Tag Archives: scotland

Post-election thoughts pt1: The SNP

Some thoughts by one of our members on the SNP in light of the recent election results. You can also read another member’s response here.

yellow tories

The leadership of the SNP must be the happiest people with the recent election results outside of the Tory front bench. Everything has lined up perfectly for them. But why would I say this when the polls were strongly hinting that the SNP could have been part of a coalition government and forced more devolved powers to Scotland? Surely they have missed out on making things better for the working classes here in Scotland?

The SNP as a political party doesn’t have the goal of making things “fairer” or to look out for us. That is the rhetoric of any opposition party the world over, and it is used to build membership and support. Once in power the SNP would get on with the same job that every government has, running the state to protect the capitalist interests of a specific segment of the ruling class while also keeping capitalism in check so it doesn’t all fall apart. At the moment that means implementing austerity and progressing the privatisation of public services; the working class will always be hard done-by.

The puzzle for the SNP  is that the segment of capitalist interest they fight would benefit most from independence. If they were seen to be helping run Britain then they would have a harder time looking out for their own interests. By missing out on coalition they also miss out on the LibDem problem of being a supporting part of whatever cuts the government were making. However, would the same fate awaited them as hit the LibDems, that of rapidly destroying their base of support? Not quite, but kinda.

The twist here in Scotland is that the SNP can always play the Westminster card, and they do, time-and-time-again. If something goes wrong, no matter what, it is down to London (or Tories or some other boogieman) and the solution is independence. It doesn’t matter that the horrendous attack on working class services by Edinburgh council are SNP led, or that they have clearly shown that they have no intention of scrapping Trident as they intend to remain in NATO, or even that a whole host of their white paper promises are for things already devolved to Holyrood. These are not the failings of the SNP, liberal democracy, or a capitalist system. Nope. It is all Westminster.

The problem for the SNP is that to keep voters on-side for now they need to be seen to be centre-left. This means giving us in the working class just enough concessions to make things look like they are trying their best until they can secure independence and then get on with looking out for their  interests in the way they want to. The less the SNP have obvious control over the better they look. If powers are devolved slowly, bit-by-bit, then they would either have to concede more and harm their interests or it would become clearer that they are just the same as any other party.

So for the SNP having a Conservative majority is perfect: they can fight and lose to them and look great while awaiting another referendum, and at the same time any flack can be avoided by saying the Tory’s are the cause and that the failure to provide opposition was the failure of the Labour Party in England.

My other thought on the SNP landslide is that it stands as another landmark point in the furthering of nationalist views in Scotland. The role of nationalism is to hide the struggle between ruling class and working class, having us in the working class to support actions that prop up a part of the ruling class rather than work on understanding our own interests and fighting to have our lot improved. Now the main narrative is that things will be made better if we get behind independence, something which has no guarantees and diverts us from taking part in grassroots struggles where we can make a marked improvement in our lives.

At the same time we can look at the voting figures in England and get a rough feeling over why people voted a certain way. On the other hand it is far more difficult to judge up here in Scotland, where the SNP present themselves as whatever will be popular in the area (so centre-left in Glasgow and centre-right almost everywhere else). Add to this the feeling of disappointment over the lack of change post-referendum and it becomes impossible to get a measure for the views of the SNP voter base. My feeling is that this time around most of their voters want a better society and some real change, but that they have been set-up for future disappointment as the SNP  fulfils it’s role as a part of the machinery of a neo-liberal social democracy.

So, if it is just a case that the yellow tories are in, what should we be doing? I’ll be putting up a post in the next few days with some more hopeful and proactive thoughts on that topic.

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This is what democracy looks like?

What follows is the very rough notes that where used for the introduction to the the first of our Angry Not Apathetic discussion groups. This evening we looked at what elections are, and the role of parliamentary/representative  democracy. It would be great to carry on what was a really engaged discussion, so if you were at the talk (or even if not) it would be awesome if you could put a summation of any points you either raised or took away in the comments bellow.

scum


This is what democracy looks like?

The general election is a contest to see who will win the job of running the state, so to understand elections, you need to understand the role of the state:

  • An organisation of all the lawmaking and law enforcing institutions within a specific territory.
  • Controlled and run by a small minority of people.
  • Claims that only violence that takes place with it’s sanction is legitimate.
  • Acts to protect the capitalist interests of a specific segment of the ruling class, while also keeping capitalism in check so it doesn’t all fall apart, as the success or failure of a state rests on the success or failure of capitalism within it.
  • To maintain social order and class society.

