frontline 19.


In the first of two articles in this issue of Frontline looking at Gordon Brown’s proposals for a ‘national day’ Graham Campbell looks at the questions raised about national identity and multiculturalism. Graham lives in Glasgow’s Sighthill and is an activist in the SSP Black and Asian Network.

So Gordon Brown, waiving the Union Flag (or the ‘butchers apron’ as republican socialist SNP MSP Sandra White rightly called it. Brown truly deserves to fly the flag of oppression and imperialism. He truly is ‘John Bull, gentleman..dripping with blood from head to foot’... (John MacLean). But why did Brown raise the ‘British national question’?

‘Gordon Brown rarely says anything without an ulterior motive...Has he seen the light and recognised the collateral damage caused to our society and institutions by Labour’s demented diversity and devolution agenda? I shouldn’t have thought so for a moment. When people talk about ‘Britishness’ they usually mean ‘Englishness. The Celtic fringes have no problem celebrating their nationality. It probably helps explain why Scotland’s Muslims are better integrated than their co-religionists south of the border’ (rabid right winger Richard Littlejohn - Daily Mail, January 21 2006) That would be news to many Scottish Muslims given the recent opening of an MI5 Glasgow office, the rise in stop and search and in Islamophobic and racist assaults. Since 9/11 a residual backlash as taken place against the long-resident Asian and Muslim communities as Islamophobia has become an acceptable form of public racism. This has gone hand-in-hand with the scapegoating of asylum seekers and the massive increase in both casual racist attacks; and the state victimisation of Black, Asian and minority communities, is testimony.

The Scottish Executive version of multiculturalism is equally hypocritical – using Asian actor and footballer Atta Yacub (star of Ken Loach’s ‘Ae Fond Kiss’) in its TV advertising campaign, while allowing the Home Office to put asylum seekers families in Dungavel and evict them from their homes to become destitute. There’s not a single person of colour in the Scottish Executive’s Race Equality Unit; and a mere handful of non-whites in Glasgow City Council’s race committee. This despite anti-discrimination laws like the Race Relations Amendment Act 2002 which requires public bodies to actively monitor, challenge and change their institutionalised racist employment practices. The STUC’s recent research confirms the cost of the being Black in Scotland - three times as likely to lose a job if you can get one; 4 times as likely to be unemployed; paid up to one third less on average.

England and Scotland are indeed showing signs of repeating the pattern occurring in European countries. The more the mainstream capitalist parties ape the far right with repressive immigration policies; the more they build a social base for the far right because their views become mainstream and respectable.

This amazing, though completely unsurprising comment by Little Englander Littlejohn is symptomatic of the right-wing backlash against multi-culturalism and integration what they call ‘political correctness gone mad’. Littlejohn continues: ‘Labour has done its best to erase a separate national identity for England. Any mention of English nationality is scorned by ministers as akin to Nazism.’

This exaggeration and distortion does have – like all stereotypes – a kernel of truth. Brown was obviously trying to boost his changes of being Prime Minister by proving his British nationalist credentials to increasing English nationalist leaning voters in the south east of England. He tried to raise the Britain of fair play, good neighbourliness; tolerance and democratic freedom and respect was invoked yet again to serve as mythical glue to bind the ‘nation’ together in these times of trouble and uncertainty. It is however, an entirely mythical construct not based on notions of class or collective belonging, but on a bastardised one-nation Conservatism – harking back to a bygone era. The devolution settlement means that Scottish and Welsh New Labour MPs can vote to impose foundation hospitals, university tuition fees and reactionary education policies – none of which apply to their Scottish and Welsh constituencies – and when the majority of English MP s voted against. The discontent this is beginning to arouse white workers in the form of British or English nationalism, in the form of UKIP or the more fascist BNP; is being fuelled by popular Islamophobic and anti-asylum seeker newspapers and radio talk show hosts.


It was against this background that Trevor Phillips the head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) first hit the headlines back in April 2004 when he pronounced ‘multi-culturalism’ dead in the sense of accepting ‘different but equal’ diametrically opposed, ethnic cultures seen as entrenched, homogenised, geographically separate communities of culture. Phillips declared “It is important to differentiate the idea of a multi-cultural society, which is a fact of life in Britain, from multicultural-ism” which should be replaced by a new form of British nationalism – one founded on a common elements of a modern nationhood; citizenship, rule of law, English language, good neighbourliness.

