Revolutionary independence –
now that’s worth fighting for

The independence referendum provides us with an opportunity to draft a truly revolutionary constitution that challenges the existing state political system. Such a constitution would lay the foundations for a real democracy and a transformed economy, one owned and controlled by ordinary people. 

Whatever way the vote goes, this can be an inspiring project through 2014 and beyond, and not only for people in Scotland. Why not aspire to an independence and revolutionary self-determination that will resonate in England, Wales and Ireland too? 

The “Yes” campaign treats the concept of independence as a universal good in itself. But the present proposal raises immediately the question “independent of whom”? Crude nationalists say “of England”, even though Scotland is not in a union solely with England, but with Wales and the north of Ireland too. 

A more sophisticated argument says the referendum will give us “independence from the British state”. Now that would be something worth having. But is this on offer? The SNP’s proposal for a separate Scottish state is to free itself of the Westminster government while retaining key aspects of the British state. 

The monarchy, which in times of crisis can step in and rule through the Privy Council and Orders in Council, would remain. Scotland would keep the pound sterling, making it subject to the arbitrary powers of the Bank of England in London. This will give the Westminster government a massive say in what happens to Holyrood’s fiscal policy. 

Scots law, as much as English law, enshrines the supremacy of the rights of private property and of landowners, and the corporate legal framework where companies have an obligation to maximise shareholder value. There are no plans to change this. 

The SNP government wants to keep Scotland in the warmongering NATO alliance and offers Scots the comfort that the country can and will maintain its own standing army. Scotland’s “Yes” campaign was ecstatic1 when Allan Burnett, retired head of counter-terrorism in Scotland, said an independent Scotland could have an “excellent intelligence organisation”. One would truly need to abandon all class perspective to forget that in every country, the organs of state security and the army serve the interests of the state.

A nightmare economic vision

The Scottish government’s economic vision is of a low-wage, low business tax regime, with no-strike deals for the workers and tax breaks for the corporations.2 In the teeth of all the evidence, they claim cutting corporation tax will bring jobs and benefit the economy. The bitter lesson of Ireland is entirely ignored. Ireland’s 10% annual growth rate from the mid-1990s up to 2000, slowed to 5% and then was wiped out altogether by the crash of 2008. This growth was not only due to a corporation tax rate of 12.5%. Irish governments backed that up by bludgeoning unions into accepting a low-wage economy and flexible working.

As Stuart Smyth points out in his paper How the ship of fools was shipwrecked the economic conditions created by the Irish state brought in Foreign Direct Investment but not all of it was for new firms. A significant proportion was invested in buying up, asset stripping and shutting down older industries, with many job losses. Recreating these conditions in Scotland will have the same results.

The United Kingdom has progressively cut corporation tax from 30% in 2006, to 23% at present and the ConDems are committed to a 20% rate by 2015. Just exactly how much lower does the Scottish government think it should go? And with such a low tax base, in a period of low economic growth globally, where is the income to come from to pay for a reasonable welfare state, social housing, pensions and health?

What would happen if the banks were to crash again, something that is clearly possible, with RBS the prime candidate to trigger a new collapse? RBS on its own has loans and investments of £1.3 trillion, equivalent to more than eight times Scottish GDP. Over and above the £36bn of toxic loans RBS has put into its “bad bank account”, The Herald3 reports that there are a “number of enormous landmines that continue to lurk just under the surface”, amounting to £1 trillion. As well as possible fines for mis-selling PPI, for fixing rates and so on, there is the biggest ever class action where 13,000 RBS investors allege they were duped to the tune of £12.3 billion in a rights issue in April 2008. The impact on ordinary people of a further crash is hard to contemplate.

It’s the corporations’ oil - to the last drop

It is shocking to say it, but global capitalism’s refusal to act on climate change is one of the keystones of the Scottish government’s economic vision. Around £100bn of investment is lined up to kick start environmentally-risky deep water drilling in the years ahead, adding to global emissions.

In its plan for oil, the Scottish government makes clear its commitment to rapid and unconstrained growth, not even hinting at the possibility of more gradual extraction, or perhaps earmarking oil only for crucial petrochemical and plastics products. 

The Scottish government’s latest economic paper refers to expanding renewables, but in the context of freeing up more oil and gas for export. The SNP commits to facilitating investment in risky and unproven carbon capture and storage and speaks of “new global opportunities” in relation to unconventional gas – aka fracking and coal bed methane.

Self-determination in the 21st century

Many in the “Yes” campaign refer to the right to self-determination. This right is incorporated into Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which forms part of the UN Charter and it states: “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” 

You need only read that statement to know real self-determination remains elusive for the majority of the world’s peoples. It is a right hedged round by the limits imposed by the capitalist nation state and its general subordination to the power of transnational corporations and banks. To have a fresh validity for today, when the post-colonial independence struggles are almost a completed process, the concept of self-determination must transcend the limits placed on it by capitalism and its forms of political-state rule.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels recognised that, whilst the working class has no nation and so must constitute itself as the nation in order to establish its power, this would “not be in the bourgeois sense of the word”. They recognised that the spread of capitalism was equalising countries and leading to the universal exploitation of workers.

This is even more true today, when the greatest force transforming the role of the nation state is capitalism itself. Corporate-driven globalisation of the last 30 years has altered profoundly the role of the state, dragging parties like Labour along into becoming advocates for market capitalism.

We live in states but are in effect excluded from any control of what happens in these states even though we form the majority. So the struggle for self-determination today is about overcoming de facto statelessness of the majority by transferring the power from the minority. 

Alternatives for fundamental change

Many global collaborations are going beyond the limits of protest or voting in elections, to put forward a genuine alternative to capitalism. Such rights-based declarations include the Cochabamba Declaration of Mother Earth Rights, the Declarations of La Via Campesina, the Charter of the Assembly of First Nations to name but a few.

Another excellent example of this rights-based approach is the Community Charter developed by Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas where people came together to identify “the sum total of the local tangible and intangible assets we have collectively agreed to be fundamental to the health and well-being of our present and future generations”:4 

“These constitute an inseparable ecological and socio-cultural fabric that sustains life, and which provides us with the solid foundations for building and celebrating our homes, families, community and legacy within a healthy, diverse, beautiful and safe natural environment. This is the basis of a true economy, one which returns to its root meaning (oikos – home, nomia – management)”. 

Now there’s an inspiring proposition! At six meetings held between 2012-2013, Glasgow Peoples Assemblies developed the idea of Assemblies for Change that would start “making the transition from No-Say to Democra-Say”. They identified five key themes for popular assemblies to focus on. 

They are:

1. Challenging the current economic system

2. Re-evaluating society’s values

3. Creating the People’s Assembly

4. Challenging lies, corruption and dishonesty

5. Establishing a political alternative.

Ordinary people deserve the opportunity denied by the narrow limits of the in-out referendum, to say what a real democracy should be. Independent people’s assemblies in every country, region, city, town and village could come together to set out the principles of a democratic constitution.

We should demand democratic self-government for Scotland and the transfer of power away from the ruling élite to the people through:

That is the essence of self-determination for the 21st century. We should make it the focus of a campaign for a “Yes” vote in the referendum. This approach would also undoubtedly inspire working people in England, Wales and the north of Ireland to find their own route to challenging and defeating the power of the common enemy. 

A World to Win
November 2013


1. £1trn time bombs RBS must defuse, The Herald, November

2. Building Security and Creating Opportunity: Economic Policy Choices in an Independent Scotland, November 2013

3. 2013 £1trn time bombs RBS must defuse, The Herald, November 3, 2013

4. Maximising the return from oil in an independent Scotland, July 2013

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