The days following the independence referendum have witnessed a stunning transformation in the political landscape in Scotland. The losers have become the winners, the winners are now the losers.
Thousands have and are joining the parties that supported a ‘Yes’ vote. The SNP, whose leader Alex Salmond resigned following the referendum defeat, has seen its membership explode. In the last five days, 18,000 people have joined the party, including many young people, taking their membership to over 42,000.
Already the SNP – 99.9% of whose membership lives in Scotland – will be the third biggest party in the UK, eclipsing the Liberal Democrats. Around 3,000 have joined the Scottish Greens. Thousands more have contacted the socialist organisations, including Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity. Socialist Party Scotland has also been engulfed with applications to join, as have others.
The enormous politicisation and class polarisation evident during the campaign, allied to an overwhelming mood to hit back at the parties of Project Fear, especially Labour, and to continue the struggle for an independent Scotland are propelling unprecedented numbers to seek out a political vehicle.
In contrast, the Labour Party in Scotland, the main prop of Project Fear, is being dismembered. Its already weakened social base among the working class is being undermined still further.
There are ructions inside the Labour-affiliated trade unions, especially those who advocated a ‘No’ vote. Usdaw, the shop workers union, sent a letter to all its Scottish members calling on them to vote No. It has been reported that 13% of the Usdaw membership in Scotland has resigned from the union in protest.
Unite the union, which adopted a neutral stance on the referendum, is receiving many requests from members looking to cancel their membership of the union because it is affiliated to the Labour Party. In response, Unite is rushing out forms to members allowing them to withdraw from the political fund, much of which goes to Labour, in the hope that they will remain members of the union. Unison, who also did not make a recommendation to its members on the referendum, are also reporting a series of resignations from the union as workers anger over Labour’s role escalates.
New working class party
Under these circumstances, Socialist Party Scotland has called for the immediate formation of a new mass working-class socialist party to help lead the struggle against austerity. Our statement on this can be read here.
If a political figure with a mass base of support among the working class like Tommy Sheridan made such a call, backed by leading trade unionists, socialists, etc, a new working-class party would become a force of thousands within a couple of weeks. Many who have joined the SNP could also be won to this party.
However, instead of leading the call for a new party for the working class in Scotland, Tommy released a statement to the press – in a ‘personal capacity’ and without consultation with leading members of his own party – calling for a vote for the SNP in the Westminster elections next year.
In the statement, widely covered in the Scottish press and throughout social media, Tommy states: “I suggest that we in the Yes movement promote continued unity by backing the most likely Independence supporting candidate at next May’s election. In concrete terms that means advocating an SNP vote to try and unseat as many pro-No party supporters as possible.” He goes on to say that the Yes movement should call for a new referendum for 2020.
He also adds a caveat that pro-independence parties should not stand against SNP candidates if those candidates commit to “fight all Westminster cuts to welfare and public services”. The SNP has, in fact, implemented the Westminster cuts to the penny in Scotland since 2010.
This statement is a terrible political mistake on every level. Not only has Tommy turned his face against building a new mass working-class party, within which he could have played a leading role. Even worse, by calling for an SNP vote he is encouraging working-class people who look to him to give political support to a party that is implementing Tory austerity, not fighting it. It will inevitably also lead, even if it wasn’t his intention, to a layer of working-class people and young people joining the SNP and not Solidarity or a new mass workers party.
Socialist Party Scotland understands the huge mood that exists to hit back at Labour and the political establishment. We share that desire. However, we cannot support a call for a vote for a party that in a few weeks’ time will be implementing a budget of yet further cuts to public services in the Scottish parliament.
We have described the 45% vote for independence last Thursday as a working-class revolt against austerity. The working class under the age of 60 voted in its majority for independence, seeking an escape route from cuts and falling living standards. The best way to continue that struggle for independence and an end to austerity is to build a working-class party with socialist policies that would stand up to the Tories and refuse to make the cuts.
The SNP-led Scottish government, while standing for independence, has carried through over £3 billion in Westminster cuts since 2010. They claim they can do nothing about this. “Our hands are tied”; we need to “balance the books”. But we have explained many times that if the Scottish government and local councils refused to make the cuts, demanded a return of the billions stolen from Scotland by the ConDems and helped build a mass movement for the money for jobs and public services, the Tories could be defeated.
Not a penny more of Westminster cuts
What were the panicked concessions for more powers for Scotland by the Better Together parties if not an example of what the working class can win if we launch a mass fightback?
Imagine if the Scottish Government now, on the back of a huge working class vote against austerity, said we won’t implement a penny more of Westminster cuts in Scotland? Such a stand would not only gain mass support, including among workers who voted No last week, it would undoubtedly force further concessions from a weak and divided UK government. Why did Tommy’s statement not demand that the SNP government and SNP-run councils refuse to implement a penny more of the cuts?