There are a whole lot of reasons thrown up for why elections make sense, none of which stand up to even a light level of scrutiny. Here are some of the most common:

Standing in elections gives a platform to talk politics
This was the reasoning behind the German socialist parties in the early 20th century, it has been the call of many small minority parties since, and today it is used by the anarchist group Class War. The thing is it wasn’t taking part in electoral politics that contributed any success these groups had, it was direct action at the points where we had struggles in our lives. If anything for CW formal involvement in elections has weakened their argument and made their position seem contradictory and muddled, while socialist parties just get trapped in a mire of elections and don’t go beyond that. Politics and power isn’t external in the state, it is everywhere and available to us, and pretending that elections are special hides that power from us.

Voting for the lesser of two evils
No matter who you vote for, the government that forms is going to undertake the same tasks. It may present them differently; in fact New Labour were able to be far harsher than he Tories due to the lack of criticism and scrutiny given to them by the unions. Parties outside of power will always be able to look better than those in. When we look at the policies and actions of government they have never been taken in direct reply to an election so much as the militancy and power of working class movements at any given time. Rather than pretend that elections have any real meaning we should look at ways or organising ourselves so that no mater who is in power, they will need to provide concessions to us as a working class.

A radical minority can pull the state leftwards
Nah, the ruling party will spin things to justify the plans it was going to undertake whatever. A radical minority will be ignored as it can’t be used to further the agenda of those in power (unless painted as a scapegoat and villain – red scare). On the other hand a minor far-right party (such as Golden Dawn or UKIP) can be used as the excuse to drive through harsh laws and reactionary positions because that is what the government wanted to do all along. BNP got used this way without even having an MP.

We need to change the way we vote!
The voting system being the used isn’t the barrier or the key to change. No matter how they are chosen, elected officials are largely unaccountable except to their own party and the tasks of government. Regardless of how they are selected, the main way to see real changes is through organising with those around us, while the electoral process itself is still a massive distraction from building this kind of working class power.

We need to counter voter apathy
This one is half-right. Apathy is a problem, but voting or not voting is beside the point. Apathy comes from a feeling that change is not possible, a feeling that the focus on voting creates. We need to work to build a culture where people feel they can resist the state and capitalism, but that won’t happen by posing a new candidate to vote for; that will only breed more apathy.

We can change the system from the inside
The closer a group gets to executive decision making the more it’s interests start to side with the status quo. We can see this recently with the SNP, where they dropped their pledge to leave NATO, thus indicating to others in power that their commitment to scrap trident is nothing more than hollow rhetoric and that once in power they would (with a regretful face on) keep things as they are.

In Conclusion: I’d argue that anarchism should be a tool for understanding how power and hierarchy works, and as such we should use it to be truthful about elections and work to demystify them. Pretending they are somehow important just holds us back.


 

Next month (on the 15th of April) we will be looking at the question of what anarchists actively put their time into, so keep your eyes peeled on this blog  for details of our second talk in this short series: Direct action gets the goods!

RIC presents: A New Party of the Left Bingo!

It’s a classic lefty game for all the family, updated for the current political climate! Our self-styled would-be-leaders are all planning to surprise us (yet again) with a new political party, but what will it be called?

TATTIE SCONES!!!

Click here for a full sized bingo card

If you are planning on going to Radical Independence Conference this weekend then feel free to click-through and print off this bingo card to play. As you walk about the event cross off each suggested phrase as you hear it.

SIDEGAME: If you are a wannabe national leader, politician, trade union bureaucrat, or even just aspire to being a high ranking member of the civil service or paid party member then why not help players out by picking upto three of the boxes at random and making it your pet name to suggest this weekend? (that is if the party haven’t told you what it will be already)

The first person to get five-in-a-row and shout out ‘TATTIE SCONES!’ at the top of their lungs wins!!! The prize is the experience of having relived the failed political ideas of the late 19th century. Enjoy.

Glasgow Palestine Action Shut Down Drone Manufacturer!

FOR IMMEDIATE PRESS RELEASE

Glasgow Palestine Action Shut Down Drone Manufacturer

A group of activists from Glasgow Palestine Action network have today shut down Thales UK, the weapons systems manufacturer, in Govan, Glasgow.

The activists climbed onto the factory roof, and blocked the doors, during the early hours of the morning and are planning to remain as long as possible. Activists are blockading both entrances, lying on the ground attached to arm tubes, and are occupying the roof.

The action is in response to the recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and the UK economy’s ever growing military industrial cooperation with governments that flout international law. In just over 7 weeks, Israel, armed with weapons supplied by the UK, killed more than 2000 innocent Palestinians.

