We’ll end up with Napoleon

Napoleon

When the prospect of the referendum came to light, the question on the minds of radicals was an old one: “reform or revolution”? The coalition government had recently been elected, and wide-ranging cuts to welfare and benefits announced. We were undoubtedly embarking on a political age of the Right in Britain, and though on the one hand there was the distressing rightward turn of the public, on the other hand there were the beginnings of unrest – the riots in England, student protests in London which gained popular support, police brutality coming to public consciousness, and trade unions beginning to organise a mass movement against the government.

Then through this reddening mist came a light, a sickly fluorescent one, but a light nonetheless. It was the light of reform, the prospect of Scottish independence.

Its pursuit became all-consuming. It is not possible to be fully engaged in fighting for the referendum whilst also pursuing a revolution of working people, or being involved in the foremost trade union struggles of the day. To believe in the primacy of the referendum is, for a few years, to be engaged wholeheartedly in a struggle of reform, while suppressing the self-reproach that you are not engaged in a more difficult and more fulfilling struggle, standing in solidarity with those on strike, getting up at 5.30am to bring some bacon rolls to workers on a picket line.

But of one thing we were convinced, three years ago: that every day we would remind ourselves that our engagement in the independence movement was for a greater purpose: a change in the balance of power – power to the workers and to women – and that we would never accept the ideology of reform. So it is worth reflecting on our position today. Have we kept to the promises we made back then? Are we pursuing revolution? And if so, what is our programme?

First of all we must remember our place. In this campaign the SNP is the major player, having won a majority in a parliament that was designed never to have a majority. It believes itself to be the voice of the Scottish masses, to be supremely trusted in government. Most importantly it is the organism which the public believes has delivered this referendum, and will win or lose it. The left are the rebels in this movement – if we win, our contribution will be glossed over. Perhaps it will be asked in a Higher History paper many years later “What role did groups to the left of the SNP play in winning the 2014 referendum”. The answer to this question will be academic, and a favourite area of left-historians. I doubt it will go down in popular history.

Gramsci was interested in the extent of the role of radical groups within reformist movements, and was ultimately pessimistic.(1) He believed that the traditional, long-standing parties won the reformist battles, and also the revolutionary war in the aftermath. Thus Napoleon eventually reigned as the bourgeois ruler despite the attempts of petty-bourgeois Jacobins to subvert the bourgeois reformist movement.  This sad story is one of the most successful examples of radical hangers-on managing, for a time, to gain power, before it all ends in tears.

Our situation seems to mirror this. Undoubtedly we shall end up with a Napoleon, though our bourgeois ruler unfortunately comes in the less exciting form of a Salmond. Bourgeois reform cannot simply be subverted into popular revolution.

But let us return to the left’s current strategy. It has largely been a war of vision (for we can have no real war of politics, given the silence of the largest Left party). Given the precariousness of our own position, the strategy of vision on the left must be used not to increase our own credibility, but to reduce that of the SNP machine.

The SNP is weak because it is populist. It tries to appeal to everyone, by offering to reduce corporation tax, pursue a free-market agenda, and also to create a fairer society. The SNP’s “fair-society” agenda is one of its most vague, and mostly hinges on promises to halt Westminster reforms, and tiny changes to wages and conditions. The most feminist policy it has, childcare, is couched in terms which make clear that this policy is one that suits everyone, through raising tax-revenue and workforce flexibility as well as being universalist.

The weak point of populism and universalism is reality. How will the SNP play the masses when they are in the real game of politics –  when the unemployed look on as businesses joyfully accept a tax cut. Will the SNP’s version of “we’re all in this together” stand up? The SNP’s true ideology has been well-hidden during the referendum campaign, as it does not have universal appeal, but when we are back in the real world we can expect a slow movement of the SNP away from its bland referendum ideology. It will move from a society-focussed “fairness” agenda towards something that is slightly more individualist, endorsing, for instance,  types of benefit cap, and attitudes to healthcare that are already evident in its administration, of reducing the role of society in individual lives.

At some point the animals will look to the Board of Commandments of an independent Scotland, seeking reassurance that the ideals they fought for are in some way realised, and find that the words have changed slightly, incomprehensibly, but in such a way that the politics of our nation isn’t recognisable any more. We’ll end up with a Napoleon in more ways than one.

The SNP are a truly bourgeois party in that they never talk about where power lies, only how to use power whose location is already assumed. The role of the left in this referendum process is to talk directly about power, to corner the SNP into pledges that expose their ideology, or promises they cannot keep that will lead to their downfall after independence. We can start by exposing their low corporation tax agenda for what it is – a policy of the right – and protest that we don’t want their consensual models of trade union participation in company decisions. We must draw out ironically every promise they make to the poor, if only so that when their promises go unfulfilled, people remember that an independent Scotland was brought about on the basis of a social vision, whereas the SNP are loyal only to the bourgeoisie.

