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.

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Scotland - Home rule or independence?

In FRFI 242 we stated that: ‘Home Rule will represent the limit of the aspirations of the middle class and better-off sections of the working class: the SNP is a bourgeois party and it will implement whatever cuts are necessary to preserve economic stability.’ The historic referendum on Scottish independence saw the mass of the working class, the youth and progressive people vote overwhelmingly to secede from the imperialist United Kingdom. 1.6 million people in predominantly urban and poor working class constituencies voted Yes. However, the working class has reached the limits of what can be achieved by voting at this moment. Now is the time to organise across Scotland a fight against the austerity programme of the Tories, the Labour Party and the SNP. Any progress in this struggle requires an end to the reactionary Union and with it a complete break from the bankrupt British labour movement. It must become a fight for socialism.

Home rule

It is necessary to remind ourselves of the actual terms of the September referendum and to cut through the deliberately fostered confusions of the campaign and which persist in the present debate as monopolised by the ruling class media. Independence, Home Rule, ‘Devo-Max’, the Westminster ‘Vow’ and Federalism are deployed as variable democratic solutions to the constitutional crisis facing the unitary British state. Voters were in fact asked to vote on the simple question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The Scottish National Party, the governing party in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, had sought to define national independence in the most craven bourgeois terms: support for the monarchy, support for the pound sterling, support for NATO and the EU.

Now the SNP has retreated even further: fiscal, defence and foreign policy can remain with Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon and former leader Alex Salmond have made it clear that their SNP will be pursuing Home Rule. The money and the guns upon which British imperialism is founded will remain safe in a united ruling class’s bloody hands. This is a future that those who voted for independence rejected.

Opposition within the SNP

Since the narrow defeat of the Yes movement, the SNP has grown to become the third largest political party in Britain with over 92,000 members. With such numbers, the suspension for two months of three SNP councillors in Renfrew who filmed themselves burning a copy of the Smith Commission Report at the beginning of December is politically instructive. While the SNP and Labour Party leadership welcomed the Smith Report on devolving further powers for Scotland, the councillors rejected it for the ruling class stitch-up that it was. Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘It is essential that ... conduct does not fall short of the high standard that is rightly expected by the public. My clear view is that setting fire to something because you don’t agree with it is not acceptable behaviour.’ In her striving for respectability, Sturgeon ignores the fact that the assembled mob of ruling class stooges that formed the Commission – an unelected Lord, Tory and Labour MPs and senior civil servants – are far more experienced in the use of fire and have no concern for pretty words like ‘standards’. This violent lot burn countries and people for money!

Craig Murray would recognise and share this direct characterisation of how the United Kingdom actually operates (see FRFI 242). As an SNP member he has now been disqualified as a parliamentary candidate by the party hierarchy for stating, in answer to a vetting question, that he would not vote for the Bedroom Tax if that were the price of supporting a hypothetical parliamentary coalition. Most recently he stated:

‘I worry that the downplaying of the independence goal for the General Election may drain the fire from those 80,000 Yes-oriented new members. I worry even more that this may not be an accident’. The SNP is trying to control or demobilise the electoral forces mobilised by the Yes movement and undermine the progressive aspirations of the working class that came out from the housing estates and closes of urban Scotland.

Radical independence

The opportunist left in Scotland, as in the rest of Britain, are masters of setting themselves at the head of campaigns and emerging movements before leading them off safely to nowhere. The gathering of the Radical Independence Campaign (see FRFI 242) in November 2014 attracted thousands. Yet in a circus which constantly acclaimed the 1.6 million votes for Yes, not a single vote was taken. Instead we were asked to pay for the editing and production of video footage which the leadership assured us would be studied for our views. We are still awaiting the outcome. Now there are reports of local RIC groups winding up everywhere, squandering the possibilities of linking up independence and socialism with the struggles against welfare sanctions, zero hours contracts, low wages and nuclear weapons.

