The Scottish Labour Party is in turmoil as the aftershocks from the independence referendum continue.But none of this must divert the left in Scotland from the urgent tasks confronting it.

One is to rebuild effective campaigning unity in the trade union movement.

The next round of local government cuts is due. Already 40,000 jobs have been lost and details of further cuts are leaking out.

As senior managers bypass councillors and take the initiative in attacking pay, conditions and jobs, basic services are threatened.

In these circumstances effective campaigning means more than just unity within and between unions.

It requires unity and joint organisation with the local communities that will be affected.

Resolutions on this were passed at the AGM of the Scottish People’s Assembly at the beginning of the month. They now need to be put into effect.

The other task is connected. It is to win an understanding of the need for a class approach to devolution.

Submissions to the Smith commission are due by the end of this month.

The issues at stake are about greater national self-determination — but to be real this self-determination must also have at its heart democracy, real economic and social democracy.

The tragedy of local government today is that it has had the democracy wrenched out of it.

Its budgets are fixed externally. Council tax is frozen. Voters’ needs and concerns cannot be reflected in policy.
The same also goes, to a large extent, for the Scottish Parliament itself.

It has powers to increase income tax rates but has never used them. It is caught in the same neoliberal balanced-budget trap as the Westminster Parliament.

Equally, while it has powers to promote economic and industrial development including by public ownership, EU competition laws stand in the way.

If there is currently profound cynicism about politicians and representative institutions, it is largely because they are not seen to respond to the will of the people.

Parliaments are formally democratic. But this democracy has no content. It is nullified by rules that reflect the economic interests of a class that measures its success by the rate of profit, a measure now made even more anti-human and anti-social by the effects of monopoly and financial speculation.

In discussing greater powers for a devolved Scottish Parliament it is these class issues that must be paramount.

Last weekend the Communist Party’s Scottish committee agreed its submission to the Smith commission.

The statement starts by stressing the party’s commitment to home rule since the 1930s.

It then goes on to put the class issues — that Britain is a multinational state in the broadest sense, but that its democracy is limited, constrained by the “concentration of economic and political power in the hands of those who own the means of production, distribution and exchange.”

It notes that this concentration has become more marked over the past century and that this has had geographical consequences.
Economic development has become more uneven across and within the nations of Britain.

Monopoly power has also become more dominant and financialised — massively increasing levels of inequality.

In these circumstances greater devolution must do two things. It must provide a Scottish Parliament with greater powers to intervene economically.

But it must also help unite working people across Britain to campaign for social justice and build the collective organisation that, alone, can act as a counterweight to that of big business and finance.

A Scottish Parliament with greater tax powers but no political will to use them will simply generate greater cynicism.

Equally, in today’s Scotland where virtually all the key resources are owned from outside, greater economic and social democracy will never be achieved unless working people are united organisationally and politically across Britain to confront the institutions that sustain these interests.

For this reason the Communist Party’s Scottish committee backs the call for progressive federalism made last week by the Red Paper collective in the Herald.

Such progressive federalism combines the principle of social and geographical redistribution of wealth at federal level with the delegation of powers of economic democracy, in terms of public and co-operative ownership, to national level.

It opposes “Devo-max” in terms of devolving all tax powers to Scotland. Even with oil revenues it would leave Scotland poorer. Scots would simply be taxing themselves for all services.

Worse, it would end the principle of redistribution currently embodied, however imperfectly, in the Barnett formula.

It would thereby weaken the potential for the class unity of working people across Britain for the redistribution of both wealth and power.

The Communist Party calls for indirect taxes to be devolved together with a portion of income tax with added powers to increase tax levels on higher incomes.

It also calls for housing benefit and attendances allowances to be devolved. But taxes on wealth should be at federal level, along with the rest of national insurance a buffer against uneven levels of unemployment across Britain.

Formal powers can only go so far. Political change is also needed to regain key economic levers from the European Union and make state aid and public ownership feasible.

Such an agenda requires the rebuilding of class unity on the ground now, which is why mobilisation against the cuts in the coming months in Scotland and in Britain will also be crucial.