by Colin Fox
It is widely reported that Nicola Sturgeon is about to call a second referendum on independence with autumn 2018 her preferred date. Indyref 2 is set to take place before Britain formally leaves the EU. The SNP leader’s calculation is that a majority will vote for independence in order to remain, theoretically at least, inside the European Union.
Before analysing the wisdom or otherwise of this plan let me remind readers why the Scottish Socialist Party supports independence.
For us independence is about transforming Scotland’s economic, social and political landscape forever. It is about tackling the appalling levels of exploitation, inequality and injustice suffered by millions of Scots every day at the hands of ruthless employers, landlords, landowners and financial speculators. It is about tackling the chronic shortage of affordable housing and appalling levels of child poverty and fuel poverty. There was a time when this task was seen as being achievable in Scotland via a powerful UK labour movement. Not anymore.
Nowadays this goal is felt more likely by affording Scots the democratic right to self-determine it. The SSP has always believed working class people will be better off free from the debilitating constraints imposed upon them by 21st century capitalism.
Break with capitalism
The Scottish Socialist Party are not nationalists, we are socialists. These are decidedly not the same thing.For us, independence represents a break with neoliberal capitalism and the outmoded, reactionary politics of the British State. That is why we argue for an independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic.
It goes without saying this is not the vision of independence the SNP advocates. They want Scotland to remain in the hands of a private, capitalist elite.
Theirs is a conservative vision of independence where Scotland keeps the pound, keeps the monarchy, keeps its NATO membership and allows the same employers, financiers and landlords to continue to own our industries, properties and infrastructure and reap all the rewards.
The Scottish Socialist Party are not nationalists, we are socialists. These are decidedly not the same thing.
And that conflict is apparent in Nicola Sturgeon’s Indyref 2 plan which is at odds with what the broad based Yes movement had previously agreed — since losing a second referendum would be the death knell for our cause we would only call for one when we were ahead in the polls having held that lead over a prolonged period.
The Scottish Socialist Party voted to Remain in June 2016 but we did so only ‘as the lesser of two evils’.The SNP leader is about to ditch that consensus and gamble that a section of Scotland’s middle class, who refuse to accept the EU vote, will back independence to stop Brexit from happening.
Her gamble is one which puts the issue of EU membership ahead of independence.
Sturgeon has presented the myth over recent months that the EU is some ‘Garden of Eden’ where privileges are bestowed on Scotland from on high by some philanthropic guardian angel in Brussels when it is in fact an anti-democratic bureaucracy entirely in the grip of a neoliberal corporate elite.
The Scottish Socialist Party voted to Remain in June 2016 but we did so only ‘as the lesser of two evils’. That puts us, in my view, alongside the vast majority of Scots who similarly had no illusions in the EU.
The SNP and Greens however seem to have lost the plot — the SNP’s MPs were singing the EU anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, during the Westminster vote on Article 50!
And neither are voters impressed by prophecies of economic and social ‘Armageddon’ coming from Nicola Sturgeon, Mike Russell and Alex Salmond in regards to Brexit. It hasn’t happened yet, and it is too early to forecast accurately what the economic consequences of Brexit will be.
To base your tactics on negotiations you have no influence over, or on an unknown agreement, or on theoretical economic predictions gravely endangers the case for independence.
Moreover, to blame, as the SNP undoubtedly will, all future economic woes Scotland faces on leaving the EU is ludicrous and patently ignores many of those same weaknesses whilst we were part of the EU.
The SNP have ignored the widespread ambivalence there is towards the EU amongst Scotland’s ‘silent majority’ for whom it clear that this is not the key issue to win us Indyref 2. They have greatly overplayed the ‘democratic deficit’ inherent in Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU. This was after all not the only occasion when Scotland voted differently to the rest of the UK.
The poll tax was another example — imposed upon us by Thatcher in 1988. So was the war in Iraq, imposed on us by Blair, his PFI privatisation programme, Trident, the bedroom tax and the last two General elections. But the SNP did not react to those ‘democratic deficits’ with anywhere near the same degree of defiance. And that is because this particular ‘deficit’ speaks to the kind of party they are.
Above all they serve the interests of corporate Scotland. ‘Standing up for Scotland’ means standing up for the Scottish corporate establishment. And it is clear that business establishment fears for its profits outside the EU. It is those corporate interests whom the SNP seek to represent here in the position they have taken over the EU.
Securing Scotland’s independence from ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ will not be easy. Indeed the next referendum will be far more difficult to win than the last one.
The British ruling classes—and Scottish corporate interests — are dead set against independence because it weakens their power and influence at home and internationally. They will ‘die in a ditch’ to maintain that power.
The Scottish Socialist Party refuses therefore to take a complacent or cavalier attitude towards securing self-determination. And we are unimpressed by the strategy the SNP leadership is employing to secure majority support for it. This is the party that barely mentioned independence in two consecutive General Elections, far less advocate it.
The great political irony of our time is that the same SNP who won unprecedented levels of support for opposing New Labour — with its casualisation, poverty wages, zero hour contracts, privatisation and austerity — adheres to these policies itself.
That stark political contradiction will not be obscured for ever. Nicola Sturgeon’s Indyref2 [the EU edition] also presupposes Westminster will simply do as she tells them when the power to hold this legally binding vote remains entirely in their hands.
Like it or not Westminster will ultimately decide when the referendum takes place, the nature of the question[s] to be asked, the number of options on the ballot paper etc.
They will insist there is no Yes/No choice this time. They are said to be considering a multi-option referendum with Devo Max and Federalism among the choices.
And they do not intend to be as easily outmanoeuvred as Cameron’s minority administration in 2012.
The defenders of the Union learned several lessons from September 2014. Their attitude, if you read their press, is that they ‘dodged a bullet’ last time.
The vote was closer than they imagined it would be. And they are not about to put their beloved UK in jeopardy again.
They will milk any economic and political successes Brexit brings in terms of new trade deals and ‘taking back control’ from Brussels. They will also play upon fears over the ‘uncertainty and risk’ independence may entail just as they did last time.
SNP diehards who insist that ‘we started out in 2012 with 28 per cent support for independence and reached 45 per cent so we can win simply by doing what we did last time’ are deluded. The world of September 2014 has gone for ever.
Politics is not about playing with abstract figures. It is about learning from past mistakes, reckoning with new realities and developing winning strategies. In that regard the ‘Yes movement’ has not yet understood why we lost last time.
Nor is it healthy to offer mindless ‘cheerleader support’ to everything Nicola Sturgeon and Angus Robertson say and do. That is not what the independence movement needs.
We need more people to grapple with the issues themselves and speak out against the dangers in the course of action the SNP advocate by demanding wiser counsel prevails.
The Yes movement does not have anywhere near enough independent voices offering rational, coherent and ultimately more persuasive opinions on the best way forward.
The Scottish Socialist Party is one such vital dissenting voice.
Our case for independence must address why we lost last time and assuage the fears of Scotland’s working class majority.
What currency will we use? What will we will do with North Sea oil profits and the lack thereof? What about the GERS figures — the deficit between what the Scottish Government raises in taxes and spends on services?
What reassurance can we give people about their pension entitlements? And what hope of a better life is there for the 467,000 workers in Scotland surviving on £8.45 an hour or less?
These and a thousand other questions like them remain unanswered.
Let’s give people straight answers to those questions and outline the inspiring vision behind them before we hold a second referendum based on illusions in an anti-democratic bureaucracy in Brussels.
This article was previously published in issue 491 of the Scottish Socialist Voice. All these issues will be discussed further at the Voice Forum ‘More than Brexit: the progressive case for independence’
Main photo: Craig Maclean