Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and Chairman of the G20’s “financial stability board,” cancelled his trip to Austria for the G20 summit. He has been joined by a number of other leading British politicians. Gordon Brown is in Scotland, shaking hands and urging a “no” vote. All three of the UK’s major political parties — the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party — are mobilizing their forces to prevent what could very well take place on September 18th.
For the first time in history, there is a very real possibility that a country in the United Kingdom will have a majority vote for independence. This will be an unprecedented historical event. Underlying it is both a crisis in the western world and the rising suffering of working people.
Imperialism and the British Way of Life
Britain was once the top imperialist plunderer of the world. From Dublin to New Delhi to Tehran, millions of people curse the British Empire and its royal family on a daily basis. British imperialism is synonymous with human-made famines, evictions, and massacres that collectively have killed millions in Ireland. It is synonymous with settlers ruthlessly shooting down African people with the first developed automatic weapons; with brutal crimes against people in the Caribbean and in India; and a list of many more atrocities across the planet that are far too long to list.
It was cotton picked by slaves in the US south that was key to establishing the British textile industry, making it a world industrial power. British bankers, capitalists, and nobility supported the slave-owning confederacy in the Civil War, hoping to preserve their profits.
Part of what made British imperialism function was raising the standard of living of the domestic working class. The plunder of Africa and Asia ensured that certain skilled workers in England, Scotland, and Wales got higher wages and a more comfortable life.
After the Second World War, as Britain was in a state of decline, extreme measures were taken to win the loyalty of British workers to the empire. The “Labour Party” took office claiming to be a party of socialism and the British working class. A National Health Service was created, providing medical care free of charge to all British citizens. Huge measures were taken to fight unemployment. Free university education was provided. These measures were enacted to keep British workers waving the Union Jack and supporting horrendous crimes against people in Africa and the Middle East.
Before and during the Second World War, millions of British people had come to admire the Soviet Union and its leader, Joseph Stalin. The British Communist Party had led huge hunger marches and strikes in the 1920s and 30s. Labor militants shut down the country in 1926 with a general strike. Organized labor, especially of the miners, was known for militancy and radicalism. The welfare state created comfort and social stability to win British workers back to supporting their imperialist masters.
The alliance with Britain has been essential to US military aggression around the world. British bombs helped destroy Belgrade in 1999, Baghdad in 2003, and Tripoli in 2011.
“Austerity” Rocks Britain
The current economic crisis has forced British society to reconsider what has been called the “Keynesian Consensus.” Education is being increasingly privatized, and British university students are paying higher fees than ever before. The National Health Service is being cut, with hospitals closing and services greatly reduced. A punitive “bedroom tax” is being imposed on working class families, and the cost of living is dramatically rising. Government workers are seeing lower wages and pensions, and childcare and other social services are being cut.
Among British youth there is a rising rate of unemployment. The young workers who are employed are not receiving the higher wages of previous generations, and are facing far fewer legal protections on the job. This situation has resulted in massive protests on campuses and by the labor unions. It also exploded into the 2011 episode of rioting that shocked the world.
In addition to the rising protests and rebellions, there has been an increase in fascism and police repression. British people’s freedom of speech and assembly is being curtailed. The world was appalled when the British National Party, a group of open white supremacists, won seats in the European Parliament for the first time. More recently, the English Defense League, a group of violent anti-Muslim extremists, has been conducting “Mosque invasions” — attacking Muslims as they worship.
The “good life” that was once promised to British people, and bought their support for the ugly colonization of the world, is being eroded. British society is reacting to this overall assault on the expected standard of living in different ways. The condition of Britain is not much different from that of France, Germany, or the United States. The old global economic order is in crisis. Western bankers see their rule of the world threatened, and are trying desperately to avert the crisis.
What Is Scottish Independence Really About?
There is no question that Scotland is a nation. Scottish people have a unique culture and historical background. They have a national language that has been suppressed. They have their own religious groups with an independent history. They are a distinctly different people than the English, the Irish, or the Welsh.
However, the Scotland of modern times is not a colony of England. Scottish kings have worn the British crown. Scottish bankers make superprofits around the world, just like English ones. While Scottish people have lower incomes than British people overall, they are not a “superexploited” colonized people. Scotland is not part of the so-called “Third World.” Scotland is a nation within the British imperialist homeland.
The current desire for independence by millions of Scottish people has nothing in common with the plot of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. This is not a classical “national liberation struggle” as in Ireland or elsewhere, and many British leftists, including MP George Galloway, oppose independence. The proposed independence of Scotland will not divide the UK armed forces. It will not result in a new Scottish currency. Many supporters of Scottish independence say this will only be a first step toward full independence.
The vote for Scottish independence on September 18th, regardless of what was originally intended, has become a referendum on austerity.
Scotland is a stronghold for the British Labour Party and for trade unions. Scottish people see breaking away from the United Kingdom as a means of halting the cuts. It is a vote for independence not necessarily from the UK, but from the Conservative Party, from cuts in social services, neo-liberalism, and privatization. It will be a vote to preserve healthcare services, affordable childcare, and jobs for government employees.
Tommy Sheridan, a recently imprisoned Scottish Socialist, Independence activist, and former member of the Scottish parliament, has toured the country urging an independence vote. In his speeches he points out that in the last several decades, the Conservative Party has never won a majority among the Scottish people.
The leaders of the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party are calling for the immediate nationalization of many industries in the event of a “yes” vote. Corporations like BP are not concealing the fact that they are very nervous about operating in a Scotland completely under the control of economic leftists and social democrats.
The future of Scotland’s oil and natural gas resources is on the table. If Scotland breaks out of the United Kingdom, the control of such natural resources by the billionaires in the London Stock Exchange will be limited more than ever before. A new Scottish government, with new policies and trade regulations, will have a huge impact throughout the world economy. There are billions of dollars at stake in the upcoming vote for Scottish independence on September 18th, and the referendum will undoubtedly have an impact on the growing conflict between the US with Russia and China in the struggle for economic power.
The vote is expected to be very close, and decided by a very narrow margin. Regardless of the outcome, the vote is a highly visible symptom of the crisis facing the western world.
As Russia, China, and others emerge as competitors on the world market, the capitalist societies of western Europe and the United States are being forced to adjust and adapt. Thursday’s vote on Scottish independence will be a symbolic chapter in a lengthy period of transition.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.