By Frank Noakes
MANCHESTER — Only 100 days after it was founded, Scotland United has a membership of over 7000. The organisation is demanding a referendum on Scotland's status for St Andrew's Day, November 30.
Following the April 9 Tory general election victory, nationalists from a number of parties, frustrated by the prospect of a further five years of inaction, came together to form Scotland United.
During the elections the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Labour Party both campaigned in favour of some form of home rule, Labour promising the devolution of more powers to a Scottish Assembly and the SNP for full independence. The Tories rejected both options and in turn were soundly rejected themselves.
If the British government refuses a referendum, Scotland United intends financing an unofficial poll itself. The Scottish people will be asked to decide among independence within Europe, devolution and the status quo. In a 1979 referendum, they were not given the choice of independence — and, despite overwhelming support, they were not given devolution either.
England and Scotland retained separate parliaments until 1707. Since then, Scotland has had only very limited powers. It has its own legal and education systems, but doesn't have control of finance or foreign affairs.
Actions in support of a referendum have already occurred. In the British parliament, a group of Labour MPs prevented the deputy serjeant-at-arms removing the mace as parliament rose for its summer break. In October a blockade of
the M25 motorway is planned, to coincide with the next sitting of parliament.
There are many differences on the left in Britain and Scotland on the future of the Scottish nation. All agree, though, that the status quo cannot continue and that some form of self-government is overdue.
The SNP is the only major organised force that argues for independence. Stewart Hosie, the party's deputy convener for youth affairs, told Green Left Weekly: "The British Labour Party, with their devolutionist schemes, are the main obstacle to Scottish independence. They still consider the Scottish electorate as being their own power bloc; they're the cement that holds the British state together.
"But that's changing ... Young Scots, in particular, are coming away from the social conservatism of the Labour Party, coming away from a party committed to nuclear weapons, committed to an economic project interchangeable with the conservatives."
The SNP used to be known as the "Tartan Tories". That gradually changed during the '80s, culminating in the election in September 1990 of a new and younger leadership under the avowed socialist, Alex Salmond.
"We have the largest youth wing and student wing", says Hosie. "It's growing daily; this week, in fact, we had four requests for new youth branches. We stood more candidates under 40 than any other party. The Labour Party put up none under 40. We're winning that battle in a big way."
The Scotland United initiative threatens to embarrass the Labour leadership; although it has tolerated a minority of its MPs being prominently involved, it is clearly angered that
this movement has emerged with mass popular support and, worse, is beyond its control. The SNP is the main instigator of SU and stands to gain most from it.
Hosie explains how the SNP views the question of nationalism:
"It's been said that Britain is two islands peopled by four nations. We say that each of those nations, and indeed any other group that considers themselves to be permanent, unitary, homogeneous in some way, has the right to self-determination and to run their own lives with whatever power they see fit.
"When we view nationalisms in Europe, we've got to not make the mistake of seeing them as all exactly the same. We can't view a nationalism that is decentralised, participatory, community based, in the same light as the Lombard League's privatisation, anti-trade union, anti-immigration, 'let's cut off the poor albatross and keep the rich north' nationalism — they're not the same thing."
The Labour leadership has a real stake in seeing Scotland remain within the British state. If Scotland were to become independent, the Labour Party would lose 50 seats in Westminster.
Many on the British left pay lip service to self-determination, but most want to see that confined to some form of devolution, i.e. Scotland remaining an integral part of the British state. There are even some that deny Scotland nation status at all. Others argue that if a progressive Labour Party were elected to Westminster, then the demand for independence in Scotland would disappear entirely. Hosie, a socialist, believes that this is a pipe dream.
"The struggle for independence is not something to replace the flag at St Andrew's House. It's more
than that: it's to write off the housing debt, to create full employment, it's to get rid of the anti-union laws. Devolution can't do this, even if a Labour government were elected.
"Devolution can only come about through the election of a Labour or Lib/Lab government. The progressive nationalist demands that we're putting forward can come about any time; if there's a referendum, if there's mass action, then we can become an independent nation state. A referendum for devolution carried out only in Scotland can only be indicative; it requires the British state to cede power from the centre to its regions."
On April 9, the SNP, with 23% of the vote, did not do as well as pre-election polls indicated. Devolution supporters assert that the people backed off from independence when it suddenly seemed a real possibility. Hosie disagrees:
"On the last Saturday they felt, 'Perhaps the SNP can't do it; we'll go back and vote for the second best option. Now we know Kinnock won't repeal the anti-union laws, we know he won't oppose Trident and we know his party won't nationalise the steel industry, but somewhere he's got to be better than John Major.' That's what they said, and that's what they did."
For those who say that, even after a referendum, the British government won't let go, so therefore a more gradualist approach is needed, Hosie has nothing but scorn. He bristles as he says:
"Are we going to say, 'Sorry, wee Nicaragua, there's no point in doing it, the Americans wouldn't let you; sorry, Cuba, hardly worth the effort, they're not going to let you.'? What is this! We're talking about the self-determination of nations and people, for goodness' sake.
"If any people votes to be free, they are free; if actions are taken by another state to stop that,
then the whole situation changes, and any means can be used to defend the gains democratically made. We don't sit back and say, 'By God these are big odds, I don't think we'll bother'; we start climbing, we keep going and we organise."
The SNP has been inspired by the small nations of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union democratically choosing to become nation states. "With regard to the ethnic problems in Europe", Hosie claims, "if you put nations in a Stalinist pressure cooker and then lift the lid off 45 years later — don't be surprised at the results."
The SNP sees the moves towards greater European unity as aiding its cause.
"It's taken away the fear factor", says Hosie. "We're not going to be isolated. We're going to be staying within a community that's providing the market. We're talking about jobs, exports, trading links, cultural links and tourist links that won't change. People are no longer afraid of being isolated from England."