Marxist theory

Scottish Independence Reconsidered

Through the international e mail discussion list organized by the Workers International Network (WIN), a discussion on the Scottish independence vote has arisen again. This is not a simple question and it seems to us that valid arguments can be made on both sides. We reproduce some of the discussion below:

Nov 17 (2 days ago)
to socialistdiscu.


The recent rapid rise in support for the Scottish National Party poses a serious problem for socialists. It highlights yet again the role that nationalism plays in modern society and brings once more into focus the failure of labour and trade union leaders to present an internationalist and socialist alternative for working people and their families.

It is necessary to revisit the experience of the recent Scottish Referendum on Independence in order to avoid the mistakes that were made then….

The dust has now begun to settle on the Scottish Referendum but the damage caused to the labour movement will take a long time to be repaired. Gordon Brown and Ed Milliband in presenting a common front with the hated Tories played a scandalous role. But it was a mistake for socialists to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote… The real winner in the process is the Scottish National Party (SNP). Inevitably the SNP was the dominant element in the ‘Yes’ campaign. Since the Referendum, membership of the SNP has tripled…. Support for SNP candidates will not enhance the prospects of defeat for the Tories in the next Westminster election, to put it mildly. The Scottish National Party, Scottish Tories, are now targeting Labour seats in the forthcoming Westminster election.

The call for Scottish Independence contains the implicit idea that Scottish capitalists, unlike their counterparts in England, are capable of advancing living standards and conditions of life for Scottish people. The ‘Yes’ campaign circulated a paper in Glasgow promising that families across Scotland would be £5,000 better off should its side win in the Referendum. The SNP leader Alex Salmond promised that Independence would project Scotland into the top twenty economies of the world. Immediate and tangible improvements in living conditions following Independence were promised by left-wing people in the Referendum campaign.

While all socialists should support the right of peoples and nations to self-determination that does not mean that everywhere and in all instances socialists should advance or support such a demand. At the beginning of the twentieth century Scotland was a global economic power. In 1913 for example one sixth of world production of ships were launched from yards on the Clyde. Today its leading industries have declined or disappeared entirely, or have become foreign-owned. Economic stagnation has predominated while emigration has become the lot of many families….

The cause of socialism received a major boost with the Labour victory in the Westminster General Election of 1945. The massive swing to Labour gave the Party a majority of 200 or so seats. Following that election victory the National Health Service was set up and a programme of major and widespread nationalisation was carried through. The organised Scottish working class made a huge contribution to that victory. The Labour Party continued to hold the majority of seats in the country. Even in the General Election of 1979, when Thatcher achieved her first majority, the Labour Party in Scotland won extra seats and the number of seats held by the SNP fell from eleven to two.

The period of Conservative rule, particularly under Thatcher and John Major, imposed policies on the people of Scotland that were completely at variance with voting patterns in the country. But the devastation of Tory rule was equally felt in Liverpool, Newcastle and Cardiff. While the Tories were routed time and again north of the Border with England, Thatcher flatly refused to even discuss devolution for Scotland. Yet Devolution has now been achieved. A victorious Referendum on September 11th 1997 led to the Scotland Act that restored the Scottish Parliament in 1999. And during the Tory years massive strike movements developed, involving organised workers in Scotland, Wales and England, working together towards a common goal. The 1979 Referendum on Devolution was a disaster for Labour. A majority of Scottish voters supported Devolution. Their wish was denied through an electoral trick…..

Nationalists present class division as being alien to Scotland. This approach is not unique to Scotland. A similar critique was advanced by Irish nationalists during the struggle for independence here. Nationalism tries to build a base amongst the working class by creating illusions, trying to create a new consciousness, a sense of decline from a time of greatness, looking to a putative noble past. We are well used to that in Ireland where the great socialist leaders of the past are side-lined in public discourse and the pursuit of Ireland’s destiny is presented as a noble cause beyond class politics, an eight hundred year-old quasi-religious struggle against ‘perfidious Albion’. A sense of national pride, memories, however embellished, of past achievements and glories, and ancient wrongs and injustices can never be a justification for dividing workers along national lines…..

Nations and peoples have the right to self-determination. But that does not mean that socialists must always and in every instance support the exercise of that right. There was a time when pursuit of national consciousness could play a progressive role in the fight against royal absolutism and the dominance of religious powers, such as in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But even then the role played by representatives of the various national capitalisms was inconsistent and often treacherous. Today it is nonsense to expect local capitalists to put the interests of ‘the nation’ above their own quest for profits on a global scale.

…. The way to solve today’s problems does not lie in placing faith in that same (Scottish) capitalist class.