And we must always remember that we are playing the long game, the game of revolution. If in the course of this referendum we have not been engaged in forming a revolutionary popular consciousness, then we have failed in our task.

 Amy Westwell

(1) The relevant text is “The Concept of Passive Revolution” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks

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Red Tidings: How independence can end the SNP

asdfg

Investigations into referendum voting intentions show that Labour supporters, and people who traditionally vote Labour, remain firmly opposed to voting Yes. Unmoved by promises of great national wealth, and often hostile to the SNP and its leader, these voters will not succumb to nationalist takeover and are unconvinced by anything the SNP has to offer.

The SNP cannot win these votes itself – partly because as a bourgeois party it favours consensus and seeks to represent all classes, while Labour is a party of working people, whose interests are compromised by concession to business. The SNP’s hubristic habit of contempt for Labour makes them insensitive to their own weakness: that every criticism of Labour is self-defeating – it sets back the campaign for independence. On the other hand, were the SNP to solve this problem they would aid the construction of their own antithesis – a force that could defeat the SNP and claim an independent Scotland for Labour control.

As for the radical-popular cohorts, their lack of any awareness of their damage to the campaign when they attack Labour is evident at most town-hall meetings since summer, where Labour-bashing has been the default crowd-pleaser. The motley radical-bourgeois groups are unable/unwilling to target Labour voters (or, which shows even more naivety, they think they are already doing it). Instead, these groups have shown themselves to be more interested in gaining a position that fits within the SNP’s inadequate strategy – partly again because of political ineptitude, party through pursuit of future power, partly because they do not share (and may reject) the politics of Labour.

So the Scottish National Party, having led the campaign thus far, cannot secure what is required to win because the votes are attached to Labour values, and invested in the Labour Party’s success. The maverick, unruly radicals cannot be deployed to win these votes, nor has the SNP mustered any suitable replacements to carry out the required role. In order to keep their supporters on the No side, Labour, the most dogged and stubborn obstacle to a Yes vote, needs only to sit tight and lob the occasional grenade into the fray.

The main things Labour voters need to hear is that a Yes vote can be an anti-SNP vote, and that the Labour Party will win the 2016 election or one shortly after. No group on the pro-independence left realises that in order to win we have to strike against the SNP, stand for labour values, and commit to working for a Labour government after independence. While this is strategically important, it is also a crucial preparation for what will follow a Yes vote, because a strong Labour government after independence is the only way to be free of the SNP’s traditional party rule.

So we need a counter-movement to the SNP, and we need to demonstrate to a skeptical and sizable minority of Scottish people that a strong Labour party can win power in the 2016 election that will follow a Yes vote, and use its power for far-reaching social and economic change.

The case we make must answer the concerns articulated by the Labour Party, which resonates with voters. Many within Labour oppose independence because they fear that the National Party will, after independence, tighten its grip on the nation’s politics, leaving both the Labour party and ordinary people helpless to use the powers that would be won. Many fear that the kind of changes that would make independence worthwhile would not be achieved for many years; or else they believe the kind of bourgeois reform on offer does not represent a marked improvement on the present situation in the UK, at least not enough to risk years of governance by an economically impotent Nationalist Government, and to plunge British Labour into uncharted waters.

We need an answer to the fear that Labour cannot beat the SNP in the first elections after independence. This fear is based on the idea that the SNP is strong, and by being the ‘owners’ of independence a Yes vote will strengthen them further in the run-up to 2016, allowing them to set the agenda and tone for the election campaign. On the other hand, the Scottish Labour Party is weak and battered, and, being opposed to independence, a Yes vote will weaken them further; and, moreover, by not even being engaged in the positive independence debate, they will be set back even further if Yes wins.

We therefore need to make arguments to undermine the SNP – to argue that though the SNP are strong they have exposed their weakness in the campaign. The SNP’s need to appeal to a majority of people, many of whom do not vote, has strained them. They have been unable to pursue a party agenda to lead simply to a Holyrood majority, and have instead made promises to every interest group and section of society, promises that they will not be able to keep, or that will take a very long time to obtain. They have promised a fairer Scotland – but in an independent SNP Scotland zero-hour contracts will still be common. They promise shared prosperity – but corporation tax is to be lowered.

This brings us to the third problem: Scottish Labour are weak. Their talents still are deployed to Westminster, where they remain for much of the year, occasionally gracing Scottish political life. At an operational level, the speaking abilities of MSPs are dismal, sniping negativity gives supporters little to hope for, and First Ministers’ Questions has become a farce. Idealistically, what do Scottish Labour stand for? They have not managed to get across their argument for the prudent direction of scarce resources where they are most needed, having ended up tarred with the ‘something for nothing’ slogan.

