Workers Hammer No. 229
Down with the monarchy and the United Kingdom!
For a federation of workers republics in the British Isles!
Behind Scotland’s no vote on independence
In a hotly contested referendum on 18 September, voters in Scotland rejected independence by 55 per cent to 45. In the run-up to the vote, the British government in Westminster was alarmed by a poll showing a majority for independence. What is credited with persuading Scots to remain in the “United Kingdom” were the intervention by Gordon Brown, the Labour Party former prime minister, who stressed the economic risks that independence would bring, and the unqualified offer of more powers to the Scottish parliament.
Despite the result, the kingdom is increasingly disunited, as indeed are the parties on the winning side. The vote saved the political career of Conservative prime minister David Cameron, but he faces a revolt by the right wing of his own party, which blames him for the fact that the Scottish nationalists came close to overturning the 307-year-old Union of England and Scotland. In part to appease this wing, which opposes any concessions to Scotland, the morning after the vote, Cameron declared that the promised changes in the Scottish parliament will be linked to restricting Scottish MPs in Westminster from voting on “English questions”. Even by the standards of Westminster’s disdain for Scotland, Cameron’s backsliding was breathtaking.
Cameron’s proposal for “English votes for English laws” in Westminster was also a missile launched at the Labour Party. With more Scottish MPs than any other party, Labour could find itself unable to get its legislation passed in the House of Commons in a future parliament. Labour’s base in Scotland is so angry over the party’s trampling on the interests of working people that many rust-belt areas that were once rock-solid Labour territory — including Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, as well as Dundee, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire — voted for independence even while many people despise the Scottish nationalists. One trade union leader quipped that the referendum was a “near-death experience” not just for the United Kingdom but for the Labour Party as well.
Labour reaps a whirlwind
In the aftermath of the referendum the Labour Party in Scotland is in meltdown. On 25 October, Scottish leader Johann Lamont resigned, condemning the leadership in London for treating Scotland like a branch office and claiming that they gagged her for over a year from voicing her criticism (such as it was) of the “bedroom tax”. In criticising the party leadership, Lamont said Labour MPs in Westminster had failed to recognise that “Scotland has changed forever”. In October, a poll by Ipsos Mori showed Labour facing annihilation in Scotland in next year’s general election, with the potential loss of all but four of its 41 Scottish MPs, mainly to the benefit of the SNP. Labour could easily suffer a similar decline in Scotland to that of the Tories.
The frontrunner to replace Lamont is the arch-Blairite Jim Murphy, a man rightly despised by many trade unionists in Scotland, not least for his role in Labour’s witch hunt of the Falkirk Labour Party branch in 2013 as well as for his support to Blair’s Iraq war. Opposing Murphy is Neil Findlay, who has the backing of major unions such as Unite, Unison and the GMB. Since trade unions will cast a third of the votes in the leadership contest, Murphy may not have plain sailing. But Findlay is no leftist. Having urged Gordon Brown to take over the Scottish party, he only agreed to run when Brown refused.
Labour’s stock in Scotland is now so low among working people that even supporters of Socialist Appeal have had enough. Socialist Appeal is a descendant of the Militant tendency of the late Ted Grant, which was for decades an organic part of the Labour Party. When, in 1992, a majority in the Militant finally gave up on reforming Labour from within, the Grantites refused to leave Labour and were expelled. The majority faction gave rise to Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party in England and Wales while founding cadres of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) were also former Militant members. Now Socialist Appeal has announced that “The Labour Party at present appears to be dead” (socialist.net, 26 September 2014). Instead supporters of Socialist Appeal will work to build the SSP! The shameless opportunism of the Grantites in supporting the SSP is underscored by the fact that while the SSP was a major component of the yes campaign and has for years been sucking up to the SNP, Socialist Appeal has been a virulent opponent of independence and called for a no vote in the referendum.
As Labour disintegrates in Scotland, the SNP is riding high under new leader Nicola Sturgeon and the reformist left continues its love-in with the nationalists. Former SSP leader Tommy Sheridan, who now heads Solidarity, is openly calling on yes voters to support the bourgeois SNP in the 2015 general election. For its part, the SSP is in self-congratulatory mood and trumpeting recruitment successes. Nonetheless its leaders are peeved that, despite their role in the forefront of the pro-independence campaign, they have not been invited to participate in the commission called by Cameron under the chairmanship of Lord Smith to determine which new powers should be devolved to the Scottish parliament. In an angry letter to Lord Smith on 3 October 2014, the SSP’s Colin Fox protested that the “Prime Minister’s explicit instructions are not reflected in your decision to exclude our party from this process”. The SSP here provides an example of what Marx meant by “parliamentary cretinism”. The role of the SSP has been to sell the independence campaign in working-class areas where the SNP had trouble penetrating. In tailing after the bourgeois nationalists of the SNP, the reformists of the SSP and their ilk give a left cover to an independent capitalist Scotland.
For workers republics!
Millions of people — not only in Scotland, but also in Wales and the former industrial areas of northern England — would have been delighted to see Scotland vote for independence, simply to inflict a resounding defeat on the despised Cameron and also on Westminster. Many people who voted for independence viewed their vote as a rejection of government attacks on healthcare, education and welfare. Among 16- and 17-year-olds, who typically see no difference between Labour and the Tories, sentiment was strongly for independence. On the other hand, many working-class people, understandably fearing economic insecurity and mistrusting the nationalists, stuck with “the devil you know” and voted no.
Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond is a populist who is equally at home talking up his support for the National Health Service as he is in talks with bankers and in his (frequent) meetings with the “Dirty Digger”, newspaper baron Rupert Murdoch. Salmond’s version of independence is meagre, based on forming a defence force out of the Scottish regiments in the British army, while remaining subordinate to the British crown and keeping the pound sterling as the currency. The credibility of the independence campaign was undermined when the governor of the Bank of England insisted that in the event of independence, currency union with England would be incompatible with Scottish sovereignty.
The Scottish nationalists have benefited from the absence of a leadership of the working class that is willing to wage a class-struggle fight against austerity. Overwhelmingly, the reformist left has been lulling working people into support for the bourgeois nationalists, selling the lie that life would be better in an independent capitalist Scotland. What is needed is to forge a new working-class leadership based on the perspective of socialist revolution to overthrow capitalist rule.
In our article on the referendum “Down with English chauvinism! No illusions in Scottish nationalism! For workers republics” (Workers Hammer no 228, Autumn 2014), we upheld the right of Scotland to self-determination. We did not advocate either a yes or a no vote on independence. With 85 per cent of the electorate casting a vote, the referendum truly was an exercise in self-determination. The outcome confirms the point that self-determination also implies the right not to separate, as the Scots have chosen, at least for now. Under working-class rule, resolution of the various national questions in Britain and Ireland would be relatively easily achieved. As the article noted:
“A capitalist Scotland does not have a bright future. In any event, the fundamental task will remain: building a leadership that is committed to proletarian socialist revolution, centrally in England, and to the overthrow of the entire system of Westminster parliamentary rule.”