If Scotland is the oppressed nation what then is the dominant nation? The ‘Westminster elite’ is not an imperial power. Such demagogic terms were used throughout the Referendum campaign to create a smokescreen and to hide class politics. Centralised control and marginalisation of local communities has become a feature of rule in modern capitalist states. The negative effects of disempowerment are felt as keenly in England and Wales as they are in Scotland. And what does the term ‘Westminster Parties’ mean? Or the ‘South East’? The rolling farms of Kent and the quaint villages of Buckinghamshire constitute but one corner of England. Does the South East not also include the working class areas of Bermondsey, Stoke Newington, Brixton and Camden in London? Or Dagenham in Essex? And what of the great working class centres of Manchester and Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham! Are they just simply parts of England? Organised workers throughout England, Scotland and Wales have common organisations; together they send their representatives to Westminster to defend their interests. They are being let down in that, but how would abandoning Westminster advance their common cause! Separating the working class along national lines has always been resisted by socialist leaders. The advocacy of Scottish separation retards the advance of socialism across the United Kingdom. It is one thing to support the right to self-determination, it is quite another to campaign for Independence.

A common programme must be put forward to defeat the Tory Government at Westminster and socialist policies must be advanced to solve the problems of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment. The demand must be put forward for ending the rule of the English Monarchy and for abolition of the entire Honours System of patronage that creates knights, viscounts, dukes and so-called nobility of all kinds. And the House of Lords, with its coterie of bishops and hereditary peers should be abolished as well! The royal properties in Scotland, such as the estates at Balmoral and Edinburgh, should be taken into public ownership without compensation: and similarly all the Duchies throughout the United Kingdom. Balmoral in Scotland was bought by Prince Albert in the 1840s and covers around 80,000 acres.


FD replies: 

I am still a surprised to hear Finn’s views on this.

The cause of the scots working class is our priority. A political movement committed to their needs and to the ending of capitalism is  required but I suspect they are closer to building that than the English (and the Irish?)

The labour party  at least at present is irrelevant to that. They have damaged themselves terribly. They may recover but for now they are poison to many.

The unions are quiet.

In the referendum people saw a glimpse of a  possibility better world. Like in 69/69 in the North of Ireland  people began to talk and think to strategize and to hope; the poorest began to think they too had a say.

The Radical Independence campaign (RIC) has a conference of more than 5,000   largely socialist activists  scheduled for next weekend. Its probably going to be live streamed Why not watch it?

If another mass movement of the Scottish  working class is going to come I suspect these will be the people leading it. Some have joined the SNP, some the SSP, some remain independent socialist

They (RIC) are who talked to the working class youth on the  housing schemes; they are who set the people talking.

John Reimann
Nov 17 (2 days ago)

Thanks to F.D. for forwarding this link. I think it’s the best argument in favor of a “yes” vote. However, I also note one failure: In their statement “moving forward” there is no mention of the issue of an alternative to an economy based on private investment, the profit motive and the “free market”. In other words, no mention of socialism. Especially in today’s world, silence on these issues leads opens up all the doors to pressure to accept the capitalist (no matter how liberal) point of view on them.

Another, relevant point, I suspect, is taking a position regarding the SNP. Given the meteoric growth of the SNP, it would seem to me that any left/socialist independence group or party would have to make clear their position on the SNP and I would suspect that position should be open opposition to them (as opposed to Tommy Sheridan’s position)….

P.B. writes

I don’t understand Finn’s position especially coming from Ireland. It seems so far removed from the superb position developed by James Connolly which was to integrate the struggle for Irish independence with the struggle for socialism. This was the position that brought me into socialist politics. Has this position now been abandoned?

The argument about whether a nation is objectively oppressed today is not the key question. Nationalism has often been an irrational idea and is mixed up with complex cultural and historical factors. But who can deny its power to move masses of people. The key question surely is about the consciousness of the working people of Scotland which appears to me to be moving in the direction of independence. And the increasing misery being doled out from Westminster for the foreseeable future can only increase support for independence. The question then is, do you stand aside from this movement or join it and fight to give it a socialist content and leadership?


…. (Consider) the Scottish Socialist Party (and to a lesser extent the CWI, the SWP etc.). Here I think it is unfair to say that they do not campaign for socialism or criticise the SNP. Just look at their material. One can certainly critique how they are doing it and suggest improvements but to say that they are not doing so is not an accurate reflection of the situation.

Incidentally, our old description of the SNP as “Tartan Tories” does not correspond with current reality and finds no echo in Scotland today. With the move of Labour to the right and its abandonment of social democratic politics the SNP has moved in to fill the vacant space. It would be more accurate to describe the current policy of the SNP as “Tartan Labour”. But of course, in an independent Scotland this would change again as the SNP would be forced to show their true colours. But that is the natural course of any struggle, isn’t it?

I just had a look at the Radical Independence Campaign and see that their slogans are:

  • “another Scotland is possible”
  • “a people’s democracy”
  • “a society of equality”
  • “a just economy”

We all know that these are code words for democratic socialism and certainly offer a strong platform from which the socialist left can campaign for its more explicit alternative.

‘Ed Bober’ 


“Organised workers throughout England, Scotland and Wales have common organisations; together they send their representatives to Westminster to defend their interests. They are being let down in that, but…”


Much as I respect (Finn’s) political opinions on many questions, I think, on this issue (he is) out of touch. The vast majority of working class people under the age of 40, including union members,  see themselves as having no representation in Westminster. Working class people are looking for alternatives to Labour because they want an opposition. This referendum politicised people who had previously regarded themselves as un-political. One of the reasons was that you could vote against the establishment without having to vote for some other corrupt bastard.

