2007 - 2022

Beyond the Crossroads

Last week Conter published a piece by my colleague comrade and columnist George Kerevan SNP At the Crossroads which was met with much praise. Whilst some of it presented a critique of the SNP’s political limitations that are self-evident and true, other aspects of the argument seemed deeply problematic and confused.

Kerevan’s argument laid out important questions about strategies for the left in Scotland and beyond in times of a resurgent populist right and in the context of the oncoming economic crisis created by the cornona virus. These are predicaments faced by progressive and radical forces way beyond these shores. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write in Assembly:

“Today we are living in a phase of transition, which requires questioning some of our basic political assumptions. Rather than asking only how to take power we must also ask what kind of power we want and, perhaps more important, who we want to become.”

First it’s worth acknowledging that there is much to agree with in Kerevan’s analysis. That there “is clear evidence of a split between a conservative party hierarchy and the mass movement” can’t be denied. That the SNP government is enthrall to big business interests in oil, agribusiness, property, and banking is demonstrably, and tragically true. That the political leadership of the SNP being run by a married couple is deeply unhealthy is self-evident. That the SNP has grown a party bureaucracy over the years that often looks like a Mandelsonian New Labour party with its ruthless efficiency discipline and slick messaging is also true.

But things become a little bit hazy when describing the SNP’s lurch to the right. Kerevan both describes Salmond’s roots in the banking sector and his own reassurance to The Times in 2007, on the eve of the RBS collapse: “We are pledging a light-touch regulation suitable to a Scottish financial sector with its outstanding reputation for probity” and mythologises the SNP under Salmond.

He describes Salmond’s promise of a low-tax Scotland and courting major business donors like Tom Farmer and Brian Souter (though he ignores Salmond’s earlier courting of Donald Trump). So the misty-eyed nostalgia for earlier radical SNP seem peculiar in this context.

As a Marxist in the SNP, much of Kerevan’s analysis seems like someone who has gone to the Zoo and is complaining it’s not a Circus. It does say “Zoo” on the gate.

The recent round of frustration about the lack of progress towards independence, the lack of a focused campaign, and the doldrums the SNP seems to be in are all valid and real, but they have led to some truly bizarre imaginary scenarios. Most of these centre around Salmond’s semi-mythical status as the new King Across the Water come to vanquish the Pretender and lead us to the Promised Land. Much of this is the harmless obsession of people living out fantasies in their social media bubble and in their sealed sub-culture. Emboldened by Kerevan’s writing Jason McCann writes “Our best option for gaining both independence and class justice is in the formation of a ‘list party,’ a party that will bolster support for independence in Holyrood and represent the working-class movement.” Echoing Kerevan, McCann writes: “The movement for independence of 2014, as it remains still, was predominantly a left-leaning movement led from below by individuals and local groups which were socialist almost by default.”

Of course they were no such thing. This sort of vivid re-writing of history is absurd but it feeds the exceptionalism that can be found in some elements of the movement.

Kerevan himself writes: “It seems unlikely that Salmond plans a return to the leadership role, though some see him as the ideal figure to lead a new, non-party umbrella body to lead the independence campaign.”

We’re not told who exactly thinks he would be “ideal” or how exactly this would work in practice.

This is quite difficult to process but it does raise significant questions for socialists and left strategists that they should advocate the return to leadership of a man very recently on trial for serious sexual assault. There are three aspects to this. The first is that it’s important to accept and recognise that Salmond was found Not Guilty of twelve charges of attempted rape, sexual assault and indecent assault and Not Proven on one charge of sexual assault with intent to rape. The second is that it seems incredible that there is no mention of Salmond’s conduct in office in this assessment at all. It is completely glossed over as if none of it happened. As socialists surely the members of Conter have to also show some solidarity with women in this whole scenario? None is evident here. Thirdly there seems to be no recognition about how Salmond’s conduct and the revelations that spilled out into the public glare plays with the wider voting public. Instead: “some see him as the ideal figure to lead a new, non-party umbrella body to lead the independence campaign.” Salmond was found Not Guilty but this doesn’t mean that his conduct wasn’t abhorrent, and the idea that he can be presented as a leader in some progressive force lacks credibility or decency.