The General Election

In preparation for the General Election the SNP has been engaged in a sordid social democratic waltz with the Labour Party. The election of the monstrous Blairite Jim Murphy as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party in December 2014 has not affected this stance at all. Popular disgust with the Labour Party’s reactionary unionist stance suggests a disintegration of its parliamentary presence in Scotland at the election in May. However the SNP is now projecting the possibility of supporting Labour in the event of a hung parliament. It claims its price is an end to Trident and austerity. Radical it may sound, but its local councils and councillors are happily cutting vital public services and jobs as efficiently as the Labour Party.

The Scottish independence referendum represented the opening of a front of raw working class opposition to the mass poverty and brute inequality that has accompanied austerity. Socialism is the answer, and smashing the Union unlocks this possibility. No longer would the Scottish working class be fettered in its fight against austerity by a reactionary British labour movement. Now is the time to make the demand for an independent socialist Scotland central to our resistance.  

Michael MacGregor

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 243 February/March 2015

Who speaks for the Scottish working class?

On Saturday 22 November, FRFI supporters were among 3,000 activists who attended a conference convened by the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in Glasgow. At the same time, possibly as a spoiling tactic, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) organised a rally at an arena a hundred yards away which attracted 12,000 people. Politics in Scotland has undergone a dramatic change as a result of the referendum on 18 September. The genie is out of the bottle, and it will be very difficult for the ruling class, whether in Scotland or in Britain, to put it back. As political parties prepare for the 2015 General Election, the question is: who will speak for the Scottish working class?

Not the Scottish Labour Party

With a declining membership of 13,500 in Scotland and poll ratings suggesting the loss of half its 41 MPs next May, Labour is reaping the consequences of its Better Together campaign. Despite big union support and cash from Unite, the union’s own polling shows that 54% of people who voted Labour in Scotland in 2010 will not vote Labour again in 2015. In an effort to forestall this, Labour has decided to agree to the devolution of income tax raising powers and many elements of welfare spending. Labour may have won the referendum, but hundreds of thousands of Scottish working class people now see the fight for independence and the fight against austerity as intertwined. The fact that the Scottish Labour Party is likely to elect arch-imperialist warmonger Jim Murphy as its new leader in December instead of the ‘left’ candidate Neil Findlay will not help it regain lost support.

Disillusionment extends to trade unions which have failed to organise any serious resistance against austerity. As Neil Davidson points out:

‘Most full-time officials were hostile to independence, though few unions could openly align themselves with the No campaign without consulting their members… At branch level, things were different…[Unite] union officials in aerospace and shipbuilding actively courted Tory ministers and Labour No MPs for meetings to “defend the defence industry”. In some workplaces CEOs and managers organised “employee briefings”, in effect mass meetings to agitate for a No vote, with the union representatives backing up the employers.’ (New Left Review, September-October 2014)

Nor the SNP

SNP membership has jumped by 60,000 to over 92,000 since the referendum. It is now the third largest political party in Britain. Its new leader, Nicola Sturgeon, declared at its November 2014 conference that her mission was to eradicate poverty in Scotland. She had previously condemned the Labour Party for ‘abandoning the social justice agenda’ and claims that the SNP is now the social democratic party in Scotland.

However, the SNP has thrown the Labour Party a lifeline with the announcement that it would not rule out a coalition with Labour should it agree to a further devolution of powers to the Scottish government. It remains to be seen whether the new membership of the SNP will accept such overtures, or the promotion of Home Rule as against full independence. Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was forced to resign after exposing the regime’s gruesome torture, is now an SNP member. He has properly described Home Rule as ‘bollocks’ and was a popular Yes speaker who denounced the monarchist position of his party.

While the SNP did oppose the attack on Iraq in 2003, the party narrowly took a pro-NATO stance in 2012. Murray has described the British state as ‘deeply immoral…a pathological state, which is a danger in the world, a rogue state prepared to go to war to make a few people wealthy’. For how long will the SNP tolerate such forthright condemnation of British imperialism, or any member who refuses to endorse its support for the Crown, the pound, NATO and the EU?

