British Labourism’s deference to the reactionary trappings of the British state is as old as the movement itself. The party’s attitude to Elizabeth Windsor’s jubilee has been proof enough of that. The party has always been a willing accomplice of British imperialism. Blair started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq draping himself in the union jack. Previous Labour governments have enthusiastically conducted or supported colonial wars.
Even some on the left of Labourism aren’t immune to the contagion. George Galloway has a well deserved reputation for being one of the most anti-imperialist politicians of the last three decades. Yet he has expressed a visceral hatred of the idea of Scottish independence that pushes up against the boundaries of rationality and is accompanied by levels of personal abuse directed against his critics that is unlikely to lower the temperature in a debate.
In an article for the Socialist Unity website with the heart on its sleeve title, Socialism would wither and die in an independent Scotland, he envisions a bleak future for the country if it were to leave the United Kingdom.
Drawing on the capacity for striking imagery which makes him such a rousing speaker he predicts “brother will be turned against brother”. He goes on to foresee that wages will be driven down, Catholics and immigrants will be the victims of pogroms and, most alarmingly, that the country would see the sort of violence that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia. Not even David Cameron is predicting that.
Galloway’s commitment to the integrity of the British state is fairly mainstream in the Scottish Labour Party and among the country’s union bureaucracies. His visions of Armageddon are very much his own. There’s a good material reason for this loyalty to the idea of the union. Blair, Brown and the late John Smith all rose to the top of the British Labour Party. Alistair Darling, former Chancellor of the Exchequer will be fronting up the anti-independence campaign to which Galloway is so committed. Being part of the British state allows Scottish politicians to move from being prominent figures in a small country to “global leaders”.
Here’s how another opponent of an independent Scotland put the issue:
“We’re stronger because together we count for more in the world, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, real clout in NATO and Europe, and unique influence with allies all over the world. We’re safer, because in an increasingly dangerous world we have the fourth-largest defence budget on the planet, superb armed forces and anti-terrorist and security capabilities that stretch across the globe.”
David Cameron’s message is that Scotland leaving the United Kingdom would see that country diminished as a player on the world stage. While Cameron might see something positive in the British state squandering such a vast portion of its wealth on the fourth largest defence budget in the world Galloway and every other socialist would much rather see it spent on things that are socially useful. Cameron and a big chunk of the anti-independence camp see a self governing Scotland as a weakening of British imperialism. If for no other reason than that the pro-UK left should see a big positive in it.
It’s quite an imaginative leap from sectarian rivalry, much of it focussed on two football teams, to pogroms and Yugoslavia style carnage. In Scotland it’s an Irish export which has put down some local roots. A big difference is that in Ireland sectarianism was an active part of British government policy over centuries. After Partition it was the policy of the northern state, the major political parties, industry and sections of the trade unions. This is not the same as drunken brawling between football fans.
To the extent that there is a violent right wing in Scotland its emblem is the Union Jack. Have a look at any group of Rangers supporters. Taking Scotland out of the British state immediately weakens not just their ideological foundations but it’s a blow to unionism in the north of Ireland.
His assertion that an independent Scotland will certainly be poorer is not backed up with any evidence. The pro-independence campaign has sections which are committed to a more equal distribution of wealth. Even Alex Salmond stands outside the pro-austerity consensus that spans the not so wide chasm between Alistair Darling and David Cameron. An independent Scotland with a much more equal division of incomes, strong trade union rights, an ecologically sustainable development strategy won through a mass campaign will not weaken the working class in the rest of the British state, it will inspire it.