Alex Salmond’s recent call for a new referendum on Scottish independence as an “inevitable” demand of the Scottish people underlines some of the problems facing the Scottish left, writes Scotland CP secretary Tommy Morrison.
Populist nationalism needs to be addressed.
To a large extent the Yes vote in 2014 was motivated by anger at austerity, with Scotland’s poorest areas voting most heavily for independence. Today big sections of the population, desperate to escape from the politics of David Cameron and George Osborne, still see an “independent” Scotland as the only way forward.
But, as the Communist Party pointed out in 2014, the independence put forward by the SNP would have delivered Scotland straight into the hands of the EU troika. Scotland’s deficit, on the basis of oil at 2014 prices, would have been twice that permitted under the obligatory EU Fiscal Compact — and monetary policy would still have been controlled from London. Since then oil prices have collapsed and the size of the independence deficit doubled.
The SNP leadership has yet never squared up to these basic contradictions: the populist promises to end austerity alongside the post-independence commitments that combine EU membership with sterling as a currency. Still today the policies for economic growth appear to be based, neoliberal style, on cutting taxes on business.
It is to be hoped that the broadening of the SNP’s membership base and the increased activity of the SNP’s trade union group will bring forward such a debate.
Even on the left of the SNP there is little recognition of the role of the EU as a major driver of privatisation. Progressives in the SNP have to address these contradictions in policy and develop a clear position against the EU, neoliberal economics, TTIP and Nato.
In the meantime, it has to be recognised that populist nationalism is having a deadening effect on class politics in Scotland. This at a time when the Tory government’s double attack on the welfare state and trade union organisation makes the redeveloping class politics urgent.
Anti-austerity demonstrations in Scotland have been smaller than elsewhere in Britain. Nationalist banners have been prominent combined with a significant number of verbal attacks directed at those who voted No: “You voted for austerity, you are to blame.”
The Labour Party is presented as the big enemy, not the Tories, with the sarcastic taunt of “Red Tory” ever present.
The work of rebuilding class organisation on the ground, of linking unions and communities in resistance to the cuts, is always difficult and challenging.
But it is doubly challenging in face of the belief that all that is needed to end austerity is independence. Talk of a second referendum from Salmond will stir even greater disunity in the trade union movement and working-class communities still to recover from the fallout of the last one.
In these circumstances the response of the Labour Party in Scotland will be crucial. It has to speak clearly against the cuts agenda and against neoliberalism. Labour’s election manifesto was actually somewhat more anti-austerity than the SNP’s — yet this was not how it was projected. Labour’s election campaign failed to make a clear break with neoliberal politics and didn’t challenge the Tories on the deficit.
Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy has now shifted the whole Labour Party leadership debate to the left and shaken the Blairites to the core. For the first time in many years, the debate in the mass media has revolved around class politics.
The need to redevelop class politics will be even more urgent if Corbyn does win.
Under his leadership the Labour Party would need a mass movement outside Parliament, on the streets, in the unions and in the communities, to counter the vicious right-wing backlash that he will face.
Hence the importance of building the People’s Assembly on the ground, projecting class politics and building unity between the trade unions and working-class communities.
This is a task that needs to involve all those genuinely opposed to austerity: Labour, SNP and neither. Communists will work hard to build this unity.
This is the politics needed to defeat the Tories. Calling for a Yes vote in another referendum simply take us down the road to classless politics. Drawing a line across a map of Britain will not defeat capitalist state power based on the ownership and control exercised by finance capital and transnational corporations across the whole of Britain.
We do indeed need new constitutional arrangements that can strengthen the democratic rights now under such fierce attack. That is why Communists call for a federal republic based on national parliaments with powers to advance economic democracy and public ownership against the power of big business.
But only the redevelopment of working-class politics, led by an organised, combatant, militant and political trade union movement, can ensure that new constitutional arrangements can indeed be turned against austerity and the anti-people policies of big business.