Jacobin Tendency

There is a sort of binary simplism that runs through much of this – and other analysis of the movement’s conflicts. Sturgeon is denounced for not attending the All Under One Banner rallies which are deemed radical because they are “working class”. Yet no analysis is done of what those rallies and matches amount to. These events were almost all characterised by their complete absence of any politics at all. For years they would host the same handful of speakers. In fact – while important symbolically to have a presence on the streets and to bind the movement internally – they were characterised by their almost total absence of politics and could have been, and could be so much more. What the purpose of these marches was, or why they were considered so important is not considered.

Kerevan is at his most nostalgic looking back to the ‘Jacobin Tendency’ of the 1970s. He writes “the SNP began as a movement rather than a party, and for decades focused on mass campaigning” and remembers the illegal, pirate radio station (Radio Free Scotland) which ran from 1956 through to the early 1970s. Kerevan recalls: “In 1981, the party conference voted by a large majority to launch a campaign of “political strikes and civil disobedience on a mass scale” against the Thatcher government. The campaign (dubbed “the Scottish Resistance”) was led by Jim Sillars, the SNP’s then Vice-Chair for Policy. On 16 October 1981, Sillars led a group of SNP activists breaking into the former Royal High School in Edinburgh, which had been converted to be home for the aborted Scottish Assembly. They intended to read out a declaration on what the Scottish Assembly would have done to counter Thatcherite policies. But Sillars was arrested and later fined.”

He asks: “Clearly something has altered to eliminate this ‘Jacobin’ tendency”. Yes, it’s called massive unprecedented historic electoral success.

Kerevan’s fondness for the rebellious days of the 1950, 60s and 70s is understandable. But absent from these memories is the fact that the SNP was a tiny marginal political force for much of this period, and if you read the political content of the SNP over this period it is hardly characterised by its radical socialism. In fact for large parts of this period Scottish nationalism was characterised by its conservatism, being wedded to the kirk and to the monarchy and to having very little political clout or clarity beyond a demand for ‘sovereignty’.

At the heart of these contradictions is the problem that some on the nationalist left are attached to a 19th C theory of change whilst also being part of a political party that seeks to hold office.

Kerevan is quite right to argue that the British state is not going to cede power without pressure exerted from all sides and that the need for bold innovation radical leadership and action is essential.

There is no doubt that there is little sign of such action from the current SNP leadership and yet they remain, stubbornly resurgent in all polling for Holyrood and Westminster and are also leading voting intention for Yes into prolonged and uncharted highs. It seems highly likely that coming out of the coronavirus crisis (assuming that we do), that campaigning for independence will re-start with a new intensity. Those within the SNP who require and demand leadership can begin to exert real pressure in the run up to the Holyrood elections and those outwith the SNP in the wider Yes movement can also begin to mobilise again. But the latter must have the intention of engaging with a wider public not navel-gazing and mythologising their own sub culture.

This the real division in the movement, between those who have long-ago given up on the task of persuading others and engaging a general public, and those who remain committed to that task. The often repeated mantra that a Section 30 Order will never be given is a convenient story told by those who have no credible alternative but allows them to indulge in a series of fantasies.

As Gerry Hassan has recently written: “We must not imagine that there are easy escape routes – such as gaming the Scottish Parliament electoral system, UDI or an unofficial referendum. Instead we need to think about the Scotland not yet convinced of the merits of independence and understand and respect it, while trying to win people over. This point in our collective history requires leadership from all of us. Not just from Nicola Sturgeon or in having unconditional faith and loyalty in Sturgeon’s leadership. Rather it is about recognising the big picture and the stakes we are playing for.”

There are four elements which come together to sow confusion in Kerevan’s analysis; the uncritical fetishization of the “working class”; the romanticisation of acts of “rebellion” even when it has no impact; and the hangover from old socialist thinking of putting too much emphasis on The Leader, rather than build leadership from below. Finally the tendency to look forward to a single moment in the future at which point All Will Change rather than to create the conditions and shift the ground now is characteristic.

There are different tendencies and energies within the Yes movement from radical and progressive and even visionary through to liberal and even reactionary. To ignore this simple reality seems odd.

