Socialist Fight statement on the Scottish referendum on 18 September: Vote NO


08/09/2014 by socialistfight

Statement of the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International

8 September 2014

The organizations of the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International did not reach a common agreement about what tactics to adopt on the referendum on the independence of Scotland. The Communist League of Brazil and the Bolshevik Militant Tendency of Argentina argues for a “yes” vote but Socialist Fight of Great Britain argues for a “no “vote. Our young proto-international, which aspires to build as a centralized international party, has not built enough internal structures to act on the majority position by an internal LCFI vote on this issue. We don’t hide our internal disagreements about this tactic and we believe that the publication of the two positions is the most honest way of dealing with the topic before the working-class, the the oppressed and its world class vanguard.

We therefore publish the two statements, the LC/TMB a little later today when the translation is agreed.

Socialist Fight statement on the Scottish referendum on 18 September: Vote NO

8 September 2014

Lenin, Critical Remarks on the National Question:

“The demand for a “yes” or “no” reply to the question of secession in the case of every nation may seem a very “practical” one. In reality it is absurd; it is metaphysical in theory, while in practice it leads to subordinating the proletariat to the bourgeoisie’s policy. The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront, and does so in categorical fashion. With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle. Theoretically, you cannot say in advance whether the bourgeois-democratic revolution will end in a given nation seceding from another nation, or in its equality with the latter; in either case, the important thing for the proletariat is to ensure the development of its class. For the bourgeoisie it is important to hamper this development by pushing the aims of its “own” nation before those of the proletariat. That is why the proletariat confines itself, so to speak, to the negative demand for recognition of the right to self-determination, without giving guarantees to any nation, and without undertaking to give anything at the expense of another nation… Insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation fights the oppressor, we are always, in every case, and more strongly than anyone else, in favour, for we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. But insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation stands for its own bourgeois nationalism, we stand against. We fight against the privileges and violence of the oppressor nation, and do not in any way condone strivings for privileges on the part of the oppressed nation.” [1]

The Break-up of Empires: Austria-Hungary was a polyglot chaos in which even Austrians did not profess to see more than a half light…The Czechs wanted the reestablishment of the kingdom of Bohemia, and finally the union with Russia, The Routhenians, oppressed by the Poles and differing in language and religion from them, looked longingly forward to an incorporation into the empire of the Czar. The Poles proclaimed secretly, if not openly, the restoration of the kingdom of Poland. Italia irredenta was ever alive in the Trentina and Trieste, no matter how hard the Slavs, officials, and gendarmes tried to suppress it. The southern Slavs of the coastlands, Dalmatia, Croatia, and Slavonia clamoured for a unification, and their ultimate aim was the reestablishment of the old Serbian kingdom, embracing also Serbia. Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro. The Rumanians wished their annexation by the co-national young and vigorous kingdom. And lastly, not least, the Germans of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Lower Austria, Styria, and the most advanced and politically educated inhabitants of the Alps, desired a union of the German provinces with Germany in some shape or form.

In the light of the Lenin quote we must pose and answer certain questions to decide on a “yes” or “no” vote.

  1. Is Scotland a nation? We say yes.
  2. Is Scotland an oppressed nation? We say no, it is an imperialist nation.
  3. Does it have the right to self-determination? We say yes but we are opposed to it exercising that right.
  4. Is separation in the interests of the Scottish, British or international working class? We say no.

What is driving modern national separation movements in Imperialist countries?

Since the defeat of Argentina in the Malvinas war of 1982, the defeat of the US air traffic controllers and the breakup of their union (PATCO) by Ronald Regan (in 1982 also), the defeat of the miners’ strike in Britain in 1985 the neo-liberal agenda of global finance capital has been in the ascendant. This offensive resulted in the overthrow of Eastern Europe, Russia and China as degenerate and deformed workers’ states in 1989-92. Following on from that the breakup of Yugoslavia from 1990 (the dissolution of the Yugoslav Communist Party) it has been increasingly the case that Imperialists have sponsored the break-up of states in the semi-colonial world in order to bring the smaller states that emerge closer and more firmly into the obit of global finance capital; Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, other former USSR republics, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro etc. In all these cases the IMF and World Bank have forced privatisations, sell off of state assets, wage cuts, destruction of health care, education and pensions for the elderly. The wolves of the global transnationals hoover up the wealth generated from all this plunder.

