Class in the Scottish Independence Equation


By Jason Michael

Scottish nationalism is no typical nationalism. It is not the nationalism the unionists have pretended it to be. Nationalism in Scotland has become the working class’ instrument in its particular struggle against Britain’s dominant class.

It would be wrong to reduce the independence debate in Scotland to a simple expression of class struggle, but that is not to say the question of social class is not a significant factor – perhaps even the most significant factor – in the Scottish constitutional debate. On the surface; as it is represented officially, politically, and in the majority of the media it produces, the independence movement is indebted to independentistas of a distinctly middle class and professional hue. Yet the activists and voters are overwhelmingly drawn from Scotland’s working class and its emerging precariat.


Unionism, for its part, remains the opinion of the established middle and professional class – in the higher strata of civic society, and attracts its working class support by appealing to the populism of sectarianism, and tabloid-driven xenophobia. This element of the working class is almost entirely right-wing in its political thinking. Leftist working class sentiment – historically the largest fragment of Scotland’s working class – has, for the most part, gravitated to the SNP and other pro-independence parties.

Unionists deny class in the debate, knowing that the Union will be won or lost in Scotland by the working class vote, and so prefer the construct of separatism being the product of a fictitious groundswell in “narrow nationalism.” Barton Swaim, writing in the Washington Post in August last year, made an interesting observation:

What strikes me about today’s Scottish nationalism is that it’s entirely political and not in any substantial way cultural. It’s concerned preponderantly with laws and government structure. It’s about policy directives and the allocation of public resources — tax rates, social welfare programs, fishing regulations — and only has to do with home rule insofar as home rule means social democracy and soft diplomacy rather than economic liberalism and the use of military force.

We can disagree with him on the point of our nationalism not being “in any substantial way cultural,” but his point that our movement is energised more by politics and economics than by what might be traditionally thought nationalistic concerns is true. Scottish nationalism is not a Braveheart-style war of independence, but a struggle for a more equitable nation by the only means now possible – separation from a rightist, neoliberal Westminster regime in London. It does not take a genius to see that this analysis of our independence movement bears all the classic Marxist hallmarks of class consciousness and mutual self-protection through joint action.

Scottish unionists frequently expose their awareness of this threat to their established British order, but rather than this exposure arising as a result of discussion on class issues it is invariably revealed through their ad hominem attacks on the working class representatives of the independence movement. When arguments are put forward in a working class accent, the now standard unionist response is to deride the accent of the speaker – signalling to their supporters that the speaker’s words are to be considered of less value than those spoken by people with more refined voices – and so avoid addressing the points they have made.

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One thought on “Class in the Scottish Independence Equation

  1. Thank you for this insight – a timely reminder of the analyses of John MacLean, James Connolly, and their radical counterparts and predecessors; for example, the weavers of Paisley, the 1820 insurrectionists, the Hebridean crofters in revolt against whom Churchill dispatched British marines, and the Scotch Cattle venturing into Wales in active solidarity, pro-French Revolutionary Robert Burns et al ad infinitum ad nauseam: An historical record swept under the Anglo-British imperialist carpet (Parnell’s visits to Alba not forgotten despite the hoovering nor our own version of Sinn Fein – Sinn Fhein).

    Most recently, my Workers Party of Scotland comrade and brother’s struggles airbrushed out of our collective memory – Matt Lygate in his efforts unsung.

    Genuine pro-re-independence anarchists who also abounded and equally remain excised from our radical battle record.

    However, the March of History via free human will continues and will consign this anti-human detritus to the trashcan and dustbin of craven vileness imminently by the free-minded citizens of Scotland universal and inclusive of yin and a’.

    All hail that liberation day marked by pencil on ballot box paper peacefully done against the militaristic odds of the still expansionist and rapidly decaying British state.

    Messrs Gandhi and Mandela and Joe Slovo would salute us.

    Castro, Lynch Guevara, and Bolivar as well as muckle others, also.

    Like

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