Monday, 14 April 2014

Why The Scottish "Left" Should Support Scottish Independence

Nicola Sturgeon's overt appeal to Labour supporters in Scotland to vote "Yes" in September, is being noted by some commentators as a new departure, although the better informed of Scottish journalists, are well aware that the SNP and Labour have competed for the same working class vote for decades. Ms Sturgeon made it clear she was not asking them to support the SNP, that the referendum was not about the SNP but about the future of Scotland, the nation. Alex Salmond, probably in full knowledge that he is not everyone's favourite politician, made the same point, adding it was not about the "First Minister". The first breakthrough by the SNP was by Dr Robert McIntyre, when he won Motherwell in a by election in 1945, followed by Winnie Ewing in Hamilton in 1967. Dr McIntyre's tenure in Motherwell was as short lived as that of Margo McDonald's in Govan in 1973 but the SNP's success in working class areas of Scotland predated by some years, its later success in Tory seats from 1974 onwards and, the only two seats the party managed to retain in the debacle of 1979, were Dundee East and Western Isles, both traditional Labour strongholds.

When the SNP won eight previously held Tory seats, out of the total eleven they won in October 1974, the Labour party dubbed them "Tartan Tories", ignoring the thirty six second places the party won in Labour seats. Unfortunately the name stuck and damaged the SNP particularly in West Central Scotland, despite the fact the reason for the victories in Tory held seats, arose from the SNP's success in harnessing the anti-Tory vote in those seats. The losses in 1979 arose for two main reasons, the first the return of large numbers of Tory voters who had abstained in 1974, the second, the erroneous belief among traditional Labour supporters in those Tory seats taken by the SNP in 1974, that Labour had a better chance of beating the Tories. They had never, ever done it in the past but this was a Daily Record campaign and Scotland had to learn to live with the consequences.

Traditionally, the "Left" in Scotland has opposed Nationalism of any sort, Scottish Nationalism included, although a distinction has to be made, between Labour supporters and the "Left". Labour supporting, working class Scots can be just as socially conservative as their Tory supporting counterparts, in more rural areas and support for the Labour Party, frequently has little or nothing to do with support for socialism. For generations large swathes of Scotland's working class voted Tory or in some cases, Liberal; in fact anything but Labour and increasingly, many of Scotland's working class has viewed Labour through jaundiced eyes, believing the party has betrayed them over many years and many issues. The performance of the current Labour Party in Scotland has done nothing to change that view, as Labour has lined up with the Tories in Better Together and Johann Lamont's deplorable "something for nothing society" speech, emphasised how willingly Labour is prepared to implement the same public service cuts as the Tories. The "Left", the intellectual Left, is important however, as it can give a lead, particularly when it comes to taking a realistic view of what it is that Scottish Nationalism actually says, what it stands for.

Chambers dictionary defines a nationalist as, "one who favours or strives after the unity, independence, interests or domination of a nation". It is frequently seen as something unsavoury and chauvinism, imperialism, even racism are often used as synonyms. There are different theories of when Nationalism became a potent political force, with some political scientists claiming it is a modern concept, pointing to the unification movements in Europe as evidence of same. It is true that Germany and Italy only became nation states in 1870 under the leadership of Bismarck and Prussia and Cavour and Garibaldi respectively, but Scots had achieved their independence as a nation, and had established the Scottish nation state, with national territorial boundaries very close to those we have today, with the Treaty of Northampton in 1329. The Czech people lost their independence when their Bohemian state was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, but they had occupied that territory from the 9th century. They regained it in part, when Czechoslovakia was formed in the aftermath of the First World War in 1918 but it was not until 1993 that the territory we know as the Czech Republic was formed.

For a great many people in Europe, Scots among them, their Nationalism has been expressed in fighting for their freedom or against the attacks of more powerful neighbours. The Polish people saw their territory increasingly annexed by Prussia, Austria and Russia during the Polish Partitions 1772, 1793 and 1795 when the Polish state disappeared completely. The Duchy of Warsaw, created by Napoleon, saw a part of that territory restored but it was not until 1918 that the Republic of Poland was re-established, only for the territory to be occupied again by Germany and Russia in 1939. Despite fighting on the side of the Allies during World War II, the Polish people were again betrayed, placed under the control of the Soviet Union and not until the fall of Communism in the 1980s, were they fully independent. Thus English, German and Russian Nationalism has taken a different form from that of Scots, Czechs and Poles and while Scottish Nationalism is condemned as narrow isolationism, despite the long history of Scottish involvement with Europe, British (English) Nationalism is lauded and applauded as something noble, to be celebrated in extravaganzas such as the London Olympics. The annexation of almost half the world by Britain during the days of Empire, aided and abetted by the Scots, is still seen as a power for good, as if it happened in a fit of absentmindedness.

I have never had any qualms about saying I am a Nationalist and until Scotland retains its independence, I will continue to be a Nationalist. My Nationalism is not expressed in the desire to annex anyone else's territory, it is concerned only to see the nation of Scotland restored as an independent nation state and extends no further than that. I will still be a Nationalist after that because I will still want to protect the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people, as we re-establish ourselves on the world stage, participating in those alliances which seek to protect and nurture the interests of other people and nations throughout the world, at the same time, creating a decent society within our own borders. To my mind therefore, there is nothing to be ashamed of in being a Nationalist, it is simply an expression of the love I feel for the country called Scotland and a deep desire to see the best outcomes in all things, for the Scottish people. The question I often pose to those who condemn Scottish Nationalism is, "Why is that so wrong, when British (English) Nationalism, with all its imperialistic connotations, is considered to be so right?" I have yet to get an answer.

