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Belfast meeting: Scotland and the workers 

13 June 2014

John McAnulty

If the Scottish people vote for independence they should have it. But would this represent an advance for the working class or would they be better served by remaining with English workers inside the British state?

Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network has spent considerable time developing a theoretical argument in support of the workers movement benefiting from independence (one that this writer does not accept) and he presented it in the An Realta Civic space, Belfast on the 21st May.

He might have saved his breath. The organizers, the Celtic League, and the majority of the audience, were not concerned about whether or not Scotland could be considered an oppressed nation. Separation was seen as an automatic good, and the chair stepped in to prevent discussion when I raised the issue. One Catalan raised the issue of capitalist domination of the current movement to separate from the Spanish state, but this also was ignored.

The main discussion then fell to the implications for Ireland, led by IWU leader Tommy McKearney. He argued that Scotland would show us the way when Loyalists, through demographic change, found that they had to "ask themselves questions". At that point, which he saw as 20 or 30 years in the future, the Scottish model would present a peaceful model of transition.

This is an old and thoroughly reactionary argument, stretching back to the foundation of the state. It replaces politics with biology and ignores the everyday reality that Loyalists don't have to ask themselves questions as long as Britain sponsors them and offers them a level of impunity.

Tommy looked forward to the outcome of the elections in the 26 counties. There would be large gains for Sinn Fein, the left and independents. Scottish independence would be a blow against imperialism and in the same way a progressive coalition could win control of the Dail and force a retreat of finance capital and imperialism in Ireland.

The discussion thus had a certain balance. The self-organization of the working class did not need to be discussed in relation to Scottish independence and a specifically working class movement would not be necessary to drive back imperialism in Ireland.

Allan Armstrong tried to re-introduce a discussion of working class strategy, but without much success. This was a great pity. Often the way to clarify an issue is to examine it in a new context. 

The need for clear thinking about class and the national question in the wreckage following the defeat of both the traditional Labour movement and republicanism in Ireland should be self-evident.  The fact that the need is not widely recognized is a mark of the level of defeat the resistance movement has suffered and the effect this defeat has had on political consciousness.

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