In the Yugoslav breakup and in some others the method was to appeal to the national bourgeoisie of the more prosperous republics to cut loose from subsidising the poorest republics and form direct relations with imperialism, to the extreme detriment of the working class in these countries – life expectancy almost always fell dramatically as a consequence of these “liberations” – the former USSR and Yugoslavia are extreme examples. Tibet and the Uyghurs who live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China are prime targets for the CIA intervention to break up China.

As a consequence the national question began to re-emerge in Imperialist nations themselves, as the advance of neo-liberal ideology encouraged the local bourgeois in regions of states that were historic nations to seek direct relations with imperialism, largely but not exclusively with US imperialism and its transnationals. The foremost regions that have begun to press fresh demands for self-determination are Catalonia in Spain and The Basque Country in Spain and France, the Veneto (Venetian) region of northern Italy the Flemish region of Belgium and Scotland. The motivation of the bourgeoisie who lead all these movements is the same, to enrich themselves by establishing closer relations with Imperialist finance capital, to increase the super-exploitation of their own working class and to cease to subsidise the poorer regions.

The four on the European continent are obviously motivated by bourgeois contempt for the poor of the southern Mezzogiorno and of Andalusia and Extremadura and rest of Belgium which is poorer in general. The Scottish referendum is fought out on “what’s best for Scotland”, extolling the virtues of North Sea oil and Scotland’s relationship with Wall Street. Salmond has floundered from one “national vision” policy to another. Before the 2008 crisis, it was that Scotland was going to be part of a “Ring of Prosperity” on the NW of Europe that included Norway, Iceland and Ireland. You don’t hear much of that notion now except from his opponents. However the Flemish and Italian movement are led by far right forces in distinction to the Spanish and Scottish movement which do represent historic nations and are led by centre right and even more liberal bourgeois forces. The militant Scottish working class of the mid 1980s would not have accepted this at all and no substantial or even small far left group in Britain, the WRP, the SWP or Militant advocated it at that time.

When the first rumblings of the RBS crisis were heard, Salmond dismissed the rumours as the activities of “a few spivs and speculators”. He was perhaps the last person standing to grasp that Scotland’s banks were imploding and does not admit even now that Scotland would have been bankrupt if they had not been bailed out by Westminster, i.e. English taxpayers in the main. (It later emerged out that. See e.g. London Review of Books:

That the primary cause of this disaster, in the UK’s case, was the total recklessness of the two main Scottish banks, RBS and HBOS, is an inconvenient truth that we could never expect the current SNP leader to confront, especially as he was previously employed as an economist by one of those now zombified institutions. Even more inconveniently for Alex Salmond, the twin pillars of the once proud Scottish banking sector are now being propped up by the British state (i.e. largely English taxpayers). Salmond’s response to this economic earthquake has been to blame a pair of Anglo-Scottish traitors, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, for failing to regulate the financial sector properly. This skates over the most inconvenient truth of all for the SNP: up until the crash occurred, Salmond was calling for even lighter financial regulation than that imposed by New Labour. In an interview with the Times on 7 April 2007, he stated: ‘We are pledging a light-touch regulation suitable to a Scottish financial sector with its outstanding reputation for probity.’ The reality is that Salmond was the king of the ‘spivs and speculators’ he has been denouncing of late and, were they living in Salmondistan rather than Broonland today, his compatriots would be in even direr straits than the citizens of Iceland or Greece. [2]

The next “vision” was that Scotland would be part of the European dream as it would get automatic membership of the EU. Challenged, Salmond said he had taken robust legal advice on the issue. It turned out that was a bare-faced lie to the Hollyrood Parliament which he got away with only because the Labourites didn’t press the advantage. He not only hadn’t taken advice, no-one had even properly researched the issue. The EU issued a flurry of statements to the effect that Scotland would have to apply in the same manner as any other state and that membership wouldn’t be granted in a hurry. The pertinent Member State is the UK, of which Scotland is a region. If Scotland leaves the UK, it obviously ceases to be a part of a Member State. It was at that point that the Spanish government said (for Catalonically obvious reasons) that it would be minded to veto any Scottish application.

The entitlement and privilege which have driven this way of life in Scotland have been built on a system that has survived almost intact since the Scottish Reformation in 1560. The lands which bear these hunting estates belong to the most exclusive cadre of landowners in the developed world. More than half of Scotland is owned by fewer than 500 people. According to the academic and land reformer, Jim Hunter, this equates to “the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in the developed world”.

