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.

A’ dol thairis air an reifreann Albannach

na_geillAir eadar-theangachadh bhon alt thùsail le Mike Sabot, AFed Dhùn Èideann, ga riochdachadh fhèin a-mhàin.  Faodar ar n-amasan is prionnsapalan a leughadh ann an Gàidhlig an seo.

Chan eil ach glè bheag de thìde ri dhol a-nis gu reifreann mòr na neo-eisimeileachd 18mh Sultain.

Ma bhòtas tu no mura bhòt, tha e an urra riut fhèin.  Bidh cuid de dh’anargaich a’ seachnadh a’ ghnothaich uile gu lèir agus a’ cuimseachadh air eagrachadh far a bheil iad agus ge bith dè thachras, bidh cuid eile a’ cur crois sa bhaileat airson Bu Chòir, feuch gum buannaich sinn co-dhiù corra leasachadh.

Ach ma thaghas tu Bu Chòir, dèan cinnteach nach e ach roghainn phragmatach a tha ann – na gabh ri ideòlas iomairt Bu Chòir, no rudeigin a tha coltach ris, nàiseantachd-chlì.

Tha fios gu bheil sinn a’ bruidhinn mu iomairt nàiseantach Albannach – ge bith dè a chanas cuid de dhaoine air an làimh-chlì* – agus aig an dearbh àm tha muinntir Cha Bu Chòir a’ riochdachadh nàiseantachd Bhreatannach.  Feumaidh iadsan a dh’aithnicheas cho cudromach ’s a tha strì nan clasaichean cur an aghaidh a dhà dhiubh.

Ann an riochd sam bith, tha nàiseantachd a’ dèanamh dà rud: bidh e a’ feuchainn ri coimhearsnachd a chruthachadh eadar bosaichean agus an clas-obrach; agus bidh e a’ ceangal na coimhearsnachd-sa ri stàit-nàisein chalpach, a’ daingneachadh a cumhachd agus a h-àite ann am mar a tha calpachas a’ gabhail brath oirnn.

Chan urrainn seo a bhith dhà-rìribh ‘adhartach’.

Mar a dh’innis an comannach Paul Mattick, tha ceud bliadhna de dh’eòlas againn air strìthean gus nàiseanean a shaoradh far an do chrìochnaich gluasadan ma b’ fhìor adhartach an aghaidh impirealas le a bhith a’ cruthachadh clas-riaghlaidh ainneartach ùr.

A-nis, ’s dòcha gum faic sinn caibideil eile san sgeulachd agus gluasadan neo-eisimeileachd air feadh na Roinn Eòrpa a’ freagairt ath-eagrachadh nua-libearalach agus na staing-chalpach a thachair o chionn ghoirid.  A bheil sinn an dùil ri toraidhean eadar-dhealaichte?

Chan e adhbhar gàirdeachais a tha ann an sgaraidhean is farpais am measg a’ chlas-obrach Eòrpaich.  Agus nuair a thig e gu eisimpleir leithid Chatalunya ’s ann a tha e gu follaiseach air a stiùireadh le luchd-an-airgid, agus airson ’s gum bi roinn nas beartaiche a’ cumail a cuid maoin bho roinnean nas bochda anns a’ chòrr den Spàinn.


Ach nach eil stàitean beaga nas fheàrr agus nas deamocrataiche?

Ma bheir sinn sùil gheur air na stàitean beaga Eòrpach a tha ann an-dràsta chìthear:

  • nach eil e ann an dà-rìribh nas fhasa do luchd-obrach eagrachadh annta;
  • gu bheil iad smachdail cuideachd (mar phàirt de dhreuchd stàit sam bith) agus gun urrainn dhaibh a bhith a cheart cho borb (’s e eisimpleir àraid a tha anns an dàimh eadar an eaglais Chaitligeach agus stàit na h-Èireann);
  • gu bheil iad air a bhith gu math deònach nua-libearalachd agus mòr-ghearraidhean a chur an gnìomh (agus tha fìor dhroch bhuaidh aig seo air daoine ann an stàitean beaga bhon t-Suomi gu na Tìrean Ìsle, gun luaidh air an Roinn Eòrpa a deas);
  • gu bheil treand an aghaidh in-imrich a’ fàs air feadh na Roinn Eòrpa a tuath co-cheangailte ri ceannas siostamach dhaoine-geala (systemic white supremacy);
  • gu bheil cuid de na stàitean beaga seo air saighdearan a chur a-null thairis (m.e. an Danmhairg ann an Afghanastàn) no tha iad a’ cur taic ri feadhainn a bhitheas (Èirinn a-rithist, is iad a’ tabhann port-adhair na Sionainne do Fheachd-adhair Aimearaga);
  • agus gu bheil iad an-còmhnaidh fo bhuaidh mhòr structaran tar-nàiseanta an t-saoghail agus calpa fhèin.

 ‘Nuair a bhios daoine air an dochann le maide cha bhi iad idir nas toilichte mas e “Maide nan Daoine” a chanar rithe.’ – Mikhail Bakunin

 Tha e air argamaid le iomairt Bu Chòir agus cuid air an làimh-chlì gun urrainn Alba fhèin a bhith na ‘dheamocrasaidh àbhaisteach’.  ’S cinnteach nach do mhothaich iad gu bheil deamocrasaidh-riochdachail ann am fìor èiginn agus air a chàineadh gu dubh le gluasadan-sòisealta air feadh an t-saoghail a tha a’ sabaid airson fìor dheamocrasaidh compàirteach.

Mura h-eil coltas ann an-dràsta nach biodh riaghaltas na h-Alba a’ toirt a-steach nithean gràineil leithid Cìs an t-Seòmair-chadail no a’ gabhail seasamh an aghaidh in-imrich, chan e suidheachadh seasamhach a tha seo.  Bidh cumhachdan mòra poileataigeach is eaconamach a’ bualadh air poileasaidh an riaghaltais às dèidh neo-eisimileachd.  Bidh e aige ri gearraidhean a dhèanamh uair no uaireigin agus feumaidh e a chrìochan a chleachdadh airson ‘math an eaconamaidh’.

Tha stàitean beaga gu math comasach am poball a mhealladh agus a bhith a’ dol an aghaidh beachd na mòr-chuid nuair a dh’fheumas iad  (m.e. chaidh ‘a’ bhun-reachd chompàirteach’ ann an Innis-Tìle a chur gu sàmhach seolta an dàrna taobh leis an riaghaltas).  Bidh an ‘dìth deamocratach’ dhà-rìribh a’ leantainn às dèidh neo-eisimeileachd.

Dè mu dheidhinn na Làimh-chlì ann an Alba?

