On 22 January 2017 Left Unity’s national secretary received a draft for an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn on rights of the Scottish people. On 9 February Left Unity Executive Committee replied. They decided not to write to Corbyn on this matter. The idea was raised at the RISE conference on 4 March. RISE took a similar view and rejected any such letter or a campaign.
The letter was drafted through consultation between three members of RISE and Left Unity with the intention that it would become a joint letter signed by both organisations. At least both anti-Unionist organisations did not fall out. If we cannot unite to do something at least we can to unite doing nothing.
It was an opportunity missed. It is always a good idea to get ahead of the game rather than follow sheepishly along in the wake of battle. A battle royal was surely about the kick off. This week it did when the elected Nicola Sturgeon stole the thunder from the unelected Theresa May by declaring the intention to hold a referendum.
May is fighting for a hard Tory Brexit. The Tories will be screwed if Scotland and Northern Ireland remain in the EU. Scotland, having previously voted to remain in the UK and the EU, cannot now do both. One way to solve this contradiction is force – forcing Scotland out of the EU against its will as expressed in 2016 referendum.
Force starts with imposition and ends in war. The Tories want to block or prevent a consultative referendum. But they are realists. If they can’t stop it they will delay it to a time of their choosing. If they can’t do that, they will mobilise all their forces in the state, the loyalist parties and the media to prevent the end of the UK. It would be an irony if the unintended consequence of Brexit was a new Anglo-Welsh world super power.
Letters are neither here nor there. It is the politics that counts. Open letters are a long established method of political struggle connected to the united front. Left Unity and Rise would jointly declare war on the Tory government and the policy of the Labour Party. But this is only part of the story. The Open Letter is aimed at a united front between Corbyn’s socialist Labour, Left Unity, RISE and Momentum and indeed the rest of the left in order to fight Tory Brexit.
The main enemy identified in the letter is the Tory government determined to impose a hard anti-working class Tory Brexit on the whole UK. They gerrymandered the referendum by excluding sizable groups of voters. The letter does not identify Corbyn with the Tory enemy but appeals to him saying “the Tory referendum on the EU presents us with the challenge of finding a progressive democratic and internationalist way out of the mess they have landed us in”.
Opposition to an anti-Unionist united front comes from the Tories, UKIP and the right wing of the Labour Party committed to the interests of the British ruling class. They are demanding Corbyn joins their popular front to defend the UK. The socialist wing of the Labour Party is thus caught on the horns of a dilemma. Should they back the Tories, as Gordon Brown did, whilst trying to keep a safe distance to deceive the working class? Or should they adopt a novel or indeed ‘revolutionary’ approach. Left Unity and RISE have to show they are relevant to this battle if they are to be relevant at all.
One explanation for the reluctance of Left Unity and RISE to unite and fight the class enemy is simply that both organisations are not ready to fight or are simply too weak. We can respect that if it is honestly admitted but not if it is concealed by excuses and general flim-flam.
The other obvious reason is sectarian politics which rejects the fight for the united front. In Scotland a strong opinion among ultra lefts and sectarians that Corbyn is irrelevant. This is parochial nationalism of the worst type. Corbyn is still seen as dangerous because he encourages working class action. There is no doubt that Corbyn is connected to the working class and trade union movement in England where by far the largest section of the working class is concentrated.
International socialists in Scotland recognise this fact and it figures in their calculations about building an anti-Unionist alliance with international socialists in England. Anti-Unionism has to be fought both sides of the border and especially among the English working class, as does the inevitable growth of national chauvinism especially in England.
Left Unity and RISE are embryonic anti-Unionist socialist parties. They are stronger campaigning together and weaker apart. This open letter did not bark. It is a wakeup call. There is no future for parties that are not ready or able to fight over the big political issues of the day. There is no bigger issue than the very future of the Kingdom.
Draft Open Letter January 2017
In the EU referendum England (53%) and Wales (53%) voted to leave the EU. Scotland (62%) and Northern Ireland (56%) voted to remain. Given the position of the Irish Republic then there is a majority to remain in the whole of Ireland. We should not forget the Tories distorted the result by excluding 1.6 million EU citizens living in the UK and all 16-18 year olds from the ballot.
The Tories will try to impose their version of Brexit on the whole of the UK. It is vital that the Labour Party and the trade union movement respect the democratic votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain in the EU. It is clear that Scotland and Northern Ireland cannot remain in the EU and the UK, particularly in the face of hard line Tory Unionism.
British Exit is creating or adding to a constitutional crisis. Hence we note your call for a “constitutional convention” as recognition of the need for radical democratic change. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell called for a “radical federal” UK. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale called for a “new Act of Union”.
BBC News reported your views on an independence referendum. You said “the agreement has been that a second one could be held” if it was wanted by the Scottish Parliament. You added: “I don’t see the need for one, I’m not asking for one, I don’t think she (Nicola Sturgeon) should call one.” (BBC News 12 January 2017).
The United Kingdom is a multi-nation state and a constitutional right of nations to self determination must apply to Scotland, currently partitioned Ireland and Wales. It is not for the English people to impose on Scotland or part of Ireland the decision to leave the EU, in defiance of their democratically expressed will. It is vital that democrats and socialists stand for the rights of these nations to make democratic decisions on whether to remain in the UK or the EU.
The Tory referendum on the EU presents us with the challenge of finding a progressive democratic and internationalist way out of the mess they have landed us in. The most radical and democratic solution is for Scotland and Northern Ireland to leave the UK. This would enable workers in Scotland and Ireland to benefit from free movement and build closer links with European workers. However this is for the Scottish and Irish people to decide by democratic means.
We are calling, as a matter of urgency, on you, the Labour Party, Momentum and all progressive forces to pledge that the Scottish and Irish people can hold a referendum on leaving the UK. This must be included in the Labour Party Manifesto.
On behalf of Left Unity and RISE