By John McAllion
Socialists on either side of the Yes/No divide can at least agree about one critical dimension of the referendum campaign. A majority for either side that delivers no change economically, socially or politically is unacceptable.
The problem for socialists in both camps is that their respective campaign management teams are arguing for precisely that outcome. While, Better Together bosses bang on about the bountiful benefits of the British status quo, their equivalent in Yes Scotland seek to ensure everyone that independence will bequeath a same-again Scotland.
This difficulty has caused the recently formed and self-styled voice of the British labour and trade union movement – the Red Paper Collective – to set itself apart from both “bourgeois” nationalist campaigns. Instead they promise to develop a class-based and British alternative to either a simple Yes or No in next year’s vote.
The immediate problem they face is that whatever alternative they produce will not be on offer to Scottish voters in the autumn of 2014. Voting No will not usher in their British socialist commonwealth any more than voting Yes will establish our Scottish socialist republic.
The democratically elected and bourgeois leaderships in both campaigns will make certain of that.
Scottish socialists must therefore make a case for a Yes or a No vote on the basis of which of these two outcomes will improve the prospects for future socialist advance. Will our common socialist ends be better served by the break-up of Britain or by clinging to the remnants of what once was the British Empire?
It is here that the arguments of the Red Paper Collective are weakest. Their main thesis argues that capital is mainly organised at the British level and therefore it is only through a British state and a united British labour and trade union movement that socialists can pursue goals such as wealth distribution and social ownership.
This is the classic position of the “British Road to Socialism” as expounded by the CPGB in a post-war Britain where Labour politicians could argue convincingly for state ownership of the commanding heights of the British economy. Back then, socialism in one country still rang true for many in a pre-globalisation capitalist world.
That world no longer exists. Capital has moved on and the concept of rival national capitalisms competing against each other no longer corresponds to reality in today’s world.
The collective disparages an independent Scotland as being too small to break the power of big business organised mainly at a British level. They fail to understand that Britain is also too small to break the power of capital organised not at a British level but globally.
The production of goods and services today is dominated by relatively few multinational corporations. A dozen companies control the world’s semiconductor business; around ten run the pharmaceutical industry; just three companies manage soft drinks and two run the world market for civil aviation. The top 500 global corporations now account for around 40 per cent of world income.
There is no national means of breaking the power of these corporations. Only by co-operating across national boundaries can organised labour movements hope to hold these massive businesses to account.
National labour movements need to rediscover their internationalism. Solidarity with workers in other countries cannot stop at the English Channel or the Irish Sea. Working class unity will need to run deeper and more broadly than the boundaries of Britain if we are to have any hope of breaking the power of global big business.
The British labour and trade union movement that the collective clings to remains blinkered to the flaws in an increasingly redundant British state. The notion of a left wing Labour majority in a British House of Commons ushering in a socialist and republican commonwealth is so fanciful as to merit inclusion in a book of fairytales rather than in serious political discussion.
The break-up of Britain on the other hand will dismantle a state that history has shown to be a bulwark of market and finance capitalism and a fount of warmongering and political reaction. Scottish independence will not necessarily secure a socialist future. It will certainly begin to pull down one of the biggest obstacles to that future.
Courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice