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A Fate Worse than Brexit

A three-parter: 1. The December Election; 2. Where we are Now; 3. What Next.

A Fate Worse than Brexit – The December Election

Everyone – nearly everyone – got it wrong.

The opinion polls got it wrong. Their much-publicised glee at getting the exit poll right – not the most difficult exercise, papered over the lies and fraud of the whole election. They had told us it was increasingly a close-run thing, probably a Tory win but perhaps a hung parliament. Much of the left, including myself and Rebecca Long-Bailey tended towards this outcome.

The right of the LP got it more wrong and now disguise their own role by further denunciation of Corbyn. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and their allies in the media were the worst offenders. They hounded Corbyn; they force-fed the anti-Semitism filth; they called for a second referendum; they assumed that ‘Remain’ would be the winner; some of the worst of them resigned. They remain horribly wrong on all counts.

The ‘leftist’ post-election pundits are getting it wrong, mostly baying for some movement towards the mythical centre, despite that that centre also got wiped out or barely registered in the election. Paul Mason and Owen Jones, who both swung like a pendulum over the Corbyn years, now construct rightward critiques: Mason completely loses the plot with some fanciful call for a new centrist unity; Jones claims that we should have campaigned on a Norway-style Brexit and that we don’t have enough bureaucrats and organisers, negating the fantastic shift that young activists have brought towards social media and new campaigning. ‘Few experienced bureaucrats and organisers’ indeed! Jones should look again to Wales where the same bureaucrats have maintained a strangle-hold over the party, distanced themselves from Corbyn with their ‘Welsh Labour’ wrappings and are likely, as a result, to lead us to losing the leadership of the Welsh Assembly. John Harris was never on the side of the left despite the language he uses.  

The leave side was dismayed with the conference’s change of position on the second referendum – we should have accepted the result. They were right but, unfortunately, not in such simple terms. Nothing has been simple about the EU.

A Brexit Election    

Starmer’s six tests had provided a framework to manage the post-referendum rift: an ongoing relationship with the EU; the ‘exact same benefits’ from the Single Market and Customs Union as now; fair management of migration; defend rights and protections; protect national security; deliver for a regions and nations of the UK.

These conditions could never be met. The rabid Brexiteers leading negotiations on behalf of the May government got nowhere near, hardly leaving the starting line. They achieved virtually nothing in three years and, one after the other, resigned from their task.

Corbyn was more sceptical. He branded the EU as worth 7/10. Starmer’s six tests provided a useful foundation; Corbyn was more explicit – workers’ rights, protection of the NHS, defence of the public sector against EU privatisation options, the addition of the green agenda. This was a sound basis for the resistance to Brexit or, alternatively, to set an agenda for a leave deal.

From day one after the referendum, whilst respecting the result, it was the deal, the shocking implications of Leave, that both sides (of Labour) should have concentrated on. That was the mistake. The pro-EUer’s made it during the referendum and since, including in the December election. First there was complacency, led by Tory Cameron’s call for the referendum on the assumption that he would sort out his anti-EU right wing. Then a total lack of effort (on all sides) to counter the years of media propaganda – the square tomatoes and straight bananas, the ‘political correctness’, the bureaucrats, the ‘frogs’, the Germans and the war. It had been relentless.

The referendum campaign itself was vile, not least with Farage being forced on us from all directions. Yet it was assumed ‘remain’ would win. The shock was that towns like Ebbw Vale voted Leave, despite that their precarious survival before and after steel had been solely down to huge EU financial support. That’s alienation for you.

No-one saw it coming; not Cameron, not Labour (torn both ways already), not British capitalism, and certainly not the Remainers; all were devastated by the result. Many were devastated, disbelieving even more, by the December election result. How could it happen? How could working people, low income families, disabled, the working class of the mining communities, of the north, of north Wales; how could they desert Labour and vote Tory?

We should look at our disbelief for explanations, not ‘turkeys voting for xmas’, not our class inflicting untold damage on themselves. They will need us to stand by them in the weeks, months and years to come.     

In short, disbelief is rooted in the complacency of the Remainers. If we shout loud for ‘Remain’ and have a second referendum all will be resolved. History passed its verdict on that theory in December. That pressure, largely from within the PLP, did for Corbyn and for Labour’s election hopes.

Of course there were other factors – the sustained media hostility, the fraudulent anti-Semitism, weaknesses in Labour’s campaign strategy, etc., but the main factor was that Corbyn was the only one that was cautious on Europe; virtually everyone else knew better. Corbyn gave ground under that terrible pressure, and we will all pay the price.

Labour’s campaign assumed that if we presented a comprehensive socialist programme it would swamp what was and is the empty Brexit barrel – a slogan with no substantive content since day one.

Brexit alienation.

This analysis is relatively easy in hindsight.

The full impact of Brexit alienation is visible: how we failed to address it back then and continued to get it wrong into the election. Labour’s ‘muddled’ position: ‘Are you Leave or Remain?’. The party, influenced largely by the PLP and the anti-Corbyn Progress faction, wanted more and more ‘Remain’, a second referendum. Only Corbyn was concerned with our Leave voters. But by then, he and we were making the best of a bad job, a lost cause. On the other hand, the new Tories, the populist nationalist Tories, played on alienation – a very dangerous rebranding indeed.

Back in 2016 and the heady days of 2017, we had a chance. Tens of thousands, inspired by Corbyn, were joining the Labour Party. The 2017 manifesto began to address the real concerns of the class. That programme was developed further, with more thought, care and underpinning, in the run-in to the December election. In amongst that were the reasons to remain in Europe, or to protect if we leave: the defence of rights and regulations, of holidays and leave, of unions, of free-movement, of the environment, of investment in our post-industrial communities, of welfare. It all got lost in the Remain muddle. The Johnson-Cummings single issue campaign rode over the disarray, a disarray that had emerged in 2016. Alienation of the class is rooted decades before.

A second referendum could even have been defended. Accept the result; now it is about the deal.

Could we accept a deal? In truth, whatever the Tories put before us, or not put before us, will be thoroughly unacceptable. Had we argued the case from 2016 we might, only might, have had a chance. But we were served by a hungry media, dining on our Remain hotpot, the side dishes being provided by our own party.  

Everything should have been about the headlines and detail of the deal. That could appeal to both leave and remain and focus minds on the substance rather than the propaganda. What, in practical terms, is leaving the EU going to mean to most of us? Just to scratch that surface is a horror story.

Most of all, ‘What’s in the deal?’ could talk to the alienated class in the north and in Wales, those that have fallen victim to Labour’s woes. It may even have had some resonance in Scotland, but that is another kettle of cauliflowers.

For all the efforts to blame Corbyn and the campaign, there is no getting away from the fact that of 54 Labour seats lost, 52 were in Leave constituencies. Back in 2017, Labour had gained its biggest increase in vote share since 1945, and its biggest share since Blair in 1997.  Corbyn transformed the party, its politics, its support and its active base. That didn’t just disappear in two years. Yes, it was eroded and the long-discredited ‘first past the post’ electoral system didn’t help.

Back in the Blair years, we should have ditched the Tories for good and revealed the LibDems as their clones, the combined opposition. Heaven knows Clegg and Cable gave us every chance.

Now, after the Scottish debacle, it is Labour that is in danger, having learned little. A leftish social-democratic SNP, if tinged with nationalism, has wiped Labour off the page.

The Scots are fortunate. The danger south of the border is that Tory populism, variants on ‘progressive patriotism’, English nationalism, xenophobia, racism or even fascism will do the job for capitalism. The Labour leadership contest has much responsibility if it is to serve our people.     

To be continued…

Gordon Gibson is a Scot, a long-time resident in Wales. He is a Labour member and currently Chair of his local Constituency Party in South Wales.

January 2020

Scotland’s No Vote: the end, or the end of the beginning?

Nick Davies

‘Settled for a generation’ was the  confident, reassured assertion of the metropolitan commentariat after Scotland’s referendum resulted in a bigger than expected margin of defeat for independence. An independent Scotland may be off the agenda in the immediate term but we should remember  Zhou En-lai’s famous remark about the  effects of the French revolution: ‘too early to tell’.  The Scottish referendum campaign and the vote itself may in time be seen as a  fizzing, sparkling firework,  momentarily illuminating the United Kingdom’s gloomy, sterile political landscape, only to fizzle out,  or as the catalyst for a process of fundamental change to that  political entity. Time, and whether the opportunities for change presented by the campaign are taken or lost, will tell.

The campaign itself was fantastic: a brilliant burst of creative democratic energy in which the people of Scotland engaged with the issues and discussed animatedly the society and country they wanted to  for themselves and their fellow citizens. This was what democracy looks like when the decisions people make actually have consequences, when there is a choice, and when it is energised by the presence of 16 and 17 year olds. The politicians and journalists in the Westminster bubble, initially  irritated by what they saw as background noise while they got on with the serious business of politics, ended up scared to death. Politics, in the post Thatcher-Blair era wasn’t meant to be like this.  Credit goes not only to the Scottish National Party for the tone and content of the campaign  but to the Scottish left, such as Radical Independence and the Scottish peace and anti-nuclear movement. With most of the  Scottish-based media, let alone the blatantly  biased and increasingly bewildered London media,  against independence, the breach was filled by social media and blog-sites such as Bella Caledonia. Whatever the merits of the case for independence, the Yes supporters won the campaign even if they did not win the vote. Theirs’ were  the ideas and the vision of what Scotland could look like. Theirs’ were the  alternatives to  the  race-to-the-bottom, free market dystopia imposed by Westminster.

In response, the No campaign was Project Fear: what would  be the  currency and who would control it? Would the new state automatically gain  EU membership or would it have to apply? Wouldn’t that take years? Look what happened to Ireland, and Iceland? Would people in Scotland still be able to listen to the Archers? A drip-drip series of announcements and  leaks by banks and multinationals raised the prospect of  capital flight, price rises and a currency collapse. This was not a serious attempt to challenge the SNP’s economic  perspectives, not all of which would withstand  proper scrutiny, or a serious contribution to the national debate, but a purely negative: ‘Well, you haven’t thought of that, now  have you’, in order to try to close down discussion. ‘Vote No, it’s not worth the risk’ was the message, but, on surveying the, unequal, over-centralised political set-up that is the UK, one can legitimately reply, ‘the risk of what, exactly’?

The campaign and its aftermath poses problems for both the large Westminster parties. Cameron allowed a referendum without a devo-max option on the ballot paper, clearly assuming  that the result would be No. Some political conspiracy theorists say that  Cameron was happy to cast Scotland adrift. Tory rule in a rump UK would be assured without Scotland, with its one Tory MP, but this underestimates the prominence of unionism, or UK nationalism in Tory ideology. As the campaign reached its end and the No poll lead narrowed there was a palpable sense of panic in the UK ruling apparatus: would Cameron be the Tory leader who ‘lost’ Scotland? What would happen to Trident missiles? Might these weapons of mass destruction have to be housed nearer to London? Would the house of Windsor require  passports to visit the  vast tracts of the Highlands they use as a personal playground? The reaction was a commitment, ‘The Vow’, made largely on the hoof with Miliband and Clegg, for increased devolution. Faced with a backlash by Tory MPs against a promise of increased spending for Scotland, Cameron has since attempted to re-invent or re-interpret, for the sake of party advantage, the commitment to deeper devolution into a commitment to  restrict voting on England-only issues to English MPs, thus satisfying the bloodlust of the English nationalists of the Tories and, importantly, UKIP and threatening to sabotage a future Labour government  dependent on the votes in parliament of Scottish MPs. ‘The Vow’ was starting to unravel  by the weekend following the vote with the  Liberal Democrats and Labour both scenting a Tory trap.

