The Radical Case for Scottish Independence covers a wide range of topics including the rise of neoliberalism in Scotland, mainstream parties, British nationalism, and Yes Scotland’s and Better Together’s respective referendum strategies.
The authors are leading activists in the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) which attempts to fight for a radical vision for independence. The book is at its best when exposing the poor state of the mainstream debate on independence and the weaknesses of both the official Yes and No camps.
The media is derided for focusing on the largely mythical problem of the “anti-English” sectarianism of the Yes campaign while ignoring the anti-immigrant, pro-empire British nationalism of the “patriotic” Better Together campaign.
Better Together is running a negative campaign based on scare stories about the supposed disasters that would follow a vote for independence. What the No camp cannot do is present a positive case for Britain.
The problem is Yes Scotland is running a campaign that presents independence as “the evolution of devolution”, not a radical break with Britain – NATO, the Queen and the pound are all to be retained under independence.
Independence is often presented as a risk, but the authors point out the greater risks involved with staying part of the UK when Labour, the Tories and LibDems are largely united on “world affairs, austerity and immigration”.
The Scottish Labour Party in particular comes in for a scathing attack on its rightward trajectory, with its leader Johann Lamount’s infamous call for an end to the “something for nothing” culture of the welfare state.
Despite a thorough critique of Yes Scotland’s campaign the book is somewhat soft on the Scottish National Party (SNP). The authors state that Scotland does not have a popular pro-business party.
While the SNP has skilfully positioned itself to the left of Labour on foreign policy, “reforms” in the health service, tuition fees and free proscriptions, it is still an explicitly neoliberal party.
The call for having lower corporation tax than the rest of the UK, as well as the previous veneration of pre-crisis Ireland and Iceland, should be a warning to those who see the SNP as a “social democratic” party.
SNP leader Alex Salmond’s role in the Grangemouth debacle was to attack both sides – as though working class people defending their livelihoods and a millionaire boss boosting profits are equivalents.
While British nationalism rightly comes under sustained attack, various myths of Scottish nationalism do creep into the book.
For example, the authors state that because Scotland is part of Britain, “our patriotism is complicated and freeing it from its empire heritage requires negotiation”.
While British nationalism is the greater danger, we do not need to support any form of Scottish nationalism while fighting for a Yes vote. And parts of the book imply that Scottish workers are more left wing than their English counterparts.
This is problematic when the book speaks about racism. The authors highlight historical anti-Irish racism, and the recent legislation against Republicans, yet they tend to downplay the dangers of anti-immigrant racism and Islamophobia, complacently describing Ukip as a joke in Scotland despite it polling 10.46 percent in the recent European elections and gaining one MEP.
Britain First, a fascist off-shoot of the BNP, received almost double the number of votes in Scotland as it did in England.
Talk of a “social democratic consensus” also masks the reality. A British Social Attitudes Survey (2011-12) found that 74 percent in England and 78 percent in Scotland were concerned about levels of inequality, with 55 percent in England and 59 percent in Scotland believing this was due to workers not getting their fair share. These statistics show a marginal difference in attitudes.
The book ends with several relevant demands for an independent Scotland based on the programmes of left reformist parties in Europe, such as Syriza in Greece, Die Linke in Germany and Front de Gauche in France.
These include nationalisation of oil, taxing the rich, 35-hour week without loss of pay, and a national investment bank, among others.
Fighting for these demands would create a space for the left within the independence movement and help to win a Yes vote among those who currently see it just as an SNP campaign.
The agent who will fight for these demands is largely left up in the air. An “extra-parliamentary movement”, coalitions such as the Radical Independence Campaign are mentioned alongside the desirability of forming an “anti-capitalist” electoral party.
While these are all positive steps, the key to winning these demands remains working class struggle, something which is largely absent from the book.
While we unite to fight for a radical independence we will continue to disagree about how to get there.