’S e coimeasgadh a tha ann de nàiseantachd-chlì agus deamocrasaidh-sòisealta cianalach.  Tha e ag argamaid an aghaidh nua-libearalas seach calpachas fhèin.  ’S e deagh dhòigh a tha seo buill-phàrlamaid fhaighinn anns an ath thaghadh ach chan eil e a’ buntainn ri atharrachadh-sòisealta bunaiteach idir.

’S ann a tha Common Weal agus an iomairt na Neo-eisimeileachd Radaigich airson calpachas a ruith nas fheàrr.

Tha Common Weal air a bhith ’s dòcha nas buadhaich na càch air an Làimh-chlì.  ’S e buidheann a tha annta a tha gu follaiseach a’ putadh co-obrachadh eadar clasaichean – agus seo air a shealltainn gu furasta nan sluagh-ghairm  ‘All of us first’.  Tha iad ag iarraidh eaconamaidh mòr-fàs, ach ’s e tha seo a’ ciallachadh ann an dà-rìribh nas urrainnear faighinn a-mach às an luchd-obrach a mheudachadh, agus a bhith a’ buannachadh an aghaidh luchd-obrach eile anns an fharpais eadar-nàiseanta.

Tha ‘comhairlean-obrach’air am moladh leotha gus dèanamh cinnteach nach eil cus còmhstri san àite-obrach – rudeigin a tha gu math cudromach ann an a bhith a’ toirt fàs air tarbhachd – i. prothaid.  Far an deach an cleachdadh anns an Roinn Eòrpa bha iad an-còmhnaidh a’ lagachadh aonaidhean agus mìleantachd an luchd-obrach.

San leabhar, Yes: the radical case for Scottish independence, gheibhear an cunntas as mionaidiche le buill iomairt na Neo-eisimeileachd Radaigich.  Tha e a’ gairm airson ro-innleachd na h-aghaidh-aonaichte (united front) chun na h-ìre agus nach eil sòisealachd – fiù ’s ‘sòisealachd’ choirbte na stàite – air a’ chlàr-ghnothaich, ach na h-aisling airson fada san àm ri teachd.

Bu chòir dhuinn, tha e ag innse, pàrtaidh leathann dhen làimh-chlì (seach pàrtaidh ‘an aghaidh calpachas’) a chur air dòigh ann an Alba coltach ri Syriza no Die Linke, agus tha iad a’ tabhann an aon ‘Keynesian wish list’ stèidhichte air an dearbh mheasadh lapach air calpachas agus an stàit a chaidh a sgrùdadh gu geur le Michael Heinrich.

Coltach ri Common Weal, tha briathrachas radaigeach – deamocrasaidh compàirteach, dì-mheadhanachadh – a’ breacadh a sheasaimh airson mion-atharrachadh slaodach.  Nuair a thig e gu h-aon ’s gu dhà chan eil e dhà-rìribh eadar-dhealaichte ris, ach lorgar beagan de chàineadh air corra phuing leithid mar a tha Common Weal gu mòr a’ cur taic ris a’ mhodail Lochlannach.

An eisimpleir Lochlannach

’S iad na dùthchannan Lochlannan na stàitean beaga as trice a bhios daoine ag ainmeachadh, agus tha Common Weal gu sònraichte airson ’s gum bi Alba nas coltaiche riutha.  Mar thoradh air grunn rudan – gluasad làbarach làidir, goireasan nàdarra 7c – bha iad na bu chomasaiche an solarachadh shochairean a ghlèidheadh na bha Breatann.  Bho shealladh eadar-nàiseanta, b’ ann a bha na dùthchannan seo mar flaitheachdan-làbarach (labour aristocracies) a’ tighinn beò air saothair an luchd-obrach thall thairis.

Ach às dèidh sin, tha na stàitean Lochlannach cuideachd a’ fulang bho ionnsaigh nua-libearalach agus tha neo-ionnanachd a’ fàs an sin cuideachd.  Mhìnich Asbjørn Wahl mar tha an stàit shochairean ann an Nirribhidh, a tha cho beairteach le ola, ga lachachadh bhon taobh a-staigh agus gu bheil ideòlas taigh-nam-bochd (workfare) ga shìor neartachadh.

Tha Wahl a’ cumail a-mach nach eil e gu feum dhuinn a bhith daonnan a’ comharrachadh cho soirbheachail ’s a tha na dùthchannan Lochlannach ann am measaidhean eadar-nàiseanta.

’S e an trioblaid gu bheil a h-uile dùthaich anns na measaidhean seo gan lagachadh.  Air neo, gus a chur an cèill ann an dòigh eile, tha cèaban fhathast againn air an deic uachdrach, ach ’s e deic uachdrach an Titantic a tha ann, agus tha an long air fad a’ dol fodha. (2011: 11).

Thèid againn air na h-uiread ionnsachadh bhon eisimpleir Lochlannach ge-tà, le a bhith a’ coimhead air a’ chontrarrachd agus strì nan clasaichean taobh a-staigh nan dùthchannan seo – a tha a’ breugnachadh na tha aig deamocrataich-shòisealta ri ràdh a-bhos an seo.

Am measg na Làimh-chlì Lochlannaich tha deasbad a’ tachairt air ciamar a bu chòir dhaibh sabaid an aghaidh an dùbhlain do sholarachadh shochairean.  A bharrachd air Wahl, tha obair Daniel Ankarloo, sgoilear air sochairean san t-Suain, uabhasach inntinneach.

Dh’innis e gun robh an gluasad làbarach an sin ‘air a dhì-neartachadh le […] co-obrachadh nan clasaichean’ (2009) agus ri linn ’s gun robh cus dhaoine a’ creidsinn ann an ‘rathad poileasaidh-shòisealta gu sòisealachd’ (2008: 78-84) – i. gum b’ e eisimpleir de shòisealachd a bha ann an stàit nan sochairean agus chan fheumamaid ach sin a’ leudachadh.

An àite seo, airson na bhuannaich sinn a dhìon agus gus strì airson co-chomann eadar-dhealaichte, feumaidh sinn mìleantachd mar chlas a lorg a-rithist agus ‘gum feum an radaigeachd seo […] tighinn bhon bhonn ann an riochd fèin-eagrachadh a’ ghluasaid làbariach’ (2009).

Tha strìthean airson shochairean, seach a bhith a’ cur taic ri stàiteachas shochairean fhèin, na phàirt dheatamach dhe seo – a’ neartachadh a’ chlas-obrach agus a chomais airson sabaid (ibid.).

Mar bu chòir, tha Ankarloo ag argamaid gum feum an gluasad eagrachadh air feadh a’ cho-chomainn agus am measg gnàth-bhuill nan aonaidhean.  ’S urrainn dhuinn cuideachd a bhith air ar misneachadh leis an aonadh rèabhlaideach SAC san t-Suain agus leis an Làimh-chlì Lochlannach nas fharsainge a tha taobh a-muigh agus an aghaidh na pàrlamaid – tha iad fada nas eagraichte na gluasad coltach sam bith ann an Alba no san RA.