The fact that the SNP plan to pass on years of further Tory and Labour cuts underlines why socialists should not give support to the SNP. Instead, we need to build our own party and stand independently against the parties who are implementing cuts, and this includes the SNP.
This does not mean we don’t support independence or fight for another referendum – a demand that can erupt a lot more quickly that 2020, the date that Tommy raised, especially if Miliband and Labour are elected in 2015 and continue with Tory cuts, as they are planning to do. What it does mean is that we can agree with the SNP on the need for a ‘Yes’ vote for independence, while also keeping our political independence from the pro-capitalist policies of the SNP leaders.
We also think that Tommy’s timetable for a new referendum in 2020 underestimates the potential mass pressure that can be exerted long before that time. If the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for parties that back independence, it could also be a trigger for a mandate for independence, without the need for another referendum. Or it could lead to an immediate referendum in 2016 or 2017.
A ‘Yes Alliance’
There is enormous pressure, albeit temporary, to go along with the idea of a ‘Yes Alliance’. This is a proposal, including among some in the SNP, for a bloc of all the pro-independence parties to inflict maximum damage on Labour in the May 2015 elections. There is an understandable mood for support for this among a layer of young people and sections of workers, given the anger at the parties of Project Fear.
But the consequences of going along with this would be to capitulate to the ideology of the SNP within the Yes movement who support a continuation of capitalism and the austerity that inevitably goes along with it. It carries the huge dangers of socialists being seen to give political support for a party that is carrying out a pro-cuts agenda, which is what the SNP are implementing.
Many young people who have joined the SNP will leave in disgust when they see this party carrying on with cuts. They will also see the reality that the SNP in practice offers no place for their awakened political appetite in that party, a lack of say over policy, a party that very often opposes workers taking strike action.
A new mass workers’ party, in contrast, would be in the hands of those who built it, not just a vehicle designed to maintain the positions of pro-cuts pro-capitalist representatives of big business. A new mass workers’ party could help the young Yessers to fight for their future, against zero-hour contracts, fracking, for votes at 16 and socialism.
A new mass workers’ party could grow even further once the real character of the SNP is exposed in practice.
Lessons from Ireland
The position that Tommy has taken is not fundamentally different from that put forward in Ireland in 1918 when Irish nationalists argued for the postponement of socialism and the struggle for working class interests until after Irish independence.
The slogan of “Labour must wait” (Labour in the sense of the independent political interests of the working class) was accepted by the trade unions and Labour leaders. The great socialist and Marxist James Connolly had been murdered by that time. The consequences of this were to leave the political field open to Irish nationalism and the ultimate defeat of the working-class movement and the eventual partition of Ireland by British imperialism.
Socialist Party Scotland stands for two forms of independence. On the one hand we support an independent Scotland – summed up in our slogan of an independent socialist Scotland as a step to socialism throughout Britain and internationally. But also, and at all times and under all circumstances, the political independence of the working class from big business and capitalist interests. That means building our own parties and trade unions and fighting for socialism while standing in elections to popularise these ideas.
The SNP leaders support a continuation of capitalist exploitation in an independent Scotland. This was summed up in their White Paper that proposed cuts to corporation tax for big business, continuation of the poverty minimum wage (which would only rise with inflation) while seeking to bind the trade unions into ‘partnership’ and a ‘Team Scotland’ approach. In practice, this means accepting attacks on their wages and working conditions for the so-called “national interest”. Socialists must warn against this and fight instead for the building of new mass working class party with a socialist programme to end austerity and the race to the bottom.
As the Hope Over Fear tour showed, tens of thousands of working-class people flocked to hear Tommy Sheridan make the case for a socialist vision for independence. Tommy should be capitalising on this by throwing himself into the campaign to build a new mass working-class party. Even his preferred option of building Solidarity, which Socialist Party Scotland participates in, will be undermined by his call to vote SNP. Many will draw the conclusion, why join Solidarity if it is not prepared to build working class political representation?
Tommy should withdraw this call to vote for the SNP and use the tremendous standing he has among working class people to help build a new mass working-class party which would represent a massive step forward in building a mass movement against austerity and for a socialist Scotland.
In the meantime Socialist Party Scotland will be building towards the 1st November conference called by the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. TUSC is a coalition involving the RMT trade union, Socialist Party and other socialist organisations. That conference will be discussing preparing an electoral challenge for the Westminster elections in 2015. TUSC stands on a platform of opposition to all cuts, for socialist policies and represents the best opportunity to ensure that anti-cuts, pro-trade union and socialist candidates stand in the elections in Scotland next May.
Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition conference
Building an anti cuts and socialist election challenge for 2015
Saturday 1st November 2014 12.30-4.30
Blythswood Hall, Renfield St Stephens Centre, Bath Street, Glasgow
Join then event via Facebook at: www.facebook.com/ScottishTUSC