Class, Nation and Socialism: The Red Paper On Scotland 2014
Edited by Pauline Bryan and Tommy Kane, Glasgow Caledonian University Archives, ISBN: 9781905866687, £7.99, pp197.
This Red Paper follows on from its two predecessors in 1974 and 2005. It comprises 25 contributors (consisting of academics, trade unionists, campaigners, MPs/MSPs, political campaigners and councillors) and 25 substantive chapters plus an overall introduction and section introductions. Like its predecessors, the 2014 version provides a comprehensive overview of the state of Scotland in terms of de-industrialisation, the influence of neoliberalism and the outcomes of social inequality and poverty. Many of the chapters also have fairly clear ideas on what needs to be done to right these wrongs.
That said, for a volume with the title of Class, Nation and Socialism and targeted upon 2014 in its subtitle, it has remarkably little explicit bearing on the issue of Scotland’s combined political and constitutional future. Moreover, only a few chapters directly deal with the issue of political strategy. Consequently, it misses a trick so that neither is the political strategy of the Red Paper Collective fully articulated and nor can it be assessed. This is a great pity and a missed opportunity. When the book does actually address 2014, it hits out at false targets, merely compounding this problem.
The starting point for the volume is given in the introduction: “any constitutional change must be measured against its potential to challenge the power of capitalism and bring the economy under democratic control” (p3). That, I think, we can all agree upon. Then it states we must use the SNP’s version of independence to make the measurement. That, however, is only a partial truth. It would be like saying that the case for the Union can only be measured by the Better Together’s version of it (and not also the Red Paper’s version). And, it seems to rule out any potential movement in a radical direction under independence. This poor formulation is then compounded by blithely asserting that “the answer to the problems facing people in Scotland is not to be found in a flag [or] a border … [with some] mistak[ing] constitutional change for social change” (p4,8). This formulation is repeated on other occasions by Katy Clark (p67) and Roz Foyer (pp159, 164). I think you’d struggle to find anyone on the pro-independence radical left that would think this so there is a perverse political perspective here. This does the occasions on which serious arguments are made later on in the volume a grave disservice.
The chapters by John Foster and Richard Leonard are as solid as ever but they do not answer their own key question, namely, if control of the economy in Scotland increasingly lies outwith its own borders, why is Britain any more able to rein in the capitalists than a Scottish state might be? Is not the direction we need to travel in to have supra-state regulation of a globalised and neo-liberalised capitalism?
In terms of the implicit conclusions of many of the chapters, it is not until the very last chapter that Pauline Bryan lays out the case for a federal Britain. This is much too late and much too little (in terms of the length and depth of the argument) because it potentially provides not only the scaffolding for all the other articles but is the one of the two key cutting edges of the Red Paper Collective against Better Together (the other being radicalism). It leaves earlier views on devolution within Scotland and the use of existing devolved powers looking at little bit adrift.
In some other contributions (like those of Lynn Henderson and Tommy Kane, James Gillies), there is an unhelpful tendency to say that regardless of the constitutional outcome, the left needs to win x or y. The problem here is that this leads to a form of abstentionism because the constitutional settlement does have an important bearing upon the ease and possibility by which x or y can be won. It will reflect the balance of political power in society and certain outcomes open up or close down particular avenues.
In light of this critique, the strongest chapter is probably that by Vince Mills and Stephen Low precisely because it starts to put some meat on the bone of political strategy. But it is also worth mentioning that Katy Clark provides a sober and realistic assessment of what the left needs to do and what it can actually do as a result of its own marginalisation. This sense of the left’s own limitations must very much guide what the Red Paper aspires to, namely, working class unity north and south of the border as the basis of resistance to neo-liberalism rather than the ‘classless nationalism’ of the SNP and Labour. Ironically, the responses to the aforementioned deficiencies of this Red Paper are to be found – not in the pro-independence chapters – but in the chapters by many of the same Red Paper authors in Time to Choose: Scotland’s road to socialism published by this magazine.