Philip Stott 29th June 2012
The launch of the “Better Together” anti-independence campaign this week saw Labour politicians unite with the Con-Dem’s to extol the virtues of the union. Better Together’s birth coincided with UK Prime Minister David “nasty” Cameron’s brutal speech announcing his support for the dismantling of the welfare state with savage attacks on the benefits of the poorest. If anything was designed to undermine the Better Together message this was it.
It allowed SNP leader Alex Salmond to comment that campaign frontman, former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, had “claimed that the Union was a 'celebration' of Scottish values, on the very day that the Prime Minister of that political union is proposing to eliminate housing benefit for young Scots.”
This was followed a few days later by Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England admitting that the UK was not even “halfway through” the economic crisis that began in 2007 and he has become increasingly “pessimistic” for the future. Or as political columnist Iain MacWhirter put it, “This is not a recession any longer but a full-blown economic depression.” The Herald 28th June 2012
The run-up to the 2014 referendum will take place against the backdrop of an unrelenting economic catastrophe and a planned austerity programme that is barely 10% completed. Certainly, the pro-union campaign which is uniting Labour with the Con-Dem parties can offer nothing in terms of an alternative to savage cuts. Their message is simply, you think it’s bad now, you should see how bad it will be if Scotland were independent
But neither has the SNP-led YesScotland campaign any intentions of putting up an alternative to big business, austerity and cuts. The SNP are wedded to the failing market and an independent Scotland as a low tax haven for multinational capitalism. YesScotland is backed by milllionaires like Brian Souter of Stagecoach and former RBS charman, George Matheson.
Responding to the Euro crisis the SNP have now abandoned their previous policy of joining the single currency. Instead they now support an independent Scotland joining a Sterling Zone with the rest of the UK with interest rates set by the Bank of England. The SNP want to end the “political union” but maintain a “social and economic union” with the rest of the UK. Better Together have countered by pointing to the Eurozone debacle and that a Sterling zone without a political union would be end up with the same instability as the Euro – a recipe for disaster. This is likely to be a major theme of the pro-union campaign who will seek to exploit the fears as to whether an independent Scotland would survive against the backdrop of an unprecedented economic crisis.
Both these campaigns, offering as they do different capitalist routes to the same quagmire of stagnation, falling living standards and years of austerity are in reality a dead end. Neither YesScotland nor Better Together, led by pro-capitalist politicians, are prepared to advocate a fundamental break with failed cuts policies, never mind the decisive measures needed to break with a sick capitalism and rebuild the economy on a socialist basis.
It is significant that thus far both campaigns have failed to attract support from any section of the trade union movement in Scotland. That’s not to argue that socialists or the trade union movement should be neutral on the referendum. The overwhelming majority of people in Scotland support a decisive transfer of powers to Holyrood from Westminster. A recent poll in June 2012 found 68% supporting a change from the status quo with 41% opting for devo plus (involving income tax and corporation tax going to Scotland) and 27% for independence. At the moment there is only one question, for or against independence, on the table with the pro-union parties furiously opposed to a second question on the ballot paper.
Conflict looming ?
It is still most likely that the SNP government, come September when the outcome of their consultation is made public, will support a second question for the proposed referendum. A devo max or devo plus option would likely be the most popular alternative among the Scottish people. It would also provide a convenient safety net for the SNP leadership should independence be defeated.
However, this may well lead the SNP into a conflict with the Tory-led Westminster government who may refuse to transfer the powers to Scotland to legally run a multi-option referendum. The strategy of the pro-union parties is to try to restrict the referendum to one question and hope to inflict a defeat on the SNP over independence. This could result in a constitutional crisis and would further boost support for independence if the hated Con-Dem coalition if they were seen to be a block on the democratic rights of the Scottish people.
As it is the Con-Dem’s have reached the status of pariah’s in Scotland. David Cameron’s satisfaction rating is at an all-time low of - 46%. Between them the Tories and Lib Dems have a combined support of only 18% in Scotland. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that by 2011 trust in the Scottish Government had increased 10 points to stand at 71% in 2011. At the same time, the number of people who said they trusted the UK Government to act in Scotland's best interests was 18% - compared to 35% in 2007.
However, even the SNP and Alex Salmond have also seen their support falling recently. While still the leading party, the SNP leader’s love affair with Rupert Murdoch has undoubtedly damaged Salmond. As has the SNP governments slavish carrying through of the cuts, including implementing attacks on pensions in the public sector. Nicola Sturgeon claimed there was no need for the doctors to be taking industrial action recently and they have opposed all strikes while imposing pay freezes on hundreds of thousands of workers across Scotland. Further conflict between the SNP government and workers in Scotland may well erupt in the Autumn following the teachers union EIS decision to return to strike action over pensions.
Socialist Party Scotland has consistently campaigned for a multi-option referendum which would offer both independence and a form of devolution max on the ballot paper. A simple yes or no to independence would not give a fully democratic reflection of the views of the Scottish people.
The overwhelming majority of the working class and young people will support either independence or devo max in such a referendum. Both options are a legitimate expression of the desire for finding a way out of the current desert of unending attacks and austerity. While giving support to this we will campaign for a parliament with full powers and an independent socialist Scotland that would link up with England, Wales and Ireland as part of a democratic socialist confederation as a step to a socialist Europe.
Trade union campaign
As part of this debate over the next two years there is an urgent need to build a trade union-led campaign that while supporting more powers for Scotland up to and including independence, is prepared to use those powers to tackle low pay, poverty and end the cuts agenda of all the main parties.
A Scottish parliament with real powers should go after the tax dodging rich and big business as well as bringing the banks and oil and gas into democratic public ownership. This would release billions to end the cuts agenda and invest in an emergency programme of job creation and investment in public services.
The tearing up of all PFI/PPP privatisation schemes which are bleeding public services dry and the abolition of anti-trade union laws would also form part of such a workers’ charter for the referendum. Crucially, working class people also need their own party to fight for these powers to be used in our interests. A mass working class party could build mass support as the SNP, Labour and the Con-Dem’s all make the cuts that this rotten system demands.
The standing of anti-cuts candidates by socialists and trade unionists in the recent local council elections in Scotland was an important step which needs to be built on. The period in the run up to the referendum gives a real opportunity for socialists and trade unionists to build a campaign that puts the interests of the working class centre stage. A charter of concrete proposals for how the powers of devo max and independence could be used for the interests of the millions, rather than the bankers and the millionaires needs to be urgently discussed.