1960s >> 1968 >> no-765-may-1968

Scottish Nationalism

In the Scottish National Party, they must feel that somebody up there likes them. Right now they are on top of the world and everywhere the signs are apparent. The Party badge— a hipped-up thistle—sprouts as thickly as the weed itself. Membership has rocketed to over ninety thousand, and all the frenzied electoral activity has resulted in the election of a Nationalist M.P.

Undoubtedly, independence is the current big issue and the Nationalists claim they will have it by the early ’seventies. How have the SNP been transformed from the old image of a bunch of Tartan-clad cranks into a considerable political force? The Party is still the expression of some “Professional” and small-business people who see their advancement in breaking with England, but they now enjoy what they never had before—widespread working class support, although how constant this is remains to be seen.

This support was a long time coming, but the breakthrough was helped by Labour’s long absence from power during the ’fifties. This resulted in some of Labour’s traditional support, particularly among the lower paid, switching to the Nationalists. Another factor was disillusionment with the performance of Labour controlled Town Councils. Thus, the Nationalists got what they needed above all—a foot in the electoral door.

What are the forces behind the Nationalist upsurge? Of course, the movement’s “intellectuals” see it as a revolt by a people yearning to return to a Golden Age which existed before the Act of Union of 1707, when a united populace shared a “Scottish Culture” which was the envy of Europe. The idea is absurd. The culture of the untamed, Celtic Highlander was completely different from that of the settled, English-speaking Lowlander. Indeed, Dr. J. M. Beale makes this very point in the Book, Common Errors in Scottish History. Today, in the populous industrial belt, the average inhabitant will sneer at the sight of the Kilt and a significant proportion owe their loyalties to Ireland rather than Scotland.

Even so, Nationalist feeling certainly exists and is implanted at an early age. This is very important in any country’s educational system. Also important is regional pride within a country. Ruling groups find this useful, particularly in time of war—how many Scotsmen have died proving that they were the bravest in the land? So Scottish children have their heads filled with the deeds of national heroes like Wallace and Bruce while the feats of Scots in civil life—Carnegie, Watt, Stevenson—also receive much attention. In sport, especially soccer, the press give the full treatment to encounters with “The Auld Enemy”, with every victory a “Bannockburn” and every defeat a “Flodden”. All this, against a background of Scotland’s historical subjugation by England, has provided a breeding ground for national illusion and resentment.

But why is the revolt happening now rather than ten or twenty years ago? First, there is the decline of the long-established industries with the accompanying hardship and insecurity. Engineering, Shipbuilding and Mining were what Scotland depended on and their cut-back has meant a chronic high unemployment rate. Secondly, the main Parties have been tried over and over and found wanting: they cannot produce the goods, so where else to go? In England many people faced with this dilemma have turned to the Liberals. In Scotland, in the same circumstances, it can only be the SNP. In short, the Nationalist upsurge is really a revolt against a depressed standard of living, and this is where the SNP makes its biggest impact. Every example of lower wages, higher prices, more emigration and less amenities than south of the border is seized upon and skilfully used.

The most interesting point about the demand for independence is that, basically, it is in line with the growing idea that the problems of modem society—Capitalism—lie in its sheer size. Thus, we see the Liberals arguing for smaller administrative units through more Regional Government; the Anarchists and some leftists for smaller productive units through worker-owned factories, and the Scots and Welsh Nationalists for smaller political units as exemplified by the Scandinavian countries. Sweden, with its allegedly high living standards and full employment, is quoted as an example of how smallness plus independence equals prosperity.

These theories are false. Capitalism’s problems are the result of non-social ownership of the means of life in the field of social production: more diversity of government or of ownership cannot alter this fact. Nor can the national identity or location of the legislature have much effect on our standard of living. This is influenced by such as the degree of technical and natural resources and, more especially, the state of the world market—what can be sold profitably—and any serious change in this will affect Sweden just as it did in the ’thirties. Anyway, Sweden’s full employment is due to acute labour shortage, and those Irish workers who had a spell in Swedish Shipyards soon returned home, unimpressed by the living standards.

Another Nationalist argument is that there is a deliberate “trend” towards more numerous and smaller Nations and point to the seventy-odd newcomers which have sprung-up over the last twenty years. These have emerged owing to the disintegration of the European colonial Empires. The Nationalists ignore the fact that in the developed world the trend is the opposite way. Nor do these new Nations choose to be small; in fact they are as large as they can get and often squabble with one another over disputed territory and resources.

What it all boils down to, is that the SNP just don’t understand the world around them. Although they claim to be against exploitation they support the production for profit system. Arthur Donaldson, the Party’s chief spokesman, even invites capital to take advantage of “cheap” and “tame” Scottish workers (Scots Independent, 11/2/67).

It is time to reject the notion that there are “Scottish problems” which apply exclusively to Scottish workers and which can be solved by a “Parliament of their own”. Instead of turning their eyes to Scandinavia, those of them who thronged “prosperous” London recently on the occasion of the seating of the Nationalist MP should have looked across the Thames to Southwark, Battersea and Brixton. They would have seen plenty of hardship there, despite the proximity of Parliament. And did it not occur to those who saw the TV epic of the homeless, Cathy Come Home, that the action took place in an English City? Above all else, independence will not mean their release from wage-slavery, and, as everywhere, access to the means of life will be governed by whether the owners find it profitable or not.

Socialists echo the Poet’s desire for the day ‘That man to man the world o’er shall brothers be for a’ that”. This will be a fact when the world’s wealth, owned in common, can be utilised for the satisfaction of all mankind. Capitalism, with its attendant national boundaries and prejudices, makes this just another Poet’s dream.

Vic Vanni (Glasgow)