This is not to say that the creation of a self-determining Scotland will not be a huge rupture. It will lead to the disintegration of the British state and the battle to make that a radical and progressive process will continue before during and after that moment. There will have to be extra-parliamentary action, NVDA and protest to exert the pressure required to force change, but always looking up to a political party for leadership is a mistaken tactic and outlook.  Pressure from within the party can have some impact – and the repetition that this is somehow impossible is disingenuous. Equally a more critical reflection on the basis of the movement – with energy put into protest and innovating around forms of action and radicalising the politics of the movement – would be much more beneficial than wondering why social democratic tendencies weren’t acting out revolutionary strategies. Rather than seeing the crossroads as a choice between established paths it might be time to go off-road altogether and creating new pathways forward to independence.

That might mean shedding some baggage of ideology and being open to radical new circumstances, possibilities and realities. In fact there can (and undoubtedly should be) a return to “political strikes and civil disobedience on a mass scale” that Kerevan eulogises. But to achieve that would require a critical not an unquestioning reflection on the movement and the building of bridges across social movements, showing solidarity with black lives matter and the anti-racist struggles, with the peace movement, with radical housing activists and trade unionists and feminists. Radicalising and deepening the movement may be a point of unity going forward to achieve independence and self-determination.


Comments (42)

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  1. Xeno Albannach says:

    You mean “in thrall,” not “enthrall.”

  2. Greum Maol Stevenson says:

    Well said. Also, Mr. Kerevan, in his nostalgia, elides the period when the SNP was a Scottish conservative party, or Tartan Tories as we called them in the 1980s. Too many of those who venerate last century’s man, Alex Salmond, seem to be huffing and puffing behind their copies of the Daily McMail.

  3. Michael says:

    What conduct of Salmond was abhorrent?

    Salmond was found not guilty/unproven on all counts by a majority female jury. There is a lot of evidence to show that it was a classic smear campaign.* How does this make him guilty or an enemy of women?

    * “A 22 person team from Police Scotland worked for over a year identifying and interviewing almost 400 hoped-for complainants and witnesses against Alex Salmond. This resulted in nil charges and nil witnesses. Nil. The accusations in court were all fabricated and presented on a government platter to the police by a two prong process. The first prong was the civil service witch hunt presided over by Leslie Evans and already condemned by Scotland’s highest civil court as “unlawful, unfair and tainted by apparent bias”. The second prong was the internal SNP process orchestrated by a group at the very top in SNP HQ and the First Minister’s Private Office. A key figure in the latter was directly accused in court by Alex Salmond himself of having encouraged a significant number of the accusers to fabricate incidents.” – https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2020/03/jaccuse-2/

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I find the fixation on political leaders unhealthy and (unless I am missing something) unMarxist. I would agree that we should be improving the patterns of interaction between people in our politics, and there is little sense in going backwards.

    Psychology is largely concerned with comparisons. It is not necessary for people to believe that an Independent Scotland will be a lovely place for them to vote for Independence; it is enough that the alternatives appear significantly worse. If the article I link to below is correct, the British imperial regime’s attack on Devolution may be such a worsening of image for the prospect of unionism.

    Devolution is dangerous to the Westminster regime because it allows the devolved jurisdictions to unpredictably generate good examples of governance that compare favourably with the old imperial model. This makes it very difficult for Westminster politicians to maintain a fraud of ‘world-beating’ excellence if they shoddy and shady inadequacies and malevolence and continually being thrown into sharp contrast. I would suppose a strategy of uncovering the crimes of Empire and the British establishment (as some of the Black Lives Matter activists are pursuing with regards to putting slavery and colonialism on the curriculum) will pay off.

  5. Daniel Raphael says:

    Excellent, useful analysis and historical background.

  6. Craig P says:

    >>the British state is not going to cede power without pressure exerted from all sides

    I am intrigued by the idea that independence won’t happen until the English electorate want it to. What can we do to encourage that desire in Westminster and the shires?

    1. Martin Weir says:

      I share the same thoughts. What is being done to promote the benefits of a reformed Westminster tobthe English electorate?

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Martin Weir, when I was following this kind of thing, it was Charter 88 that was one of the most prominent constitutional reform groups. One of its successors today appears to be the London-based Unlock Democracy group, although I cannot tell you anything about them:

  7. Douglas Wilson says:

    A few points:

    1) To have a husband and wife team holding the two most powerful positions in the Scottish independence movement is totally unacceptable for a modern democracy such as Scotland claims to be. They used to talk in the past about deals being struck in “smoke filled rooms” but a whole independence strategy being decided in the marriage bed is much, much worse. It should never have happened in the first place and either Peter Murrell or Nicola Sturgeon should immediately resign in the interests of transparency, accountability and democracy.

