Independence must be about Transformation not “Transition”

Analyzing the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission Report for the Scottish Left Review, SSP national spokesman Colin Fox writes:


Reading the SNP’s long awaited Sustainable Growth Commission Report reminded me why I left the Labour Party. It reads like an extract from Tony Blairs playbook. Readers of a certain age will recall how the ‘Old Fettesian’ warmonger demanded Labour abandon its core values and become ‘New Labour’ to win over ‘Middle England’.

In attempting to placate ‘Middle Scotland’ former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson has adopted a similar approach. His report is full of Blairite calls for ‘more flexible labour markets’, ‘greater tax incentives for business’ and ‘further inward investment opportunities’ for capital. Such neo-liberal orthodoxy may be expected from a former RBS economist, but it offers merely another vision of low taxes for employers and low wages for employees.

There was a widespread acceptance on the YES side that the economic case for Independence presented in 2014 was our Achilles Heel leaving too many legitimate questions unanswered; How would we deal with the inevitable flight of capital? How would an Independent Scotland cope with a collapse in world oil prices? What impact would Scotland’s falling population have on our long-term ability to pay pensions? How could we turbo charge Scotland’s chronically poor productivity levels?

Dismay

Andrew Wilson was charged with bringing forward answers to all these questions. His Report however has not only failed to deliver the illusive ‘silver bullet’ SNP leaders promised us, it has been met with dismay across the broad Independence movement.

On the central question of what currency we would use, Wilson opts for the most conservative option of all, the status quo. His ‘Sterlingisation’ plan insists we keep the Pound in an informal or ‘transitional’ arrangement that would leave our new nation at the mercy of financial foes we could not protect ourselves from.

The Scottish Socialist Party has long argued we should have our own currency so that our Government will be able to implement its programme in full using all the economic tools available to it. Such an approach gives us the power to vary exchange rates, interest rates or implement spending promises.

Ten years of austerity

Wilson’s ‘steady as she goes’ strategy also recommends ten years of fiscal austerity after Independence to pay down the national debt. Thus, the same approach the SNP slammed Labour and the Tories for introducing in the aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse, would be his post-independence economic centerpiece. Politically this plan not only capitulates to ‘the moneymen’ in The City of London, it completely undermines the message that Independence is about real change.

Responding to Wilson’s conclusions SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon warned her party conference in Aberdeen last month it must stop obsessing about the date of the next referendum and start making a far more persuasive case for independence capable of winning over the persistent majority who oppose it. Such advice is well placed but ironic given her own obsession with Brexit these past two years and her party’s repeated failure to mention independence in three consecutive General elections!

Clear opening between Right and Left

Andrew Wilsons Sustainable Growth Commission report does nothing to make our case more persuasive. And yet having said that, he does the Independence movement one important service, he highlights the profound difference between the Right and the Left in our approach to the National Question itself. For the Left Independence is, and has always been, about change, about securing significant material improvement in the living standards of ordinary working-class people, about breaking free from the British state stranglehold. For the Right however, it is about ‘an orderly transition’ from the existing economic power relations to something similar governed from Edinburgh.

For Nicola Sturgeon the Growth Commission’s conclusions leave her ‘Left flank’ exposed. They are much too Right wing for a nationalist party desperate to pose as Left of Centre. Speculation is already rife that this report will be quietly jettisoned in due course for this very reason.

Material gains in a socialist Scotland

In the meantime, a sizeable opening has appeared to the SNP’s Left. As recent polls confirm however, Scottish Labour’s failure to advocate an independent socialist Scotland, means they are unlikely to benefit from this new landscape. The Scottish Socialist Party’s programme for independence is much more likely to appeal as it includes material advantages for working class people such as:

  • A £10/hour Living wage for all with 16 hours guaranteed as a minimum,
  • Returning our railways, oil and gas and energy industries to public ownership,
  • Ending the industrial scale tax evasion of rich Scots,
  • Rescinding all the scandalous PFI contracts signed, much to their detriment, by Scotland’s public sector
  • Developing Scotland’s vast green energy industry with the profits going into public housing provision
  • For a modern, democratic republic

These demands and others supporting the case for an independent socialist Scotland received great support on the recent Independence rallies. Delivering such demands is the key to persuading Scotland’s working-class majority Independence means real change for them not more of the same.