Other controversial speeches and columns came from erstwhile liberals like the Guardian writer Polly Toynbee attacking ‘the failure of multiculturalism’ and the leadership of the Muslim communities. The Scottish and British capitalist class are clearly having a crisis of national identity. The schizophrenic nature of Blair’s onslaught against asylum seekers; the numbers making applications are down by two-thirds; while trying to promote multicultural unity with anti-racism campaigns is untenable. Yet the more Blair solves the problem the less that racist public opinion believes he has done it. It has led to a questioning of the ruling class strategy for ‘integration’ by some of its high-ups - something is definitely going on.

Phillips effectively blamed Asians for self-segregating themselves in all-brown ghettoes. He and other prominent Black government academics blamed Asians and Muslims for their lack of cohesion within wider society rather than blame the institutional racist exclusion they face at school, work and on the streets.

The 2001 Cantle report did into the so-called race riots in the North West of England condemned what were in fact Asian (and partly white) youth uprisings against both racism and police oppression. It concluded that a “meaningful concept of ‘citizenship’ needs championing and establishing..based on common principles that are shared and observed by all sections of the community.” As for the venom expressed by Asian youth on the streets of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley during the 2001 fascist-inspired provocations; the Muslim elders were supposedly guilty of not speaking English enough (despite 65% of Asian elders possessing a good command of the language and their kids being British-born and facing extreme discrimination). They were also apparently failing to instil ‘British values’ of fair, decency, citizenship etc into their youth – leaving them prey to fanatical Islamic extremism and terrorism. Then Home Secretary David Blunkett then introduced compulsory citizenship test only for newly qualified immigrants. These so-called Black and anti-racism industry ` professionals who write these reports were doing a grand job of racist scapegoating!

After the 7/7 London bombing, Phillips second controversial speech in Manchester – titled ‘Are we sleepwalking into segregation?’ warned of an oncoming New Orleans style nightmare of increasingly segregated neighbourhoods, who would soon have no sense of common cultural values that would allow a new, common British national identity to develop. “The aftermath of 7/7 forces us to assess where we are...we are sleepwalking into segregation. We are becoming strangers to each other, and we are leaving communities to marooned outside the mainstream.”

Never mind not mentioning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor the oppression of the Palestinians as motivating factors. This is about diverting attention and finding a convenient scapegoat. But why is the government playing the race card? Why the exaggerated warning of New Orleans-style ghettoisation in British cities?

Phillips was perhaps being honest in recognising Blair’s bourgeois strategy was not working. That multiculturalism in its ‘chicken tikka masala’ format; and as applied by Labour town halls in the 1980s and 1990s - was divisive. Communal ethnic bases of support developed thanks to the largesse of councillors distributing council funds for local services. It also set up divide and rule between different Black communities in a context of cuts across the board inevitably breeding resentment and allowing the Black and minority middle class careerists to come to dominate the political leadership of ethnic communities, using Black workers as voting fodder for Labour.

“There has to be a balance struck between an ‘anything goes’ multiculturalism on the one hand which leads to deeper division and inequality; and on the other, an intolerant, repressive uniformity. We need a kind of integration that binds us together without stifling us. We need to a nation of many colours that combine to create a single rainbow.” “ Yes that does means recognising diversity and rejecting assimilation. But I believe we are in danger of throwing out the integrationist baby along with the assimliationist bathwater. In recent years we’ve focused far too much on the ‘multi’ and not enough on the common culture.”

One element of this ‘common culture’ is of course the British Empire enforced English language; it’s religions imposed through earnest Scottish missionaries; good manners and British valuing of educational attainment are marked down to the colonial power’s influence. Phillips even invokes British punch and judy satire against politicians as an inherently British trait. Like no one else does cartoons!

Phillips’s remedy is Equality – everyone is treated equally, has a right to fair outcomes, and no one should expect privileges because of what they are. But white racism is based exactly on the fact that people believe they’re entitled to exactly that – privileges.

Participation – all groups in the society should expect to share in how we make decisions, but also expect to carry out the responsibilities of making the society work. How worthy and notable and utterly utopian! It is clear that not all groups are allowed to participate in decisions that affect because of racism!

Interaction – No-one should be trapped within their own community, and in the truly integrated society, who people work with, or the friendships they make, should not be constrained by race or ethnicity. Of course Black people are precisely constrained because of racism and poverty – Phillips offers no hope that in his final months as the last CRE chair before it is merged with the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission into a single Equalities and Human Rights commission; that he will take any action to change things.