    2) The SNP’s independence strategy was to put all their independence eggs in the parliamentary politics basket. That strategy worked up until more or less Boris Johnson came to power but now, with the English Parliament in London about to legislate the Scottish Parliament into irrelevance, so that any decision made in Edinburgh can be quashed in London, that strategy is no longer a viable strategy. But no one should claim to be surprised or shocked by this. After all, the Brexiters have always declared a zealous hatred of the European Union and the Devolution Settlement. We knew this was coming…

    3) Which begs the question all the more, when Theresa May’s Tory govt took a much more acceptable Brexit Deal than Johnson’s to Westminster which an SNP abstention could have allowed to pass in return for a legally binding second referendum, why didn’t Sturgeon and Murrell jump at that chance? In whose name, and for what cause, did Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell decide that they could take a reckless gamble on indie ref 2 and Scotland’s status in the European Union as an independent nation, a gamble which they have clearly lost?

    4)If you are in the business of parliamentary politics, if that is your strategy, then you simply cannot do these things. Sturgeon and Murrell have let down everybody in Scotland who voted to remain in the European Union with their complacency, nonchalance, and suicidal prudence – when the road is leading you to a cliff edge, it is justifiable to drive off it, no matter how rough the terrain!!! Sometimes you need to play hardball, but no doubt if you hang around with people like Andrew Wilson and the factor-in-chief Benny Higgins that is something more difficult to countenance. Sturgeon and Murrell shirked the challenge,, and if they shirked it when dealing with a totally frazzled and beleaguered Theresa May, what are their chances of standing up to Johnson?

    5) When is the penny going to drop that Plan A is dead, that there isn’t going to be a legal referendum under Johnson and his team of wreckers who are busy dismantling the country from within in a way which is totally unprecedented in the UK in my lifetime? It’s a show of the narrowness of thinking within the SNP Parliamentary Party that Pete Wishart bases an alternative indie ref ii strategy on the European Union whose Nº1 employee, the Portuguese upstart Barroso, did so much harm to the independence cause back in 2014.

    6) No one is going to help us here. We are on our own and we need to come up with a strategy from within Scottish Civil Society, and outwith the SNP, to resist the assault on Scottish democracy which Johnson and his team are busy preparing….the architects of the parliamentary politics strategy are unlikely to be the best people to take us into this new phase.

    They used to say devolution was not an event, it was a process. Well, Brexit is a process more than an event too, and it’s clearly not just about leaving the European Union. It’s about liquidating Scotland and Wales as distinctive political entities within these isles…

    1. Squigglypen says:

      What an excellent analysis..but..
      …stop being distracted by the Scottish government being run by a married couple when the toxic Union is run by a man with numerous bastards living openly in no10 with his’ bidey in’. Just watched Gove attack questions by the SNP in a rude and dismissive manner.. one of his responses….’you voted to remain in the UK in a once in a generation referendum so must abide by the decisions of that Union. ‘ That was his answer.
      You will not persuade this evil self serving government to ‘grant ‘( what a joke) us our freedom.We don’t need to be granted freedom..we have it. The English decided to leave the European club as it didn’t suit them…and I see no distinction in the Scots leaving the UK club….you don’t join a club forever especially if the rules change or no-one listens to you but mocks you….Civil disobedience?..nah..UDI..and get that border up. And try not to attack our own…support them..warts and all.

      1. Douglas Wilson says:

        Just the opposite to what you say, if we had had a proper democratic debate in the pro-indie community back at the time of May’s chaotic Brexit parliament, when the SNP held the balance of power at Westminster, we might have actually come to the conclusion that it was a lesser evil to back May’s Brexit deal in exchange for indie ref II than leave our fate in the hands of May’s successor – who was always going to be Boris Johnson. But we had no say back at the time and were told we were being “divisive”.

        If you stifle debate, like the SNP do, like the site Wings Over Scotland does, like this site even has stooped to doing of late, and especially over the Salmond affair, you do democracy no favours and ideas and policies are not properly tested. The only time for a united front is when you are going into an election or a referendum, in which case unity is paramount.

        In terms of the Salmond affair, if there is a single shred of evidence that anybody on the payroll of the Scottish government, anybody drawing a salary from the public purse, connived at or was involved in coordinating or orchestrating the legal proceedings taken against the private citizen Alex Salmond, then that is a very serious matter indeed… that’s the kind of thing Vladimir Putin does.