Scotland is a minor Imperialist Nation unlike Ireland

Lenin wrote in 1913:

“Marxists are, of course, opposed to federation and decentralisation, for the simple reason that capitalism requires for its development the largest and most centralised possible states. Other conditions being equal, the class-conscious proletariat will always stand for the larger state. It will always fight against medieval particularism, and will always welcome the closest possible economic amalgamation of large territories in which the proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie can develop on a broad basis.

Capitalism’s broad and rapid development of the productive forces calls for large, politically compact and united territories, since only here can the bourgeois class—together with its inevitable antipode, the proletarian class—unite and sweep away all the old, medieval, caste, parochial, petty-national, religious and other barriers.

The right of nations to self-determination, i. e., the right to secede and form independent national states, will be dealt with elsewhere. But while, and insofar as, different nations constitute a single state, Marxists will never, under any circumstances, advocate either the federal principle or decentralisation. The great centralised state is a tremendous historical step forward from medieval disunity to the future socialist unity of the whole world, and only via such a state (inseparably connected with capitalism), can there be any road to socialism.” [3]

As this quote has often been used by the Socialist Party CWI and others to oppose the legitimate rights of oppressed nations to self-determination it first behoves us to show that Scotland is an Imperialist nation, now in alliance with English and Welsh imperialism in the British state. If Scotland secured independence it would be a minor Imperialist state, like Belgium or Holland. Comparisons with Ireland, which is an oppressed nation and whose six north eastern counties are still a colony of British imperialism, are invalid. Let us see the historical difference:

“The Protestant Ascendancy: 18th century

The Protestants of Ireland, triumphant in the aftermath of the battle of the Boyne (1690), soon take steps to procure lasting advantages over their Catholic enemies… Meanwhile penal laws severely restrict Catholic liberties in other fields. It becomes illegal for a Catholic to sit in the Dublin parliament, to hold public office, to keep a school, even to own a decent horse (one worth more than £5).

In spite of the advantages thus secured for Ireland’s Protestants, they too find cause for resentment during the 18th century. Increasingly the Protestant Ascendancy means the ascendancy of English Protestants. The best posts, in church or government, are given to newcomers from the other side of the Irish Sea. Irish commerce suffers harmful tariffs and restrictions. Scotland, now in political union with England, enjoys free trade; by contrast the Irish market is controlled from Westminster (which forbids, for example, the export of Irish wool).

The Irish find much to sympathize with in the complaints of the American colonies. Irish demands become vociferous in the years after the American Revolution.” [4]

Taking advantage of this international upsurge of bourgeois revolution which culminated in the French Revolution (1889-94) in Ireland Grattan’s Parliament gained a large measure of independence. Its sway lasted from 1782 to 1800 (“I sat by its cradle and followed its hearse” said Grattan, mourning its passing, in 1801) and it exercised relative economic independence, the only such period Ireland experienced between Poynings’ Act of 1495 and 1922. Ireland’s great bourgeois revolution was crushed with utmost barbarism by Britain in 1798. Scotland’s story was entirely different; she had her successful bourgeois revolution in the 1640s contemporaneously with England and Wales but nonetheless significantly separately and different to establish her as a nation in her own right. She now enjoyed free trade, Wiki:

“(Scotland enjoyed) seven centuries as an independent state and following Union with England, three centuries as a country of the United Kingdom… After 1800 the economy took off, and industrialized rapidly, with textile, coal, iron, railroads, and most famously shipbuilding and banking. Glasgow was the centre of the Scottish economy… The economy, long based on agriculture, began to industrialize after 1790. At first the leading industry, based in the west, was the spinning and weaving of cotton. In 1861 the American Civil War suddenly cut off the supplies of raw cotton and the industry never recovered. Thanks to its many entrepreneurs and engineers, and its large stock of easily mined coal, Scotland became a world centre for engineering, shipbuilding, and locomotive construction, with steel replacing iron after 1870.” [5]

Or as a friend on Facebook summed it up more succinctly:

“Though Scotland’s first attempt to join the slave economies (the Darien Disaster) was a spectacular flop, it was a bulwark of the British imperial dream from at least the mid-eighteenth century when Glasgow’s so-called “Tobacco Lords” began to acquire their fabulous wealth. That wealth was of course based on that cheerful little threesome, drug trading, smuggling and slavery. As the industrial revolution got under way, the Scottish bourgeoisie continued to back the imperial venture to the hilt, basing its manufacturing wealth on the lure of captive markets on the one hand and the intense exploitation of the local working class on the other.”

