By Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI in Scotland)
“In the past four weeks support for the union has drained away at an astonishing rate. The Yes campaign has not just invaded No territory; it has launched a blitzkrieg.”
Peter Kellner – YouGov
For the first time during the campaign an opinion poll about the ballot referendum for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom has shown the Yes side ahead, in this poll by 51% to 49%. The YouGov survey for the Sunday Times, published on September 6, has sent shock waves through the capitalist political establishment in Britain.
Within hours of its publication George Osborne announced that the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats had agreed a new “action plan” that would give “more powers to Scotland, tax powers, spending powers, more powers over the welfare state.”
The level of fear that is gripping the No campaign is illustrated by the fact that this panicked concession comes at a time when an estimated 500,000 people have already voted by mail.
Ironically, in 2012, the Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership offered a multi-option referendum that would have included a question on more powers — a form of devolution max. This was turned down 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.
As commentator and adviser to the capitalist establishment, Andrew Rawnsley wrote in The Observer last weekend:
“Had it been offered as a choice, I am certain there would have been a thumping majority for “devo max”. From that, I conclude this – if Scotland votes to terminate the union, a generation of Westminster politicians will have to reflect in their post-resignation memoirs on why they were so slow to see it coming and too late in shaping a response.”
Even in the event of a No vote victory next Thursday, it’s clear that major new powers for Scotland are inevitable –- demands for another referendum on independence could also follow quickly, as was the case in Quebec in the 1990s.
A Revolt against the Political Elite
As it is, a majority vote for independence is now a distinct possibility. There is no doubt that there has been a significant swing towards Yes, especially in the working-class areas of Scotland. As Socialist Party Scotland has explained many times, hundreds of thousands of people see the referendum as a way to hit back at the elite politicians who are implementing austerity policies on behalf of big business.
The YouGov poll underlines this point. Over the last four weeks, support for Yes has increased among Labour voters from 18% to 35%. For those under the age of 40, it has increased from 39% to 60%, and among working-class voters, it’s up from 41% to 56%. Backing for independence has increased among women from 33% to 47%.
The opportunity to vote 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’s become a mass revolt by the victims of austerity against their class enemy.
In the temporary absence of mass action organised by the trade unions against the cuts, advocated by the Socialist Party 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.
Thousands of people were queuing up at council offices across Scotland last week to ensure they were included in the vote as the deadline for registration approached. An estimated 300,000 voters have registered in the last two months alone. The turnout is expected to be unprecedented at 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 voting Yes. “This is our turn now” is a common and widely held outlook. British capitalism is paying the price for its past as well as its present crimes.
Rejection of the Establishment
The Labour Party leaders, who are promising to implement Tory austerity if elected, are hated almost as much as the Tories. At public meeting after public meeting, the anger and disgust at Ed Miliband, Alistair Darling, and especially Tony Blair is ferocious. The polling evidence is also damning. Sixty-one percent don’t trust what Alistair Darling, the head of Better Together, has to say. Sixty-seven percent distrust Ed Miliband, who fares only slightly better than David Cameron, whose levels of distrust are currently at 73%.
Nor do the leaders of the SNP inspire confidence. Fifty-eight percent say they don’t trust what Alex Salmond has to say. The political platform of the SNP promises to cut corporation taxes for big business and seeks an austerity currency pact with the Bank of England which would implement Tory austerity when in power, and this means they are not seen as a party in which the working class can have confidence.
For that very reason, as Socialist Party Scotland 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?
The response to the Hope Over Fear tour with Tommy Sheridan, in which Socialist Party Scotland has been playing a lead role, has given a more concrete expression to the desire for definitive change.
The meetings that Tommy Sheridan has addressed have taken on the character of vast assemblies of an angry and energised working class. His condemnation of the capitalist establishment, and his statements that under independence, the cuts should end and 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, gain cheers and enthusiastic applause.
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 a reflection of his role as leader of the successful mass anti-poll tax campaign in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
No Capitalist Solution
Socialist Party Scotland also fights for the type of reforms and improvements for the working class that Tommy Sheridan rightly demands. However, we also explain, in a clear way, that in an independent capitalist Scotland, austerity will not end, and that Alex Salmond and the SNP are prepared to continue with cuts after the referendum, whatever the result. Socialist policies are essential to achieve an end to austerity as we have outlined in our program for a socialist Scotland, which we have widely distributed and articulated during the campaign.
Central to this program is the forging of a unified working-class response to capitalist austerity, not only in Scotland, but also in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well. The class solidarity of trade unionists through a mass coordinated campaign of strike action across Britain is vital in turning the tide against the cuts and privatisation, as is the demand for the building of a new mass working-class 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 more socially just form of capitalism. This is summed up in the policy of the Common Weal, which proposes the “Nordic model” used by Norway, Denmark and Sweden as a template for a new, fairer Scotland.
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-second world war 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 past gains made by the working class, including in the Nordic countries.
With 10 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 crisis, accelerating a possible split away towards the United Kingdom Independence Party. As political commentator Martin Kettle wrote in Monday 7th September in the Guardian newspaper:
“This weekend the unthinkable has elbowed its way into the driving seat of British politics. No other issue now matters in British politics. These may not be the 10 days that will shake the world as John Reed called the Russian Revolution. But they will be 10 days that could change all our lives, shaking the British state and its people to their very foundations.”