Labour’s problems are probably deeper.  Its alignment to the unionist-nationalist, union-flag waving, Better Together campaign against independence, on top of its embrace of free-market neo-liberalism in the Blair-Brown years meant that Labour was never able to challenge  the SNP from the left. Terrified by the  movement of Labour voters into the Yes camp but, like every Tory leader  since Thatcher, despised in Scotland, Cameron was obliged to turn to Gordon Brown to  fight the unionist corner, and Brown duly obliged, his ‘barnstorming’ speech invoking a unionist past more than a  socialist future.

The SNP’s political tightrope walk  combining lower corporation tax with much of the  agenda which Labour should have made its own has left Scottish Labour  little more than a   defensive, unionist, Blairite husk, unable to understand the country it is in. The referendum campaign did little to rescue its image. A look at a map of the  Yes vote should bring the Labour leadership out in a cold sweat:  Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire.  These have been Labour strongholds for decades but, faced with New Labour’s complicity with the Tories in de-industrialisation and the destruction of  public services, the voters there saw the Yes vote as a means of escape; they need never live under a Tory government again. Of course, despite the panicky, last minute insertions into the No campaign of references to ‘social justice’ they took that chance, and why should they not?

Labour’s  response was merely to assert that a No vote corresponded with Labour’s ‘values’ and  to snipe  against ‘nationalism’. British nationalism, however, appears not to trouble these people; what kind of country do they think the UK is?  Extraordinarily, No campaigners also accused their opponents of ‘tribalism’. This is in a country where politics is still besmirched by  sectarianism; Orange lodges were marching in support of a No vote and the day after the vote, Unionist thugs attacked  Yes voters in Glasgow’s George Square. This was the ugly, snarling face of the British nationalism the No voters never mention.  It makes a nonsense of the accusations of ‘intimidation’ by ‘Yes’  supporters. Politics is ‘ugly’ when politicians ruin lives, not when the argument becomes raucous.  Of course many No voters are not sectarians and have a genuine loathing of Orangeism. However, to  rail against SNP’s ‘nationalism’ without acknowledging  the malign influence of  this form of British nationalism is at best hypocritical and at worst an apology for sectarianism. In the case of the  ‘Labour door steppers’ bussed north to support the No vote, they simply don’t know what they are talking about.

It is depressing that it has to be repeated, but this island contains three countries, England, Scotland and Wales which for several hundred years have been bound together, at different times, by conquest, war, empire, Protestantism, common law, the industrial revolution and the welfare state; when the importance of all of these is diminished, all that remains is geography and a common language.  Crucial in the development of the Scottish independence movement was been the Tories’ destruction of Scotland’s industrial base: coal, shipbuilding and steel, the use of a Scottish natural resource, North Sea oil, to featherbed the British economy through two recessions, the use of Scotland as the test bed for the hated poll tax and then finally, the refusal of New Labour to break from what were, fundamentally, Tory policies.  The people of Scotland were told firstly ‘You voted Labour but you got the Tories’ and then ‘It doesn’t matter which of the Westminster parties you vote for, nothing’s going to change’.  In this context the Yes vote in former Labour heartlands makes far more sense than Labour No supporters’ charge that the independence debate is somehow a distraction from ‘class’ politics.

Socialists  defend the right of a nation to self-determination. That is not the same, necessarily,  as advocating separation. However, in the case of Scotland, the  campaign for independence does not simply amount to a desire to exercise the right to re-establish Scotland as an independent state but a reaction not only against the inequality and centralisation  which has increased  dramatically over the last thirty  years,  as well as the sclerotic, pre-modern body politic exemplified by the House of Lords and the bizarre electoral system. It is a sign that on the island of Britain, there can be a different kind of society.

So what about Wales? Welsh Labour’s leadership  unsurprisingly supported a No vote, with Plaid  giving support and solidarity to the Yes campaign. Opinion polls revealed an opposition in Wales to Scottish independence, primarily, presumably, because of  fears that in a rump UK Wales would not be so much as dominated as smothered by England, doomed to an eternity of English Tory governments.

It is difficult to see anything positive for Wales in the post referendum new Union, let alone in the status quo. The normally ebullient Rhodri Morgan has been in almost Uriah Heep mode, asking that Wales be rewarded for not having  had a war, like Northern Ireland or an independence referendum and oil, like Scotland, by being given a more equitable political and financial settlement within the UK. In other words, he was asking the Tories to treat Wales more generously because it keeps its head down. Carwyn Jones, despite his innate caution and his position as the leader of a unionist party has been forced to come out in  opposition to Cameron’s manoeuverings and call  for a rebuilding of the union on an equal basis between Wales and Scotland.

Despite Cameron’s promise that Wales be at the ‘centre of the debate’, Tory back-benchers are in revolt about a promise of extra money for Scotland, yet Scotland does considerably better than  Wales out of the discredited and unfair Barnett formula. Neither the Tories nor Labour want to scrap the Barnett formula, under which Wales loses out by £300m per year (Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, despite prompting  on TV by Andrew Neil, of all people, seemed to have neither any clue that Wales was being short-changed in this way or feel that Labour should do anything about it).  There’s a well-founded suspicion that if additional powers for Wales are not forgotten about and subsumed into Cameron’s grubby obsession with appeasing English nationalists, they’ll be separated from any additional funding, leaving Welsh Labour or Labour-dominated governments with the consequences of having powers without the resources to use them effectively.

Dysfunctional and unsustainable as it is, the UK could, with some tweaking here and there, limp on for decades yet: dominated by England, with England in turn dominated and distorted by the  financial might of the City of London and the Home Counties. On the other hand, Labour in Wales and Scotland could  muster its electoral weight to move away from an instinctive pro-unionism towards in support  for a more  equal and equitable  relationship between the three countries based on whatever degree of separation or unity that the people of those countries want. On the present evidence, the prospects are not promising.

The Scottish Referendum: My kingdom for a house.

The Scots may have voted ‘No’ but the real loser is Labour in Scotland.

Introduction.

With the last few days of the referendum debates came an awareness that Scotland is awash with social and political enthusiasm, inclusion, participation, in pubs and clubs, community centres and front rooms, in literally hundreds of emergent groupings – Women for, Asians for, Labour for, allsorts for Independence.

As important, probably more so, Scottish cultural life is in bloom. You can’t miss it when you are there: comedy, film, music, literature, theatre, festivals; even the Commonwealth Games set Glasgow alight. In contrast to the prevailing misery and despair in our communities, battered with cuts, abuses, apparent isolation, absence of leadership, the Scots are getting on with it, doing their thing, making the best of life, fighting back. Do not underestimate this. The author, literary figure, Yes campaigner, and self-proclaimed lesbian, Val McDermid, has her name emblazoned across the front of the football strips of Raith Rovers, the Scottish Championship team, this year playing Glasgow Rangers and both Edinburgh sides. If that doesn’t convince you that something rich is going on in Scotland, nothing will.

If you didn’t get it, it is because you didn’t feel it, you haven’t smelt the coffee! Down south, our sensors pick up the rancid odour from London, perhaps tempered by a sniff of fresh air from Syriza, the Indignacios, the Occupy movement, Left Unity or the People’s Assembly. None of this compares with what has happened in Scotland -under  the radar, serviced in no small part by social media.

South of the border, the consensus was that we are internationalists, against nationalism and independence, for a united working class against the Tory offensive, although it is fair to say left leaning commentators began to peel off in significant numbers – John Harris, Billy Bragg, Russell Brand, Suzanne Moore, even Owen Jones all but converts from his hitherto ‘principled’ stance.

There is little point in running through the arguments again. Most formed their opinions after a long debate, impossible to miss north of the border, even if much ignored until the last minute, south.

A 45% vote for independence, with no blood on the streets, no riots or strikes, just popular engagement, is a truly extraordinary political event. The impact on Scottish politics, and very nearly on British politics over the past two years has been immense so, here, we will consider three aspects.

  1. Labour in Scotland, and probably in Britain as a whole, is in very serious trouble.
  2. ‘Tribalism’, a term reserved exclusively, it seems, not for our relations with the Tories, but for ‘the nationalists’, has allowed us to completely lose the plot. Get over it! Concentrate on the real enemy. The Yes campaign, like it or not, was based on a programme the broad left supports.
  3. The media’s, Westminster’s and particularly Labour’s inability to even recognise what was happening in Scotland, let alone consider how it might apply in the rest of Britain, is our best indicator yet that the British political system is at a very low ebb. Something has to change. How to do it is another matter; a question more easily answered in Scotland. Listen to the people, not the Westminster bubble and its media.

Yes! Labour is in Trouble

Members are asking, ‘Why still be in the Labour Party?’. In Scotland there are mass defections. Here in Wales the answer is probably

  1. There is nowhere else to go. Plaid at best has got a socialist current within but that would be even more of a struggle with its mishmash of politics than is Labour, where at least you know where you stand. Their leader, Leanne Wood, still one of the best, is clearly torn by disparate pressures on her;
  2. There are local reasons for being in Labour and perhaps many feel that the essential principles of Labour, at the roots of the Party, are still achievable; and
  3. Welsh Labour Grassroots is probably the most organised and coherent left current in Wales, still a tiny force.

In Wales, there is little alternative and perhaps still some hopes for ‘clear red water’; although less and less so it seems. All this may be in Wales. Now apply to Scotland.

There are certainly other places to go. The Yes campaign was a broad front with the SNP, Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party at its core and with former Labour MP Dennis Canavan as its chair. The SNP itself is no longer the bourgeois nationalist party we identified as being to the right of Plaid, even 10 years ago. For reasons we will no doubt discuss, the SNP is now in the mould of a social democratic party, a left social democratic party. The Scottish Greens have leapt to prominence with an excellent rounded programme fronted by their MSP Patrick Harvie, who, like Caroline Lucas in Westminster, has proved to be considerably better with socialist aspirations than most Labour MPs. Then there is the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) that, with the Reid Foundation’s ‘Common Weal’, brought together virtually the whole of the Scottish left from anarchists and the SWP through to Labour for Independence, and now surely bound to establish a united green/left party to succeed and embrace the Scottish Socialists, strangled in infancy. The RIC mobilised an impressive campaign, reaching into increasingly disenfranchised estates, bringing in unregistered, disaffected Labour voters, a whole new layer of young activists, and many not so young, for door to door canvassing and public meetings to fantastic effect. They helped raise the voter turnout to over 84% and engaged with the new layer of young voters. Their first conference two years ago assembled over 800 delegates, last year over 1200. This year, over 7000 have indicated they are going! Sheridan, with his Solidarity grouping, by the way, is now urging an independence vote for the SNP at the next election. There are clearly places for socialists to go.

Policy wise, Labour has lost its core electorate. The Yes vote took the industrial heartlands from Glasgow to Dundee. All 8 Glasgow constituencies voted Yes, to the tune of 53.5% to 46.5%. The politicos left in their droves; the Scottish working class has long since seen through Labour. The traditional party of the workers’ movement was further undermined , tragically, by fronting a campaign, a ‘popular front’, with the utterly discredited Tories and Liberals before a Scottish electorate that has ditched them for over 40 years now.

