writes Against Devo-Max. It’s interesting and potentially inspiring because the left still has forms of analysis that are very useful. The message is stark and clear: “At a time of austerity, British capitalism has nothing to offer Scotland but threats”.

“…a self-declared grouping calling itself ‘Civic Scotland’ has stepped into the breach to save the British union.

‘Civic Scotland’ contains representatives from across the social classes of Scotland, from the right-wing think tank Reform Scotland to the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).  Its raison d’être is to explore ‘options other than the status quo and independence’, in the words of Dave Moxham, deputy general secretary of STUC.

So-called ‘devolution max’ is one of the favoured options.  Although devo max has not been strictly defined, it basically promises full taxraising powers for Scotland within a monetary and military framework set by the British state.

For its advocates, it would solve the so-called ‘Scottish democratic deficit’ while also maintaining the security of the ‘British big state’, ensuring that we are not the prey of global financial forces like other small independent nations (Greece, Ireland, Iceland, et al.).

If the case for Independence is lost, groupings like Civic Scotland will undoubtedly play a key role.  The unionist parties are otherwise in a mess in Scotland: the Tories are toxic, the Lib Dems are contaminated, Labour is led by Johann Lamont and Ed Miliband.  Civic Scotland represents establishment corporatism in Scotland, and thus promises the security of the status quo.

But there is trouble brewing in the cosy enclave of civil society.  Firstly, the coalition is unstable.  Reform Scotland is an odiously right-wing think tank.  Given that the STUC and other pro-Scottish Labour forces want to slam Salmond’s connection to figures like Brian Souter and Tom Farmer, their association with such nasty low-tax low-welfare ‘reformers’ does them no credit.

Secondly, while people may cling conservatively to the status quo, nobody likes it.  As the TUC has shown, the cumulative loss of wages relative to GDP since 1978 amounts to £1.3 trillion.  Thatcher’s Tories and Blair’s New Labour imposed massive social engineering to transfer wealth from the poor and ‘middle classes’ to the rich.  The cost of Britain’s post-colonial adjustment to global market forces has been borne by the poor, on the basis of a cross-party British consensus.

For the domestic population, the British status quo has come to mean labour market flexibility, insecurity, debt-financed consumerism, and mass youth unemployment.  To the rest of the world, the British status quo means an unconditionally pro-American power on the UN Security Council…and Iraq.  What’s to like?

Lastly, despite the blue-skies waffle of ‘civil society’, the real political partisans of British unionism are determined to keep ‘devo max’ off the ballot paper in 2014.  Yes, they promise a ‘future referendum’, if Scotland minds its manners and votes for more of the same.  But they are sticking to the ‘hard question’ formulation for the initial referendum.

They have adopted this line for a simple reason.  ‘Devo max’ is widely popular in the polls.  But once it is on the table, all the political arguments are for Independence.  The British state no longer looks like a benevolent economic subsidy for Scotland.  Instead, Scotland will be ‘left to fend for itself’ in tax-raising terms.

The ‘Britishness’ we retain will be the ugliest and most decrepit elements of the state: the unregulated speculators and spivs in the City of London; the Eton-educated generals and ennobled toffs; the £78 billion abomination of Trident nuclear missiles; unconditional subordination to American foreign policy, including support for Israeli ethnic cleansing…

Comments (6)

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  1. douglas clark says:

    You are right in saying that that is an interesting analysis. I am, however, not sure exactly what James Foley is actually advocating we Scots do. He says in his last paragraph:

    The odious global and domestic role of the British state, and the terminal cancer of British Labourism, are thus merely epiphenomenal, hardly worth consideration. No internationalist or real partisan of the working class could accept these terms. We did not choose to put the abolition of Britain on the table. But the referendum is coming, and we ignore it at our peril.

    Who is this ‘we’ to whom he refers?

    1. Thomas Coles says:

      The amorphous (existing but difficult to define) broad radical left?

      The argument from many, including Owen Jones at the STUC last month, is that the British Working Class Movement would be destroyed by the breaking up of the British Capitalist State, so we should preserve the state. For those on the left this is like demanding to be locked up in order to keep our identity as prisoners — appeals to the history of the British Working Class are seductive, but misconceived.

  2. CW says:

    “But once it is on the table, all the political arguments are for Independence.”

    Spot on, all it takes is another Iraq and you have full independence.

    1. FrankyBoy says:

      Maybe Argentina and the Falklands will do instead of Iraq?

      1. Andrew says:

        More likely Iran.

  3. Doug Daniel says:

    Quite simply, far from being a perfect compromise between the union and independence, devo max has all the disadvantages of the union, with few of the benefits of independence. Even with full fiscal autonomy, we’ll still have to pay towards a defence force designed for autonomous aggression rather than peacekeeping by consensus. We’ll still have politicians in a parliament which refuses to get out of the 19th century. We’ll still have the unelected Lords deciding things for us. We’ll still lack representation in the EU, the UN and other international organisations. We’ll still have our immigration policy dictated by a country which has completely conflicting needs to ours. We’ll still be an autonomous region rather than a nation state.

    And the prize? We get to gutter about with tax levels a bit. Whoopdy-do. Not even all taxes – VAT has to be constant across an entire country according to EU law.

    If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.

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