Socialist Worker

New book shows how the British state could break

by Roddy Slorach
Issue No. 2753

Scottish independence would be a blow to the British state

Scottish independence would be a blow to the British state (Pic: Garry Knight)


The Scottish elections could pose a major threat to Boris Johnson’s government.

A new majority for the Scottish National Party (SNP)—or pro-independence parties together—will intensify demands for a new referendum on independence.

And in turn it will raise questions about the future of the British state.

The series of essays in this impressive new book discusses key issues relating to the Scottish national question.

As the title suggests, a key theme is that the withdrawal of Scotland would deal a huge blow to the British state, the world’s oldest imperial power.

Now Scotland assembly calls for action for independence referendum
Now Scotland assembly calls for action for independence referendum
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The authors examine Scottish history from a Marxist perspective and explain the contradictory nature of the SNP, including the growing fractures in its ranks.

One memorable moment in the Scottish independence referendum campaign of 2014 came when a large group of Labour MPs arrived in Glasgow.

They came from London in an attempt to shore up the faltering No to independence campaign.

Their city centre walking tour was comprehensively wrecked by a rickshaw rider, whose boom box blared out the Imperial March from the film Star Wars.

His Youtube video, entitled “Empire Strikes Back,” attracted well over half a million views.

Oppressive

This episode highlighted key issues which have since increased in prominence. Millions of Scots see the Westminster establishment as remote and oppressive.

They feel betrayed by a Labour Party which united with the Tories to defend the British state in what in 2014 became known as the “bitter together” campaign.

These factors have helped to fuel a growing sense of rebellion against Tory policies which have been repeatedly rejected at the polls by a large majority of Scottish voters.

Scotland first became a nation state with the 1707 Act of Union, which established a new partnership with the rising English bourgeoisie.

Marxist historian Neil Davidson saw the act as a vital stage in completing the English Revolution of 1640.

It led to the crushing of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, ending the threat of counter-revolution from an alliance of Scottish nobles and Catholic France.

It also cleared the way for the rapid development of industry north and south of the border.

Contrary to myth, the deal was highly favourable to Scottish rulers.

Growth 

Their debts were paid and key institutions such as the church, legal and educational systems were retained in the new state-within-a-state.

This created a new Scottish national identity, including romantic myths which were cultivated for over 200 years as part of a larger British identity.

The authors move on to analyse the growth of the SNP, founded during the 1930s recession as Scottish industry lost out to its international competitors.

The party only lost its fringe status in the 1990s, when its growing electoral success led the Labour government to set up a new Scottish Parliament.

Contrary to Labour hopes, this only enhanced the SNP’s appeal. And its adoption of mildly reformist policies helped it to replace Labour as the dominant force in Scottish politics.

The book contrasts Scotland’s role in empire with the violent oppression of Ireland and its revolutionary nationalist movement.

But stresses the danger for socialists of conflating national and class unity. This can lead to siding with the imperialist nationalism of the British state.

On the other hand it can also give a “communist colouration” to the SNP’s goal of simply establishing a new Scottish capitalism.

The history of class struggle in Scotland, from the anti‑slavery tour by abolitionist Frederick Douglass to the Glasgow equal pay strikes, leads to the book’s conclusion.

It is that the struggles of working people provide hope for revolutionary social change, not the cautious neoliberalism of the SNP.

Breaking Up the British State—Scotland, Independence and Socialism edited by Bob Fotheringham, Dave Sherry and Colm Bryce is available at Bookmarks Bookshop, £12. Go to bookmarksbookshop.co.uk

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