The No vote was clearly founded on that older, conservative 30% or so that will never vote Labour. One analysis claims that the 16-54 year olds voted YES 54%, NO 46%; aged 55+, YES 34%, NO 66%. (See Murray.) Any suggestion that the No campaign might in some way be deemed  progressive is further evidence that Labour is deluding itself. Or us.  Better Together campaigned with a neo-liberal economic attack on all fronts, led by Alistair Darling, arch neo-liberal, with CV to prove it, then by belated appearances from Gordon Brown, whose appeal is, at best, seriously tarnished in the public eye other than with die-hard Labour supporters.

BT wound up its campaign by falling over themselves with offers of devo-max, having refused it two years earlier in anticipation of a rout. The campaign and all its publicity was entirely neo-liberal. Even George Galloway, wheeled out to face 7000 Scottish school students at the BBC event in Glasgow’s Hydro as Labour, incredibly, appeared to bottle out; even Galloway drew on the neo liberal claptrap. That was all they had: the currency, pensions, the NHS, oil, even the utterly disingenuous attack on the SNP’s Corporation Tax, were all rooted in a neo-liberal financial back-cloth. Ed Miliband took the same approach at Labour’s September conference, promising a £2.5bn pledge for the NHS, only to be rebuffed by Tory claims that they have increased spending by more than that. Labour started their conference week by promising to cut Child Benefit and ended it by offering uncritical support for more middle east war.

The neo-liberal austerity debate cannot be won against the Tories’ well-honed propaganda machine. It is their game. It may well win the election for them, like scare-mongering and fear probably won them the referendum. The propaganda was fronted for them by Labour. The Scottish working class rejected these politics decades ago and are sick of Labour regurgitating it.

Labour had nothing to say about austerity, only pious words about ‘our NHS’, ‘our welfare state’, ‘we are the party for change’ as if the Blair years never happened. The attack was on the nationalists, nary a word about the common enemy, the Tories and their financial mentors.

The successes of the Yes campaign

The SNP took on the mantle of social democracy. A while ago, they were ‘bourgeois nationalists’, then centrists, wavering left and right, populists, nourished by the abject betrayals of Labour in Scotland and Britain, betrayals spotted early by the Scots, thanks to the Poll Tax campaign. They turned to alternatives – the Scottish Socialists with 6 MSPs before Sheridan and now The Greens, whose role in Yes Scotland, along with the SNP and SSP, has been exemplary.  This social movement has had a huge impact on the SNP, now overwhelmingly social democratic in nature and probably more so with its more than doubling in membership in the weeks since the poll. So how did they respond to neo-liberal charges?

I refer you to Alex Salmond’s  Arbroath speech 18th August 2014, which takes a wee while to get going but is well worth a listen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jAWgC6qgXs). Salmond nails the NHS line. An SNP proposal to a constitutional convention in Scotland will be a clause for ‘A public free health service at the point of need’,  ‘A right to a National Health Service will be enshrined in the constitution of Scotland’. That’s convincing. Discussing the role of Scotland in the world, Salmond argues for the removal of Trident as a fundamental policy of an independent Scotland. He then presents as sophisticated a line on pro-immigration as you are likely to hear from a mainstream politician. Their first focus for the anti-nuclear money is child-care and social care. This is not the left, this is ‘the nationalists’; better than anything ever heard from Labour.  Had Labour taken such stances since the Tories came to power, would the Yes campaign have had the traction it did?

They grapple with the economy but, truth be known, there is much flexibility in economics. What people want to hear is the answer to ‘where do you propose to go with our lives?’. Labour offers a continuation of Tory austerity for the foreseeable future. The Scots are on to them and their future, our future is in jeopardy.

In the course of the referendum campaign, Scots have considered, imagined both individually and in their collectives, a democratic government, a constitution, a set of values based, not least on their experience of Holyrood and decades of Westminster policies and governments they never voted for. That imagination, that culture, is not a million miles away from ours in Wales, once separated from Westminster by ‘clear red water’. In Scotland, imagination converted into an anti-austerity, anti-Tory enthusiasm that not even Plaid, being as tribal as Welsh Labour is, has sought to achieve. The Scottish Yes vote was overwhelmingly anti-austerity and a serious challenge to the ‘Wastemonster’ ways. They may have lost the battle but the war is being won. For a start, about one-third of Labour voters voted Yes. (See Welsh.) These are reasons why Scotland became ready for an independence vote (and why Wales isn’t ready).

Labour’s late entry into the campaign, via Gordon Brown, a hero only to die-hard Labour members, cited our national pride, appealing to history, Labour’s and Scotland’s great role in it – history, empire, sacrifice, the welfare state, the NHS. But just ask Scottish former shipworkers, miners, car-workers. British interest, pride, commitment has long since evaporated. Jobs and a good living in industry, shipbuilding, manufacturing, coal, steel, the industrial revolution, imperialism and the empire, from which we all once benefited, albeit at the expense of others, have all been lost or sacrificed. We don’t even build houses any more. The Welfare State, Pensions, Mail, Telephones, Water and the NHS s are sold, often at knock down prices, to global capitalism. British workers no longer have any practical or emotional ties to our social and economic foundations, many of which Scots gave to the world. What commitment do the Scots, indeed any workers, have to the British state any more?

A Democratic Upheaval and a Danger of Backlash

Without the significant devo-max concessions promised by the Westminster parties, it is inconceivable that independence will go away. Breaking of promises, failure to deliver anything or, worse, more budget cuts and other retribution, will ensure that independence is back on the agenda in very short shrift. Just one day after the referendum, the Tories lurched to the right with a focus on England’s needs, on their right wing, on the West Lothian question, on a democratic structure that can only further marginalise Scotland and Wales.

Coupled with this is seeming delight in offering more powers  to Scotland, Wales and the regions. Let them be responsible for ‘fully devolved powers’ over the crumbs the Bullingdon Boys deign to leave on our tables. Then we can be blamed for cuts, as was the charge laid on the SNP over the NHS, the same tactic as they seek to discredit our efforts in Wales. The real threat to we Celts is that the Westminster bubble does go right, and given Labour’s stances this is not an unrealistic possibility – another Tory government, perhaps with Ukip support, a vote to leave the EU and ditch the EU Convention on Human Rights. Where will that leave the Scots? And us?

The first signs of the very serious dangers of the English nationalist/ Ukip right wing trajectory were evident on the streets of Scotland’s two great cities on the last few referendum days. The No vote unleashed The Orange order, always a right wing force disguised with anti-catholic, anti-Irish rhetoric. For the first time in my experience, they took to the streets and revealed their truly fascist style, taking public space, burning the Saltire, attacking Yes voters, immigrants and women. A Yes vote would have stifled them; the No vote, coupled with Ukip and the English trend positively encouraged them.

Where do we go from here?

The spotlight is now on Labour, already being drawn into the Tory regional game and happy to commit to Tory austerity plans, when what is needed is a language of change, something different, a break from the political decadence of Westminster, increasingly mimicking the shameless, gun-toting, fundamentalist, undemocratic, exclusive, segregationist catastrophe that is US politics and media. Scots were seeking change – austerity, Trident, social care, childcare, NHS, democracy. These are the themes to be convincing about. Their instincts and mine are that nothing is going to change. If it doesn’t, Labour is finished in Scotland. The SNP offered change, much of it taken from Labour’s bottom drawer, yet Labour continues to be tribal against ‘the nationalists’, preferring uncritical deals with the Tories, LibDems and their neo-liberal economics. Recognition of this single fact is a first necessary step to Labour’s unlikely salvation.

Labour has been unable to handle the role of the ‘nationalists’ in Scotland or Wales. What chance have the English got? Paradoxically, in the present climate, a Yes vote was the best opportunity socialist voters in Scotland had of ever achieving a Labour Government they could believe in. These same voters now have the prospect of a Tory Ukip government seeking exit from Europe.

What have we learned? What should we be campaigning on? How’s this?

  1. A clear stance, with our allies, against Tory austerity, for alternatives.
  2. Stand up for our NHS, for National Insurance, for Social Security and a rights based welfare culture.
  3. Challenge the war-mongering culture, not least the ease with which vast funding is found for wars.
  4. Build Homes
  5. Promote a programme of child-care, social care and pensions.
  6. Make Wales a beacon of sustainability, a green investment bank, green energy and re-usables industries
  7. Rail and other public transport back into coordinated public ownership
  8. Instead of faffing about local government reorganisation and who goes where, first consider, with the people of Wales, the question, “How do we best deliver these policies?”
  9. Build, certainly with young people, our communications networks and social media.

The great success of the SNP is that they recognised the occasion for this great political cauldron, greater than they dreamed of. We hopefully now will engage with our true allies throughout Wales and beyond against austerity, and wars and … well, let us discuss that with others.  The difficulty is to recognise the occasion here in Wales, the event round which such unity can be formed. In the meantime, it will do no harm to promote an inclusive discussion on what sort of policies, a manifesto we aspire to in Wales.

Another Scotland, Another Wales, Another Britain, is Possible.

End

Gordon Gibson, September 2014

Here, a few references; the first two are bursting with lively debate.

Radical Independence Conference: http://radicalindependence.org/

Bella Caledonia: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/

Brett, Miriam. National Collective. Oh Scottish Labour What Have You Done? http://nationalcollective.com/2014/09/25/oh-scottish-labour-what-have-you-done/

Davies, Nick & Williams, Darren (2009). Clear Red Water: Welsh Devolution and Socialist Politics. Francis Boutle Publisher

Harris, John: Scotland has shown how the left can finally find its purpose http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/25/scotland-politics-left-purpose-snp-green-working-class-women

Jones, Owen. Whatever Scotland decides, the old order is dead and buried: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/07/scotland-decides-union-tories

Murray, Andy. FIFTY-FIVE per cent afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome. http://nicodemusscotticus.wordpress.com/

Welsh , Irvine. This glorious failure could yet be Scotland’s finest hour. 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/20/irvine-welsh-scottish-independence-glorious-failure

 

Independence? What has ‘The Union’ ever done for us?(1)

by Gordon Gibson2

This paper was prepared as an introduction on the ‘national question’ for Swansea Labour Left, affiliate of Welsh Labour Grassroots. The indented text was not part of the initial verbal presentation.

Nation shall sing unto nation

Until nations cease to be

From ‘Unison in Harmony’, a song by Coope Boyes and Simpson,

These words are a fine encapsulation of ‘the national question’.

The ‘national question’ is a subject comfortably side-stepped by many socialists and Labour Party members, in both Wales and Scotland, often in the name of a supposed internationalism but more likely, although perhaps unconsciously, via promotion of a greater British chauvinism, favouring British nationalism. Meanwhile, rivals in Plaid or the SNP are brushed off as nationalists, who put patriotism above class unity.

With the electoral successes of the SNP in Scotland, the 2014 referendum, and reverberations here in Wales, not least Plaid Cymru’s new leadership revitalising their ‘independence’ profile, with a voice more publicly socialist than most of the voices we hear representing Labour,  we are being asked again, ‘should socialists support calls for independent nations?’.

In one sense, the political decision appears even easier these days. Is not the main cause to build unity in the fight against austerity, the protection of jobs, pensions, the NHS, the welfare state? ‘Nationalism’ is a dangerous diversion.

For some, this necessary unity excludes Plaid Cymru. For others, it excludes the Labour Party.

Austerity, we should be clear, is, of course, necessary to protect British ‘big nation’ nationalism and its capitalism.