Thales is being targeted today for their close relationship with Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest military company and the world’s largest drone producer.  In a joint venture, Thales UK is working with Elbit Systems to make the next generation of ‘Watchkeeper’ drones, a contact worth £1 billion.  These drones are based upon the Hermes 450, which was documented killing Palestinian civilians in Gaza in 2008-2009.  The drones are marketed as ‘field tested’ – which means they have proven effective at killing Palestinians.

Fifi O’Hara, one of the roof occupiers, explains: ‘Drones are a key part of Israel’s military arsenal.  By allowing this factory to export drone components and other arms to Israel, the UK government is providing direct support and approval to Israel’s massacres.’

Speaking about Scotland, Latrice Royale said:  ‘The UK government, and by allowing Thales to operate with Elbit systems, have blood on their hands.  Last year alone the UK government had 381 extant arms licences to Israel, worth almost £8 billion. We demand that the Scottish government puts pressure on the UK government to end arms sales to Israel. And also takes active steps towards ending the production of weapons systems in Scotland that are connected to apartheid, colonialism and genocide. Another Scotland is possible!’

Social Worker’s Wildcat Strike!

Last Friday members of the Glasgow Homeless Casework Team walked out on a wildcat strike following the suspension of a colleague who refused to cover the work of vacant posts. Then on Monday another 60 people walked off the job in solidarity with their striking co-workers after Unison talks with management over workload broke down. The number of striking workers has been increasing and a group of 70 strikers went to the City Chambers to call for the re-instatement of their sacked co-worker and against the high workloads and staff shortages. The walkout continues.

You can send a message of support to the striking workers via: enquiries@glasgowcityunison.co.uk

Donations towards their strike fund should be addressed to: Glasgow City Unison, 84 Bell Street, Glasgow G1 1LQ.

workers lobby the council

Gallery

Tactical Critique of the Radical Independence Conference, 2012

Recently I was accused of being a unionist. The reason for this was due my refusal to set aside criticisms of the radical independence conference (ric) and get behind the local campaigns of the Leninist, Trotskyist and state socialist left … Continue reading

Independent and Free?

A Glasgow anarchist’s take on Scottish independence

One way or another, the political landscape in Scotland and Britain as a whole is going to change after 2014 and it’s difficult to say what course this will take. Although polls consistently show the SNP-led Scottish Government has a long way to gain majority support for independence, it’s quite possible that they could bring about a swing in opinion. But even were they to fail in achieving full independence it seems inevitable that Scottish institutions will take on more powers and that the process itself will have a lasting impact on Scottish society. As committed internationalists, anarchists oppose nationalism in any form. Rather than simply repeat long-standing principles, however, we need to articulate some kind of an analysis and ask ourselves how potential state reorganization will affect us and the wider class struggle and what exactly we should be doing and arguing as the independence debate increases in intensity. This requires collaboration and discussion among anarchists in Scotland but also with comrades elsewhere and so here I only offer a few of my own opinions on the question.

We don’t deny that Scotland is a nation but that nations are not something communists can support. They are always in some way defined by and tied to the state and are a means to bring about cohesion and identity across classes. Although often termed the ‘stateless nation’, the different cultures, regions and classes of Scotland were given an imposed unity by the pre-1707 state which was thereafter maintained from above through the continuance of a number of institutions and a semi-autonomous bourgeoisie and, contradictorily, from below by resistance to British centralized power and cultural uniformity. When the benefits of empire had declined after the Second World War and oil wealth was discovered off the north east coast, there was a stronger capitalist case for increased autonomy but also growing popular disillusionment with centralized British state provision – underlined by Thatcherism’s attacks on the social wage and traditional heavy industries. Together they coalesced into a resurgence of national feeling which culminated in devolution at the end of the 20th-century. This has only increased the momentum of Scottish national feeling and nationalism: more state power, in this case, encouraged and required the emphasis of the national entity and vice versa.

The SNP has been following a balancing act. Firstly, it appeals to the working class through social democratic policies well to the left of any Westminster party. In an independent Scotland, they claim that the British nuclear arsenal would be removed from the country, Scottish troops would no longer be sent to fight in places like Afghanistan, the government would prioritize renewable energy and the welfare state would be defended. At the same time, they pander to any businessperson willing to back them, aim to cut corporation tax and make Scotland more competitive (i.e. intensify the exploitation of labour) and, despite their environmental image, fully support the expansion of the oil industry through potentially disastrous deepwater drilling. This contradiction is summed up by Alex Salmond posing as he listens sympathetically to community campaigners and then hobnobbing with the likes of Brian Souter, Rupert Murdoch or Donald Trump (before that blew up in his face).