Ag ath-nuadhachadh ar strì

Chan eil e deimhinne gum faigh sin gin dhe na leasachaidhean a tha air an gealltainn le iomairt Bu Chòir.

Cha bu chòir dhuinn earbsa a chur ann an stàit Albannach neo-eisimeileach a bhith a’ roinn mòran beairteis, a bhith dhà-rìribh a’ glèidheadh solarachadh an NHS, gun a bhith a’ toirt ionnsaigh air daoine gun chosnadh no daoine ciorramach, gun a bhith a’ dèanamh ghearraidhean, gun a bhith a’ cur dhaoine a-mach às an dùthaich le fòirneart, no a bhith a’ toirt air falbh nan cuingealachaidhean air aonaidhean-ciùird.

Tha cuid an dòchas gum bi daoine cumanta a’ ghluasaid airson neo-eisimeileachd a’ cruthachadh gluasad sòisealta dùbhlannach às dèidh sgaradh nan dùthchannan.  Nach e seo a tha gorm!  Bhiodh aige ri a bhith a’ diùltadh a  bhun-stèidh ideòlach, a nàdar fhèin mar cho-chòrdadh eadar clasaichean eagraichte leis an dearbh fheadhainn a tha a’ sireadh cumhachd phoileataigeach.

Tha a’ mhiann sa ghluasad seo airson atharrachadh sòisealta, ‘smachd dheamocratach’, agus ath-riarachadh beairteis rim moladh ach feumaidh sinne an leithid a phutadh taobh rèabhlaideach.

Mura h-eil am pròiseact nàiseantach air a bhriseadh a dh’aithghearr air creagan a chontrarrachd fhèin, bidh againne ri a chuideachadh dol na bhloighean.

Ge bith dè toradh an reifrinn, tha na buaidhean maireannach air a bheil sinn cho feumach an eisimeil air na ghabhas dèanamh leinn ag eagrachadh agus a’ strì mar chlas ‘air a shon fhèin’.

Aig cnag na cùise tha fìor eadar-nàiseantachd phractaigeach.

Chan eil dòchas ann a bhith a’ feuchainn ri flaitheachd-làbarachd ùr a chruthachadh no ann an dlùthachd eadar-nàiseanta nan nàiseantach-clì, ach ann a bhith ag aonachadh luchd-obrach a’ sabaid bhon bhonn an aghaidh stàit, calpachas, patrargachd, agus ceannas nan daoine-geala air feadh an t-saoghail gu lèir.


*Abair troimh-chèile, no doillearachadh a dh’aona-ghnothach, a tha air a bhith ann a thaobh ciall ‘nàiseantachd’.  Chùm co-neach-gairm a’ Phàrtaidh Uaine, Patrick Harvie, a-mach mar eisimpleir nach b’e  nàiseantach a bha ann dheth,  tha cuid eile air feuchainn ri sgaradh a dhèanamh eadar nàiseantachd ‘mhath’ (a tha beag, catharra no airson stàit ùr) agus ‘dhona’ (impireileis, chinnidheach, no airson stàit mhòr stèidhichte),  tha feadhainn air taic shoirbh staoin a chur an cèill airson ‘eadar-nàiseantachd’ – facal nach bite ag aithneachadh gu ro thric.  Cha b’ fhuilear dhuinn breithneachadh a dhèanamh air na bhios daoine a’ dèanamh seach na bhios iad ag ràdh.  Mar sin, a bheil iad a’ brosnachadh coimhearsnachd mhac-meanmach eadar clasaichean agus atharrachadh sòisealta tron stàit no nach eil?

Daniel Ankarloo (2008), ‘The dualities of the Swedish welfare model’, pp 78-84

(2009), ‘A new phase of neoliberalism: collapse and consequences for Sweden’

Asbjørn Wahl (2011), The rise and fall of the welfare state

Beyond the Scottish referendum

neverbedeceivedBy Mike Sabot, in a personal capacity.

It’s less than one month to the Scottish independence referendum on 18th September.

I’m not going to tell you to vote or not vote. Some anarchists will abstain and focus on organising where they are, others will vote Yes in the hope of at least a few reforms.

But if you do vote Yes, make it a wholly pragmatic choice – don’t buy into the ideology of the Yes campaign or its variant, left nationalism.

Whatever the rhetoric of some on the Left,* this is a Scottish nationalist campaign, just as the No camp represents a British nationalism.  Anyone who cares about class struggle politics needs to strongly oppose both.

Nationalism, whatever form it takes, does two things: it tries to create a community of interest between the bosses and the working class; and it binds this community to the capitalist nation-state, reinforcing the latter’s power and role in exploitation.

There is no genuinely ‘progressive’ form that this can take.

We have, as Paul Mattick observed, a century of experience of national liberation struggles where apparently progressive anti-imperialist movements culminated in an oppressive new ruling class. 

And we could now potentially see a new wave of independence movements in Europe in response to neoliberal restructuring and the more immediate crisis of capitalism.  Do we expect different results?

New divisions and rivalries among European workers are not something to be applauded.  Neither is the spectacle of a decidely bourgeois-led independence movement like that in Catalunya, where a more wealthy region seeks to stop ‘subsidising’ the rest of Spain.


But smaller states are better and more democratic? 

Well, if we were to take a critical look at actually existing small European states we find:

  • that they’re certainly no more favourable to workers’ organising;
  • they are also coercive (which is the role of any state apparatus) and can be just as authoritarian (an exceptional example being the role played by the Catholic church backed by the Irish state);
  • they have been remarkably open to neoliberalism and austerity (which has had a devastating effect on small states from Finland to the Netherlands, nevermind southern Europe);
  • there is a growing anti-immigrant trend related to systemic white supremacy across northern Europe;
  • that some have also sent willing to send troops abroad (Denmark in Afghanistan) or have aided others who have (Ireland again, offering Shannon airport for use by the US Air Force);
  • and they are always subject to the dictates of larger supranational structures and of capital itself.

‘When the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it is called “the People’s Stick”.’ – Mikhail Bakunin

The claim made both in the Yes campaign and on the Left that Scotland too can be a ‘normal democracy’, is an astounding attempt to ignore the obvious bankruptcy of representative democracy and its living critique in recent global social movements. 

Even if the Scottish government is for now less likely to introduce draconian measures like the Bedroom Tax or adopt an anti-immigration stance, this is not in any sense a static situation.  Massive political-economic forces will be brought to bear on post-independent government policy – it will make cuts and it will use its borders in its own economic interests.

Small states are more than capable of manufacturing consent or of over-ruling public opinion when they need to (take the famous ‘crowdsourced constitution’ in Iceland, which was in fact quietly buried by the government). The real ‘democractic deficit’ will continue post-independence.

What about the Scottish Left? 