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 in the run-up to next Thursday. The Queen has let it be known that she is “horrified” about the polls and “concerned” about her constitutional position if there is a Yes vote. A UK military intervention into Syria and Iraq may also take place before the 18th September, which could also have an impact on the vote. Dire warnings about the threat of financial meltdown and the collapse of the economy will also continue.
The Labour Party would be thrown into a crisis following a Yes vote. As Paul Mason commented:
“If, on the morning of 19 September, we wake up and that 4/1 horse of independence has come in, the levels of shock in official circles will be extreme. Even more traumatised will be Labour. The prospect of a majority Labour government at Westminster after 2016 will be remote.”
In reality, if Labour were to adopt a fighting socialist program and offer a clear alternative to continued austerity, they would win a majority at Westminster – even without Scottish Labour MPs. It’s Miliband’s and Ball’s slavish adherence to capitalist policies and the Tories’ spending plans that are undermining the changes of a majority Labour government. That is why the trade unions should move to build a new mass workers party as a matter of urgency.
The SNP leadership are already moving to try to include leading Labour figures like Alister Darling and Johann Lamont into “Team Scotland”, as well as LibDem’s 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, to demand a return of the over £4 billion stolen from public services in Scotland as a result of Tory austerity policies since 2010.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum the demand for not another penny of Westminster cuts is likely to grow. 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 the cuts – a further £3 billion in the next two years. 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.
Build on the Potential
There is an urgent need to build on the huge potential that we have seen during the referendum among hundreds of thousands of working-class people seeking a way out of capitalist austerity. 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 1st November in Glasgow, aimed at bringing together all those seeking to build a working-class, anti-cuts, and socialist electoral alternative.
In the wake of a Yes vote there may be moves to establish a new left party or coalition from some of the pro-independence forces. This could be initiated by some of the leading elements in the Radical Independence Campaign and some of the academics around the Common Weal. However, were it to be based on the Common Weal’s program – and its likely lack of a working-class orientation – there is no certainty that this would automatically be a step forward in resolving the lack of working-class political representation.
Whatever the outcome of the vote next Thursday, the political terrain will have changed decisively in Scotland. The urgent task of capitalising and channeling 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 Party Scotland is supporting a Yes vote and that the powers of independence be used to:
- Nationalise, under democratic workers’ control and management, the oil and gas industry, the renewable energy sector, and the major sectors of the Scottish economy. This would release billions to invest in a massive program of job creation and to rebuild our public services.
- Bring the banks and finance sector into public ownership under democratic working-class control
- Renationalise gas, electricity, transport and the privatised sectors of the economy.
- Tax the rich and big business. Increase the minimum wage and end the attacks on welfare
- Ensure a living wage and end zero-hour contracts
- Say No to NATO. Move Trident and all weapons of mass destruction out of Scotland. Invest in socially useful jobs.
- Abolish all anti-trade union laws
- Break trade unions from Labour and build a new mass working-class party
- Reverse the cuts. Create a Scottish government representing working people, the unemployed and the poor that defends jobs, wages, public services and pensions and refuses to make cuts to pay for the crisis
- For a socialist plan of production in an independent socialist Scotland as part of a voluntary confederation with England, Wales and Ireland as a step to a socialist Europe
Massive turnout to hear Tommy Sheridan and the socialist case for independence
The Hope Over Fear – Socialist Case for Yes public meeting in Dundee on Thursday, September 4th attracted well over 500 people to a packed out meeting. The local press said the turnout was even greater at 800. It was standing room only with 100 locked-out as the doors were closed 10 minutes before the meeting was due to start. An impromptu overspill was organised outside to allow all those who were unable to get in to hear Tommy Sheridan speak.
Socialist Party Scotland member Sinead Daly opened the meeting and explained that this was the 96th Hope Over Fear meeting and that more than 20,000 people had attended to hear socialist Tommy Sheridan make the case for a Yes vote in the referendum. The mass turnouts in cities, towns and even villages across Scotland reflects the huge interest in hearing a left wing and socialist case for independence.
“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.
Jim McFarlane, a leading Unison member in Dundee, also speaking for Socialist Party Scotland, said:
“26% of bairns in Dundee are officially living in poverty. On the 18th of September hundreds of thousands of working-class people can give their verdict on years of cuts and falling living standards.
“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.”
Angela McCormick, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, also spoke, highlighting the scandal of the cost of Trident and what could be done with the money instead by investing in jobs and public services.
To rapturous applause, Tommy Sheridan got up to speak. Tommy lacerated the cuts politicians from Thatcher and the “spawn of Thatcher” David Cameron to Ed Miliband: “You wouldn’t trust him to run a bath, never mind a country.”
“We never voted for Thatcher, we never voted for Cameron, but we were saddled with both of them. Go and speak to your work mates who are undecided and tell them they can vote Yes, go home and look into their kids’ eyes and say, ‘ I saved you from having a Tory government ever again.’”
After independence “we are going to invest in the things that matter most to ordinary people, not in illegal immoral weapons of mass destruction.” 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.
Over 100 copies of The Socialist were sold at the meeting and over 300 copies of the Socialist Party Scotland 4-page referendum leaflet was also distributed. Hundreds of pounds were also donated by those attending in the buckets at the end of the meeting.