With Scotland gearing up for an independence referendum, it’s time to remember why we need to stay together as a united people – and why our enemies want to divide us...
In just over 18 months’ time, less than 10 per cent of the population of Britain will be given the opportunity to decide whether Britain exists at all. Some people call that democracy. We don’t. We should all have a vote.
May Day march, Edinburgh, 2011. One working class north and south, with shared traditions and aims.
In autumn 2014 Scotland, population 5.25 million, will have its independence referendum. Should the vote go in favour, Britain as a country will cease to exist. Goodness knows what we’d become.
And Scotland, far from becoming independent, would become a mere dependency of the European Union without control over its borders, its vaunted oil, its fish, its industry, its economy, its life. Dependency, not independence.
How has it come to this? Scotland has been part of Britain since at least 1707, three hundred years ago, when the Scottish Parliament approved the Act of Union (the Westminster Parliament had passed the Act in the previous year). Wales has been part of Britain for even longer.
As capitalism grew, so too did the working class – the British working class. Scotland, Wales, England – we share one territory, one language (British English, not the American kind), one economy, one trade union movement: Britain became a nation. This excludes northern Ireland: Ireland is clearly one nation, north and south. That successive British governments have managed to keep it divided is a tribute to the power of backwardness and bigotry, north and south.
Of course there are differences within Britain. But make Scotland separate, and what about Cornwall? Or Yorkshire. Even South Yorkshire. Or London. Or Pimlico. These differences are a natural part of any nation. What brings us together is that we depend on each other for everything: the island we live on, for the roads and railways that link us, the services that keep us alive, the language we communicate in.
We have the same employing class. We have the same interests. Divide and rule is a ruling class tactic. Unite and fight is the working class approach.
Britain is the only country in the EU to be officially composed of “nations”. It’s an odd concept of nation that includes Northern Ireland as one. Even odder to talk about Scotland or Wales as nations but not Catalonia, Andalucia, the Basque Country, Sicily or Bavaria.
Fishing fleet in Mull: so-called independence from Britain would put Scottish fisheries at the total mercy of the European Union.
Not only is Britain clearly one nation, but the fact that it still operates as a nation is crucial to the future of the working class. Nation states may have been created by the growing capitalist classes of Europe centuries ago, but times have changed. National capitalists are now irrelevant. The transnational corporations have decided that nations must disappear so that there are no barriers to their domination: free movement of capital, goods and labour. Then they can divide and rule the world. Invest, disinvest, dump cheap goods when in surplus, rake in profits in shortages, and above all treat the whole world as a reservoir of unemployment to control workers and wage rates everywhere.
Anything that weakens Britain or breaks it up is good for capitalism and bad for workers.
The European Union poses as a champion of regions but its real business is to break up nations. Its strategy to rob nations of their sovereignty has always been a two-pronged attack: centralise as much as you can in Brussels, and decentralise to regional and local government as much of the rest as you can. That way, they hope, the nation state will just wither away. The process was aided by the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force on 1 December 2009 and among other things acknowledged explicitly, for the first time, the importance of regional decision making.
Every EU decision has to be passed to the Committee of the Regions for consideration. Every country has representatives there, but in order to downplay the role of nations the smaller the country, the more members, proportionately, it has. So Malta, population 400,000, has five members, one per 80,000 of the population; Britain, population 65 million or so, has 24 members. If it were pro rata, we’d have more than 800 members.
“Our” delegation is led by a nonentity so nondescript that not only is he no household name, but most households wouldn’t know where he came from even if they were told: step forward, Gordon Keymer of Tandridge District Council.
Of course, the regionalism is fake, because every single member of the Committee of the Regions is appointed by central government. It’s a farce, too, because no one takes any notice of it, not in Brussels and still less in Britain. But it provides jobs and positions for the boys and girls, huge employment opportunities for translators. About £80 million a year, utterly wasted.
That, though, is the public face of regionalism. For the more effective part of it, you need to go back up the road to the Commission. In the current six-year budget, 2007 to 2013, regional spending accounts for over a third of the EU total: 347 billion euros, doled out through the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund (12 newest members plus Portugal, Greece and Spain).