So the strength of Scottish Labour, both operationally and idealistically, must come from other sources, especially younger members. At Glasgow University, under the banner of ‘serious about socialism’, its members have marched through the streets, stood on pickets, and suffered the throng of Blairites at British-wide conferences. At National Organisation of Labour Students conferences the Scottish delegation are generally among the most radical. Among younger members trade union links are strong, strengthening as activists have turned away from constitutional politics to engage with union struggles.

There is also potential for wider re-engagement of the labour movement. In general, Scottish Labour links with trade unions are stronger than down south, and the party could use these links and work with unions like Unite to build up membership and recognize the trade unions in a way that is not possible as long as they remain attached to Westminster.

Moreover, at a grassroots level Labour is still strong, and so too has the Labour vote been historically strong across communities, with a large number of voters who will vote Labour if and whenever they see something to vote for in it. In spite of the messenger, Labour has tradition and support that can take it far, especially once voters who moved to the SNP return to Labour.

Which takes us to the fourth, and most difficult, problem. For Labour is not even engaging in debate about possible and real policy prospects for a post-independent Scotland, and indeed is not even engaging in discussion at all, so how are we to believe it is one of the forces that will form an independent Scotland? It sometimes even gives the impression that it will shrug its shoulders and wander off after a Yes vote.

If we are to believe Labour can bring a new programme for an independent Scotland, we must look not so much to the party itself as to the Labour and socialist sentiment of its history and tradition, and we must believe not so much in its councillors and MSPs as those in the real labour and socialist movements, especially the industrial wing but also in socialist societies and the membership, for these are the people who can remake the party.

For this we will have to engender the belief that the reason Labour no longer runs Scotland is not because of its Scottish form but because of its Scottish leadership and public image – mostly due to two things: first, their move, probably dragged by New Labour, to the right; and second, the lack of public discussion by the Scottish Party of economics, work, and industrial relations, given the exclusion of these issues from the Scottish Parliament’s remit.

We will have to demonstrate that the Labour sentiment, remains, as every member knows, at the Party’s heart; and we must find a way of expressing this sentiment with the few resources we have, to show people that a proud tradition will carry on through the referendum, and that on the other side the Party will have a wealth of support and sentimental investment with which to renew itself. How to make this case credible without a large and active group is what I will explore next. It is enough for now that most Labour members, whether opposed to independence or ambivalent, know it to be true – even if they will never say it.

Of course most will stand with the Party in opposition to a No vote even if they intend to vote Yes. Though hard to accept, this is as it should be for a party that rests on solidarity and common endeavour. So the groundswell aspiring for a Labour government will start small. But when this source, already a trickle, becomes a stream, and when it flows into the growing mass of support for a Yes vote, it will grow and colour our movement into the reddening tide we need not just to achieve a Yes vote, but to erode the grip of bourgeois nationalism on a people who, betrayed for so long, have so much to build.

Cailean Gallagher

Roch Wind’s New Year Message

scarlet sails

In a recent article David Hayes called Yes Scotland the ‘umbrella of the SNP-dominated pro-independence campaign’. Nothing’s more galling than holding someone else’s umbrella, especially if it takes most of your effort to stop it flapping to pieces. This year we have spent too much of our time shielding SNP leaders from bad media weather as they move from stage to stage of their own set-pieces. If we get rained on that’s too bad; we’re just holding the umbrella.

Another writer, Neal Ascherson, said the many-coloured hopes of the people are like birds following the SNP trawler. It’s true that for too much of the last year we’ve all been diving around in the SNP’s wake. Common Weal, Radical Independence, Green Yes, National Collective, Nordic Horizons, Labour for Independence have been following the SNP’s strategy of appeal to personal economic interests and social advancement. All these interests come together in a great national consensus that puts ‘all of us first’, in the slogan of one of the larger birds snapping up the entrails of social democracy left behind by the SNP.

The SNP offers to make everyone’s life a little better. Optimism of the individual will fuel Yes Scotland and the SNP’s campaign, but takes the left nowhere.

2013 was the year we were meant to leave the mainstream, and capture the people’s imagination in a way the SNP can’t because they’re boring and nationalist. Instead, thrilled by all the attention and impressed by the social democratic rhetoric of the nationalists and its agents, left groups have delighted in influencing the Scottish Government, setting out to achieve popular support but gaining only self-importance.

The left before this long campaign used to be about big forceful marches and struggling to win real gains for working people. Where now are the traditional signs of left excitement: cells, mass placarding or illegal activity? The kind of demands that make the rich shudder and ex-Militant pensioners sit up and listen? The kind of language that recognizes life is a struggle, and the kind of planning that required coordination of thousands? There is none of this – no plan to deliver a million leaflets, or even print a newspaper, just reliance on spontaneity that would have made Lenin laugh with contempt.