        Clearly, some of the women involved had a legitimate grievance against Salmond. It doesn’t take “the forces of darkness” to line those women up alongside others with little or none . All it takes is a bit of old fashioned political skulduggery…

        1. In what sense has this site stifed debate?

          1. Douglas Wilson says:

            Well, you didn’t offer any coverage o comment on the biggest political trial in the history of modern Scottish politics?
            And you have given short shrift to anybody defending Salmond on this site ever since.
            The assumption most of us had when reading the newspapers back at the time of the trial was that Salmond must be guilty.
            At least, I certainly felt that way.
            But then it turns out that he wasn’t guilty, that the people who had all of the facts in front of them, and who heard from all of the witnesses on the stand, and heard more than just the partial account dished out in the newspapers every morning, found him to be not guilty of the charges brought against him…
            It just shows how easily manipulable we human beings are… and underlines the need for robust debate…
            As for charges against Craig Murray, well clearly they amount to an attack on freedom of speech in Scotland today…

          2. I’m not sure as a regular contributor and commentator you’ve been stifled.

            I dont think we’re obliged to publish anything at all. It may be that we have a different political analysis of the situation?

      2. Gordon Cuthbertson says:

        You’re right about the woes and inadequacy of those running the union but it’s still unhealthy for a married couple to run the snp or any party

  8. Ian McCubbin says:

    I find this article while good in summary of where we are, confusing in where it suggests activists should be directed to.

    For me the clarity of legal right to self determination is glaring at present. Pages 352 and 358 of Justice, Legitimacy and Self Determination, by Allen Buchanan exemplify this in detail.
    We yes need to step up protests, but SNP have criticised one wrongly linked to Covid.
    They will do the same on Civil disobedience on political vain for Independence.
    O e way forward is a YES /independence party on list for 2021.
    I fear though waiting that long will require a straight sf determination on grounds in p358 of Buchanan’s book.
    That is when UK gov will have passed the 1st law to start neutering Holyrood.

  9. Andy Anderson says:

    Another good article Mike. I come from a working-class background started my working life in the pit and living in a mining village. I got a scholarship from the NUM to begin my study of economics and politics. My knowledge of the SNP’s earlier history is limited as I was involved in the Labour and Communist Party, but today I recognise that there are major changes taking place across the capitalist world as neo-liberalism collapses. Political and economic independence is vital for Scotland and the SNP as a political party is central to that. As a Marxist also I have no illusions about the SNP leaders, past or present. What the SNP offered in 2014 was political, but not economic independence for Scotland and it would have failed the people if we had won the referendum. The situation today is much better, not because the SNP leader has a new understanding of the dangers of not controlling our own currency, but because very many people in the wider Yes campaign do.

  10. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    As a wee exercise to kill some time, I précised George Kerevan’s article to extract what it says.

    Even in the realm of ritual communication, seldom have so many words been used to say so little.

    Once I’d stripped out all the performative elements or ‘poetics’ of the communication, all that was left is this:

    ‘The Yes movement has to contend with an SNP leadership under Nicola Sturgeon. The question is: how does this movement build a new SNP leadership?’

    George ends by saying he will explore this question in another article.

    Let’s hope he says more in that article than he did in this one.

  11. kate macleod says:

    Parts of this piece are very patronising to undefined masses of nostalgic dreamers, social media cliques and non realists, considering you might also be viewed that way at times.

    If you see Kerevan as a comrade your qualified support for the SNP is as odd as his is given it is strongly pro capitalist .
    Presumably the snp wont be claiming voting with tories is shocking in any future electoral or independence campaign.

    I agree Salmond is now too reputationally damaged to be regarded as a politically progressive leader

    However Mr Kerevan is right that the SNP is offering nothing to the economically disadvantaged now and little or nothing more than the UK govt and thus independence – if the SNP is the only vehicle – by extension is also offering nothing much to get excited about to low income people.
    It seems many SNP supporters are fairly happy with the SNP’s support for the economic status quo and have little or no ambition for independence to mean real social and economic change. The SNP may well never have had a revolutionary tendency but also don’t have one now.