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May Limps on after Day of Resignations

Amid claims of a ‘Remain coup’ in diluting Brexit plans, SSP national spokesman Colin Fox said:

“Prime Minister Theresa May has survived another debilitating day ‘in the Brexit trenches’ after ‘Leave’ Ministers David Davis and Boris Johnston dramatically resigned from her cabinet over what they saw as further dilution of Britain’s negotiating position with the EU.

As the Brexit conflict continues to ravage her Cabinet, her Party and her political Union it looks increasingly likely, as the Scottish Socialist Party has forecast from the outset, that Britain’s formal departure from the EU next March will result in little difference from present arrangements with the EU.

And this is precisely what big business both here and Europe has wanted all along.

At tonight’s weekly meeting of the Conservative 1922 Committee – of rank and file Tory MP’s – only 4 dissenting voices were raised over May’s plan. Indeed a ‘prolonged show of party unity’ was apparently orchestrated by loyalists.

The Tories view that ‘hanging together is better than hanging separately’ was best expressed by the 1922 Committee Chairman Graham Brady MP who insisted ‘Backbench Conservative MP’s are to be congratulated for showing more unity, loyalty and discipline’ than their Cabinet colleagues.

Others were less enamoured and described the deal hammered out by May at Chequers this weekend as a ‘Remain coup’.

Despite frenzied media speculation however it looks unlikely May will face either a leadership challenge or a vote of No Confidence in Parliament.

Formally independent of the EU but to all extent and purposes still covered by its rules, regulations and treaties May’s plan for Britain was thus criticised by Davis and Johnston.

And they may have a point for increasingly her approach is reminiscent of that taken by Eamon De Valera and the UK Government in the 1920’s and 1930’s in the negotiations to set up the ‘Irish Free State.”

Photo: Number Ten (CC BY 2.0)

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Ethical Investments: Scrap PFI and its pensions investments

by Colin Fox

When Arthur Scargill took over as the President of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1980 he was astonished to find the union’s pension fund invested in the apartheid gold mines of South Africa. The Pension Fund Trustees defended their investment on the grounds it produced the highest rates of return to be found anywhere.

This story in The Guardian about how the Strathclyde Pension Fund and others have profited from PFI shows that they too have blood on their hands.

Let us speak frankly about financiers. PFI represents corruption and theft on an unprecedented scale. The UK’s leading expert on the subject, Professor Allyson Pollock, describes it thus ‘PFI is where you pay for three hospitals and get one!’

She might add even then you don’t own that one.

PFI: Budget Theft

To profit from PFI contracts is to be an accomplice to stealing tens of billions of pounds from the NHS, education, justice and transport budgets.

Amidst an ongoing public debate about whether we should support a hypothetical increase in income tax to raise extra funds for the NHS, the haemorrhaging of money via Labour’s PFI and the Scottish National Party’s ‘Scottish Futures Trust’ seems to have been overlooked.

If, as the Scottish Socialist Party has said all along, ‘PFI equals Labour’s biggest shame’ the SNP’s Scottish Futures Trust is the nationalists equivalent. And the pension fund managers are in need of more lessons in morality and ethical investment because they have sought to profit from the proceeds of one the 21st century’s biggest political crimes – and in the alleged interest of those who have lost the most.

Photo: Dave Conner, Skye Bridge, CC BY 2.0

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Scottish Review of 1984-5 Miners’ Strike Policing: a huge breakthrough

by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser

The announcement by the Scottish government of an independent review of policing in Scotland during the year-long 1984/5 miners’ strike is immensely welcome to all who wish to stand up for the working class.

It’s a long overdue breakthrough for the victimised miners, their families, communities and political allies.

