Cracks in Nationalist Movement: Socialism the Way Forward

Aiden O’Rourke

Too wee, too poor, too stupid. This was the way in which the Better Together campaign attempted to paint the masses in Scotland during the independence referendum. It’s common knowledge that the SNP dominated the Yes campaign leadership and that at the time it rightly railed against the reactionary narrative that the Better Together campaign and its faithful capitalist mass media tried so desperately to portray. With this in mind and in light of the recent scandals which have plagued the nationalist party, albeit played up by an unashamedly anti-nationalist press, it’s only too easy to appreciate the irony in the shoe now being on the other foot. The ongoing controversy ranges from the privatisation of essential services, such as Scot Rail and most recently the privatisation of Business Stream – a publicly owned subsidiary of Scottish Water; to the granting of £150,000 worth of state aid to the highly profitable ‘T in the Park’ music festival in order to help relocate to a new site.

These are just a couple of brief examples and there will be many more, genuine in some cases and no doubt manufactured in many others, but the result is that it is now the nationalists who decry any attempt at critical thought from those who either voted yes in the referendum or who have since joined many hundreds of thousands of others in Scotland in ‘lending their vote’ to the SNP. We must appreciate that the tens of thousands of people who joined the nationalists immediately after the referendum, many of whom are self-declared socialists, by and large did so for genuine left reasons. It is logical that, having been inspired into action by the political whirlwind of the referendum, they should seek to get involved with the party that on the surface at least is leading the charge against austerity and the Eton boys club down in Westminster. Extreme caution is imperative though. Within the confines of the capitalist, bourgeois parliamentary system, there are immense pressures on even the most well-meaning of nationalists to follow New Labour down the parliamentary rabbit hole to opportunism and corruption. The utter change Mr Salmond once declared is far from realised in practice. That’s where Socialism comes in.

As Marxists, we of course shouldn’t be surprised at the current situation. We would expect that what could be best described as a bit of a political headache bordering on crisis for the SNP would of course happen to any other governing bourgeois party working within the constraints of a bourgeois parliamentary system. It’s also particularly important to note that for the nationalists to be enjoying the levels of support they currently do is unprecedented for a Scottish government of eight years, especially one as supposedly powerless as the SNP have consistently claimed to be.

We can hardly expect the left wing of the bourgeoisie to be clamouring for revolutionary socialism or socialist policies any time soon. However the lip service which the nationalists have paid to Socialism together with the appropriation of socialist language and terminology has undoubtedly tapped into a wider anti-establishment mood. This has bolstered their support – in spite of carrying out Tory cuts at Holyrood and council level. It mustn’t be forgotten that despite the unprecedented swelling of their ranks, that despite being a party in which a majority are now either socialists outright or to some extent sympathetic; the SNP are not, have not and will not be a mass socialist party. They are a party based on cross-class interests, a Scotland for all; simultaneously claiming the legacy of ‘Old Labour’ whilst taking the money of Brian Souter.

Take away the national question, toss in a bit of ‘Corbynmania’, and suddenly things aren’t so straightforward. Why? Well, it’s because the SNP’s leftward shift, other than being easy given the vacuum Blair’s monstrous betrayals created, was not motivated out of any feelings of sentimentality. It was a cold and calculated political decision which has clearly paid off for the given their fortunes in the elections. Put to the test though, the reformist rhetoric of social justice and anti-austerity hasn’t prevented the privatisation of vital public services on their watch. It’s not enough to simply blame all of our woes and troubles on Westminster and demand an independent Scotland. As it currently stands, without a revolutionary socialist party in place to guide the masses, the only result of an independent Scotland will be a country similar to that of Ireland. Yes, they may have ‘national pride’, but in no way, shape or form are they any closer to Socialism as a result. For all its merits, Ireland now is as bourgeois as any other advanced western capitalist country.

The famous words of Easter Rising leader and Revolutionary Socialist James Connolly still apply today to Scotland and indeed Ireland after a century or so since they were first uttered,

“If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.”

​Independence alone is not enough. The starting point for the complete transformation of the economy and society must be along socialist lines, here in Scotland, and spreading outward to our comrades across Britain, Europe and globally.