    Yes, i guess that makes them electable but it doesn’t make them a vehicle for any change beyond scotland being an independent capitalist state. For people that want substantive egalitarian change the current SNP and its version of independence seems of little value .
    As Kerevan says independence ‘for what’?

    And as you point out all independence supporters are not of the left. However happy capitalist SNP members are going to need to offer those of the poor who are not tory converts – or committed non voters because it doesn’t make much difference – more concessions to human decency (ie. less rampant pro business policies and more redistributive economic justice, cultural and language justice and land reform) – to get their votes.

    1. MBC says:

      The SNP is running a devolved administration. It has limited economic powers. Independence will improve the Scottish economy and give us the economic levers and the opportunity to build our own social model. You cannot blame the SNP for the constraints of devolution.

  12. Paul Hutton says:

    “The second is that it seems incredible that there is no mention of Salmond’s conduct in office in this assessment at all. It is completely glossed over as if none of it happened. As socialists surely the members of Conter have to also show some solidarity with women in this whole scenario? None is evident here. ”

    Can you point readers to Bella’s articles showing some solidarity with the women involved, Mike? A quick search didn’t turn up any.
    Or perhaps some of the coverage of the more concerning areas of Alex Salmond’s conduct in office?

    1. Our approach has been to remain silent whilst this case was live and also to be careful to protect individuals anonymity.

      1. Wul says:

        It would have been useful if you had made a statement like this at the time. (Although you may have needed to turn off comments, which isn’t your style)

  13. Derek Thomson says:

    ” The first is that it’s important to accept and recognise that Salmond was found Not Guilty of twelve charges of attempted rape, sexual assault and indecent assault and Not Proven on one charge of sexual assault with intent to rape”

    But you don’t accept and recognise it, do you? As evinced by your support for the hack hatchet job by Dani Garivelli.

    1. You literally quote me accepting it Derek. LOLs.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        I know what you’ve typed Mike. I don’t believe you believe it though. What you go on to type after it proves that, and your support for the execrable Dani Garivelli column proves that also.

        1. Well its an undeniable statement of fact that Salmond was found Not Guilty of twelve charges of attempted rape, sexual assault and indecent assault and Not Proven on one charge of sexual assault with intent to rape.

          It also remains highly likely that huge swathes of people would have followed the revelations and thought that his actions were completely out of order. This may be unpalatable to you but it remains true.

          1. Michael says:

            I’m not trying to stir things or argue with you here Mike and I’m certainly not a Salmond fanboy, but I’m genuinely confused regarding what actions you are referring to as “completely out of order”?

          2. What you followed the entire trial and you just thought “that seems reasonable”?

          3. Michael says:

            I see what you did there – re-framed my question to try and make me look like an idiot. It’s a pretty contemptuous and hostile way to respond to a genuine inquiry. Anyway, you make a claim above without clarifying what you mean and without references. I don’t waste my time following obviously politically motivated smear campaigns. But in any case, as amply demonstrated in the articles here, it is very possible to follow a topic and still remain clueless about it. We’re are all learning. Have you got a link to the behavior you are referring to?

          4. Derek Thomson says:

            Oh indeed – all the folk at my work were absolutely astonished that he had been found Not Guilty – because they assumed, due to the press coverage, that he was guilty. You seem to be making the same assumption. A jury featuring 9 women found the accusations completely unfounded. Why do you have a problem with that? Why do you support the totally distorted Dani Garavelli column? I’m quite frankly flummoxed by that.

          5. I am not assuming that he was guilty, I have stated repeatedly that he was found NOT Guilty. I’m not sure which bit of that you are having difficulty processing?

  14. w.b. robertson says:

    Indy for what? The poor cannot eat sovereignty. By its actions a party is judged. One recent clue was the way that the rent reform bill was quickly and quietly dropped at Holyrood. And a silence descended!

    1. Silence certainly didn’t descend here.

      1. wul says:

        @w.b. robertson: Maybe Scots could vote a party other than the SNP into office if they didn’t like SNP policy post-independence? That tends to be the way that democracy works.

        I agree that SNP policy on rent (and land ownership) is woeful. However, you seem to conflate Scottish independence with never-ending SNP rule. That is a fallacy. The SNP is a political party. Scottish independence is a state of sovereign nationhood. They are different things.

