Overdue time for Change: Scottish Trade Unions and National Identity Politics…

I’ve started this sentence six times now –

So far, so good…

Or bad. Here goes.

I spent most of the last week at the annual gathering of Scottish Trade Unions.

Most of which are, in fact, the Scottish Regional Branches of UK Trade Unions.

This structural reality has, for many years, simply been treated as an irrelevant organisational fact. Something that admin and constitutional anoraks and pedants might bother themselves with.

Devolution didn’t dawn on the unions until well after the event. And now, national identity politics are a seriously vexed and thorny issue for trade unions operating in Scotland. Take from one who knows… it’s just not pukka to draw any attention at all to the inherent Unionist structures of the vast majority of TUs with a presence in Scotland.

Many have done their (belated) best to adapt to devolution and the devolved administrations and power has been (mostly, patchily) devolved to the Regional Branches (of which Scotland is just one within the UK). But the majority (certainly the largest – with the exception perhaps, of the PCS) are affiliated to a Unionist party (Labour). And anyway, they all view Scottish nationalism (to be fair, I know the claim would be that this would be true of any nationalism – except British…) as inimicable to the default and professed socialist internationalism of the wider Labour movement.

It never fails to bemuse me – and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before – this invisibility of Britishness. That – and the fact that the majority of my vocal trade union colleagues seem entirely and totally unaware of the contradiction lying at the heart of many of their positions vis-a-vis ‘the evils of nationalism’: they are fine with ‘being British’ and entirely comfortable defending a British national identity and defending (this is the greatest irony for me) the power structures that accompany that identity – but that they hate, with a deep and dark fury, Scottish nationalism, seeking to libel any Scottish nationalist as an English-hating Nazi – and the antithesis of progressive liberal democracy and/or socialist internationalism.

So. According to this tortured logic, British nationalism can be internationalist. But Scottish can’t.

Only Scottish nationalists are stupid and parochial and xenophobic – penny-pinching, kilt-wearing English-hating alcoholics – living and breathing national stereotypes. But British nationalists aren’t.

British trade unionists can act in solidarity with sister trade unions around the world. But Scottish trade unionists can’t. Or they can’t, not if they support Scottish independence – if their Scottishness includes a vision of Scotland as an autonomous country, governing itself.

The fact that trade unionists who also happen to be Scottish currently find very effective ways to express their solidarity and provide support to our brothers and sisters worldwide – well, that’s just ignored.

And the fact that Britishness doesn’t appear to present any barrier to expressions of solidarity – well, that’s just ignored too.


I’m tired of the lazy – and ugly – name-calling. I am tired of the failure of the Labour movement to take a long hard look at the Scottish situation. And I fear (because this is roughly where my own politics lie – though I’d be more Kropotkin anarchist…) that the movement’s failure to account for and to consider and take seriously, the views of the thousands of Scottish trade union members who are also Scottish Independence supporters (if not SNP supporters and members) will simply lead to even further marginalisation of ‘the left’.

No, the SNP are not ‘socialist’. They are Scottish managerial class politicians. Inheritors of a Blairite ‘third way’ (that they’d never acknowledge as Blairite!). But they have successfully cornered the market in credible representation of the hopes and aspirations of a majority of the Scottish electorate – and will likely occupy that position for at least as long as the Tories and Labour remain toxic to Scots (another generation?). And with the pending destruction of Labour on the 8th June it is surely essential that trade unionists in Scotland look a long hard look at their current positions re Independence.

Part of that requires their open recognition of the silent nationalism that has informed them until now – it requires them to bring (from out of that darkness that’s been born of a stubborn refusal to challenge a whole long worldview) the background nationalism that has underpinned their own internal structures since their inception.

And change is hard. It is painful. I understand that this process will not be easy. But this change is necessary.

It is necessary that there is a recognition of the contradictory nature of many of the arguments presented by pro-unionists – and it is contradictory to assert that nationalism is an evil when it calls itself ‘Scottish’ – but somehow it is benign; it is the natural order of national identity when it calls itself ‘British’.

‘British’ simply is not the simple inviolable and constant god-given fact of how and what we are (those of us who qualify as British, that is). And it is time to question its status as the ‘given’ – as the accepted and natural way things ‘just are’ and ‘always ought to be’.

As an Independence proponent I’m regularly excoriated for what pro-British pro-Union politicians refer to as my nationalists’ divisive, grievance politics. I am cheaply trolled as a ‘Nazi’. I am castigated as a single-issue, Independence-obsessed, cult member. And my assertion of a Scottish identity is felt as a repugnant, viscerally repulsive, subversive and reactionary act – an act that seeks to undermine the British State and/or ‘all that is held dear’ (I am struggling here folks – we have Brexit and May and vicious austerity and food banks – what is ‘dear’ about that?) and/or ‘dreams of international socialism’ (eh? you’ve been dreaming British dreams of that for a very very long time…spare me the ‘one more class push’ arguments).

In a week when a disabled man’s welfare benefits were withdrawn and he was told (by the fucking Government agency responsible for the fucking mistake) to go to a food bank FFS; when May hides in a hut in a Scottish forest speaking to an audience of enforced reluctants and some party faithfuls, avoiding all possibility of scrutiny and challenge; when she tells a BBC journo that there are ‘many complex reasons’ why nurses (who are in work!) are using food banks and fucking gets away with that despicable and callous and disingenuous response (try fucking POVERTY you fucking sack of shit); when my son attends a home care client who has been sitting in his own shit for hours and whose food cupboards are fucking bare (this has worried me for the longest time and I am proud of the job that my young son has done – and will continue to do because his heart is the largest kindest and most compassionate I have ever had the privilege to know) – ohhhhhh… what the fuck has this country come to.

It is time for change.

It is time for change.

It is fucking overdue time for change.