It is in content a mix of left nationalism and nostalgic social democracy.  It argues against neoliberalism rather than capitalism itself – a winning strategy for regaining seats in parliament, but absolutely nothing to do with fundamental social change. 

Both Common Weal and the vision of the Radical Independence campaign are concerned with trying to manage capitalism better.

Surely hegemonic on the Left, Common Weal is an explicitly class collaborationist think-tank – nicely summed up in its slogan ‘All of us first’.  Its proposals in creating a high-growth economy, are in reality about increasing the rate of exploitation and outcompeting workers internationally. 

Its advocacy of ‘work councils’ to smooth relations in the workplace is a necessary part of increasing productivity – i.e. profit.  Where they have been used in Europe they have consistently undermined unions and workers’ militancy.

Yes: the radical case for Scottish independence, the most comprehensive statement made by members of the Radical Independence campaign, is a call for united frontism to the extent that socialism – even a bureacratic state ‘socialism’ – isn’t even on the agenda, but is treated as a utopian project for some distant future. 

It seeks to create a Scottish broad left – not an ‘anti-capitalist’ – party along the lines of Syriza or Die Linke, and it reproduces the same ‘Keynesian wish list’ based on the same weak analysis of the state and capital, critiqued so well by Michael Heinrich.   

Like Common Weal, it sprinkles radical rhetoric – participatory democracy, decentralisation – on its reformism.  It doesn’t differ substantially from the latter, but offers mild criticism of certain aspects, including its support for the Nordic model.

The Nordic example

Small states par excellence, Common Weal want us to emulate the Nordic states where thanks to a number of reasons – a strong labour movement,  available natural resources etc. – it has been able to maintain more of its welfare provision than Britain.  From an international perspective, these countries have been labour aristocracies living off the toil of workers abroad.

But all of the Nordic states have experienced their own neoliberal offensive and inequality is growing there too.  Asbjørn Wahl has shown how even in oil-rich Norway the welfare state is being eroded from within and the ideology of workfare is growing in strength. 

He insists that constant reference to Nordic countries’ position in international league tables is unhelpful:

The problem is that all the teams in the league table are being weakened. Or to use another image, we still have a cabin on the upper deck, but it is the upper deck of Titanic, and the ship as a whole is sinking. (2011: 11)

The Nordic example is incredibly useful, however. We can learn a great deal from the internal class contradiction and struggle in these countries, which belies the case made by social democrats here. 

In the Nordic Left we find a debate going on about how to combat the challenge to welfare provision.  Along with Wahl, the work of Swedish welfare academic, Daniel Ankarloo, is particularly interesting.

He argues that the labour movement there has been ‘weakened by […] class co-operation’ (2009) and belief in a ‘social policy road to socialism’ (2008: 78-84) – i.e. that somehow the welfare model was an example of socialism in practice that just needed to be expanded.  Instead, to defend existing gains as well as to fight for a different society, we need to rediscover class militancy and that this, ‘radicalisation must […] come from below in the form of the self-organisation of the labour movement’ (2009).

Welfare struggles, rather than commitment to welfare statism itself, are a crucial part of this – strengthening the working class and its capacity to struggle (ibid.).

Ankarloo rightly argues that this movement needs to organise across society and in the rank-and-file of unions. We should also draw inspiration from the revolutionary syndicalist SAC in Sweden and the broader Nordic extra-parliamentary Left, which is far more organised than any similar movements in Scotland or the UK.

Renewing the struggle

None of the promised reforms of the Yes campaign are guaranteed.

We should not trust an independent Scottish state to share much wealth, to protect NHS provision, not to attack the unemployed or the disabled, not to make cuts, to deport people or remove trade union restrictions.

Some are hopeful that the grassroots pro-independence movement will produce an oppositional social movement after secession.  But this is wishful thinking.  It would require it to reject its own ideological basis, its very nature as a cross-class alliance organised by forces who seek to gain political power.

Aspirations for social change, for ‘democratic control’ and redistribution of wealth in this movement should be encouraged but pointed in a revolutionary direction.

If the nationalist project isn’t soon wrecked on the rocks of its own contradictions, we will need to work to fragment it.

Whatever the result of this referendum, the lasting gains we need depend most of all on our own capacity as a class for itself to organise and struggle.

A genuine and practical internationalism is key to this. 

Hope lies not in trying to create new labour aristocracies or the international solidarity of left nationalists, but in uniting workers struggling from below against state, capital, patriarchy and white supremacy around the world.


*There has been a great deal of confusion, or obfuscation, over the meaning of ‘nationalism’.  Green party co-convenor, Patrick Harvie, for example insisted that he is not a nationalist, some have tried to distinguish between a ‘good’ (small or new state or civil) nationalism versus a ‘bad’ (large state or imperialist or ethnic) nationalism, others have made facile declarations of ‘internationalism’ – another term warped out of recognition.  We should judge people by their actions not their rhetoric: do they foster a cross-class imagined community and social change through the state or not?

Daniel Ankarloo (2008), The dualities of the Swedish welfare model

                          (2009), A new phase of neoliberalism: collapse and consequences for Sweden

Asbjørn Wahl (2011), The rise and fall of the welfare state


Thoughts from a Swedish communist on national independence and welfare capitalism

A while back, I contacted riff-raff, who produce an excellent communist journal in Sweden, and asked them if they could give a critical perspective in English on the Nordic model as well as how it’s being used in the Scottish Independence debate.  One of their members kindly offered some thoughts, giving a class analysis and looking at the debate in an international context.  It gives a good grounding for others to look at things from a critical Marxist  stance.  I should add that it was written before the riots in Stockholm last week, and we’d be interested in more attempts to understand these developments.  


