Scottish constitutional referendum – SNP white paper
Yes to an independent socialist Scotland, no to a continuation of capitalist austerity
In anticipation of the referendum in September 2014, the Scottish government has produced its white paper on Scottish independence. This “blueprint for a better Scotland”, as described by the SNP’s first minister Alex Salmond, is a prospectus for a continuation of the profit-driven system of capitalism that will fail to deliver an end to austerity. Only through clear socialist policies, widespread public ownership and a war against poverty and low pay can a way to a better, socialist Scotland be found as Philip Stott (Socialist Party Scotland) explains.
At the launch of the white paper, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon (deputy first minister) described the debate on Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK as a “choice between two futures”. On the one hand, a future from the Better Together campaign and the pro-union parties of a continuation of Westminster cuts, attacks on welfare and low economic growth. On the other hand, a future under independence with the Scottish National Party (SNP) that would open up the possibility of a growing economy, higher wages and an amelioration of austerity.
The white paper promises some welcome commitments, including the abolition of the bedroom tax and an end to the rolling out of the dreaded Universal Credit and some improved childcare provision. In contrast to the savage austerity being carried out by the Con-Dem government, these modest reforms with the vague hope of something different under independence can boost support for a Yes vote in September 2014.
However, the detail of the white paper reveals that the SNP is completely committed to maintaining the foundations of a weakened and diseased capitalism that will mean continued falling living standards for the majority.
Neither of the “two futures” can offer a way out of increasing poverty and worsening social conditions for the working class. Not surprisingly, a ‘third option’ of a socialist Scotland based on democratic public ownership of the economy and an end to all cuts, is not put forward by any of the pro-big business parties.
Socialist Party Scotland is supporting a Yes vote in the referendum next year. But we reject completely the false options offered up by the official Yes and No campaigns. In contrast, we believe that the powers of independence should be used to carry through decisive measures against the shipwrecked vessel of capitalism – not attempt to patch it up and sail on regardless.
An independent socialist Scotland, linked to a voluntary and democratic confederation of socialist states, including England, Wales and Ireland, would lay the basis for a transformation in the lives of the majority and a permanent end to austerity.
Under the SNP plan an independent Scotland would continue with the pound and with the Queen as Head of State. It would apply to join both the capitalist institutions of Nato and the European Union (EU). Nor would there be any nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy, including the energy companies, oil and gas, transport and the banking system.
The commitment to join Nato would mean Scotland allowing nuclear armed submarines and vessels using Scottish ports and waters. Equally the SNP are proposing joint military arrangements between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. This makes a mockery of the SNP’s anti-nuclear weapons policy and signals their intention of being prepared to support and assist the military and foreign policy of British imperialism in the future.
To emphasise their enthusiasm for a big business agenda, a key plank in the SNP’s plan is a promise to slash corporation tax to 3% below whatever the UK rate is in 2016.
In an independent Scotland the SNP expect labour productivity to rise by 1%, exports to China, India and Brazil would increase by 50% and this, alongside the cuts to business tax rates, would mean a total of 200,000 extra jobs in an independent Scotland.
However, the SNP prospectus takes no account of the outlook for either the world economy in general, or the terrible position in the eurozone and the rest of the UK.
The Scottish government highlights the Nordic States and Germany as the ideal templates for a future independent Scotland. Yet as Socialist Party Scotland has pointed out many times, the so-called Nordic Model is in the process of being dismantled, a result of the deep economic crisis engulfing world capitalism and the savage austerity that has come in its wake (see www.socialistworld.net/index.php/6330).
It is a complete illusion to believe that under the conditions of economic crisis, falling growth rates in China, India and Brazil, a frozen eurozone, etc, that a capitalist independent Scotland could find a road to economic recovery and sustained rising living standards.
Poverty, underemployment and low pay are rampant in Scotland, which the SNP’s report does highlight. The capitalists and pro-big business governments are intent on imposing a long-term readjustment in expectations. They hope to teach the working class to live on less, with fewer benefits and worsening public services, including health and education, while those at the top of society continue to get richer at our expense.
