World Politics

Scottish Independence: Yes? No?

 

 

Introduction by Radical Socialist

 

 

 

Within the next week, Scotland goes to vote, in a referendum that will decide whether this region will remain a part of the United Kingdom, or whether it will become an independent country. The Yes campaign has been led mainly by the Scottish National Party (SNP), while the main campaigner for the No vote has been the Labour Party. The Conservative and Unionist Party has been extremely weak in Scotland in recent times, and it did not undertake much of a campaign in the North. In England, the campaign was initially not taken too seriously, with the assumption that a defeat of the SNP was a foregone conclusion. Only in the last couple of weeks did it become evident that the battle was going to be a close run thing. Pressure mounted, with finance institutions and government spokespersons making threatening noises, while Labour promised greater devolution if the vote was No. New York Times wrote in an editorial that people from Quebec to Kurdistan are watching the Scottish referendum keenly.

 

The Left in Britain and internationally are divided. We publish below two articles, one by Terry Conway of Socialist Resistance, and the other a statement by Socialist Democracy.

 

 

 

Why the left should support a yes vote for Scottish independence

 

On 18 September 2014 one of the most important votes in the history of the British state will take place when people living in Scotland have the opportunity to vote on whether the country should become independent from the rest of Britain. The article below was written by Terry Conway for International Viewpoint on September 4 and is therefore aimed at an international audience.

 

In the context of the current panic that the strength of the Yes campaign has awakened amongst Unionist politicians in Britain as a whole with Cameron, Clegg and Milliband rushing up to Scotland to preach the gospel of unity – and the creeping realisation that what ever happens politics in Britain will never be the same, we republish it here:

 

The polls currently suggest that those who wish to maintain the Union will probably win a narrow majority, but the reality is that the result is probably too close to call [1] following two high profile TV debates between the pro-independence Scottish National Party leader (SNP) and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, and pro-union Labour MP and former Cabinet member Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign. [2]

 

The campaign around the referendum, particularly that organising for a yes vote, has reshaped politics in Scotland. Mass canvasses including on working class housing estates and packed public meetings have been organised not only by the official Yes campaign dominated by the ruling SNP, but by more radical groups such as the Radical Independence Campaign and Women for Independence which have involved huge numbers in every part of Scotland in political discussions – in a context where mass abstention from the political process has been growing across Britain in election after election. Even the Better Together campaign has been forced to emulate these so-called old-fashioned methods, while both sides have used social media to the full as well.

 

There has been a huge and successful campaign of voter registration. Everyone predicts that the turnout will be much higher than in other elections and the media is forced to concede that the Yes campaign has far more troops on the ground.

 

Even if the yes campaign is not successful on 18 September there can be no doubt that the dynamic of the campaign and the mass politicisation it has brought about will have an enduring effect and it will certainly not be the end of demands for Scottish independence. On the other hand, if the yes campaign is victorious the left in the rest of Britain will need to ensure that the British state does not act to put further blocks on the right of the people of Scotland to exercise self-determination.

 

The back story

 

Scotland has had its own parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh since 1999, following a referendum in 1997 in which 74% of the population of Scotland voted in favour of this step and 64% voted for the parliament to have tax-raising powers. This achievement was itself the result of a vigorous campaign which brought a new generation of activists into politics. While the SNP was an important part of that campaign, it was by no means hegemonic and the process of fighting for the re-establishment of the Parliament was a central part of what led to the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party .

 

The fact that the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher had used Scotland as a testing ground for the introduction of their hated poll tax [3], introducing it in 1989, a year earlier than in England and Wales, gave the campaign for the Scottish Parliament important impetus. This was also the issue which saw the long term undermining of the electoral support of the Scottish Conservative Party. [4]

 

Further financial powers were devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 2012 in an attempt to undercut the yes campaign in the forthcoming independence referendum. Nevertheless key matters, including all foreign policy and overall economic policy, remain the preserve of the Westminster parliament and this reality is a key impetus for the yes campaign. The appeal of more democracy is very potent in practice – again undercutting those who argue that the reason for growing political disinterestedness is apathy rather than disdain for processes which have become so hollowed out by corruption and centralisation.

 

During the first two terms of the Holyrood parliament in Edinburgh, the Labour Party in Scotland was in government and the Scottish National Party in opposition. In 2007 the SNP won a majority of seats and formed a minority government. In 2011 the SNP won a landslide victory, taking 69 out of 129 seats and forming a majority government.

