2007 - 2021

Radical Indy Conference 11: What are Socialist arguments for Independence?

Danny Boyle’s tribute to NHS is unlikely to be repeated

One of the central problems facing socialists who support Scottish independence is that only a minority of working class people share our position. If we are to convince those who currently do not agree with us to vote yes we will have to provide them with reasons for doing so: the strategy advocated by some in the SNP of refusing to talk about politics until after the referendum is sure-fire way of losing it. In particular, the struggle against austerity cannot be postponed until 2014. It would be dishonest to pretend that the mere fact of establishing a Scottish state will automatically better the conditions of the Scottish working class: it will not. Indeed, the nature of an independent Scotland will largely depend on how far we are successful in resisting the latest phase of neoliberalism and democratising Scottish society before the referendum takes place.

It can be argued, however, that independence will open up a range of possibilities which would not otherwise be available in the current period. But to even get the opportunity to make these arguments it is necessary to be clear that voting for independence is quite distinct from voting for the SNP, who may not even be the governing party in a post-independence parliament. The focus of the campaign cannot be based on what the SNP might or might not do.  If the move to the right signalled by policies like remaining in NATO and retaining Bank of England control over interest rates continues, many people will simply conclude that there is no benefit in voting for a new constitutional settlement dominated by yet another neoliberal party which supports the Western imperialist alliance. Clearly, it is important that the SNP is still committed to removing Trident, but as a general proposition people have to be persuaded to vote for independence in spite of the SNP, not because of it. What reasons can we offer them?

The first and most obvious is the possibility of breaking-up the British imperialist state, or – to put it in language that might be understood by those uninitiated into the arcane vocabulary of the radical left – the possibility of preventing any further wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq to which so many Scots were opposed. This has both ideological and practical implications. David Cameron has already made it clear that the centenary commemoration of the First World War in 2014 will be used to promote a reactionary and militaristic notion of Britishness: Danny Boyle’s Olympian celebration of the NHS is unlikely to be repeated. (The rejection of Britishness does not of course involve an embrace of Scottishness, not least because so much of Scottish identity is equally dependent on the Empire.)

There will of course be siren voices from the ranks of the Labour Party and trade union officialdom arguing that working class unity depends on maintaining the unity of the British state and the possibility of Labour becoming a future government over the whole territory of that state. We should not underestimate how influential these arguments can be, but the answers to them are obvious. Labour never challenged international capital even in the days when social democracy was in rather more robust good health than it currently is and, as far as imperialism is concerned, the last Labour government took Britain to war more often than at any time since the era of decolonisation. Working class unity is not achieved by the national organisation of trade unions, but by the willingness of trade unionists to take solidarity action in support of each other – as the international strikes against austerity across southern Europe scheduled for 14 November will demonstrate.

Scottish independence from the British state would damage British imperialism and its alliance with the USA in three ways. First, the removal of Trident from Scottish territory will cause severe problems for the RUK in maintaining its nuclear arsenal, given the enormous expenditure necessary to construct deep water conditions comparable to those available on the Clyde – although it cannot be said often enough: we cannot rely on the SNP to carry this through. Second, the RUK would face moves from India and an alliance of Latin American countries led by Argentina to remove it from the Security Council of the UN. Third, Sinn Fein would certainly demand a referendum on the re-unification of Ireland; and so the unravelling would continue.

Independence would also mean the possibility of calling a halt to the current neoliberal strategy of devolving responsibility for imposing the cuts from central government down to the devolved administrations, city mayors, local councils and, in some cases, citizens themselves. (This incidentally, is why the Con Dems would be quite prepared to move towards Devo Max, so long as they can prevent independence and the collapse of Britain at the military-diplomatic level.) Without fostering any illusions in the ability of individual states to remove themselves from the pressures of the capitalist world economy, the ability to hold elected politicians directly to account is preferable to the current endless displacement of responsibility. Independence would have the additional benefit of making it more difficult (if not impossible) for Alex Salmond to blame Westminster for the decisions of the SNP in relations to cuts, such as the recent onslaught on FE.

Finally, the process of campaigning for independence has to go hand-in-hand with resistance to austerity. The former is part of a political attack on the state which is imposing the austerity programme, but the only way to ensure that a Scottish successor state is not similarly committed to the neoliberal agenda is to build self-confidence and solidarity in trade unions and working class communities now.

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Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Neil’s, can be found here.

Tickets can be bought here.

Comments (14)

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  1. Dave Coull says:

    The very first sentence of this piece contains a questionable assumption. Neil Davidson says “One of the central problems facing socialists who support Scottish independence is that only a minority of working class people share our position”.


    Care to produce some evidence for that?

    Oh, I have np doubt that only a minority of working class people share the position of the Socialist Workers Party.

    But I say a majority of working class folk in Scotland are against “austerity”, against attacks on the working class, and inclined to favour independence for Scotland.


    YOU FIRST, Neil Davidson. You made YOUR unsupported claim first. So it’s up to you to produce evidence to support your claim that only a minority of working class folk in Scotland share the position I have just outlined.

    1. Dave, this ‘piece’ by Neil Davidson is ‘mindbending’ stuff; trying to force us to think the way he wants us to think!

      It’s how the Westminster establishemnt propaganda works; they tell us what we sghould be thinking!

  2. Dave Coull says:

    Quite a lot of the rest of Neil Davidson’s piece I tend to agree with, or rather, to put it more accurately, he tends to agree with me, since I was saying such things before Neil Davidson and his pals in the SWP came round to their current position.

