RIC 2019: We Ourselves
Ahead of a debate at the forthcoming Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow on Saturday 26 October, David Jamieson argues that the independence movement should stop courting the powerful
“The first essential for the success of any movement or party is that it should believe it carries within its own bosom all the material requisite to achieve its own destiny. The moment any organisation ceases to believe in the sufficiency of its own powers, the moment its membership begins to put trust in powers not their own, in that moment that party or that organization enters its decline.”
The words are those of the great organiser and revolutionary James Connolly. He must be high in the running for greatest Scot (born) of all time, and it is remarkable he is so little evoked in debates about the next step forward for the Scottish independence movement.
This probably has something to do with the careful distance that some leading Scottish nationalists have always placed between Scotland and Ireland. But it must also owe something to the challenge his ideas pose to that leadership.
Connolly’s insistence on the special, central place of the working class in the national configuration is a threatening idea. So too his warning that independence from ‘foreign’ powers cannot be won by borders and flags. The most alien force of all, capital, doesn’t recognise these things and extends its rule across all nations – those ‘independent’ from and conjoined with other nations.
This might be an abstract intellectual or moral judgement were it not for the argument advanced in the above quote. Autonomy of political force is, Connolly argues, an essential question for any movement.
Who defends the autonomy of the Scottish independence movement, and who seeks to subvert it? This is the real question that must be posed at the Radical Independence conference in Glasgow on 26 October.
I will submit that the attempts to make Scottish independence acceptable to the ruling capitalist elite are both futile and self-destructive. Futile because they are very unlikely to succeed. Self-destructive because the attempts to make Scottish independence a vehicle for the class interests of one small part of society (who are already deeply committed to other national and transnational vehicles) will require the abandonment of the interests of the majority, and even the demand for democratic sovereignty which is the engine room of the independence movement.
The SNP’s autumn conference in Aberdeen should have felt like a rally on the eve of a general election and, possibly, a referendum on Scottish independence. Instead, it was like a tomb. This is no accident. The SNP leadership envisions no immediate independence referendum.
What must be grasped to make sense of this situation, is that the form of independence sought by the current SNP leadership militates harshly against political action towards independence.
What is that form? Independence within, suitable for, and mandated by the international establishment – the western alliance sometimes erroneously referred to as the ‘international community’.
The greatest and most profound challenge to the independence is that its current architects want it to be realised only when it is entirely acceptable to a host of much more powerful entities.
As I stated, this is first, futile. Elements of this ‘international community’ can be, at the very maximum, fair-weather friends to the Scottish independence movement when it suits their own narrow interests.
The EU has become a Moses type figure for the leadership of the SNP, leading us on a physical and spiritual journey to our national future. But so far the EU has done no more than nod and wink at Scottish independence at irregular intervals. It has done so as an exercise in soft power, as one of various attempts to exert leverage over British state negotiators.
The fantasy of benevolent, enlightened Europeans prepared to accept or even support Scottish independence after the example of English nativism should have died with the agreement by European leaders with Johnson’s deal.
This regressive new arrangement was arrived at without a shred of concern for its impacts in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK.
But it should be obvious from the nature of the EU – a committee for the management of the common affairs of the European ruling classes – that it will not support any mass social movements that threaten to disrupt the status quo. The suppression of Catalonia with the deep complicity of the EU leadership is proof of this.
The EU will resist Scottish independence because all of the major nation states that form the core and immediate periphery of the EU project are laced with minority national claims and national questions. Spain is frequently evoked in this regard and not without reason.
But the UK is probably the bigger obstacle. The EU would embrace a UK outside of the EU with an intensity that may well forbid Scottish entry. In a world of big capital, big states and naked competition, small nations like Scotland and Catalonia are small fry.
Another friend sought for Scottish independence (and by some pro-western axis ideologues, the rights of small nations in general) is Nato and US military and soft power. Needless to say, it was not forthcoming under Obama, and will not be forthcoming under Trump.
If anything, the issues around Nato are more acute today than they were in 2014. Not only does the military alliance continue to press a confrontation with Russia, not only does it continue its gruesome alliance with Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds and senseless occupation of Afghanistan, but its attentions are increasingly turned inwards to member states themselves.
Nato is already an infringement of sovereignty in Scotland, involving the placement of Nato forces and operations here, the Trident system and the export of Scotland’s youths – sometimes to death – for US interests. Now Trump is turning the screw on Nato members, touring the provinces of the empire demanding greater taxes and human sacrifice. An intolerable situation for an independent Scotland.
Sorry to say, but of all the wonders of the Sanders campaign, foreign policy radicalism has not been one of them. We can assume that for the foreseeable future of the US regime in general, an increasingly assertive and sovereignty-compromising Nato is on the agenda.
Perhaps the most bizarre desired ally for Scottish independence has been the British state itself. It has been a traditional contradiction of gradualist SNP strategy that it relies upon the coherence and stability of the British state. Not that the state is in its worst crisis since world war two, it will be doubly intransigent in the face of democratic demands.
Faced with this reality, it is a true absurdity to request the use of Sterling, and much else besides from a chaotic British elite. This is not only a question of what kind of independence we want, but if we want to achieve it at all. After the mess of Brexit, it is apparent that going into break-up negotiations with the British state carrying a long list of requests for access to this and that institution, this or that ally, is diplomatic self-immolation.
But most importantly of all, casting around for agencies outside of ‘we, ourselves’ demobilises our forces and obscures a simple reality: the driving force of the independence movement, and the only thing that can deliver independence, is a mass movement of ordinary people. When we cease to place faith in “powers not our own”, we can re-orientate on the kind of movement we want, without being held back by the need to appear ‘respectable’ to our enemies.