 

When the first election took place for Holyrood, Tony Blair and New Labour were in government in Westminster, implementing neo-liberal policies south of the border with fierce determination as well as going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blair was then succeeded as party leader by Gordon Brown who won the 2007 election. In 2010 David Cameron’s Conservative and Unionist Party won the Westminster election.

 

The SNP

 

The SNP victory of 2011 was a key turning point for a number of reasons. The SNP, founded in 1934, did not win its first MP in Westminster until 1967 but of course the Scottish Parliament was always better terrain for it than Westminster. [5]

 

The SNP is itself a political formation with a contradictory political programme and practice. At one level using the traditional characterisation that it is a petty bourgeois nationalist party is perfectly accurate – the problem is that the description does not actually tell you much of what you need to know.

 

In policy terms for example, the party has always been in favour of the retention of the British monarch as head of state in an independent Scotland! Not very radical then? Certainly one of the reasons why historically many, especially Labour members in Scotland referred to the SNP as Tartan Tories.

 

For 30 years the SNP had a policy of opposition to NATO – an important stance which put it to the left of the other mainstream parties in the country – but at its Perth conference in October 2012 it reversed this position. This was a turn to the right too far for two of its MSPs who resigned from the party in disgust.

 

While the SNP currently remains committed to getting rid of Britain’s nuclear submarine Trident, currently located at Faslane in the west of Scotland, which is why Scottish CND campaigns for a Yes vote, it is clear that this amongst many other things will remain a contested question in practice after September 18.

 

There is a general consensus in Scotland against the presence of nuclear weapons in the country because they are immoral, they are incredibly expensive and almost useless in terms of protecting against the most significant threats to national security. [6]

 

On social matters, where Holyrood has devolved power, the situation is often different from that in the rest of Britain. For example the Scottish government under Salmond has decided to end the right of council tenants to buy their homes, a policy brought in by Thatcher, which has seen the significant depletion of council homes available for rent, as well as acting as a key ideological lever against the idea of collective provision of basic social needs. Scottish students do not pay tuition fees if they study in Scotland – a policy introduced by Scottish Labour but strongly backed by the SNP. Similarly the Scottish government did not introduce charges for personal care for the elderly when they were introduced in the rest of Britain. The SNP abolished prescription charges for medicines in 2011.

 

But despite these positive moves in a world of neo-liberalism, there are deep limitations to the SNPs approach. Ralph Blake explains here why we need to be sharply critical of Salmond’s economic strategy, explaining amongst other things why an independent Scotland needs an independent currency.

 

The No campaign’s relentless focus on the formal question of whether Scotland needs permission to continue to use the pound sterling has probably backfired on them – with people pointing out that there are many countries that use the currency of another. But there has been less debate – at least south of the border – on what this says about Salmond’s overall economic approach and the extent to which he and his party, let alone their friends and supporters in big business, are interested in a real break with the economic orthodoxy of the market. On this question, as on all the others, what will determine the outcome is the extent to which the radical forces that have grown through the yes campaign can maintain a real pressure on the SNP afterwards.

 

The electoral system under which elections to the Scottish Parliament take place – a combination of 73 constituency seats where MPS are elected on a first past the post basis plus 56 seats allocated to eight regions elected on the D’Hondt [7] system – was deliberately crafted to prevent the SNP ever gaining a majority. The SNP itself, since as far back as 2002 when it adopted its seminal document, A Constitution for a Free Scotland, has campaigned for full proportional representation .

 

The key election pledge of the SNP in standing in 2011 was that it would demand a referendum on independence. But exit polls made it clear that many who voted for the SNP last May did not do so on the basis of support for independence. Rather, they saw the SNP as being to the left of the other main parties on offer – the Tories, the Lib Dems and also Scottish Labour.

 

So part of the battle around the referendum has been to convince those same voters that it is only by voting yes that these gains can be protected. The message of those fighting for a Yes vote to the left of the SNP is of course of a different emphasis – that the best conditions to defend and extend the social gains achieved since 1999 are to vote yes – but also to remain mobilised to ensure that these gains can be protected.

 

Constitutional crisis?