The utopian grandstanding looks north to other countries, not at the lives of people here. And outwith town-hall meetings there is hardly a feeling of a movement. This was year an established left became the left establishment of conferences and compromises. Parliamentarism is already haunting those who grasp to revive the SSP’s former glory in the Scottish Parliament. There is no call to build up any party’s membership – partly because the Scottish Parliament seems suitably winnable without all that.

If there had been no Scottish Parliament, and this was a civil society campaign for independence, there would be more sense of the campaign being a movement of the left. But too many people, especially young people, are already thinking about future elections. The left seems too keen to make everything seem easy, whereas it is more convincing when it makes things seem really difficult. In spite of its cynicism, or perhaps because of it, Labour manages to speak to those who know it’s not all that simple – and it reminds people, rightly, that on the SNP’s terms constitutional change isn’t radical change.

What should we be doing instead? The left likes to think we are the ones to create a climate of momentum and promise a bright future, working long days and evenings to build up optimism across the country, and using the crisis to change the conditions of life. But it’s too late for all that.

We can’t direct the wind but we can adjust our sails. Large billowing sheets of red – that’s what we should have by now, with Yes Scotland the many-coloured flagship of an unlikely armada. The SNP don’t need our help. To put it in numbers: the SNP are capable of reaching around 35% of voters who generally support their sentiment and ambitions. But we need to win another 8%, and this group needs to see something different coming, something at once radical and recognizable.

Once we leave the stewardship of Salmond we can show people how the Labour movement will flourish with independence. We can campaign for higher wages for the poor and higher taxes for the rich, a corporation tax rise and a hard line on tax-evasion; for Scotland to be a republic, for Scotland not to enter NATO’s imperial wars or carry its weapons of mass destruction and death.

This is the happy new year we leave the SNP to fly on a rough wind with none of the compromises that bourgeois nationalism demands, and with one end in sight: a Labour government in an independent Scotland.

The March Left at Noon

march and rally

Saturday’s march and rally for independence was a notably left-wing affair. Under a stereotypically nationalist forest of placards and saltire flags, the crowd cheered and applauded enthusiastically as speaker after speaker imagined an independent Scotland of public ownership and wealth redistribution. The rapturous response to Alan Bissett’s description of so-called “wealth creators” as “greedy selfish bastards” must have made the lonely souls at the Business For Scotland stall feel rather queasy. Indeed, the general tone of the rally and march was considerably to the left of the official Yes Scotland campaign, whose videos and leaflets seemed tame in comparison to the rabble-rousing speeches and slogans.

So why the contrast? It’s very unlikely that Yes Scotland are to the right of popular opinion in general; calls for them to adopt a more ‘radical’ position are going unheeded because shouting about your radicalism is a very good way to lose votes in a small-c conservative country like Scotland. Most people don’t want ‘radical’ change. They want, broadly speaking, the ‘fairness’ and ‘prosperity’ that the Yes campaign are working to emphasise. Yes’s political base, on the other hand, comes from what can be loosely described as a nationalism of progressive reaction – against the disintegration of a British welfare state that tied the union together, and against the cut-throat unpleasantness of the society that followed it.

It might not be quite this simple. There is, perhaps, also something in Gerry Hassan’s notion of a “third Scotland”, a vague green-red spectrum focusing on communitarian localism and human wellbeing rather than the old centralising and managerial tendencies of Labour Scotland or the nationalist universalism of SNP Scotland. But this vision, while certainly popular amongst the commentariat and twitterati, remains too vague and cerebral to have a powerful impact on people’s sense of how their lives will be immediately changed by independence. Yes Scotland are trying to find a middle ground between this rather lofty vision for a “better nation”, and a broader appeal to the public with the basic idea that we’ll all be richer, safer, happier – and so on – with independence.

In this sense, much of the Yes campaign is stiflingly bourgeois. Offended by the open assaults being waged on the poor by the British ruling class, the well-meaning Scottish middling sort has decided that such an open demonstration of class war (and the insinuation of their own murky involvement in such an uneven struggle) just won’t wash. Measures must be taken, it seems, to counteract this vulgar disregard for common decency, and these have taken the tokenistic form of vague demands: equality, fairness, democracy, etc. When politics reaches this level of abstraction, it resorts back to the basic micro-managerial approach of technocratic liberalism. Influential books like Wilkinson & Pickett’s The Spirit Level identify various social ills – poor health, violence, crime and so on – before identifying a simple, catch-all cause (economic inequality, in this case) and proposing policy-level solutions. They point to certain levers within the existing political and economic system, and suggest that we pull them. It all seems very simple, and that’s why policy wonks and left-liberal politicians love them so much – Ed Miliband made The Spirit Level required reading for his staff after becoming Labour leader.