What are missing from the debate have been two things: 1. The material roots of racism, in slavery and imperialist colonialism, and the need not just for Black people but also for white people to reject imperialism as an essential part – a building block of their national identity. 2. That CLASS is the main collective identity of interest, values and experience that is shared across all nationalities and communities. Phillips even gives it a passing mention in “Sleepwalking’ “Yes some ethnic groups are doing comparatively well. But many are not. And among those who are not doing well are some white groups: poor white boys are failing at school.... Nor is this just a matter of class, though as ever in Britain, who and what your parents were cannot be ignored. What your parents earn and own still matters. But where they came from, and how they worship may now be just as significant in determining what sort of life you can have, how you do at school, what work you do, who you marry, where you live, and indeed, when and how you die.”

Phillips is of course right in this conjecture but fails miserably to run with it for the rest of his misinformed speech on “The Drift to segregation”.

Classes are composed of racial, and gendered human material living in a given historical, political, economic and religious context. No class in history – oppressor or oppressed has ever been born colour-blind. The social construct that is ‘Race’ will always have a material affect on society so long as, imperialism exists and so long as capitalist private property relations dominate. And won’t be until the international working class has succeeded in implementing socialism for many decades. If class is the only consistent thing we have in common, it surely has to be the only serious basis for inter-racial unity. One based on recognition of its diversity in “differentiated unity”.


The response of most socialists in particular the SWP was (quite understandably) to attack Phillips as stirring up racism and being a tool for Blair’s agenda of making his politically incorrect, ever more draconian policies seem acceptable. Kevin Ovenden in SR and Hass Mahamdallie rightly pointed to figures, which proved that Phillps fears of increasing segregation were wildly exaggerated. However, these criticisms have effective sought to defend the bourgeois state ‘multi-culturalism’ policy from the left as a defence of democratic progressive policy – a development of basic human rights to equal and fair treatment. It is not the case – socialists should not support bourgeois integration since they working people involved are and were never consulted on either side – immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers have no choice where they live - poverty and exploitation determine that. Meanwhile the scheme based ‘white trash’ that Scottish politicians and councils have neglected for decades are too trapped by poverty and exploitation to escape. This was not voluntary integration. It has taken anti-racist community campaigners in Sighthill 5 years of patient grass roots work to develop a sense of shared working class community across the 50 nationalities to be found in the first Glasgow neighbourhood to receive asylum seekers in 2000.

However, the SWP comrades despite their excellent work in tackling racism through Campaigns to defend asylum seekers; anti-fascist mobilisation and the recent book edited by Brian Richardson on Black kids being failed by state schools ‘Tell it like it is’; they have essentially an economist method of analysing racism and national identity. They start from the position of not recognising the white working class has any ethnocentrically driven source of identity, based upon language, history and culture of the its Labour movement; racism is a tool used to divide workers; - the false consciousness model of racist ideas stipulates that: -

However, as any Black worker who has been in any workplace, can tell you, being in the same union, does not destroy the imperialist ideology that all white people inherit as the wages of whiteness – a cultural relativism that assumes his own culture superior to other. The fact that imperialist economic relations mean that the living standards of the majority of white workers – even its unemployed is way above the earnings of industrial workers in the majority third world. The western workers have material privileges in their conditions of life, which are – as with all ideologies, false or otherwise – the source of their sense of spiritual, national superiority. This is where national identity comes from. In Scotland’s case, it churches also have a long history of colonial missionary imperialism in Africa and Asia, and the back of its active participation in the slave, sugar and tobacco trades, which allowed the accumulation of capital in Glasgow for it to become a centre for shipbuilding; for Edinburgh finance houses; and for Dundee’s jute trade. The class identity and national outlook of Scottish workers is profoundly shaped by that history. It should come as no surprise to Marxists that as the threat of the breakdown of this stable economy of relative privilege – though still crumbs compared to the capitalists – is often enough to set worker against worker in a divide and rule race to the bottom.

An anti-racist strategy that does not tackle this essential truth, that because of imperialism white workers are a privileged caste on the global scale, using a race-class analysis; will fail to do other than tail-end bourgeois strategies for coping with market based ‘integration’.

Black workers in Europe, America and the developed capitalist nations represent the unstable presence of the other within the centre - Third world inside the first world. We are a visible reminder that there is a world being dominated out there, which means to resist by any means necessary. Black workers are potential dynamite infecting the white working class with the plague (as the capitalist sees it) of internationalism and solidarity.