It’s testimony to the value of sustained campaigning, even when at first we don’t succeed!

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Open Letter to the Yes Movement

The Scottish Socialist Party is a significant part of the Yes movement and has been for twenty years now.

That is because we advocate an independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic, and we campaign for that prospect in those constituencies others cannot reach.

We worked as hard as anyone to win a Yes majority in 2014 and continue to do so.

To win that elusive majority however it is vital Scotland’s voters are shown the benefits independence represents rather than offered another version of the UK state governed from Edinburgh.

Failed Economic Model

The SNP’s Growth Commission Report bases itself on the same failed free market economics that have spawned insecure work, poverty wages, chronic indebtedness, austerity and widening inequalities, policies that have failed generations of working class people in Scotland.

The central task facing the Yes movement today is to win a majority for independence by demonstrating how much better things can be for them with democratic self-determination. The Wilson Report completely fails that challenge.

Worse it runs the risk of driving many of those energised to vote Yes in 2014 by a vision of hope, into the arms of an apparently radical Labour Party. And it contains little to win over working class voters who opted for No back then.

Placating the Powerful

It has been written to reassure bankers and businessmen that little will change with independence; that we will keep the pound, keep the neo-liberal economic dogma that has failed our people, keep the austerity imposed upon us by corrupt and reckless banking practices, continue with the privatisation of our public services and industries.

It was this conservatism that cost us victory in 2014. Too many of our fellow citizens were put off by a message that apparently promised to keep the Queen, stay in NATO and maintain the same economic power relations that delivers such dis-benefits presently.

If this Report is put at the heart of another Yes campaign we will lose again.

The SSP will not join in such a mission.

Independence For Material Gains

Rather we would campaign for independence as the way to transform Scotland and offer real solutions and real change to the working class majority. And we expect others on the Left of the Yes movement to do the same.

Only such a campaign which addresses and promises marked improvement in the material conditions of working class people in Scotland on their wages, jobs, housing, health, transport and education – for example – can succeed.

We fully intend to make these points, if afforded the opportunity, at the Assemblies the SNP leadership is reported to be planning in the weeks ahead for the broad Yes movement to comment on its Sustainable Growth Commission Report.

The independence movement has reached a very important milestone on its journey, one long overdue perhaps, where it must determine what kind of independent nation we seek to construct and which Scots we are seeking to stand up for.

We would therefore appeal to all Yes supporters who oppose austerity and want to build on the vision and hope of 2014 to reject this report and to communicate that rejection to the SNP leadership.

And in place of the Wilson programme the wider Yes movement needs urgently to fashion a vision of independence which works for Scotland’s working class majority who are vital for victory.

Key Wins For Working People

As a party which campaigns on such a vision day in day out the SSP suggest it should include :

  • A £10 per hour Living Wage for all.
  • 16 hours minimum contracts for all who want them
  • Public ownership of our railways, energy industry and utilities
  • Ends widespread tax evasion
  • Break with the failed market economics of privatisation, PFI rip offs and failed services.

Such a vision which addresses immediate needs and points the way to an independence which works for Scotland’s working class majority can open the road to victory.

Photo: Craig Maclean

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Colin Fox: Left won’t back ‘right-wing indy economic prospectus’

by Colin Fox

Andrew Wilson’s Sustainable Growth Commission report reminded me why I left the Labour Party and founded the Scottish Socialist Party – because it’s straight out of Tony Blair’s playbook.

Don’t believe me? Blair advocated “flexible working practices” as a cover for undermining the employment rights of working people in the 1990s. Wilson’s advocacy now, as part of “a competitive location for international investment”, is classic Blairite code for cutting corporate taxes, ignoring the nefarious affairs of Russian oligarchs and delivering turbo-charged austerity for the masses. All this while keeping the hated Council Tax and other regressive levies like VAT and fuel duty, where the burden falls heaviest on those least able to pay.

