By Mhairi McAlpine
The struggle for Scottish independence is, at its heart, an anti-colonial struggle. It is worth stating that upfront, for although it is implicit in a lot of the analyses that socialists bring to bear on the independence movement, many shy away from using the term. The nation state is a problematic entity for socialists. All but the most committed Stalinist would recognise that socialism in one country is impossible. There is no Scottish road to socialism. However, Scottish independence is a blow at the heart of imperialism, a fracture in the hegemony of the Western powers and their dominance. And as such it is a step towards genuine socialism, a socialism which can be nothing but global. The referendum in 2014 is an opportunity to throw off the shackles of empire, not only for the good of the people who live in Scotland, but for peoples across the world.
The 1707 Act of Union was a declaration of civil war on the people of Scotland from its ruling class. Right at the start of the shift from feudalism to capitalism, people were burned from their homes and left to die of exposure on hillsides, because the land on which they lived and toiled could make more money if they did not live on it.
The financial appeasement given in the form of industrial investment saw the desire for Scottish independence diminish as the security of being part of an imperial power bought off the rebellious Scots – locating the investment within a proximal land with close links between the capital invested there and the political domination needed to secure it.
The referendum in 2014, will determine how Scotland takes its place in the world, and the terms of our engagement on the international stage as well as being able to take full fiscal control of our resources and determining ourselves where our priorities lie. We will gain full control over our social security spending, tax raising powers and borders, while being able to determine our own defence and foreign affairs strategies – all of which have thus far been denied to us. But, as the example of Cuba shows us, no country is an island entire unto itself. We will still be subject to the whims of international capital which no matter how much we struggle will always try to co-opt us to its purposes.
The ability to raise and spend our own revenue raises critical questions about what the priorities are for our future nation. The UK government’s spending on lavish extravaganzas and bigger and better toys for the military belies its belief in circuses to distract the masses from its war-mongering agenda. With full fiscal control, greater transparency over where our income and spending are going will enable the Scottish people to determine its own priorities. For tempting although it may be to celebrate our independence once we get it, we should never forget Guevara’s words that although national liberation is a blow to the world imperial system, it is only when the economic domination over a people is ended that true liberation is achieved.
The recent fiasco over the golf course in Aberdeenshire – where approval was given to Donald Trump to build a playground for the rich, destroying the homes and livelihoods of those living there, by Alex Salmond in the face of massive local opposition is testimony that independence alone cannot save us from the power of international capitalism and those within our nation who would capitulate to it. Instead, we must look to developing our own resources, capacities and capabilities with an eye on its effects on the rest of the world.
Nationalism is a tempting ideology, the plucky little nation up against the world, and it is easy to slip into nationalist rhetoric when advocating for independence, but that is a dangerous route to go down and one which we should challenge wherever and whenever it appears, not only from self-identified nationalists, but also from those who seek to use it to garner popular support.
Nationalism is on the rise in Europe. Conflicts within Europe, through the European Central Bank’s interference in the financial affairs of members of the Eurozone and the construction of Fortress Europe, have seen a rise in nationalist sentiment and the far right. Its most worrying manifestation is in Greece, where an openly fascist party commands up to 10% of the popular support, while its members beat, maim and kill third world migrants on its streets. But Greece is only part of a wave of neo-nazi resurgence across the continent. Scotland is one of the few places in Europe which has no history of fascist ideology gaining a grip, but it would not be the first nation to find its struggle for national liberation hijacked by those with sinister ends. In contrast, there are some nasty right-wing types hanging onto the coat-tails of the unionist bandwagon, promoting a Brit-nationalist ideology all wrapped up in a Union Jack.
Our movement must be internationalist for there can be no freedom for any wo/man while another is enslaved. Socialists in the West have long supported struggles of national liberation all across the world, from the decolonisation of Africa to the ongoing struggle in occupied Palestine. In most of these cases, the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised is obvious. Within the West, and particularly in the context of Scottish Independence, that relationship is far more complex. For we should never forget that Scotland was – and still is – a constituent part of the British Empire. Investment flowed into Scotland in the nineteenth century from the enslavement, murder and theft from peoples all across the globe. We cannot escape our history, but we can change our future. We can reject the British state and all that it stands for, refuse to remain a part of a diminished empire which holds the world to ransom with weapons of mass destruction, which holds a military alliance with the current imperial superpower and uses its economic power to force others to bend to its will.