The trouble is, not everyone is a policy wonk. If the best argument for independence is that Scotland can be a fairer and more prosperous society with independence, we need a better way of getting that argument across than lofty claims about our “social-democratic consensus” or “breaking with the neoliberal model”, which don’t relate to the the material realities of people’s lives. Yes Scotland, in trying to make the idealistic message of their centre-left base more accessible and palatable to those outside the policy bubble, end up tying themselves in rhetorical knots and tossing out bland catchphrases. Most Scots don’t see a difference between ‘fairness’ and ‘prosperity’. In our everyday lives, we experience low wages, long hours, demanding bosses and rude customers; a society with less of those things would be both fairer and more prosperous. Higher wages would give greater personal comfort and security, as well as higher tax revenue and better public services; shorter working weeks would give us more time to pursue opportunities outside of rigid work structures and spend time with families; and more control, security and respect in our working lives would give us a better experience of life in general. Fairness and prosperity are two sides of the same coin – and it is only in a politics that recognises the deeply political nature of work that they can be seen and expressed as such, with real relevance to people’s lives.

Here it becomes clear – as it was on Saturday – that there is a gaping hole in the Yes campaign where the labour movement and the Labour Party should be. There is something about labour politics that is both quietly radical and yet profoundly popular: it doesn’t shout about its radicalism from the rooftops, because it doesn’t need to. The political nature of labour – of work – is experienced by the vast majority of the population every day, and a politics which recognises this cannot help but be radical in its implications (though rarely in its manifestations): to put the power of workers above the power of corporations and their owners, a fundamental transformation in the structure of society is necessary. In mainstream British politics it has consistently been the labour movement and the Labour Party that have understood the political nature of work, and that have sought to intervene in this realm. Even at its lowest point, after the “radical implications” embodied in Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution were jettisoned by Tony Blair, Labour remained uniquely aware of the workplace as a place of politics. This is why they remained popular, and it is why the trade unions continued – and continue still – to support them.

As Ed Miliband begins a Labour conference that will focus on zero hours contracts and the minimum wage as well as ending the bedroom tax, Yes Scotland and the SNP risk being outflanked on the left in a way that is both radical and popular. The march and rally was certainly dressed in the flowing, colourful robes of radicalism, but it would be a mistake to think that the politics on offer reflected the priorities of the wider population. There was little mention of work, outside of that confusing old slogan “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” (with the obvious, cheap retort: will the “better nation” pay me a living wage to do so?). A Yes campaign without labour politics is a Yes campaign that cannot help but be condemned to the sterile no man’s land between radicalism and populism. It need not advertise political and economic upheaval to be radical, and it need not tack to the centre to be popular. Rather than banging on about abstract notions of democracy, neoliberalism and the “good society”, Yes needs to talk about the thing that dominates our daily lives more than anything else: work. Not just quantity, but quality. That’s the only way to win the essential votes of Labour members and voters and to convince the general public that independence will have a direct and emancipatory impact on the structure and substance of their lives.

Rory Scothorne

Curse of the Unicorn

No Land in Sight

In a recent article about the Common Weal and its Nordic inspiration, I compared the social democracy of the mainstream Scottish left with a unicorn – a nice thing, but also a fantasy. Dan Paris responded, with an eloquent piece claiming that I had invented the Nordic aspirations of the Common Weal (although Pat Kane, one of its most vocal supporters, has called the Common Weal “Nordic-style” several times).

Dan’s central argument is that the Common Weal has no intention to simply reapply the Nordic model in Scotland. Moreover, he suggests that the model is not even real. After quoting a Danish academic who calls it a “myth”, he says that:

“Rather than a model to be imposed, Nordicism, as far as we understand it, offers a very convincing argument against the inevitability or superiority of the Anglo-American model of deregulated capitalism.”

The response of many to “Riding the Unicorn” has been similarly insistent that, whatever the theoretical or practical flaws of the model, Nordicism is a good ‘strategy’ for the pro-independence left, as it denies the hegemony of the Anglo-American model. In the face of the neoliberal doctrine of TINA (There Is No Alternative), the left can say “but look! It’s at least possible to be not-neoliberal!”

This is why we have the simplistic conception of the various Nordic systems as a singular ‘model’. The approach is a centre-left mirror image of the disastrous off-the-shelf ‘liberalisation’ programmes imposed in former Soviet states, in Pinochet’s Chile, or indeed in Iraq, by American expert ‘consultants’. Nordicism adopts the same kind of method of ‘nation-building’, but with a social democratic rather than a free-market outcome.

So the Common Weal tell us that they have evidence of a model that disproves TINA. This gives us hope for an alternative to neoliberalism, but Dan agrees that this particular one can’t be replicated here. So the Nordic example is no concrete alternative, only a clearing of the table. But then something funny happens – like a nightmare, the reader of Dan’s article escapes the cage of the neoliberal-nordic binary only to find the  very same cage on the other side of the door!

