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Scotland: Whose Land?

| by The Socialist Party

( September 15, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Scotland as a whole has one of the most concentrated patterns of land ownership in Western Europe. Some 50 percent of the country’s land area is controlled by just 600 (or even 343, depending on source) owners. In the Highlands, this pattern of ownership is even more extreme with some 85 privately owned estates accounting for about a third of the total land area. This results in various barriers and obstacles being placed in the way of development. Examples of these include difficulties in obtaining land for housing, industrial use, community facilities and recreational access to river, woodland, moor and hill. Only when land is commonly owned by the people who inhabit and work it, as opposed to private ownership, leasing or renting, can a community master its own destiny.

Graphic courtesy: www.thedrinksbusiness.com


Under the clan system of land tenure, the land within the area occupied by a clan, belonged to the clan as a whole collectively, romantically described by some such as John McLean as "celtic communism". The clan chief had no exclusive rights in the clan lands. He was given nominal control of the land for administration purposes, on behalf of the clan. The clan chief’s position was not hereditary but by the consent of the clan, and there was nothing to stop the clan from replacing their chief at any time, if necessary. The clan system was a communal social system albeit organised on military lines. The old social order in the Highlands disintegrated and the clan chieftains were encouraged to assume control of the clan lands as private landowners. Then they proceeded to oppress their own clansmen. The real philosophy behind these events was the unrestricted accumulation of wealth in the hands of the privileged few, by exploiting the land as well as any other basic resource available. These changes in Highland society introduced a new class division of privileged and servile. Gone forever was the sense of kinship and loyalty to a patriarchal leader. But an emotional attachment to territory – an attachment stemming ultimately back to the clan land of the ancient kin-based society of the Highlands – continues to be prevalent among crofters.

The social ownership sector can trace its history back to the first organised efforts of crofters and land re-settlement schemes just over a 150 years ago. Only with the creation a people’s organisation representing the aspirations of community organisations across the country can there be the necessary counter-power to that of the existing landed establishment and which can challenge the dominant position in Scottish society of the Scottish Landowners Federation, that has for almost 90 years exercised power on behalf of the landed elite and other powerful rural interests.

The ILP Poodle

The Independent Labour Party in 1922 returned several MPs, among them James Maxton, David Kirkwood, John Wheatley and John McGovern, who had provided Clydeside with the nick-name “Red Clydeside”. They were sent to Westminster in a wave of left-wing enthusiasm. Some had been imprisoned either, like Maxton, for sedition (interfering with army recruitment in wartime) or for involvement what became known as “The Battle of George’s Square”. They had taken part in some of the most bitter class struggles experienced by Britain in the early20th century and they had garnered a credible working class following.

However, they were dominated by ideas of the reform of capitalism rather than by the determination to destroy capitalism. We need not accept Engels overly enthusiastic optimism of the founding of the ILP that it was “the very party which the old members of the International desired to see formed” (Workmans Times, 25 March 1893)

The I.L.P. may have used the language of radicals but instead of calling workers to revolutionary indignation, it frequently appealed to the good sense and kindness of the ruling class. Lacking as it did any real position of principle, the ILP could accommodate practically any demand. Socialism was, of course, variously interpreted, but to most it meant state control and planning in varying proportions with import and export boards, investment committees, public corporations and the rest. The I.L.P. M.P.s. rarely missed an opportunity to try and “reason” with the capitalists, showing them the “folly” of their ways. Maxton and McGovern and their friends were wasting their time. The ruling class understood the position better than they did. It should not be the work of the socialist to warn the capitalists about the inadvisability of their actions but to prepare the workers.

David Kirkwood, explained:

“We were going to do big things. The people believed that. We believed that. At our onslaught, the grinding poverty which existed in the midst of plenty was to be wiped out. We were going to scare away the grim spectre of unemployment ... Alas, that we were able to do so little!”

