Don’t Mourn. Organise. | Edinburgh anarchist statement on the referendum result


Re-blogged from Edinburgh Anarchists.

Yesterday Scotland voted against independence. Today half the country are mourning, their hopes of a new state and it’s social democratic promise dashed. The other half are relieved, if perhaps not enthusiastically celebrating, the potential uncertainty removed; things will persist as before.

We neither mourn nor celebrate. The scaremongering of the No campaign would likely have proved largely unfounded. So too would the promises of the Yes campaign. In reality our lives would have continued mostly as they did before in either event. We will trudge to the same jobs we hate along the same roads, through the same congestion on the same expensive transport. We’ll do so so we can pay our wages back to the capitalist class in the same shops, to pay rent to the same landlords and mortgages to the same banks. We’ll take our kids to the same schools with the same education system, when we’re ill we’ll wait to use the same hospitals. We’ll escape our jobs to the same parks, beaches, museums and pubs.

An independent Scotland would in most respects have resembled the Scotland of the UK, a patriarchal, capitalist, environmentally destructive society. A country with the most unequal land ownership in the developed world – where 50% of the land is owned by just 432 individuals. A country dependent on North Sea oil for much of its exports – oil that must be left in the ground to prevent climate catastrophe. A country with huge poverty and huge wealth and little in the way of organised working class action to change that dynamic.

And in so continuing to uphold the same institutions, the same structures of power, the same business interests, and the same political configuration, our fight against the state, capital and oppression continues.

Social movements

It has become popular amongst some on the pro-independence to claim that even in defeat politics has been radically altered. People are engaged with politics for the first time, turnout was 85%. A new broad popular social movement is born, the referendum was never about a vote for the Nationalists (capital N1). The campaign they built to push for independence will now re-orient itself against the Scottish and British governments and push for material concessions, emboldened by how close they came and bringing newly radicalised people with them. But a high turnout in itself tells us very little of what will come next, the complacency that we have already changed politics is dangerous.

Leaving aside the tactical mistake of offering the SNP the support they wanted to pass the referendum and then hoping to win concessions rather than making those concessions a precondition of support, this seems at best an optimistic prediction, which is far from certain to be realised. It is highly probable that the movement built to advance a radical case for independence will fail to maintain the unity it has shown pre-referendum in a post-referendum situation. A new left unity party (perhaps Left Unity itself) seems likely to form out of the Radical Independence Campaign and will have to compete for votes with the Scottish Green Party. The disintegration of the SSP last decade bodes ill for the lasting chances of that configuration. If the parliamentary left can regain even the position it held from 2003-2007 it will have done exceedingly well (in its own terms).

Undoubtedly many from the radical independence movement will want to maintain extra-parliamentary organisation, though how much of it is truly independent of the parliamentary parties will be an open question. But as with the referendum itself elections have a tendency to draw activists away from direct struggle and towards themselves however good peoples’ intentions are. Perhaps the most debilitating effect of the referendum campaign was its draw away from other, more meaningful, sites of struggle – the boycott workfare campaign, anti-deportations and pro migrant work, environmental organising and so on. Of course, that is not to say that no independence campaigners continued their engagement with these causes, but no one has unlimited time and energy to contribute, and that expended on the referendum could have been better placed elsewhere.


As the independence referendum moves into the past, other issues may start to regain their prominence. Foremost must be the commitment of politicians in Westminster and Holyrood to continuing extraction of Scotland’s share of North Sea oil.

The independence debate was consistently shaped by the prospects for oil production and how the proceeds will be distributed. Even where criticism did exist and a call for a “green new deal” was made, the focus was to argue for renewables. Whilst greater use of renewable energy is to be welcomed, it is far from sufficient. As Jason Moore has highlighted energy revolutions of the past have always been additive and substitutive. Market logic plus intervention for renewables will only give us both renewables and fossil fuels. As alternative grow fossil fuels prices will fall and maintain their use alongside. Real decarbonisation of society requires the fuels be left in the ground and their value written off.

You cannot build a “green” capitalism. You certainly cannot create it in time. There is too much money invested in fossil fuels– in drilling, in mining, in fracking. The ruling class will never voluntarily give up this wealth, or allow it to be simply voted away. “To survive we must act now” and “couple bleak reality with the utopian impulse” to demand a complete transformation of our society2.