Public ownership was anathema to Blair too, and nowhere does Andrew Wilson’s report mention returning our utilities or “Scotland’s abundant natural resources” to public hands. His “Fund for Future Generations” (page 15), for example, pales compared to Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund because all of our oil and gas fields are privately-owned. We get peanuts from the tax levied on oil company profits, whereas Norway gets all the profits.

Andrew Wilson makes clear (page 5) that independence, for him, is not about challenging existing power relations in Scotland but maintaining them. He talks like Blair did, about “creating a stronger economy” and “sustainable public finances” in order to build “a fairer society”, before all mention of the latter disappears entirely. His “Productivity, population and participation” section is undermined by zero hour contracts, poverty wages, widespread underemployment and, above all, lack of investment.

On population growth and immigration, he omits to point out that the overwhelming majority of the 479,000 migrant workers who have come to Scotland since 2010 are here as a source of cheap labour for unscrupulous employers otherwise unable to find people prepared to sweat all day in their fields and factories for such poor wages.

His “participation” promise makes no mention of the entrepreneurial, creative, social, and academic potential of Scotland’s working-class majority, or the 500,000 people working for less than the Living Wage, or the one million Scots living in poverty – most of whom are in work! Freeing them from the bondage of slave wages, insecure employment and indebtedness to fulfil lives packed with potential would show real ambition and improve our nation’s GDP enormously.

Not only is the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report not the “silver bullet” we had been warned to expect on the crucially important economic case for independence, it undermines the progressive message I support that rejects the status quo, breaks with free market economics and abandons neoliberal constraints, and offers Scotland’s working-class majority a vision of material advance and liberation.

“Tone and message matter as much as policy specifics in driving sentiment”, admits Wilson (page 20). I agree. Yet I found myself in that rare place this weekend agreeing with Iain Macwhirter, who suggested this report be read, filed, and forgotten.

Andrew Wilson’s promise of low taxes for employers and low wages for employees will not be presented as our collective vision of Independence. The Scottish Socialist Party will not participate in a Yes campaign that puts neoliberalism at its centre, for it will not win over the hundreds of thousands of working-class voters crucial to our success. The SSP and others on the left will not campaign for independence based on this right-wing economic prospectus.

Rather, we will present a far more progressive and ambitious vision based on a £10 per hour living wage, secure employment, an end to austerity, a public housing programme to rival that of the 1960s and public ownership designed to lift our fellow citizens out of the poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunity they currently endure and from conditions that Andrew Wilson, his academics and businesspeople apparently wish to maintain.

Colin Fox is national spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party and was a member of Yes Scotland’s Advisory Board during the 2014 referendum campaign.

Main Photo: Craig Maclean

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Growth Commission Report Sidelines Working Class Scotland

by Ken Ferguson

The so-called Growth Commission report is a dismal document which confirms the reality that the SNP is firmly wedded to neoliberal, pro market economics which are failing on a daily basis both here and across the world.

Throughout the document this point is reinforced – none more so when they talk of “fiscal responsibility”; code for keeping the city of London and the markets happy.

What this means in reality for Scotland’s working class – who make up the majority of society – is that the squeeze on spending, services, jobs and wages will continue for at least a decade while the financial elites decide that we are well behaved enough to borrow their money.

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What is BDS and why does it matter?

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was launched in summer 2005 by a coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations in order to bring international pressure against Israel to end its persistent violations of Palestinian human and national rights.

Modelled on the successful campaign to isolate apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, it has gone on to become a key means by which those internationally who stand in solidarity with the Palestine liberation struggle can weaken Israeli colonialism and Israel’s system of apartheid.

Motions of support for the BDS movement have been passed by an increasing number of trade unions, local authorities, political parties and student unions across the world, including in Scotland and Britain.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions

The Palestinian BDS National Committee explains the three components of BDS as follows:

  • Boycotts “involve withdrawing support for Israel and Israeli and international companies that are involved in the violation of Palestinian human rights, as well as complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions”.
  • Divestment campaigns “urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from all Israeli companies and from international companies involved in violating Palestinian rights”.
  • Sanctions campaigns “pressure governments to fulfil their legal obligation to hold Israel to account including by ending military trade, free-trade agreements and expelling Israel from international forums such as the UN and FIFA”.

