Almost a year after the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) landslide victory we have a date ― Autumn 2014 ― for the most important referendum in Scottish history.
Scotland will vote on whether it stays in a union [the “United Kingdom”] dominated by the right wing ― a state that invaded Iraq, imposed nuclear weapons on the Clyde and destroyed Scotland’s industrial base ― or become an independent nation. As such, it would have the power to fundamentally change Scotland for the better and reflect the left of centre political terrain instead of being dominated by the Tory home counties.
The referendum date has been announced after months of whining from the unionist [pro-British] parties, all of which have been in disarray since the SNP’s victory. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the conservative Tories all called for a referendum to be held as soon as possible after the SNP’s victory.
Yet when the SNP was a minority administration the parties refused to support its call for an independence referendum last year.
They must be kicking themselves now ― the poll on Scotland’s future will now take place after two years of vicious Tory austerity that will disproportionately affect Scotland’s economy. That economy has higher than average public sector employment due to the destruction of Scottish industry in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher.
If it comes down to choosing between a government led by [the SNP's] Alex Salmond in Holyrood and many years of continued Tory rule in Westminster, even non-nationalist Scots may vote yes as an “exit strategy” from Tory misrule.
This fear of a referendum being held at the height of Tory cuts is probably what motivated British Prime Minister David Cameron ― along with typical unionist arrogance ― to try to bring the referendum under the control of Westminster.
After 300 years of Scotland having no say in whether it stays in the union, Westminster is now concerned that Scots should have a “fair say”, even arguing a referendum held by the Scottish parliament would be “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. This is ironic given Britain does not have a written constitution.
No referendum carried out is “binding” under British law ― all are only advisory. And if there’s a majority yes vote for independence, it does not matter whether it’s in 2012 or 2014 ― politically, the union is finished.
After years of snidey slagging of Scots as “subsidy junkies”, “dole scum”, too wee to go it alone etc, Conservatives in England are beginning to wake up to the reality of Scottish independence. The British state would be “shorn of its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and relegated to minnow status in Nato”,Tim Luckhurst said in the January 10 Daily Mail.
Unfortunately for the Tory party, which has fewer MPs in Scotland than there are pandas, it is unlikely to have any impact in stopping the breakup of the British state. Cameron’s intervention into the timing of the referendum shows he has zero tactical knowledge of the Scottish political scene.
The unionist pillar of political strength in Scotland is the Labour Party, which has still not recovered from its defeat in 2007, let alone last year’s humiliating rout in Scotland.
Despite the disparity in political strength between the SNP and its unionist opponents, by 2014 the honeymoon between the Scottish media and the SNP is likely to be over, if not at least on hiatus for the duration of an independence referendum campaign. Expect predictions of the apocalypse if Scotland decides to go it alone.
That’s why we need to organise a grassroots independence campaign to ensure we have media to promote the case for independence. Socialists should be advocating a republic, public ownership of oil and taxes on the super rich, in contradiction to the SNP’s model of Scotland as a “Celtic Tiger” like Ireland.
Pro-independence left-wingers don’t just need to organise to win the referendum, but also to shape the future of a post-independence Scotland ― to oppose any moves to keep Scotland inside a “Union lite” with British military bases in Scotland on lease, or run the economy along the same Thatcherite lines that condemn a quarter of Scottish children to poverty.
For the first time in decades we have a chance to fundamentally change Scotland and Scottish politics for the better. Lets get organised to build the socialist republic.
[Andy Bowden is a member of Scottish Socialist Youth, the youth organisation of the Scottish Socialist Party. This article is reprinted from www.ssy.org.au.]