 

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s position would be very seriously undermined by a Yes vote. The state that was established by the Act of Union of 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain, would hear its death knell at the hands of a democratic vote by the people of Scotland – though independence itself would not take place until March 2016. The Union flag – generally referred to as the Union Jack – would have its future in doubt with the withdrawal of Scotland’s Saltire. [8]

 

The whole constitutional situation would be up for grabs. The first past the post voting system by which Members of Parliament are elected to Westminster is an archaic undemocratic model which hardly exists anywhere else on the globe. Campaigning against this should be a higher priority for the left across Britain.

 

The fact that other voting systems are used to vote for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly should give some impetus to this. [9]

 

The New Statesman in February 2014 gave the lie to the argument which, like arguments against proportional representation, are used by some in the Labour Party and trade unions on what can only be seen as a tribal basis – that if Scotland goes independent we are consigned to a Conservative government at Westminster on a permanent basis.

 

In fact it states “on no occasion since 1945 would independence have changed the identity of the winning party and on only two occasions would it have converted a Labour majority into a hung parliament (1964 and October 1974). Without Scotland, Labour would still have won in 1945 (with a majority of 143, down from 146), in 1966 (75, down from 98), in 1997 (137, down from 179), in 2001 (127, down from 166) and in 2005 (43, down from 66)”.

 

The fact that the Scottish referendum will be the first time that young people from the age of 16 will be able to vote in Britain must open up a debate about extending the franchise to younger voters in other elections. In a situation where turn out in many elections is low, where the expenses scandal has further undermined confidence in mainstream politicians, this extension of democracy is again something that the left should trumpet.

 

Over the last several decades we have seen the closing down of democracy in England at the same time as the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Local government across Britain has been gutted of meaning not only by the cuts imposed by both Labour and Tory governments but also by legislation which limits what local authorities can do – for example in terms of deciding to build council housing.

 

The development of cabinet control of councils which completely marginalises backbench councillors (those who work for a living) has combined with the introduction of populist measures such as directly elected mayors and Police Commissioners.

 

The left in Britain has had very little discussion about its position on regional government, partly because of the defensive position we have been in during the period that these issues have begun to be discussed, but also because such democratic issues have tended to be way down the list of priorities.

 

The Scottish referendum has further stimulated discussion on these questions and, if a yes vote were to be achieved, this would be even more the case. But while it is clear that the left needs to campaign for PR (hough this is not uncontentious – there remarkably are still people who defend first part the post) and for reform of the existing tiers of local government to give them real power, the debate about whether regional assembles are something that should be argued for has barely started.

 

So a Prime Minister in Westminster who presided over this disaster for his class would have some real explaining to do, particularly given the drubbing his party had the European elections at the hands of the right wing anti-European party, UKIP.

 

The Tories introduction of fixed-term parliaments means that for the first time in British history we know the next General Election will take place in May 2015, which gives Cameron some protection against the prospect of being removed as party leader. However the fact that a prominent Conservative MP has resigned his seat in recent days to fight a parliamentary bye-election as a UKIP candidate means the pressure on him is ratcheting up even before the referendum.

 

This combines with the fact that an increasing number of Conservative MPs are arguing [10] that if the outcome of the referendum were to be a yes the General Election should be postponed. This would require the repeal of the Fixed–term Parliament Act passed in 2011 which would have to be agreed by by both Houses of Parliament in London – not at all a certain prospect. Their argument is that with independence itself not set to take effect until March 2016 you would otherwise have the situation where MPs for the Westminster Parliament would be elected in 2015 but would continue to hold their seats for 4 years beyond independence. This is of particular concern to Conservatives because few if any of them are likely to hold such seats.

 

Not romantic

 

Support for a yes vote does not mean romanticising Scotland or the SNP and its programme. There have been forces in Scotland before and after 1707 that have supported British imperialism. The Scottish ruling class in its majority has rallied support for imperialist wars and the Scottish military has fought under the bloody flag of the union in many conflicts.

 

In terms of the colonisation of Ireland, settlers from Scotland were central to the organised plantation in the seventeenth century – before the Act of Union between Scotland and England – a historical fact which is not irrelevant in understanding the support the vicious and reactionary Orange order still attracts in parts of Scotland today.

 

It is perfectly possible to be more than a little critical of all or some of Alex Salmond’s programme and still believe that this campaign is key for socialists.

