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Britain is one nation - no to all separatism!

Opponents of separatism demonstrate in Oban in June 2019 against a rally by separatists. Note the way the separatists have merged the saltire with the EU flag. Photo Workers.

Separatism takes different forms across Britain, a reactionary movement backed only by a minority. The struggle for unity will have to be persistent and strategic…

The collapse of Sturgeon’s leadership has brought joy in a way that many have compared with that felt at Thatcher’s resignation so many years ago. But whatever happens in Scotland, and across Britain, national unity has many enemies, and we cannot afford to neglect it. Above all, having won independence from the EU, it would be terrible to lose it again.

What is a nation? It’s difficult to improve on Stalin’s definition: a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture. Britain ticks all of those boxes. Further, Britain is not a federation, not an empire, not a commonwealth.

One reason why the first industrial revolution happened in Britain was our national unity. The union with Wales was brought about in the 1530s; union with Scotland through, first, the union of the two crowns in 1603, and then the Act of Union in 1707.


A lot happened between those two dates as the nation emerged from an absolute monarchy backed by the Church – the revolution of the 1640s, the execution of Charles I, the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The power of the monarchy was tamed and the scene set for Britain to develop as an integrated industrial nation.

But if capitalism in its youth needed national unity, its later form, imperialism, has shown itself a force for disunity, partition and separatism. Consider Vietnam, Korea, the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The EU encouraged separatism and a diminished role for nation states – and was rewarded by those it sponsored with an almost obsessive commitment to continued EU membership while we were part of it, and to re-joining once we had left.

Yet it may seem puzzling that people who want independence “from Westminster” are so keen to surrender that independence to a foreign super-state,. Logic seems to play little part in the counsels of Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National Party, but they share a fear and hatred of Britain as a nation and its people.

In Scotland, Sturgeon has gone, and the separatist forces are still in disarray, despite the election of a new leader, Humza Yousaf. Sturgeon left as the working class went into struggle: the woeful record of the SNP administration – record waiting times in the NHS, falling life expectancy, the highest rate of drug deaths in Europe, the collapse of public transport and policing, crisis in education – all contributed.

The final straw was the SNP’s embrace of multiple “genders” and self-identification. Yousaf is directly responsible for at least some of that – and the lethal Hate Crime Act, designed to create more hate and more crime.

It’s not enough to observe the troubles of the SNP with pleasure. National unity and independence for the whole nation won’t be safeguarded by watching events from the sidelines, but require the working class to take the field.


In Wales, Mark Drakeford, Labour First Minister, has called for “far-reaching federalism”. An Independent Commission on the constitution published an interim report last December. The independence of this commission is questionable, packed as it is with separatists and the usual professional committee-sitters.

This bias is evident in rejection of the possibility that Wales might remain solidly in the union, or that devolution could be rescinded. That’s despite 15 to 20 per cent of respondents to their consultation taking that view.

Instead they see only three futures: entrenched devolution, federalism, or independence. They include statements about what they call “strains on representative democracy”. By this they mean when the workers have ideas of their own and won’t vote as told by their self-appointed betters.

It seems, they say, that the current arrangements rely “too heavily on indirect mechanisms for the public to influence policy eg by voting for parties based on their manifestos, and holding government to account through the ballot box”.

And England is not immune, with the discredited and rejected ideas of regional assemblies, elected city mayors on the American model, and ever-proliferating quangos such as development agencies, which both Conservatives and Labour want to revive.

The government’s 2022 Levelling Up white paper promised that every part of England would get “London style” powers and an elected mayor if they wished – which means “whether you like it or not”.

This policy is proposed under the banner of empowering local leaders but there is no demand for it from workers, only from politicians keen to further their own interests.

‘If we want an independent future as a sovereign nation, none of the Westminster parties will do it. We must do it ourselves.’

Whoever asked for police commissioners for example? Small towns which once had a police station now instead have a desk in the local council offices, staffed part-time. Even the county towns, where the county police force has their headquarters, have the same level of service.

This period before the next general election is a good time to drag the devolution discussion into the open. We might say Labour is no better – in truth it is more dangerous. The party promises “massive devolution”, which no one ever asked for.

A charitable take on Labour’s A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy, published last December, would be that it’s a report spectacularly missing the point. But in reality it deliberately seeks to set district against district, region against region, worker against worker.

The report proposes to replace the House of Lords with an Assembly of the Nations and Regions. Rather than rolling back devolution, it proposes new powers for the Scottish and Welsh assemblies. It proclaims that “devolved self-government should be permanent, expansive…” – but forgot to add “expensive”.

Double devo?

The report calls for “double devolution”, cutting 50,000 civil service jobs in London and moving at least 12 government agencies out of the capital. Workers have always been suspicious of government reorganisation, under whatever name it appears. Promises of greater efficiency and money saving never materialise.

The document also proposes, somewhat at odds with Labour’s record in national and local government, to root out criminal behaviour in British politics.

If we want an independent future as a sovereign nation, none of the parliamentary parties at Westminster or elsewhere will do – indeed they are the problem. So we must do it ourselves.


The current level of struggle highlights the value of national unity, not just against government intransigence, but against employer fragmentation. Rail trade unions have overcome the imposed fragmentation of their industry and turned it to advantage.

New tactical thinking has been evident in recent pay struggles with a guerrilla approach, fighting on ground of our choosing, where we are strong and the class enemy is weak.

NHS workers in Wales and Scotland have separate pay settlements from NHS England. But they have been successful because their pay structures are closely linked to those in England and trade unions have been able to take a coherent national approach to separate employers.

Such strategic success does not come easily. The success of the “North East says No” campaign against regional devolution back in 2004 was a resounding triumph, only achieved on the back of a hard-fought, protracted struggle.

People’s resentment or opposition towards devolution will not move mountains unless it is galvanised. Voting in a parliamentary election will take us nowhere: all the parliamentary parties are in favour of devolution. Workers will need to set up their own new organisations to fight this most insidious threat to our unity as workers and as a nation.