The Scottish Wars of Position

The Wars of Position- Gramsci In Practice

As the 2012-14 independence campaign drew towards its conclusion, it occurred to me that a Yes vote on 18 September would be the beginning rather than the end of the real struggle for independence.

At the time the Radical Independence Campaign was putting a huge amount of effort into persuading people who had become disengaged from politics that this was a vote which could really change their lives for the better. But what if independence was followed by a return to politics as normal? There are many independent countries in the world, but very few resemble the Scotland imagined by Pete Ramand and James Foley in ‘Yes- the Radical Case for Scottish Independence’. As the authors begin by pointing out-

By itself, voting Yes offers no guarantees of a better, more progressive future, never mind a radical redistribution of wealth and power. Scotland would face creating a new state under hostile circumstances… If Scottish rulers, politicians and managers conform to consensus assumptions about national welfare, and if Scotland’s people do not resist them, we could reproduce many of Britain’s current problems. With minimal rights, and low wages, we could enter a ‘race to the bottom’ with peripheral European economies. (pp.2-3)

It was easy to imagine the government of a newly independent Scotland arguing that it was now in the ‘national interest’ to place radical social and economic changes on hold while independence was being ‘consolidated’. Given the emotive power of nationalism, there would be no guarantee that the voters so recently recruited by RIC would be immune to such appeals. Alternatively, the apparent failure of independence might see them once more withdraw from politics. Meanwhile, the inspiring grassroots Yes campaign would be split between its nationalist and non-nationalist wings.

The No result put such speculations on hold, but with the UK proceeding towards leaving the European Union a second independence referendum is now a real possibility.
With this in mind, here is a first attempt at thinking through with help of Antonio Gramsci some of the implications. It is from a long post on my greengalloway blog.


I hope to extend and develop this line of attack in future blog posts.
Over the past four years the future of the archaic United Kingdom has been fought over with a ferocity unseen since the emergence of the neoliberal consensus nearly 40 years ago. As occurred in the seventeenth century, the first phase of the struggle occurred in and with Scotland. The second took place across the UK and its full consequences are as yet unknown.

In Scotland between 2012 and 2014 the reality of ‘hegemony’, the manufacture of consent, was revealed as the full weight of media, politicians and business was directed towards ensuring that Scotland did not vote for independence. Significantly though, support for independence actually grew by about 15% during the campaign and, in the closing days, a Yes vote became a real possibility. In response the No campaign suddenly and unexpectedly offered a whole range of new powers for Scotland. Wavering voters were told ‘ Vote No and Scotland will have so much autonomy it will be virtually independent anyway.’.

On the 18 September 2014 the result was 55% No, 45% Yes. Scotland remained in the UK, but the result was close enough to leave the door open for a second referendum. This possibility has seen a huge surge in support for the SNP. In the 2015 UK general election, the SNP gained 56 out of Scotland 59 Westminster constituencies. The once dominant Labour party were reduced to one MP in Scotland.

During the 2012-14 independence campaign, the SNP, via their influence over the ‘official’ Yes campaign were very careful to keep a lid on the more reactionary/nationalist elements of the independence movement. This created a space where radical non-nationalist support for independence could develop.

The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in particular, with their slogan ‘Another Scotland is Possible’ argued that independence offered Scotland an alternative to the neoliberal austerity policies of the then Conservative/Liberal Democrat UK government.

RIC saw/sees the independence movement as process (war of position) which builds up the strength of the social foundations of a future Scotland by creating alternative institutions and alternative intellectual resources within existing society.
But during the 2016 Scottish election campaign the SNP slogan was ‘Both Votes SNP’. Former allies now became enemies. This ‘bureaucratisation’ of Scottish politics has led to a resurgence of reactionary nationalism which proclaims ‘Independence First’ and argues that parties like the Scottish Green Party or groups like RIC are divisive elements aiding the Unionist cause.

In Scotland then, there are two fronts in the war of position. One front is the struggle is to secure independence. It is a counter-hegemonic struggle directed outward against the UK state and aims to break-it up. This in turn requires building up solid support for independence among the doubtful, people who voted No in 2014 but are no longer certain if that was the right decision. It also requires keeping the ’non-nationalist’ Yes voters on board, especially the more active ones who campaigned for a Yes vote 2012-14.

The second front is the runs parallel with the first. Here the struggle is internal and is another counter-hegemonic struggle, directed against the forces of reactionary nationalism. This struggle ’ must consistently produce relations of democratic control and mobilization wherever possible, together with institutions of direct democracy which are consciously antithetical to bureaucratism in all its aspects.’ The aim is to ensure that, when it comes, independence will involve substantially more than simply hauling down the Union flag and raising a Saltire in its place.

Gramsci and the war of position

The “war of position” implies a multi-dimensional conception of political radicalization. Since political subjects are constituted by all social relations not just class ones, political struggle must be waged around all these social relations–race, sex, residence, generation, nationality, etc.–to the extent that they embody relations of oppression and domination, in addition to the class struggle which has a primary role in relation to all the others in the Gramscian system. And since the integral State has bastions of defence throughout civil society, the struggle against the State must be carried on throughout civil society; to isolate the State from without and exacerbate its internal contradictions.

At the same time, for Gramsci the ability of the working class to develop into a hegemonic force capable of successfully challenging capital depends entirely upon its capacity to develop a new political practice which is not symmetrical with that of the dominant classes. This is to say that, under capitalism, bourgeois politics in a broad sense is the practice of reproducing relations of exploitation and oppression. It is a bureaucratic practice which seeks to enhance the power of the dominant class at the same time that it reduces the dominated to objects, passive actors or supports, accepting subordination or actively consenting rather than providing leadership. The working class, if it is to reorganize itself into a hegemonic nucleus and rally around itself the popular forces, cannot simply reproduce within its own institutions and discourses this practice of bureaucratic politics and forms of anti-democratic leadership and organization. Instead, it must consistently produce relations of democratic control and mobilization wherever possible, together with institutions of direct democracy which are consciously antithetical to bureaucratism in all its aspects. Only by preparing this asymmetrical practice of politics well before the “war of movement” can the working class insure that once the proletarian State is established it will not degenerate from a leadership of the masses to a dictatorship over the masses.