I think… (David Walters) is right to point out that: “The fight never starts out with the last task in mind”

We have to support any movement that arises against the establishment provided that it helps develop political consciousness amongst the working class, even accepting that in its first phases it may have limitations. There were many trade union activists working for the Yes campaign.

As for the Labour Party, wherever we find a trace of socialism inside it of course we should support it. Some of those comrades will play a part in developing a new socialist movement.  But the collapse of Labour in Scotland is only to be expected. Is it not the start of a process that all revolutionaries will understand: that the onset of a pre-revolutionary crisis, the first tremors, consists in a loss of confidence on the part of the masses in the “middle ground” politicians?

dan armstrong


The nadir? Or is worse yet to come?

Content-less anti-Labour opportunism from the SSP:

Scotland: Socialists call for ‘independence alliance’


SSP spokesperson Colin Fox.

For more on Scotland | Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

By Ken Ferguson

November 11, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) national spokesperson Colin Fox has written to Scottish National Party (SNP) leader elect Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Green Party leader Patrick Harvie inviting them to support “Independence Alliance” candidates from the Yes campaign in the 2015 Westminster general election.

In his letter, he wrote:

The energy and engagement generated by the Yes campaign was unprecedented and the subsequent growth of the three parties shows there is an enormous appetite for continuing with our united action to hold the Labour Party to their “Vow”.

I believe the Labour Party could be defeated in several seats in Scotland if we field a single Independence candidate. This can best be advanced by fielding single candidates on an alliance ticket as it were in those areas that voted Yes on September 18.

This could break the stranglehold Labour has had in such areas for generations and challenge its austerity policies. Allowing voters a choice which goes beyond narrow party interest is bound to be more attractive.

Such an approach has the best prospect of maximising the numbers of MPs supporting the fullest transfer of powers to Edinburgh. And it is supported well beyond the SSP’s ranks. Many Yes campaigners back the alliance idea and the suggestion was endorsed recently for example by Highland MSP John Finnie in a recent article in the Scottish Socialist Voice.

I urge the SNP and the Greens to join with the SSP in standing “Independence Alliance” candidates in 2015, put our own individual interests to one side, and break the Labour Party’ historic stranglehold on Scottish politics. Let’s not lose what we have built.First: When we had this discussion before the vote, (I was taken to task) for pointing out that the national oppression in Scotland is different from that of other national minorities (and sometimes national majorities)…. The fact is that there is a qualitative, not simply a quantitative difference between the situation of the Scots and others. Take, for instance, the Uighurs. In China a Uighur can get a life sentence for merely advocating Uighur independence. (Can you imagine a similar vote in Uighur land?) Or the Kurds, whose national language was banned for many years in much of Kurdistan. (That might have been the case in Scotland in the past, but that was a completely different period.) Or the Kashmiris, where their houses get broken into, mass arrests, torture, etc. Oh, and one other group – the Palestinians. It is simply a completely different situation. Not simply a matter of degrees in the slightest.

John Reimann

Regardless of whether socialists should have called for a “yes” or a “no” vote, I think there are several basic points.This gets back to David’s point about socialists supporting movements against national oppression. It simply is not the same thing. Comrades have correctly pointed out that it is not for outsiders like myself to determine how the Scots feel. I agree. But whether or not they are in a comparable situation to national groupings like the ones I mention above… Well, they simply are not. Period.

Those comrades on this thread who support a “yes” vote in the main tend to admit as much, since their support revolves around the struggle against Labour and the Conservatives. In other words, they see it as a means of building a movement against austerity. Fair enough, but that leads to the question of whether the campaign for Scottish independence helped raise the class consciousness and helped build an independent movement of the working class.

(Consider the slogans of the RIC):

  • “another Scotland is possible”
  • “a people’s democracy”
  • “a society of equality”
  • “a just economy”

… (These are not”code words” for democratic socialism.) This is the sort of language that the Naomi Klein’s of the world (and she is a Keynesian, not a socialist) would use. They are the slogans of the non-profiteers, etc.

Then there is the SSP and their desire to form an alliance with the SNP. This is popular frontism and the two stage theory carried out into practice. There are no other terms for it. And, quite frankly, from what I’ve seen the Radical Independence Campaign is not that far behind, unless there’s something I don’t know about (which is most definitely possible). As I pointed out before, those socialists who advocate independence cannot just ignore the role of the SNP, which is the main driver behind this campaign and the main beneficiary of it. If “silence means assent” on issues, then in this case it means going along with the SNP, and apparently the RIC is as silent on the issue of the SNP as they are on the issue of socialism. And just because the SNP might be the “Tartan Labour” vs. the Tartan Tories of the past… Well, that is not exactly a high recommendation for them either, is it?

I still think that the main point is how this issue could have been used to raise the class consciousness, and I am not impressed with any of those on the “yes” side. That doesn’t mean I would have supported a “no” vote, but it’s clear that the “yes” side made a lot of principled compromises, that they compromised class politics.

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