“Scandinavia offers, if nothing else, a compelling argument: that quality of life and levels of equality are strictly related and are best delivered through a committed social democratic state operating in a small nation.”

My initial article described Nordicism as a ghost, an empty resurrection of the British social democratic consensus that was (in nationalist myth) savagely murdered by the zombie-demon of Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps, in light of the above quote from Dan, I ought to revise the metaphor. Nordicism is no mere ghost, but a terrifying poltergeist, repeatedly flinging the Scottish centre-left against a brick wall. It is in its mythical status that it becomes real – regardless of whether or not it is adopted en masse, its example sets the parameters of what the social democrats deem possible, even desirable. This is clear from Dan’s aspiration for a “committed social democratic state operating in a small nation.” The phrase begs for deconstruction, but resists it at every turn. Every one of the conditions must be met for the Common Weal case to survive: it requires a kind of One Nation commitment from various interest groups, and this kind of solidarity can only be found in a small nation. And, we on the left are to assume, without social democracy (and therefore without commitment to Common Weal), There Is No Alternative!

But it is with the odd assertion that Nordic-style success will be “best delivered” that we come to the crux of the matter. Against what is “best” measured? The Common Weal is, quite explicitly, a movement against something – neoliberalism. The Nordic model, Dan argues, has emerged as some of the most useful evidence against the TINA neoliberalism of the past 30 years. But that 30 years has been one of the most devastating periods in the history of the political left. Therefore, “best” is measured against essentially nothing – under the onslaught of global capital, social democratic parties across the world have bowed to the cold logic that says they must efficiently and benevolently ‘manage’ the market and no more. The notional power of politics over economics is reversed, and the market becomes first provider of wellbeing, the state a backup for those who fall through the cracks. So, five small nations from one geographical area, with their own peculiar history and culture, become a desperate benchmark for the world. In those nations, the state operates in a way far removed from the punitive welfare reform, market deregulation and pervasive surveillance of its neighbours.

The idea that their success has been “delivered” by the state is one that understands the “quality of life and levels of equality” in Scandinavia within a neoliberal logic. The assumption is that they were handed down to a grateful public by the benevolent administrators of the market and its welfare-state constraints, and the Common Weal need only repeat this method in Scotland for us to enjoy similar prosperity and fairness. In this there is no place for, as I said in my original article, “the decades of class struggle that produced Sweden’s Folkshemmet as a compromise between workers and capital”. Nor, indeed, is there a place for labour movement victories like the NHS, the 8-hour day, the weekend, and so on.

And who is to deliver this social democracy? Here we come to Dan’s admirable devotion – and who could miss it? – to his own political party, the SNP. Dan’s argument is that an independent Scotland will have the means, at last, to “extend” its social democratic instincts to all areas of society. He quotes selectively from Cailean Gallagher’s article on the SNP’s careful evasion of class politics, picking a section that appears to reflect positively on the SNP’s social democratic credibility:

“It was not the SNP who displaced class from Scottish politics but the architects of devolution who allowed no issues of economic contracts to pass the Castle’s firmly closed door, behind which the Court sits in social democratic consensus. The SNP hold Court having played social democracy better than the other parties, in a system where class was already excluded.”

This is an impressive bit of misrepresentation, for it allows us to focus on how the SNP “played social democracy better than the other parties,” and places the real blame with Labour, the “architects of devolution.” Cailean’s argument – which is not so simple – is better summed up here:

“The SNP are bourgeois in the old sense that they are concerned with people as they operate freely outside work. They deal with the public as a body of burghers, not workers. Through this lens they come to believe that all a government can ever do for the working class is to implement measures to improve people’s ability to enter the labour market, through skilling-up individuals, informing people of jobs available, attracting business to Scotland and creating ‘shovel-ready’ projects. But they ignore one of the central features of class politics: that we can, through political action, change the conditions of the labour contract itself.”

Dan ignores the final sentence entirely. The SNP is not a party of class politics. At its best, it is a party of social democratic nationalist politics, and as such aims for a state in which workers and capital can happily coexist, the inherent tension between the two carefully mediated by a supposedly classless party acting in the national interest.

This is also the position that the Common Weal hopes to assume – a model to be offered to the ‘natural’ social democratic majority in Holyrood in the hope that it will be reproduced as policy. Indeed, it is easy for the Common Weal to attempt this, because they aren’t in power – and a lack of power is the first condition for this kind of social democratic nationalism. This is the essence of Cailean’s argument. The SNP are able to play the game of social democracy so well because they don’t have the powers that most closely relate to the ongoing struggle between workers and capital in Scotland. Any top-down attempt to improve working conditions, pay, hours and so on will come up against the unflinching obstacle of the ruling economic elite. The SNP – or any other governing party – will quickly realise that you can’t do top-down when you’re not at the top.