One of the most prominent elements of the BDS movement in Britain is the call for a consumer boycott, extending to all goods which come from Israel (not just those from illegal settlements in the West Bank — though it’s largely because of pressure from the BDS movement that UK supermarkets such as the Co-op have stopped stocking settlement goods). Specific companies which profit from apartheid are often singled out by BDS activists in their respective countries; Hewlett Packard, G4S and SodaStream are currently among major targets in the UK.

However, the consumer boycott is only one small part of the wider BDS movement, which also seeks to “pressure institutions, unions and companies to boycott or divest and to isolate Israel academically, culturally, economically and militarily”.

In the UK, many local authorities have been disinvested their pension and investments funds from Israeli companies and international companies which profit from apartheid. Scottish activists have also taken part in action targeted at Israeli state-sponsored shows at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and at major arms manufacturers like Raytheon and Thales UK, which operate plants in Scotland and provide Israel with cutting-edge military technology.

BDS grows despite repression

The threat of the BDS movement to the Israeli regime is demonstrated by the lengths to which the Israeli government and its international allies have gone to undermine and defeat it.

In December 2017, the Israeli government allocated $72 million (£54.4 million) to its most expensive anti-BDS campaign to date. Earlier that year, former Israeli government advisor Gidi Grinstein told a conference in the United States that Israel and its allies had “probably invested 20 times … more resources in dealing with this problem compared to what we invested in 2010”.

In 2018, Israel imposed a blanket travel ban on international charities and human rights groups which endorsed the BDS call, and continued its criminalisation of Palestinian BDS activists.

Closer to home, the Tory-led UK government announced a series of measures in 2016 and 2017 to stop local authorities throwing their weight behind the BDS movement, as has been done by the likes of West Dunbartonshire Council and others south of the border.

In February 2017, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid — now Britain’s Home Secretary — promised to “clampdown on these inappropriate and needless boycotts once and for all”. Only a humiliating court defeat inflicted by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in England and Wales forced the UK government to reverse track on those particular measures.

In spite of this, opinion polling conducted by YouGov on behalf of the PSC in summer 2017 found that 43 per cent of British voters still believe the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions is “reasonable”, compared to just 13 per cent who don’t.

To the credit of activists who have steadily built support for the BDS movement over more than a decade, a majority (51 per cent) of Labour voters and a significant proportion (40 per cent) of Conservative voters said BDS was “reasonable”, despite Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (himself a patron of PSC) distancing himself from the BDS movement and Tory leader Theresa May insisting that her party “will have no truck with those who subscribe to it”.

BDS in Scotland

The BDS movement has won support from a broad layer of Scottish civil society, not least because of the work by organisations like the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), which plays a central role in building support in Scotland for the BDS movement.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) gave its backing to the BDS movement in 2009 and confirmed, in 2017, that its links with the Zionist Israeli trade union federation Histadrut had effectively been broken as a consequence. The STUC clearly stated it “is certainly not looking to build bridges with an organisation that supports the occupation of another land”.

Student unions and student associations at University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, University of Strathclyde, University of Dundee and Abertay University have all added their support in previous years, as has the National Union of Students (NUS) at a national level.

However, BDS activists have also been forced to contend with an increasingly well-organised pro-Israel lobby in Scotland which has attempted to make inroads into Scotland’s major political parties. The Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland (COFIS), which works directly with the Israeli state to undermine the BDS movement, has attempted to join anti-racist marches to provide a progressive cover to its support for Israeli state-enforced racism.

These factors, as well as the escalation of Israeli violence against Palestinians following the election of Donald Trump as US president, make continued and unqualified support for the BDS movement a critical component of any meaningful solidarity with Palestine and its people.

Resources

Photos: Craig Maclean

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