 

Indeed while romanticism and uncritical support for Salmond is a stick used to beat supporters of a yes vote by their opponents both in Scotland and England in fact a rather worse romanticism permeates many of their arguments.

 

In his speech on Scottish independence in Edinburgh in February 2014 [11] , Cameron said he was “a Unionist head, heart and soul”, and acknowledged that the Conservatives were not “currently Scotland’s most influential political movement”.

 

But he ducked speculating about what a Yes vote would mean for Tories either north or south of the border – never mind for his own leadership of the party. Of course the main reason for that is that by contemplating such a defeat he fears to make it more likely – but the fact that the Westminster media gives him an easier time on the question of Scottish independence than in debating the politics of UKIP is also a factor.

 

New Labour’s tribalism

 

And it is not only the Conservative and Unionist Party who know that a victory for the Scottish independence campaign would be a problem for them – the New Labour leadership is central to the “Better Together” campaign. They are all too aware that independence for Scotland would mean more independence from New Labour – in the sense of relying on working class people’s votes even when you put forward policies and act in practice in a way which consistently kicks those very supporters in the teeth.

 

It is not surprising then that when Darling says that a yes vote is “as bad for the city as the banking crisis” he is roundly attacked – pointing out his own role in that crisis. Gordon Brown, who had previously kept clear of the Better Together campaign needed to pile in with a speech attacking the so-called pensions’ hole that he claims independence will lead to. Brown has not become more media savvy since he left Downing Street but he is not a member of the Edinburgh elite like Darling. New Labour is aware that key to delivering a no vote in the referendum will be convincing working class voters to stick with the Union – a battle they seem increasingly to be losing.

 

The Better Together campaign is deeply committed to downplaying the role of British imperialism – claiming that Britain has played a positive role in world politics! Whether it is to prettify the role of British (and Scottish) troops in Iraq and Afghanistan or to pretend that the role of neo-colonialism was driven forward by selfless moral imperatives rather than the greed for profit it is all a lie to defend the Union.

 

There are sections of the left that support a no vote in the referendum – objectively supporting the union though of course they do not say so. They do not argue on the same lines as the New Labour leadership, but they too tend to imply that there are no divisions within the working class and that support for independence would introduce such alien divisions from the outside. The reality is much more complex than that.

 

Workers across the globe are divided by racism, by sexism, by homophobia. Working people often believe that some politician of a mainstream party will carry through their promises – despite much evidence to the contrary. Unity of the working class is a dynamic not a static concept – it has to be built and fought for – and it has ebbs and flows.

 

In terms of the precise relationship between Scotland and England, Allan Armstrong in his article for Left Unity explains that different trade unions in Britain and Ireland have different models of organising. For example, there is a Scottish version of the National Union of Teachers, the Educational Institute of Scotland, which organises only in Scotland, while UNITE, Britain’s biggest union, organises across the whole of Britain and Ireland.

 

Workers in the public sector face different situations in different industries – for example health is a devolved responsibility in both Scotland and Wales (and in the North of Ireland). In the private sector – and indeed in the public sector with privatisation – solidarity action across national boundaries is key to defending jobs and conditions in many situations.

 

Also central to this discourse, and again little noticed in the rest of Britain, is the shift that the Unionist parties have had to make on the question of devolution for Scotland. When the campaign to create the Scottish Parliament was in full swing the Tories were opposed to any form of devolution and the majority of New Labour in Scotland was extremely mealy mouthed.

 

But over time they have been forced to concede more. The Scotland Act of 2012 gave Holyrood more revenue raising powers. Unionist politicians of all hues have dangled a new package of devolution [12] in front of the people of Scotland to persuade them there is no need to vote for independence.

 

This is what David Cameron said when he addressed the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in March 2014:

 

Let me be absolutely clear: a vote for No is not a vote for ’no change’. We are committed to making devolution work better still, not because we want to give Alex Salmond a consolation prize if Scotland votes No but because it is the right thing to do.

 

Giving the Scottish Parliament greater responsibility for raising more of the money it spends, that’s what [Scottish party leader] Ruth Davidson believes and I believe it too.” [13]

 

Davidson has subsequently put more flesh on these bones here;. But as we approach the vote it seems increasingly that such pleas are falling on deaf ears. But a yes vote will awaken expectations amongst the many who make their mark believing that Salmond can be trusted as well as those that do not. That’s one of the reasons why the British elite are throwing so much time and money into campaigning to defend the Union.

