Allan Armstrong, from RISE in Scotland, addressed the recent Left Unity conference
I would like to thank Left Unity for providing me with the time to address your conference as a visiting representative from RISE.
Many of you here today are old enough to remember the heyday of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), which had a considerable impact throughout the UK. The SSP united the overwhelming majority of socialists in Scotland and at its height had 6 MSPs. It inspired the Socialist Alliance (SA) in England and Wales. Although the SP and the SWP managed to sabotage the SA the SSP’s downfall was an almost entirely Scottish affair. This can be largely laid at the feet of a certain Tommy Sheridan.
After 2004, socialists in Scotland were very divided. IndyRef1, though, provided an opportunity for socialists to regain political influence. Young socialists, largely unaffected by ‘Tommygate’, initiated the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in 2012. This coalition, or united front, brought together, not only many of the previously divided socialists, but the Left in the SNP and the Greens and a majority not involved in any party.
In 2014 Scotland experienced the beginnings of a democratic revolution. 97% of the people registered and 85% actually voted in the September 18th referendum. Losing this vote did not initially stop the forward movement of this democratic challenge. 3000 people attended RIC’s post-referendum conference in Glasgow.
RISE is a political alliance created from the socialist, republican and Scottish internationalist wing of RIC. However, as in your own case, during the recent Westminster election, RISE itself has been squeezed politically. The SNP juggernaut rode over all independent socialist challenges in the 2016 Holyrood Election.
This morning we were told that nobody forecast the rise of Corbyn; nobody forecast the 500,000 members who joined the Labour Party; and nobody forecast the massive welcome Corbyn will receive at Glastonbury today. Nevertheless, we can offer a word of caution based on our experience in Scotland. Nobody forecast the massive surge towards Scottish independence in 2012; nobody forecast the 100,000 members who joined the SNP; and nobody forecast the creation of St. Nicola (Sturgeon).
On the morning of June 9th, we all welcomed Jeremy Corbyn wiping the smile off Theresa May’s Tory face. As between 2012-14 we could see the beneficial effect of so many young people participating in the campaign. And quite a few Corbyn supporters have acknowledged how much they have been influenced by the IndyRef1 campaign. Yet, amongst all the euphoria it is necessary for socialists to retain their critical faculties.
In the event of the London Peoples Assembly demo on July 1st contributing to May’s downfall, what would a Corbyn-led government face the day after election? We have only seen some of the forces it would be up against. Internal opposition to the Manifesto commitments may have fallen away. The Labour Right, though, will still be looking for the first opportunity to stab him in the back; whilst some of his own supporters, such as UNITE General Secretary Len McCluskey, are keen to make sure that opposition to Trident does not become official Labour policy. The SNP government can at least deliver the votes of its Right wing in opposition to renewing Trident and taking part in the Syria war.
Corbyn is a Left social democrat, who believes the current UK state is an adequate vehicle to bring in Labour’s proposed economic and social reforms. He has little understanding of the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of this state and its Crown Powers. He has not opposed the role of the Privy Council. He has even made his own appointee to the House of Lords – Shami Chakrabarti.
Corbyn would become responsible for implementing Brexit and his Manifesto is weak on migrant labour and protecting EU workers. He would become responsible for handling the political crisis in Northern Ireland and addressing the increasing democratic deficit in Scotland.
The ‘National Question’ has not gone away you know. In the 2015 Westminster election Miliband bowed to Cameron’s anti-Scottish pressure. During the 2017 Westminster election campaign, May and her Tories talked of a ‘coalition of chaos’, meaning the SNP, Plaid Cymru and despite being Westminster abstentionists – Sinn Fein, who are also, of course, ‘terrorists’.
Since June 8th, the National Question has been ‘resolved’ negatively, with 13 very unionist Scottish Tory MPs and 10 even more reactionary unionist DUP MPs propping up May’s government. In Scotland, the electoral contest between the Tories, official Scottish Labour and the Lib-Dems on one side, and the SNP on the other, was a battle between British unionism and the right to Scottish self-determination. The three unionist parties even hijacked the Local Council elections for their purposes. The SNP, although winning the most seats at Westminster, still lost heavily in a lacklustre campaign. They failed to adequately counter the unionist big guns or to recognise the new social democratic challenge represented by Corbyn.
As a RISE (and SSP) member, I welcome the support given by LU members in IndyRef1, and LU’s adoption of an anti-unionist, pro-Scottish independence and republican stance. Maybe you need to look at things a little more closely though. LU doesn’t organise north of the border. Julie, now living in Scotland, who is an LU member here today, is a member of Ayrshire RISE. Therefore we need more debate and discussion, not only about the meaning of the current situation, but how we can work together. Our political futures are tied, especially in the light of the new rise of official Left social democracy.
I personally believe we need a democratic revolutionary perspective focussed on challenging the UK state, British imperialism and its allies. Even those focussing most attention on fighting austerity, and this is a very necessary struggle, need to appreciate the limitations of the UK state in being able to deliver. Dennis Canavan, one-time Scottish Labour dissident, independent Labour MSP, then leading figure in the ‘Yes’ campaign, has recently highlighted this.
And we need to look to an organisational political framework that can unite us as English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish socialist republicans. We must counter the UK state’s top-down bureaucratic unity for the British ruling class with our internationalism from below’ for the exploited, oppressed and alienated.
Thank you very much for letting me address you today.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Fri 26 Nov, 12.30
NHS – SOS
NHS workers are taking to Westminster Bridge to reject the 3% pay offer.
European Forum 2021
The 5th annual European Forum is a unique space where the left, greens and progressives can come together and share their struggles.
4-5 Dec, 11.00-16.00
Left Unity Annual Conference
Left Unity’s annual conference will take place online again this year. Open to members and observers.
Sign up to the Left Unity email newsletter.
Get the latest Left Unity resources.