We are not nationalists. I doubt if anyone here describes themselves as nationalist. I am an internationalist and a socialist. That is why I support self-determination.  Workers of the world unite! In fact it was, ‘Workers of all countries unite’, perhaps a closer articulation of what follows.

But let’s get things into perspective. First, Europe. The British left has traditionally had an anti-EU position, falling very closely towards the ‘sovereignty’, British nationalist, camp, albeit with lots of riders, most of which few people hear and fewer find meaningful. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable with the anti-EU argument for that very reason. At the level of ideas, I prefer that we promote unity with the workers of Europe, join with them in struggle against the rotten political cabal that is the EU, break the rules like the Greek Syriza left stood for yet, like the Greeks in opposition, be quite clear that we want to stay united with them. We are internationalists. We have no truck with petty nationalism. So there is a significant strand of a very British, perhaps English, nationalism in the anti-EU line.

And yet we are ‘patriotic’, are we not?

Even I, still with plenty Scottishness in me, find myself, after 40 years here, very ‘Welsh’ in the sense that ‘national fervour’, a national pride, passion and loyalty for one’s homeland impacts on us. What is that about? That rugby trip to Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris or Rome has a joy about it, amongst kindred spirits. ‘Patriotism’ is a mixed bag though, much exploited by bourgeois ideology, not least via Unionism in the north of Ireland. Scottish rugby has Princess Anne as its patron. The ever-popular song, ‘Scottish Soldier’, by stereotypical Scottish entertainer, Andy Stewart, lauds a soldier’s return home to die in the homeland after a lifetime in military defence of the empire.

The rugby ‘patriotism’ we enjoy with kindred spirits in Edinburgh, Dublin and even Paris and Rome is not matched by any fraternalism with the English. Twickenham has a different character about it. We unite in our – some even seriously overstate on these occasions – ‘hatred’ of the English. Why is that?

There is a strong element of ‘class’ about our disaffection with that perception of ‘Englishness’.  It is not English workers of course. We welcomed them into Wales, first from the copper mines of Cornwall and then to mine Welsh coal.

We happily give money and get out on the streets to support dock-workers, Grunwicks, miners, Stop the War, the occupy movement, all-sorts with whom we see common-cause. There will be a very large contingent of Welsh workers on the October 20th cuts and pensions demo in London.  Do you think that we would protest less against the London financiers and their government if we were more independent that we are?

We get pained by the English toffs and their media, the aloofness, superiority, their ignorance and disrespect of the Welsh, Scots or Irish; the lack of recognition of our history, our different (more ‘British’) history; the oppression or abuse of our culture and languages.

And that is reflected in our humour.

Did you hear about the Englishman with an inferiority complex? He thought he was the same as everyone else.

This humour is founded in the concept of oppressor versus oppressed nations; in the case of the English state and capitalist class, still founded on its feudal class trappings, via the monarchy, which absorbed Wales, Scotland and Ireland to form ‘The Union’ – an English led, fundamentally British Union, albeit with a Scottish king, brought down to consolidate the anti-catholic current that has since given a regressive religious structure to the British establishment and which, through the monarchy, still provides the constitutional and ‘philosophical’ underpinning of the British state, later to pull in European royals to maintain that primitive illusion of social superiority. [What an extraordinary hypocrisy that is in light of English xenophobia.] This oppressive, class history goes no small way to explaining why ‘independence’ and ‘republicanism’ have a significant resonance in Wales and Scotland.

Anti-Englishness scales up in proportion to the brutality of the oppression the British nation meted out. First, the Irish, whose brutal repression is reflected in the way British culture still makes them the brunt of ‘thick people’ humour. You beat them, impoverish them, starve them, then pillory them for being poor uneducated labourers. The Irish hate them the most but get them back with some subtlety.

Did you hear about the Irish, Evel Kneivel? [EK was an American motor-bike stunt-rider of the 60s and 70s.] He tried to jump over 50 Englishmen with a steam-road-roller!

The Scots still have the great battles in their collective memory and culture: Bannockburn, resisting the English in 1314, and Culloden Moor, 1746 – the last battle for independence, perhaps better described as a last gasp for control of the then British nation, when Charles Stuart led the French backed Jacobites against the House of Hanover, the British House of Hanover!

Scotland’s historic existence as a political state prior to 1707 provided ‘national’ institutional structures that do not exist in Wales. Wales has never existed as an independent political entity. Scotland has its own banking system and currency, it’s separate legal system with its own laws, it’s own education system and, re-established more recently, a rich, alternative and distinctive cultural life.

Scotland has won and uses a much greater degree of independence than Wales. And, as in Wales, more than in Wales, Scottish people will not go to the independence vote on some hypothetical prospect, like the EU was, or even the recent PR/AV referendum, both loaded with establishment propaganda. Scots will go to the referendum with a good taste of what ‘independence’ is offering.

Last year’s referendum on extending the powers of the Welsh government gave us a taste of the extent to which the people of Wales have recognised the value that increased independence has brought to Wales, with many, particularly social, benefits from children and childcare to student fees, bus and rail travel and prescriptions.

Welsh history and oppression are buried more deeply (by the English). We have the ancients in Owen Glyndwr and Hywyl Dda and, more relevant, a rich series of workers struggles like the Rebecca Riots, the Merthyr Rising, the Chartists in Newport, ‘The Miners’ Next Step’ not to mention Keir Hardie and the early Communist Party; all struggles against the English bourgeoisie of course.

Whilst our nations were oppressed, we have also been beneficiaries of the British Union.  Despite some overt ‘oppressions’, such as of the language in Wales (an oppression much exaggerated by the way), Wales and Scotland were assimilated into the British state and our workers have benefited enormously from the riches of the imperialist British Empire. So even the concept of ‘oppressed nation’ can cause difficulty.

The oppression of assimilation is exemplified in numerous ways. To take one example, the ‘traditional’ Scottish kilt was popularised not via William Wallace, Robert the Bruce or Mel Gibson.  That whole culture was fostered during the creation, in the 18th and 19th centuries, of Scottish regiments to send Scots workers to give their lives for the imperialist empire. It’s the same with the Welsh regiments, one of which was the first ‘nationalist’ regiment to be formed by the Westminster government. Similar arguments have been propounded about the emergence of the Eisteddfod and the druidic tradition.

The right to self-determination.

Self-determination is an inalienable right. But self-determination is not a synonym for independence or separation or national liberation. It is the right to form an independent state. That right arises only within an oppressor state that denies it.

This is the terrain we are on in Wales; the issue of ‘self-government’ has been raised. In talking of ‘independence’, this is really what we (socialists) mean – self-government. Some in Plaid will agree, others won’t but that is their contradiction, not ours.

Self-government is prominent in the current political climate in Britain. The existence of national sentiments, of the Senedd and of the Scottish Parliament, the distance, clear red water, that Welsh and Scots seek to establish between themselves and the Tories (not to mention Blair’s Labour) in Westminster all reflect, at least in part, the essence of the right of nations to self-determination.

The principle of ‘complete freedom of action’ for Welsh and Scots is being posed now. We want more powers to decide on an ability to determine for ourselves, of our own free will, questions of our inter-relations with other states.

Self determination is a right, a right to form a separate state. That and only that. It is not the right to ‘do what you want’; it is the right to form an independent state.

Does this apply to oppressor states like Britain, France, USA? No, they are already states. Self-determination does not arise.

When workers stand up, as they did in Ireland (or let’s say Wales) and say, ‘we are for socialism, we are breaking from our oppressor state’, it is false internationalism to reply ‘No, not independence. Workers of the World Unite’. In effect, this is to say, ‘We are for imperialism!’.

Self-determination is about the oppressed and the oppressor. Two principles apply – the inalienable right of the oppressed to self-determination, and the recognition of that right by the workers of the oppressor nation. It is the oppressed peoples that are to  decide how these rights are to be exercised; that is self-government. And, until oppressor nations recognise these rights, they will never themselves be free. This is not an easy matter for British workers, let alone where we Welsh and Scots stand.

Finally on this, from Lenin, who maintained and developed the importance of the national question and the need to struggle against all national inequality and national superiority right through to his death in 1923: nations may need to separate politically in order to grow closer at a later date. As the song says, ‘nation shall sing unto nation until nations cease to be’.

The Nation

Nations, being capitalist creations, following land grabs by monarchs and feudal barons, or states created and peoples divided by borders drawn by imperialist invaders, are rather amorphous phenomena, difficult, nay impossible, to define objectively. Language, culture, territory, economics are often used to inform a national consciousness but ‘nations’ cannot be reduced to such criteria. In real politics, they exist only in the minds of nationalist theoreticians, of course, but also in the consciousness of ordinary people.

Nations don’t really exist at all as objective entities; national consciousness does.

In the capitalist world, hugely international, global capitalism, the function of nations is to protect the narrow interests of national capitalists, one of the nearby examples being the Scottish bourgeoisie, with its own socio-economic infrastructure nonetheless deeply embedded in global capitalism as the RBS banking collapse demonstrates. That nation serves only to divide workers on a British and then a global scale. Socialism seeks to end capitalist domination and its political and democratic differentiation of people, to end their separation in a myriad of states.

Will national oppressions be relieved and national liberation be ensured? We don’t know;  we’ll see. We believe that national oppression is political oppression that can only, and increasingly ‘only’, be resolved by the establishment of regional, international, global equalities, by significant social changes, by socialism.

Many socialists and Marxists attempt to define nations by calling up language, culture, economy, and certain rights available only to citizens of dominant nations. But the denial of such rights and characteristics are only symptoms of national oppression. National oppression is the denial by one nation over another of the right to form an independent state.

Even for Wales, we get into serious trouble. The language is not universal (and probably never was), within boundaries that are largely arbitrary or of little substantive significance, under cultures that draw from very different traditions, in an economy that has never independently existed.

So is Wales a nation? Yes, of course it is. Back to Lenin, still the most authoritative voice on the national question: the ‘nation’ pertains ‘wholly and solely to the sphere of political democracy’. What is the historical consciousness of a people, their feelings, their impulses? What determines these sentiments is the current situation – attendant circumstances. And the history that led there.

People who think of themselves as Welsh think of Wales as a nation. That is the nearest we can get to an objective definition: that consciousness arises because of historical circumstances and it’s that consciousness that counts. Little else.

The ebb and flow of history has nurtured and flooded Wales with a social and cultural richness that some, but not all, of Wales welcomes and celebrates with open arms and hearts. The miners, many of them immigrants to Wales from other parts of British and Irish lands, not to mention Spanish, Italian and East European, are now part of the proud national heritage.

The only objective criteria we have are either from established nation-states, in which case there is no need for a right to self-determination, or from national movements, in which case we have to tread very carefully and respect that inalienable right.

In Scotland, where there has long been a sense of national identity, across classes, the present circumstances, not least since Thatcher’s Poll Tax, reinforce that national fervour to the point that independence, whatever it might mean, is seriously on the agenda.

And, by the way, Labour’s decision to use Alasdair Darling as a front man in unity with the Tories and LibDems to defend The Union and call for a NO vote in the referendum can only consolidate national consciousness and independence, and serve to further politically undermine Labour in Scotland. Labour, in the No campaign, has got just about everything wrong. Setting aside the execrable, and high public profile, alliance with the hated Tories and treacherous Liberals, the essential reason for the popular trend towards Scottish independence is to distance Scots from austerity, to follow or be tempted by the populist SNP’s optimistic, although not entirely unfounded, claims of economic viability. Scots have repeatedly made very clear that they want no part of Tory politics. As they say, there are more pandas in Edinburgh zoo (2) than there are Scottish Tory MPs in Westminster (1).