An independent Scotland would have relied heavily on fossil fuels – not least to maintain currency reserves and a positive balance of trade. The extraction of North Sea oil will instead continue to prop up the UK’s trade deficit. As part of a larger economy that dependence may now not be brought as clearly to the fore. But that reliance must be exposed, and it must be broken. That will be an expensive and difficult task, but one which we have no choice but to take up – there will be no future for Scotland or the UK if we do nothing. We must create the movement which makes that possible. Too much time has been spent on bourgeois constitutional questions while the rich consolidate their wealth and power, impose austerity and hardship and leave the planet to burn safe that adaptation will be good enough for them.

So tonight, drown your sorrows. Take time to regain your energy and when you’re ready come back to join us. The better society that had been pinned on independence doesn’t need a new state. Keep talking to your neighbours and your workmates. We have a world to win and only our own working class self-activity and organisation will secure it.

1. We’ve discussed previously the obfuscation of “good” and “bad” nationalism and the left’s claim that independence has nothing to do with nationalism. In our opinion both yes and no campaigns de facto represent competing nationalisms, whatever their intentions to the contrary.

2. Goodbye to the Future – Out of the Woods.

North Sea oil hypocrisy

northseaoilAt the last SNP conference, Nicola Sturgeon announced: “Today we are on the verge of a second North Sea oil boom”.

Sorry, what?  Do I live on a different planet?  Why aren’t more people worried and really pissed off that a major politician is saying this sort of thing?  The Scottish Government’s recent optimistic statements on the future of the North Sea oil industry are proof as good as you can get that politicians have no intention of carrying out any drastic move away from exploiting fossil fuels.

They can get away with this by pointing to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which is supposedly “world-leading” legislation in the fight against global warming. Forget that the government broke its first target in 2010 and in fact increased emissions by its own measurements. Or that it seems likely to miss its future targets.  But, much more importantly, its targets are far too weak anyway, if we read what climate scientists are saying. The government plans on a 42% reduction of emissions by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050.  According to George Monbiot, the developed nations in fact need to make a 90% cut by 2030.*   I’m trying to get my head round the situation in Scotland and I have a ton of questions about how the emissions in the Act are calculated. So if you know more about this, please fill me in.**

This article explains that if the present or future Scottish Government is to be successful in its plans for North Sea oil selling:

12-24bn barrels of oil and gas (BBOE) over the next 40 years for an estimated £1.5 trillion – the most oil available – [it] would mean the release of 5.2-10.4bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.That figure, verified by climate experts, dwarfs the impact of the Scottish government’s “world-leading” legally binding targets to cut Scotland’s CO2 emissions by 42% by 2020, down to 40m tonnes.

It has a parallel target to generate the equivalent of 100% of its domestic electricity needs from renewables by 2020, a policy that will save just 9m tonnes of CO2 by 2020, while only allowing new coal-fired stations that partly use carbon-capture technology.”

Apparently, though, the Government doesn’t think extracting and exporting oil has any “bearing on Scotland’s domestic carbon emissions” and that ” some of that energy use was covered by the European Union’s carbon trading scheme” (Ibid.).  This is complete hypocrisy.

I was really disappointed that people in the Scottish Left are repeating the SNP’s arguments on extracting as much oil as we can get.  One member of the Radical Independence Conference has written recently that, “rumours of the death of our oil industry are greatly exaggerated” and that we need to extract the £2.25 trillion – £4 trillion that really exists in the North Sea (i.e. every last drop).  A majority share of the oil industry should be nationalised and the revenue used to reduce poverty and unemployment.  As what felt like a bit of a footnote, they said that “we also need to tackle the question of climate and sustainability, by using the oil fund to build a green re-industrialisation that could be the envy of the world”.  But as the figures above show, this doesn’t add up.  I’m not saying  this writer is a hypocrite; the real hypocrites are those in power making green policies and then completely contradicting them.  The author here has good intentions about fighting inequality and genuinely seems to believe we can do both.  However, if this a commonly held view on the Left, it needs to be challenged.***

Climate change is an expression of capitalism’s pursuit of infinite growth, of private profit for a few through the exploitation of humanity and the planet we share.  It’s another example of how we need to rid ourselves of this system, not reform it. We want to force governments from the outside to extend the social wage – welfare, public services, pensions etc. – using whatever revenues they get.  But fighting for a better world means that climate justice has to be an integral part of organising for social change.  The poorest people in the world are already suffering from global warming and if things get much worse it’ll be them, not the global elite, who will have to deal with drought, famine and the loss of ecosystems.  And we don’t need oil to eradicate poverty, we already have many times the productive capacity to do that.  But that creative potential is based on decades of fossil fuel dependency that’s now threatening to burn our future.

