Scottish politics was never meant to be this exciting. Safe Labour seats falling like skittles. Legal threats over referendums. The first vote in 300 years over our future in the Union. Devolution was designed by it’s architects to stabilise and maintain the Union after the onslaught Thatcherism had on Scotland throughout the 80s. However 30 years later, the Union faces the greatest challenge in its history.
Scotland is about to enter into a nationwide debate about it’s future – be that in the Union or Independent, and also on what exactly Independence means for Scotland in the 21st century. Will we still have nuclear weapons on the Clyde? An unelected Monarch as head of state? Will our oil reserves be in public ownership, or remain in the hands of private businessmen? Will Scottish women continue to be paid on average 12.2% less than their male counterparts? Will trade unionists still be shackled with the most repressive anti-union legislation in Europe?
For the first time in decades, a far-reaching debate is about to be had on Scotland – its society, its economy, its constitutional status, and its future. So far this debate has been limited to the SNP vs the Unionist parties, with the quality of argument predictable – propaganda about “separatists”, small minded nationalists, Scotland’s too wee to go it alone etc. But not all the cause for concern for those who support full independence comes from the Unionist camp. Leading figures in the SNP – including Alex Salmond – still want Scottish soldiers to have a role in the UK military, and to allow Scottish soil to host British military bases after Independence. Many SNP MSP’s will happily denounce the 300 year old Act of Union as outdated and irrelevant – but they’re content to see Queen Elizabeth as the head of state of an Independent Scotland based on the 400 year old Union of the Crowns.
SNP leaders are also calling for the Scottish Parliament to have control of Corporation Tax – unfortunately not so they can raise taxes on those companies who currently enjoy some of the lowest rates in the EU – but to lower them even further, to walk in the same footsteps as Tory Chancellor George Osborne who lowered the taxes the super-rich in Scotland and the rest of the UK have to pay. This position on Corporation Tax no doubt extends to those powerful multinationals who extract oil from the North Sea – can it really be called “Scotland’s Oil” if we merely exchange the coffers of the Chancellor in London for shareholders in Texas?The majority of Scots who voted for SNP – and who will vote for Independence – do so because the values of Labour and of the UK are no longer in touch with the political consensus in Scotland, which is broadly social democratic and well to the Left of England. We will not win an Independence referendum by advocating the Thatcherite policies of “trickle down” economics and deference to the obscenely wealthy that destroyed Scotland in the 80s and have bankrupted the world’s financial system with their recklessness. Modeling an Independent Scotland on states like Ireland – robbed by bankers and facing harsh austerity – is a sure fire way to lose a referendum.We can expect every single organ of the British state – media, political, economic, even security – to act to undermine and defeat a vote for Independence. For the British establishment, this is an existential threat which poses the biggest challenge to their privilege and rule for decades. If Scotland does become Independent the UK will be reduced to a rump state, without North Sea Oil, forced to relocate it’s nuclear submarines and potentially facing a challenge to it’s veto power at the UN security council.
Every dirty trick will come into play. That’s why it’s important a campaign for a yes vote is not reliant on celebrities, prominent businessmen, or the media – but a grassroots campaign ready and willing to take the fight for Independence to the streets, communities and all across Scotland.
That’s why this initiative is so important – the Radical Independence Conference has the potential to unite the radical currents in Scotland – the Socialists, Trade Unionists, Feminists, Environmentalists, Anti-Capitalists, Community Campaigners, Anti-Imperialists, Peace Lobbyists – to come together to debate and discuss our role in the upcoming referendum, and what vision we have for an Independent Scotland. So far the argument for Independence has been considered the sole preserve of the SNP, but we believe it is crucial the Left makes it own voice heard for these reasons.
1 – The need for a grassroots Yes campaign – the honeymoon with the SNP and the Scottish media will most likely be over and certainly on hiatus for the duration of a referendum campaign. We can’t rely on a fair hearing from the press for the Independence case when it comes to the crunch. Most of the popular press in Scotland is pro-union – the one potential exception being The Sun, which mustn’t become the flagbearer for Independence for obvious reasons. We must develop our own structures on the ground to mobilise support for Independence, with our own media, and the activity of the potential thousands of pro-Independence activists over the minority of editors.
2 – A Yes campaign which is radical, progressive and anti-establishment – Scotland’s political terrain is overwhelmingly to the left of the UK. This is reflected in the complete lack of Tory support in Scotland, and the much smaller levels of support for the radical right-wing, like the BNP and UKIP. When we observe the electoral contest of last year, we see that unlike the UK general election there was little to no discussion of the “need to cut the deficit” from the SNP or Labour.
The SNP’s victory was based on extending welfare to the population – limited free school meals, free prescriptions, abolition of road tolls – as well as other Left policies like opposition to PFI, nuclear disarmament and an anti-Iraq war stance. We need to link Scottish Independence with the anti-cuts and anti-austerity feeling amongst Scottish society – putting a vision of a Scotland that is independent, free of poverty, and redistributes wealth and power from the millionaires to the millions.
If we can make Independence and anti-austerity two sides of the same coin, we can not only declare Independence from one of the most right-wing and reactionary countries in the world, but bring together an alliance of progressive forces able to put the values of equality, democracy, socialism and social justice into the DNA of a newly formed Independent Scotland.
3 – Building an alliance of the Left that is able to shape the future of an Independent Scotland – If a referendum campaign ends with a victory for Independence, it is the end of one debate but the beginning of another. There is already a vision articulated by some – of a Scotland that is a low tax haven, retains an unelected Monarch, and remains subservient to a millionaire class. Those in Scotland who oppose this must be united to put forward an ambitious and attractive alternative: A Scotland that is a Republic, has public ownership of it’s industries, wages a war on poverty, does not take part in the bombing of foreign countries for oil, which has a constitution guaranteeing the rights of it’s citizens to jobs, housing, education and healthcare.If those who oppose war, poverty, inequality and injustice can unite, we can put forward a narrative of a future Independent Scotland which will capture the hearts and imaginations of our fellow countrymen and women far more effectively than a simple change of flags at the top of Edinburgh Castle. An Independent Scotland is a blank slate whose story is yet to be written. To put forward this alternative in the case of victory, we must be advocating it clearly and credibly in the battle for Independence.
That’s why I’m supporting the upcoming Radical Independence Conference in October – and calling for all those who share the vision of a new Scotland to attend its first organising meeting on the 2nd of June. The conference itself has already drawn support from many prominent individuals on the Scottish Left, and can unite us into battling for something relevant, achievable and significant after years of being stuck in the electoral ghetto. The recent electoral victories for the Left in Greece and France show that it’s not material conditions, but our own subjective weaknesses that keeps the Left disarmed in Scotland – winning Independence would be a major step in asserting our own confidence and ability to change Scotland for the better.