Scots Nationalism: Part 2

Last month we traced the development of modern nationalism in Scotland up till the founding of the National Party of Scotland in 1928.

The incredible hotchpotch of ideas contained in the new organisation soon became a cause for alarm among the more sensible members and drove one, Lewis Spence, to complain that the party was

“… a maelstrom boiling and bubbling with the cross-currents of rival and frequently fantastic theories, schemes and. notions we have people who wanted all Scotland to speak the Gaelic…. some hark back to the hope of a sixteenth-century Scotland regained … still others a Jacobite restoration. A certain group sees in the expulsion of all the English and Irish in Scotland the country’s only chance of survival . All is hubbub, outcry, chaos. There is no plan,. Nothing approaching a serious, practical Scotsman-like policy in -either art or politics. (H. J. Hanham, Scottish Nationalism. p. 154)

Poor Spence, but he should have known. With the loss of interest in Home Rule of the Scottish ruling class and their political sidekicks, the nationalist cause had fallen into the hands of all sorts of cranks, literary and otherwise, who were more concerned with “culture” than economics or social matters. Certainly they had little idea of the history of the toilers’ conditions as could be seen by their constant harking back to a mythical time when “our people were prosperous and contented” before the Union.

Anyway, the party was established and membership was open to all. Tories and Liberals as well as Labourites flocked in and even Lord Beaverbrook showed interest. Inevitably, some of the more opportunist leaders wished to “broaden the base of the party” and after an internal battle the party merged with a Tory splinter group to become the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 1934. From then until the 1950s the party endured the usual Right versus Left squabbling and several splits occurred, the largest of which was the setting up of a rival organisation, the Scottish Convention, in the 1940s.

Today the SNP seems to have left the lunatic fringe behind and appears as a modern, mass political party using the techniques of public relations and advertising industries to give it a new slick image, and the Executive Suit has replaced the kilt as standard dress for the party candidates. Not only does the party have a large and youthful membership of 120,000 but they carry out their propaganda with a style and enthusiasm which leaves the older reformist parties gasping. At the October general election they all but demolished the Liberals, hammered the Tories, and promise it will be Labour’s turn next time.

So the SNP may be poised for victory within the foreseeable future. How have they produced this rags-to-riches transformation? Obviously, their case is an economic one. They have taken advantage of working class discontent over insecurity, unemployment, low living standards, low expectations, and all the other problems which capitalism brings to workers the world over in one degree or another. They were also helped by widespread disillusion with the two major parties and Labour and Tory supporters have deserted to the nationalists in their tens of thousands.

Basically, the SNP is just another reformist party angling for support on a programme of reforms and even styles itself on the Scandinavian social democrats. After their first breakthrough in l968 the party went into a serious decline which lasted until 1970. Then came the discovery of vast quantities of North Sea oil. Now they can outbid all the others by proposing that the wealth from this oil be divided among five million people only, instead of fifty million, and paint a picture of how, given self-government, oil revenues will provide a paradise in Scotland.

Predictably the nationalists claim that their first priority is to launch a “war on poverty” and the party’s manifesto, Scotland’s Future, gives some idea of how they intend to do this.

For example, pensionable couples are told their combined pension will amount to the national minimum wage which, at today’s level, will be £25, with a single pensioner getting £15. So after a lifetime of producing fortunes for the parasite class worn-out wage slaves are to be “rewarded” with this ! . Other dramatic SNP proposals include spending an extra 10 per cent on education and on health services, and just what significant difference this will make to working class life is a mystery to us. The important thing to note is that these are merely promises, and politicians have always found these far easier to make than fulfil.

The writings and utterances of SNP spokesmen present a bewildering display of confusion and contradiction and it is difficult to say whether they are more naïve than dishonest. William Wolfe, the party Chairman, claims the class-struggle can be avoided by passing legislation which outlaws “undue concentration of wealth in a few hands”. We wonder if they mentioned this to the capitalist Sir Hugh Fraser when he joined their ranks last year?

The party repeats the hoary old lie “that it is a lack of communications between management and workers that causes industrial strife”. It could not, of course, have anything to do with a fundamental clash of interests like, for example, the workers wanting better wages and conditions and the management, on behalf of the owners, not willing to grant these.

Despite the SNP’s indignant denials the idea somehow persists in some minds that the party is “socialist”. William Wolfe in his book, Scotland Lives, writes that he wants to give

“….the Scottish people opportunities for their own enterprise and capital to be used in giving their fellow Scots employment.” (p. 43)

Obviously, by “the Scottish people” he means owners of capital like Sir Hugh Fraser. Perhaps the latter joined the SNP on reading this passage in Wolfe’s book?

Another leading member, Mrs. Margo MacDonald, was asked in an interview how she reacted to the suggestion that there’s no advantage in replacing English or American capitalists with Scottish capitalists. She replied

“Well there is, actually. In the strict material sense there is. The Scottish capitalists, while still making lots of money, will be creating jobs in Scotland. They will realise that there is a quicker return to be made by, for instance, refining all of the oil in Scotland. So we would be slightly better off. Of course I agree exploitation by Scots is just as immoral in the long run. (Glasgow News, l2th March 1974)

So there it is. For the Scottish capitalist, “lots of money” and a “quicker return”. For the worker, the promise that he will be “slightly better off”.

The nationalists have shown they are fast learners when it comes to political cynicism. They pretend to the workers that should independence come then all the oil revenues will automatically go into the Scottish exchequer and be used mainly for the benefit of the workers. They must know that the United Kingdom would get some of the revenue as part of any deal made over the granting of independence, and that the capitalist class in Scotland would insist that oil revenues be used to reduce the burden of taxation which rests on them.

Will the Labour government’s proposed Scottish Assembly, but still under Westminster, outflank the SNP? This is possible since it is doubtful if the electorate in Scotland want complete independence as various opinion polls have shown. However, as the Assembly will have no more success in abolishing capitalism’s problems than the SNP’s claim that only full independence can succeed, it will probably gain more support.

Should self-government eventually be established the SNP will discover that they cannot will or legislate away those problems of capitalism. No country in the world, no matter how independent or rich in resources, has yet succeeded in eliminating poverty, unemployment, -insecurity, etc. For the working class there will be wages while they are working and pensions when they are too old or disabled. An ominous glimpse of what leading SNP members regard as “prosperity” can be gained from their repeated claim that “Scotland was the wealthiest nation in the world” (Wolfe p. 12) up till the end of the 1914-18 war. How the working class lived in those days does not seem to have even occurred to them.

The SNP see themselves as visionaries but they cannot see beyond the narrow confines of the nation-state, conceived in pre-medieval times and as outmoded as the clan system it replaced. It is the Socialist Party of Great Britain who are the true men and women of vision, who look forward to and struggle for a new world of common ownership and democratic control of society’s resources, and uncluttered with the frontiers and class divisions which go hand-in-hand with “the nation”.

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