This is the political and economic story of an Imperialist nation, participating in the Empire as a full partner. Ireland, on the other, hand, rapidly deteriorated economically after its forced union with Britain in 1801 to its low point, the Great Famine of 1845-48 which saw 2 million disappear from its census of 1841, half dead and half emigrated. Dublin was the second city of the Empire in 1801 but by the 1913 General Strike/Lockout the poverty and appalling housing conditions of its workers, its life expectancy and its child mortality rates were unparalleled in Europe on a par with Calcutta. From a population of 8.5 million in 1841 Ireland as a whole declined to approximately 4.5 in the 20th century and began to climb again in the 60s to its present level of 6.4 million.

Despite the efforts of Irish nationalists to excuse the Scottish and Welsh components of the Empire for its crimes in Ireland in the “Troubles” of 1918-21 by constantly referring to Britain as “England” or “Perfidious Albion” the King’s Own Scottish Borderers were identified by IRA leaders as particularly brutal. In July 1914 it was the Borderers’ Regiment that carried out the Bachelors Walk massacre in Dublin following the Howth Gunrunning, still commemorated to this day. In west Cork as recorded by Tom Barry in Guerrilla Days in Ireland there was no quarter asked or given; together with the Essex and the Auxiliaries the order was kill on sight, the IRA man was lucky if he was killed and not captured by these. The IRA allowed other regiments to surrender; they were disarmed and allowed to return to barracks. The Borderers were no less vicious in the latest “Troubles” from 1968-98 in the north of Ireland. [6]

The two origins of the modern SNP: Scottish Unionist and left nationalist; truly “tartan Tories”.

It is a contradictory but very revealing fact that the political origins of the SNP are in the Scottish Unionist tradition which had successfully appealed to working class protestant voters in the main that defence of Empire was defence of industrial jobs in the West of Scotland in particular. It took a left, social democratic turn from 1973 to 1982, from the election of Margo MacDonald to the expulsion of the Socialist 79 Group, which counted Alex Salmond as a member. Salmond has been shifting the party rightwards back to its Tory roots since becoming leader in 1990. Most remaining left members departed to join Tommy Sheridan’s ill-fated Scottish Socialist party in 1998.

Not for nothing were the SNP dubbed the “Tartan Tories”, only now the SNP looks slightly more to the US imperialism than to British Imperialism. The Scottish Unionist Party was a wing of the Conservative party until 1965, like the Ulster Unionists until 1973. It was the main centre right political party in Scotland between 1912 and 1965, when the Conservatives began standing in their own name. It won between 25 and 42 percent of the votes for the Conservative establishment in those years. As the Wikipedia article explains:

“Popular imperial unity was the central thread of the Scottish Unionist Party’s belief system. While it was the prospect of Irish Home Rule that set the circumstances for the party’s creation, it was not the principle of autonomy they opposed, but the belief that Irish independence would lead to the break-up of the British Empire. This was demonstrated by their acceptance and support of Dominion status for colonies such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Newfoundland. This seam in the Scottish Unionist Party’s belief system was demonstrated when members of the party left to establish the Scottish Party, which eventually merged with the National Party of Scotland to form the Scottish National Party.” [7]

Scottish millionaire and founder of the giant Stagecoach transport group Brian Souter has been a long time supporter of the SNP. In 2000, when the Scottish Executive were planning to abolish the homophobic Section 28 laws introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1988, which forbade local authorities from “intentionally promoting homosexuality”, Souter led the openly homophobic Keep the Clause campaign. Alex Salmond was criticised for “pandering to homophobia” in 2007 when he accepted £500,000 from Souter. He denied any link but then the party opposed the right for gay couples to be given equal treatment by Catholic adoption agencies. Salmond thanked Souter for his support, calling him “one of the outstanding entrepreneurs of his generation”. In April 2007 the SNP dropped its commitment to re-regulate the bus network which they had made at the previous year’s conference. Salmond implausibly denied the £500,000 donation had any link with this decision. Again in 2011 Souter gave financial support for the SNP of up to £500,000. He obviously expects more paybacks.

How does the Scottish and English/Welsh working class see the referendum?

But it is not just an economic question but how this economic reality is understood by the mass of the working class that is important for Marxists. This is how Lenin judges the matter in the quote at the beginning of the piece. We must severely differentiate ourselves from the bourgeois nationalist Alex Salmond. Salmond dictates the political content of the “yes” referendum campaign with the likes of former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan dancing to his tune to the extent that WSWS writers Steve James and Jordan Shilton on 5 July 2014 speculated, somewhat fancifully, that he may be about to join the SNP.