This is political ground onto which those who wish to oppose independence should be wary about treading. Aside from independence, we should wholly support the Scots in their stance against the Tories, not to mention their disaffection with such a Labour Party. Consider yourselves lucky to have had Rhodri and ‘Clear Red Water’.

Like workers in a factory, the first demand is to be recognised as a legitimate collective with identifiable common interests. We form unions and we fight for our rights. How the richness of these rights is achieved may well be best served by united struggle with other workers, even on a world scale. First we self-organise and make our own decisions.

Such debate is certainly extant for Wales and Scotland right now, under pressure to justify the feasibility of independent social and economic existence as if such an insular approach was being mooted by anyone other than die-hard nationalists, with whom we have no truck. Comrades may be reminded of the debate around the theme of ‘Socialism in one country’. The years gone by have only served to further justify and reinforce internationalist solutions.3

National self-determination is a chance to re-invigorate the class struggle against the British state.  As the then Cardiff councillor, Sue Essex, said at the Welsh Labour Conference in 1996, ‘the Assembly that we offer must be something genuinely new, which wakens and enlivens Welsh politics.’

[This does invoke discussion of how representative democratic structures work, of democratic organisation and accountability. Hence, even now, referenda on the nature of the voting system, the recall of AMs, the local democratic structures, the call for votes at 16 (recently adopted by the Welsh Government, although barely publicised), salaries, accountability, recallability,  frequency of elections and many such issues are very relevant to the democracy that one would wish to foster in a properly representative structure.]

How nations might function as independent states is a matter for their citizens to resolve when they have gained the right to make such decisions. As James Kelman puts it, “A people cannot be asked to settle in advance of independence how they shall act in hypothetical situations. We are being asked to provide a priori evidence of our fitness to determine our own existence before the freedom to do so is allowed.” 4

Autonomy – how close to Independence?

It is difficult to resist the call for independence in these circumstances, although the use of the term , ‘self-government’, provides a better, more instructive and less nationalist agitational slogan.  The problem is that when put on the scales with the substantive issues in the fight against austerity here in Wales, they tip heavily away from independence.  In Scotland, this is not so clear and independence is that much more seductive, not least as a tactic in the austerity battle.

In the current British context, it is not helpful to pursue the theoretical correctness of abstract positions on the national question or independence; the issue is entirely determined by our relationship with the British state and the demands and actions that will both strengthen the position and social-condition of Welsh workers and, in tandem, weaken, undermine, and directly challenge the hegemony of the class that dominates The Union. Right now, the determining issue is ‘austerity’ and we should do all in our power to resist, to unite with British and European workers to refute the fiscal parameters that deprive millions, the 99%, of their own earned rights and services in order to reimburse the rotten corrupt casino financiers who tell us what is best for us. Self-government assists us in this; it is neither an obstacle nor a diversion.

In reality, it is most unlikely that a truly independent state of Wales can have much meaning. Whilst the Welsh economy certainly needs to be re-generated and developed, following the demise of our traditional industries, future well-being is ineluctably and inextricably tied to the British and world economies. The M4 ‘corridor’ and the A55. ‘North Wales Expressway’ are built to service trade in England, only, at best, to throw crumbs at the Welsh economy.  A true Welsh transport strategy would establish east and west-side movement connections with north Wales, comparable with the rail and motorway connections between Glasgow and Edinburgh

The internationalisation of capital, global capitalism, clearly demands an international response. But this is pure rhetoric for day-to-day politics, frankly inconceivable in the present conditions.  So this begs the ‘national question’. When we get to ‘context’, there is a reality in the air.

The alternative is to remain ensnared within the carefully contrived limits of a constitution that for more than 300 years has successfully blocked all threats of radical change in order to preserve the stability of the oldest capitalist state form in the world. Socialists owe no kind of loyalty to that Britain.

The ending of the British warfare state, constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, republican citizenship, participatory democracy, genuinely popular control of public services, an economy run for the people rather than for profit – these and many other important areas of policy will be thrown into the melting pot from which people’s republics in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland will emerge.

Genuine popular control over state institutions and the economic levers of power cannot happen in a British state in which the people are designated as subjects of a political sovereignty resting with the Crown-in-Parliament.

Social change in Britain is much depressed by a hereditary monarchy and an unelected House of Lords keeping tight political rein on a Commons majority elected with less and less of a popular vote. The breakup of the authoritarian British state is now a significant element in securing progressive socialist change for the peoples of this island.

Many who argue against independence are still in favour of increasing powers for the Welsh government. Where might that stop? It goes to the point of independence from the centralist, anti-democratic, banker-run, British state. For self-government!

We are in favour of our independent right to reject Westminster austerity, to stand alongside Scots and other Europeans and to seek alliance with English workers under a unified banner to reject austerity. Nor is it just British austerity, it is global, unregulated, free-market neo-liberal capitalism and we are in favour of the Welsh Assembly coming out clearly against it. And against Trident! Are we really to abstain on Trident because such decisions are to be made in Westminster?5

We are for autonomy, for self-government, for decisions affecting Welsh workers to be made in Wales. This is not to argue for separation or independence. But it is to argue for our rights.

The national question is exactly that.

We are not in favour of isolation. We have no illusions about the Welsh economy but the Welsh economy does need to be regenerated.

This is the paradox with which we have to grapple. Independence may not be a helpful concept, yet we are in favour of what I have been calling ‘degrees of independence’ – more powers to the Assembly. Let the Assembly decide its own powers with no right of veto from London or Brussels. We are in favour of autonomous rights to Welsh people, rights to demur. This is what clear red water means. An autonomous nation within a British federation, a European federation of states – the united states of Europe.

And Plaid? Many Labour socialists are against the rival political party that is Plaid, and so are against independence. It was easy when the ‘language nationalists’ were in the driving seat. Serious political debate about the national question could be avoided under the veil of party tribalism.

Now, to keep it simple, given the rich socialist programme that Leanne Wood is espousing in Plaid, a platform, remember, that won majority support in her party, the only real difference is her promotion of independence, Raymond Williams’ ‘real independence’ as she puts it.

In my opinion, her emphasis on independence is too strong vis-a-vis building unity against the Tory onslaught, but she does have her party history and a strong ‘disaffected-with-Labour-in-Westminster cohort’ to contend with. If she brings Plaid into unity against austerity, they should be welcomed. They should be welcomed at face value and also because that is the real foundation of self-government, an interpretation of ‘independence’ to be supported.

And so we come to the problem for Labour. Wood is castigated for ‘opportunist’ approaches to the unions for the fight against austerity, for her disrespect for the queen, for her to go to church and shake the queen’s hand like Martin McGuinness,  for her failure to support ‘self-determination in the Malvinas’ (if ever there was a demonstration of a weak position on the national question, that’s it!), for her small-scale economic solutions, for her jumping on Carwyn’s blunder of weapons of mass destruction in Milford, for her opposition to the ‘job creation’ of a new Wylfa nuclear power station. This is not to mention some of her entirely justified attacks on Labour local authorities in the valleys. The problem is that party tribalism triumphs over political reason. That tribalism oft-times disguises a ‘greater British chauvinism’ that deters a political dialogue with socialists like Leanne Wood and others. The detritus only serves to weaken unified Welsh resistance to the Tories.

The ‘national question’ and ‘Independence’ are almost words in a game of semantics – independence versus ‘autonomous self-government’ – not unlike the ‘autonomous women’s movement’ that proved so difficult for many socialists. (Where would we be without the strength of the Women’s Movement in the 60s, 70s and 80s?)

Our aim is to unify round our collective interests, perhaps independently at first but always with a view to unity with others, nearby, in other countries, and in other continents.

The aim of self-government is greater unity, on an equal basis and on a clearer platform, between the working people of all countries. Boundaries are to be broken, but only on an equal basis. If ‘the national question’ serves that aim then we should be very careful about saying ‘No’. Indeed, why should we say ‘No’ when it relies on the defence of almost everything we oppose? In fact, what has ‘The Union’ ever done for us?

Notes.

  1. With acknowledgement to the highly recommended satirical posting on YouTube called ‘What have the unions ever done for us?’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=184NTV2CE_c  The heading here is not satirical.
  2. This paper has drawn heavily on the writings two left-wing socialists, the late Ceri Evans, and Ed George. Ed has been most helpful in the preparation of this paper, for which much thanks, although this version is for me only to answer for.
  3. In fact we should be sympathetic to small nation nationalism, (1) because they’re oppressed; and (2) their struggle has a progressive logic. It was Trotsky who said, with regard to black nationalism in discussion with CLR James that, although we’re not nationalists, the most consistent fighters for black nationalism will join the fight for socialism because of who and what they’re fighting against. The dialectic of that is seen in feminism, trade unionism, the whole raft of ‘partial’ struggles: if you’re oppressed and you fight consistently against your oppression you generalise. We saw that in the miners strike, with Ireland, LGBT struggles. This was Lenin’s mature position, that you can’t talk about nations in the abstract.
  4. James Kelman (2012) On self-determination is reproduced in Celyn at https://celynwales.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/on-self-determination/
  5. Mark Drakeford (2012) No to Trident. A speech to the Welsh Assembly Government, reprinted in Celyn at https://celynwales.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/no-to-trident/

Other notes and references

Lenin (1916): The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-determination in Lenin Selected Works Lawrence and Wishart 1969

Writings of Ceri Evans and Ed George can be found in Ceri’s archive at http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/ in both sections ‘Ceri’s writings’ and ‘Other material’. Ed George keeps his writings at http://www.oocities.org/edgeorge2001es/, his ‘Close reading of Marx’s Capital’ at http://readingmarx.wordpress.com/, and earlier writing on http://search.gmane.org/?query=&author=Ed+George&group=&sort=relevance&DEFAULTOP=and&query=

A relevant selection of these writings is

Evans (1994). Nationalism, Marxism and the Irish Question, http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/writings/ireland.htm

Evans  (1995) Ten draft points on the national question http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/writings/ten_draft_points.htm

Author? (1981) Notes on Welsh Nationalism and Plaid Cymru http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/other_material/notes_welsh_nationalism.htm

George (1999) On Marx, Engels and the national Question [Section IV is particularly relevant here.] http://www.oocities.org/edgeorge2001es/mywritings/menat.html

George (2001) The Secret of the Forest is the Trees http://www.oocities.org/edgeorge2001es/mywritings/Forest.html

George (2002) A Note on Welsh History and Politics http://www.angelfire.com/alt/ceri_evans/other_material/note_history_politics.htm

George (2002) Re Scottish independence and the SSP http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.politics.marxism.marxmail/3172

What Future for Scottish Labour, the Union and Britain?

Writer and commentator Gerry Hassan provides an interesting analysis on the future of Scottish politics.

Scottish politics are now in a fast changing environment where many of the old assumptions are falling: the election of an SNP majority government, the emphatic rejection of Labour, and the coming of the 2014 independence referendum.

Once upon a time politics north of the border were very different: with Labour returning a seemingly impregnable Westminster bloc, and the entire political culture shaped by social democratic and centre-left values, which played an important ballast in British Labour and British politics (supposedly counteracting the inherent Conservative nature of England).