The paradox is that the Yes vote emerged from the broad working class in urban Labour Party constituencies, yet it is these voters who are now saying that Labour is finished for them because of its No campaign. Conversely, the SNP constituencies in more affluent and rural areas returned a strong No vote in the referendum as the middle classes sought to maintain their privileges. An estimated 180,000 SNP voters rejected independence. Home Rule will represent the limit of the aspirations of the middle class and better-off sections of the working class: the SNP is a bourgeois party and it will implement whatever cuts are necessary to preserve economic stability.

Radical Independence Campaign

‘Because we recognised that the poorest, most densely populated communities must bear the most votes and the most ready support for a decisive political and social change, we canvassed these areas the hardest…We recognised early that those voters who would buck the polling trend would be those voters who don’t talk to pollsters and hate politicians; those voters who have told our activists: ‘You are the only people to ever ask me what I think about politics.’ (Suki Sangha and David Jamieson, ‘The Radical Independence Campaign’, RS21 2, autumn 2014)

Supporters of the RIC were central to the registration and voting drive in support of independence. Through the campaign, thousands of young people started to participate in political life for the first time. Its local groups had broken new ground in the period up to the vote by canvassing the huge housing estates of each Scottish city and town. That its conference could attract so many participants shows that it still has the ear of many of these activists and marks an important step forward. The question now is how it can sustain the momentum and organise working class forces in support of General Election candidates who link the struggle for independence with the fight against austerity. Activity, democracy and popular involvement will be the key. Socialists must support the RIC in qualitatively transforming its approach to political organisation by building open and democratic local groups, and supporting that development with an equally open and democratic leadership. We have to seize the time now before the forces of reaction have a chance to gather themselves and launch a counter-offensive. For an independent socialist Scotland!

Mike McGregor

Scottish Independence Referendum - Ruling class panics as Scottish youth and oppressed show the way forward

On 19 September, the British ruling class breathed a huge sigh of relief when the results of the previous day’s referendum on Scottish independence were announced. The possibility of a Yes victory had caused widespread panic in the days beforehand. But on a massive turnout of 84.6%, 55.3% had voted against independence, with 44.7% in favour – two million as against just over 1.6 million. Within hours of the result, pledges by the three Westminster party leaders offering more powers to Scotland in an effort to bolster the No vote, were bogged down in petty party squabbles. Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Scottish First Minister, who had spearheaded the Yes campaign, announced his intention to resign his positions.

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Scotland votes no to independence

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2,001,926 (55.3%) voted no, with 1,617,989 (44.7%) voting yes. Overall turnout 84.5%.

The British ruling class is today breathing a huge sigh of relief. The possibility of a Yes victory in the Scottish referendum had caused widespread panic. A triumphalist media is now congratulating everyone on how democratic and peaceful the referendum was. We are told that the result represents the will of the people; but the reality is that it represents the fear of the people. Following the result, SNP leader and Scottish Minister, Alex Salmond announced his intention to step down from his positions. Within hours of the result, the pledges by the three Westminster party leaders to offer more powers to Scotland, lie in tatters.

The Yes campaign came from 20 points behind in the polls over the past three months to become a serious contender for victory in the two weeks leading to the referendum date, as a Yougov poll published on 6 September put Yes ahead by 1%. In the days that followed, the British ruling class went into complete overdrive in order to secure a No verdict. All national media were mobilised accordingly; all of the 39 daily and regional newspapers called for a No vote and ran scare stories. All bourgeois organisations were deployed. On 10 September Prime Minister’s question time in the House of Commons was cancelled to allow all three party leaders to travel to Scotland to save the Union. On 11 September over 100 Labour MPs, until then utterly complacent about Scotland and certain that the No vote would triumph, stepped off a London train at Glasgow Central station to save the future of the Labour Party. Bank chiefs were reported as claiming that banks would leave Scotland and that interest rates would rise. The No campaign insisted that Scotland would be left without a currency. Food prices, it was widely reported, would rise should Scotland vote Yes. Anger and revulsion at biased BBC coverage of the campaign led to a 5,000 strong demonstration outside its Glasgow headquarters on 14 September. On 17 September, 14 former Armed Forces chiefs signed an open letter saying a No vote was critical for the nation’s security. On the day before the vote, former Labour Party leader Gordon Brown claimed a Yes victory would put one million of Scotland’s two million jobs at risk.