The proposals from the SNP leadership for an independent Scotland would not alter that trend, rooted as it is in the same economic system that has created the social crisis that we have today.
In reality, the SNP’s white paper recognises the straightjacket that an independent capitalist Scotland would be operating within.
In the section on the first budget that the SNP would propose in a newly independent Scotland, they firmly come out against a major increase in public spending. “The government will ensure that Scotland has stable and sustainable public finances, underpinned by the discipline of a fiscal framework.”
The SNP would therefore maintain almost 90% of the cuts suffered in the last few years by public services, workers jobs, incomes and pensions.
The SNP do commit to abolish the bedroom tax, increase government-funded childcare to 30 hours a week during term-time for three and four year olds, among some other changes. The paltry minimum wage would rise by inflation, but there is no commitment to legislate for a real living minimum wage.
Pensions would be a poor £1.10 a week higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. But there are no commitments to reverse the devastating cuts suffered by millions of people in the last few years. There is also a commitment to “negotiate” the renationalisation of Royal Mail and to remove Trident from Scotland within five years.
There will be no tax increases on the rich or big business. There will a range of other “incentives” for business to invest in Scotland, tax breaks, write-offs and government subsidies. The white paper makes clear that the ‘rules’ of capitalism will be followed to the letter.
The SNP model for independence proposes a “Team Scotland” approach post-independence, with workers and employers and the government ensuring a “greater social partnership approach to be rolled out across all aspects of economic and social policy.”
The Scottish government put forward a document to the trade unions in Scotland in 2011 proposing the unions agree to wage freezes and other attacks on terms and conditions as a trade-off to ensure no compulsory redundancies. This was rejected by a majority of the unions.
However, the SNP in power in Holyrood and in local government have implemented these attacks anyway, not in partnership, but unilaterally. The ‘partnership’ model is a dead-end for the trade union movement and can only weaken and undermine their collective strength.
The SNP’s role in the events at Grangemouth is a warning to anyone who thinks that their model for independence would be a welcome relief from workers’ facing savage attacks on their rights. Salmond, it should be remembered, called on Unite to sign a no strike deal with billionaire Ratcliffe and Ineos.
“Project Fear” is the apt working title given to the Better Together campaign. Typical propaganda leaflets proclaim: “Can you afford to go it alone?” They raise the threatening spectre that under independence pensions, benefits and wages would be under threat. The craven irony of these statements from politicians who have heaped a tsunami of austerity onto the heads of the working class is not lost on many.
Predictably, the leaders of the main capitalist pro-union parties have ratcheted up their anti-independence propaganda in response to the white paper. This has followed on from the not so veiled threats from Labour and Tory politicians that the Scottish shipyards would lose MoD contracts and thousands of jobs in the wake of independence.
Leading figures in the European Union, who are looking over their shoulders at the threat to other multinational states, have also suggested that Scotland would need to re-apply for membership. The right-wing Rajoy government in Spain, facing a major national conflict in Catalonia and other areas of the Spanish state, has threatened to veto an independent Scotland’s application for membership.
Although the SNP leadership are completely committed to a capitalist project in the form of Scottish independence, the overwhelming interests of British capitalism are against the break-up of the UK.
The SNP leadership’s proposals for independence, which are really changing one union in favour of another reformed union, reflect that pressure.
Nevertheless, there is a real fear that the consequences of a Yes vote in 2014 would destabilise what is left of the UK state even further. This includes deepening sectarian division in Northern Ireland and driving forward demands for further devolution, and independence for Wales.
Additionally, the prestige of British imperialism would also suffer a real blow in the event of the break of the UK state. For all these reasons the attacks of Project Fear will continue and even be stepped up, particularly in the event of an increase in support for independence in the run-up to the referendum date.
From the beginning of the debate around the referendum Socialist Party Scotland has been calling for a specific trade union-led, anti-cuts and pro-working class campaign. One that, while supporting a Yes vote, would also fight for the powers, under independence, to end and reverse the cuts and nationalise the main sectors of the economy and the privatised utilities, alongside increases in the minimum wage, benefits and pensions, an end to privatisation, and a reversal of all anti-trade union laws.