More profoundly than this there was something distinctive which informed and shaped Scottish politics for most of its post-war era. This was a Labour vision of Scotland which many of us grew up with, knew its positive aspects, and which made us feel ennobled and liberated. That vision lifted hundreds of thousands of Scots out of poverty, widened opportunities and brightened countless lives via education, health, housing and numerous other public services.

This Labour vision of Scotland was one of modernity, progress and the future; this world was characterised by building motorways, tower blocks and New Towns such as Cumbernauld or Glenrothes with their tidiness and order and the ideal of ‘planned freedom’, with its connotations of good authority.

How this high-falutin’ vision came about involved some more messy, basic politics, and an idea of ‘Labour Scotland’ which through council housing, trade unions and local government, gave the party a ballast and anchor and allowed it to speak for a majority of Scots. In each of these three pillars of Scottish Labour’s house until the early 1980s, the party articulated and represented a majority of Scots. These gave it a power and reach which was more impressive than its share of the vote, where it never managed to win a majority.

That Labour vision and the notion of ‘Labour Scotland’ are gone. Labour has long ago stopped being the party of the future north or south of the border, whereas each of its three pillars is now reduced to minority status. This has huge consequences for the Scottish party which it has barely begun to recognise, and which will require a very different politics from those it used in the past.

This is an argument articulated with the publication of ‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’, written by myself and Eric Shaw of Stirling University. A product of extensive interviews with party politicians, officials and trade unionists, it analyses the story of the past 33 years from the 1979 referendum and arrival of Thatcher, to the SNP’s majority government and Johann Lamont’s election as Labour leader.

What does it tell us about Scottish Labour, its state and potential future? One fundamental is that Scottish Labour was never as powerful and omnipotent as first impressions and the rhetoric of ‘the machine’ gave. The idea of ‘Labour Scotland’ gave the party itself and its opponents the illusion that it carried all before it. But in actual fact the party even at the peak of its support in the 1960s was always rather small and reliant on institutional Scotland for its control.

The party abandoned devolution in its Attlee-Gaitskell centralisation era when faith with the British state’s ability to redistribute and provide the goodies was at an all-time high. When it came back to it, first in the 1970s, it did out of the expediency of thwarting the SNP’s electoral threat; and even when it embraced a Scottish Parliament more convincingly in the 1980s, it was motivated out of stopping Thatcherism at the border.

Labour never asked what it wanted a Scottish Parliament to do, and it never paused and reflected on what the implications of such a body would be on the party’s dominance. If it had it would have realised that the self-preservation Labour society would begin to be challenged, come under scrutiny and eventually unravel.

The party was hobbled by its lack of autonomy and its lack of a leadership cadre or culture post-devolution. Leaders came and went while a whole generation of thirtysomething Cabinet ministers under Dewar and McLeish bit the dust or retired prematurely. This was about the party’s inability to break with the legacy of old Labour while not wanting to champion New Labour values.

The issue of New Labour was a complex one in Scotland; we forget that in 1997 and 1999, pre-Iraq Blair was hugely popular with Scottish voters. The whole New Labour project with its brashness, shininess and PR sensibilities annoyed part of Scottish Labour who felt they didn’t need to be taught how to win elections.

They were against New Labour, but what were they for? The party was never just old Labour but it found itself trapped in a defensive mindset and with little to say about the wider crisis of social democracy which New Labour itself was a response to.

Scottish Labour avoided the New Labour car crash but ended up in a rather similar state: confused, deflated, diminished and angry at what events did to it.  The party still speaks and represents a part of Scotland but if it is to win, define our politics and shape the future, it will have to fundamentally alter course.

Firstly, it is going to have to publicly reflect on the character and mistakes of Labour one party rule. This could be a powerful admission; if senior Labour people actually recanted and apologised and said, ‘look we got that wrong, don’t go down the same route with Alex Salmond and the SNP’. In fact it has to say the first half of that unconditionally, before it can ever hope to be heard on the second.

Secondly, Labour has to stop appearing as if it is obsessed with the constitutional question and the Scottish Nationalists; that is allowing your opponents to define how you see the world.

Instead, Labour should speak for the Scotland which is struggling to be heard in the current debate, namely, addressing the economy and social justice. Developing ideas which break with the New Labour waffle of ‘the knowledge economy’, speak for ‘Breadline Scotland’ and ‘the struggling middle’, combining traditional Labour values in a relevant setting.

At the moment, Labour hasn’t said anything of interest or originality since Wendy Alexander’s infamous ‘Bring it on’ remarks, and if it to change and get people to see it has changed, it has to get them to take notice.

In today’s politically detached and cynical world that is a huge challenge for Scottish Labour: Johann Lamont, Douglas Alexander, and a whole raft of Labour figures.

They need to stand up, be bold, brave and humble, and say: we got it wrong, we took you the Scottish people for granted, we practiced a politics of patronage and power, where that became important rather than people, and we have learned from it and will change our ways.

A party which learned from its twin defeats of 2007 and 2011 would say something along those lines. To become the party of the future, of change, and of daring politics, you have to want it and be prepared to take risks. It has to have a voice and give a voice to communities up and down this land.

‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’ isn’t an attempt to write off Labour or damn; it is written as a detailed analysis and critique, and partly as a wake up call not just to Labour but wider Scottish politics. A Labour Party sleepwalking to slow decline and atrophying north of the border is a distinct possibility, clinging to the old comfort zones and battle hymns, of railing against the Tory led UK Government, while being driven by a near-pathological obsession with doing down Alex Salmond and his ‘separatist’ SNP.

Labour have lost two elections north of the border, and so far show little sign of having the hunger and self-awareness to realise the crisis it is in: of the breakdown of its old systems of dominance, of its appeal and raison d’être, and of how it understands and competes in modern party politics. Scottish Labour was once the party of the future, but that mantle has now fallen to the SNP and the wider notion of Scottish self-government which no one party owns or can claim to completely speak for.

The challenge for Labour is to begin speaking of a progressive future, one which is at home with the vision and impetus of Scottish self-government, an increasingly distinct Scottish voice and a very different union, one which challenges and takes on the conservatism and entrenched interests of the British state and establishment. And that then begs the question: who if anyone post-New Labour can speak for a different pan-British agenda which talks about inequality, social justice and ‘Breadline Britain’?

Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw, The Strange Death of Labour Scotland, published by Edinburgh University Press, £19.99

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Strange-Death-Labour-Scotland-Hassan/dp/0748640029/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340492535&sr=1-3

This article first appeared on the Compass blog, where comments should be written. Celyn would appreciate if comments from our readers were also copied here. Thanks.

Venue and date confirmed for Scots ‘Radical Independence Conference’

Following the first organising meeting – held in early June in Glasgow and attended by around 100 people – the conference arrangements working group has been hard at work finalising a date and venue for the Radical Independence Conference. We’re now very happy to reveal that it will be taking place on Saturday 24 November, at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow city centre.

The conference was launched earlier this year with a statement signed by dozens of campaigners, trade unionists, cultural figures and politicians, calling for the creation of an extra-parliamentary independence campaign that puts forward a radical, progressive vision of an independent Scotland. The conference itself will see hundreds of people from across Scotland come together to start discussing and organising for this campaign, and building for a Yes vote in the autumn 2014 referendum.

In a bid to make the day as open as possible, the conference will be based around workshops. Organisations and individuals are invited to submit abstracts giving a summary of their proposed workshop or speaker – the forms for which are available below. Future organising meetings will then discuss these applications and decide on the order of events at the conference. There will also be space at the conference for stalls for different organisations and causes, applications for which are also now open.

The Radical Independence Conference looks set to be a significant step on the road to the 2014 referendum, giving the opportunity for those across Scotland who are on the left, involved with environmental and social justice movements, trade unionists and everyone who supports a progressive vision of independence,  to come together and discuss the launch of a mass, radical campaign.

But your participation is key! We need your ideas, enthusiasm and skills to make the conference a reality. Details of the next organising meeting will be posted up soon, and in the meantime feel welcome to submit your ideas and workshop and stall applications to radicalindependence@gmail.com

On Self-determination


Booker prize-winning author James Kelman, a committed socialist, a Glaswegian with family connections in Wales, makes a powerful contribution to the independence debate. The article was first published in the magazine NY Arts

In an American journal I read a prominent English writer was described as ‘very British’. What can it mean to be ‘very British’? Could I be described in this way? Can my work be described as ‘very British’? No, not by people in Britain, or by those with a thorough knowledge of the situation. The controlling interest in ‘Britishness’ is ‘Englishness’. This ‘Englishness’ is perceived as Anglo-Saxon. It is more clearly an assertion of the values of upper-class England, and their validity despite all and in defiance of all.

Power is a function of its privileged ruling elite. To be properly ‘British’ is to submit to English hierarchy and to recognise, affirm and assert the glory of its value system. This is achieved domestically on a daily basis within ‘British’ education and cultural institutions. Those who oppose this supremacist ideology are criticised for not being properly British, condemned as unpatriotic. Those Scottish, Welsh or Irish people who oppose this supremacist ideology are condemned as anti-English. The ‘British way’ is sold at home and abroad as a thing of beauty, a self-sufficient entity that comes complete with its own ethical system, sturdy and robust, guaranteed to outlast all others.

British people are led to believe that the Royal Family are admired, loved and glorified across the globe. Should another Solar System contain life upon any of its myriad planets its inhabitants will not only accede to the Christian church but acknowledge the Head of the English Royal Family as Defender of the Faith, in competition with the Pope, standing next in line to God.

Writers like myself are guilty of being ‘too Scottish’; our ‘Scottishness’ is as an attack on ‘Britishness’ and acts as a disqualification. It is assumed that Scottish experience is homogenous whereas English experience offers a wide-ranging and worldly heterogeneity. Our work is attacked in pseudo literary tones for its perceived insularity. This also happens within Scotland; anglocentric Scottish critics condemn Scottish writers for their ‘lack of diversity’.

Being ‘too indigenous’ is the same as being ‘too working class’ and, predictably, the closer we move to the realm of class the clearer we find concerns of race and ethnicity. No one remembers that ‘Briton’ has something to do with Celticness. Being ‘too Scottish’ is seen as an assertion of a Celtic rather than Anglo–Saxon heritage. The marketability of certain individuals derives from the arousal of this racial stereotype. The proof of the English footballer David Beckham’s marketability is in his Anglo-Saxon ‘provenance’.

A colonial or imperial context helps clarify the argument. The key is class. ‘Scottishness’ equates to class and class equals conflict. Even within Scotland we can be criticised for this. The work of writers deemed ‘too Scottish’ shares a class background. Occasionally we are condemned for confining our fiction to the world of the urban working class. This suggests that for working class people cultural boundaries are fixed in place. Their world is an entirety of experience, culturally as well as economic. None can step beyond the limits of that world. It is a world barren of the finer things in life which are not only material but spiritual. Working class people cannot engage with art and philosophy. In their world there is no art and philosophy.

This elitism is straightforward and at the heart of the hostility but, as with racism, is seldom remarked upon within the establishment and mainstream media. It rarely occurs to critics that working class people might read ‘proper’ books or look at paintings as opposed to ‘pictures on the wall’. When it does occur to them it is treated as a phenomenon. They do not progress to the discovery that the life of one human being is as valid as another, that the life experience of one section of society is as diverse as another.

