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By Jason Michael
“PEOPLE HAVE SPENT A LONG TIME claiming there’s no civil war in the Yes movement,” tweeted Bella Caledonia, “There really should be.” There is no civil war in the Scottish National Party or in the independence movement, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t machinations afoot trying to provoke one and characters who’d like to see one. No doubt Mike Small reckons he’ll be on the winning side. We can be absolutely certain the British state is interested in creating a serious split in the party and the movement or exploiting pre-existing fractures. It has been pushing at this through its state-directed media for decades and it undoubtedly has useful persons and agent provocateurs on the inside. Breaking the back of the independence movement is of paramount importance to the grand strategy of the British state in Scotland.
In spite of this, in the face of numerous attempts, there is no civil war in either the party or the wider movement. There are, however, a significant number of live conflicts – many of which have the potential to become seriously divisive and destructive. Having said this, there is no reason for this not to be the case in a social and political movement as large as the Scottish independence movement. In 2014 1.6 million people voted for independence and, given the size the recent pro-independence rallies, at a bare minimum, there are upward of 100 thousand politically active independentistas. It is unimaginable that this number of people in any movement would be singing off the same hymn sheet. People support independence for all sorts of reasons, and each of these reasons may be classified under different political interests – forming various factions.
People have spent a long time claiming there's no civil war in the Yes movement. There really should be.—
Bella Caledonia (@bellacaledonia) September 11, 2018
Come the next independence referendum all these factions will be voting for independence. This is the common purpose of the whole which allows us to think of the movement as a single entity. However, while everyone and every faction of the movement share in this common purpose, we are divided in objective. Independence movements do not simply evaporate the moment they have achieved their goal – their common purpose, there remains still the problem of competing objectives. What people and factions desire from independence will come to the fore as independence approaches and in the years immediately after it is achieved.
In the early twentieth century, in the years prior to Ireland’s active struggle for independence from Britain, this question was being discussed within the Irish revolutionary movement. In particular we have the example of the Edinburgh born 1916 leader James Connolly. He was aware of earlier attempts at Irish independence wherein the prevailing object of the independence movement was:
for the Irish people to be robbed in the interests of a native-born aristocracy than to witness the painful spectacle of that aristocracy being compelled to divide the plunder with its English rival.
What he saw in this object of independence, as we can see in Scotland today, was the idea that independence would not be liberation for the people, but the transfer of power from one ruling class – the English ruling class – to another – the native ruling class. His conclusion was that such a transfer of power would be independence in name only. Pointing back to the Williamite revolution of the late seventeenth century – at which William of Orange defeated King James II and VII, he noted of the leaders of the Irish rebellion of 1798 that,
Of the trio of patriots – Swift, Molyneux and Lucas – it may be noted that their fight was simply a repetition of the fight waged by Sarsfield and his followers in their day – a change of persons and of stage costume truly, but no change of character; a battle between the kites and the crows.
Listening to people in the “grassroots” of the independence movement, as opposed to those who have styled themselves the political, cultural, and intellectual leadership of the movement (the kites or the crows), we hear other objectives. There are those who want independence “for their children and grandchildren,” “for the future,” “to end austerity,” “to put power back in the hands of the Scottish people,” and so on. This is not the independence envisioned by Sarsfield, the leaders of 1798, nor indeed Ireland’s campaign for Home Rule. These were all essentially power struggles between native and foreign ruling classes which paid scant regard to the needs and wants of the common people of Ireland. As far as Connolly saw it, this wasn’t really independence. It was dependence under new management. When we speak of conflict today in the Scottish independence movement, this is the same conflict: A power struggle between those who want to assume power as a new native-born Scottish ruling class and those who want genuine democratic independence.
The greatest mistake we – those of us seeking independence for a better Scotland – can make at this important moment in the campaign is to assume this conflict is not already live. It is. We would like to think that the movement is all about gaining independence first and then hammering out our differences. This is a nice idea, but it is naïve. No ruling class in-waiting is ever going to play by those childish and politically innocent rules. Those in Scotland who think of themselves as entitled to a place in the dominant class and those who see their future safeguarded by their allegiance to that class are already jostling for position. Wheels within wheels are turning, and it is all happening right under our noses.
Ask yourselves why Stewart McDonald MP would take such a public swipe at Tommy Sheridan over his new job with the Russian news network Sputnik TV. Both these men are from solidly working-class backgrounds. On the face of it they should be on the same side, fighting for the same vision of a better Scotland post-independence. Yet, their positioning in the movement betrays a number of differences regarding their post-independence loyalties. In his open attack on Sheridan, in which he wrote “a perjurer and a fake news agency are made for each other,” he was positioning himself with the British mainstream media consensus – something that has consistently misreported and sought to belittle the popular independence movement qua the working-class objective.
Then again, a perjurer and a fake news agency are made for each other.—
Stewart McDonald MP (@StewartMcDonald) September 06, 2018
His attack on Sputnik, as a “fake news agency,” also positioned him against Alex Salmond – the former First Minister and leader of the SNP – who has a talk show hosted by Russia Today (now RT), the Russian sister network of Sputnik International. This, of course, is interesting, as the recent comic outbreak of an #SNPCivilWar over accusations made against Mr Salmond showed him once again to be a man of the people. Whether he is or isn’t really a “man of the people” is irrelevant. What matters is that he has massive support among rank and file, mainly working-class, independentistas. That McDonald would undermine him in this way is telling.
Much the same can be seen of the sneering attitude adopted by those critical of the use of the film Braveheart before Saturday’s Hope Over Fear rally in Glasgow. Hope Over Fear has proven it has mass rank and file support, bringing tens of thousands of ordinary working pro-independence people out onto the streets in rallies and marches all over Scotland. Watching as the self-appointed elite of the movement sneer at this and attempt to tarnish the events as somehow owned by Mr Sheridan, we see a blatant attempt to diminish the objective of the democratic movement in order that a certain cadre of well-positioned members of the independence movement might gain the upper hand in what is fundamentally a re-run of the power struggle identified in Ireland by Connolly.
This conflict is live and there is very little we can do to defuse it. It has been instigated by people who have a clear interest – in their political objective – in being in control of the movement when independence comes. We have little alternative than to resist their efforts, but this must be handled with care lest we break the delicate alliance that keeps the vehicle of common purpose running. As we are one movement, the reality is that none of our objectives will be achieved unless we continue in common purpose until independence, but whoever has the upper hand in the movement come independence will be the faction that determines the future and shape of independence. We must be aware of this and begin developing strategies to ensure the people’s movement is the movement that shapes the future of a better Scotland.
The Left and Socialism in Scotland