The left-led Scotland No.2 branch of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) has played an important role in helping to establish the Trade Unionists for Independence campaign.
However, a majority of the socialist left in Scotland have been largely uncritical supporters of the Yes campaign. They have also given their backing to the ideas around the Common Weal Project, which was set-up by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, and the Radical Independence Campaign, which bases itself on the Nordic capitalist model as a way forward for an independent Scotland.
The majority of trade union leaderships in Scotland, however, are currently taking a back seat and failing to actively put forward a pro-working class campaign.
Some unions including Usdaw, Aslef, Community and the GMB are supporting the Better Together campaign, many of them without proper consultation with their own members in Scotland.
In contrast, the PCS civil service union, within which the Socialist Party plays an important role, will be holding a special conference of its Scottish branches and membership to draw up a platform for the referendum.
Socialist Party Scotland members in other trade unions, including Unison and Unite will be calling for a debate and a democratic discussion to allow members to draw up a policy that puts the interests of the working class centre stage in the referendum debate.
The voice of the organised working class needs to be heard with a clear anti-austerity and pro-public ownership message. One that also recognises that there are differences among the working class on the issue of the referendum, although the vast majority of polls show a big class polarisation in voting intentions with highest support for independence among the poorest and the low paid.
Central to this is the burning need to build a new mass working class party that would fight for the powers of independence to be used in the interests of the working class. The Labour affiliated trade unions should break their links with Labour and along with the unions like the PCS, FBU, RMT, etc, prepare a conference to launch a new working class party.
Socialist Party Scotland calls for the powers of independence to be used to dramatically increase taxes on the rich and big business. We also argue for an immediate levy – of at least 50% of the un-invested funds of the big corporations – to be used to develop a massive programme of socially useful production, job creation and public services.
A socialist government would take urgent steps to solve the economic crisis by taking into democratic public ownership the major corporations that control the economy, including finance, oil, transport, and manufacturing.
To be successful in the long term an independent socialist Scotland would seek to build a united movement with the working class in the other nations in the UK, Europe and internationally. This would lay the basis for a voluntary socialist confederation of states and an international plan of production.
The full version of this article can be read on socialistpartyscotland.org.uk
Radical Independence Campaign needs clear socialist policies
Around 1,000 people attended the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference on 23 November. There were a large number of young people, mainly students, and also mobilisations from the SNP and Greens. Over 100 trade unionists attended a session on “industrial democracy”. This was the second RIC conference, in 2012 around 800 attended.
This year also saw a higher turnout from the Third Sector and even business people, showing this layer is comfortable with the political direction of the leadership of RIC – the Jimmy Reid Foundation think tank (authors of the Common Weal Project) and the International Socialist Group a split from the SWP.
SNP MSPs were given an uncritical platform at the conference despite their record of implementing Tory cuts and refusing to use their powers to mitigate the bedroom tax.
The session aimed at trade unionists on “industrial democracy” showed the contradictions present at the conference. Many attending expressed a wish to discuss key issues for the working class such as political representation and challenging the onslaught on wages and conditions by the capitalist class.
This came up against the agenda of the RIC leadership who wanted to focus on how principles of industrial democracy and cooperation between bosses and workers would be a cornerstone of an independent Scotland.
The RIC leadership is putting forward the false perspective that it isn’t possible for trade unionists and workers to win struggles against the “British state” and that only a breakaway offers the Scottish working class the chance of winning victories. The key demand for a one-day general strike across the whole of the UK was absent from the speeches of RIC activists.
However, it was raised by trade unionists in the discussion. The idea of “workers on boards” and cooperation between workers and bosses was put forward by academics such as Gregor Gall.
It’s clear from this conference, and with the Yes demonstration which attracted 20,000 in September, that the pro-independence movement is growing and attracting radicalised layers of young people and workers.
However, what is being put forward by the leaders of RIC will leave even those participating in the campaign with questions about how a “fairer society” will actually be achieved without breaking with capitalism and struggling for socialism.