The bourgeoisie tend to go with the colonisers and the imperialists as a means of personal and group survival, and advancement. They quickly buy into the culture of the ruling elite. Indigenous languages and cultures are kept alive by those at the lower end of society. In India and much of Africa, as well as Australasia and North America, the voice of authority continues to be English. The lower order groups keep alive the local, the richness of the indigenous languages, the indigenous aesthetic, the culture – as best they can, not necessarily by choice or intention. The proletariat and other lower order groups do not have much of a choice. Typically education is denied them, their languages and cultural markers are proscribed, regarded as weapons. To use these language or cultural markers is seen as cultural vandalism or acts of terrorism.

Since the 18th century the cultural and linguistic movement of the Scottish bourgeoisie and ruling elite is total assimilation to Britishness where Englishness is the controlling interest. Scotland has its own languages too, and these are ‘living languages’, kept alive by people using them who, generally, are working class. Scottish literary artists have worked in these languages for centuries. Even where the writers are not themselves working class in origin the subject matter of the work is, as we see in some of the writings of Walter Scott or R.L. Stevenson.

Scotland also has its own philosophical, legal, religious, literary and educational traditions, and most of this too is marginalised. Scottish educators have to fight Scottish  institutions to find a place for Scottish philosophy, literature and education  itself. Many English people sympathise with the plight of Scottish culture; they see cultures and traditions marginalised everywhere, and recognise also the plight faced by people from Yorkshire, Cornwall,  Northumbria, Cumbria, Somerset, Lancashire and so on.

The difference is that Scotland is not an English county, it is a British country. It will continue to be a British country whether or not we are governed from London, England. This is because Great Britain is a geographical entity. It is a mistake to attribute particular sensibilities or character traits to the millions of people who live in its countries of Wales, England and Scotland. And then there is the north of Ireland.

People are right to treat nationalism with caution. None more than Scottish people who favour self-determination. Any form of nationalism is dangerous, and should be treated with caution. I cannot accept nationalism and I am not a Scottish Nationalist. But once that is said, I favour a ‘yes or no’ decision on independence and I shall vote ‘yes’ to independence.

Countries should determine their own existence and Scotland is a country. The decision is not managerial. It belongs to the people of Scotland. We are the country. There are no countries on Mars. This is because there are no people on Mars. How we move ahead here in Scotland is a process that can happen only when the present chains are disassembled, and discarded, when the majority people seize the right, and burden, of self-determination.

The Nationalist Party has exposed its weakness in this area. Under their leadership ‘independence’ may be distinguished from ‘self-determination’. In his speech of 25.1.2012 Alex Salmond declared: “With independence we will have a new social union with the other nations of these islands and will continue to share Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State.” This returns us to the 17th Century when the ruling elite in Scotland retained their own Parliament but shared kingship with England and Wales. During this period all major policy matters concerning army and international affairs were settled not by the so-called ‘Scottish Parliament’ but in the Palace of Westminster. That so-called ‘Scottish Parliament’ belonged to such a tiny group of aristocrats, landowners and corrupt placemen that there is little point discussing it when we refer to the issue of self-determination. The majority Scottish people have never experienced self determination at any time in history.

I am not a patriot. A ‘patriot’ is one who accepts national identity as grounds for a primary solidarity. It is patently absurd that the majority people should expect solidarity from the ruling elite and upper classes. In Scotland there is no justification for such a hope let alone expectation.

The British establishment left, right and centre are as one in their opposition to Scottish self-determination. This applies to the many Scottish politicians of the Tory Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal-Democrat Party who ‘cross the political divide’ to stand together in defence of the Union. It is useful to see this priority expressed so clearly. This type of united front is common in situations of war..

For many people, not only career politicians, a benign paternalism is preferable to independence. A similar choice is faced by adolescents. Should we leave home and live as self determining adults or stay home and enjoy the comforts provided by mum and dad?

The Scottish Nationalists’ push to subject the majority people to a Royal Family pays homage to another tradition associated with ‘Scottish identity’: submission and servitude to the ruling elite. Manna for Empire builders and Colonialists. Dependency is at the root of this aspect of ‘Scottish identity’. There may be a ‘right’ of self-determination; on the other hand there may not. Even if there is such a right it need not be exercised. Siding with the imperialist is a better option: dogs brought to heel can be robbed of their bones.

Scottish people are encouraged by the establishment to take pride in their service to the Monarch, the Royal Family and all of its subjects. Scottish children are taught to glorify submission and servitude, embodied in the myth of “the Scottish soldier who wandered faraway and soldiered faraway” in the retention of British authority and the denial to the majority people both foreign and domestic, of the right of self-determination.

There are centuries of imperialist myth-making, misinformation and propaganda to disentangle. Clan allegiance has been strong in the highlands and islands of Scotland, as has religious difference throughout the country. This continued throughout the 17th and on through the 18th century until the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the clan system and Jacobitism was effectively destroyed.

The British State has sought to deny the right to self-determination consistently over the past few hundred years in Africa, the Americas, Ireland, the Indian Sub-continent, South East Asia or Australasia. The State has used every argument it can to cling onto power and when necessary applied the requisite dirty tricks, and finally moved in the army to achieve their objective, at whatever cost, including the slaughter of innocents.

Unfortunately religious difference remains significant into the 21st Century. The Scottish Nationalists support for such an intrinsically British institution appears as a sop not only to Unionist sympathisers but to ‘the Protestant vote’. This opens a nasty sore on the Scottish political and cultural scene. Traditionally, Protestants are anti-Republican Unionists who regard the King or Queen of England as Defender of the Faith. Roman Catholics are believed to favour Republicanism. In Scotland many people confuse ‘Republicanism’ ‘Roman Catholicism’ and ‘Irishness’. Some believe them to be one and the same thing. The subtext to their ‘pro-Unionist, anti-Republican stance is sectarian racism: anti-Catholic anti-Irish. Others in Scotland will view the Nationalist retention of the British Monarchy in these terms.

To what extent religious sectarianism will play a part in the move towards independence is unknown but few politicians will want to become embroiled in this. The Nationalists have stated elsewhere that they are in favour of lifting the ban on Roman Catholics holding the Monarchy. This may set the minds of some to rest.

The continuing debate in Britain is led by the establishment and mainstream media and focuses on whether or not independence is ‘good for Scotland’. This is a red herring. It is an argument from self interest and therefore secondary. The economic consequences of self-determination are important but is not and cannot be the central issue. Experts and specialists debate on the deployment of capital resources; defence and foreign policy, business & industry; health and welfare issues, religions and secularism. Shall Scotland seek to enter NATO, the UN, the British Commonwealth, the European Union? What will happen to ‘our’ soldiers and ‘our’ army-towns, ‘our’ battleships, warplanes, tanks and submarines. What effects will independence have upon our relationships with the USA, with England, Wales and Ireland, not to mention Spain, Italy, Israel, Turkey and all those other countries keeping the lid on their own governance issues.

How we progress as a people will depend on how we contend with those and other matters. A people cannot be asked to settle in advance of independence how they shall act in hypothetical situations. We are being asked to provide a priori evidence of our fitness to determine our own existence before the freedom to do so is allowed.

Imperialists and colonisers lay down the judgment that there is no ‘right’ of self-determination. But that judgment has no place in the 21st Century. The right to self-determination inheres in every adult human being and distinguishes us from animals, mammals, birds, fowls or fish. No one grants us this right. It is not allowed to us by a benign authority. People exercise the right. It can only be denied to us, as it is denied to the vast majority of the world’s population.

Ultimately there is only one issue: the right to self-determination. Underlying the ‘good for Scotland’ debate is the denial of that right.

People can be subjected to hideous forms of torture and mutilation, and for some it ends in death. This may be rationalised by the perpetrators who deny their victims humanity. Their death carries less value than if the victims were ‘100 percent’ human. Neo-fascism is illustrated where the burden of proof is placed upon human beings to provide evidence of their humanity. Some fall into the trap of accepting the burden of proof. They seek to provide evidence to establish their own humanity. They can only fail. Humanity cannot be ‘granted’ or ‘allowed’ them. They already are human. Their humanity is being denied.

We are talking about freedom. We exercise freedom. If freedom be denied us we seize it as our right. No one gives us our freedom. We take it. If it is denied us we continue to take it. We have no choice. If it is taken from us and we allow it to be taken from us then we are colluding in our own subjection.

The Scottish Nationalists pay allegiance to the concept of ‘hereditary subjection’ (and spiritual degradation), as embodied in the Queen of the British Kingdoms and I find this repugnant. The question is of historical as well as contemporary relevance. People have fought and died for a political freedom inclusive of Republicanism. They would turn in their grave: such as Thomas Muir, John Baird, James Wilson, Andrew Hardie, James Connolly, Arthur McManus, John Maclean.  No one has the right to represent the voice of the Scottish people in a matter of such gravity. It is a massive set-back but not insurmountable. It is my belief that the Nationalists’ brand of independence should still be grasped. We can learn from the past. Sooner or later the right to self-determination will be exercised by the majority people in my country. When I vote ‘yes’ to independence I shall be voting towards that end.’

Welsh Labour Conference: Beware the Ides of March.

By Gordon Gibson

A few weeks early for the Ides, the backstabbing began. Not the ‘disruption’ the left is accused of when debate breaks out; Labour’s post-Blair democracy leaves little room for that sort of thing. At Welsh Labour’s 500-strong ‘best attended, best ever’ conference, all resolutions were passed virtually unanimously, with the full support of the Welsh Executive. Change days indeed.

Opposition and manoeuvring these days is for the spinners. Appropriately in back rooms, huddles and corridors of the conference’s cricket ground venue in Cardiff, they were much in evidence last weekend.

Highlight speech was from Ed Miliband, setting out policies that ordinary people want to hear. And he tentatively apologised for the Blair years, calling for Labour to ‘win back the trust’ of voters. To do that, he voiced some hitherto unmentionables: “tax bankers’ bonuses; create 100,000 jobs for young people; too many jobs low wage, low skill; good jobs, good wages; irresponsible capitalism; reform the banks”. For government contracts, “every company must provide apprenticeships for the next generation”. Banking is to be teased apart with a new British Investment Bank to ‘properly serve business’. Here, he’s weakest, not least with ‘an employee on every remuneration committee so that top executives have to look an ordinary member of staff in the eye before they award themselves that pay rise”. As if they care.

Note: not a word about taxes.

And how did the media cover this? They spotted Ed Balls’ seemingly mischievous press release calling for a reduction in income tax. They picked up disgraced expenses fiddler, LibDem banker David Laws, currently being rehabilitated by his millionaire friends in government, joining the media tax fetish. And poor old John Prescott (‘poor old’ only in this context) gets flayed for his rather brave and poignant reference to his inability to hug his beloved sons. Ed Miliband? Labour fightback? What’s that?

Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Scot, was first up at conference, drawing lessons on Labour’s ‘historic defeat’ last May, when 1999’s “only true National Party of Scotland, found itself supported by only one in eight Scottish voters”. He appears to have learned little. Despite wondering that we may have got it right ‘Standing Up For Wales’, and holding on to power, Alexander spent much of his delivery berating the SNP and defending the Union. He rightly flags the SNP’s support for Tory votes in London; their claim that the Scots ‘didn’t mind’ Thatcher’s economic policies; their advocacy of corporation tax cuts for bankers; SNP capital investment cuts and public sector job losses greater that those of the Tories in Westminster. The problem is, Scottish voters associate these policies and many more with New Labour negativity. Because of that, Labour is facing devastation in Scotland.