  15. MBC says:

    Someone many years ago once said, that the political culture of Scotland was basically conservative (with a small ‘c’) but with radical pretensions. Whatever else I might wish it to be, I would go along with that assessment. That is where the majority of Scottish people are at. They may dream radical utopian dreams, but in the event make modest, moderate choices. Thus the current middle of the road policies and ‘safe’ strategies of the SNP, reflect the general mood in Scotland. This is why they are at 55% in the polls. So don’t blame the SNP for that. Blame the people. The SNP are merely reflecting them. It’s the people, it seems to me, who need to change.

    There are two issues that strike me here. One, is how that position affects the left and those who wish for a more radical Scotland, post-independence.

    But the second seems more pressing. And that is, that we are sleepwalking into a disaster whereby the Scottish parliament will be neutered into irrelevance, and the opportunity of independence will disappear forever. It has taken us near 140 years to get this far – the Scottish Home Rule Association dates back to the 1880s.

    The challenge here, is how do we wake up the people? They are content with the SNP and their moderate policies. They are not revolutionaries by nature. But as Ruth Wishart said the other day, the independence movement is reaching the existential end game.

  16. Paddy Farrington says:

    George Kerevan’s analysis follows a familiar narrative. The revolution (in this case, independence) is in peril because the party (the SNP) has been taken over by a clique of rightist bureaucrats (Sturgeon in the role of Stalin and Murrell as Beria) who threaten to subvert it, and that it can only now be saved by appealing to the prophet these leaders cast aside. At this point the narrative turns comical, with Alex Salmond cast in the role of Trotsky. Ian Small has expertly pointed out the contradictions in such a proposition.

    I always found the International Marxist Group (to which Kerevan belonged) more fun than the other Trotskyist outfits, because they were into gesture politics in a big way, with Tariq Ali the master of them all. Kerevan would like a few more such gestures from Sturgeon: her appearance at AUOB demos, for one. But perhaps he should give her greater credit for her political acumen: as she told Andrew Marr on Sunday, there are lessons for her own party: act independent, and the polls will go our way.

    It is far from clear to me that Sturgeon has presided over a rightward shift in the SNP. For a start, before 2011, SNP budgets were supported by the Tories; post 2016 they are supported by the Greens. More fundamentally, the SNP under Sturgeon has very significantly shifted the attitudes of women towards independence, these now leading the men in a recent poll, a complete turnaround from the days of Alex Salmond’s leadership. Arguably this shift is the result of SNP policies, for example accepting in full the nurses’ pay demands, settling the historic dispute in Glasgow over equal pay, introducing more generous benefits and the baby box, and an unwavering focus on improving childcare provision.

    But there are more fundamental objections to Kerevan’s analysis. For a start, the current struggle over independence is not for socialism but for self-determination. Throughout history, from the Easter Rising in Ireland to the ANC in South Africa, such struggles have involved class alliances. In Scotland, this takes the form of an alliance between sections of the working class, the petty bourgeoisie, intellectuals, and sections of the national bourgeoisie. How otherwise would you have organisations such as Business for Scotland and Scotland the Brand? We should be extending such alliances further – if the Tories seek to impose a uniform internal market on the UK, we should expect support from food producers and farmers as well. And the socialist left has a part to play in this, which is to build support within the trade union and labour movement.

    This broad class alliance perhaps explains why the SNP is camped on the centre ground of Scottish politics. To accuse it of Blairism, as some do, is to misunderstand the situation completely: the SNP is challenging the British state at its core, something you can never accuse Blair of having done. Those who, like Kerevan, would like Sturgeon to be more like Corbyn, have to face the fact that the British state knew exactly how to deal with Corbyn; so far they have failed to dent the SNP’s forward march.

    Nor is it at all clear to me that the correct strategy for socialists is to shift the SNP away from the centre ground of Scottish politics. If the SNP vacates the centre ground, it will immediately be occupied by the forces of Unionism. In what way will that represent an advance? The key, surely, is not so much to shift the SNP, but to shift the centre ground itself in a leftward, social democratic direction. It already is well to the left of the political centre in England; the shifts in opinion among women mentioned above show that the SNP is still at work on this.

