Scotland has been putting on its spectacles with commendable eagerness to read the minute print of a ‘Red Paper’ or socialist symposium on the state of the nation, which has reached the best-seller lists.footnote1 It is a collection of twenty-eight essays, edited by Edinburgh University’s student rector, Gordon Brown, which adds fresh laurels to those that the university’s enterprising Student Publication Board has been winning of late.footnote2 A dozen of the authors are academics, seven writers or journalists—though many are political activists as well. There are two trade-unionists, two Labour mps. Six pieces deal with social problems, five with devolution, local government or administration, three with North Sea oil, three others with industry and finance, three with land and the Highlands. Despite the comprehensive investigation of Scotland and Scottish nationalism contained in the book, some topics were bound to get left out. There might have been something on religion and the Churches, considering how near at hand Ulster is. There might have been something on women and the family. Sad to
It is a bleak picture of Scotland that emerges. Wages have been catching up with English levels in the past decade, but unevenly, so that one million Scots can still be reckoned poor; in fact a quarter of the population has missed its share of recent improvement (Ian Levitt, pp. 317, 331). Two areas in particular are still floundering, Glasgow and the Highlands. Ian Carter discusses Highland society as one based on extreme inequalities (pp. 247 ff.), and John McEwen comments on its ‘degraded condition . . . in the hands of powerful, often anti-social landlordism’ (p. 262). Scottish landlords have always been mostly Scots. Likewise, if Scottish housing is often still bad, Robin Cook reminds us that responsibility in this field has always been in Scottish hands, so that to put the blame on ‘English domination’ is absurd (p. 335). Scotland’s employment of the social services, as unified in 1969, has been more sluggish and parsimonious than that of either England or Wales (Richard Bryant, p. 344).
As for Scottish business leaders, it is very obvious that the country’s development cannot safely be left to them. More capital is raised per head than in England, but the small number of men who manipulate it have displayed their efficiency by channelling a large part of it abroad (Ray Burnett, p. 116; John Scott & Michael Hughes, p. 183). It appears that this native or ‘interior bourgeoisie’ has too little freedom from more powerful interests, in London or elsewhere, to take independent decisions (John Firn, p. 165; Scott and Hughes, p. 171), even if it had any inclination to take decisions with the welfare of Scotland in view—which there is nothing to suggest. Nearly 40 per cent of Scottish manufacturing is under English and nearly 15 per cent under North American control.
By demanding jobs at any cost, Brown considers that Scotland has been reducing itself to a colony (p. 13). A few years ago Felix Greene was predicting a revolt of European workers against the overlordship of American capital. There has been little sign of this happening. Worker and capitalist are so far apart in any case that the one may not care whether the other lives a mile away, or in London, or in New York or Tokyo. But North Sea oil has put things in a new light. Scots are confronted now by foreigners coming to carry off a precious national possession, paying as little as possible for it and doing a good deal of damage in the process. The depredations of the oil companies in Scotland have been on a par with their operations in the Middle East, David Taylor writes (p. 270) in a study of the dislocations caused to local communities. Some contributors are sceptical of even the potential economic benefits to be derived from oil, and suggest that the prosperity so many Scots have seen rising like Venus from the foam is only a mirage. But a strong case is made for nationalization of oil, as a means of making the most of whatever it has to give. Peter Smith argues
Several writers proclaim their faith in the capacity of the working class to cope with the task. John McGrath declares that the Scottish working class is ‘one of the strongest in Europe’, and firmly internationalist, and that a section of it has a very high political level (pp. 138, 140). John Foster credits the working class with a distinctive character, fostered by two centuries of ‘internationalism’, and with a ‘culture’ of its own, the sole living one in Scotland ‘in an age when Scottish bourgeois culture only exists in totally artificial ersatz form’ (p. 150). Taylor argues for independence as ‘the political fulfilment of Scottish labour culture’ (p. 128). In this context the term culture is not easily defined. Brown laments, as he well may, that after all these years Scotland has ‘no socialist book club, no socialist labour college . . . only a handful of socialist magazines and pamphlets’ (p. 18). If any large part of the working class wanted such things, Scotland would have them. Undeniably the socialist movement in Scotland, of whose beginnings James Young supplies a graphic outline, has produced a remarkably fine type of trade-union activist, usually to be met with in the Communist Party. They are ardently internationalist, and not without some interest in theory. Such men and women represent the labour intelligentsia that Gramsci wanted to see. Unfortunately they are very few and have no deep political influence on the mass of Scottish workers.
Today Scottish socialists are confronted with a fresh riddle, the sudden spurt put on by their long-neglected rival Scottish nationalism. A serious ferment of nations or nationalities is widespread in Europe, both West and East; even in the Soviet Union there are stirrings, nearly sixty years after the revolution. Tom Nairn, whose essay is the longest in this collection and one of the most exploring and rewarding, is the contributor with most to say about this phenomenon, though he confines himself to western Europe. Socialism’s failure to take the lead ‘has made this “second round” of bourgeois nationalism inevitable’ (p. 47). It has besides neglected the problem of nationalities for too long. Nairn recalls the Marxist debate of the years before 1914, centred on the Hapsburg empire with its jarring peoples (p. 53). It would be well worthwhile to reconsider the polemics of those years. Subsequently, with the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires broken up, and that of the Tsars transformed into the ussr, that stage of history seemed to have been left behind. Until quite lately there was little more Marxist—or any other—thinking on the subject; it was left to socialists in the colonial-national movements.
Some common essences can be discovered in national feeling everywhere, but it is capable of numberless variations; what is of practical importance is its character in a particular country, as conditioned by history, geography, religion and so on. Various broad groupings can be usefully made. ‘Regionalism’, of which there has been much talk lately, may be distinguished from ‘neo-nationalism’—the term preferred by Nairn. The former has been seen, plausibly, as a recoil from the stresses of a too big, too complex world, a groping towards more local, familial ties. This regionalism is associated with areas that have had no earlier political existence of their own, or only a far-off and shadowy one, like Languedoc or Corsica.