It is difficult to say what would happen exactly if Scotland were to become an independent state, but no matter what happens, this I think is true: In any capitalist country, a certain amount of value is appropriated each year; value produced within the country or value flowing from abroad. This is the gross value added or total value product, which is distributed to the various classes. Marx argues that within the specifically capitalist mode of production there are three main, fetishistic, sources of revenue: wages for productive labour, industrial profits and rent in various forms (e.g. land rent). The real source of all abstract, economic wealth, however, is productive labour: workers who directly increase the existing capital thanks to their capacity to perform surplus labour – more labour than is represented by their wages – to produce surplus value. Apart from wages, then, all other forms of income are derived from surplus value. Industrial capitalists are living on the productive workers; unproductive workers are paid from the profits of the industrial capitalist; as are the owners of natural resources, through monopoly prices. As Marx remarks, the land owner does not have to perform any work at all to receive his income. He also does not have to take the risk that is associated with producing commodities, although he still might do so. So how does this relate to the question of Scottish independence? Independence could change the distribution shares of the total value/price that is appropriated. If an independent Scotland would mean that more money derived from important natural resources, e.g. oil, were to go to people in Scotland, as opposed to those who are living in England and Wales, there is the possibility that all classes in Scotland gain from this. One could envisage for example that oil wells are nationalised and the income from these is handed out to every individual in cash or in the form of better health care. One could also well envisage that some groups or classes were to receive more of this income than others (tax cuts for the rich but just as bad healthcare). But this also means that less income would go to all the classes in England and Wales. Perhaps the London capitalists would become poorer, but English workers are likely to become poorer too. If in a different scenario Scottish independence would mean that Scotland got poorer and England and Wales richer, for example because less subsidies are paid from England and Wales to Scotland, then the opposite would be true.
Norway’s oil is owned by the state and its income benefits the population as a whole. It is well known that their living standards are very high and they are at the top of the Human Development Index (HDI). It is somewhat the same as regards Sweden’s natural resources (iron ore, the large forests, etc.). But if Norway and, to a lesser degree, Sweden are rich, this is much due to the fact that we are living on workers abroad. These incomes are land rents and this is unpaid labour, extracted from workers somewhere. To fight for independence to gain control of and extract monetary value from natural resources is therefore a struggle to live on the toil of others. Individualsgroups and nationalities may gain economically from such a struggle, but it does not help the world proletariat to loosen its chains. A struggle for higher wages, on the other hand, or better health care, can transfer money from the non-working classes to the proletariat. And we can be sure that the non-working classes will try to win this money back, either from workers close to home or far way. The struggle between capital and the proletariat over the working day and its value product does not by itself bring about a revolution, but if the proletarians are successful, they may 1) directly improve their living standards and 2) make the capitalists extract less surplus value, which could make the capitalist system as a whole work less smoothly, which in turn might heighten the class struggles and help bring about the will and determination of the world proletariat to put an end to world capitalism once and for all.

I should add that having a lot of natural resources does not necessarily bring about high living standards under capitalism. Norway is really an exception as regards equitable distribution of rental incomes. Nigeria has got huge oil deposits but is at the bottom on the HDI. Furthermore, the existence of land rent may just mitigate an otherwise problematic situation of slow capital accumulation. Despite all its hydro-electric energy, large deposits of iron ore and other metals, forests, and a highly educated workforce, Sweden had to make huge welfare cuts in the early 1990s and legalised precarious terms of employment. By “had to” I mean of course that it was necessary to maintain stable capitalist reproduction. Today’s Greece serves as an example of what happens if the government does not do what is necessary.

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.

Nordic class struggle

Stockholm riots

The ‘Nordic model’ is the name given to the economic and social policies shared by Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland which stress welfare provision, high taxation, and a corporatist approach to industrial relations and governance.  It has come very much into vogue in Scottish political culture as part of the Independence debate, and is said to provide a more egalitarian yet achievable example for what an independent Scotland could look like, or at least, what it could aim for.  There is no doubt that relative to our current neoliberal status quo the Nordic countries – and there are important differences between them – have a higher quality of life and a smaller gap between rich and poor.  However, the Nordic example has become to a large extent mythologized and, because it has so much significance to the political direction here, especially among the Left, it deserves a more critical, class analysis. This is a big subject so here I only intend to point to a few examples of what has been happening recently to give some light to the other side of Nordic society.

So far there have been five nights of rioting in Sweden‘s capital city, Stockholm.  Many cars have been burned and the buildings attacked include schools and a police station.  This comes after a man was shot dead by police, who said they acted in self-defence.  The scale of the rioting, with firefighters responding to 90 different incidents on Wednesday night, declining to 70 last night, has shocked Swedish society.  It has also led many people to look at why this could be happening in what is meant to be one of the most progressive countries in the world.  Those involved in the rioting are said to be young and part of the immigrant community.  They are angry at rising inequality and institutional racism, which they are disproportionately affected by.

“The reason [for the riots] is very simple. Unemployment, the housing situation, disrespect from police,” said Rouzbeh Djalaie, editor of the local Norra Sidan newspaper, which covers Husby. “It just takes something to start a riot, and that was the shooting.”

Although Sweden’s quality of life is higher overall than most other countries, according to OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) figures, it “has seen the biggest increase in inequality of any developed country over the past 25 years”.

Demonstrators in Copenhagen against the lockout of all teachers in Denmark schoolsIn Denmark, a month-long lockout of teachers has come to an end this month.  50,000 teachers were stopped from teaching and 556,000 pupils had to stay at home.  The teachers’ union refused to agree to a new collective agreement with the the Local Authorities’ Association, so the latter stopped their pay from 2nd April 2013.  The new agreement was ostensibly about giving more power to head teachers to arrange the amount of time spent teaching rather than on preparation on a case by case basis with teachers.  But, according to the Guardian’s reporter, this is really about extending the school day and moving away from the current educational approach, which is comparatively much more liberal than here in Scotland and gives a significant amount of free time to pupils to create, play and learn for themselves.  Unfortunately, it looks like this was a massive defeat for the teachers and that new conditions have been imposed by the government, paving the way for more ‘reforms’ in the future.

Last month, the threat of a national strike in Norway was stopped by government intervention at the last moment.  Talks had broken down between the Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and others with the representatives of the employers, and a deal of a slight pay rise was agreed through a government mediator.    The deal “will cover 156,000 union members and will set the bar for pay negotiations throughout the country” but in fact is much lower than previous years and comes at a time when there are demands to lower wages to maintain competitiveness.

Over 3,000 power workers were on strike for two weeks, this month, for a new collective agreement “risking blackouts”.  On May 16th, the government put a stop to the srtike using powers that can end industrial action where it “it threatens human lives, vital infrastructure or national interests”.  This seems to be a quite frequent occurence:

Workers have struck regularly over the past year in Norway in order to oppose repeated attempts to cut their pay and conditions. Last summer, offshore workers closed large parts of the oil sector to demand higher wages. The strike covered eight oil platforms on the Norwegian continental shelf, affecting 13 percent of the country’s oil and 4 percent of gas exports. […]  The 16-day strike finally ended after the government intervened, invoking emergency powers to impose forced arbitration. This came less than a month after 50,000 public sector workers struck in pursuit of pay increases and in opposition to attacks on pensions.  

IcelandSome of the most interesting stuff has been happening in Iceland.  The country has received a great deal of coverage worldwide for refusing to bear the tax burden of the economic crisis when the main banks went under.  The people then replaced the government and demanded radical changes with a completely new direction from the days when speculative finance was at its height.  A major part of that was drawing up a new constitution which included using responses gathered online – the ‘crowd-sourced constitution’.  This was really innovative and allowed for more democratic input than normal.  But according to Laurie Penny:

Here’s what actually happened. Although it is true that the three largest banks –Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbanki – were allowed to go bust in 2008, this was hardly a political choice: Iceland could do nothing else, because their debts were ten times the size of its GDP. It is also true that popular protest brought about a change in power. Demonstrations over the government’s handling of the crisis, particularly its promises to the IMF to repay the financial sector’s enormous debts to countries such as the UK and the Netherlands, started in 2008. On 20 January 2009, the usually reserved Icelandic people turned out on to the streets in their thousands, bashed kitchen utensils and threw fruit and yoghurt at the Althingi, the parliament building. They were demanding a change of government.

