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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 December 2009

Scotland: The national question and the general election

THE SCOTTISH National Party (SNP) government in Scotland marked St Andrew's day - 30 November - by presenting a 'white paper' which sets out its case for a fully independent Scotland. This is to be followed in early 2010 by a parliamentary bill allowing for a referendum on Scotland's constitutional future, which will include a question on independence.

Philip Stott, International Socialists, CWI Scotland

However, the majority of MSPs (members of the Scottish parliament), at this stage, are opposed to a referendum on independence and there is little chance of a referendum bill being passed by the Scottish parliament before the next Scottish elections in 2011.

The SNP have therefore made it clear that they are not opposed to a third question in a referendum that gives the option of extending the powers of the parliament - but which falls short of full independence. This option has majority public support according to all opinion polls at the moment.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown's Westminster government have accepted most of the recommendations of the Calman commission that proposed extending the powers of the Scottish parliament. The centre piece of this is making the Scottish parliament responsible for the setting of income tax in Scotland beyond the first 10p in the pound that will be set at a UK level, as well as some other limited powers.

The Tories have responded by agreeing that if they win the general election they will bring forward their own proposals for strengthening the devolutionary powers of the parliament.

What is clear is that the "first phase" of devolution in Scotland and Wales has come to an end. All the main capitalist parties now favour, to one degree or another, a change to the 1999 devolutionary arrangements that were established, of which the union forms an important part.

Resurgent nationalism?

With a Westminster general election a few months away, this flurry of activity from the political establishment reflects partly a manoeuvring for maximum political advantage.

But it is also a realisation that the current devolutionary arrangements have lost support, largely because the various pro-capitalist governments have failed to solve the problems of working class communities.

This is reflected in growing public support for more widespread powers for the Scottish parliament. Added to this is a growing fear by the pro big business political elite that a resurgence of nationalist feelings will follow the next general election.

If Tory leader David Cameron were to win an outright majority next year it is likely to lead to a powerful resurgence of nationalism in Scotland. It would be seen as a return to the 'dark days' of the 1980s and 1990s, when the Tories were left with a rump in Scotland, but a Tory government held power across Britain as a whole.

There is an increasingly powerful mood to stop the Tories coming to power. The memory of Thatcherism, with the economic and social carnage that came in its wake, is still strong, particularly among the older generation.

Many working class people in Scotland will vote at all costs to try and stop the return of a Tory government. Even if that means holding their noses and voting Labour. However, this does not reflect any enthusiasm for the big business friendly policies of the Brown government.

Under these conditions, a Tory government, while attempting to implement an all-out war on public spending and the working class generally, could themselves have to make concessions on the national question and offer talks over extending the powers of the parliament.

Powers

The capitalist crisis is deva-stating all sectors of the economy in Scotland. Growth rates are due to shrink by 5% this year, an even bigger decline than during the worst period of the Thatcher era in 1980-81.

All the capitalist parties, including the SNP, are committed to policies of the slashing of public services, jobs and working conditions.

The International Socialists support a parliament in Scotland with full economic powers to tackle the economic crisis.

That means the power to nationalise the banks and other industries threatening job cuts and closures, the power to increase the minimum wage, pensions and benefits, end privatisation and get rid of Trident nuclear weapons.

We also need to build a mass working class party committed to socialist policies to fight for the interests of the working class and champion the building of a socialist Scotland that would take its place as part of a voluntary socialist confederation alongside England, Wales and Ireland as a step to a socialist Europe.

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