“At a recent meeting in East Kilbride, Sheridan began his speech with a reference to Mel Gibson’s ludicrous and ahistorical Braveheart, declaring that the referendum was about “Freedom.” Tyranny “comes in many forms,” he said, noting that “since 1951 Scotland has had to endure 35 years of Tory government that we never voted for”—something that could be said for many other regions of the UK and about most British workers.

In one speech posted on the Internet, Sheridan complained bitterly that Scotland had been paying more to the UK for the past 32 years than it had been getting back. This showed that people in Scotland were not beggars, “but self-sufficient.”

In a newspaper interview Sheridan was more explicit, declaring, “We’re constantly told how Scotland is stronger and better together as part of the United Kingdom. But if you look at Scotland’s resources, our potential, our talent and what we have achieved as a nation, there is absolutely no argument that can convincingly say Scotland is better off not being an independent country.”… his is an argument routinely employed by Italy’s Liga Nord or Belgium’s Vlams Belang. These right wing separatist parties complain that they are subsidising poorer regions of the country and should be free to enjoy their own prosperity.” [8]

As Sandy McBurney observed against ex SWP member (now RS21) Neil Davidson in his Weekly Worker interview:

“Alex Salmond might have been against the war on Iraq, but he supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the bombing of Libya. He’s a great friend of American imperialism and the dominant role of the USA in world politics. The SNP have always made a big fuss about supporting Scottish regiments in the British army. They might want to get rid of Trident, but they want to remain in Nato [9] and have proposed a policy of ‘don’t ask and don’t tell’ in respect of the presence of nuclear-armed Nato ships in Scottish waters. The idea that an independent Scotland would be anti-imperialist is just ridiculous.

…The whole process of splitting our forces into two different countries will seriously weaken the solidarity that exists. It is already happening. It is quite common now for socialists not to support the founding of a Britain-wide socialist party – instead they advocate a separate party for Scotland with its own separate programme. They reject the prospect and perspective of a government in Britain controlled by the working class.

Davidson also underestimates the real danger that a ‘yes’ vote could lead to an increase in nationalism on both sides of the border due to disputes on the exact terms of the ‘divorce’. If the SNP win the referendum they propose an optimistic timetable of 18 months of negotiation with Westminster leading up to actual independence in March 2016. This process could get very messy, with chauvinists on both sides of the border stirring up nationalist resentment in respect of the division of assets and liabilities. In such a situation politics on both sides of the border could move sharply to the right and independence would weaken the only social force that is capable of defeating imperialism: the working class. In this context we could see what is left of the UK becoming even more aggressively militaristic after independence than Britain currently is.

But capital is organised at the level of the state and by splitting up our forces many on the left are effectively giving up this fight against capitalism as a system. I really cannot see how you can take on internationally organised capital by dividing our forces into ever smaller entities. Why help build a new national prison for the working class? The fact that this increase in nationalism is visible not just in Britain, but also in many other countries, shows that the traditional reformist left is continuing to disintegrate and degenerate. We need an international Marxist alternative to the old politics that still dominate the workers’ movement.” [10]

We must stress that there is no serious Republican campaign for a yes vote of any size or principle, no suggestion that the Queen is to be replaced. As John Wight points out in his blog:

“The contents of the SNP/Yes campaign’s white paper, to date the only prospectus for independence that exists, make this inarguable, confirming that the SNP does not constitute a departure from the status quo but rather stands for its continuation under a different flag. Despite its historic importance, never has such a divisive political campaign been fought on such narrow political terrain. Consider the evidence. If the result is No in September it will mean that the existing head of state — the monarchy — will remain the head of state, while if the result is yes the existing head of state — the same monarchy — will become the new head of state.” [11]

The issue of the Scottish currency after a “yes” vote contains all the problems of Scottish Independence. The SNP seems never to have given serious thought as to what currency Scotland might use, a fact brought out by Alistair Darling in the first Television debate. Nobody seems to have consulted anybody, or discussed with civil servants or the Bank of England and the like. Both sides are coy on the fact that, as a new EU member (always assuming that the Spanish don’t veto membership), Scotland would in the midterm be softened up for euro membership. This would have immediate effects on public ownership in Scotland. It is reasonable to assume that ScottishWater would be quickly sold off and that the remaining publicly owned transport would be put out to tender. The viability of Prestwick Airport, taken over by the state in November 2013, would be at risk of closure because it lacks proper transport links to Glasgow.