They got one. Referendums were promptly held on whether to repay foreign debts, and the state began to draw up a new constitution in consultations with the public that included garnering responses on Facebook. But then, the new administration tried to side with the IMF over the debts of the online bank Icesave and refused, in effect, to implement the constitution Icelanders had been promised. So much for the socialist utopia.

The recent elections in Iceland gave the previous Social Democrat-led government “the worst defeat of any ruling party since independence from Denmark in 1944″, despite serving in a coalition with the Left-Green movement that was meant to provide an alternative to the old parties who created the country’s economic crisis.  In fact, things have now come full circle and there is a new coalition of the Independence Party and Progressive Party who seem intent on opposing the proposed constitution in its current form, pushing for new environmentally-damaging developments and defending the fishing quotas that benefit the wealthy elite.  People voted for change but became completely disillusioned with the parliamentary alternative, and so they ran out of options.

The point in all this isn’t to say that these countries don’t have anything to show us in terms of really progressive reforms and of a different approach to the ruthless neoliberalism we’re used to. They do absolutely.  As just one example, reading about Danish education in comparison to the Scottish system is frankly amazing.  But it’s now under attack.  Although they have had a commitment to welfare beyond the rest of Europe and especially the UK, these countries are, of course, capitalist .  We can see a class struggle at work in all of them.  International competition and the fallout from the economic crisis is hitting hard (although it differs from country to country), and there are political forces present that want more neoliberal restructuring and increased controls on immigration.  In short, reforms that have been won are not permanent but are challenged and have to be fought for.

Rhetoric of disempowerment

Last week, the date for the Scottish independence referendum was announced with at least an attempt at a fanfare.  To mark this historic occasion, we revisit some of the arguments made earlier and look at the rhetoric both sides of the debate are using.


In representative democracies, those involved in or attempting to manage political power tend to divide themselves into two main camps.  One is more forthright and barefaced in representing business interests, the other provides more of a progressive narrative and promise of reforms, but is ultimately just as committed to ‘economic growth’ – the endless pursuit of profit.  The camps alternate all the time, and the nature of their division changes, but it’s remarkable how effective this semblance of debate is in maintaining passive support for the smooth running of capitalism and the confusion of any genuine opposition to it.

This is a pretty basic socialist argument.  As Chomsky puts it, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum […]”.

In Scotland, the spectrum of debate is articulated not in the usual parliamentary competition between parties but between the Yes and No coalitions in the Independence debate.  Gathering support for their respective positions, the arguments they use are coded with the rhetoric of disempowerment:  most importantly for us, discouraging and demobilising autonomous working class organising, the one thing that actually challenges capitalism.


It doesn’t take much effort to show this in the Unionists’ propaganda – for years they have succeeded in making sure that a large proportion of working class people are entirely disengaged not only from power politics but apathetic about the possibility of any change.  Their strategy is to keep up an ongoing negative assault on the SNP government and its referendum plans, but also on any vision for a different, hopefully better, future.   Taking it in turns, ConDem ministers and faceless Labour bureaucrats churn out press releases which the mainstream media gladly lap up and put on the front page.  Scotland will be a nation of benefit claimants dependent on a trickle of oil.  Plans for defence are a fantasy.  You’ll lose aw yer pensions!  As Iain MacWhirter puts it, ‘The Unionists are expert at feeding the fear that Scots have of “getting above themselves”’.  And this, the message of ‘Who do you think you are, you lowly Scotch prole?’ is coupled with ‘If you think it’s bad now, you’ve seen nothing yet!’.

But disempowerment is as much a part of the arguments of the Yes camp.  This isn’t to say that Independence doesn’t represent the more ‘progressive’ option in the debate.  It offers reforms when their opponents don’t even pretend to (although they might have to, in the end) and this is also its ideological role.  Of course, many on the left have excellent reasons for being involved in the Yes campaign and  the Radical Independence Conference (RIC):  demands for an end to inequality, the fight for feminism and for a sustainable society.  An independent Scotland is more likely to grant some reforms in these areas than Westminster, but these will be always be most limited, threatened by erosion and contradicted by the the real power of the economy.

A few things crop up repeatedly in the pro-Independence narrative:

1)        Deferring the future.

The referendum will be the ‘most important decision you are going to make in your lifetime’, as one Yes commentator argues.  I don’t know about you, but I think we can make more important decisions.  History is meant to bend towards this date.  Our present struggles are tied to it, and emptied of their threat.  Change will happen, if it’s going to, more than eighteen months from now.  ‘Wait until we get rid of Westminster’.  In the meantime this is the time of preparation and ‘making the case’ for the big day.

The independence-supporting left will be actively involved in grassroots campaigns.  But whereas we see organising in these campaigns as being a source of resistance in general, with the potential to spread and grow, they see it as secondary to the constitutional process and  part of its propaganda war.  In some cases, were independence to be successful, it could remove specific Tory-style injustices, but it couldn’t remove the class antagonism which throws up the need for these campaigns.  In an independent Scotland there will be new campaigns and new injustices.  We should fight where we stand and make history now.

2)        The use of ‘We’.

Here’s what Alex Salmond had to say in Paliament:

On the 18th September 2014  the people will decide Scotland’s future.  We take responsibility for our own country, when we’re able to speak with our own voice, choose our own direction and contribute in our own distinct way.  The day we stand on our own two feet to claim a future.

Without this ‘we’ the whole independence movement would fall apart.  It is the collective, civic national ‘we’, constructed to paper over class differences. In fact, it’s exactly the same as the Tories’ ‘we’re all in this together’ rhetoric, but in a Scottish context.  This ‘we’ includes Scottish bosses, managers, politicians, millionaires and their lackies who are and will always fight for their own interests and against ours.  But what would it mean for the working class to ‘speak with our own voice, choose our own direction and … stand on our own two feet to claim a future’?  Well, for a start it would recognize that we are a class and the struggle between classes, our exploitation and need to resist it, happens whether we want to believe it or not.  But we’d be a lot more bloody successful if we did believe it, rejected  all cross-class ‘social partnership’ and organised for ourselves.  Why wait to do this?

3)        Social Democratic Realism

For those on the left the choice now seems to be ‘Social Democracy or Barbarism’.  Opt for an independent capitalist country with a commitment to state security, reasonably progressive taxation etc. or accept an ever worsening Tory austerity hellhole. The differences between the mainstream Yes Campaign and the left-wing pro-independence campaign aren’t great, but a difference of degree:  more social democracy, and not so much reduced corporation tax.  RIC supporters share platforms with politicians and endorse similar vague language of ‘democracy’ and ‘equality’, ‘self-determination’ and in their case ‘radicalism’ itself.  In asserting this choice, all other options are shut down and deemed unrealistic. Social partnership is now the only thing left.  If it’s seen as only a step towards socialism, like all stagism it will only ever manage to create another stage and try to justify why we don’t actually organise directly against capitalism now.