What should anarchists be doing? I’ve been involved in a few ‘don’t vote, organize’ campaigns in past elections but there isn’t much of a case for actively campaigning against independence – especially since it’s unlikely that an open Scottish border would impede cross-border solidarity. To do so would be to de facto support the Unionists and it needs to be emphasized that each side of the debate represents a different nationalism. In truth, I don’t feel strongly about people voting in the referendum. If they think it’s worth the chance of, for example, finally getting rid of the nukes, rather than buying into nationalism, then I can understand that. As anarchists, we obviously shouldn’t argue for voting but nor should we fetishize the act of not voting. Of far more importance is that we are outside of the narrative and critique all political managers.

The Unionists (Labour, the Tories and LibDems) already come across as a crowd of imperial stormtroopers offering nothing but more of the same. However, especially since the left are unequivocally backing Scottish nationalism, there’s been little in the way of a challenge to the pro-independence camp’s claims or rhetoric of offering a social democratic alternative. Are we to believe the SNP will be different from other politicians and live up to all they promise? An independent government will have a substantial debt and still face the wider economic crisis; it will therefore have to rationalize its budget, drop promises and make cuts. We need only look at their current record to see this in action: although Scotland under the SNP has frequently been described as a safe haven for the welfare state in comparison to England there have been considerable cuts in NHS Scotland and an appreciable rundown in the service hospitals provide. Similarly, the SNP have been involved in cuts to services in councils across the country. This is, of course, what political managers have to do.

Scottish nationalists of all stripes claim that independence will represent a dramatic extension of democracy. Needless to say, ‘we’ will not have control over our own destiny if Scotland were to gain independence. Talk of Scots ruling themselves and of self-determination is an appealing rhetoric which masks the continuity of the class system: the working class will not suddenly become empowered but wealth and power will remain concentrated in the hands of a few. It is possible that independence will allow for social movements in Scotland to have a greater degree of influence but there will also be new opportunities for these movements to be co-opted. The decision-making power of the Scottish state itself will always be subject to the vagaries of global capital, the movement of transnationals, the bullying of London and controlling eye of the EU and IMF. More importantly, having a smaller nation state won’t lead to ever smaller democratic units and it won’t replace representative democracy with participative, direct democracy. To suggest otherwise is simply naïve, and misunderstands that working class people can only gain power for themselves through struggle.

The democratic myth is a large part of leftists’ justification for supporting an independent state. The Scottish Socialist Party sees it as a means for rejuvenating their brand of parliamentary socialism which, relying as it does on electioneering and the state, is basically a vision of Old Labour in a Scottish context: nationalization, progressive taxation etc. Capitalism, as always, isn’t actually threatened, it’s accepted with the hope of greater state intervention and welfare. One of their platforms, the Republican Communist Network, bends over backwards to argue that Scottish independence is part of a strategy for ‘internationalism from below’. In this view, secession would be a significant attack on British imperialism. But British imperialism is a pale shadow of its former self, probably doesn’t require Scotland and isn’t of intrinsic importance to capitalism anyway.

Simply put, there is no reason to believe that in an independent Scotland libertarian socialist organizing would be in real terms any easier or that because of its existence we would see an upsurge in class struggle. Having the political class closer to home doesn’t necessarily make replacing them any more difficult. If anything, the intensification of the nationalist project championed by all apparently ‘progressive’ opinion could have a significant effect in mystifying power and class relations and undermining the self-organisation of the working class in favour of its passivity and support for new forms of failed ideas. The best way we can put our case across is not through debate of abstract beliefs but through our ideas being embodied in actually existing organization and having the ability to achieve small changes through direct action and build on them. The success of workers’ solidarity in Scotland will be vilified equally by nationalists of both sides of the debate but supported by militant workers in England and the rest of the world.

Lastly, I mentioned that Scottish national identity was in part maintained from below. What I mean by this is that the working class did experience cultural and political oppression as well as economic exploitation and that in Scotland they often reacted to this by relating it to concepts of national difference. Throughout modern Scottish history, workers’ movements have used the idea of a Scottish nation, some form of home rule, or even a socialist republic as a means to advocate their own power, cultures and meanings in opposition to centralized control. For anarchists, this was an alienated resistance which could never have challenged the real basis of their oppression in class society. Instead of writing off these movements, however, we can recognise that wrapped up in the rhetoric is a genuine aspiration for self-determination. We need to argue against Scottish nationalists or anyone who pushes state solutions from co-opting the term ‘self-determination’ because it could only ever truly mean workers’ directly democratic control of society.