The Realities of Power Today – Big Business Power in Scotland

The question is: would independence on SNP terms in any way free Scotland’s people to meet the crucial challenges of economic and social development in a progressive way?

The SNP Left believe it would, and they do so by combining two arguments. One: people in Scotland are more social democratic and egalitarian than people in England. Two: in the era of globalisation small nations provide the best vehicles for economic development. An independent Scotland would, therefore, be both politically more progressive and economically more dynamic.

Neither argument is entirely wrong, until you put them in the context of the SNP’s model of independence. Firstly they take little account of what made people in Scotland progressive and egalitarian and how this can be maintained. Secondly they don’t acknowledge that, as shown above, there is little opportunity for economic independence within the limits set by the SNP. More fundamentally, especially given that they claim to be on the Left, their arguments ignore issues of class and class power.

Every nation has its history. Unlike Ireland, Scotland was not a colony. Its capitalist landlords, merchant princes and employers continued to use the separate Scottish systems of law, religion and education to exploit their own people. The object of the Union with England was to secure a share of the profits of colonial empire. As a class, they continued to dominate Scotland’s economy and its politics and still do today, though more indirectly, through the hedge funds and financial institutions of the City of London and its satellite centre in Edinburgh. An independent Scotland may not be a new Greece, but neither can it be a new Norway.

Scotland’s workers developed trade unions in their own defence – generally in combination with workers in England. Yet the periods of general working class mobilisation, have been relatively short-lived, and their transforming impact on political attitudes only occurred when struggles against Scottish employers merged with wider British struggles – and brought the trade union movement into collision with the class power of the employers at British level. In the 1970s it was the joint victories of the miners, London dockers and UCS shipbuilders that together, and only together, defeated the Conservative assault.

Today’s egalitarian values, as held up by the Left nationalists, are a reflection of these struggles. But they are not permanent or guaranteed. ‘Independence in Europe’ would mask the exercise of economic power at British level. Worse, it would trap people’s political horizons within the neo-liberal terms set by Edinburgh fund managers: growth by cutting taxes on external big business. It is the direct opposite of the 1970s battle for economic democracy which launched the demand for a Scottish parliament. If working people in Scotland are to be mobilised for a future based on social control over capital, rather than being controlled by capital, then the demand for economic democracy must be relaunched.

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