  3. Juteman says:

    I remember when i was young. Neil will hate me, but i used to be a WRP member. 🙂
    Now i’m just a grandad waiting on independence so my fellow Scots can choose their own path.

  4. Andy Anderson says:

    Yes I agree Dave, Neil makes a huge assumption about the views of working class people in Scotland and their possible voting position with no evidence whatever.
    Since I started my working life at 15 working in a Scottish coal-mine having been raised in a mining community I think I might quality for his “working class” definition. I would not be as rash as he is to attempt to define the views of Scottish working class people as a whole I strongly suspect they are a lot more sophisticated then he appears to think.
    Again why should we need to take a lead from Alex Salmond, or any other politician about the nature of the new Scotland we have to build.
    The SNP deserve our thanks for winning for us the political opportunity to have a vote on independence our duty now to go out and put the case forward rather than spend time being critical of the case or lack of case being put forward by others.

  5. Dave Coull says:

    The New Statesman had an article about the far higher support for independence amongst the working class. BUT…..the catch being, to quote the News Statesman’s sub-heading, “Working class Scots are more likely to support independence but less likely to vote than their middle class counterparts”.

    There is another factor: if you are retired, comfortably well-off, and own your own home, you are certain to be on the electoral register. If you have had to move recently, possibly because you found it difficult to pay your rent or mortgage, then you are less likely to be on the electoral register. So those of us who favour a YES to independence, instead of wasting too much time on trying to convert upper-middle-class British-Unionists, should ensure that folk lower down the social scale (1) are registered to vote, (2) continue to be registered to vote through any house-moves that may occur in the next two years before the referendum; and (3) are inspired to vote by a message which is not just Angus-Robertson-style “business as usual”.

    Now, there will be many in the SNP who will say that Angus Robertson’s way of doing things won them a majority in the Scottish Parliament at the 2011 election. But the fact is they won that election with a minority of the vote, and that just won’t work for a referendum. In any case, I am less concerned with what the SNP does than with what kind of campaign the wider pro-independence movement should run.

    Again quoting the New Statesman article, “ One option is to focus on winning middle class voters over to the idea of independence – a considerable challenge given the constituency’s traditional loyalty to the Union. Another is to try to ‘expand the electorate’ as Barack Obama did to great effect in the 2008 US presidential election. If successful, this would ensure a higher working class turnout than at previous ballots.”

    I think a strategy of encouraging the working class to turn out and vote, by putting forward a vision worth turning out for, is more likely to succeed. And yes, the campaign for a pro-independence vote will be very much tied up with, cannot help being tied up with, the fight against austerity and the ConDem government’s attacks on the working class. That fight will of course be political – what it should NOT be is PARTY-political.

  6. Juteman says:

    I totally agree with you Dave. Get the ‘working class’ (i hate that term) vote out, and it’s in the bag.

    1. Why don’t you like the term ‘working class’, Juteman?

  7. douglas clark says:

    I would like to see the authors evidence that:

    “only a minority of working class people share our position”

    I seem to recall that it is the working class that are more pro indy than agin.

    Perhaps I am wrong.

    But there is a doubt in my mind that Neil Davidson is confusing a sub-set of ‘activist’ working class for the whole of the working class.

    Perhaps he could explain?

  8. douglas clark says:


    If you ever met me, I have no idea whether you would see me as working class or not. Indeed, I have no idea whether I am in Marxist / Lennist terms working class. But I work for a living and don’t exploit people.

    Is that enough?

    Who knows? Who cares?

    1. Dave Coull says:

      What the hell has Marxist/Leninist got to do with it? Marx didn’t invent the working class. It already existed long before he wrote his long winded tomes. As for the lawyer turned professional politician Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who used the alias “Lenin”, again, what the hell has he got to do with it? Th working class is an objective reality and that objective reality doesn’t depend on endorsement from either of these gentlemen or their followers. As for your question “Who cares?”, the answer is, anybody with any sense. So far as campaigning for a YES vote in the independence referendum is concerned, all the indications are that the working class is more favourable towards independence, but also, less likely to turn out and vote. Quite simply, if you are comfortably retired, and own your own home outright, you are virtually certain to vote, but you are also extremely likely to be “conservative and cautious”, and no amount of reasoning is likely to persuade you otherwise. On the other hand, if you have had to move house in the past couple of years, possibly because of problems over your mortgage or your rent, then you are far more likely to favour independence, but you are also less likely to vote. Therefore, the focus of the pro-independence campaign should be on “widening the electorate”, by (1) ensuring that folk lower down the social scale are on the electoral register; (2) ensuring that they CONTINUE to be registered to vote, despite any house moves that may happen in the next 2 years; and (3) motivating the working class to get out and vote by making it clear that independence is NOT just going to be “business as usual” but with a different flag. If we can do that, then the “Better Together” crowd can keep all of the “conservative and cautious”, and they will still lose.

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      Great answer!


  9. SSP are having a public meeting in Ardossan Civic Centre, Glasgow St, Ardrossan, 7 on Tuesday. We’ve been leafleting all week, hoping for a big turnout. It’s a chance to hear Campbell Martin and other speakers lay out the case for Socialism, the SSP’s role in the Yes campaign, and try to get to grips with some of the questions raised above. All are very welcome.

  10. morrison young says:

    If they need a reason to back independence maybe if they finally realise whats been obvious for decades , that they got Thatcher and Cameron through voting for any of the LONDON parties and especially including LABOUR ,we might get somewhere. What kind of Scotland we have can be decided after independence, and since you have a Condem government currently what can you possibly lose?

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