by Joe Davison
(Swans - November 7, 2005) For many years, on the Left in the U.K., a debate has been ongoing as to the nature of the British State; specifically whether or not it would be in the interests of the respective English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish working classes that it be broken up into its various component parts.
Many are of the belief that the break up of the British State would be a progressive development, while others take the contrary view -- i.e., that its break up would be a regressive step working to the detriment of what they view as a homogenous British working class. Some advocating its break up do so from a nationalist standpoint, especially in Scotland, where a movement which goes by the name of Independence First argues the case that independence under any auspices should be the priority for those on the Left, working, they advocate, alongside mainstream nationalists with this goal in mind.
Both positions -- unionist and nationalist -- are wrong in my view.
Yes, we need to break up the British State; but under the banner of anti-imperialism and internationalism, rather than a nationalism that is hopelessly rooted in the past. It is based, this nationalist doctrine, on nothing more than an emotional desire to break with England, a country many Scots view as responsible for all of Scotland's woes and worries from the time of William Wallace, back in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, all the way up to the present day.
To say the least, this constitutes a weak case, lacking any meaningful political and economic analysis as to the present role of the British State in global terms.
A vital part of the global neo-liberal project headed by the U.S., the British State performs the same role for the U.S. in Europe as Israel does in the Middle East, South Korea in Southeast Asia, and Colombia in Latin America -- each a regional bastion of free market fundamentalism and guarantor of US power, and each backed up by US military might where necessary. The respective ruling classes of each nation or state mentioned is granted in return a share of the spoils in the form of either aid and/or trade credits -- as with Israel and Colombia -- or access to markets and resources -- as with the U.K. and South Korea.
The 26-County Irish State government plays a junior role to British imperialism throughout the British Isles. Both the British and Irish governments have provided military bases for the current US-led imperialist war against Iraq. Furthermore, the Irish government is aiding the U.K. government's attempt to provide a new unionist political settlement, with devolved legislative assemblies/parliaments for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland in a move to nullify separatist movements before they can evolve. The aim of this new unionist settlement is to make the British Isles a profitable haven for global corporations, with both the British and Irish governments pursuing a tactic of social partnership designed to co-opt trade union leaders and enlist their assistance in carrying out their aims of complete privatization and deregulation of public services and industry.
The free market -- that extreme variant of capitalism currently being forced on working and poor people around the world -- with its doctrine of complete privatization of all social and public services and industry, with its depredations on workers in terms of pay and conditions, and with its deification of the market -- was originally imported from the U.S. to Britain by Maggie Thatcher, continued under John Major, and accelerated under Tony Blair -- a Labour Prime Minister, no less. It is an economic doctrine that has left the U.K. with the worst social indicators in Western Europe -- in housing, education, healthcare, in terms of working pay and conditions, crime, and wealth distribution. The only people it has benefited are U.K. management and corporate executives, who are now the highest paid among their European counterparts.
At this point in history, the biggest threat to humanity is US imperialism. Internationalists everywhere must campaign with this in mind. In the U.K. this means working for the break up of a British State which is a close ally of US imperialism, helping the US ruling class achieve its aims across the world, from the Middle East to Latin America, to Africa, and elsewhere.
Break up the British State and US imperialism loses an important ally and is thus weakened. This has to be the analysis behind which the call for independence is made. After all, the British ruling class isn't just composed of English; it has Scots, Welsh and Irish among its members too. Scots, in their history, have played a substantial role in the subjugation of Ireland, ran some of the many major companies and trusts whose business was the wholesale plunder of Britain's colonial possessions, as well as providing much of the military manpower, bureaucrats and slavers required to keep those possessions British. Then too there were the thousands of Scots who immigrated to the "New World" after the failure of the 1745 rising to escape British justice, only to become slave owners and pioneers, playing their part in the slaughter of the indigenous peoples as the white man colonised the West. These were the antecedents of some of the men who formed the backbone of the Confederacy -- Jeb Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, etc.
In short, to base the cause of Scottish, Irish or Welsh independence on nationhood alone is ludicrous, redolent of a parochialism that is backward instead of forward looking.
Ultimately, there is no such thing as a homogenous British people, there is only a British State, the common denominator of which is the monarchy -- a repugnant, barbaric, blood soaked institution which should rightly be an insult to the dignity of anyone in possession of an ounce of same.
Yes, as a Scot, I derive inspiration from people like William Wallace, Thomas Muir, John Maclean and James Connolly. However, as an internationalist first and for always, I derive equal inspiration from men such as Babeuf of the French Revolution, the Black Jacobins of Haiti, the Communards of Paris, Marx, Lenin, Eugene Debs, Patrice Lumumba, Che, and on and on.
The British State must be broken up, not out of some misplaced nationalism motivated by an emotional desire to see the Scottish flag, the Saltire, replace the British Union Jack, but out of recognition that in order to do our part in resisting the onslaught of US imperialism and the free market principles which have reduced the lives of millions around the globe to abject misery, an economic system predicated on ever-increasing profits regardless of the human, social or environmental cost, we can do no less.