Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Socialists and Constitutional Crisis

Tomorrow night Stoke Socialist Party’s branch meeting will be looking at our British Perspectives document. For those of you not familiar with the workings of the SP, this is one of three documents circulated in the run up to our annual conference. The idea is the membership discusses this material and puts in amendments, counter proposals and so on that will be debated and voted on at conference.

I hope no one will object if I take this opportunity to scratch out a few thoughts I’ve been having on Scottish independence. One thing BP doesn’t pick up on is the very real possibility of a serious constitutional crisis this year, so I think it's important it gets an airing in our pre-conference discussions.

A commissioned Channel 4 News poll suggested a majority of Scots are in favour of keeping the status quo, which flies in the face of previous polls showing a small majority in favour of Scottish independence.

Whatever the whys and wherefores of how they reached these results, this will grow into more of an issue as the Holyrood elections loom closer and closer. The pro-independence parties – the SNP, SSP, Solidarity and the Greens have promised to use their majority, if they win one, to organise a referendum. Likewise if the Tories, LibDems, and Labour secure the lion’s share of the seats, such a move will not see the light of day.

It would be folly for socialists south of the border to ignore this issue, suggest it has no relevance to the working class, or believe it’s an issue best left to Scottish socialists to deal with. The question of how the ruling class rules is of utmost interest to socialists, we can’t get far if we don’t keep an eye on how our masters organise against us!

This should govern our thinking when addressing issues of this kind. Normally socialists only advocate the setting up of new capitalist states if the status quo is prising apart the working class of different national groups on national lines. For example, any unity of the Israeli and Palestinian working class against their common enemy is next to impossible while the occupation remains a key political question of our time. Is the relationship between the Scottish and the English of a similar character? No, no where near. But this observation far from settles matters.

The UK state does not operate in a vacuum. Though much reduced in stature it remains one of the key linchpins of the international order. It has oft been noted that without the UK’s support, the US could not have gone ahead with the invasion of Iraq. Wherever the US goes, chances are the UK will alibi it. However, the dissolution of the UK might land a major body blow to not just the ruling class at home, but to its interests abroad. This could lead to a number of political opportunities in the long run, not least a potential weakening of the neo-liberal consensus and a decreased capacity to become embroiled in military adventures.

Please note, I said ‘might’ – independence may not automatically weaken the UK state. If there were strikes, occupations, demonstrations; if the Scottish working class was moving into activity en masse on the question of home rule, then winning independence would embolden the class and could open the road to socialism. But this is not the case. The class both sides of the border has very little political confidence, and this is reflected in the programme of the pro-independence parties. Theirs is independence by the only route available at the moment: constitutionalism.

Assuming the class does not move into action, the independence outcome most likely under present circumstances would be that which disturbs British capital the least. An independent Scotland with Elizabeth Windsor as head of state could be a possibility. A deal with London over retention of Faslane as a naval base is another prospect.

Scottish independence is no magical cure all. It could weaken the state, it might not as well. This is why socialists have to be at the heart of this struggle.

For us in England I would suggest we call for full powers for the Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly, up to and including the power to decide their own fate. Likewise to head off the hegemony of little Englanders whose calls for an English parliament are likely to grow between now and May, this is something socialists have to think seriously about. Conceding the question of democracy to the right, even one as stilted as deformed as the Westminster system, is a serious mistake. Socialism is a more consistent, more meaningful form of democracy than anything capitalist politics can aspire to. I’m not going to be as bold to plot out a road map, but demands around the abolition of the monarchy, the lords, the secret state, and so on seem good places to begin.


Bill said...

I think we're beter offer counter-posing the illusions of nationalism to genuine democracy - more powers for local authorities and de-facto cantonisation, taht's the way to pull fangs - America may provide the example, their municipalities have relatively broad powers.

Gus Abraham said...

I see Scottish independence as a flawed but important stepping-stone. I think it will significantly undermine the British State by provoking a cultural crisis and a military strategic crisis in terms of Trident whgich independent researchers say is VERY expensive to relocate. See for example: Malcolm Chalmers and William Walker, Uncharted Waters: The UK, Nuclear. Weapons and The Scottish Question (Tuckwell Press: East Linton, 2001).

I take your point: "Please note, I said ‘might’ – independence may not automatically weaken the UK state. If there were strikes, occupations, demonstrations; if the Scottish working class was moving into activity en masse on the question of home rule, then winning independence would embolden the class and could open the road to socialism."

But as socialist it is our aim to see the potentiality in a movement. The movement for independence needs to be made multi-dimensional, inspired by vision and radicalised or populated with genuinely transformational politics that take it beyond the borders of territory. I believe this can happen.