As we take our place in the world, we should not only look at how our independence can benefit those suffering from the ongoing effects of colonisation, but also what they can teach us about the process of liberation. Franz Fanon has explained how one of the first steps in achieving liberation is to develop the national culture that the colonial power has upsurped and suppressed. This is not the stultified ‘tartan and shortbread’ so beloved of the ruling class any more than any other appropriated national culture sold back to the natives, but the living breathing culture that the people create of their own accord. The upsurge in a distinct Scottish cultural identity from the 1980s onwards is one which has carried the independence movement forward and it is a momentum that we should be careful not to lose. At the same time, Fanon gave warning that once national liberation had been achieved and the coloniser gone, the bourgeoisie would seize their chance to nab the reins of power, whose interests in time become allied with that of the former coloniser – the maximal exploitation of the natural and human resources of the country. It is a warning we should heed. While in Africa the national bourgeoisie rose from nowhere, within Scotland there is a ruling class fully formed, currently it aligns itself with the British state, but in its absence would sell us out just easily.
It is also worth looking to Africa for examples of states which have liberated themselves from more powerful neighbours – notionally considered equals, where one geographic area exploited the other for its own benefit. Both Eritrea and South Sudan have liberated themselves from a more powerful neighbour. The initial hopes of both states – that the women’s liberation and intellectual freedom the Eritrean liberation movement activated and the hopes of a respectful peace in South Sudan have not materialised, as Eritrean women have been pushed back into traditional roles now that the independence movement is over and its only university has been closed, while South Sudan, bumps along in an uneasy state of tension with its northern neighbour. These situations highlight the need for the independence movement not only to fight for liberation, but to encapsulate and articulate a vision of the society that we wish to see, and to view independence not as an end goal, but as a milestone on the road.
We need to build a vision of Scotland which is not only oppositional to the current UK state, but which embodies our hopes for the new society. At the moment we have London rule, and we must be wary of that turning into Edinburgh rule, where a concentration of capital makes decisions on behalf of the rest of Scotland in the interests of the domestic ruling class.
We have impoverished inner city areas with some of the lowest life expectancies in Europe, and at the same time rural communities heavily dependent on subsistence farming. We have new citizens from all over the world enriching our culture and national life, as well as a diversity of indigenous ethnic groups, such as the Gaels, the Scots-Irish and the travellers. We must ensure that our new society takes into account the needs of all of our citizens. A haughty Edinburgh rule may bring our master closers, but does nothing to eliminate our subjugation.
At this time, when the crisis in global capitalism is hitting Europe’s shores, and austerity measures are touted as the only game in town we should be mindful of what we consider is essential. The health and education of the populace is an investment far greater than any capital project; meaningful work, which allows people to contribute to our new nation is critical, and the people’s safety to go about their business is an important element of the state. In prioritising these issues, we should be remember that commerce and industry should work in the interests of the people and that the safety and security of our population is best guarenteed when people lack fear of a state and its actions, rather than because it has bigger weapons – be those weapons nuclear or hand held.
In a world which is facing ecological crisis, with global warming and climate change we must take our newly gained national responsibilities seriously, committing ourselves to reducing the hoovering of resources from the planet that the British Empire has been so good at and critically examine the resources – both natural and human – that we have on these shores and look at how best we can utilise these resources for the benefit our people without damaging the resources of others.
In a world where religious tensions are utilised to isolate, marginalise and cause conflict between peoples, we must respect the rights those with faith, yet be wary of those who seek to use that faith to justify breaching the rights of others. Valuing the faith groups of Scotland and accepting the right of individuals to practice their faith in a manner of their choosing does not preclude intervention to prevent organised faith groups seeking to impose their values on those who do not share their belief.
The situation of women in our new society must be carefully considered. Moving from a position of domestic servitude, where our resources are collected and doled back out to us under the Barnett formula, we are reminded of the position that many women, particularly young mothers are placed in – dependent upon male providers to see to the needs of themselves and their children. Liberating women not only means strengthening policies of violence against women, allowing a base level of security for half our population, but also ensuring that women have a level of economic independence which enables them to fulfil their potential.
That violence against women must take into account the sexualised violence which is tolerated throughout our society in the form of prostitution and pornography, where the objectification and sexual servitude of women is sold. Creating a society which values women means eradicating the abuse they face, not only for those directly involved in the sex industry, but for other women who live with the consequences of those who freely abuse women through prostitution and pornography living among us.
The cuts currently being imposed by the UK government are exacerbating the situation of women. Not only are women finding themselves laid off in higher numbers as the public sector where women workers – particularly higher paid women workers – congregate, but the majority of benefit cuts come directly out of women’s pockets. Beyond the direct cuts that women face, they are also expected to shoulder the burden of secondary cuts, in their traditional roles as carers. The cuts to housing benefit will see young people in particular unable to establish or maintain an independent lifestyle making them reliant on family support – both practical and financial for longer periods of time, while the cuts to disability benefit will reduce the ability of disabled people to pay for essential equipment to cater for their needs, not only reducing their own autonomy, but also imposing a duty on others to support them, and that carer support more heavily falls upon women.
