The Last Defense
Interview with David Griffith
Correspondent: Haneul Na’av
21 Oct. 2014
We have the pleasure of speaking to Dave Griffith, Regional Coordinator for the West Midlands of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, and discuss the significance and results of the Scottish referendum to secede from the UK. Using a Marxist perspective, we cover the history of Scotland leading up to the referendum, the demographics of the YES/NO camps, and future of establishing a Socialist International through states determined to break away from neoliberal entanglements in the global political stage. You can listen to the original interview HERE.
HANEUL: Can you tell us about yourself, your role in the organization and why you supported the referendum?
DAVID: I’ve been in the Socialist Party, formerly known as the Militant Tendancy in the Labour Party, for many years, and especially with events in Scotland when we had the All Britain anti-poll tax campaign. I was involved in the Militant when the miner’s strike occurred and workers challenged Margaret Thatcher. We’ve continued to establish a party of working people to stand up for our rights because we have many establishment parties singing off the same hinge i.e. the global free market, and labour being driven down all the time.
HANEUL: One reason why I met you guys was because of your principles, and I really appreciate that. As we say, “keep fighting the good fight”. We see lots of parallels between issues happening in Britain and the US, so it’s important to have a moment of solidarity between the two.
HANEUL: What are some of the primary, unresolved conflicts between Scotland and Westminster, which led to a desire for a referendum?
DAVID: There was a feeling of a deficit in Scotland. 30 years ago, no one could imagine that Scotland would come close to separating from the United Kingdom. Why does that happen? We saw the vote for independence go from 24 – 45% during this referendum, worker’s strongholds voting “yes”, and really, people in Scotland only voted “no” under a tsunami of threats and the SNP’s inability to respond to attacks from Westminster. They said, “the SNP offered more austerity, stay in NATO, keep the Queen, keep the Pound”, and offered lower “cooperation” taxes; a sort of race to the bottom, which was no different from the Westminster free market. Those threats were just about enough to get a “no” vote, but it was [still] an incredible development in Scotland.
Ordinary people are often accused of apathy, but we saw an incredibly energized movement in Scotland—85% voter turnout, which is a record, and the radicalization of tens of thousands of people, and they won’t be going back into their box. People have had enough of austerity, living standards being pushed down, and there was a feeling that, by voting “yes”, they might be able to relieve those problems.
The background of the 80s and 90s is particularly important to this… do you want me to explain that?
HANEUL: Yeah, sure!
DAVID: The vote that took place wasn’t due to nationalism, but a class rejection of the establishment parties down in Westminster. The Tories already had very little support in Scotland, but also Labour, where we saw Labour voters voting “yes” go from 80 – 40 %. Labour failed to resist the Tories on top of very little confidence amongst the working people that Labour could win an election, or, if it did, it would do anything different from the Tories. In the 50s, in Scotland, there was a Tory majority; now I think there’s only one Tory MP in the whole country. That comes from the post-War boom, standards of living, and everyone thought that the next generation would be better off. That was taken as the norm, and now we know that all the gains made post-WWII are under attack, but conversely, an increased strength of the organized working class, which people thought would help improve their lives.
The SNP, known as the “Tartan Tories” in the 70s, was very small, but in the 80s and 90s, under the Thatcher government, we saw massive unemployment being unleashed as a weapon against organized working people, attacks on the miners of the miner’s strike and closure of pits, and the hated poll tax, which we were so proud to help defeat. By the late 80s, there was not a single Tory MP in the whole of Scotland, and yet, they were still [active].