Scottish Nationalism has never been based on antipathy to other people and about the only concession Unionists are prepared to make to the Nationalist movement in Scotland, is that it has never been based on ethnicity or any hint of racism. That is not to say there are no racists in Scotland, of course there are, just as there are racists in every society, but racism has never been one of the pillars on which Scottish Nationalism has been built. There is an undoubted antipathy to England, which boils over occasionally to antipathy to English people, but that is a manifestation of the troubled history we share and the years of fighting against English aggression and their desire to dominate. It is also a reaction to the condescension with which England treats Scotland and the manner in which the case for the Union is frequently made. Our two peoples may share a history, just as we share a history with our European neighbours, but it is not the same history, any more than our two peoples have the same language, culture or social mores. The history, languages, culture and mores of the Scottish people are what make us Scots and differentiate us from our English neighbours. They are what make the Scottish nation. Much of that culture, including the languages, both Scots and Gaelic, the poetry of Burns, Ferguson and McLean, are frequently treated with derision by the English establishment, despite the part played by Scots in the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries. These are the things that Scottish Nationalism seeks to defend and promote, often in the face of continuing animosity from England. At no time has the Scottish elite sought to reciprocate and treat English language and attitudes with the same animosity and derision.

The political Left in both Scotland and England have tried for years to argue the case for the Union, in terms of working class solidarity. One English commentator, who regularly pops up on discussion programmes, recently argued that, "A Scottish worker in a supermarket has more in common with an English worker in a supermarket, than with the landed gentry in Scotland." That argument has been made for generations and used to be couched in the following terms, "A Scottish miner/steel worker, has more in common with an English miner/steel worker etc etc." Unfortunately for the Unionist Left, successive Westminster Governments closed the Scottish pits and steel works, leaving the Left to scrabble around looking for alternative comparisons. The actions of successive Westminster Governments in closing the pits and steel works, as well as so many other Scottish companies and institutions, forced many on the Left in Scottish politics to re-examine their traditional loyalties and come to the conclusion that Scottish independence offered more by way of opportunities to build the kind of country they preferred, than continuing loyalty to the Union with England.

Thus Dennis Canavan, Chairman of the Yes Campaign, stated twice at the last Yes rally in Edinburgh, "I am not a Nationalist.." He repeated it on the Sunday Politics programme the following day. Colin Fox has made the same claim and Tommy Sheridan, a recent convert to Scottish independence, like Jim Sillars and so many others recruited to the SNP over the years, cut their political teeth in the Labour Party in Scotland. Canavan, like others on the Left, claimed he is "an internationalist" as if that and being a Nationalist are mutually exclusive. Again I have asked and have yet to be given an answer to, "how do those who proclaim their internationalism so loudly, think there can be internationalism without nations and nation states?" What is it about Scottish Nationalism that they find so unacceptable, given that they will concede it is not based on ethnicity or racism and has no aspirations to annex anyone else's territory?

That is not the only question the Left has to address. A Scottish miner or steel worker, when they existed, may have had something in common with their counterparts south of the border but just how far did their shared interests go? The one important factor which the theory ignores, is the part played by community. Miners and steel workers, or workers of any kind are not simply workers, they do other things, they belong to other organisations. Outside of working in a mine, what would a miner in Fife or West Lothian, perhaps a member of the local Orange Lodge, have in common with a miner in Poland, who speaks another language and is likely a practicing Catholic? Brian Wilson, in his latest contribution to The Scotsman, argues that a Yes vote in September would mean, "working people and their families in Corby, Newcastle or Liverpool would find themselves confined to permanent Tory rule.." Thus, in order to enhance the prospects of the Labour Party in the UK, Scots working people must be denied independence so that working people in England can be denied the government that many of them voted for. Unless thousands of working people in England voted Tory, there would be no permanent Tory majority and that is something the Labour Party has to sort out for itself. Similarly Anas Sarwar, argues Scots must thole nuclear weapons on the Clyde, until "the world" decides to rid itself of nuclear weapons. Scots will wait a long time before the USA and Russia decide to rid themselves of their nuclear arsenals.

In common with many other traditional Nationalists, I want independence for its own sake because I believe Scots are different, are distinctive, have their own culture, are a nation and that Nationalism is about dignity, self-respect and self-confidence. I want to see Scots have a greater belief in their own self-worth and although the country which may arise from the political deliberations which follow a Yes vote in the referendum, may not be the kind of country and society I want to see, it will be the first time in 300 years we will have the opportunity to build something worth while. For too long, Scots have ignored the possibilities that independence can offer, placing their faith in traditional loyalties to Westminster political parties, only to see those loyalties thrown back in their face. Wilson and Sarwar make it perfectly plain where their first loyalties lie, the Labour party. Scots people have paid the price of that misplaced loyalty over many years, through years of Tory governments we did not elect and wars we did not want to fight. The intellectual "Left" in Scotland can help to change that. It must recognise by now that the changes it seeks have little or no chance of being achieved within the Union of the UK, where there is so little to choose between the major parties that they can comfortably endorse each others cuts to public services and a change in government would be seamless. Independence must be a better bet for all of us.

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