Provision for when women cannot provide for themselves and their families – during confinement and post-childbirth – must be protected, but moreover the state must provide security to women in their employment roles, ensuring that carers – both of children and of adults – have their needs taken into account and their rights protected. For it is only when the situation of being a carer becomes a viable choice rather than a sacrificial obligation that women will be freed to genuinely allocate their time according to their desires rather than be bound by a biological and social destiny.
Disability within our new society must be rethought. Many of the challenges that disabled people face come less from their own bodily limitations than through the social set up that surrounds them. Consideration of how best disabled people can contribute to society and be valued within it means not a top down demand that disabilities are miraculously overcome and wished away through a bureaucratic dismissal of people’s limitations, declaring them ‘fit for work’ as a money saving exercise, but a matching of the abilities of people to the needs of the society. Few people ‘cannot work’ in the sense that they have nothing to contribute, but many have limitations on the work that they can perform and the type of contribution that they can make. Ensuring that the contributions made are valued and appreciated and that time is taken to remove barriers to any participation can ensure that the human resources of our society can be maximised for the benefit of all, including the self-actualisation of those who have limited abilities.
The care of our population must be at the top of our agenda. Not only care in the traditional medical sense, but also in the interactions between the state and its populace. The bullying and harassment which is currently being experienced by many, most notably through the benefits system, where sanctions threaten vulnerable people with destitution should they not obey orders, must end. These orders which are frequently contradictory and for many ultimately harmful must be replaced by a recognition that the state is there to support its people, not as a coercive entity but as an enabling one.
Nowhere is that more apparent than within the justice system, which sees vulnerable and damaged young people confined and restricted as punishment for illegal acts with little consideration of the social conditions which led to their transgressions. The addiction issues that are faced by the vast majority of the population of Corton Vale women’s prison – a concentrated village of abused women who self-medicate from the streets with imports from a country where we bomb its citizens to hell – must be tackled at its root. The provision of hope and opportunities would do far more to reduce offending than any level of incarceration could ever do. While across the land, troubled men are locked up for long periods of time with few opportunities to overcome the issues that led them into that situation, then released back into the community to reoffend all over again.
None of the above will achieve socialism. We cannot achieve a socialist Scotland. We can only make our own little corner of the world a place where socialism can be possible by eradicating the racism and sexism which perpetuates divisions between people; remove the state as a coercive force of control and attempt to utilise it to encourage those within to liberate themselves; and bolster the state as a protector of our people against international capitalism which seeks to syphon off our resources for the good of the rich. We can develop a transitional society, one which enables the emergence of socialism in conjunction with the rest of the world.
If we want to see socialism in land that we call Scotland, we must recognise that it is bound with the struggles of others, for as long as one wo/man is not free, none of us are. We can be a beacon to the rest of the world – most notably to the rest of UK, demonstrating that another future is possible, that misery and poverty are not part of the human condition, but a deliberate strategy that capitalism uses to keep us working in their interests and that there is a better way. Moreover, we can be a force of liberation, not through invasion of other countries in the name of ‘freedom’, but by removing ourselves from the oppressive Western hegemony – both economic and military – that keeps the majority of the world enslaved.
The first step of that is extracting ourselves from the UK state – from its militarised global interventions which sees millions murdered to protect its interests; from its economic coercion which leaves families all across the globe impoverished for the benefit of the UK ruling class; from its kyriarchial vision, which perpetuates sexism and racism as a means of upholding capitalist values and maximising human exploitation. And in extracting ourselves from it, we send a clear message that will no longer tolerate our people and our natural resources be used for the domination of others.
But there can be no socialist Scotland on its own, for socialism is global or it is not socialism. There is no left-wing nationalist case for independence, only an internationalist approach will see us achieve our aims. There is no extracting ourselves from global capitalism – there is only the greater protection that we can achieve from its ravages through a commitment to re-engineering our society for the benefit of people not profit, and through putting a nail in the coffin of the British state and its appropriation of our resources for its murderous and exploitative agenda.
This is one of a series of extract from a new collection launched May 2013 – Scotland’s Road to Socialism
Seven years after Is There a Scottish Road to Socialism? was published, we return to the question: “Is a better Scotland possible – and how do we get there?”. In Scotland’s Road to Socialism: Time to Choose, 24 writers give their answers. £7.99 inc. postage.
Contributors include: John Aberdein, Cat Boyd and James Foley, Pauline Bryan, Maggie Chetty, Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, Neil Davidson, Stuart Fairweather, Neil Findlay and Tommy Kane, John Foster, Colin Fox, Lynn Henderson, Bill Kidd, Richard Leonard, John McAllion, Mhairi McAlpine, Robin McAlpine, Conor McCabe, Peter McColl, Gordon Morgan, Mike Small and Dave Watson.