On the poll tax, which was a Robin Hood in reverse tax where the rich paid less and the poor paid more, Scotland was actually given it a year before England and Wales, so you can imagine how that was like scratching an open wound, and must have seemed like foreign rule. When we saw the collapse of Stalinist states in Eastern Europe, the Labour Party moved further right, not only in Britain but also internationally, and in trade unions, and this created the space that the SNP tried to fill as a soft, social-democratic, reforming party. There was also space for a strong, left, working class party in Scottish Militant labour, which was polling at 30 – 40 % in some council elections in Glasgow, but in the absence of a fighting, working class alternative, because Labour wasn’t offering it anymore. People in Scotland were getting more cheesed off with the rotten political establishment in London and austerity, so the idea of national independence more attractive as a way out.
HANEUL: We recently discussed national security, [as] the TRIDENT program and nuclear weapons [became] a focal point of future elections, and Scotland could use its money for other things like its future, autonomy, pensions, and retirement. However, during and after the independence vote, we saw a lot of reactionary statements in the newspapers. Could you tell me about some of those?
DAVID: You’re right in that nuclear missiles are based in Scotland, and the money used on that could go to improving Scottish people’s lives, and Westminster ignores people on such issues. The big driver is the incredible gap between the rich and poor—all of the wealth goes to the top, and all of the misery pours down to the bottom. Health services and standard of living became the dominant narrative. Even the media saw what we call a “working class agenda” come to the surface. That was the dominant issue in people’s minds and what they sought to achieve with a “yes” vote, with little confidence in the political establishment or the system. It was the month that the Scots shook the establishment.
Prime Minister Cameron gambled on a “yes” or “no” referendum and refused to offer more powers to the Scottish parliament that would give people more of a say. People grabbed hold of the referendum as a way to hit back. They looked for a way to change things, and the establishment responded in three ways: there was Project Fear, which was relatively light, and it was, “If you vote yes, all the banks are going to move out of Scotland and go somewhere else, you’ll have no work, you’re Mickey Mouse, you’re not a real country, etc. That gentle drip of Project Fear, where they thought they would get a “no” vote easily, suddenly went into Project Panic when an opinion poll gave 51% to a “yes” vote in the referendum.
[Afterwards], we saw a deluge of politicians pouring up to Scotland, and the Scottish people thought, “Well, we never see you. Now you’re interested. Now we’re threatening to do something”. Cameron went on television to say, “This is an important referendum to the United Kingdom, and not about whether or not you want to get rid of the F-ing Tories”. That was a very interesting comment because it indicated that, “we know we’re unpopular, but don’t vote against us,” but the fact that he said “F-ing Tories”… he wouldn’t have said that anywhere else, and it reflected the Westminster attitude that Scots were a bunch of swearing ruffians who don’t understand anything, which was naked class prejudice. We had Gordon Brown, the former leader of the Labour Party, go up to Scotland for the first time in 20-30 years and mention Karl Marx in an attempt to pull working class people back to the “no” vote.
They suddenly offered devo-max: We’ll offer you these powers if you don’t vote “yes”. A hundred Labour MPs went to Glasgow and walked the streets to much abuse from local people. They even flew the Scottish flag over Parliament. When that didn’t work, they moved from Project Fear to Project Terror. If you took an excerpt from the news bulletins, it was a snowstorm or blitzkrieg of threats to everyone’s jobs and fears, and the SNP (a pro-market party just like Westminster) couldn’t really answer [them], and that’s probably what lead to that narrow margin for “no”, because people were just a bit worried. Will I have a future or work, if all of this Hell and damnation is unleashed onto Scotland for having the temerity to run our own affairs?
HANEUL: You mentioned who was worried about the results. We had the “yes” and “no” camps; people that voted “no” were from the upper class and people with pensions, and they were afraid of losing [them]. Can you give me more information about those two groups?
