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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 December 2012

Scottish referendum: What sort of independence should socialists campaign for?

Rallying for a yes vote in Edinburgh as thousands march for an independent Scotland, photo M Dobson

Rallying for a yes vote in Edinburgh as thousands march for an independent Scotland, photo M Dobson   (Click to enlarge)

The fallout from the world economic crisis, which has brought savage austerity for the majority in its wake, is also threatening the possible break-up of multi-nation states, including Spain, Belgium and Britain.

These developments pose important questions for socialists. Philip Stott outlines the approach that the Socialist Party Scotland is taking towards the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland.

The 2014 referendum is going to take place against the backdrop of an unprecedented economic crisis. Tory Toff, David Cameron's Con-Dem government is attempting, and to a degree has already succeeded, in 'unleashing hell' against the working class, the poor, the unemployed and the disabled.

Now we are told the austerity programme of the Westminster government will go on and on. The Bank of England governor quietly declared in November that "the UK could be stuck in a low growth environment for years."

Millions of workers in Scotland and elsewhere in Britain have taken action in mass demonstrations and strikes, including the magnificent public sector shutdown on 30 November 2011.

Internationally, general strikes - most recently in Spain, Portugal Greece and Italy - have emerged as a key weapon of working class struggle against the tsunami of austerity.

A yes vote

While campaigning for the building of a 24-hour general strike in Scotland (see front page) and throughout Britain, Socialist Party Scotland is also supporting a yes vote in the independence referendum in 2014.

However, we will also campaign to expose the utterly false outlook of the SNP leadership, and many on the left, who believe an independent capitalist Scotland would represent a significant step away from austerity and brutal cuts. This is ruled out unless decisive measures are taken against capitalism.

The inability of the bosses' system to develop the productive forces is creating a wasteland that only a democratic socialist planned economy can fundamentally resolve.

Our central demand, which we will champion in the referendum, is the need to fight for an independent socialist Scotland.

This would form part of a voluntary socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland as a step to a socialist Europe.

The slogan of a socialist con-federation is a crucial one as it sums up the idea of working class unity and cooperation, an essential counterweight to capitalist nationalism that seeks to divide the working class.


Our approach flows from the Marxist programme on the national question. While standing for the maximum unity of the working class of all nationalities, we also support the right of nations and national minorities to self-determination, up to and including, the right to form an independent state.

However, we don't always and in all circumstances support separation. A critical factor in weighing up what our demands should be is the existing political consciousness, in particular the outlook of the working class and young people. In other words who is supporting independence and why?

In the late 1970s Militant - the forerunner of the Socialist Party - did not advocate independence for Scotland, which was then supported by only around 6% of the population.

During the 1979 referendum for a Scottish assembly we called for a yes vote for devolution expressed in the slogan: "A socialist Britain with autonomy for Scotland."

Today that slogan would not take account of the changed consciousness of many working class people in Scotland.

The democratic aspirations and outlook of the Scottish people have changed significantly since then.

Support for a Scottish parliament, and also independence, increased dramatically during the 1980s and 1990s; the consequence of the anti-working class Thatcher government, the hated poll tax and the mass de-industrialisation of Scotland.

The Tories were wiped out in the 1997 general election in Scotland. In the referendum of the same year on whether Scotland should have a devolved parliament, 70% voted yes with 60% backing a parliament having tax raising powers.

But the failures of the Scottish parliament to deliver for the majority of the Scottish people and the coming to power of another vicious anti-working class Tory government in Westminster, without legitimacy in Scotland, has added further fire under the cauldron of the national question.

The SNP's electoral victory in 2007, and in particular their crushing victory in 2011 has left the British ruling class with no choice but to accede to a referendum on Scottish independence.

Sensitive approach

Socialist Party Scotland takes an extremely sensitive approach towards workers and young people who support or are likely to support independence.

There is a chasm of a difference between the outlook of a young person who will vote yes to independence in 2014, hoping that it would offer a way out of mass unemployment and poverty, and that of Scottish multi-millionaires like Tom Hunter and Brian Souter who also back independence.

On the one side is the nationalism of the aspiring ruling elite - big business and the SNP leadership.

They seek to establish an independent Scotland so that they can continue and deepen the exploitation of the working class as in other capitalist nations.

On the other side is the nationalism of the working class who want to break free from plummeting living standards, poverty and brutal social cuts.

Our programme for the referendum therefore has a two-fold character. Firstly, to defend and articulate the democratic demands of currently around one million people, overwhelmingly working class, in Scotland who support independence. Secondly to build a campaign that raises the need to break with capitalism.

This means exposing remorselessly the nationalism of the SNP's leadership who see capitalist independence as a way of maintaining the grip of the capitalist elite on the throats of the majority.

Support for independence

Support for Scottish independence is highest among the working class and young people. In January 2012 a poll for the Scotsman newspaper found support for independence at 39% in Scotland as a whole.

However, among those aged 18 to 24 year-olds this rose to 45%. For those described as being from "deprived backgrounds" 58% backed independence as opposed to 27% for those from "affluent backgrounds".

If the referendum was held tomorrow it is most likely a majority would reject independence. However, it is possible that this can change in the run-up to 2014 as the economic and social crisis of capitalism deepens further.

The desperate situation facing the working class can add petrol to the flames of nationalism. The SNP leadership will attempt to argue that only the powers of independence offer a way out of Tory austerity.

Although in reality the SNP's economic programme is not fundamentally different to that of the two Labour Party Eds - Miliband and Balls - who support cuts, but at a slower pace.