This is why, before any programmatic solution to our woes is offered, Scotland needs to develop the material basis to challenge capital, in the shape of a powerful labour movement. Cailean and Amy Westwell have argued that this is where the potential of independence lies, and it is here that the independence movement has to focus its attention.

Rory Scothorne

On Labour for Independence

boat-sinking

Labour for Independence is a sinking dinghy caught in the stormy relationship between the Labour party and the independence campaign. The reason it was such a flimsy vessel is because it set out unsure of the nature of the storm. As yet, Labour members have no reason to be convinced that there is a clear and strong future for the Labour Party and movement following independence.

The independence campaign as it stands fails to address the potential for labour change in Scotland. The SNP, who control the independence agenda, promote it as a move towards an egalitarian social state. The Common Weal is an extension of this democratic egalitarianism, welcomed by the SNP. LfI’s approach has stuck within the boundaries of this SNP-dominated independence campaign. The particular policies they fed to the BBC were Trident, and an endorsement of the welfare capitalism and tripartite corporatist business pathway to a more equal society. This focus bypassed the real influence that a Labour campaign for independence should bring to the debate.

The present case for independence does not appeal to a movement that wishes to change people’s economic conditions rather than simply their access to public goods and services. To be Labour is not to embrace but to deny that tug of bourgeois egalitarianism evoked by nationalists. Scotland’s working people have precious few heroes, and the wizards of the Common Weal are not among them; the social rights they wish to conjure out of independence extend only to public goods and services, but Labour sees a greater role for state and government than as a glorified service provider.

Johann Lamont is sincere and true to her party when she challenges a universalism that is concerned with equal distribution of certain social rights. Equality for her is not the equal distribution of rights, it is the distribution of rights in a way that tends towards a more equal society, related to people’s poverty, exploitation, and need. She wants not a universal fifteen minutes’ free personal attendance for elderly people, but a high expectation of social care for all, with costs covered by the state where people cannot afford it.

Labour is right to be wary of the call for social rights when they know that ordinary people are generally unfulfilled in their labour, working too hard, for too little pay, and always looking forward to their evenings or weekends. One solution is that people’s daily struggle through capitalist exploitation can find an outlet in a political struggle for better conditions, wages, holidays and work. They used to call this the class struggle. Labour also know that women are a disproportionate part of this class who are unfulfilled and underpaid in work.

Bringing powers like workers’ rights and tax to Scotland could be used to improve the conditions of work in Scotland, and few Labour supporters would deny this, but it is useless for the nationalists to deny that the current political spectrum of Scotland sets limits on Labour’s ability to pursue change for working people. From Alan Grogan to Stephen Noon, it has been suggested that Scotland could be Labour’s Hame, but Labour recognise that the SNP’s bourgeois politics, such as the politics of universalism and pro-business development, would be hard, if not impossible, to back away from if they became the populist politics of an independent Scotland.

As the egalitarianism of the SNP dominates the independence agenda at present, and as the SNP are the party of independence, and surging in the polls, the realistic fear from Labour supporters is that in an independent Scotland, the labour movement would play a nominal role. They expect that labour-values would be ignored, deleted from the political agenda of an independent Scotland for the foreseeable future. Unless an expectation of anything different is created in Scotland, or unless Labour can find some way to change the Scottish political stagnation, they are probably right.

So as it is, very few of us in Scottish Labour are willing to mount a public siege on the Castle of Scottish politics, to win not just control of Scottish Parliament, but powers for the Scottish Parliament which would be powers for the Scottish working class. But some are preparing for this fight, in order to use economic powers in Scotland to create better conditions and wages, to win real control by working women and men over the future of the people who live here. We should be allowed that voice in the Labour party; but Labour for Independence were not that voice.

Those in Labour who support independence need to emphasise that the most important economic powers which will be extended to the Parliament post-independence are not those of tax and benefits, but are concerned with power over the sphere of work, and economic conditions. These powers are the tools to create a strengthened labour movement and Party in Scotland.

For Labour to use the constitutional question to force class and gender into Scottish politics would be for Labour to embrace the extended powers of the Scottish sovereign to the distribution of wealth, the control of elements of production, the rights of people at work, and the economy itself. This is the only way working people can find a voice in Scottish politics.

The King, the Court and the Castle

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“All [the Scottish Government] did was to guard the distant and invisible interests of distant and invisible masters”
― Franz Kafka, The Castle

Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.”
― Karl Marx, Capital

On Monday Westminster blocked access to labour justice for thousands of working people, by introducing charges to access employment tribunals in cases of exploitation or mistreatment. Tribunals, though they do not directly influence the justice of the labour market itself, allow a semblance of parity between worker and employer when cases are brought into the sphere of civil justice. By restricting access to tribunals the Coalition has undermined rights the labour movement has fought for, such as redress for harassment, appeals against unfair dismissal, and equality of treatment.