Finance minister John Swinney and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond during First Minister’s Questions

Finance Minister John Swinney promises that the new government would borrow to fund welfare payments but from where? Salmond says that they will repudiate Scotland’s share of the UK’s debt if Scotland cannot use Sterling but that would mean a default which would destroy its financial standing in the world markets. They would have to pay prohibitive rates for any borrowing as the southern European countries and Ireland had to a few years ago. Swinney has no intention of borrowing to fund welfare payments and almost certainly couldn’t even if he had. It’s only cheap propaganda designed to fool the poor; disgracefully the middle class of press and politics connives in the deceit.

Sterling is the British currency. The government of capitalist Britain is not obliged to put its resources at risk simply to humour capitalist Scotland. The choice seems to be between Sterling (making “independence” a sham as Scotland would inevitably have to bow to Bank of England rules) or the euro. The latter would make Sterling seem like very Heaven itself. The viability of a Scottish currency is too much of an unknown to take seriously. In short, the one question few on the left seem willing to ask is “Is an independent, capitalist Scotland economically viable?”. If there is doubt on that score, what might be the consequences for society as a whole, let alone the working class?

Is or is not Scotland a post-industrial country? To ask that question is to answer it. Does it have a viable financial sector? The collapse of its two major banks, the HBOS and the taking of RBS, into British ownership (its management has already said it will move south in the event of a “yes” vote) suggest that there are serious issues there. So there is little industry and only little banks. There are lots of lawyers, though.

Lastly on this there it is very light minded to take a “yes” position because the British capitalist establishment take a “no” position. You must make a concrete analysis in each case. Trotsky opposed the separation of Catalonia from Spain, so did the Spanish bourgeoisie and the dictator Francisco Franco. [12]

This is part of Trotsky’s message on Spain in 1931:

Once more on the subject of the timely questions of the Spanish revolution.

 1) …To permit petty-bourgeois nationalism to disguise itself under the banner of Communism means, at the same time, to deliver a treacherous blow to the proletarian vanguard and to destroy the progressive significance of petty- bourgeois nationalism.

 2) What does the program of separatism mean? – the economic and political dismemberment of Spain, or in other words, the transformation of the Iberian Peninsula into a sort of Balkan Peninsula, with independent states divided by customs barriers, and with independent armies conducting independent Hispanic wars. Of course, the sage Maurín will say that he does not want this. But programs have their own logic, something Maurín doesn’t have.

3) Are the workers and peasants of the various parties of Spain interested in the economic dismemberment of Spain? Not at all. That is why to identify the decisive struggle for the right to self-determination with propaganda for separatism means to accomplish a fatal task. Our program is for Hispanic federation with the indispensable maintenance of economic unity. We have no intention of imposing this program upon the oppressed nationalities of Spain with the aid of the arms of the bourgeoisie. In this sense, we are sincerely for the right to self-determination. If Catalonia separates, the Communist minority of Catalonia, as well as of Spain, will have to conduct a struggle for federation.

4) In the Balkans, the old pre-war Social Democracy already put forward the slogan of the democratic Balkan federation as the way out of the madhouse created by the separated states. Today, the Communist slogan in the Balkans is the Balkan Soviet Federation (by the way, the Comintern adopted the slogan of the Balkan Soviet Federation, but at the same time it rejected this slogan for Europe!). How can we, under these conditions, adopt the slogan of the Balkanization of the Spanish peninsula? Isn’t it monstrous? [13]

Trotsky’ Learn to Think makes this point against my enemy’s enemy argument:

“Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favour of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists – not proletarian revolutionists.” [14]

In the event of a “yes” vote we would argue for a Socialist Federation of Britain and a Socialist United Ireland.

The History of the Scottish Vanguard of the British Working Class

The first great working class movement was the Chartist in Britain (1838-48) and the Scottish working class was in its forefront. True many of the foremost leaders like Fergus O’Connor and Bronterre O’Brien were Irish but it had little effect in Ireland although the Irish workers in Britain participated as part of the British working class:

“The depression of 1842 led to a wave of strikes, as workers responded to the wage cuts imposed by employers. Calls for the implementation of the Charter were soon included alongside demands for the restoration of wages to previous levels. Working people went on strike in 14 English and 8 Scottish counties, principally in the Midlands, Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, and the Strathclyde region of Scotland. Typically strikers resolved to cease work until wages were increased ‘until the People’s charter becomes the Law of the Land’.”

