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An Open Letter to Yes-Voting Socialists

bgso6wDear Comrade,

There are many things on which we can agree about the referendum campaign. The mobilisation of masses of people in Scotland is a good thing. Whichever way the vote goes I hope the energy and positivity mobilised by Yes can feed into progressive politics and positive social change. It’s also kicked the complacency of establishment politics into touch in the rest of Britain. Seeing the powers that be panic as a huge movement blew up before them is something not seen too often. I hope the people of England and Wales are taking notice and the union, with or without Scotland, is radically recast. To be sure, after tomorrow we on the left have a hard job ensuring that not only is a new constitutional settlement for the rest of Britain argued for, but that it reflects the interests and aspirations of our class. These moments seldom come and to cede it to the wonks, the constitutional specialists, and the little England isolationists would be a terrible squandering of an opportunity.

For all that, I remain extremely wary of a Yes vote in Scotland winning. In spite of the engagement, the grassroots organisation, the outbreaks of political optimism, I think socialists and leftists are making a big mistake agitating for independence. This isn’t because the soft social democracy assiduously cultivated by the SNP fails a revolutionary purity test, or for whatever scaremongering reasons financial institutions can cook up. For me and other no’ers on the left, our scepticism and concerns are founded on answers to two basic questions.

  1. Does Scottish independence strengthen or weaken the labour movement?
  2. Does Scottish independence strengthen or weaken British capital?

Taking the questions in turn, it’s no use pretending the labour movement isn’t weak. I’m sure you would agree that the key political struggle facing the left – regardless of individual politics, party affiliations, and position on independence – is rebuilding it. This means reconstructing workplace organisation and doing ceaseless battle against the dog-eat-dog common sense of the age. It’s not a linear process by any means, nor does it unfold according to some schematic timetable. Prosecuting our interests, our class interests, means identifying opportunities that come to hand and scrambling to seize them.

One such opportunity is the general election next year where there is a real possibility of returning a Labour government. Now, its policy agenda hardly heralds a coming red dawn. Yet it combines immediate relief for some of our most poorest and vulnerable people with the scrapping of the bedroom tax. It will curtail and partially reverse NHS marketisation. Labour is going to undo the iniquitous cash-for-tribunals system and significantly devolve power to local authorities. These and other measures create a more favourable structure of opportunities for the left. There is a world of difference between this policy agenda and a mad Tory one that so dysfunctional that it’s injurious of their class. Would a newly independent but necessarily inward-looking Scotland afford the same political opportunities, especially when the price paid is a greater chance of Tory rule over the remaining 58m people of the UK?

Surely this view has been rendered null and void by the intrusion of many millions into the Scottish debates? Unfortunately, for all the networked organisations, the radical independence outfits, and non-affiliated people this is a movement under the undisputed leadership of the SNP. Its reach is powered by a soft left-populist rejection of Westminster and, despite the hopes I have for it, is likely to simply demobilise in the event of a Yes victory. I say this not because it’s convenient, but by looking at the mobilisation of similar movements elsewhere. Remember the mass movement against Le Pen in 2002? Where did it go? What happened to the defeated movement for Quebec independence? Or what about the mobilisation of the grassroots for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign?

Even huge working class mobilisations under ultra-correct revolutionary leaderships can quickly fade, such as the ‘victorious’ anti-Poll Tax movement. With radical groups present but by no means hegemonic, I can see Yes heading the same way. I understand you may feel different, but enthusiasm in the absence of a unifying organisation can dim very quickly. Once the job is done, if the job gets done, what next? How can the momentum be maintained at the moment its SNP lynchpin works to shut it down?

Then there is capital. Putting aside blood-curdling business screams, there are two matters that need addressing here. While the SNP are by no means guaranteed to be the government of an independent Scotland post-2016 (a Gordon Brown-led Labour government is not beyond the realm of possibility!), their stated desire to undercut corporation tax in the rump UK by three pence is illustrative of a wider problem: the new border encourages a race to the bottom. Who can offer the most “attractive” environments for international capital? Edinburgh? London? Whoever wins, it’s not working people.

Similarly an independent capitalist Scotland is weaker vs North Sea oil interests, the bond markets, finance capital, and large concerns like StageCoach and News International. It was only last October that Ineos threatened to scrap Scotland’s oil refining capacity. The same will be the case for the rump UK too. Smaller states are easier to bully, especially when the elites who run them – as in Scotland and rUK – are utterly beholden to neoliberal common sense.

The British state is hardly a repository of socialism. Time and again it’s been used as a battering ram for bourgeois interests at home and abroad. And yet, like all liberal democratic states it is vulnerable to pressure from below. That is the case right now. The 307 year old union is done come what may. But there is an opportunity to make it anew, to re-establish Britain as a multinational, federal state that has come together on the basis of a voluntary union of peoples. If you, your comrades, the radical organisations and the Scottish labour movement stay with us, that might be the prize. No guarantees of course, beyond more organising and struggle. But what a win it would be.

Unfortunately, this in mind I cannot see how independence would strengthen our classacross Britain, weaken capital, and give the Tories anything other than a satisfying slap across the face. As your comrades we want and need you in the battles to come. To steal something from Ken MacLeod:

(I’ll explain this better
in the cold light of day,
but I’m voting No,
And here’s what I say)

Let’s team up together,
Keep the Tories out,
We all have English friends,
Give them a shout.

We have a common enemy,
English ain’t all Eton Boys,
Let’s get them out together,
And make some noise.

Westminster don’t represent
The Ferry or Newcastle,
So let’s get together,
And show them some hassle.

The Tories hurt us all
Let’s show them how it’s done
Let’s team up together
We’ll fight them as one.

(by a ‘Young Lady Comrade’)

Please stay with us comrade. Your class here in England and Wales needs you.

This article first appeared on All That Is Solid

One Comment

  1. Robert says:

    The left or rather the right are really worried over the loss of those MP’s but hell when a yes vote will get rid of the Progress mob that now infects the right wing labour party.

    We had the New labour lot in power and the left fell silent we argued for the welfare state while labour looked at the American model, and along came a socialist party within Scotland with the SNP, well socialist enough to offer the poorest a glimpse of another world not the new labour right wing march to the market.

    Labour now pleads for the Scott’s to say no they are so worried that England could be Tory for years, yet not to long ago labour did not mind they were winning elections by being bastards to the people who were vulnerable the sick the disabled the poor, the unemployed workfare was labour answer .

    Vote yes and then maybe we can get a labour party as it was in the beginning not the fake Progress one nation claptrap we have today, Blair Murphy Reeves Byrne and all the other who march to New labour progress tune.

    Choice either get back to your grass roots socialism get rid of the weakest leader I’ve ever seen become more interested in the working class less interested in hard working and you know something you might win the odd election, but you would not lose a whole country of socialists.

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