The Question of an Independent Scotland & The Scot-Left Distortion of Marxism


“To belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.”

The decline of British imperialism, combined with the continuing decline of the working-class movement, has over the past twenty or thirty so years brought the national question to the fore. This is not the first time in history that such a period of reaction and decline has brought about a total lack of faith in the collective strength and revolutionary potential of the British working-class. Such a lack of faith has brought sections of the British proletariat, particularly in Scotland, to shelter under a national tent. There are, of course, certain individuals as well as organisations, who call themselves ‘Socialists’ and, yes, even ‘Communists’, who have not been immune from the inherently divisive and creeping nationalism. In relation to this, I will at a later point, touch on John Maclean(once dubbed ‘The Scottish Lenin’), his background, and his unfortunate capitulation to Bourgeois nationalism.

For now, let us turn to ‘The Question of Scottish Independence’, specifically to a quite frankly, outrageous theory peddled by the former; (pre-’89) SSP(Scottish Socialist Party), a theory still maintained by many on the Scot-Left to this day – ‘Scotland is a colony’. Protagonists of this theory assert that Scotland was not only a nation prior to the Union of Scotland and England in 1707, but incorporated into England as an oppressed nation – which it has allegedly maintained since. The falsity of this nationalist myth was exposed incredibly well by Neil Davidson, in his book ‘Origins of Scottish Nationalism’(which is well worth reading). The problem with such an analysis is that far from being a victim of oppression/any form of colonialism or indeed Imperialism, Scotland was, an integral part of the British state, a significant component of it. An example? Let’s take a brief look at British Imperialism in India and to be more specific Scottish involvement – By the mid-eighteenth century around 60% of British imports came from India. A small number of merchant agencies controlled this trade and at their peak in 1803, of the 23 agencies based in Calcutta, the 6 most important were dominated by Scots. In Bombay, where trade was controlled by an even fewer number of privileged agencies(five), three of these were Scottish. In 1772, one in nine of the East India Company’s civil servants, one in eleven of its soldiers, and, one in three of its officers were Scottish. In the eyes of Scottish nationalists, Scotland suffocates under the embrace of the British(or as they would have it ‘English’) state and its ruling institutions. They wait for its moment of freedom assuring us the break up of Britain is ‘inevitable’. Scotland, under the assertion that it is a colony, has been likened to nations such as Algeria, Congo, Vietnam, India and China – countries that fought for independence against various European colonial and imperialist powers. Yet, through such obviously fraudulent devices, the SNP, along with their left-wing and liberal boot-lickers see equivalence to the national movements of colonial peoples. Whatever the ideologues may say, it was not English capitalism that was solely responsible for as Davidson put it: “the bleaching of bones of countless Bengalis in the sun”, but British capitalism, of which the Scots we’re an integral part, playing a leading role in fact. To put into perspective, the shameful and the sheer brutality of British imperialism during its colonisation of India, I have provided this quotation by James Callender, a radical Scot prominent during the 1780’s and 1790’s –

“In Bengal only, we destroyed and expelled within the short period of six years, no less than five millions of industrious and harmless people; and as we have been sovereigns in that country for about thirty-five years, it may be reasonably computed that we have strewn the plains of Indostan with fifteen or twenty millions of carcasses. The persons positively destroyed must, in whole, have exceeded twenty millions …. These victims have been sacrificed to the balance of power, and the balance of trade, the honour of the British flag …”

Frankly, left to its own devices and having not joined the union, Scotland most probably would have remained under the tyranny of Feudal lords for a longer period of time. Prior to 1707, Scotland had one of the lowest levels of capitalist development in Europe, Sir James Stewart in 1767, likened Scotland in 1707 to fourteenth century Europe. This sounds laughable, though certainly in the 17th century this would have been the case. Unity with England overthrew absolutism, installed bourgeois liberty, and set upon the path of capitalist development, which proved irresistibly beneficial to the rising bourgeoisie in Scotland. In around 1745, Scotland underwent a massive economic boom and an unrivalled industrial revolution.

John Maclean, was without a doubt, a class fighter and revolutionary socialist. He was also Bolshevik consul in Scotland for a period, and played an outstanding role in promoting Marxism before and after the ‘Great October Socialist Revolution’ in Russia. Lenin had held Maclean in high regard calling him one of the “heroic forerunners” of the Communist International, and yet, Maclean made an important mistake. His error, was to succumb to the pressures of Scottish nationalism. Maclean had refused to join the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain(now CPB), and instead advocated for a Scottish Communist Party. This failed to materialise and so he turned towards the notion of a Scottish Workers’ Republic and the establishment of the Scottish Workers’ Republican Party. “The Social Revolution is possible sooner in Scotland than in England…” – with this statement, Maclean deviated from the long-held position of Marxists that if there were to be a Socialist revolution in Britain, it would come as a result of class unity between the working classes of Scotland, England and Wales, Maclean’s distortion was derided by Lenin and incredibly even by Trotsky as fundamentally false.

Our role as ‘Marxists’ or ‘Marxist-Leninists’ is not to emulate Maclean’s mistakes, but to learn from them and inoculate the working class against impatience and short-cuts to Socialism that could lead the movement into the swamp of nationalism. The tone emanating from the leadership of the SSP and various activists within RISE(whom the SSP have entered into a left alliance with) today is “the Scottish working class”, “redistribute Scotland’s wealth”, “interests of Scottish workers”, etc. This emphasis and slant represents a capitulation to bourgeois nationalism – despite their lip service to internationalism. They have succumbed to ‘left reformism’ and seek solutions for the Scottish workers within the confines of capitalism. They either deliberately conceal their nationalism behind socialist phraseology or have forgotten that the only way forward for the working class in Scotland, as in England and Wales, is to forge the maximum unity of the class around socialist transformation of society. Marxists must always set out to uphold the common interests of the workers of Britain, Europe and indeed at an international level. We must forge a common struggle against the Scottish, English and Welsh capitalists enemies. The economies of Scotland, England and Wales are indissolubly linked, separation would bring about a certain disaster and the working class always pays the heaviest price.
“If there is to be a revolution, there must be a revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary party, without a party built on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory…it is impossible to lead the broad masses of the people in defeating imperialism and its running dogs.”