Neil Davidson has recently advocated a tactical vote for Scottish independence on anti-war grounds to weaken imperialism. (1) In his view,the Break up of Britain would make it more difficult for Westminster to help American Imperialism . Yet whatever the form of independence, Steve James and Jordan Smith have pointed out the obvious : given the pro NATO position of the SNP,Washington will have two allies instead of one. (2) Alternatively another imperialist country could fill the power vacuum so that there would be no weakening of imperialism. The reality of any independent Scotland will probably result in more militarism as a former comrade of Davidson writes,”the SNP are committing a future independent Scotland not only to remain in an imperialist alliance dominated by the US ,but to potential foreign interventions in yet more countries”. (3) The other point is one made by Davidson himself back in 2007: inflating the role of Britain on the world stage makes its demise a matter of priority. (4) In any case, the consequence of a yes vote will not be the break up of the British State.The programme of the SNP is independence lite. Key aspects of the British state apparatus such as the Monarch,the currency,and the Bank of England, will be shared with England and Wales.
Neil Davidson does not accept that the future of an independent Scotland depends on what the SNP wants or envisages. (5) He assumes Scottish nationalism has a proletarian content .He asserts that”most Scots who want independence do so for eminently social and economic measures without any embrace of nationalist ideology”,(6) Nationalism is seen as some kind of neutral class void which could be filled with socialist content. The power of nationalist ideology is ignored. It’s almost as if the saltire signified nothing but the pressure of Scottish working class interests. The assumption is that pressure from the Scottish people will push the SNP left or a Scottish capitalist state will be more susceptible to pressure from below. The anti-war movement might have failed to stop Westminster from going to war in Iraq, but at least the Scottish people will with have a chance to stop war by influencing their new state. Some fragmentation of the British state, even on a lesser evil capitalist basis, makes the yes vote worthwhile for Davidson.
Again back in 2007 Neil had a different view. Bourgeois nationalism in Scotland was powerful and flexible : “Everything looks national if you look at it through national spectacles”.(7) Exactly.What he had in mind was the misinterpretation of a number of significant class issues in terms of nationalism. For instance, the poll tax in Scotland was not an example of national oppression. The poll tax was an attempt to shift the tax burden onto the British working class. It was not confined to workers in Scotland. The associated nationalist illusion was that the Scottish people are more militant than workers in England and Wales. But while the poll tax non-payment campaign started in Scotland, the poll tax was finished off by the London riots. The militant core of the great miners strike 1984-5 was in Yorkshire not Scotland. And we should remember how Scottish nationalist sentiments helped to undermine the miners strike 1984-5 by keeping the Ravenscraig Steel Works open by using scab -coal.
Another of Neil’s former comrades, Alex Callinicos, also wants to downplay the influence of nationalism and fudge it’s bourgeois character. (8) He emphasises that not all capitalists are Scottish Nationalists, some businesses are not comfortable with the aim of independence. For example, Standard life and RBS. Callinicos simply describes how the introduction of the poll tax in Scotland prior to its introduction in the rest of the UK was seen as a national humiliation. He is tolerant of this nationalist view. This is because the rise of the SNP and the prospect of an independent Scotland are not seen as nationalism, but a reflection of something else. The Vote for the SNP is seen as a vote for Social Democracy or a Welfare State . The anti-war movement in Scotland was ignored by Westminster, and therefore it is understandable that a anti-war, anti-imperialist movement in Scotland will look to a more representative parliament in a new Scottish state. However, there was no national oppression in the lack of response at Westminster to anti-war demonstrations : that’s just the way bourgeois parliaments work.
The views,of Davidson and Callinicos have been taken from left nationalism. The SWP even has its own nationalist demand : Scotland should have its own currency. The statements of Standard life and the RBS Bank about relocating if there is a Yes Vote was part of an orchestrated scare campaign : it remains to be seen if they carry out these threats.In any case, no class is fully united in historic changes of direction. The SNP does have enough capitalist support from billionaires like Brian Souter of Stage Coach for a viable independence movement. All the evidence indicates that Capitalists can live with an independent Scotland. One of the reasons is that the start-up costs of a new Capitalist State is seen as a way of slashing welfare measure as the new State faces up to economic realities. The economics of the SNP are Neo -Liberal, and cutting corporation tax and business rates is their nationalist aim. As Callinicos concedes, the low wage, low tax, economy of Ireland is still the model for Scottish independence. (9 )
In contrast, in 1999, Callinicos was keen to highlight the dangers of nationalism. The Nationalists aim to carve out a new capitalist state would result in coming to terms with the system of capitalist states, and the dominant powers in that system. (10) For the SNP this means cooperating with the EU, NATO and international capitalist financial institutions. There is also the small matter of a high level of foreign ownership of the gas and oil industry. This is why Scottish Nationalism is not progressive. This is another way of saying the workers have no country. It was the German Social Democratic tradition which regarded workers representation in parliament as representing the nation. British Labourism is another example.As Roman Rosdolsky put it: “the workers have no country because they have to think of the national bourgeois state machine as a machine of oppression directed against them”. (11) This is why internationalism is not just an aspiration. Davidson was aware of nationalist dangers in 2000: “It is futile to imagine that merely setting up a Scottish Nation State will by itself remove the poison of racism and hostility towards cultures which are perceived to be different” . (12)
Davidson and Callinicos do not support independence for Scotland because it is an oppressed nation. It never has been oppressed as Davidson has amply demonstrated in his historical research. They support secession as a general democratic political right. Nonetheless, echoing Rosa Luxemburg, Hillel Ticktin makes the point that “the simple demand for the right of nations to self-determination cannot be fulfilled under capitalism except in a formal way.” (13) Look at the austerity policies superimposed on sovereign established nations such as Greece and Ireland by European and international financial powers. Political independence for small nations has been hollowed out. Politics and economics are intermingled. Nor is there a general right to self-determination above class interests. Nationalism destroys or reduces class antagonism. Tactical unity with Scottish nationalists is a popular front which undermines class independence. What do Davidson and Callinicos really stand for : welfare capitalism?