 

And as Ralph Blake argues here, a victory for the yes campaign can open up a dynamic political process in Scotland around a campaign for a constituent assembly – one of the ways in which discussions in Scotland relate to debates in Catalonia. Socialists across the world have nothing to lose and much to gain by aligning ourselves with such a dynamic movement for radical change.

 

Footnotes
[1] BBC.
[2] Darling is a Labour Member of Parliament at the Westminster Parliament for a Scottish constituency, Edinburgh South West. He has held many positions in the British Cabinet including Chancellor of the Exchequer.
[3] Formally called the Community Charge – an extremely regressive tax imposed on every adult replacing a tax based on the value of property.
[4] Only one Conservative MP was returned to Westminster for a Scottish constituency at the general elections of 2001, 2005 and 2010. In the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Conservatives currently hold 15 of the 129 seats.
[5] Wikipedia entry Scottish National Party.
[6] For more arguments seee here.
[7] For more explanation see here.
[8] The flag of Scotland is known as the Saltire and is currently part of the Union Jack, forming the white diagonal cross on a blue background, see here.
[9] The Welsh Assembly came into being at the same time as the Scottish Parliament but has far fewer powers. Today Plaid Cymru – more radical than its Scottish counterpart – is the majority party in Wales and supports the yes campaign in Scotland.
[10] See here.
[11] New statement.
[12] referred to as devo max
[13] Spectator blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Socialist Democracy statement

 

Scotland: Independence and the Working class

 

September 2014

 

On September 18 the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum on whether the country should become an independent state.  While the outcome of that vote will have its most immediate effect in Scotland its repercussions will be felt across the whole of Europe.  As the region/nation where the movement for greater autonomy or outright independence from existing European states has advanced most the outcome of the independence referendum in Scotland will provide a significant boost or setback to a broader political trend.  There is no doubt that regional movements within Spain, Italy and Belgium are looking to Scotland to provide a justification for their own projects.  In this regard the independence referendum could potentially alter the structure of states within the European Union.  

 

For socialists the Scottish independence referendum is important because of its potential to alter the current framework in which the labour movement operates in Britain and across Europe and the consequences this would have for the development of a unified workers movement.  It is also important because it has created a division in the socialist left with many groups coming out in support of independence for Scotland and other regions within Europe.  It has a particular importance for Irish socialists given Scotland’s close proximity to Ireland, the long history of interaction between the two nations,  and the promotion of the Irish state as a model for an independent Scotland.

 

Principles 

 

When it comes to determining a socialist position on the questions of national independence there are a number of principles that should be applied. The first is the democratic principle of the right of self-determination – that nations should be free to determine their own future.  If that right is denied by another state then that nation can be said to be oppressed.  Any struggle for national rights is therefore a struggle against oppression and against imperialism. As socialists we are against all forms of oppression and such struggles, even if they are nationalistic in character, should be supported unconditionally.

 

The second principle, and the one which is absolute, is the advance of the workers movement and the struggle for socialism. So we are for democracy and against oppression not just because we are democrats or humanitarians but because we believe victories or defeats in these struggles are bound up with the struggle for socialism. We recognise that within struggles against national oppression there is an anti-capitalist dynamic – that the success of such struggles can weaken imperialism and open up the possibilities for the advance of working class politics within both the oppressed and oppressor nations. While this may not always be realised the potential is there.  The question is whether such potential and possibilities exist in regard to Scotland. 

 

Scotland

 

An oppressed nation? 

 

Very few of the left advocates for Scottish independence base their arguments on the claim that Scotland is oppressed as a nation.  No doubt they are aware of the weakness of such a proposition.  The history of Scotland in the capitalist era, both before and since the establishment of the Union and the modern British state, has not been one of an oppressed nation. Rather, it has been one of relative privilege.  Capitalism had been developing in Scotland prior to the Union to the extent that there had even been an attempt at a colonial project.  It was the failure of this project, and the desire of the Scottish capitalist class to again access to overseas colonies, that spurred the partnership with England.  