    Kerevan’s analysis in effect exculpates the left from any criticism. Yet the left within the independence movement has failed to develop an autonomous and credible socialist perspective on independence, or an effective political movement. The electoral failure of RISE and other socialist groups has not led to any proper re-evaluation, but to atrophy and retrenchment by some into entryist tactics within the SNP. Their focus now seems solely on trying to shift the SNP to the left, obsessing over SNP conference votes and internal SNP politics. This in effect reduces independence to a single political project, instead of widening its appeal by developing genuine alternatives. It marginalises the socialist movement, which becomes little else than a parasitic irritant on the fringes of the SNP. And it removes the imperative for socialists to focus on where they can make a distinctive contribution to the independence cause, and indeed where they carry a special responsibility to do so, namely the trade union and labour movement.

    1. Douglas Wilson says:

      They don’t have Marxists anywhere else in Europe these days. That all died when the Berlin wall came down and then, just a year later, the Sandanistas lost the general elections to Chamorro in Nicuragua.

      Only in Scotland will you still find guys like George arguing for a Marxist autarky after independence. Fortunately, I don’t think even George takes it seriously…

      It points to the Left in Scotland being seriously out of synch with the Left in Europe…

      1. Douglas Wilson says:

        Sorry, Nicaragua…

        But it’s what happens when you live in a country which isn’t really a proper country, Scotland,it’s a country which is appended to a real country where the big decisions are made, England. So, it’s a kind of a bubble Scotland, and the Left, any Left anywhere, already has the tendency to live in a bubble within society….

        So the Left in Scotland is like a bubble, within another bubble…

        I mean, George is an excellent journalist and political analyst. But he refuses to face up to the truth that the Communist Party in Italy dissolved itself back in 1991! And that’s Italy, THE country in Western Europe where the Communist Party actually enjoyed some real power – Togliatti!!!

        The Scottish Left has never seriously grappled with ditching Marxism and trying to reinvent itself so it can connect with voters and influence policy…they’ve done it in Greece, they’ve done it in Portugal, they’ve done it in Spain, and other countries too, so there is no question it can be done…

        Maybe it’s not possible right now in Scotland due to the SNP hegemony / Constitutional question… maybe that explains why RISE didn’t connect…

        1. Paddy Farrington says:

          My feeling is that we need more Marxism, not less. But it’s got to be rooted in reality, not dogma. I think some of the ideas of Gramsci, suitably adapted and updated, are extremely relevant to the situation we find ourselves in here in Scotland today.

          1. Douglas Wilson says:

            A Marxism which isn’t dogmatic, Paddy?
            When the Wall came down, the citizens of East Berlin came rushing through the breach and, after a quick fraternal embrace with their brethren on the other side , went window shopping en masse …LOL…it’s a bit anti-climactic but it is apparently true…
            A great any of them did, those East Berliners went window shopping in West Berlin so they could ogle all the shit they could buy once they became fully-fledged capitalist consumers…
            Have you seen Adam Curtis’s films on the BBC iplayer? BITTER LAKE and HYPERNORMALISATION?
            Both are excellent, but Curtis makes the very valid point that governments don’t really hold the power today. They gave it away to the banks and the financial markets decades ago.
            And any country which goes its own way and tries to live by its own rules outwith the capitalist international system, gets whacked: invaded, destabilized, bombed, sanctioned etc: Syria, Iran, Iraq…
            I fear the future is more likely to be dystopian than utopian…

          2. Douglas Wilson says:

            I mean when you think of the West’s never ending campaign of terror against Islam and the Muslim world, it’s absolutely sickening. I mean neither Iraq nor Syria pose any real threat to the West at all. But still, Blair or Bush, Cameron and Obama, they just go and bomb them anyway.

            The Syrian uprising against Assad is an opportunity to send lots of arms to crazy jihadists to topple Assad. So what if some of the jihadists come back to Europe and blowup a few hundred Europeans here or there? So what if a few suicide terrorists gun down dozens of young Europeans in nightclubs and bars!? It’s just collateral damage. Who cares? The International capitalist system doesn’t care and Assad is outside the international system.

            Sadam and Iraq? Just make up some shit about WMD and repeat the lie every single day for years. Who cares? Who cares if 800,000 Iraquis die and the whole region is destabilized for decades? Make up some lies and then start going about freedom and our values and evil terrorists….people die all the time, a few hundred thousand here or there makes no difference….

            It’s a totally sick world. To bomb Damascus and Bagdad is like bombing Athens and Rome, the cradle of Islamic civilization, the civilization which invented algebra, mathematics, the number zero, the astrolabe, and almost certainly the origins of modern European poetry in Muslim Spain….

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