This was my opening speech in a debate on independence at NCAFC Scotland Conference in February 2013.
Hi, I’m James McAsh. I was born in England to a Scottish mother and a father of majority English descent. On my mothers’ side my family has been in Scotland for as far back as I can go, in Edinburgh for the last couple of generations. My father’s family is mainly from Lancashire, where my dad was brought up, but we have some Irish ancestry there too. I have spent the first 18 years of my life in England, and the last 5 in Scotland.
So there is sort of a sentimental sense to which I am tied to Scotland staying within the UK – my family is the product of that union. But the reason why I am standing here today is not that. I am standing here opposing independence on the basis of socialism and working class unity.
A few years ago when I moved to Scotland I was convinced that Scotland should be independent. I was enchanted by the progressive nature of Scottish politics: no tuition fees, free prescriptions, no Tories! But as I have moved further left wing I have moved away from this view.
I am a socialist. I believe that the important division is one of class, not of nation – and that the real enemy is always at home. I believe that the working class in Glasgow has much more in common with the workers of London than they do with the landowners and capitalists of Aberdeen. This shapes all my views on this subject.
I am happy that there will be a referendum on independence: I think that it is right that a people choose how they are governed, and if the referendum passes then no force on earth should prevent Scotland from seceding.
However, as a socialist my goal is a united stateless socialist world. I want us to organise collectively as students and workers to overthrow the bourgeois capitalist government and create a government of and for the workers. I want us to transform our economy – ridding ourselves of capitalism and the exploitation, environmental destruction, and oppression that comes with it.
Our strength is in numbers. Larger states, that more closely map onto area of economic activity, are desirable for such revolutionary objectives. If we want to take over the economy then we need solidarity with all the workers in that area. Increasingly this means states much larger than the UK, like a United States of Europe, certainly not increasingly smaller states, like an independent Scotland.
The capitalist class is international – state borders do not divide them. The working class on the other hand are divided massively by these borders. They prevent us from travelling freely, they restrict us to working in specific parts of the world under specific national conditions, and they make organising alongside workers elsewhere all the more difficult. Even in the EU, where workers have won the freedom of movement and a certain level of basic Europe-wide workers’ rights, even there the level of cross border industrial action is abysmally low. When the biggest unions in the UK go out on strike, like we saw in November 2011, workers from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland are on picket lines and on the streets hand in hand. This kind of coordination never happens with our comrades in France, Denmark or Germany. Not because we have nothing in common with the French, Danish or Germans, but because organising alongside them is much more difficult.
The capitalist class organises internationally. And it wants to stop our class from doing the same. Creating new borders and blocks on movement, always keeping some workers’ labour – and lives – cheaper than others: these are two ways of doing it. But there is a third method that the bourgeoisie uses, and that is nationalism. Sweet-smelling, romantic, seductive fairy tales about the great destiny of this that or the other people, their historic unity and the beautiful landscapes that surround them – these fairy tales and schmaltzy images are part of a bourgeois ideological strategy to keep the workers of the world divided and we must resist! We want unity and friendship – but with all the peoples of the world. We are stirred by our history and natural beauty – but by the history of our class and natural beauty of all countries, not just our own. We have to resist the ideology of nationalism, even in its sweet-smelling version.
So why would we want an independent Scotland? One reason would be if Scotland was an oppressed nation. If the relationship between England and Scotland was based on oppression and exploitation then it would be right to demand an independent Scottish state, like we should demand an independent Kurdish, Tamil or Palestinian state. But it clearly is not, the Scottish working class is exploited in the same way as the English working class: by the English, Scottish, British and international bourgeoisie.
Or maybe because we think that Scottish independence will somehow strike a blow against British imperialism. I think that this is entirely the wrong tack. We need a positive not negative strategy. The way we beat imperialism is by building working class unity across borders. Similarly, it is naive to think that independence is some sort of strategy to beat the cuts. Not only is that woefully unsupportive of workers in the rest of the UK, it also ignores the fact that large chunks of the Scottish bourgeoisie are organising for independence precisely on the basis of tax cuts for the rich!
Scottish independence would disrupt the unity of the working class by breaking up our political organisations, creating borders, making it easier to play Scottish and rest-of-UK workers off against each other, and fuelling the myths of national brotherhood between exploiters and exploited – corroding internationalist sentiment. We can stop cuts and fight imperialism through this internationalist sentiment, and merciless and unceasing struggle against our own bosses – not by joining hands with them in nationalist dance.
Scottish independence is an appealing proposal at first glance. But if you’re serious about socialism and working class unity then vote No in October 2014.