Scotland participated in the forefront of the Great Unrest from 1911-1914; one of its most important actions was the strike of 11,000 women workers at the Singer Sewing Machine factory in Clydebank in 1911. This laid the basis for the Red Clydeside movement and rise of syndicalist trade union militancy post war up to the 1930s. The whole greater Glasgow area, along the banks of the Clyde from Clydebank to Greenock, Paisley and other towns participated. This is a very important part of the history of the whole British working class. In contrast the Great Dublin Lockout and General Strike of 1913 was betrayed by the British TUC and the left syndicalist Benn Tillett in particular on a defence-of-the-Empire basis, making the bloody fight for Irish self-determination in 1916 and after inevitably. [15]

Trust was lost between the Irish working class represented by its organisations and the British labour movement, whose leaders had put defence of the Empire before working class solidarity. That solidarity could now only be established through separation and on the grounds of full national sovereignty, which makes equality its first premise. British trade union problems between Scotland and England/Wales never acquired that character, because that was not the objective situation. Scotland’s bourgeoisie were not a “semi-oppressed, semi-oppressing class” as Trotsky described the colonial and semi-colonial bourgeoisie; they were and are an Imperialist bourgeoisie.

The history of the Scottish working class since has been as the leaders of the whole British working class. They fought in the general strike of 1926, in the great industrial battles of the early 70s that brought down the Heath Government in 1974 and in the great miners’ strike of 1984-5. The specifically Scottish trade unions have all but disappeared. National strikes are always fought on a British basis and the Scottish working class has long been the vanguard of the British working-class.

Jimmy Reid, on the right below the famous mixup – “It cannae be Lenin- he’s deid”. Educated by Stalinism he took the first treacherous steps to turn the Scottish working class away from their class brother and sisters south of the border. The US ruling class were so grateful to him that when Reid accepted the Rectorship of the Caledonian University of Glasgow the New York Times printed his famous 1972 Rat Race speech.speech in full and described it as “the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address”.

Scottish nationalism first got its toe-hold in the Scottish working class as a consequence of the Upper Clyde Shipyard’s dispute (1971-2) where Jimmy Reid’s work-in abandoned the national (let alone international) solidarity of labour in favour of a defence of capitalism in Scotland. Betrayals by a right-moving Scottish Labour party [16] and a bogus left turn based on the economic nationalism of the aristocracy of labour championed by the Communist Party via Jimmy Reid got its reflection in the SNP’s reactionary “It’s Scotland’s oil” campaign. This won 7 seats in the first and 11 in the second general election in 1974 for the SNP. This 30.4% was their highest ever vote in a Westminster election; the next highest was 19.9% in the 2010 election.

Significantly all the forces that now advocate a “yes” vote supported this fundamental betrayal by Reid who afterwards became a scab opponent of the miners’ strike of 1984-5 on behalf of the Scottish and British capitalist class. Genuine Trotskyist like Socialist Fight assessed him far differently in our article on of the outcome of the Grangemouth dispute:

“What was wrong with Jimmy’s Reid’s UCS work-in?

The Socialist Appeal, the Socialist party and the SWP put forward Jimmy Reid as the model trade union leader. Rob Sewell says, “The example of UCS in 1971, where the workers organised a “work-in”, became a cause celebre and an inspiration to all those workers fighting closures and attacks”. The Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party similarly point to this work-in as the way to go. That work-in was, in fact, a political defence of capitalism as was analysed in SF No 5, Jimmy Reid: “It cannae be Lenin — he’s deid”. [17] Reid accepted the Rectorship of the Caledonian University of Glasgow in the famous 1972 Rat Race speech. The New York Times printed the speech in full and described it as “the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address”.

“Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”

As Tony Fox commented on this:

“His message to the Presbyterian students of Glasgow Caledonian University, worried by a radicalising working class, was the rat-race can be overcome by cleansing our souls of greed and evil and he will then guarantee their privileges against the threat of socialist revolution. This is why Reid’s moral humbuggery went down so well with the capitalist establishment and its defenders. It had its origins in the crashing banalities of Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, delivered (or later invented to gut the message of the messianic Essenes, Christ’s sect, of all oppositional, egalitarian content) to protect the Roman Empire against the impending Great Jewish Revolt led by the revolutionary Zealots (66-70 AD). Its function was to ward off threats of revolution articulated in the main in those days, if not seriously practiced, by the Trotskyist zealots of Gerry Healy’s SLL”.

