The Republican Communist Network’s Allan Armstrong spoke at the 13th February Republican Socialist Convention
Allan Armstrong (SSP) welcomed the participation of the veteran campaigner, Peter Tatchell, a ‘republican in spirit’, to the Republican Socialist Convention. However, there was a formalism about the republican principles Peter advocated. This was because Peter had not analysed the real nature of the British unionist and imperialist state we were up against, and the anti-democratic Crown Powers it had its disposal to crush any serious opposition. Nor did Peter outline where the social and political forces existed to bring about his new republic.
Back in the late 1960s, socialists (e.g. Desmond Greaves of the CP and those involved in Peoples Democracy) had been to the forefront of the campaign for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland – equal access to housing and jobs, and a reformed Stormont. The particular Unionist/Loyalist nature of this local statelet, and its relationship with the UK state, was largely ignored or downplayed, in an otherwise militant and vibrant campaign. Every repressive institution used by the UK state is prefixed by ‘royal’, e.g. the RUC, ‘her majesty’s, e.g. the prisons, whilst ‘loyalists’ is the name given to those prepared to undertake the more unsavoury tasks the UK state doesn’t want to own up to in public.
Socialists paid a high price for this negligence, when 14 people were gunned down in Derry by British paratroopers on January 30th, 1972. The socialist republicanism, which should have informed the struggle had been absent, and the Civil Rights Movement gave way to the combined physical force and political republicanism of the Provisionals. When Irish socialist republicanism did emerge, the leadership of the struggle had already largely passed to others.
Some of those earlier socialists, such as Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, recognised the need for a new socialist republican approach. However, the Provisionals were adroitly able to widen their political base, and keep genuine socialist republicanism marginalised by a resort to populism, through addressing some social and economic issues. Now that the Provisional leadership has made its deal with the UK state, under the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements, these populist social and economic policies are being jettisoned.
There is a strong lesson in this for socialists in Scotland and the UK today. Scotland, with its valuable oil resources, and key British military bases, is far more central to British ruling class interests, than Northern Ireland was in the 1960s. There is a growing National Movement in Scotland. Many supporters link the idea of an independent Scotland to an anti-imperialist vision (opposition to participation in British wars and to NATO) and to defence of social provision in the face of ongoing privatisation. This National Movement is wider than the SNP. Meanwhile, the SNP is taking the road of parties like Catalan Convergence, PNV (Euskadi) and Parti Quebecois. Its leadership is seeking a privileged role for the Scottish business within the existing corporate imperialist order. The SNPis tied both to the ‘Scottish’ banks and to cowboy capitalists like Donald Trump.
The SNP’s election manifesto pledged support for an ‘independence referendum’ to address the issue of Scottish self-determination. Although, the SNP leadership has been in full retreat over this issue, it will not go away, since there is a wider National Movement, and the probable election of the Tories at Westminster will once more raise the political stakes.
The SNP has no way of achieving Scottish independence. It is too tied to Scottish business interests, which want no more than increased powers for themselves – Devolution-Max. Recently, Salmond has come out in favour of the British monarchy. What this means is that the SNP accepts that any future referendum will be played by Westminster rules.
In the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, when the British ruling class was split over the best strategy to maintain their Union, the non-political Queen was wheeled out to make an anti-nationalist Christmas speech, civil servants were told to bury inconvenient documents, mock military exercises were launched against putative nationalist forces, whilst the intelligence services conducted agent provocateur work on the nationalist fringe. Compared to the role of the British state against Irish republicans, this was small beer. However, given the timid constitutionalism of the SNP, a further resort to Crown Powers was not needed at this time.
Furthermore, the taming of the once much more militant Provisional Republican Movement, so that it now acts as key partner in British rule in Ireland, shows that the British ruling class has little to fear in the SNP.
Today, the British, American and EU ruling classes are united against any move towards Scottish independence, so will be even more determined in their opposition than in 1979. This is why any movement to win Scottish self-determination must be republican from the start. It must be prepared, in advance, to confront the Crown Powers that will be inevitably utilised against us. Because genuine and democratic Scottish independence represents such a challenge to British imperialism and the UK state, we need allies in England, Ireland and Wales too. We need to be committed to a strategy of ‘internationalism from below’. We are socialist republicans and link our political demands with social and economic campaigns. This was the course advocated by two great Scottish socialist republicans – James Connolly and John Maclean. This is why the SSP is in London today seeking wider support.