Chris Bambery argues the Kenmure street victory highlights the British state’s crisis of legitimacy in Scotland.
At Kenmure street last week, the main motivations for the protesters were basic solidarity, anti-racism and hatred of unjust immigration laws. Members of the community and wider solidarity networks acted intuitively to defend their community.
We also need to take into account another factor. For many this was also an act of defiance to a UK state (aided by Police Scotland) acting in this case on the instructions of a Tory government in London, which has little percieved legitimacy and no mandate in Scotland. This ruling group hasn’t won in Scotland since 1959.
That is central to the growth of support for independence in the last two decades. Its not about nationalism, it’s about democracy. The raid pressed every possible button, inflaming the anger of people not just in that community but across Glasgow and the country. Its won widespread applause south of the border and beyond and, hopefully will inspire others to follow that lead.
In Scotland it must surely suggest an alternative attitude to the ‘if or when Westminster might accede’ approach to securing a fresh independence referendum. A week before Scotland voted majority support for pro-independence parties, only to see that fact denied by Boris Johnson who stated that he would not permit a referendum.
While it’s vital that electoral mandate is maintained and extended it requires a mass movement to fight for independence using the tactics of non-violent direct action we saw used so effectively in Kenmure street. We cannot deploy such tactics randomly, they needs to be used in issues which touch a raw nerve, and not paying your TV licence isn’t going to shift Johnson and co.
Across Scotland in recent years we’ve seen a significant growth in resistance to landlords and local community cuts, spearheaded by Living Rent among others. We need a pro-independence movement which links to social and economic issues. These aren’t disconnected. In the 2014 referendum support for independence in working class communities increased because it was seen as a vehicle for change.
It would be a movement supporting strikes and protests and offering a radical blueprint for an independent Scotland, one which if there were any repeat of the horror being unleashed on Gaza would not only denounce but also to act in solidarity.
It would be a movement looking for every opportunity to challenge the UK state and to further reduce its legitimacy. Every opportunity should be taken to exacerbate the very real crisis of legitimacy the state is experiencing in Scotland, in relation to the actions of the Home Office, on foreign policy, economic policy and much else besides. This would only be to draw Scotland into line with the practice of other national independence movements in the past.
We could draw from historical precedents across the Irish sea. Most people know that between 1919-21, the Irish waged a war of independence against Britain. Obviously this (and Ireland’s status as an oppressed nation subject to exploitation and coercion) is not applicable to the Scottish case. But the wider experience of the Irish independence movement is often overlooked.
It involved general strikes, rail workers boycotting the British security forces, land seizures, workplace occupations, mass protests and the creation of a new state with the formation of an illegal Parliament, Dail Eireann, courts and much more, plus appeals for international support not just addressed at governments but involving ordinary people in the USA and elsewhere. The time and context differences between Ireland then and Scotland today (as with other independence movements from India, to Algeria and Catalonia) mean that the array of tactics would be different. But non-compliance, and the mobilisation of democratic grievance were key to winning mass consent from the population, and exerting pressure on the British state and its local organisations.
In Scotland there is still another dynamic. The SNP Scottish government seems to see its central task as proving it’s the natural party of government, in a way that relies on relationships with powerful interests at home and abroad. It is not going to support radical action, and would likely get in the way of it. This only underlines why we need an independent mass movement with its own autonomy of action.