TOWARDS SCOTTISH SELF-DETERMINATION James Kelman

JamesK1I have not voted through the ballot box or taken part in any sort of electoral process for years. My politics belong in an alternative tradition. I stand with the anti-parliamentarian left. It is a solid part of the wider socialist movement. A great many share this position throughout the world. In Britain people are less aware of this alternative tradition. State propaganda pushes the anti-parliamentarian left somewhere to the outer limits. We are asked to believe that all shades of opinion are included in its own political process. What a lie! It is so brazen. It says we can all be accomodated within a political framework that is in essence hierarchical, so much as so that it includes an extremely large extended family each of whose members we must address as “your majesty”, pay to them huge sums of dough and grant them lands and general riches.

One day the British State may offer me one of their medals of empire, the obe or the mbe or whatever it is artists and lesser-known sportstars are offered. Maybe I‘ll accept the offer, who knows, I’m guessing. If so I intend to break the monotony and use synonyms. When the Queen presents me… no, when Prince Charles presents me – no, forget that too – when one of the nephews twice-removed of a third cousin to prince Charles twice-removed – presents me with one of these medals of empire, instead of addressing him as Your Gracious Majesty I’ll go for a synonym just to show I’m a genuine writer – thank you Your Benevolent Magnificence… thank you Your Benign Radiance, or how about thank you Your Merciful Glory.

When we play about with these synonyms for the monarchy – we land in a territory usually associated with god. This is the elitist charade we know as British democracy. Of course it is farcical. Here we have a political system that forces us to call other human beings by figures of speech commonly used of deities and other supernatural beings. Within this framework we are supposed to Exercise a Right-to-vote. It is laughable. The very language we are forced to use even to talk to these figureheads of the British ruling class is designed to assert their godlike attributes and qualities. I am here reminded of the precepts and principles laid down by James VI and Ist four hundred years ago in his pean to blue-blood supremacy, as a sharp response to the democratic tendencies of his old tutor, the great George Buchanan. I’m also reminded that the Scottish Nationalists intend retaining the monarchy, which returns us to that same period in the formation of the United Kingdom.

In 1918 a majority of the Irish people voted for Sinn Fein and won independence through the British ballot box. They set up an Irish government in an Irish parliament. What happened a year later? The British State sent in the army and shut down the Irish parliament.  One thing demonstrated by this is that the Irish people did not exercise a right. If they thought it was a ‘right’ then the British State soon showed them the error of their ways. If it was a right what happened, the British State withdrew it. How can a right be withdrawn? It is a contradiction in terms. The Irish people were not exercising a right. No such right existed as far as the British State was concerned.

The ballot box provided the people of Ireland an opportunity to exercise a preference. They exercised that preference. Their preference was independence. Let me repeat it was not a right. A year later the British State exercised its right. They sent in the tanks and dumped the Irish parliament. They alone had the right and their right was might. Any force other than might is humbug – I mean ethical right, moral right, human right, civil right, citizen’s right.

No one is given freedom. The Irish people who didnt already know that in 1918, had learned it by 1919. We assume it as a right and we take it as a right. How do we do it? Anybody with experience of the labour movement should know of at least one method. We withdraw our labour, we withdraw from the process, we reject the ballot. We turn our back on the ballotbox. We do not participate. That is a start.

Withdrawing from the electoral process may appear a kind of weak sort of passive engagement. But is this true? How do we explain the deep-rooted hostility towards that same position?

We are threatened: if you don’t vote you may lose the right! I beg your pardon? How can you lose a right. Either you have a right or you don’t. No one gives you a right, you have it. Oh but our ancestors fought and died for the right to vote. You owe it to those who fought and died for the cause. No. No. Their cause was freedom, the freedom to exist as human beings. Don’t confuse the means with the end. People die in the cause of freedom. They do not die to take part in a political process designed by the State to perpetuate itself.

If withdrawal from the State electoral process is such a weakly passive act why does it so anger and aggravate those in authority? Consider the extent to which the British State encourages us to engage in their system. So far they haven’t managed to make it against the law to Not-Vote. But powerful voices cry that that should be the case, that the public MUST vote, that the public MUST exercise the right to vote.

As we speak there are powerful voices calling for the criminalisation of people like myself who refuse to involve ourselves in their intellectually corrupt and morally debased form of so-called democracy. They want to make us criminals for rejecting their politics. Great stuff. At least we would then know where we stand, and all these propaganda machines of State would find it less straightforward to disguise the authoritarian reality.

When the public are forced by the State to engage in a political process the one thing demonstrated clearly is the power of the State itself.

No formal distinction exists between the YES position and that of the NO campaign. In each case we share a platform with people whose politics are anathema. What is Scottishness? The idea that I shall stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the ruling and upper classes in defence of anything is ludicrous.

A vote YES or NO is a vote for the political system that allows it. YES to the mainstream right. NO to the mainstream left. Interpret your vote in whichever way you like but it remains an endorsement of the apparatus. That’s how the State interprets it and it’s only their interpretation that counts. If there was any possibility that the apparatus could effect a change in the system then the British State would dismantle it immediately.

This independence question has been AGREED by the British State. They can just about live with it. They will have found ways. It reminds me of the major financial concerns such as the munitions industry in times of war. They always back both warring factions so that they retain power no matter the victor. The conditions are already set. Nationalism is the primary condition that will allow the ruling elite to keep its clenched glove firmly on the neck of the majority people not only of Scotland but of the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

Of course I favour the independence of the majority Scottish people. I favour also the independence of the majority peoples of England, Wales and Ireland. The question of the north of Ireland is one that I don’t mind discussing but unless mentioned specifically, is excluded from this present argument. I say this in full knowledge that the British State plantation in the north of Ireland occurred simultaneously to the one in the island of Lewis, and that the islands of Orkney and Shetland did not become Scottish until the late 15th Century.

Nationalism seeks to set its own community above and beyond all others. Its own community is authoritarian, hierarchical. Scottish Nationalism may be a diluted version – and that is debatable – but a version of nationalism is what it is, a version of nationalism.

Some believe it possible to take part in the parliamentary process as a means to that end. It is important to grasp the difference. A means-to-an-end. Many on the left believe that to engage in the parliamentary process will help us along the road to freedom. Now that is their opinion. I do not hold that position myself. Expediency is the central argument in favour of the means-to-an-end position but if the means cannot expedite the end then why bother?

In Scotland the question has been debated on the left for more than two and a half centuries. That means-to-an-end position failed from the 1920s. Taking part in the British State system served to destroy a healthy branch of the movement towards liberation. The long years of struggle since then reveal that as methods go the means-to-an-end position is useless – and not just in the short term, unless we consider a hundred years a short term.

I would not deny an element of validity in that means-to-an-end route to independence but none to the argument that to engage in the parliamentary process will give, or bring, or allow, freedom. This is a fundamental distinction between these two approaches to the ballotbox. No one gives us freedom, it is ours already. The right to determine our own existence is an inherent right; it is at the heart of what it is to be human. In taking our freedom we move foward. We move in freedom. We engage in movement. We engage in a movement and it is towards our liberation.

From a room in Glasgow 

Why I withdrew from the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference