Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/824/19174
Scottish referendum: A mass revolt against austerity
Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland (SPS)
The 6 September YouGov survey for the Sunday Times has sent shock waves through the capitalist political establishment in Britain. For the first time during the campaign an opinion poll has shown the Yes side ahead by 51% to 49%.
A Yes vote would represent the biggest constitutional crisis in Britain in decades, as well as a major political crisis. This is against the background of the existing social and economic crisis and the enormous unpopularity of all the Westminster parties.
Within hours of its publication Chancellor George Osborne announced that the No coalition of Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems had agreed a new "action plan" that would give "more powers to Scotland, tax powers, spending powers, more powers over the welfare state."
Ironically, the leadership of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 2012 offered a multi-option referendum that would have included a question on more powers - a form of 'devolution max'. This was rejected by the Con-Dems and Labour who arrogantly believed they could inflict a decisive defeat on the SNP and kill off the threat of independence. This colossal miscalculation has come back to haunt them with a vengeance.
Even in the event of a No vote on 18 September, it's clear that major new powers for Scotland are inevitable. Demands for another independence referendum could also follow quickly - as was the case in Quebec in the 1990s.
As it is a majority vote for independence is now a distinct possibility. 'Yes' is being taken up by big sections of the working class as a weapon to hit back at the hated Westminster political elite - those responsible for benefit cuts, wage freezes and savage public sector cuts. It has become a mass revolt by the victims of austerity against their class enemy.
In the absence, temporarily, of mass action organised by the trade unions against the cuts - advocated by the Socialist Party Scotland as a vital strategy in turning the tide against austerity - the referendum has taken on a proxy form of class struggle, reflecting the huge anger and desire for economic and social change.
Anger of thousands
Thousands of people queued up at council offices across Scotland last week to ensure they were included in the vote. An estimated 300,000 voters registered in the last two months. An unprecedented turnout is expected, over 80%.
The legacy of Thatcherism, the criminality of the poll tax, the miners' strike, mass unemployment and the destruction of communities under the Tories, all feature as driving forces for Yes. British capitalism is paying the price for its past as well as its present crimes.
The Labour leaders, who promise to implement Tory austerity if elected, are hated almost as much as the Tories. At public meetings, the anger and disgust at Labour's Ed Miliband, Alistair Darling and especially Tony Blair is ferocious. The polling evidence is damning. 61% don't trust Darling, head of No campaign 'Better Together'. 67% distrust Miliband, who fares only slightly better than David Cameron, whose levels of distrust are currently at 73%.
No confidence in SNP
But nor do the leaders of the SNP inspire confidence. 58% say they don't trust what Alex Salmond has to say. The political platform of the SNP promises to cut corporation tax for big business and seeks an austerity currency pact with the Bank of England. Given it implements Tory austerity when in power, the SNP is not seen as a party in which the working class can have confidence.
For that very reason, as SPS anticipated two years ago, a huge space has opened up to the left of the SNP and the leaders of the official Yes campaign. The referendum debate has ushered in a vast interest in political ideas: how to build a 'better and fairer' Scotland? How to end cuts, raise the minimum wage and defend public services?
When Socialist Party Scotland activists took the Socialist Case for Independence to the Glasgow Clyde College freshers fair, a construction student summed up the mood of some young people: "I'm voting YES but there is no point unless society is changed, things are too unequal. The rich are richer, wages are low and there are no jobs. What is socialism?"
The Socialist Party Scotland has been playing a lead role in the Hope Over Fear tour with well-known Scottish socialist Tommy Sheridan. The tour has given a more concrete expression to the desire for definitive change.
The meetings that Tommy has addressed have taken on the character of vast assemblies of an angry and energised working class. He condemns the capitalist establishment, and demands that under independence the cuts should end, and that the economic resources of oil and the privatised energy utilities should be publicly owned to implement a living wage and to end zero-hour contracts.
The point of reference that Tommy has become during the campaign is an expression of the vacuum that exists for the building of a new, fighting working class party and his role as leader of the successful mass anti-poll tax campaign in the late 80s and early 90s.
SPS also fights for the type of reforms and improvements for the working class that Tommy Sheridan rightly demands. We also explain that in an independent capitalist Scotland austerity will not end.
Salmond and the SNP will continue with cuts after the referendum, whatever the result. Socialist policies are essential to achieve an end to austerity.
Central to the programme we put forward is the forging of a unified working class response to capitalist austerity, not only in Scotland, but also in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The class solidarity of trade unionists through a mass coordinated campaign of strike action across the UK is vital in turning the tide against the cuts and privatisation. So is the demand for the building of a new mass party to represent the interests of the working class majority.
The idea put forward by many on the left, including Tommy, is that it would be possible to make a transition to a fairer and socially just form of capitalism. This is summed up in the policy of the Common Weal, which proposes the 'Nordic model' of Norway, Denmark and Sweden as a template for a new, fairer Scotland.
'Nordic model' not possible
We have replied to the Common Weal by explaining that given the scale of the economic crisis there is no possibility of sustained and long-lasting improvements for the working class today within the framework of capitalism. A mass movement of the trade unions and the wider working class needs to be built to defeat the cuts agenda, linked to a struggle to end capitalism by introducing decisive socialist policies.
A return to the unprecedented post-World War Two economic upswing that the social democratic Nordic model was built on is not possible. Today, capitalism is attempting to drive through an eradication of the gains made by the working class, including in the Nordic countries.
With ten days to go until voting begins, the outcome of the referendum sits on a knife-edge. The consequences of a Yes majority for the British capitalist elite would be colossal and unprecedented and would have far-reaching consequences. Cameron could be forced to resign and the Tories tipped into a much deeper crisis, accelerating a possible split away towards Ukip. Already there are whisperings about votes of no confidence in Cameron.
Establishment faces disaster
In order to avoid this disaster for them further concessions on powers will be forthcoming from the capitalist establishment. 'Project Fear' will also be ratcheted up again. The Queen has let it be known that she is "concerned" about her constitutional position if there is a Yes vote. A UK military intervention into Syria and Iraq may also take place before 18 September, which could also have an impact on the vote. Expect dire warnings about the threat of financial meltdown and economic collapse.
Over the last four weeks support for Yes has increased among Labour voters from 18% to 35%. Labour would also be thrown into major crisis following a Yes vote.
But if Labour adopted a fighting socialist programme and offered a clear alternative to continued austerity they would win a majority at Westminster - even if in the future without Scottish Labour MPs. It is the Labour leadership's slavish adherence to capitalist policies and Tory spending plans that undermine Labour's chances of forming a majority government. The trade unions should move to build a new mass workers' party as a matter of urgency.
Many workers in England and Wales see the Yes campaign as a way of fighting back and are enthusiastic supporters. Others fear that a Yes victory would weaken their ability to remove the Tories at the 2015 general election. Both reflect the absence of a mass party through which the working class could oppose austerity.
The SNP leadership is already moving to try to include leading Labour figures like Darling and Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont into 'Team Scotland', as well as Lib Dems and Tories. This is the body that would lead the negotiations with the UK government on the independence settlement. This is part of an attempt by the SNP to dampen down the aroused expectations of big sections of the working class in Scotland who will demand real and fundamental change post-referendum.
Socialists and trade unionists should oppose the approach of leaving such vital talks on issues like the currency and what powers an independent Scotland would have to pro-cuts politicians. Instead we would demand democratic elections to a negotiating body, open to all, including the standing of trade union and socialist candidates that would take the independent class demands of the working class into the talks.
For example, the over £4 billion stolen from public services in Scotland as a result of Tory austerity policies since 2010 should be returned - but not linked to cuts in public services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. All money stolen from all local authorities in the rest of Britain should also be returned.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, up to two million people will have voted Yes to independence seeking an end to austerity and falling incomes. Yet it's clear that the SNP leadership are preparing to carry on with cuts - a further £3 billion in the next two years.
Trade union action needed
The trade unions should immediately call for an end to all cuts in Scotland, linked to a mass campaign of generalised and coordinated strike action against austerity. Without doubt this would inspire more struggles in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where anger is simmering below the surface waiting for an outlet.
The working class response to the Hope Over Fear tour and the re-emergence of Tommy Sheridan as a major figure should be built on to help provide a stronger political voice for socialism following the referendum.
Socialist Party Scotland has helped to initiate a Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition conference on 1 November in Glasgow, aimed at bringing together all those seeking to build a working class, anti-cuts and socialist electoral alternative.
Whatever the outcome of the vote next Thursday, the political terrain will have changed decisively in Scotland. The urgent task of channelling the colossal anger that has been so evident into a mass struggle to defeat the cuts agenda and to strengthen the ideas of socialism in Scotland will need to be stepped-up on 19 September.
Socialist case for yes draws hundreds
The Hope Over Fear - Socialist Case for Yes public meeting in Dundee on 4 September attracted over 500 people. An impromptu overspill meeting was organised outside to allow 100 people who were unable to get in to hear Tommy Sheridan speak.
Sinead Daly (SPS) opened, explaining that this was the 96th Hope Over Fear meeting. More than 20,000 people have participated.
"Tonight we need to discuss how we will we use the powers of independence to make poverty history and to build a society for the millions, not the millionaires. We want to see an independent socialist Scotland for the interests of the working class", Sinead explained.
Spawn of Thatcher
To rapturous applause Tommy Sheridan lacerated the cuts politicians from Thatcher and the "spawn of Thatcher" Cameron to Miliband. "You wouldn't trust him to run a bath, never mind a country."
Tommy also called for public ownership, a living wage and an end to poverty in an independent Scotland and received a prolonged standing ovation from the packed audience.
Jim McFarlane a leading Unison member in Dundee spoke for Socialist Party Scotland: "I'm voting Yes because I'm a trade unionist and a socialist. I have worked for Labour councils and SNP councils. When it comes to making cuts they are both guilty of cutting without even a protest or a campaign.
"We're campaigning for public ownership of the banks, the oil and gas industry and the major sectors of the economy. The powers of independence should be used to deliver a living wage for all, an end to zero-hour contracts and a fully resourced welfare state.
"We need a new mass working class party with socialist policies to deliver on that in an independent Scotland. A mass movement against the cuts and for an independent socialist Scotland linked to the struggle for socialism in England, Wales and Ireland is the only real escape from savage austerity."
Reflecting the thirst for ideas, over 100 people bought copies of the Socialist and over 300 took copies of the Socialist Party Scotland four-page referendum leaflet. They also gave hundreds of pounds to the financial appeal.
- This is an edited version of the article that appears on the website of Socialist Party Scotland. See www.socialistpartyscotland.org.uk for full version and more news and analysis.
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