Scotland - No vote for austerity!

As we approach the general election, polls suggest that Labour could lose all but five of its 41 seats in Scotland – a historic defeat. Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy insults the electorate with populist policies such as reintroducing alcohol to football grounds. The ‘Red Tories’ are a ruling class party and must be buried.

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is swallowing up the ground lost by Labour. Its membership, now over 100,000, has more than quadrupled since the referendum. It is proclaiming itself to be an anti-cuts party and has implemented measures to increase free childcare to 16 hours a week for three- and four-year-olds and some two-year-olds, grant free school meals to children up to Primary 3 and continue to meet the cost of the bedroom tax with discretionary housing payments.

However, this does not make the SNP an alternative to pro-austerity parties. Dundee, the only full majority SNP council in Scotland, has lined up £7m cuts for this year. 19 SNP councillors voted to approve consideration of school closures. A campaign has been launched to defend one of the threatened schools, Menzieshill High. At its initial 100-strong meeting on 3 February Yes voters and SNP members declared ‘We did not vote Yes for the SNP to close schools!’. On 12 February, Edinburgh’s Labour/SNP coalition council approved £22m budget cuts for 2015/16; an estimated 1,200 jobs will be shed over the next four years.

In an attempt to curry favour with anti-austerity opinion, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon slammed Westminster cuts as ‘morally unjustifiable and economically unsustainable’ (The Guardian 11 February). She argued that a ‘modest’ increase in public spending of 0.5% could free up to £180bn for investment in the UK over four years while still cutting the deficit. SNP Deputy First Minister John Swinney denounced proposals for £30bn cuts saying ‘If we are to believe the chancellor that the economy is making such a successful recovery, then there is no justification for the destructive cuts that impact on the most vulnerable in society’ (Financial Times 18 March). Swinney claims that either the SNP alternative is adopted or else Scotland will face cuts of £12bn over the next four years (The National 19 March). With the falling price of oil undermining SNP plans for full fiscal autonomy, such cuts are even more likely and the SNP will implement them. Its leadership is already showing it will confront radicals within its ranks, for example by preventing Craig Murray from standing as an SNP parliamentary candidate.

In short, the SNP does not offer working class communities an alternative to austerity.

The Scottish left is split on how to relate to these developments, with some such as Solidarity calling on the working class to ‘lend’ their vote to the SNP on 7 May. Others are against this and are standing their own candidates, including the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and the Green Party, while the Radical Independence Campaign has abdicated from adopting any position. Others are openly challenging the SNP government. Following revelations that 81,980 Scots men and women – including those with young children – had their benefits sanctioned between October 2012 and September 2014, Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions has demanded that the Scottish government meet claimant losses as it has with the bedroom tax. The NGO Nourish Scotland has demanded that the growth in food banks be counteracted by making food a legal right in Scotland.

A vote by rank and file SNP members to reinstate four SNP councillors who were suspended and condemned by the SNP leadership for burning copies of the Smith Commission Report shows that the rebellious spirit of the Yes movement has not been dampened by the SNP’s home rule negotiations. This spirit needs to be organised into a movement that really opposes austerity and those parties which support it.

Dominic Mulgrew

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 244 April/May 2015

 

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