As a Black Marxist who believes Black Liberation and socialist revolution are interlinked processes; I do not believe that a capitalist state can be truly anti-racist in any meaningful sense. When it passes anti-discrimination laws – and Britain is well ahead of most other countries in the world – it’s implementation is in spite, not because of the bosses. It is because ordinary Black people have fought for their rights, organised collectively, in their communities and workplaces and have won test cases, forcing anti-discrimination laws to be upheld.


The existence of a very different national identity in Scotland, and a more progressive, left-of-centre political culture of working class solidarity; has often been cited as the reason for a relatively lower level of racism; than down south. This myth continued to be perpetuated during the 1970s period of radicalised workers struggles; the resistance to Thatcher’s 1980s neo-liberal structural adjustment culminating in mass anti-Poll Tax movement; and the rise of the SSP in the 1990s.

Yet it is still seen as acceptable for many whites to use expressions like the ‘Chinkies’ (Chinese take away) or the ‘Paki-shop’ (Asian-owned local shop). Perhaps worse is the level of resigned acceptance of this abuse by many Chinese and Asian victims of these slurs as them – ‘not really being racist’. All testimony to the low level of race-consciousness of both whites and non-whites in Scotland.

The positive side of Scottish national identity in the early 21st century is its history of egalitarianism and enlightenment. Edinburgh and Glasgow were amongst the first cities in the UK to host anti-slavery societies in the 18th century. The Scottish courts the first to rule in favour of granting slaves their liberty. The mass support in Scotland for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, for the freeing of Nelson Mandela throughout the 1980s was symbolic of that broad social-democratic consensus. That is perhaps why Scotland’s bourgeois nationalist party the Scottish National Party (SNP) has tended towards an inclusive definition of the nation - one not based upon white racial characteristics, or cultural relativism; but based upon a recognition of the multi-ethnic, multi-national nature of Scotland; and shared commitment to a common set of cultural and or political democratic values.

When you don’t know your history and traditions it lead to a lack of class-consciousness. That is why I mark the 1820 Scottish weavers rising in Sighthill cemetery each year in September to remember Scotland first working class-led uprising for freedom. It is clear there is a problem amongst white youth of the age of 16-25 years – who are alienated from politics and their own history and culture. Let’s not forget the English here either. Unless the English left reclaims the history and traditions of the English working class and makes it meaningful to ordinary workers -from the Chartists, abolitionists, suffragettes to the Miners strike etc.; to the arts and crafts of William Morris; and William Blake’s poetry; as advocated by folk singer Billy Bragg – then they can never solve the English national question.

The former 1980s, 1990s generations of youth who joined the Young Socialists, or the Militant are now in there 30s and 40s with kids of their own. They learned their politics in a more favourable, and more politically active period, of higher trade union density. Young workers now simply don’t have the back up of class organisations, or experience of a political organisation based on class, to shape and mould their class identity in a non-lumpen way. In the absence of progressive movements or ideas frustration and anti-social behaviour can easily give way to lumpen, anti-social ways of relating.

The fact in the Southside of Glasgow alone 64 youth gangs exist with around 1,200 members, is testimony that they have become the only form of socialisation many young people are experiencing as they grow up – based on a tribal sense of white, very local territorial identity. The role of the SSY in escaping the student campuses and getting out onto the estate will be crucial in the next period, if socialists are to reach scheme based white working class youth. While the BNP has not yet capitalised upon the growing racist and Islamophobic sentiment, we are in a race against the racists to regain and rebuilding influence amongst the youth.

The mere existence of the SSP is not itself a guarantee or insurance or inoculation against the vampiric effect of racism in Scotland’s working class communities. Despite bashing the fash back in the mid 1990s; the conditions which created fertile ground for socialist growth then; mass poverty, social inequality etc; has risen in step with the ascending left-nationalist consciousness of most sections of Scottish society.

The classical historical basis for the re-emergence of a fascist social movement – a combination of discontented elements of the white working class poor; along with the mortgaged-up, £1bn a month debtors; those sections of the ‘lower middle class’. In the absence of a generalised fightback – an upsurge in level of struggles and political activism in depressed communities – but also in the absence of a potentially terminal crisis of capitalism occurring.

Does that mean that all those resident in Scotland, have to assimilate into a shared ‘Scottish culture’? I would say not. Bourgeois state policies of assimilation, which Phillips came close to advocating, are oppressive by their very nature. Socialists clearly should not argue for this. Instead they must be advocates of ‘revolutionary integration’ from below within communities, within workplaces.