Unlike the Clydeside Reds of the ILP, whose ghosts still haunt the Scottish Left-wing, the Socialist Party are not reformers but revolutionaries. We do not propose to change forms. We care little for forms. We want a fundamental change of society. The Post Office is the “public" property of the people (at least for the moment), and yet the workers in that industry are mere wage slaves. In itself, the question of ownership affects only external forms. The socialist fights for the abolition of the system of wage slavery under which the proletariat is working. We are not duped by those who demand nationalisation. We seek the emancipation of the working class and the abolition of all exploitation.

The overthrow of capitalism, that is our DEMAND. Reforms are non-demands and are legion in their number and variety. A political party with a list of “immediate demands” blurs its goal and it is goals that determine methods. The presence of these palliatives invites compromise and concession, collaboration and corruption. It is for our trade unions to improved conditions and seek amelioration but the political party should strive not for temporary respite but permanent solutions. While many one-issue reform organisations and philanthropic charity organisations possess within their programmes the highest humanitarian hopes socialism alone supplies the basis for any permanent improvement in the condition of humanity. Socialism is not the establishment of environmental regulation, not the abolition of sweat-shop labour, nor the enforcement minimum wage laws. None of these, nor all of them together, is socialism. They might all be done by the government tomorrow, and still we would not have socialism. They are merely reforms of the present system.

The one demand of the Socialist Party is socialism. While not opposing any reforms or improvements which may be secured under capitalism, the Socialist Party steadfastly sets itself against taking time away from its main battle, for revolution, in order to carry on the struggle for reform. It refuses to be maneuvered into abandoning its main demand with campaigns for palliatives.

No matter how you clip and trim a poodle it always stays a poodle and regardless of how much you re-shape and re-fashion capitalism, it remains capitalism.

James Maxton - Wasted Years

James Maxton appeared to be Keir Hardie's natural successor. Maxton is remembered as one of the leading figures of the Red Clydeside era. Religion in Glasgow at this time was all-pervasive. Maxton, a supporter of Celtic was seen by many as pro-Catholic and he did indeed seek and receive the endorsement of the Catholic Church in Bridgeton, but, in return for their political sponsorship Maxton acquiesced to Catholic dogma on subjects such as birth control and denominational schools. Maxton could not be seen in favour of ILP moves to abolish religious instruction for a more secular educational system and he often acted counter to ILP policy on those issues. In regard to birth control he advocated "the intelligent control of the appetites and desires." Maxton opposed the ILP policy to remove the Ministry of Health's ban on giving advice on birth control at maternity clinics. Losing the Catholic vote was too big a risk for a principled socialist stand on family life!

Maxton's whole political life was devoted to the Independent Labour Party. Maxton was chairman of the ILP from 1926 to 1931, and from 1934 to 1939. He was generally seen as the symbol of the ILP after its break from Labour in 1932. At the 1926 annual conference a series of policy documents were adopted under the title "Socialism in our Time" The "Living Wage Plan" called for a minimum wage for every citizen to be a priority. This was to be combined with expanded social services and a national system of family allowances to be paid for by heavier taxation on high incomes, much the same as the reforms demanded to-day by the Commonweal organisation. There is little that is revolutionary about these demands. If the ILP was to win over the the workers to socialism, who was to win over the ILP membership and its leaders to socialism as a first step? Despite the ILP publishing works by Marx and Engels, and while Maxton could declare his support for their conception of socialism, their own publications and election programmes were full of proposals for reforming capitalism. ILP members had been recruited, not on the demand for socialism, but attracted by its reforms. The ILP consistently misled the workers with its description of nationalisation as socialism.

When Maxton first won the seat in 1929 he got over 21,000 votes yet when the ILP put up a candidate there at the 1955 election his vote was 2619 and he lost his deposit. The ILP has vanished and Maxton has become almost forgotten. Having devoted all his political life in the service of the ILP James Maxton's efforts achieved nothing for socialism.

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