If you think that I’m creating a false choice of my own, and that we can work for independence as a progressive step forward and for a future based on social needs without private profit, how is this possible whilst also promoting a national rather than class-based perspective, giving prominence to a future point of change rather than our class struggles here and now, and  by accepting the language and ideology of  social partnership?

Independent and Free? A Glasgow anarchist’s take on Scottish Independence

Written by Mike Sabot, member of Glasgow AFed in a personal capacity, this article aims to respond to the rise of the Scottish independence movement and to encourage a libertarian socialist critique.indfree

One way or another, the political landscape in Scotland and Britain as a whole is going to change after 2014 and it’s difficult to say what course this will take. Although polls consistently show the SNP-led Scottish Government has a long way to gain majority support for independence, it’s quite possible that they could bring about a swing in opinion. But even were they to fail in achieving full independence it seems inevitable that Scottish institutions will take on more powers and that the process itself will have a lasting impact on Scottish society. As committed internationalists, anarchists oppose nationalism in any form. Rather than simply repeat long-standing principles, however, we need to articulate some kind of an analysis and ask ourselves how potential state reorganization will affect us and the wider class struggle and what exactly we should be doing and arguing as the independence debate increases in intensity. This requires collaboration and discussion among anarchists in Scotland but also with comrades elsewhere and so here I only offer a few of my own opinions on the question.

We don’t deny that Scotland is a nation but that nations are not something communists can support. They are always in some way defined by and tied to the state and are a means to bring about cohesion and identity across classes. Although often termed the ‘stateless nation’, the different cultures, regions and classes of Scotland were given an imposed unity by the pre-1707 state which was thereafter maintained from above through the continuance of a number of institutions and a semi-autonomous bourgeoisie and, contradictorily, from below by resistance to British centralized power and cultural uniformity. When the benefits of empire had declined after the Second World War and oil wealth was discovered off the north east coast, there was a stronger capitalist case for increased autonomy but also growing popular disillusionment with centralized British state provision – underlined by Thatcherism’s attacks on the social wage and traditional heavy industries. Together they coalesced into a resurgence of national feeling which culminated in devolution at the end of the 20th-century. This has only increased the momentum of Scottish national feeling and nationalism: more state power, in this case, encouraged and required the emphasis of the national entity and vice versa.

The SNP has been following a balancing act. Firstly, it appeals to the working class through social democratic policies well to the left of any Westminster party. In an independent Scotland, they claim that the British nuclear arsenal would be removed from the country, Scottish troops would no longer be sent to fight in places like Afghanistan, the government would prioritize renewable energy and the welfare state would be defended. At the same time, they pander to any businessperson willing to back them, aim to cut corporation tax and make Scotland more competitive (i.e. intensify the exploitation of labour) and, despite their environmental image, fully support the expansion of the oil industry through potentially disastrous deepwater drilling. This contradiction is summed up by Alex Salmond posing as he listens sympathetically to community campaigners and then hobnobbing with the likes of Brian Souter, Rupert Murdoch or Donald Trump (before that blew up in his face).

What should anarchists be doing? I’ve been involved in a few ‘don’t vote, organize’ campaigns in past elections but there isn’t much of a case for actively campaigning against independence – especially since it’s unlikely that an open Scottish border would impede cross-border solidarity. To do so would be to de facto support the Unionists and it needs to be emphasized that each side of the debate represents a different nationalism. In truth, I don’t feel strongly about people voting in the referendum. If they think it’s worth the chance of, for example, finally getting rid of the nukes, rather than buying into nationalism, then I can understand that. As anarchists, we obviously shouldn’t argue for voting but nor should we fetishize the act of not voting. Of far more importance is that we are outside of the narrative and critique all political managers.

The Unionists (Labour, the Tories and LibDems) already come across as a crowd of imperial stormtroopers offering nothing but more of the same. However, especially since the left are unequivocally backing Scottish nationalism, there’s been little in the way of a challenge to the pro-independence camp’s claims or rhetoric of offering a social democratic alternative. Are we to believe the SNP will be different from other politicians and live up to all they promise? An independent government will have a substantial debt and still face the wider economic crisis; it will therefore have to rationalize its budget, drop promises and make cuts. We need only look at their current record to see this in action: although Scotland under the SNP has frequently been described as a safe haven for the welfare state in comparison to England there have been considerable cuts in NHS Scotland and an appreciable rundown in the service hospitals provide. Similarly, the SNP have been involved in cuts to services in councils across the country. This is, of course, what political managers have to do.

Scottish nationalists of all stripes claim that independence will represent a dramatic extension of democracy. Needless to say, ‘we’ will not have control over our own destiny if Scotland were to gain independence. Talk of Scots ruling themselves and of self-determination is an appealing rhetoric which masks the continuity of the class system: the working class will not suddenly become empowered but wealth and power will remain concentrated in the hands of a few. It is possible that independence will allow for social movements in Scotland to have a greater degree of influence but there will also be new opportunities for these movements to be co-opted. The decision-making power of the Scottish state itself will always be subject to the vagaries of global capital, the movement of transnationals, the bullying of London and controlling eye of the EU and IMF. More importantly, having a smaller nation state won’t lead to ever smaller democratic units and it won’t replace representative democracy with participative, direct democracy. To suggest otherwise is simply naïve, and misunderstands that working class people can only gain power for themselves through struggle.

The democratic myth is a large part of leftists’ justification for supporting an independent state. The Scottish Socialist Party sees it as a means for rejuvenating their brand of parliamentary socialism which, relying as it does on electioneering and the state, is basically a vision of Old Labour in a Scottish context: nationalization, progressive taxation etc. Capitalism, as always, isn’t actually threatened, it’s accepted with the hope of greater state intervention and welfare. One of their platforms, the Republican Communist Network, bends over backwards to argue that Scottish independence is part of a strategy for ‘internationalism from below’. In this view, secession would be a significant attack on British imperialism. But British imperialism is a pale shadow of its former self, probably doesn’t require Scotland and isn’t of intrinsic importance to capitalism anyway.

Simply put, there is no reason to believe that in an independent Scotland libertarian socialist organizing would be in real terms any easier or that because of its existence we would see an upsurge in class struggle. Having the political class closer to home doesn’t necessarily make replacing them any less difficult. If anything, the intensification of the nationalist project championed by all apparently ‘progressive’ opinion could have a significant effect in mystifying power and class relations and undermining the self-organisation of the working class in favour of its passivity and support for new forms of failed ideas. The best way we can put our case across is not through debate of abstract beliefs but through our ideas being embodied in actually existing organization and having the ability to achieve small changes through direct action and build on them. The success of workers’ solidarity in Scotland will be vilified equally by nationalists of both sides of the debate but supported by militant workers in England and the rest of the world.

