Wednesday, August 17, 2022

A Scottish Red Herring (1939)


The Socialist Party has had a consistent opposition to Scottish nationalism, in fact, all nationalisms as this 1939 article demonstrates.

From the August 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard

The self-styled democratic champions of the British Empire are wont to ignore the violence and intrigue which have contributed to its upbuilding, not only abroad, but in these islands.

When their attention is called to these factors by foreign dictators they take refuge in the feeble excuse that it all happened a long time ago; an excuse which seems to make very little impression upon the spokesmen of movements for "national liberty."

In the case of Ireland we have had violent examples, recently, of the bitterness which still survives (in spite of a partial self-government), as a result of centuries of oppression. In Scotland a similar sentiment takes a more pacific, but none the less definite form.

The Scottish National Party is endeavouring to enlist the support of workers there, on the ground that they are worse fed and housed than their fellow-slaves in England, and that there is a larger proportion of their number out of work. It proposes a whole series of reforms for the special benefit of workers in Scotland, such as increased wages, shorter hours, better housing, and public works, holidays with pay, etc., and with this avowed end in view, calls for the restoration of the Scottish Parliament, which voted for its own extinction some two hundred and thirty-odd years ago.

Our readers will notice the extremely moderate nature of the claims and proposals of this Party. It dare not, in face of patent facts, suggest that the position of the English workers is a happy one, in spite of centuries of self-government and generations of working-class enfranchisement. It does not claim that Home Rule for Scotland will abolish unemployment, slums, underfeeding, etc; it merely hints that they can be reduced thereby to the English level. Scottish workers may well ask themselves whether it is worth their while to go through so much to get so little. Other reform parties in the past, such as the Liberal and Labour Parties, both in England and Scotland, have at least held out a more glittering bait than this. Hence, perhaps, no stampede of Scottish workers to the National Party has so far been recorded.

Moreover, the logic of the Nationalists, even with regard to their limited claims, is decidedly faulty. It is notorious that there are several districts in England, chiefly in the North, knows as depressed areas. These areas can show more intense degrees of poverty than obtain in certain other parts of the country. Is this to be explained by saying that the Government is concentrated in the hands of Southerners or is situated in the South? Would the state of affairs be appreciably altered if an independent seat of government were set up in Barnsley or West Hartlepool?

In their leaflet "Crisis!" the Scottish National Party bemoan the extent to which work has been transferred from Scotland to England soil by the railway companies, and the number of factories which have been closed in the former country as compared with the latter. It may not be out of place to remind them that English capitalists do not hesitate to close works in Lancashire and open others in India or China, when it proves profitable, and no British Government has shown either ability or willingness to interfere with this process. Capitalists are not primarily concerned with geographical boundaries or the nationality of the people whom they exploit.

On the other hand, the Scottish nation, whether independent or united with England, is divided into classes, as is society elsewhere. It is this division which accounts for the existence of the evils from which the Scottish workers suffer. English rule did not account for the fact that the depopulation of the Scottish Highlands led to the congestion in its industrial slums. The Scottish chieftains themselves turned out their own clansmen in order to make way, first for sheep and later for deer, in order to fill their own pockets. The notorious Duchess of Sutherland, for example, had 15,000 people hunted out in the six years 1814-20, and called in British soldiers to enforce the eviction. The political union merely facilitated the development of capitalist robbery with violence.

Thus the history of Scotland, while differing in detail from that of England, followed the same general course. By their divorce from the soil, a nation of peasant cultivators were converted into wage-slaves, exploited by a class ready to convert the world into one gigantic market. The forces of competition thus let loose may be held in check to some degree by national legislatures, but no final solution for the havoc they create can be found along such lines. The problem is essentially an international one, and must be internationally solved. That, however, calls not for National parties, but for parties in all countries which clearly recognise the common interest of the workers of the world, namely, to achieve their emancipation as a class.

When the workers get upon the right track of understanding their position they will cease to worry their brains over comparatively trivial differences in their conditions, whether as between nations or between districts or separate towns. They will recognise that they suffer varying degrees of poverty because at present they exist merely to produce profits for their masters, and that it is a matter of comparative indifference to them whether these masters are English or Scots, Germans or Japanese.

Their aim will be to abolish masters of every nationality and to organise the production of wealth for their common good.

Eric Boden

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