A guest today from Tommy Kane, who works at Holyrood for Neil Findlay MSP, both of whom have been setting out left arguments against independence ahead of the referendum. Tommy’s the co-editor of the Red Paper discussed below, alongside Pauline Bryan.

Tommy KaneReaction to ‘Class, Nation and Socialism: The Red Paper on Scotland 2014’ confirms, as the old saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Amongst the critiques has been the accusation that the Red Paper Collective has been indulging in ‘fantasy politics’. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Red Paper has quite deliberately sought to do the opposite.

This book isn’t about whether we should be Scottish or British; rather this is a book about class. It should be no surprise to find then that a central supposition of the contributors is that, whatever the constitution, powers must have a purpose. Namely, that we have to start addressing, substantively and not just paying lip service to, the deep inequities, which shamefully still exist in the Scotland of 2013.

It is also contended that Scotland won’t tackle the multitude of problems it faces with a border, a flag or even a list of powers – it will only do through a radical political agenda which seeks to radically challenge the perpetual failure of the dominant neo-liberal orthodoxy, a failure which has revisited us again in the guise of an austerity programme precipitated by a fundamental failure of the market system. It is against that backdrop that the thinking of the Red Paper Collective has developed during discussions over the past two years.

Featuring people who every day work for, and in the interests of, working people it should be no surprise to hear that the group who made up the Red Paper concluded early on that an assessment of what model would best serve and advance the interests of ordinary working people was needed prior to next year’s referendum. This included considerations of the status quo and some form of enhanced devolution, as well as independence. Posing this hypothesis necessitates, in fact demands, an answer grounded in political and economic realities: a direction in tune with the natural instinct of nearly all of the contributors, who in their daily working lives simply cannot afford to pander to fantasy.

A political reality is that the SNP Government won’t dissolve; they will carry on under the guise of Scotland’s party fighting Scotland’s corner. Initially this will include them writing a constitution, which will be hard to undo, and that no doubt will incorporate membership of the EU, a UK currency union (impacting on tax raising and public spending policies), remaining loyal to the monarchy and reducing corporation tax so as to attract the inward investment that can only result in a race to the bottom. Such a proposition could actually be interpreted as a form of federalism and not independence at all; critically, however, it would be an arrangement in thrall to neo-liberal thinking.

Economic realities are expertly laid forth by John Foster and Richard Leonard in the book. They show clearly how external ownership of the Scottish economy is growing. Unless I have missed something, there is no suggestion of any change on that front, unless a Lazarus-style recovery is made by those political parties who advocate appropriation. Therefore, you would have a Scottish economy still externally controlled, predominately in the city of London, but without any ability to intervene and curb that power. In such a circumstance political self-determination is, arguably, fatally undermined from the start.

The strength of the book we think also lies in its multiplicity. To take a couple of examples, Alan MacKinnon unpacks and analyses just how realistic the removal of Trident will be in an independent Scotland, particularly given the conversion of the SNP to the cause of NATO. Stephen Smellie, Vince Mills and Gordon Munro argue for an empowerment of local government, asking why within the current constitutional debate the role of councils is not being discussed.

Another section of the book considers democratic ownership of our economy. The value of this section is in the production of pragmatic, but progressive, policy ideas. Indeed, these chapters provide a pathway for progressing public ownership in various and varied sectors ranging from football to energy, but which acknowledges that this need not mean a homogenous version of public ownership. No matter the result of the referendum next year, these are chapters that offer any (progressive) government sound policy ideas.

At the heart of both ‘Yes’ mainstream and Radical Indy thinking is that there can be no British Road to Socialism. Apart from the obvious question of how and why anybody thinks the Scottish Road will be any easier this point does throw up some philosophical considerations. Is it right, for example, that we take the lifeboat strategy whereby the lifeboat escaping from the sinking ship takes only Scots without any recourse or concern for those left behind? Or, should we remain united with our brothers and sisters to fight and change from within; to this end it’s worth bearing in mind the advances made by working people and how it was class unity that helped achieve progress.

Of course, class analysis permeates throughout the book, not least the question of how working class unity would be impacted upon independence. Underpinning this throughout is the implicit belief that a bricklayer in Bathgate has more in common with a bricklayer in Bridlington than he has with the banker in Edinburgh’s financial sector. Some suggest otherwise, however, and say that we could offer a good example to the more reactionary forces elsewhere in the UK. Such an argument makes assumptions that may reflect more their own wishes than political reality.

The truth is that, as Stephen Low and Vince Mills highlight, social attitudes are very similar in Scotland and the North of England and we cannot assume that Scots are more inclined to left politics than their counterparts in England, especially those Northern regions. These arguments quite simply also ignore how class consciousness not national consciousness has been at the root of material advancement for working people across the UK.  Working class unity provides greater capacity to challenge the dominance of international capitalism and we weaken that at our peril.  Such a class analysis is, or should be, an inescapable principle of socialists that each of the Red Paper contributors forcefully remind us of.

Finally, the book suggests that perhaps an enhanced devolution settlement is something that needs considered: thus reflecting, if the polls are to be believed, the views of more Scots than those who support either of the Yes or No positions. This was a small, but nevertheless important, dimension of the book. Enhanced devolution, perhaps within a Federal system that also considers what’s best for the regions of England, amongst others, would provide us sufficient autonomy to tackle poverty and inequality but would still see us retain our link with the rest of the UK.

Such a model would also enable us to work constructively within the UK and for instance enable us to argue and fight for peace when for example the UK Government consider embarking on foreign adventures. If Scotland was outwith the UK then wars would take place regardless, Scotland might not be in them but war itself would still take place. Remaining within provides Scots with a voice to argue against war.

‘Class, Nation and Socialism: The Red Paper on Scotland 2014’ has sought to instil some class thinking into the current constitutional debate, which up until now has been sadly lacking. We recognise we have merely scratched the surface but nevertheless we have, we hope, provided food for thought, particularly thinking about what type of country we aspire to be, or should aspire to be.