Monday, October 02, 2006

A nation once again?

There is a very interesting report on Kevin Williamson’s blog about the march in Edinburgh last Saturday in support of Independence. It includes a You Tube video of the demonstration. Note in addition to the SSP banners and placards a big “Solidarity” banner.

It is worth reading the important article by Murray Smith on the National Question in western Europe, where he explains why support for independence is not nationalist:

“The support for Scottish independence seems to be stronger rather than weaker, the difference being that no one party can any longer claim to be the sole representative of independence. In Wales, the leadership of Plaid Cymru was always a bit bashful about independence, resorting to circumlocutions like 'full national status'. But after the setbacks the party experienced in the May elections a new leadership has taken over and the recent conference of the party came out massively and noisily for independence. At the same time Plaid denounced Labour for having abandoned "all its old socialist values in favour of creeping privatisation".
"There are certainly reasons inherent in the Welsh situation which help to explain this evolution, in particular the shift to the left of the Welsh Labour Party. But if the support for independence is stronger and Plaid has moved to the left it is also because of the example of Scotland, where the situation is more advanced. And in coming out clearly for independence and taking up a position to the left of Labour, Plaid is following the example of the SSP rather than the SNP, which is now abandoning such a position in favour of neoliberal policies.
"The question that is posed, and posed very concretely in Scotland at the moment, is not just the issue of independence, but of what independence. It is posed for those who are already in favour of independence, but it is also vital for winning over those who are not yet convinced. It is worth recalling at this point that 'independence /national movement' does not equal 'nationalism'. That would be to confuse a political objective with an ideology. Miroslav Hroch explains: "the current tendency to speak of them (national movements, MS) as 'nationalist' leads to serious confusion. Because nationalism in the strict sense is something else: namely, that outlook which gives an absolute priority to the values of the nation over all other values and interests" (emphasis in the original)

"Independence is always concrete. It leads to the creation of states and states have a class character. That is why it is when independence becomes a real possibility that national movements begin to crystallise into different currents, as is happening in Scotland today. The SNP is a nationalist party, which is furthermore in the process of seriously watering down its commitment to independence, in the framework of its rightward evolution. The SSP is a party that rejects nationalist ideology, which is internationalist but which aims to be the best fighter for Scottish independence, while giving that independence a socialist content. It is from this position of strength that the SSP can support the idea of a pole for independence in the shape of the Independence Convention, which will put the SNP leadership in contradiction with part of its own supporters."


maps said...

Hi AN,

I was curious how Tom Nairn's writing on nationalism was viewed on the Scottish left now. Is he at all influential? I've read his 60s stuff and The Breakup of Britain but haven't followed him since then. I did hear that he hadfollowed the path of many of his generation and become more and more right-wing.

AN said...

Hi Maps

I have no idea. Perhaps you should visit Kevin Williamson's blog and post the question there. (The Scottish Patient).

Anonymous said...

As a Welsh socialist, the comments about Plaid are wide off the mark.
Not so long ago leading Plaid MP, Adam Price, was quoting Antonio Gramsci, to justify a coalition with the Lib Dems and possibly the Tories. His big idea at their conference was cutting taxes for big business.
Plaid continue to hold up the Irish Celtic Tiger as their model and while they have some left-leaning members their leaders are not and they offer the same solutions as Labour.
Nationalism in Wales is a substitute that fills the vacuum of class politics, but even Plaid can only gain success among the electorate when they push independence to the background and try and pose as old labour.
(but without calling for the scrapping of anti-trade union laws, nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy etc.)

AN said...

Yeah - to be fair "anonymous" the article by Murray Smith was written four years ago, so the comments about plaid are out of date, and may have been refuted by subsequent events..

Nevertheless, the arguments from Smith about the relationship between the political ideology of nationalism and the political goal of indepependce, and the related debate about the nature of the new state are relevent, and I commend the entire article.

seren said...

As another Welsh socialist who's decided to join Plaid recently, I think anonymous is painting a skewed picture of Plaid. The party conference was clear in its direction - for affordable housing (including the defence of council housing against stock transfer), dealing with student debt and providing free care for the elderly. These are not ends in themselves but things that can be attained under the toothless Assembly's powers.
Everyone in Wales knows that Plaid is for independence - it's a given. But equally the party recognises that we're behind the national consciousness of Scotland and need to move further down the road to defending public services and promoting a greener environment through reforms.
The tax cut, as I understand it, is about cutting business rates in the Objective One area by 50%. Given that we're talking about some of the poorest areas of Wstern Europe (i.e. West Wales and the Valleys), it's one way to maintain some kind of economic infrastructure. If it helps one hairdresser in the Rhondda or a small manufacturer in Blaenau Ffestiniog stay in business it's worth it.
Calling for the nationalisation of the commanding heights ad nauseum might keep a few comrades happy but there's more to life than slogans.
Plaid is at an interesting stage in its development - the leadership is passing to a younger and more radical group of people. There is no credible SSP-type organisation in Wales (Respect, SP, Forward Wales barely exist) and Plaid is the only left challenge to Labour's dominance.
The party's membership is majority women, it has three Muslim councillors and muslim members launched "Muslims for Plaid" at a fringe meeting with Moazzem Begg. This is a party that is reaching all communities in Wales and has made it clear it will not go into coalition with the Tories (no matter what Adam Price is said to have done).
Just so you get a rounded picture!

AN said...

Thanks Seren,

I think joining Plaid is a sensible option, as indeed would be joining Mebyon Kernow.

What is intersting is the degree to which the national question is linked to the question of the type of socialist party we need.

To my mind, talking about forming soviets or nationalising the commanding heights is science fiction starting from where was are now. To replace labourismn we need a practical and well rounded platform of policies that present socialists as an alternative government.

Firstly this is much more credible combined with a fight for independecne - just in terms of what is acheivable. But secondly the mistaken idea that the political options at the moment are reform or revoilution, is the same or similar mistake as beleiving the choice is between British nationalism and proetarinan internationalism.

Much of the Brit left are simply behind the times and haven't realised that the imperial fiction of a British national identity is increasingly meanlingless for many working class people, and the cultural debate about what is Welsh, Scottish or English cultural identity is importnant.

The British state is not what it was any way becasue ironically th Tories abolished so many national, British institutions! British Steel, British rail, NCB, etc.