Independence as an extension of British liberalism
The national movement lacks an ideological spine
I am still going through what I hope are the closing phases of Covid. Over the last week or so I have been using the time to recover by also taking a detox from Twitter.
It’s a strange one. When you are using it heavily, the inevitable psychological response is that it truly means something. But when you go back to it after some time away you realise that the online churn really doesn’t amount to much. Not only that, it is entirely predictable.
I did watch the Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons. His superficially earnest apology lasted a few short hours, before he attended a meeting of his MPs and spoke in a more boisterous tone. Keir Starmer, by all accounts, gave his best speech yet. On it went, and on it goes.
It feels like a cruel circus. The truth is that Johnson has the backing of his MPs in the main. So he is safe, however tenuously, for now. It’s not clear to me what political forces are building from the feeling of crisis around the government. As previously intimated, Keir Starmer is receiving increased plaudits from an aghast commentariat. It’s a boon for the British state that the Labour Party is now firmly back in the fold, with Corbynite energies extinguished. The SNP, as I have previously covered, also have electoral opportunities as a result of the widely reviled Tory government. This despite the feeling of paralysis that surrounds the party.
So there is a sense of stagnation around it all. But there is also a coming together of the political class, synthesised with a large part of the media. There is the attempt at fusion between the liberal centre, who wish to arrest and replace the excesses of the Johnson government with something more palatable, and the population as a whole. The partygate scandal in this sense seems to lack the insurrectionary quality other major crises have evoked in the past. Instead there is, on Twitter at any rate, a general collapse behind anyone who seems to have more decency than Johnson. That is, of course, about the lowest bar you could imagine.
Moral decay at the heart of British politics doesn’t stop at Johnson
Part of this involves an insufferable obsession on social media with Alastair Campbell. For some reason, the British middle class have chosen him as their talisman for restoring “decency” to politics, and “integrity” to institutions. This is a man whose lies and propaganda efforts made a major contribution to the mass death in Iraq. How quintessentially British that this small matter pales in comparison to the culture of partying in Number 10.
They do really love him, though. His opposition to Brexit, his barbed attacks on Johnson and the memory of the Blair years (minus the oil wars) combine to form the kind of paradigm shift the middle class really want.
We might expect that of middle England. But large parts of the nationalist movement in Scotland have fallen for his charms too. The National considers it front page news to say that he tweeted one of their articles. I wish I was joking. But this is the state of some of the thinking that we see in Scotland at present. To think that the movement of 2014 would have led to the nation’s independence supporting paper lauding Alistair Campbell, a man complicit in the war-crimes of the British state is, to me, shameful.
Yet this is precisely the way the SNP leadership have refashioned independence. It is a cultural signifier, contrived to put distance between an “enlightened” Scottish middle class and Johnson’s Brexit Britain.
In truth, much of the pro-independence commentariat and Twitterati are simply an ideological extension of British liberalism and certainly not a challenge to it. There has been a stark intellectual decline since 2014, and a deliberate de-radicalisation of the movement as policy has been siphoned off to the corporate sector and away from the working class.
What we get now is weak soup. The call is for “normality” to be restored. Give us independence, and we will show you how to run a more efficient Westminster. Give us independence, and we will show you how to behave like a real statesperson at the summits of European capitalism, or at the NATO dinner table. Give us independence, and we will show you how to privatise natural resources and funnel public policy through the corporate lobby.
As such, we get very little about the nature of power in the UK and hardly anything about class. In the sterile Scottish national debate we usually only hear about class in pantomime terms when poking fun at Rees-Mogg or Michal Fabricant. But none of that ever hints at altering class relations themselves. Thus we talk about poverty, but not the class system. By all means talk in patronising tone about the vulnerable as if they are passive objects, but don’t dare suggest that they might organise and rise up against an unjust economic order. Talk about “mitigation,” but don’t mention anything about the system itself.
In the same vein, we hear talk about racial equality, but never about imperialism. If anything, the driving posture in the SNP at the present moment is to play up the so-called democratising “credentials” of US imperialism. This is the essence of centre-left government today. It is to say that maintaining a failed status-quo is an act of progressive rebellion. The irony is that while the poor and the oppressed are instrumentalised in this process, it only acts to stymie their emancipation.
This appears to be the centrifugal ideological tendency in Scottish nationalism today, and certainly within the SNP. It reflects a near total collapse behind liberalism and behind the institutions of the establishment. There is no radical rupture with the British state on offer. Instead, the sovereignty of the Scottish people is to be undermined further, with the selling-off of our national assets. Independence or no independence, Scotland is being turned into a vassal state for big business. This has to be understood and accepted, if it is to be resisted.
The British state in crisis?
There is a great political game that takes place between the SNP and the Tories. I wrote about this in the last edition. The cretinous Tories make for excellent electoral fodder for the SNP. As it says in on the side of their election bus: “send a message to Boris.” Of course there is a difference between the SNP and the Tory party. To argue anything else is ultra-leftism. But it is also wrong for anyone on the left to bury the very real self-reinforcing dynamic that exists between the two parties.
The key point is this: the power of the establishment in Britain and Scotland is upheld by the SNP, not challenged by it. It is a perfectly acceptable arrangement for the British ruling class, who worry not about the Scottish question.
While Ian Blackford, surely a budding thespian at this point, stands up and blusters his way through yet another condemnation of the Johnson government, the actual structures of British capitalism and the executive of the British state are mechanisms which the SNP leadership lubricate rather than challenge.
Meetings (above) with the Ambassador for the City and the UK's financial and professional services sector fit comfortably alongside the precepts of the Growth Commission and the sterlingisation policy. This, after all, seeks to enhance the power of the City over the Scottish economy.
What is critical to grasp here is that such outings are not just diplomatic obligations. They run in parallel with a policy framework which hard-wires the extraction of wealth produced in Scotland to the City without democratic oversite.
As economist Laurie McFarlane puts it:
“The reality is that the Growth Commission’s plan for sterlingisation would lock Scotland into an economic straitjacket from which it may never escape.
“Despite being a blueprint for independence, in reality the Growth Commission is a plan for greater dependence – on the City of London, international capital and predatory investors. It offers a future of less sovereignty, not more.
“Many in the Yes movement support independence because they believe it offers a path towards a more progressive future. But the vision outlined in the Growth Commission delivers the opposite: it is difficult to conceive of an economic settlement better designed to ensure that government policy serves the interests of international finance rather than its own citizens.”
For all the talk of political crisis, isn’t the British state is in safe hands? A few short years ago the combination of divisions over Brexit, a disloyal Labour leadership and rising support for independence did expose a real crisis. But this was not capitalised upon.
Now, there are options. Johnson may leave the scene, but he will be replaced by Starmer if not by another Tory. Meanwhile, the SNP offer no threat to the British establishment as Independence Captured is attempting to show.
Scotland needs, urgently, an injection of genuine socialist politics. A politics that connects questions of poverty to class, racism to imperialism, democracy to economic control and so on. But to do that means breaking with the likes of Alastair Campbell, rather than looking for people like him to legitimise independence.
That is not only a sign of moral collapse and intellectual feebleness. It undermines the whole point of independence, which should be to break the ideological consensus that has failed in Britain. If you don’t want that, just vote for Keir Starmer.
It’s a much easier route to realising the liberal delusions of the era.