Democracy, Self Determination and Capitalism

“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to misrepresent and repress them” Karl Marx (emphasised in Lenin’s State and Revolution), The Civil War in France, 1871

The general election exposed the limits of parliamentary democracy. In England and Wales many commented that it was impossible to tell the main parties apart. All promised to be loyal servants of capital and to further attack the living conditions of the poor. The Labour Party made mild challenges, for example in promising  get rid of non doms, a promise which proved to be popular and boost its ratings. This was predicatably followed by a barrage of smears and criticisms from the tories and capitalist press which the labour party succumbed to with reassurances of their “economic responsibility”.

The SNP used anti austerity and anti westminster slogans and were slandered by the British establishment who resorted to tabloid mysogynistic attacks on Sturgeon and attempts at scaring English voters into thinking they’ be governed by “tartan tyrants” but this was not enough to stop the powerful SNP wave. In fact for layers of the population, completely alienated and disgusted by the British establishemnt this would have only added to their indignation.

Media Slanders

The green party were the biggest anti austerity party in England. A 38 degrees petition against the BBC Green Party blackout has reached more than 87,000 listing examples such as its constant reference to being “others” in statistical data and their treatment during the Euro elections where the news summaries mentioned the liberal democrats without mentioning the Green Party despite the fact that The Green Party were more successful. “Journalism from Mars” carried out a study which showed that UKIP had around five times more coverage from the BBC and ten times more coverage on other news websites than the Green Party. This is despite The Green Party having more members.

The truth is the more of a threat you are to the agenda of the ruling class and its establishment, the more susceptible you are to smears and slander and eventually even lies and frame ups. Every slip up or weakness will be magnified and every success will be under publicised or ignored.

This was clear in the case the parliamentary success of the SSP in the early 2000s. When four MSPs held up bits of paper saying “defend democracy” behind Jack McConnell in defence of the anti G8 protests. They were suspended for thirty days and recieved a total fine of £30,000 when taking into account staff wages. This penalty was bigger than when Leith MP Ron Brown dropped the mace in Westminster and refused to apologise in 1987 or when Bernadette Devlin physically assualted the home secretary in 1973.

The accusation of “disrupting business” was rediculous. The constant mindless and incoherent heckles you hear in Holyrood from our “upstanding representatives” during average question time are more disruptive than this. The reality was that there was a large and very radicalised opposition to the Gleneagles summit which at the very least could have caused disruption and embarressment to the The Scottish Government. Holyrood acting as tentacle of British imperialism could not afford this kind of encouragement from the SSP. The so called sacred parliamentary democracy and the fact that the these MSPs had been legitmately elected was of no importance when their actions went against the interests of the ruling class.

The Referendum

The independence referendum was an eye opener for many. Not only did it bring many working class and beforehand politically alienated people into politcal activity but it also clearly exposed the powerful ability of the mainstream media and political establishment to interfere, lie and slander to benefit a result that they want.

730 hours of BBC and ITV evening news reports collected between the 17th of Septmeber 2012 and the 18th of Septmeber 2013 in a UWS study showed 317 favouring the NO campaign and 211 favouring the YES campaign. Where newspieces were seemingly neutral, the strong tendency was to start and end the clip with pro NO points, with the pro YES points in the middle. The research also reported that often treasury officials speaking on the matter were introduced as independent economic experts.

As marxists we are not shy to pont out the problems Scotland would face with an independence based on capitalism. However nor do we sow any illusions in a capitalist UK and as most workers today would tell you, remaining within the union has not solved any of their problems of which the media were clealry very reluctant to speak about. Its clear that the mainstream media and British establishment were not looking out for the interests of the masses of Scottish people  but instead were desperately trying to defend the withering prestige and power of the British ruling class.

When the BBC found out about the UWS research they sent a 6,000 word letter to the leading research professor John Robertson and his vice principle. When Robertson was invited to the Holyrood Culture and Education committee to present his findings the BBC were also invited later that day and sent four senior staff. When challenged by the commitee, Ken McQuarrie, BBC Scotland director was unable to answer questions on how many complaints they had recieved about coverage of the referendum. They were also forced to admit that to expend so much effort into analysing research was not normal practice of the BBC and that in other cases they would have published the research. When asked why they did not publish it in this case with their own critique instead of sending an email to the researcher and his boss they could give not straight answer.