Unity with the bosses,however tactical and temporary are very much the politics of the old Stalinist CPGB. The CPGB in line with other Stalinist’s throughout Europe in the 1930’s adapted nationalist symbols and flags. (14) In Scotland the CPGB sometimes wore tartan sashes and banners showing Wallace and Bruce, and carried the Saltire. Stalinist leaders of the NUM in Scotland scaled back picketing at Ravenscraig Steel Works to save Scottish industry.The yes campaign is very much nationalist in character in the popular front tradition.Tommy Sheridan’s nationalist Referendum Campaign has the same explicit Scottish Nationalist cultural references. The Republican Independence Campaign have the left nationalist slogans such as : Britain is for the rich, Scotland could be ours. These campaigns Paint Scottish nationalism red as if nationalism could be proletarian.
If Callinicos and Davidson are voting Yes with illusions,Sandy McBurney is voting No with illusions. (15) He rejects any parliamentary road to state socialism in Scotland.Instead, he puts his faith in the British Labour Movement which he manages to conflate with every class struggle in Britain in the last two hundred years. Revolutionary Chartism is lumped together with Labourism,the great unrest 1910-14, which circumvented trade union and Labour party leaders, with the modern trade union bureaucracy and so on. While he is quick to say that the nationalist left take the SNP social democratic promises as good coin, he takes the occasional historic socialist rhetoric of the Trade union and Labour party leaders as good coin. He writes that we should not write off the socialist potential of the British Labour movement.
In effect, this is a choice for a British parliamentary road to Socialism or the British State. The Trade Union bureaucracy and the Labour Party, are the primary components of the British Labour Movement. They are committed to the British national interest and constitutionalism. The Labour Party was a party of nation not class from the outset. He paints Labourism red. Sandy is also nostalgic for the liberal and national collectivist spirit of 1945. He asserts that to break up the historic unity of the British Working Class movement would weaken the fight back against austerity,but admits there has been no serious fight back. This is political incoherence. Davidson and Callinicos are surely correct that it’s not about bureaucratic unity across borders, but fighting solidarity from below. Although they are inconsistent. If borders are not a barrier to solidarity then why be against separate Scottish Trade unions? The choice is the working class struggle from below not a British or Scottish capitalist state :a boycott of both yes and no campaigns.
1 Neil Davidson, For a Yes vote without illusions : on the Scottish independence referendum,in The Project: a Socialist Journal, July 2014.
2 Steve Jame and Jordan Smith,Former Scottish Socialist Party leader promotes nationalism in referendum campaign,left network, July 2014
3 Keir Mckechnie,Yes to independence-No to Nationalism,Irish Marxist Review, Vol 12, Number 8.
4 Neil Davidson,Socialists and Scottish independence,International Socialism Journal,Spring,2007,p.47
5 Neil Davidson, for Yes vote.
6 Neil Davidson, for a Yes Vote.
7 Neil Davidson, Socialists and Scottish Independence ,International Socialism Journal Spring , 2007,p.40
8 Alex Callinicos, Towards the Break up of Britain,International Socialism 143,2014.
9 Alex Callinicos as above
10 Alex Callinicos, Marxism and the National Question,in Scotland : Class and Nation, edited by Chris Bambery Bookmarks, 1999,p.44
11 Roman Rosdolsky,The Workers and their Country,in In Defence of Marxism number 2,p.56 (LTT Pamphlet)
12 Neil Davidson, The origins of Scottish Nationhood,Pluto Press, London ,2000,p.202
13 Hillel Ticktin, Marxism and the National Question, in Critique 36-7,p.21
14 Lenin’s Social democratic schema of Bourgeois Democratic revolutions in oppressed countries subject to imperialism, and tactical support for nationalists, undermined the political and organised independence of the working class and carried the seeds of the popular front. It also contributed to serious defeats and destruction of communist movements. For example in China in the 1920’s. Why would Landlords and Capitalists tolerate communists in the factories and fields even in a temporary alliance. Callinicos has made the main point in his Marxism and the National Question. Lenin did not explain how support for the national Revolution or democratic demands related to the specific struggle for Socialism. It also wrongly associated the bourgeoisie with democracy following Kautsky. It simplified bourgeois revolutions. The Bourgeois revolution was often a top down affair led by reactionary forces on Bismark’s principle of if we have to have a revolution, let us carry it out in a conservative way, rather than suffer one from below. Davidson has shown how the Bourgeois Revolution in Scotland was a top down affair.
15 Sandy McBurney, For a No Vote without illusions on the Scottish independence referendum, on-line in The Project,A socialist Journal,July 2014. The birth of Labour party was not an attempt of the working class to make a parliamentary party accountable to the working class. It was set up by the trade union bureaucracy and separated economics from politics. The Labour party was a product of defeats for the class struggle and contributed to those defeats. Sandy’s invocation of the reverential blanket phrase, the British Labour Movement, serves to mystify and obscure the complexities of the class struggle in Britain.