The labour contract between worker and capitalist, being a bigger determinant to people’s lives than the social contract between citizen and government, should be an issue of concern for the Scottish Government which, while it has no direct authority over workers’ rights, claims to speak for the people. Yet Labour MSP Drew Smith’s account of his effort to raise the tribunals issue shows the disinterest of the Scottish Government on issues of workers’ rights.

“I have for some months been attempting to interest the Scottish Government in the decision of the UK Government to introduce charging for access to employment tribunals, particularly in light of the expected transfer of tribunal administration from the Ministry of Justice. So far, I have been knocking on a firmly closed door.”

This account has telling resemblances to K’s attempt to enter the Castle: admittance to the centre of bureaucratic power comes only through acceptance of the administration’s state of mind, and view of society. Drew Smith, a shadow Minister and Chair of the Trades Union Group of Labour MSPs, has no admittance to the Scottish Government as an advocate for working people. He had to turn to the letters pages of the Evening Times to bring workers’ rights into the frame and challenge Scottish law firms and businesses, arguing that the reforms will mean “ordinary working people will be priced out of justice”.

This displacement of the issue of access to employment tribunals is part of a general exclusion of the most crucial of conflicts, the worker-employer relationship, from Scottish parliamentary debate.

Although the Scottish Cabinet tend to be willing to work with the STUC and sometimes with individual unions, their willingness to contract blacklisting companies, and their whip-line on their MSPs not to sign Unite’s anti-blacklisting pledge, are two recent instances of their notorious record on workers’ rights.

Salmond is canny in paying honour to the unions, while leaving substantial issues of workers’ rights and the labour market out of his administration’s concern. At this year’s STUC Congress the First Minister said trade unions play a “valuable and important role” in Scottish life. In the face of assaults from Westminster, trade unionists are right to feel reassured that “the place of Scotland’s trade unions is absolutely secure with this administration”. But for those who wish to increase the role of trade unions in society and in government, such a phrase is cause for concern. A corporate director is bound to be pleased if the limited place of trade unions is ‘absolutely secure’.

The King’s conciliatory politics allows his Court to claim to speak for trade unionists, workers, and people on low wages, alongside their alternative agenda to be the voice of the business lobby and the middle classes. Conciliatory politics are contradictory politics, but to the SNP the claim to speak for all the people of Scotland makes perfect sense.

Because of the limits of devolution, the SNP do speak for ‘the people of Scotland’ insofar as they are users of those particular public services over which the SNP preside. The economic sphere of zero-hour contracts, tribunals, unpaid overtime, unregulated overwork, remain, in the eyes of Scottish Government, excluded from their own view of society – though evidence of worker-employer relationship is to be found in the workplace, in streets, in the Jobcentre, in the boardroom, and in the Evening Times. There’s plenty on the dole in the land of the leal.

The SNP are bourgeois in the old sense that they are concerned with people as they operate freely outside work. They deal with the public as a body of burghers, not workers. Through this lens they come to believe that all a government can ever do for the working class is to implement measures to improve people’s ability to enter the labour market, through skilling-up individuals, informing people of jobs available, attracting business to Scotland and creating ‘shovel-ready’ projects. But they ignore one of the central features of class politics: that we can, through political action, change the conditions of the labour contract itself.

Alex Salmond, while he backs the place of trades unions in society, describes the Scottish Government’s own duty to citizens, businesses and trades unionists alike as the upholder of the social contract of universal services, “based on a sense of public good and the common weal”. Indeed, their position on the lack of need for government control of the labour market is not dissimilar to the facile ideals of the “Free-trader Vulgaris”, described thus by Marx:

“The sphere within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on [is the sphere where] both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will… and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things… work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all”.

But there is a deeper reason for the exclusion of class from Scottish politics. It was not the SNP who displaced class from Scottish politics but the architects of devolution who allowed no issues of economic contracts to pass the Castle’s firmly closed door, behind which the Court sits in social democratic consensus. The SNP hold Court having played social democracy better than the other parties, in a system where class was already excluded – all parties uphold this politics because it is the way to win power. We often forget that power was held for almost a decade in Scotland by a Labour and Liberal coalition, the first to inhabit the Castle and set the social democratic agenda.

This Castle’s politics are those of universal social rights. Unlike workers’ rights or women’s rights, the rights it deals with apply to everyone – everyone gets old; everyone has an education; everyone can use the right to free prescriptions. Underwritten by a pseudo-egalitarian ethos, our sovereign regards everyone as equal in the eyes of a universal social provider. This appearance of equality, this gratifying sense that we all are equal in the eyes of the Scottish Leviathan, has perpetuated the social democratic consensus and has kept class struggle from intruding in Scottish politics. Working issues and contracts are never the sphere of equality with which the Scottish Government is concerned. The people of Scotland are not sovereign, just equal as regards the limited might and power of the Castle.

Cailean Gallagher