Project Fear

The closer the referendum got, the less subtle and the more hysterical the bias got. When moves were made by the tory govenment to do away with the means testing in pensions the the express English released a papaer with the headline “Pensions Shock for Millions” whilst the Scottish editon’s headline was “Pensions Safer Under Westminster”. The BBC were caught wrongly accusing Salmond of ignoring questions. The establishment backed NO campaign was often refered to as Project Fear and there is no doubt that it had its affect on many voters. However for a radicalised layer, this cynical and clumsy campaign and bias was not only rediculously obvious but extremely enraging. A week before the referendum over a thousand (two thousand by some estimates) protested outside the BBC headquarters in Glasgow.

The German marxist and devout internationalist Rosa Luxembourg once said on the national question that under capitalism, national self determination would be utopian and under socialism it wouild be reactionary. Speaking on very general terms this is correct particularly when referring to the fact that even when political seperation is acheived economic independence is impossible under such global capitalism. Even achieving political seperation has its difficulties. In oppressed colonial countries where national uprisings are violentally crushed this is obvious but the ruling class need not always use force. Often the power of media is enough to defend bourgoise interests as shown in Scotland.

Luxembourg was a heroic and talented marxist which the movement is indebted to but she made some errors and one being on her underestimation of the reactionary consequences of a forced unity of nations. If Scotland were to stay within the UK whilst its population wants independence, a forced unity will inevatabely strengthen national antagonisms, particularly whilst the UK is governed by a party which the Scottish population overwhelmingly voted against. For this reason, as Marxists, we defend the right of Scotland to determine its own fate.

World Revolution

However the limits and new problems of independence under capitalism must be told. Westminster as the heart of British imperialism is without doubt one of the most reactioinary states in the world but it is just that, a state. The base is capitalism, the private means of production which functions by way of exploitation and alienation. In fact with the need for a new state to compete for global capital it wouild need to further attack workers rights and wages.A seperation from Westminster whilst being a very wecome blow to the prestige of an imperialist establishment would in and of itself not solve anything for the working classes if carried out on a capitlaist basis.

In the event of independence marxists would fight for a Scottish Workers Republic. A democratically planned economy based on the needs ot the many rather than the profits of the few. However in order for such a planned economy to survive internationalism is a must or such a republic wouild be very short lived. In short, we mean that such republic would need to call on the workers of England, the rest of Europe and the world to overthrow their ruling classes and create a world socialist order.

With the parasitic ruling class taken out the equation, unemployment could be erradicated and the working day world wide could be reduced to 30 hours or less. With this people would have time to get involved in the running of their workplaces and communities. A real democracy would be possible.

We have full confidence in this potential but of course we appreciate it will not happen tomorrow. In the mean time marxists fight for every single progressive reform that can be won under capitalism. Whether this be £10/hour minimum wage or to fight against privatisation of the NHS. When fighting the issue of media bias an important demand to fight for is to have full union membership and right to participation of all journalists and media workers. Trade unions such as the NUJ must back any journalist who refuses to back the editorial line. A successful campaign such as this would alleviate some of the problems of media bias and would be a big step forward.

However like all reforms and streps forward, under capitalism can only ever be temporary thats why we must consistnely point out the need for the overthrow of capitalism, in Scotland and internationally and only then can socialists in Scotland have a wee rest.

Marxism and the National Question in Scotland

by Alan Woods

We have entered into a new period on an international scale: a period of deep economic crisis, social and political instability. The masses everywhere are beginning to question things that were previously taken for granted. The whole political scene is a seething cauldron. In such a period sharp and sudden changes are implicit in the situation. The Scottish referendum was just such a sudden change, a political earthquake that upset all the calculations of the politicians. It represented a fundamental turn in the situation. Continue reading Marxism and the National Question in Scotland

Women and the Struggle for Socialism

by Alan Woods

For Marxists, the root cause of all forms of oppression consists in the division of society into classes. But oppression can take many forms. Alongside class oppression we find the oppression of one nation over another, racial oppression, and the oppression of women. Continue reading Women and the Struggle for Socialism