The article finished with the following observation:

“Lastly we will sum up by examining the remark of the ship yard worker who misheard John Lennon’s name when it was announced that he had given a £5,000 cheque to the work-in and said “It cannae be Lenin — he’s deid”. That worker clearly knew who Lenin was, he knew his spirit would be on his side in the class struggle and he had discussed Lenin with fellow workers, no doubt as a result of attending or taking to those who had attended CPGB meetings.

Lenin was indeed ‘deid’ for the CPGB even if they still used his name, with a history of some forty years of class betrayal behind them by then and he is clearly ‘deid’ for those leaders without enough class consciousness to recognise what was wrong with what Jimmy Reid did and said back in 1971-2. But we are confident there are enough who still understand the revolutionary heritage of Lenin and Trotsky to forge a genuine Leninist-Trotskyist revolutionary party by learning those lessons today”.” [18]

We concluded our article on the betrayal of the Grangemouth workers and the Royal Mail postal workers by Len McCluskey of Unite and Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union by a rejection of economic nationalism and that is a fitting conclusion to this article too:

Grangemouth dispute sold out by Unite’s Len McCluskey to defend “Scottish jobs for Scottish workers” and betray the workers of the whole island.

“Clearly far more concessions will need to be made at Grangemouth to protect “British” jobs and, once the full capacity of the “new wave of giant refineries in Asia and the Middle East” come on stream in 2017 the plant will probably close anyway. Bob Crow’s economic nationalism and Europhobia is a pressing threat to the entire working class movements and those who are revolutionary internationalists must conduct a sharp political struggle against it. McCluskey at Grangemouth and Billy Hayes at the Royal Mail in conjunction with Ed Miliband have struck a treacherous blow at the only force that can solve this crisis; the organised strength of the international working class led by a reforged Fourth International. As Trotskyists we do not therefore collapse before this global crisis but turn towards that class with renewed and urgent struggles to build that leadership that will take forward the struggle to build the rank and file Grass Roots movement in Unite and every other union to oust this treacherous bureaucracy and replace them with more militant and revolutionary leaders who will face up to the central task of overturning capitalist property relations themselves on a global scale.” [19]


[1] V. I. Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, February-May 1914

[2] Letter by Rob Brown in London Review of Books, May 2010:

[3] V. I. Lenin, Critical Remarks on the National Question, 1913,


[5] Economic history of Scotland – Wikipedia,

[6] Green Left Weekly, British army terrorises Irish town, July 1, 1992,

[7] Unionist Party (Scotland),

[8] Former Scottish Socialist Party leader promotes nationalism in referendum campaign, By Steve James and Jordan Shilton, 5 July 2014, This does not mean we endorse the WSWS/SEP position on self-determination in general which denies this right, even to oppressed nations like the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

[9] In fact they changed from anti-NATO to pro-NATO. “No Nukes, No NATO” was a 30 year-old central plank of SNP policy from its CND leftist past but the defeat of the Margo MacDonald left wing signified a right turn to the SNP middle-of-the-road support. Salmond and his deputy John Swinney managed to rail-road through a change of line at the 2012 party conference leaving much of the rank and file furious at what they (rightly) saw as a betrayal.

[10] Interview: Don’t march with nationalists,

[11] John Wight, Scottish Independence Obscures the Real Divide In Society,

[12] Leon Trotsky, The National Question in Catalonia, (July 1931),

[13] Leon Trotsky: The national question in Catalonia, July 13, 1931:

[14] Leon Trotsky, Learn To Think, A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists, (May 1938), ttp://

[15] Socialist Fight, The North of Ireland and the Socialist Party; Ben Tillett, the dockers’ leader who Larkin had considered a fellow supporter, “wielded the knife that struck the fatal blow”. This final decision not to support the Dublin workers led to defeat and intimidation with the full weight of the state used against the ITGWU’s members.”

[16] Scottish Labour holds 37 of 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, 41 of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons and 2 of 6 Scottish seats in the European Parliament. The SNP currently holds 69 seats in the Scottish Parliament, 6 of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons and 2 of 6 Scottish seats in the European Parliament.

[17] Socialist Fight No 5. P. 9 Jimmy Reid: It cannae be Lenin — he’s deid,

[18] Socialist Fight: Revolutionary leadership, Grangemouth and the CWU,


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