by Ken Ferguson • For socialist anniversary hunters, 2018 provides a bumper harvest—Marx’s 200th, Paris May 1968’s 50th, The Communist Manifesto’s 170th, James Connolly’s 150th—just to name a few.
But for Scottish Socialists, surely one of the most significant is John Maclean’s famous ‘Speech from the Dock’ of Edinburgh High Court on 9 May 1918.
Maclean faced charges of sedition for his opposition to World War One’s imperialist slaughter and was subsequently jailed for it.
As we report elsewhere in this Voice, a re-enactment of the speech was staged in Edinburgh by the city’s Peoples Festival to mark the event. The speech has echoed down the generations not as some curiosity from a bygone era but precisely because, at its heart, the power structures he accused in 1918 are today, in a modernised form, essentially the same.
Maclean’s searing words could be describing the power relations of today when he said: “I have remained true to my class, the working class, and whatever I do I think I am doing in the interest of my class and my country. I am no traitor to my country.
“I stand loyal to my country because I stand loyal to the class which creates the wealth throughout the whole of the world.”
And in a world of Trump, nuclear weapons and escalating tensions, perhaps the most famous part of his speech is still chillingly relevant when he said: “I am not here, then, as the accused; I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot.”
Of course, the comfortably padded politicians on the Westminster benches and the Holyrood hemicycle will—as they always do with dead radicals—heap on the praise and move next business.
But with thousands facing insecure work, one million Scots existing in poverty, housing supply dominated by profiteering landlords and all set in a world where tensions rise and war clouds gather, there is much in today’s Scotland which Maclean would recognise.
Establishment figures ridicule any such comparison, pointing to a world of iPads, smartphones and hi-tech health care among the many advances delivered by wonders of the market economy, where clever capitalists provide progress for the people.
However, it is precisely this vast technical advance, currently controlled by a small band of big business profiteers which lifts the curtain giving a glimpse of how the world might be.
Across the planet, millions live out meagre lives such as those paid a pittance manufacturing the latest iPhone or other “must haves” of the increasingly dominant digital world.
Food, toilets and clean water are distant dreams in world dominated by the demands of big business elites in the powerful countries of the so called “triad” of the US, Europe and Japan.
Maclean’s call for the workers to take control of their world and harness their wealth, knowledge and skills for a renewed, just planet is even more pertinent today than when he confronted the warmongers in the Edinburgh High Court 100 years ago.
However perhaps his greatest immediate relevance is right here in Scotland as not just an interesting historical figure but also as a guide to action on the challenges facing pro-independence socialists now.
Since its formation, the Scottish Socialist Party has, like Maclean, stood for an independent Scottish socialist republic and it is that long standing commitment which guides both the party and its paper the Voice’s approach to the national question.
Following the recent massive pro-independence demonstration in Glasgow, there has been an upsurge of discussion about independence, a second referendum when it should happen, whether the demo heralds an increase of grassroots activity and demand for independence and so forth.
The Voice is, of course, in full support of Scottish independence but that support has at its centre not any sentimental flag waving but a recognition that independence must serve the purpose of opening to a Scotland which breaks with big business power rather than trying to sooth it to treat us kindly.
Of course much is made of the fact that polls suggest that indy support is still around the 45 per cent of 2014, despite it being an almost unmentionable issue among the SNP leadership, whose attempt to link it to EU membership has fallen flat.
More importantly, the brave talk about having an Indyref 2 tomorrow singly fails to address the reality that no measure of opinion since 2014 has found a majority in favour of Yes and the Indyref now lobby don’t suggest how that is to be changed.
Before and after 2014, the Voice has always argued that winning Scotland’s working class to Yes is the key to victory. In that context, dusty debates about power grabs or which form of single market to demand are a million miles away from the concerns over falling wages, lousy jobs, rip off landlords and highly expensive public transport.
Only a policy which actively addresses the interests and concerns of the working class majority and convinces them that these will be met by independence—in other words, a socialist Scotland—can deliver the goods.
Maclean was right to demand such an independence in his time and to firmly embrace such a Scotland as a bastion of solidarity with the oppressed across the globe. Tartan clad lairds and small business owners won’t deliver a Yes vote but a programme offering a Scotland shifting power to our working class can take us from a minority to victory.