Reflecting on Irish acceptance of the 1922 Treaty which imposed partition in Ireland, the Irish revolutionary communist, Liam Mellows said that the Treaty had been accepted not by the will of the people but by the fear of the people. Back then British imperialism threatened the Irish people with ‘immediate and terrible war’ should they vote against its proposals. Today that same imperialist British ruling class used more sophisticated means to threaten the Scottish people and in so doing exposed many to the limitations of bourgeois democracy.

The Yes campaign won important majorities in the poorest urban areas of Scotland; with majorities in Dundee, North Lanarkshire, West Dumbartonshire and Glasgow. It is here that the Yes campaign was able to gain support from the poorest sections of the working class especially its younger elements. Thousands of activists campaigned in these communities, arguing that a better, more socially just Scotland is possible. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! campaigned for a Yes vote, against British imperialism, arguing that working class interests must be at the fore of Scottish politics. The Labour Party stands today absolutely discredited among a huge section of the Scottish working class people; the official Better Together campaign did not hold a single open public meeting throughout the city of Glasgow during the campaign.

Against a tidal wave of propaganda based on negativity and fear, a significant and sizeable proportion of the Scottish people voted defiantly for independence. It was always the case that there would be no constitutional solution to social questions; the battle was about political power and basic democracy. We have no time for despondency and demoralisation; the ruling class has gained a renewed mandate to continue its offensive against the working class – all progressive forces must organise against them.

Already the greed of the ruling class is exposed for all to see as they now argue about how much money London should be able to cream off the national wealth in the wake of the referendum victory. New forces must emerge as struggles break out in defence of working class living standards. Socialists have a responsibility to relate to this and a duty to act.

Paul Mallon

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  1. Scottish independence referendum: Yes now in a majority
  2. Scotland: Yes to independence - No to British imperialism / FRFI 237 Feb/Mar 2014
  3. Glasgow Strife: Fighting for workers’ rights in Glasgow
  4. Glasgow: For action and democracy in the fight against ATOS
  5. Scotland: Fighting the bedroom tax, challenging the Labour Party/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  6. PCS says ‘We will not manufacture a dispute’ against Atos
  7. More victories against police repression for Glasgow activists / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012
  8. Scotland’s education crisis/ FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012
  9. Oppose the criminalisation of progressive football fans!/ FRFI 224 Decr 2011/Jan 2012
  10. Glasgow Defence Campaign: a year fighting police repression in Scotland/ FRFI 224 Decr 2011/Jan 2012
  11. Occupy Glasgow! Eye Witness Report - 19 Oct 2011
  12. Glasgow FRFI supporters stand up to political courts and cops – October 2011
  13. Strathclyde Police - Back Off! - 02 Oct 2011
  14. Fighting the cuts in Glasgow / FRFI 222 Aug/Sep 2011
  15. Glasgow - Fighting political policing / FRFI 221 Jun/Jul 2011
  16. Scottish Parliament elections: Labour crashes to defeat
  17. Support for Glasgow Defence Campaign grows at May Day rallies in Scotland
  18. Glasgow: no to political policing! - 16 April 2011
  19. Strathclyde police attacks FRFI supporters and anti-cuts protestors in Glasgow
  20. Struggle against education cuts escalates in Glasgow
  21. Glasgow 2: A Political Trial / FRFI 8 Jan/Feb 1981
  22. Fighting the Poll Tax in Glasgow / FRFI 79 July 1988
  23. People and Politics: BANNED / FRFI 78 May/Jun 1988
  24. Miners’ Rally – Edinburgh
  25. Heroin: The unseen imperialist tool