 

Scotland was an equal partner within the British state and the British Empire.  Indeed, given the relative size of Scotland to England, Scots played a disproportionate role in the running of the state and the Empire.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland was one of the most advanced capitalist countries in the world both economically and ideologically.  It was no coincidence that Scottish intellectuals were the pioneers of the European Enlightenment that would inspire the French and American revolutions.  From the inception of the Union to the present day Scots have been an integral part of British state and the British ruling class.  The relationship of Scotland to the British state is qualitatively different to that of Ireland.  In the case of Ireland there was a colonial relationship under which Irish people were denied the right to self determination - Ireland was an oppressed nation.  Moreover, despite the formal ending of colonialism, Ireland continues to be an oppressed nation - it remains a country dominated by imperialism where the right of self determination is denied through the maintenance of partition. 

 

In contrast, Scotland as a nation has been in a privileged position, and through British imperialism has played a role in the oppression of other nations.  This is not to not to say that that people in Scotland were not oppressed and do not continue to be oppressed .  There is no shortage of oppression in terms of class, race, gender etc.  However no-one is being oppressed because of their Scottish nationality.   While the pro-independence left dismiss the question of national oppression as a distraction or an attempt to set up a straw man argument it actually goes to the heart of issue.  For if Scotland is not an oppressed nation, and the movement for independence is not part of a struggle against oppression, on what basis can independence be advocated by socialists as a mechanism for advancing the interests of the workers?      

 

A progressive nation?

 

Probably the main argument of the left supporters of independence is that Scotland as a nation is more progressive than other parts of Britain and that independence will lift a barrier to the country moving in a more radical direction.  This idea is summed up in Radical Independence Campaign’s slogan;  “Britain is for the rich, Scotland can be for all of us”.  

 

But there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case.  Public surveys have shown that in terms of social attitudes and views on government polices the Scots are no more left wing than people in England.  Moreover, during the period of devolution support for reformist policies in Scotland has actually declined.  Such a trend does not suggest that independence will spur a revival of social democracy let alone socialism.   

 

The traditional dominance of the Labour Party in Scotland has also been cited as evidence as a more progressive viewpoint.  Yet the extent of such dominance has been exaggerated.  For example, in the first half of the 20th century it was the Conservative Party that dominated Scottish politics, to the degree that it remains that only party to achieve a majority of the votes in the country in a general election.  That this is attributed to an “Orange Vote” highlights the sectarian element in Scottish society (an element still visible today) casting more doubt on the “progressive” character of the nation.  Over the last decade the nationalist SNP has supplanted Labour as the governing party in Scotland.  

 

Scottish nationalism 

 

The only way the notion of Scotland as a progressive nation can be sustained is by characterising the SNP as left wing and the rise of Scottish nationalism as having a potentially radical dynamic.  However, there is nothing in the SNP’s history, its record in government or its vision of a independent Scotland, that would lend any support to this contention.  The SNP has always been a thoroughly bourgeois party that has based itself on that section of the Scottish capitalist class that sees its interests better served outside of the Union.  It has never had an orientation towards the working class nor adopted a programme that could even be described as radical or populist.  While claiming to be promoting a Scottish version of social democracy its record in government since 2007 has been one of adherence to the capitalist consensus.  On some issues, such as student tuition fees, renewable energy and classroom sizes, it has positioned itself a fraction to the left of Labour, but the main thrust of its programme is conservative.  During the period of economic crisis and austerity it has not hesitated in imposing the cuts demanded by Westminster. Under the SNP, public spending has fallen by 24 per cent in Scotland, with only the variations of the Barnett funding formula that distributes funds to the various regions delaying the 30 percent cut imposed across England and Wales.  The impact of some of the worst elements of welfare reform, such as the bedroom tax, may have been mitigated but this is a thin veneer on an essentially neo-liberal programme.