Scotland is only a small part of the jigsaw, but demanding change here could influence other developed countries.  We need a fast transition from oil and other fossil fuels, much bigger emissions targets, no deep-sea drilling, radical changes to the way we consume and live, no fracking, and no greenwashing like carbon ‘offsetting’.


On Norway’s Oil Fund

In his book Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risk and the Wicked Issues (2012) the late Stephen Maxwell touched on some of the most important contradictions and problems for the independence movement.  What he said about global warming really hit me:

An independent Scotland would be unlikely to accede to the demands of the radical environmentalists for an end to the exploration for new oil reserves in the deep waters of the North Atlantic west of Shetland.  […] [I]t is a safe prediction that an independent Scotland like other oil producing countries will still untested oil prospects, including the UK and Norway, would be unimpressed [by environmentalists’ arguments].  Oil will almost certainly increase in value as energy demand from the industrialising developing countries grows and few countries will reject the promise of the greater wealth it offers.  Scotland would have particular reasons for pursuing the remaining opportunities.  Oil would be proportionately more important to the smaller Scottish economy than to the UK economy and a Scottish government would be under pressure in the final decades of oil to make up as far as possible for the £270 bn or more of revenues surrendered to UK control in the first four decades of production (p. 163).

Maxwell, whose book is well worth a read, suggests that the Independence movement could be criticised in the future if it follows Norway’s approach, citing Mark Curtis’ work. It’s worth unpacking this because it’s been raised repeatedly in the referendum debate.  Norway’s Oil Fund puts it above even other Nordic model countries and, as a result, it has one of the highest standards of living in the world.  Curtis, however, has shown that there are major problems with its policy from an international perspective.

On oil and poverty:  “A key Norwegian interest in energy is maintaining high oil prices to ensure a “maximum return” from its production. But this immediately puts it at odds with most of the world’s poor countries, who are oil importers. While they have been plunged in further poverty by the recent high oil prices, Norway has been profiting handsomely” (p. 9).

Oil and human rights: “StatoilHydro, in which the government owns 67 per cent of the shares, now operates in over 40 countries, including many that are corrupt, undemocratic or abusive of human rights, such as Azerbaijan, Algeria, Angola, Iran and Nigeria. Yet, as the MFA’s Refleks project states, Norway’s oil and gas industry “is completely dependent on succeeding in these markets”” (pp. 9-10).

Oil and climate change: “On the one hand, Norway is a world leader when it comes to clean environmental policy. Nearly all the country’s electricity comes from hydro-electric plants and it was one of the first to adopt a carbon tax to address global warming, in 1991. [….] But the other face of Norway is that it is a major and increasing environmental polluter with an enormous carbon footprint that far outweighs its aid allocations. Greenhouse gas emissions from Norway account for around 0.3 per cent of global emissions, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), although the government argues the figure is 0.2 per cent. However, if emissions from Norway’s oil and gas exports are included, the figure is much higher, and perhaps up to 2 per cent of global emissions.The Refleks book notes that emissions from Norway’s oil and gas exports are probably more than ten times greater than Norwegian emissions reported to the Climate Convention” (p. 12).

I’m putting these points in here not as an argument against Scottish independence per se.  Maxwell may well be right that an independent Scotland would want to intensify oil exploration and extraction, but I hardly think the UK would have a different approach.  Rather, these show how complicated the issues are and that we should be more critical about using Norway and the other Nordic countries as examples for reform.


* I’m reading his book Heat: how we can stop the planet burning (2006) right now. It’s a great introduction to the topic, but I’m pretty sure things have moved on a bit since it was published.

** These include:

  • The devolved legislation seems to include aviation and shipping but not carbon from imports. How much of a difference would this make?  Monbiot argues that the UK Climate Change Act 2008 grossly miscalculates the actual reduction in emissions because it doesn’t include imports (and also exports).
  • Where does the CO2 that will eventually be released by North Sea oil come into all this?  Presumably the UK government is including it in their emissions targets, or are they?
  • The Act talks about ‘carbon sinks’ including afforestation which could then be deducted from the emissions total.  But it’s not as simple as plant a tree and you’ve get x amount of reduction, it takes a long time for trees to become established and reduce carbon.
  • Will the Scottish Government try to use carbon offsetting in the future?
  • When will transport emissions be taken into account?
  • An emissions cut shared out equally over a period of time will result in more emissions over all than bigger cuts early on.  To what extent is this reflected in government legislation?

*** Other socialists have also questioned extracting all the North Sea oil and pointed to a TED lecture on this topic that will make you want to curl up into a ball and cry.