SNP's two faces

At the Scottish National Party's conference in October, SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond set out his stall for a yes vote in the referendum by wooing the working class. "We face a Westminster government hell-bent on pulling our society apart at the seams.

"Austerity, a one-way street, with tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poorest, billions to be spent on new nuclear weapons while families struggle to heat their homes. What kind of brave new world is this? Now is the time for Scotland to seize a different future."

The SNP has replaced Labour as the largest party in Scotland both electorally and in terms of membership.

The 2011 Scottish elections saw the SNP achieve an overall majority winning 53 of the 73 first-past-the-post constituencies, including a majority of the seats in the working class strongholds of Glasgow and West of Scotland.

With a relatively skilled populist leadership under the guidance of Alex Salmond, the SNP has partially and temporarily filled the vacuum that exists for a mass workers' party in Scotland.

While implementing the Con-Dem cuts to the letter on public spending they have also carried through some relative progressive measures, putting a certain distance between themselves and Labour.

They have refused to implement the attacks on facility time for trade union reps announced by the Con-Dems, ended PFI/PPP privatisation schemes (by implementing their own PFI-lite alternative), scrapped tuition fees, introduced free prescriptions and frozen the council tax.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour have moved even more decisively to the right, demanding an end to the "something for nothing culture" under the SNP in Scotland.

Labour leader Johann Lamont has called for an end to free tuition fees, free prescriptions, free personal care and demanded council tax rises. Under these conditions the SNP and independence can seem the only option for many.

Ferocious campaign

The ruling class in Britain has learned lessons from the past. A major contributory factor in driving support for Scottish nationalism in the 1980s and early 1990s was the Thatcher government's refusal to make any concessions to the widespread demands for a Scottish parliament.

Unlike their counterparts in Madrid, who are refusing the people of Catalonia their democratic rights, Cameron and Co have now conceded a legal referendum.

The Edinburgh agreement signed in October paves the way for a vote on a single question in late 2014, including 16 and 17 year-olds having the right to participate.

'Better Together' the campaign of the Con-Dems and Labour, led by former chancellor Alistair Darling, reflects the overall interests of big-business and the British ruling class.

They will engage in a ferocious campaign of negative propaganda to try and defeat the pro-independence campaign. 'Jobs will be lost, families divided and an independent Scotland will be worse off' will be their mantra.

Alongside the stick of fear, the pro-union parties will offer the carrot of increased devolved powers if the Scottish people vote no in 2014.

Under the pressure of pro-capitalist opinion the SNP has attempted to 'redefine' independence. As Alex Salmond commented: "We will share a currency, we will share a Queen, we will have a social union".

The SNP's vision for independence involves slashing taxes for the profit-hungry corporations, locking the country into a neoliberal currency union, maintaining the symbols of inequality like the undemocratic Royal Family and making Scotland a paid-up member of the imperialist, nuclear alliance of Nato.

These pro-capitalist policies and the cuts being carried out by the SNP in government will be unable to answer the doubts and hesitations that exist among significant sections of the working class about independence.

The SNP point to oil and gas reserves, as well as the potential for renewable energy to underpin the economy of an independent Scotland.

Yet they would leave these key industries in the hands of multinational corporations with the vast majority of the resources salted away to line the pockets of the billionaires.

The 2014 independence referendum will bring into sharp focus the need for fighting socialist policies and a new mass working class party to implement them.

Unlike the majority of the left, Socialist Party Scotland is not prepared to dip our socialist banner.

Today and for many years more to come, savage austerity is all this system has to offer. The only alternative for the working class, young people and the poor is to build a mass movement against austerity - with an immediate 24-hour general strike as a first step.

More fundamentally, we need a complete break with capitalism in the form of decisive socialist measures.

We raise our socialist programme in Yes Scotland and other pro-independence events, and we are also initiating with others the idea of a Trade Unionist and Socialist Campaign for the Independence Referendum.

The campaign is based on promoting an independent working class voice. This campaign's founding conference will be held in March 2013.

Socialist Party Scotland says

Yes Scotland

The main pro-independence campaign - 'Yes Scotland' - is a top-down body dominated by the SNP. It also has the backing of the Greens and the rump of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). It organised a 10,000 strong demonstration in Edinburgh in September.

The character of Yes Scotland is illustrated by the fact that it has a CEO, Blair Jenkins, who was former head of news at BBC Scotland and STV.

Scandalously, the SNP, Greens and the SSP have all tried to prevent well known socialist and Solidarity member Tommy Sheridan being involved in the campaign because he is a "controversial figure".

Yet, SNP leader Alex Salmond is able to invite the pariah of the western world Rupert Murdoch to his official residence for tea and biscuits without criticism!

Radical Independence Campaign

This campaign was set-up by the split-off from the Socialist Workers Party in Scotland and involves a range of academics and intellectuals grouped around the Scottish Left Review magazine and the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

RIC held a 700-plus strong conference in November attended by Greens, socialists and SNP activists and a layer of young people.

However the not so-radical RIC explicitly stands for a capitalist independent Scotland. "What we want is a Nordic-style universal welfare state with a mixed economy model". A model which has been discarded by the ruling class in Sweden.

Most of the left organisations in Scotland are participating in either Yes Scotland and/or RIC but are promoting the idea that an independent Scotland would automatically be a 'progressive, more equal, less neoliberal society'.

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In The Socialist 5 December 2012:


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