 

Neo-liberalism 

 

The neo-liberal orientation of the SNP becomes even clearer when we examine its vision for a independent Scotland.  Its White Paper on Independence identifies the “prize” of independence as the opportunity to create one of the “most competitive and attractive economies in Europe” for investment.  To this end the first priority of an independent Scotland would be to cut corporation tax to a rate 3 per cent below that of Britain.   Here we see the dynamic of a future rivalry between Scotland and Britain as each state attempts to make itself the preferred location for capital.  Of course reducing costs for capital will not just mean lowering taxes - it will also involve lowering labour costs through reducing the wage share of the economy and making working conditions ever more flexible.   Unsurprisingly the White Paper does not highlight this element, but it does point to the mechanism through which it could be achieved.  Described as a“National Convention on Employment and Labour Relations, involving employers and trade unions,”  this is a “social partnership” model in which the state, trade union leadership and employers act in concert to impose the demands of capitalism upon the working class.  The experience of Ireland, where this arrangement has been established for decades, should stand as a warning.  In Ireland, as in Scotland, social partnership was initially put forward as a means to shield workers from the worst of the neo-liberal offensive - but what it actually produced was the imposition of the harshest austerity with the least resistance. Today Irish trade unions have almost ceased to exist as independent organisations of the working class.  Any doubts that such a scenario could unfold in an independent Scotland should be dispelled by the recent assault on trade union organisation at the Grangemouth oil refinery and the role played by the SNP and the leadership of UNITE.

 

The SNP has also committed itself to the institutional bulwarks of neo-liberal orthodoxy in the form of the Bank of England and the European Union.  By far the biggest portion of the mainstream debate on independence has centred on the determination of the SNP to retain sterling as Scotland’s currency.  But this has only raised the question of what scope there would be for an alternative economic strategy in a state that doesn’t even control its own monetary policy. The Bank of England’s record in bailing out financial institutions and pursuing polices, such as quantitative easing and ultra low interest rates, that have served to depress workers living standards, can only serve to reinforce these doubts.  

 

A second pillar of neo-liberalism in an independent Scotland would be the European Union.  The SNP’s draft constitution states clearly that Scotland would be subordinated to the rules and regulations of the EU, going so far to declare that Scottish laws that conflict with those of the EU will be deemed invalid.  While this is put in terms of adherence to human rights legislation in practice it would set the framework for whole of government policy - imposing limits on spending and deficits and opening up every area of society to market forces.  That the EU is a vehicle for neo-liberalism has been shown clearly in the harsh austerity measures that have accompanied the financial “bailouts” of states such as Ireland and Greece. 

 

Imperialism

 

And it is not just in the area of economic policy that the SNP has willingly accepted severe limitations.  It has also made a number of political commitments that would bind an independent Scotland closely to imperialism.  Scotland would part of the EU’s military structures and adhere to the Union’s common defence and foreign policy.  It would also remain a member of NATO - supporting the organisation’s political objectives and contributing to its military capacity.  This would involve hosting NATO facilities within its national territory. While the SNP has said this would not include nuclear armed submarines it has also made clear that there would no objection to the transit of such weapons in Scottish waters.  In response to claims that Scottish independence could weaken NATO the SNP has forcefully asserted that is not the case and that Scotland will remain a firm ally of US led imperialism. 

 

Left supporters of independence have cited the potential weakening of British imperialism as a justification for their stance.  Yet much of this is speculative and also ignores the fact that a weakening of the British state does not mean a weakening of imperialism in general.  A more convincing argument is that the relative decline of British imperialism, and its diminished political and economic weight in the world, has spurred a section of the Scottish capitalist class to seek a closer and more direct alignment with the EU and the US.  In this schema Scottish nationalism is a vehicle that is more likely to strengthen the hold of imperialism on Scotland rather than weaken it. 

 

The alignment of Scottish nationalism to imperialism is consistent with its character as a movement that is seeking privileges rather than liberation.  In this it is similar to the regional/national movements that have gained support within Europe during the recent period of capitalist crisis.  Based in regions that are relatively advanced in terms of industry or natural resources the core message of this type of nationalism is that the people of these regions can do better on their own.  This is often accompanied by claims that they are subsidising poorer parts of the state.  In Scotland much of the nationalist argument centres on claims that “Scottish” oil revenues are going to London.  Such arguments are thoroughly reactionary even by the standards of capitalism.  Historically, the capitalist state has sought to reduce regional disparities, all be it in a very limited way, through financial transfers and national public services.  In Britain this is represented in such things as the Barnett funding formula, the welfare state and the NHS.  A consequence of Scottish independence would be to bring these mechanisms for smoothing out regional disparities to an end and deepen regional inequalities even further.  Scottish independence could also act a spur for further regional antagonisms as disputes arise over how assets and liabilities should be divided.  

