Thursday, January 26, 2012

Scottish Nationalism - A Challenge for the Radical Left

Not the real referendum ballot paper, but you get the point...
Yesterday, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond used the occasion of Robert Burns' birthday to announce the question for the planned 2014 referendum: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

The use of the poet Burns - himself a fervent internationalist - portends the sort of cartoon 'Scottishness' that will no doubt form part of the pro-separation campaign. The other prong will be some sort of economic argument that 'independence' is in the national interest of Scotland. Marxists and many other radicals recognise that 'the national interest' is always official shorthand for the interests of the ruling class, yet many on what might be considered the radical left seem to be in favour of Scottish independence. In this article, I would like to ask why.

First though, let's look at what's at stake for different sections of the ruling class. The Scottish National Party represent the section of the Scottish elite which feels it would be better for them to negotiate with international financiers and supranational bodies as a separate entity to the rest of the United Kingdom. In an age where an email can be sent from Inverness to India in the blink of an eye, this is the absolute limit to what national 'independence' can mean. As an economics MA graduate and then later Royal Bank of Scotland energy consultant, Salmond no doubt has his eye on cashing in Scotland's North Sea oil reserves. It is likely that the Scottish working class will be promised a share of the loot should they vote yes in 2014, but like all modern ruling class politicians, he would fail to make good on any pledge to increase working class living standards.

For sure, oil and gas reserves play a large role in the opposition of the UK and Scottish Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem parties to separation. Westminster politicians also want to continue reaping the rewards for increased exploitation of the Scottish working class, not because they are Scottish, but because they are working class. The default stance of any central government is towards expansion - not reduction - of its borders, and indeed this is more or less why Scotland was subjugated by England. Importantly, the separation issue will also provide a useful distraction over the next couple of years, as both 'sides' do the bidding of the banks.

So much for the elites. But what about those who claim to be pro-worker, 'radical', 'socialist' or even 'communist', yet still support separation? Some - specifically those who ride the coattails of the elites - are trying to deceive Scottish workers. Those in the union bureaucracy, or high up in the fake left parties - the main ones north of the 'border' being the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and its breakaway Solidarity - are seeking to make their lives easier. For union tops, nationalism is a great diversion from the fact that the unions are entirely undemocratic, and that the bureaucracy makes sell-out after sell-out of its dues base. For those high profile fake left politicians, a key part of their role is to be a cheerleader/apologist for the union fat cats. And it's plain to see why the SSP's former Members of the Scottish Parliament might relish the opportunity to be bigger fish in a more powerful assembly.

Scottish nationalism is less progressive than Kurdish struggles for democratic rights
Amongst many genuine non-Scottish radical lefts, there seems to be a sort of shrug, followed by a 'well, if they want it, they should have it'. And there's something in this, because of course if large numbers of Scottish people genuinely yearned for independence, and then it was denied by Westminster, that would a terrible act of repression, possibly involving military and para-military force. But when you look at polls of Scots, that fervour simply isn't there. The latest sample - in a week when pro-separation propaganda has been in full force - actually shows Scots being more or less evenly divided on the issue, but this is a huge jump forward from previous figures, which have normally showed a comfortable majority against.

In a way, this level of ambivalence and apathy amongst the general population is hardly surprising. After all, there's another recession on, and most people are more worried about how they're going to make ends meet than constitutional/social questions. And it isn't as if white Scottish people feel like Kurds for example, having their ethnic identity checked and repressed at every turn. On the contrary - an ossified version of Scotland's clan era traditions is constantly recreated. People are going to vote for separation if they feel it will make them better off. But as radicals we surely know that this would be one more ruling class illusion. So non-Scottish comrades, why support Scottish 'independence'? Who benefits?

The same question also goes to Scots whom I would happily call comrade on every other issue. Why do you feel Scottish separation would be a good thing for the Scottish working class, and the working classes of other nations? In this age of austerity, wouldn't it better if workers of the world united against all ruling elites? Or to put it another way, wouldn't you rather we fought side by side for a world where - in the male-centric language of Burns' time - "Man to Man, the world o'er, Shall brothers be"?
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