ImageSo it fell to Carwyn to spell it out. Standing up for jobs, services, and the development of the Welsh economy is what wins votes, not carping about other parties, pandering to bankers, or overstating ‘the Union’. Of course he played to his audience with the obligatory lambasting of the other parties. Least appropriate was his line on ‘placard waving megaphone’ Plaid, an attack on the wing of Plaid that Labour should most identify with in the fight against the Tories. Of more political sharpness, exemplary in fact, was his positive approach, claiming Labour as the party of the language and of Wales – bringing in the first ever Welsh Language Commissioner, launching a new Welsh Language Strategy and placing the language at the centre of Welsh life and culture – ‘Llafur Cymru yw eich plaid’. Enacting policy is what Welsh (and Scottish) people want to see and feel in these hard times and Jones focused on jobs, employment and training for young people, services, the NHS, children, communities – ‘accessible, high quality, citizen-centred services for all’. ‘The forces of marketisation and privatisation of the NHS will stop at the border.’

Conference speeches get loaded with niceties and (often) false flattery. Peter Hain delivered the heaviest load. Praised as ‘friend’ by Ed, Douglas and Carwyn, Hain, as is the way with Oscar winners, saw fit to heap thanks on everyone under the sun, or under Welsh Labour’s red flag, naming, one by one, Union leaders, MPs, Assembly Members, councillors, party workers, his old auntie in Merthyr. (I lied about that last one.) One gets more than a trifle cynical. Peter Hain counts his political friends in Wales carefully. In recent years, the Labour machine in Wales, contrary to its much-lauded Hardie/ Bevan legacies, has set aside much of the radicalism it may have had. Hain names names to maintain support for his own project, interestingly revealed in his platform appearance at the Liam Byrne, Purple Book ‘Progress’ fringe meeting on Sunday.

There’s the danger. Having led Labour to election disaster in Westminster and Scotland, alienating the party from its core support in the process, the Blairites, still dominant in Westminster and the party apparatus, remain obsessed with the middle ground – a cover for deep conservatism. In Wales, and perhaps with Ed Miliband in London (the jury is still out but we spotted a difference!), there is a glimmer of hope, some ‘clear red water’, what Carwyn chooses to call ‘the dividing line, stopping at the border’. Supportive policies and campaigning will win voters; best if they are clearly against the Tories and their banker-feeding austerity offensive. But there are dark forces at work within Labour too. And the media loves them.

Welsh Labour? Why?!!!

As the Welsh Labour Party gathers for its annual conference in Cardiff this weekend, the question is asked “Why, for goodness sake, does anyone support Labour?” Gordon Gibson reckons that the Welsh Party should top up its supplies of ‘clear red water’.

Visiting my mother in Scotland last week I was rather shaken by two events. Five years ago, Labour had 69 out of 79 seats on Glasgow council. Last week they wheeled out the infirm to secure a majority of 2 for their budget. With defections, deselections and disaffection galore, Scotland’s rock-solid bastion of Labour is now a hung council. On May 3rd, there is every likelihood that Glasgow will go SNP.

It came up in conversation when I met up with former flatmates and friends I hadn’t seen for decades, a not overtly political lot. Declaring my hand, I told them of Labour’s support in Wales. In disbelieving, unrehearsed unison they replied. “Why, for goodness sake?”

In Scotland, the drift away from Labour is frightening. The party appears hell-bent on retaining its New Labour character by, for example, raising Alastair Darling from the ashes to call for unity with Tories and LibDems to preserve the Union, and by having little political strategy other than to slag off the SNP. Unfortunately for Labour, the SNP, being the populist party it is and led by a very shrewd political operator in Alex Salmond, is saying all the things that people want to hear, things that Labour should be saying.

Scottish people, whose under-rated political traditions expressed themselves over the years with overwhelming social democratic and communist representation, don’t take kindly to Labour’s new leader, Johann Lamont, like her predecessor, shrugging off the dissent in her own back yard, and joining the tribalism. The Scots don’t have a problem with the SNP if it is standing up to the Tories. And it is. They, the Scots, will consider independence and its implications in due course. They know, as one wag said, that there are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs, and that it is the Westminster Tories, jobs and cuts that are the issue for now. All they hear from Labour, both in Westminster and Holyrood, is, at best, a confusing message about the economy, debt and necessary cuts, wrapped up in anti-SNP rhetoric and tosh about ‘the Union’. As in Glasgow, the only outcome will be to drive voters into the haven of the SNP, and so towards independence.

In Scotland, during the Blair years and before the unforgivable Sheridan debacle, Scots had begun to see an alternative to New Labour in the likes of the Scottish Socialist Party. After the 2003 elections, the SSP had 6 MSPs – an extraordinary achievement for an avowedly left socialist party. Sheridan’s antics put paid to that, but the die was cast. Voters and, even more important, young people were looking for alternatives. Salmond and the SNP, never friends of socialism, were happy to provide the rhetoric and, wisely, no small gains and resistance to the Tories. Although always a home for disaffected Labourites, the SNP was, hitherto, not a party of left nationalism; it was always much messier. It’s another story now.

In Wales. Labour holds on to a fragile support, with a different back-cloth. The mainstream left divides itself into two camps: disaffected left socialists form a strong current in Plaid Cymru, finding expression in Leanne Wood, running as favourite to win next month’s leadership election. If she does, it is bound to shake up both Plaid and Labour. Plaid has matured from a traditionally ‘Welsh language nationalist’ party, with worrying pro-fascist elements in its history, currently being re-assessed by their leading left ideologue and former MP, Adam Price. Labour, on the other hand is tending to regress into a old-style male apparatus that finds ‘the national question’, not to mention ‘campaigning trade union resistance’, rather awkward.

Labour took its leftism into government after the devolution vote of 1997 and even drew Plaid into the ‘One Wales’ coalition from 2007-11. First Minister Rhodri Morgan, Welsh leader for most of 10 years from 2000, had described that leftism as ‘clear red water’ between Wales and Blair’s Westminster, as early as 2002.

Make no mistake, the achievements of devolution are not to be scoffed at. Morgan’s cabinet in 2000 was the first in the western world to have a majority of women ministers. Their constitution put sustainablity and equality above all else. Sure Start, focused on child poverty, was embraced, developed and is now protected in Wales. The Assembly was first with free travel for older and disabled people back in 2002, first with free prescriptions in 2007, first with a strategic planning policy in 2004; Scotland came first with subsidised student fees back in 2000, Wales came on board to underwrite against the Tory fee increases last year. And you can be sure that the NHS is a lot safer in Welsh and Scottish hands than it is in the Tories’.

Conference this weekend will test Welsh Labour’s mettle. New leader, Carwyn Jones, has no mean task on his hands. Ed Miliband’s trials and tribulations are analysed most generously as ‘biding his time’ while he endeavours to change the course of the entrenched, unaccountable apparatus and parliamentary party of Blair’s legacy. Carwyn dances, perhaps not quite with Rhodri’s aplomb, on tightropes of slashed budgets and Tory defiance, that still ambiguous leadership from London, and a burgeoning independence debate at odds, for Labour, with our experience of devolution – and all whilst onlooking Labour’s danse macabre, and the SNP’s jig, in Scotland.

The priorities remain to do all we can to protect jobs and services, seeking new and innovative ways to boost the Welsh economy, pursuing the green agenda, building resistance to the Tories. These themes form the core of Welsh Labour Grassroots conference fringe meeting on Saturday evening, 18th February, 6.00 pm at the Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff CF11 9SW, with Lesley Griffiths AM (Welsh Health Minister); Mark Drakeford AM (Cardiff West); Siobhan Corria (Llandaff North council candidate); and Martin Mayer (Unite the Union and Labour party NECs).

That discussion is sharpened by the Plaid contest, where these same themes, laced with independence, are the essence of Leanne Wood’s bid for leadership. She is quite clear that she sees no circumstances for alliances with the Tories. That’s about jobs and cuts and a future for Wales, not just the Union. Labour take heed.

Labour implodes in Glasgow

By Jonathan Mackie

It’s a common – and often justified – complaint that Scotland’s mainstream media outlets focus disproportionately on Glasgow when deeming what’s worthy of ‘news’ status. This time, however, the goings-on over recent weeks at Hollywood’s favourite Kremlin substitute have been entirely worthy of the headline treatment. You’ll forgive me for treating the next sentence to a paragraph entirely to itself:

Labour is now a minority party on Glasgow City Council.

My first campaign as a bright-eyed newly paid-up SNP member was the 1995 Council Elections. That resulted in our having 1 councillor out of 79, versus a monolithic 71 for Labour (election anoraks may like to know it would likely have been 1 from 90, had the District/Region set-up been retained). The last time Labour were deprived of a majority in Glasgow, the Foreign Office were sending photos of dead bodies to Olympic athletes to dissuade them from competing in Moscow, and homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Other than a 3-year interregnum, Labour held total domination in the City Chambers for decades. Until 9th February 2012.

That night the late-night political discussion programmes were treated to the spectacle of Labour’s Stephen Curran protesting that the day’s Labour budget had went very well for the party – as a majority of Labour councillors had voted for it! You could almost hear Malcolm Tucker in the background, spontaneously adding to the Chambers Dictionary with a half-page of compound expletives. Speculation that council leader Gordon Matheson had requisitioned all the city’s supplies of smelling salts remained, alas, unconfirmed.

More serious were the images of a tearful Anne-Marie Millar, until Wednesday a Labour councillor, alleging that implied threats had been made against her son’s continued apprenticeship should she side with the Opposition. Given historical precedent (cf. Bob Gould’s almost accidental exposure of ‘Votes for Trips’), the incident was sadly all too believable. Millar’s leaving the party, taken with the resignations (de facto or deliberate) of five other councillors and Irfan Rabbani’s move to the SNP, leave what was once the citadel of Establishment dominance a hung council, Leader Matheson dependent on those outwith the Labour fold to maintain control between now and May’s elections. On a council that but five years ago contained 69 Labour councillors from the 79.

Such loss of control is the inevitable culmination of a culture where any notion of political innovation was buried long ago. A culture where what matters is the dynamic and powerplay within the group, not how best to move Glasgow forward. A brief example; Thursday’s combined Opposition budget contained a proposal to erect solar panels on city primary schools, taking advantage of the stay of execution on feed-in tariffs. The question then arises – why wasn’t this done years ago? A proliferation of municipal property, a generous scheme of (effective) subsidy, and a small role in reducing council expenditure and carbon emissions. A no-brainer, you may think; then think of the dead hand on the reins of power and reflect.

However the cards fall for myself and my fellow candidates of all parties on May 3rd, it seems desperately obvious that the things that have been contemptuously buried by decades of Labour rule – openness, accountability, a readiness to listen, an ability to consult, and the humility of power – are exactly those which should be celebrated as the way to start the process of harnessing the clout and talent within Glasgow City Council to make the case, rhetorically and practically, for progressive and inclusive politics alongside Glaswegians of all political colours and none.

The city deserves nothing less.

This article first appeared under the title ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’ in the Scottish blog Bella Caledonia.
Labour in Glasgow has suffered public humiliation this past week, struggling with enforced attendances and defections, to pass its budget by just two votes. These events are symptomatic of Labour’s plight in Scotland although the article is not clear that the defections are to the left and the beneficiaries are the SNP, increasingly likely to gain in the May elections. Not only will this be a shot in the arm for the independence movement but it may well be more than just a further nail in the coffin of ‘new’ Labour.

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