Lastly, I mentioned that Scottish national identity was in part maintained from below. What I mean by this is that the working class did experience cultural and political oppression as well as economic exploitation and that in Scotland they often reacted to this by relating it to concepts of national difference. Throughout modern Scottish history, workers’ movements have used the idea of a Scottish nation, some form of home rule, or even a socialist republic as a means to advocate their own power, cultures and meanings in opposition to centralized control. For anarchists, this was an alienated resistance which could never have challenged the real basis of their oppression in class society. Instead of writing off these movements, however, we can recognise that wrapped up in the rhetoric is a genuine aspiration for self-determination. We need to argue against Scottish nationalists or anyone who pushes state solutions from co-opting the term ‘self-determination’ because it could only ever truly mean workers’ directly democratic control of society.

Originally posted on Glasgow Anarchists blog.

Tactical Critique of the Radical Independence Conference, 2012

By a member of Glasgow AFed.


Recently I was accused of being a unionist. The reason for this was due my refusal to set aside criticisms of the radical independence conference (RIC) and get behind the local campaigns of the Leninist, Trotskyist and state socialist left to push for independence as the primary goal for socialists (including myself as an anarchist). I’ll be fair and admit that the other person was mildly inebriated at the time, however as it was another anarchist repeating this hollow “trot dichotomy” between either full support for a yes vote (with no room for nuance or dissent until independence is won) or being a unionist it did enough to irk my anti-state self into writing this post to examine my personal thoughts on the tactics being employed in the name of “radical independence”.

I have had it conceded to me during friendly discussion with some of the listed ric supporters that independence will be hard to gain and that any vote is going to be close as there is only a independence/union option on the ballot. If improvement for the people of Scotland through representative democracy was the goal then the SNP would have fought tooth and nail to have two questions on the referendum – the first a yes/no on independence, the second a yes/no for a set of further devolved powers. That way even if the independence vote didn’t go in their favour then Holyrood  would almost certainly walk away with powers that could be used for positive social change. So why didn’t they do this?

The main reason is that, in spite of what many people have bought into, independence isn’t a struggle between the working and ruling class but is instead a struggle between competing sections of the ruling class over the long-term control of energy resources (oil, wind & tide) and other profitable industries (education, whiskey & fish). Rather than doing this old school, the bosses are using their sway over the working class as the means to settle their dispute. If the nat’s walked away with more powers but not rule they would have to give concessions to the people until next opportunity to take charge rolled around. Rule further down the line would not be on such favourable terms, not to mention years of profiteering being missed for those in charge here and now.

To be clear: This vote isn’t about working class power, it is a means for the capitalists to settle an argument amongst themselves.

While people are putting their resources toward a shot at independence in a couple of years time austerity is attacking now. People are homeless, starving, dying now. Disability reassessments and workfare schemes are increasing in severity now. Banking on your ability to hold politicians to promises after the count is in is little more than desperately begging for scraps from the table (though I’m sure that any scrap will be held aloft as a marvellous victory for the working class).

Not only do we need to tackle problems happening now, but we should also use methods that will foster the kind of change that mean that these problems will be unlikely to repeat themselves. Solutions to our current problems have to help cultivate a truly socialist society further down the line. Independence is just a means of getting two states for the price of one, and once the euphoria of having backed the winning ticket dies down we’ll see the ric message that things can only get better will be exposed as the lie that we have heard many times before and the changes between one set of suits and another will be no change at all.

If those on the left want to call themselves radical with any credibility them they would be agitating for changes to be made before the referendum, not after, taking those changes from whoever was willing to implement them. Anarchists often are accused of being unrealistic, however the old adage that a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush seems apt in this situation. If you are going to vote for the politicians then do it after they have given you what you want, not before. Both nat’s and unionists could be giving concessions at the moment, but without any pressure to do something tangible the nat’s have already gone back on their promises before the vote takes place while still securing essential support with nothing more than token lip service.

It may seem counter intuitive, but if those participating in ric could have put the matter of independence to one side it could have been used to mobilise the socialist left into a massive anti-austerity pressure group focussed on that nats, withholding a sizeable campaigning/voting block from them and kicking up a stink if they didn’t start a sizeable fight for the people of Scotland NOW. But, as I said above, this isn’t about securing the best for the people or a socialist Scotland; this is a “refined” fight for the control of resources.

My prediction is that one of two outcomes will occur and leave energetic campaigners feeling disillusioned and burnt out:

The first option is that independence will fail to materialize. The lack of a reflexive plan of action coupled with burn-out and disillusionment from many involved in the independence campaign will cause a dip in the campaigning output of socialist groups at precisely the time it needs to be in full swing for fighting austerity measures that are destroying peoples lives. Lots of time will be spent picking up the pieces while our class enemies consolidate their position after two years of our attention being split. I like to call this outcome “Stop the War II – History Repeats Itself” (Do you remember Stop the War? I know some folks at RIC do because they are still clutching at the straws of that one to hoover people up).

The second (and less likely) outcome is that the two year of campaigning pay off leaving Scotland is it’s own nation, and while we get a few initial concessions a lot of what is happens is smoke and mirrors and things carry on much as before only this time it is worse because we’ll find that as a smaller nation that we’ll be racing to the bottom in terms of worker’s rights and the regulation of capital interests. The refusal of the RIC campaign to acknowledge that things could have got worse will either lead to campaigners fitting into the new system and justifying to themselves that they haven’t sold out or becoming disillusioned and dropping out of socialist campaigning for good.

So what can we, as socialists and anarchists, do now? I say we back community building, anti-Atos and anti-Workfare campaigns that are organised in a collective, directly democratic manner. The Solidarity FederationIWW branches and groups within the Anarchist Federation have been doing just that, but they are not alone. Claimants unions and solidarity networks up and down the country encourage people to defend themselves and one another from the cuts. Here in Glasgow Unity fights to ensure asylum seekers are treated fairly and works to stop the UKBA practice of dawn raids against families. Social centre projects look to preserve the sense of community that is being destroyed by capitalism and the state. All told we should just be doing all the things we would have done before the spectacle of independence kicked off, and all the things we’d otherwise have to pick up from once the furore dies down a few years from now.

Well, that is all I’ve got to say on the subject (at least for now). If you were hoping to find out whether I advocate voting for/against/at all then you are out of luck. That said the topic has been examined by others on this blog, so go check out this post discussing independence struggles & worker freedom and take a listen to the discussion hosted by Glasgow Anarchist Federation on independence and nationalism.

From the Glasgow Anarchists blog.