DAVID: Amongst working people, initially, there’s been quite a division, that’s true, but the more the Loyalists have their staunch “no” vote, it appeared that all of the establishment were saying “no”, and that Scots were inferior and couldn’t be a nation—it created such a reaction amongst Scottish people that many said, “Who do you think you’re bullying?!” That did open things up for people to vote “yes”, but, in order to do so, the needed to be convinced of an economic plan that would work for them, something the SNP didn’t have, and we believe only a socialist argument could answer that problem. There was also a campaign for a “yes” vote in the SNP, but not everyone was behind it. What was striking was the grassroots rebellion from ordinary working people that going to a meeting wasn’t something bad to do. Hope over Fear, which was a tour organized by socialists in Scotland, which included people like Tommy Sheriden… 30,000 people attended their public meetings in the run-up to the referendum.
For anyone that knows politics, getting people to meetings hasn’t been easy in these last few years, because people might agree with you, but they don’t [know if] you’re actually going to change what’s happening. “Hope over Fear” put a left and socialist case for tens of thousands of people, and there were many other forums with an incredible energizing of the population involving debate and discussion about the way forward for Scotland, which has continued even now. Tens of thousands have joined political parties—not Labour or Tory, or Liberal—and in Scotland, as they try to grope around for a way forward, thousands and thousands of people in trade unions have demanded to leave them because they supported “no”, and even people that were neutral left for the same reason.
If “yes” had won, Labour and Tory would have lost the lead, and there would have been a split and political chaos in the establishment. Even today, there’s incredible room for a working party of people to emerge in Scotland. In Ireland on Saturday, the Socialists, through the Anti-Austerity Alliance, won their third MP in the Irish Parliament in a by-election coming from way behind to win, and that’s because of their opposition to water charges, and that shows that organized working people can offer alternatives to what’s been put up by the Establishment, and that should give a lot of people hope for the future.
HANEUL: Congrats to them! We’ll see more and more people occupying. One of the groups I wanted to contact was the Syriza Party—the equivalent in Greece, who have gained more seats in the Hellenic Parliament. It would be great if we could create a bridge between the two groups.
DAVID: It’s interesting what you mention about Syriza, because a BBC commentator, shortly after the election, said, “There is huge space for a Syriza-type development in Scotland. What we’re doing is urging the trade unions, organizing working people—Socialists—in Scotland to seize that opportunity, not to tail-end the SNP, but to offer a working class Socialist alternative, because really, the only way you’ll own real independence is if you own the economy. The key question about who owns the economy will be the debate that emerges in Scotland.
If there had been a “yes” vote, imagine the position that the SNP would have been in. They would run the country and, under the demands of the markets, force more austerity on the population of Scotland. It would have opened huge space to the Left, because Labour and Tory, increasingly rejected in Scotland, the SNP, looking just like the other parties, would leave the space for a Socialist alternative, and it still is.
HANEUL: This has opened up an international powder keg. After the referendum had taken place, even though there was a “no” vote, we see other countries opening up. Unfortunately, Catalonia decided to have only a symbolic vote, but more people are breaking away from the old narrative in the UK. We had Scotland in Europe, Catalonia in Spain, and Venice in Italy, trying to break away and have their own independence referendums. Can you tell, from a Marxist perspective, how this is going to create internationalism, where new groups can create their own socialist alternatives?
DAVID: Socialists are internationalists. We want to see the global economy brought under control to benefit everyone and take decisions that the free market clearly can’t do—about measures to protect our environment… immigration is another big issue, which is based on poverty and war that the current system brings. You wouldn’t have problem if you had a balanced world economy, so, as Socialists, we want to unite the globe for the benefit of all and not just a few corporations that are trying to unite the world by forcing their will on people. It would seem almost contradictory to just support the national rights of just one country. We want to unite the world economy and put as much power as possible in localized units so that people have democratic control over how its economy and resources are used.
The second interesting point is, in most modern capitalist nation-states—and don’t forget, half the world doesn’t [currently] have real nation-states, like Iraq—they were a product of economic development, creating greater units for better efficiency for human progress. In other words, Marx explained that Capitalism played a bigger role, took away a lot of [narrow-minded] localism and created economic development based on bigger units. In the nations like Great Britain, that creation of “one market, one nation-state” benefited the economy overall.
