Scotland: Socialists back independence as blow against austerity

Colin Fox addresses thousands of supporters of Scottish independence, Edinburgh, September 22.

Tommy Docherty, the legendary wit and former manager of Manchester United, once quipped after his team had suffered a humiliating defeat, “We lost 4-0 and frankly we were lucky to get the nil”.

The Tories in Scotland know just how he felt, for they are so hated that out of 56 MPs they have just one, and they were lucky to get that!

And yet, as incredible as it may seem, their coalition partners in the British government are despised even more. The Liberal Democrats now have no constituency members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) in mainland Scotland and were “mauled” in last year’s local elections for “joining” the hated Tories at Westminster.

All of which presents the Labour Party with a real dilemma. As cheerleaders for the “No to Scottish Independence” campaign, Labour is in coalition with the Tories and Lib Dems.

Former MSP Charlie Gordon, who lost his seat to the Scottish National Party (SNP), expressed the widespread unease in Labour leader Ed Miliband’s army when he tweeted recently: “Tory millions and Labour activists ‘Better Together’!!*??”

This is the political opposition facing the exuberant independence movement that organised a thousands-strong rally in Edinburgh on September 22. It was the first time supporters have had the opportunity to meet since the launch of the “Yes Scotland” campaign in June.

Representatives of the SNP, Greens and Scottish Socialist Party addressed the march. Our three parties — founders of the Scottish Independence Convention in 2005 — were joined by thousands of people from across Scotland including many from civic and cultural communities.

It is noticeable that the terms of this debate have shifted significantly since the 1990s. “Unionists” (supporters of Scotland remaining part of Britain) now accept Scotland is a nation with an inalienable right to self-determination.

They also accept that Scotland is perfectly capable of running its own affairs and even concede we would be one of the world’s richer nations. It was not always so.

But they insist “we will be even wealthier as part of the UK”. I will come back to that claim, but first it is important that socialists also recognise that supporting self-determination does not make you a nationalist.

Russian revolutionary V. I. Lenin, for example, supported the rights of nations to self-determination, so did socialists like Rosa Luxemburg, John Maclean and James Connolly. No one familiar with their work would call them “nationalists”.

Independence is not divorced from the class struggle, it is part and parcel of it. And for the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), independence means Scots will be free from the neoliberal stranglehold of financial speculators who dominate the world economy today.

The SSP sees independence as a stepping stone to a better society, not an end in itself. We strive for an independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic. And that vision is enjoying greater and greater support as this debate unfolds.

The SSP contends that if all the income, revenues, taxes, levies and duties raised in Scotland, and now transferred to the British Treasury, were to stay here, Scotland would be a wealthier place.

But we also accept that working people will only be better off if we fight for our share of that wealth. There will be no automatic gains from independence. Only the working class will improve their collective living standards.

And improve them they must because Scotland endures some of the worst social conditions in Britain. With 225,000 people officially unemployed and a further 800,000 in part-time, casual or insecure temporary employment earning the national minimum wage or less, there is much help needed.

One in three households now shiver in fuel poverty as standards of living and the quality of life plummets like the temperature gauge.

Scotland’s obscene inequalities are widening not narrowing as we stare down the barrel of the worst economic recession in 80 years. The 1700 jobs lost at meatpackers Halls of Broxburn this week were merely the latest in a long line of setbacks for communities like West Lothian.

The independence debate so far has been widely criticised for being too focused on procedural issues; whether there will be one question on the ballot paper or two? Which parliament has the legal power to call the referendum? Which bodies will oversee the electoral operation?

These matters look likely to be settled soon, allowing the debate to focus on the most substantive issue, whether working-class people will be better off with independence or not?

“Better Together” argues that Scotland reaps rewards from the Union. The truth is that British capitalism holds working-class people in Scotland back. It denies them opportunities and is now carrying out swingeing cuts to their living standards and vital public services.

Equally, warmongering Britain, with the fifth biggest military budget in the world, brings shame on us all, as it is used to occupy Afghanistan, having invaded Iraq and bombed Libya.

All of which poses an increasingly straightforward question for progressive Scotland. Do we pin our hopes on another useless Labour government or set sail for independence?

Ed Miliband promises more cuts, more warmongering, more tax breaks for the rich, more tax hikes for the working class, more privatisation and more assaults on civil liberties. We’ve have had plenty of that.

Scotland’s social-democratic character manifests itself in other decisions — the abolition of National Health Service prescription charges, free elderly care, free university education, free travel for our senior citizens. These provisions signify Scotland’s commitment to collectivism and rejection of austerity, cuts and most of all the Tories.

The independence movement has a striking opportunity to transform Scotland and provide the country with the political settlement it needs. The way to win the referendum is to embrace this “transformational agenda” and promote an alternative vision for Scotland, one which rejects the neoliberal, warmongering capitalist model currently on offer.

[Colin Fox is Scottish Socialist Party spokesperson, former MSP for the Lothians and a member of the Yes Scotland advisory board. ]