Where does the money go? There are two ways of answering that question. The first answer is straightforward. The money goes mainly to eastern and southern Europe, where we fund, among numerous other projects: a state-of-the-art integrated system for managing solid waste in a region of Romania; the North Estonia Medical Centre; reconverting a glass factory in northern France; bringing broadband to Lithuania; copper extraction in southern Portugal; a music and cultural centre in Bialystok, Poland; new trains for Tallin, Estonia; eight separate district heating systems in Romania. And so on.
One thing you can be sure about: all these projects, once built, will have large signs telling everyone that they are due to the generosity of the European Union.
That’s the second answer: the money can go anywhere, really. At heart EU regional aid is the most expensive advertising campaign in history. The EU signs taking credit are all that really count. Never mind the waste, the fraud – 720,000 euros in aid to Campania, Italy, went on an Elton John concert in Naples – just so long as the citizens of the “regions” believe the European Union is their benefactor.
There are projects in Britain, too, and these also carry prominent EU badges, though the EU contribution is a) generally scarcely a third of the overall project cost and b) paid for anyway by Britain’s net contribution to the EU, with a chunk skimmed off the top to keep the eurocrats in the style to which they have become accustomed. Rather than a gift from the EU, everything we get from it costs us more than we receive.
Of course, the new dictators in Brussels have no commitment to the regions, local government, or democracy in any form. For them, regional policy was and is just one more weapon to break down the power of the nation state so that all power may be centralised in their hands.
Unfortunately for them, some deluded folk actually believed the propaganda. They thought that they would get help trying to break up Britain. But the last thing the European Union wants right now is a rash of new mini-states with new ministries to be created for them to run. Yes, every country has its own responsibility on the Commission. Malta has health, for example; Britain has the dreary Catherine Ashton, responsible for foreign affairs – and possibly new languages, and certainly new petty dictators to deal with. Regionalism, yes. Nationalism•that’s another thing.
The EU is actually getting a bit wary of creating multiple new nations out of existing ones. Kosovo’s application to join the EU, for example, is being blocked by among others Spain (worried, no doubt, about Catalonia, Andalucia and the Basque Country). And at the back of everyone’s minds is that Germany and Italy are only half as old as the United Kingdom, with strong regional differences.
The European Union has also laid down a rule that any new EU members have to join the euro and the Schengen free movement area, and it’s not about to make exceptions for Scotland.
So having led the SNP and its followers up the bridal path, the EU has left them standing at the altar. EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso caused a fuss when he said on 10 December that an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership, and wait in the queue like any other country – contradicting Scottish ministers who had claimed that Scotland would “quite clearly” stay in the EU if it separated.
Goodness knows why it caused a fuss. It was a statement of the obvious. And later Barroso went further, rejecting SNP requests for talks to clarify the position, saying the European Commission couldn’t discuss a separate Scotland with the SNP unless and until Scotland became “independent”.
That’s the thanks you get for flying the EU flag outside the Scottish Parliament.
It’s also obvious that the SNP long ago knew this would happen. In August 2011 a Labour MEP, Catherine Stihler, made a Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Executive asking what advice it had received about the position of an independent Scotland with regard to the European Union. The response from Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop is illuminating: “We consider that to reveal whether the information you have requested exists, or is held by the Scottish government, would be contrary to the public interest" (Section 18).
In autumn 2014 the SNP will be left fighting for an “independence” that would mean handing the country over in chains to the euro, with its new borders wide open, with years of uncertainty about the exact arrangements. It will try all it can, with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow just before the referendum, to stoke feeling for separation, but it cannot avoid what “independence” means.
What would it mean for England and Wales? No one is talking about that. Some people even think that those of us south of the border would be better off without Scotland. But the attitude of “let them sod off then” is just the other side of the coin of the SNP’s pseudo nationalism, and just as dangerous. We are one country, one nation, and we will need all our strength, all our thought and the experience of all our diversity to fight for a future, or even to have a future at all.
Don’t break up Britain. Defend our British national sovereignty. The whole island should be independent. Out of the EU! ■
This article is an edited version of a speech given at a CPBML public meeting in London in February.