We’re not seeing this in liberation struggles in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia against imperial domination, but national rebellions against remote political establishments. The real truth is that, most of these political establishments don’t have real power, because economic power is under control of boardrooms and financiers, so the real frustrations should be against them. People feel that they can’t get what they want and they’re looking for ways to get it. We’ve seen that in Scotland, in Belgium, in the former Yugoslavia, in Eastern Europe, and in Catalonia. In Ireland, we saw an unresolved national question. Under capitalist progress, we saw the unifying of nation-states, and the fact that they’re in danger of breaking up and fraying at the edges is a clear sign that the capitalist system is not progressing, and people have less confidence in the system and are looking at other ways to improve their living conditions.
Now, just creating a load of mini-states will not solve economic problems, and we would argue that, unless we can own the resources, plan, and direct them to improve living conditions, i.e. Britain producing enough flaming houses or jobs for people, then the policies that any regional or nation-states adopt won’t work. However, I think that this has been accelerated in Europe, that you have a very remote EU that takes decisions well above national governments, and people want to bring power back home in order to protect themselves. If the system is going to remain in the economic doldrums, which we think is a Japanese-style recovery where there’s a slump, and just bumping along the bottom with very little economic growth… if that’s going to happen, this pressure on nation-states for social change is going to grow. As Socialists, we recognize the people’s right to self-determination, but we also urge working together in federations. In Scotland, our position was very clear: vote “yes” and fight for socialism and a Socialist Federation in Britain. That’s how we wanted to progress. In Scotland, there were two different phrases–We’re for two forms of independence. We want an independent Scotland as a step to Socialism in Britain, and then, into Europe and around the world. The other form of independence was working class organizations from big business and other pro-market policies from the SNP.
HANEUL: One thing that you mentioned, about Japanese-style economics, [is that] everything is gearing towards this post-Keynesian system, is centrally planned, going through central banks and institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and each countries respective, but privately owned [national] bank. Speaking of Japan, China and Korea [and] living in East Asia for a while, Japan has had such a slump because they’re experiencing what people call “Abenomics”, where they just keep printing money and hope that nothing collapses. Meanwhile, they’re funding this military industrial complex that works in favor of the [American] Asia pivot, so they’re basically being used as an outpost for the United States. As China grows in power, and they use a Marxist-Leninist model to grow their economy, they have become the largest economy in purchase power parity (PPP). They have been able to make these steps, [which] is scaring a lot of people because they can assert their independence and claim to regional waters and territories. Other countries, when they start making their own economic models, they can branch off and do their own thing. Scotland could take control of the oil reserves in the [North] sea, the same way that Norway and Sweden do with theirs.
HANEUL: I wanted to ask you, if they had succeeded in [independence] from the UK, what long term benefits would have happened, and what would it have meant for the Scottish people?
DAVID: That’s an interesting question, because it comes back to whether or not you’re going to plan the economy, or let the free market go. We’ve seen the effects of the free market in the biggest slump we’ve seen in over 100 years, and we’re not recovering from that. Japan has suffered from deflation on and off for the last 20 years, and [that] appears to be the direction of Europe and other parts of the world, offering nothing other than increasingly slave-like labour, no conditions, reducing worker’s holidays and rights, creating a vulnerable work force, etc, and falling living standards, people unable to buy houses. We see more people going hungry around the world. This system can’t provide the basics of life for the majority, so an independent Scotland, despite the talk of oil—there’s no magic bullet—a capitalist market would fair no better than it is at the moment. Corporations would take their oil reserves, make great profits, and money would flow to the top, while, at the bottom, you’re told to work for less. As you correctly say, if you take the global situation, look at the rearming of countries around South Asia, and the United States shifting more of its military efforts to the Pacific, and in the Atlantic to NATO.