 

One the worst indictments of the privilege seeking nature of Scottish nationalism is the SNP’s plan to retain the British monarchy - the historic institution and ideology that justifies all the other inequalities.  This is not just a question of symbolism - the existence of the monarchy and the unlimited powers of the “royal prerogative” would put severe restraints on democratic rights in an independent Scotland.  It makes a mockery of the claim in the draft constitution that sovereignty resides in the Scottish people.    

 

The working class 

 

If the Union created the political framework for the development of capitalism in Britain it also provided the framework for the development of the working class.  As the first, and for most of its history, the world’s leading industrialised nation, Britain has the oldest working class in the world.  Its labour traditions in terms of organisations and politics stretch back over 200 years.  British working class history has witnessed epic struggles such as the Chartist movement, the 1926 general strike and the trade union militancy of the 1970’s.  The working class has played a key role in every social and democratic advance that has taken place in the country.  While they may be reformist in nature, the trade unions and Labour party are a reflection of unity of the working class.  At various times the political consciousness of Scottish workers may have been in advance or lagged behind that of their English counterparts but their struggles have never been uniquely Scottish.  

 

What has given rise to nationalism, and its advance into a sections of the Scottish working class, has been the defeats suffered by the labour movement and the collapse of social democracy in the recent period.  That Scottish nationalism has risen on the back of defeats for labour is another indication of its essentially conservative character.

 

The left

 

This working class retreat is also reflected in the changing position of the various left groups on Scottish independence.  Thirty years they would have completely dismissed it but now most of them are in full support despite offering no convincing expatiation for their turnabout.  The foremost example of the pro-independence left is the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) - an early adapter to Scottish nationalism and now an affiliate of the official yes campaign.  In the early part of the century it was promoted as the model of the new left party.  Like all these parties it was distinguished by an attempt to bypass the difficulties posed by the retreat of the working class and the collapse of traditional leaderships, seeking instead to identify a radical short-cut to socialism.  In the case of the SSP this short cut was Scottish nationalism.   However, this proved to be a fatal weakness when it completely collapsed into nationalism and what support it had won was hoovered up by the SNP.  In reality the short-cut to socialism turned out to be a short cut to nationalism.  That most of the left groups should continue to support nationalism even after the disastrous experience of the SSP demonstrates the degree to which they have lost faith in the revolutionary potential of the working class.  For most left groups in the YES campaign the effect of their activity is to provide a left cover for the reactionary politics of the SNP.

 

Socialism and independence

 

Despite the reversals the working class has suffered in the recent period and the current low level of political consciousness it remains the only class that can bring about revolutionary change in society.  The idea that this can be achieved through a form of nationalism divorced from any struggle against national oppression, particularly of the type represented by the likes of the SNP, is a dangerous illusion.  In Britain a division of the working class along national lines would be a huge step backwards for the workers movement, even from the weakened state it is currently in.  For though class struggle is at a very low level, those struggles that have taken place, including in Scotland, have arisen out of Britain wide disputes.  The creation of an independent Scotland would break that unity and make the task of advancing the workers movement more difficult.

 

As socialists we support the right of Scotland to self determination, but we reject the idea that Scottish nationalism represents a way of advancing the interests of the working class.  Scotland is not an oppressed nation and the movement for independence is in no way part of a struggle against oppression.  There is no basis for socialists to be advocates of Scottish independence.  All the arguments for independence are in essence nationalist and pro capitalist whatever the left gloss than is placed on them. 

 

Our opposition to independence is not support for the status quo but for the unity of the working class in Britain and across Europe.  We do not believe for a moment that the current structures of Europe can be used to advance the interests of workers. We do believe that the way forward is through struggling against those structures and counterpoising a united socialist states of Europe. The workers movement would be weakened by a process where regional capitalist classes try to corner local resources and win the workers to a reactionary and divisive nationalism - a process that would inevitably receive a boost from a Yes vote in Scotland.  

 

The task for socialists in all countries, whether that be Scotland, Britain or Ireland, is indeed independence - not of nations or of regions but of the working class. Where national oppression continues we support self-determination both on its own terms and on the grounds that, in its absence, there cannot be genuine unity of the working class in the oppressed and oppressor nations.  This class independence, in terms of politics and organisation, is the very foundation of the struggle for socialism.  It is because Scottish nationalism and the call for independence throw up yet more barriers to this unity that we urge workers in Scotland to register a resounding No vote in the upcoming referendum.