Class politics and the Scottish Question Class politics and the Scottish Question. Photo: geograph, M J Richardson

Class is back – for it to advance requires anti-capitalist politics, not the frontist politics of being to the left of whatever seems like a temporary solution to a fundamental dilemma, writes Kevin Ovenden

We had a couple of years in Britain in which what might be termed ‘constitutional issues’, which are in reality highly political questions, dominated.

There was the Scottish referendum of 2014 followed by the EU referendum of 2016.

Both revealed something of the class alienation at the base of society. But both were framed in constitutional and referendum terms, so the expression of that class feeling was refracted and also led to a division inside the working class movement over the votes in those plebiscites.

The political arguments and positions taken over those were important. More importantly, where there was good thinking behind them it can continue to inform how the fighting left proceeds today – or does not.

But 2017 has seen a clearer expression of the class and political divide in Britain. And at the same time, the attempts by the defeated Tory government to hold on to power have reheated these questions – from Scotland to Northern Ireland to the Europe issue.

The return of mass, class politics does not mean the return of economism, in which we vainly seek to evade this schism and conflicts centred upon the state, how we are governed, and the direction of the society and of the nation.

Rather, I think it means that they can be taken up with a fresh perspective based upon the reawakening of class feeling, and we hope that that is a harbinger of a rise in class combativity and struggle.

Certain things have been inverted. The national democratic case over Scottish independence is no longer congruent with the idea of improvement of working class life. That has a consequence. Look at the argument which must be, and is being, made over the shoddy Tory-DUP deal.

It is that Scotland (and Wales, and parts of England) should receive at least the same UK-government funds according to the Barnett formula. That is a class-based argument aimed at the British state, not a nationally based argument for rupture from it on a capitalist basis.

For any who are of the radical left, this means refashioning all the operational arguments and initiatives around the new reality where across working class England there is deepening antagonism with the London government.

That’s the same when it comes to the politics of the north of Ireland.

And this means recognising some basic political facts. In 2014 Project Fear against the SNP and Scottish independence was deployed not only by David Cameron, but by the Bank of England, the City of London and all the major capitalist institutions.

Today, all of those forces are with the SNP’s position over the much bigger disruption to the system marked by the Brexit vote.

For strange people who have some national chauvinist pride in being Scottish, this is of little consequence.

But for the radical left who saw the Scottish independence referendum campaign as a means to an end three years ago it must have the most profound consequences.

The governing force of Scotland is now more aligned with the British ruling class over its central preoccupation than is the governing force of the British state.

Class is back. But for it to advance requires anti-capitalist politics, and not frontist politics of being to the left of whatever seems temporarily some solution to our fundamental dilemmas.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

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