Socialist Party: Joining the nationalist bandwagon
Sarah McDonald reports on SPEW's commitment to socialism in one country
Independence will be a vote for Scottish regiments in Nato and Scottish capitalism
of the more interesting sessions at this year’s Socialism was
‘Should Scotland become independent?’, introduced by comrade
Philip Stott. His talk was reasonably comprehensive, giving a
detailed account of the political situation in Scotland with regard
to support for independence, outlining where it stems from and which
sections of Scottish society tend to identify with the Scottish
nationalist position. A comprehensive opening, but one which drew
fundamentally wrong conclusions.
Committee for a Workers’ International has maintained ostensibly the
same position on the national question in Scotland since the late
90s: it just chooses to give it more or less prominence depending on
the given political situation. Back in the era of the Scottish
Socialist Alliance and the early days of the formation of the
Scottish Socialist Party, CWI comrades (then including SSP leaders
such as Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan) noticed a rise in support
for Scottish independence (in part reflected in the Scottish National
Party’s vote) among sections of the working class and youth. This
is still the case and, as the comrade mentioned, the reasons for this
are to do with political disenfranchisement and disillusionment with
the Scottish Labour Party.
in the late 90s, the CWI decided to tail this movement, adopting the
left-nationalist call for an “independent socialist Scotland”. As
the SSP developed, its leadership took up an ever more reformist and
ever more nationalist stance, eventually splitting from the CWI to
form the Frontline leadership faction. The position on the national
question became theorised and difficult to overturn or even debate.
Comrade McCombes’s writing justifying this position is now echoed
in the Socialist Workers Party’s pamphlet Yes to independence,
no to nationalism. Meanwhile the comrades who stayed loyal to the
CWI maintained the position they had assumed in the late 90s - for an
independent Scotland, yes, but not an independent capitalist
Scotland, which would not be beneficial to the working class; rather,
for an independent socialist Scotland. This is the line that
comrade Stott reiterated.
must then pose the ironic question to our CWI comrades: would
socialism in one country not be a bad idea, in your view? To which
the reply is always, well, we would see an independent socialist
Scotland as part of an alliance with a socialist England and Wales.
One has to beg the question then: in that case, why separate? And by
putting the word ‘socialist’ before Scotland, England or Wales
the comrades are still implying that socialism can be achieved within
the confines of national boundaries (a view that, mercifully, they do
not formally hold). So why raise it? Apparently in order to
engage with nationalist sentiment and raise socialist demands through
campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote.
order to counter CPGB comrades’ arguments against adopting a
pro-independence position, CWI comrades made the point throughout the
discussion that the alternative was unthinkable. Correctly, they
pointed out that if you line up with the ‘no’ camp - or Better
Together, as the campaign is known - then you are aligning yourselves
with the British state, the monarchy, etc, etc. This is, of course,
true, but it is not our position. We will most likely advocate an
active boycott as the only principled position. That would ensure we
would not become an ally either of the British state or of Scottish
Stott, knowing our politics fairly well, had anticipated that we
would be for a boycott and countered this position in his summing up.
He suggested that the boycott campaign would not engage with the
debate in Scotland, as there is no-one actually raising that demand.
This is a view that I have some (albeit limited) sympathy with. It is
true to say that in the political circumstances in Scotland at the
moment such a call would not register easily in people’s
consciousness. But there will be no alternative to the call for a
boycott - not because we have nothing to say, but because nothing on
offer is in the interests of our class. It will be the only
principled stance to take.
comrade Stott correctly pointed out, support for independence is
disproportionately higher among the working class and the youth
(arguably support for capital punishment might also be higher among
those sections, but that would not lead us to adopt a pro-hanging
line, in order to ‘have the conversation’).
left for many decades did not seriously engage with the national
question in Scotland and, when it finally did, got it profoundly
wrong. The appalling theoretical weakness on this question was
evidenced by the contributions from the floor in this session, which
confused the principle of the right of nations to
self-determination with the tactic of advocating secession in
a small minority of cases. A common idea is that by voting ‘yes’
we will be sticking two fingers up at the imperialism.
point, of course, that we have repeated ad nauseum, is that Marxists
must support the democratic right to self-determination, while
promoting the greatest voluntary unity of the working class. Workers
in England should support that right for the peoples of Scotland and
Wales, while workers in Scotland and Wales should advocate unity -
not the division of our historically constituted working class along
national lines. The key to resolving national antagonisms in the
present situation in Britain is the call for a federal republic of
Scotland, Wales and England.
way, we refuse to align ourselves either with the British
constitutional monarchy state or with petty bourgeois nationalism.