Little Britain and the politics of the left

In the light of Britain’s exit from the EU today, we reprint here a statement on the Scottish Left and the European Union that was adopted by the Scottish Socialist Party in the run-up to 2009 European election.

Voters who want an isolationist Britain will be spoiled for choice in the European elections on June 4th. On the far right, the BNP and UKIP both demand an independent Britain. Left of centre parties that want British withdrawal include Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the NO2EU Yes To Democracy coalition. While these four parties promote British independence, the Free Scotland Party campaigns for an independent Scotland outside the European Union.

What should be the attitude of Scottish socialists towards Europe? Should the left back British separatism? And does the ‘NO2EU Yes To Democracy’ represent a progressive step forward?

The Scottish Socialist Party has always rejected the Union Jack-waving Europhobia of the Tory right. We are a pro-European party, and believe in working with progressive and left wing forces across Europe to resist and defy every directive and piece of legislation from Brussels or Strasbourg which damages the rights and conditions of working people.

For a people’s Europe

In the 2004 European election, the SSP manifesto argued for a social Europe, and pledged to fight alongside the wider European left for range of radical reforms, including:

  • A continent-wide minimum wage
  • A continent-wide minimum pension
  • A continent-wide wealth tax
  • A continent-wide minimum level of Corporation Tax
  • A nuclear free Europe
  • Tougher European Directives on carbon emissions, pollution and toxic chemicals
  • A Corporate Accountability Directive to force company directors to become accountable for the social and environmental impact of their business’s activities.
  • A European-wide publicly owned, intergrated, rail, bus and ferry network as a an efficient and inexpensive alternative to air travel
  • The replacement of the Common Agricultural Policy with a scheme that shifts the balance of farming subsidies towards subsistence farmers, crofters, organic farmers and other local producers.

At the same time, we were – and remain – highly critical of the top-down, bureaucratic structures of the European Union. Institutions like the European Commission are unelected and unaccountable. Under the guise of open competitive tendering, the Commission has driven forward a privatisation agenda, which now threatens the existence of Scotland’s publicly-owned, lifeline ferry company, Calmac. The Scottish Socialist Party believes that the Scottish Government should defy any European-driven initiatives to impose privatisation on any of Scotland’s public services.

We oppose any moves to create a Euro-wide regimented, federal state. We stand for a new European Union based on democracy, diversity, and decentralisation. As a step in that direction, we will campaign with the left across Europe for the downgrading of the European Commission to the status of an administrative back-up unit, restricted to implementing decisions and distributing information.  

British withdrawal?

Where should we stand on British withdrawal? Would a victory for the anti-European forces in the UK be progressive advance? Would it be a victory for the left. Or would be a triumph for the right?

During the 1975 referendum, the vast majority of the left in Britain, together with the SNP and Plaid Cymru, opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market, as it was then called. At that time, the left’s opposition to the creation of a European bloc was based on clear logic. The left in Britain was powerful: the trade unions has just brought down a Tory Government; the governing party was committed, at least in paper, to a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power to working people and their families; Britain’s NHS and welfare state was the envy of the world, and the UK had a long tradition of parliamentary democracy which within living memory had survived the fascist conquest of most of Europe.

The anti-Europeanism of much of the British left was forged under these conditions. But times have moved on, and the rationale for supporting British withdrawal no longer exists. For the past 20 years the UK has, along with the USA, led the worldwide crusade to privatise public services, deregulate big business; slash taxes for the rich; and encouraged plunder and greed. Even the right wing leaders of France and Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, have blamed ‘the Anglo-Saxon countries’ for dragging  the world economy into a deep slump by fostering the culture of unrestrained, unregulated profiteering

Britain today has the widest wealth gap of any state in Europe, and by far the most millionaires and billionaires. It has the most repressive anti-trade union legislation on the continent. The British government was the most bloodthirsty and gung-ho in its support for the US-led war on Iraq. Successive British governments have eagerly complied with right wing directives from Europe (for example, on privatisation) while consistently resisting progressive European legislation(for example on the environment, and on working conditions).

Britain is not Norway, which has resisted joining the European Union to protect its superior public services and welfare state. Out of Europe, the UK Europe would not be one iota more progressive. By this time next year, David Cameron and the Tories are almost certain to be in government. Like Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown, a Cameron government won’t need the excuse of European directives to forge ahead with the privatisation of public services. Britain is already to the right of most of Europe, and looks set for a further lurch toward reaction.

Meanwhile, the left in Britain is weaker and more ineffective than almost anywhere else in Europe. The three major parties all back nuclear weapons, more privatisation and brutal public spending cuts to balance the books. Across Europe, even the right wing parties appear more left wing than Britain’s three big parties. As things stand, a British exit from the EU would be a victory, not for the left but for the right. The dancing on the streets would be to the tune of Rule Britannia rather than the Red Flag, and the forces celebrating most rapturously would be the ultra-right.

Scottish independence

In contrast, the call for Scotland out of Britain is a left wing, progressive idea. The SSP has many criticisms of the governing party of Scotland, the SNP. But in contrast to the big Westminster parties, it rejects nuclear weapons, resists racism, and opposes privatisation. The SNP is not and never will be a socialist party; but unlike New Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems it is a left of centre social democratic party. The balance of class forces in Scotland is overwhelming tilted towards the working class – a process which will be accentuated in the years to come as a consequence of the collapse of the countries two major capitalist institutions, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland.

Yet the NO2EU coalition, while supporting the right wing concept of ‘British sovereignty’ does not support the progressive idea of Scottish independence. The main driving forces in the coalition have been the Communist Party of Britain, the UK-wide RMT Union, and the Socialist Party of England and Wales. The top of the NO2EU list for the European elections in Scotland is John Foster, a leading figure in the Communist Party of Britain and a staunch British unionist.

The Scottish list of candidates for the election was not even decided in Scotland. It was drawn up in London by the above organisations, plus the small and disintegrating Scottish-based Solidarity group, which from its formation as a splinter group from the SSP in 2006 has been numerically dominated by two London controlled factions who are anti-independence – the Socialist Workers Party and the CWI.

June 4 election

The SSP was belatedly invited to participate in the NO2EU campaign (after reading about it in the Daily Record). We have criticisms of the way that the coalition was launched from London, with certain selected individuals from Scotland invited down to private steering committee meetings to prepare the public announcement. The suffix of the NO2EU – Yes To Democracy – is in startling contrast to the bureaucratic, top-down way that the coalition has been established.

We also understand that NO2EU has pledged to refuse to take up any seats in the European Parliament. The SSP has never been an abstentionist party. If we were to have an MEP, he or she would fight alongside the other left and radical parties in Strasbourg for progressive politics to restrain big business and improve the lives of ordinary working people. We would insist – as we do in every election – that our elected representatives would live on no more than the average wage of a skilled worker, with all expenses vetted by the party to guard against corruption.

The main reason why the SSP has decided to stand alone on June 4th – as we have done in every national election since the party’s foundation in 1998 – is that we have serious political differences with the NO2EU coalition on Scottish independence and on Europe. NO2EU may take some Labour votes from people who may otherwise, in this election, have switched to a party like UKIP.

The SSP in contrast will be targeting our appeal towards pro-independence voters with an internationalist outlook.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s