We’re seeing some of the processes, where individual countries are protecting their national interests against other countries, causing conditions driven by markets and the production of goods that we saw up to the development of WWI, as the mighty powers unleashed a global conflict that took millions of working people’s lives. We don’t see any future in the free market, and it would have been selling the people of Scotland a dangerous illusion if they remained as a capitalist market, where, in reality, the people that run it, dictating to countries, wouldn’t have improved their conditions. That is a key point for a socialist Scotland.
If you look at the other countries in Asia and say that China is using a Marxist-Leninist model, we would argue with that. They have let the free market rip, that it is headed towards a shadow market and housing bubble, and once we see problems in these economies, then we will see such proxies and mini-conflicts; a dangerous future. In the plan to lift people out of poverty without ruining the environment, which should be planned globally, at a local level, so that people were not putting an “X” in a ballot box every 5 years for whichever robber party decides to rule, but are actually participating in the running of all aspects of society to everyone’s advantage.
HANEUL: Good points, and we see points of contention people have with the government, as there’s a low glass ceiling for advancement…
DAVID: If you’re in the political elite, you can make a fortune living in China, but at the bottom, workers have their rights repressed, but there have been many strikes recently, so we could see the rise of China’s working class in the future.
HANEUL: Some issues happened related to pollution in southeastern China, and because many people were upset about that, the government had to respond. They are still, in essence, a collection of different organizations and parties. They have allowed the free market to improve people’s standards of living, but there is conflict between the central government and the free market, similar to what happened to [the USSR] shortly before its collapse and the rise of its oligarchs.
DAVID: Robber barons from the old feudal days—the ones that used to collect all of the wealth and were the basis for capitalism. They offered a lot of their capital in exchange for cheap labour, which helped to stimulate the economy for a whole period, and China is still a motor in the world economy, but the internal contradictions—the removal of people off the land, the pollution, poor wages and savage conditions of many working people—that will lead to the growth of organized working people fighting for their share. When there are billionaires at the top of the Chinese Communist Party, who control some of these industries, people aren’t going to put up with it, and we’re seeing in Ukraine what it can lead to—different oligarchs fighting about who’s going to dominate Ukraine and using nation-states as their armed forces.
HANEUL: You know what’s funny about that? Igor Kolomoisky, who was one of the governors of the [Dnipropetrovsk] provinces of Ukraine, led a campaign against the people who are now the Donetsk People’s Republic, and they nationalized his resources, so all of his billions of dollars have been seized and used as an asset to build the Donbass. [Laughs] He got what was coming to him.
DAVID: If only they all did!
HANEUL: We’ll see what happens to the future of Novorossiya… I hope that they can make it and solidify everything happening there. They’re still fighting in the Donetsk airport a lot, but most of the ceasefire is holding. Speaking of which, how could an independent Scotland keep these capitalist influences from taking over?
DAVID: Clearly, international markets continue their organized robbery of working people and destabilize markets. The world’s wealth and shares have been plummeting for the last 20-30 years, which has led some capitalists countries to say, “My God, we’re not paying the workers enough!” That’s why Monetarists and Keynesian capitalist economists continue to debate.
So, let’s assume that Scotland gained full independence… they would face, like the Russian Revolution, huge hostility from the free market around the world. The only way to defend that democracy would be to take full control of the country so it could benefit everyone, and a socialist Scotland should be a beacon to create a socialist England and Wales, like a Socialist Federation of Countries of the Former Great Britain, but also France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece could join this Federation. You mentioned Sweden and Norway using their resources, and taking a bigger share of it in their country, but in Sweden, they’re privatizing education, attacking living standards, so we would like to make an appeal: Remember in the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx said, “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” A movement in Scotland or anywhere else has to spread around the world in order to save humanity from the current economic situation.
HANEUL: Like what we were talking about previously, the conflict between Trotsky and Stalin, is that you can’t have Socialism in one state. You need a strong bulwark of support from the international community, and hopefully we will see these types of things happen in the future.