In the 1951 Westminster elections 81 per cent of Scots voted; candidates advocating independence won a minuscule 7,299 votes! Last weekend marked the 16th birthday of the SSP. At the meeting to form this new socialist party to challenge the pro-capitalist, big business agenda of not only the Tories but also Labour and the SNP leadership, we adopted the central aim of an independent socialist Scotland. Back in 1998 this was still very much a minority viewpoint in society.
Even two years ago polls showed under 25 per cent for independence. Fast forward to the referendum: a magnificent 45 per cent Yes – 1.6 million people for democratic self-determination, a Scottish government with full powers to shape Scotland’s future. An incredible achievement, considering the mountain of lies, filth and scaremongering these men and women had to climb to see a vision of a better future.
Most fundamental of all truths: class was the key determining factor in the vote. Big working class centres like Glasgow, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire all voted Yes. Inverclyde almost did too, and North Ayrshire and Renfrewshire weren’t far off. This point about class is underlined in red by the central paradox: those areas voting Yes are Labour strongholds, whilst big SNP-voting areas voted No.
It’s an incredible fact that all eight Glasgow constituencies, every one of them with Labour MPs, voted by clear margins for independence. Working class conurbations decided they’d had enough of Tory dictatorship, their brutal assaults on workers’ lives and livelihoods, and voted for a better society. This was not a nationalist movement, but a movement for independence, with progressive social and economic aims at its heart.
Something the Labour leadership either never understood, or chose to set their faces against in their devotion to the UK, its imperial pretensions, its capitalist system, and the personal stake the tops of Labour have in its continuation. They lack any ideological vision of a different kind of society, having abandoned all pretence of socialism decades ago, and eagerly got into bed with the Tories to defend the capitalist status quo. Labour was the chief obstacle to a Yes vote, but they will also be the chief losers from the No vote!
Those who queued up to register to vote did not do so to keep things as they are! They voted alongside other working class people to radically improve their lives, for a more equal, less poverty-stricken Scotland. In stark contrast, the better-heeled middle classes of rural Scotland, Edinburgh, and the leafier suburbs turned out in their multitudes to vote against such change, with over 90 per cent polling in such districts.
That included hordes of SNP voters in the likes of the rural North. Many swallowed the scare-mongering about loss of security under independence, fearing for their relative personal comfort. Some are small c- conservatives, resistant to radical change. Yet there was actually a Yes majority among all voters under 55! A remarkable harbinger of the future.
Scare tactics were central to winning the No majority. Better Together director Blair McDougall has blurted out what we all knew at a Labour conference fringe meeting: scare tactics were essential, he confessed. The Ashcroft post-referendum survey of No voters identifies three overwhelming reasons why they voted No: 47 per cent out of fear and insecurity, 27 per cent due to strong attachment to the UK, and 25 per cent because of the last minute ‘vow’ by Labour, Tories and Lib Dems of ‘extra powers’ for a devolved Holyrood parliament.
To win 1.6 million votes for independence in the face of ruthless opposition is an incredible achievement, and a powerful platform to continue the struggle for independence and socialism from.
No wonder Cameron went from panic to smug gloating and childish gossip about the Queen “purring down the phone” when he told her the result. No wonder the FTSE stock market share prices rose after the No vote. Class interests were at the heart of this referendum.
Labour was the chief obstacle to the Scottish working class winning the democratic right to elect our own governments. After all, who in the Scottish working class would listen to Cameron and his endangered political species? Or to Clegg’s ‘Mini Me’ Tory collaborators? The UK ruling class desperately needed Labour leaders to exploit their residual roots in the working class to defend the rich from a movement that threatened to go far beyond changing flags or government headquarters to demanding a change to the entire economic and social system.
One central plank in this betrayal was the last ditch intervention of Gordon Brown for ‘substantial extra powers’ provided we voted No. This followed months of pleas to vote No in 2014, vote Labour in 2015, and proceed to a land of milk, honey and ‘justice with Labour’. This became the infamous ‘vow’, plastered over the front page of the mass readership Daily Record, with Cameron, Clegg and Miliband vowing more powers for Holyrood provided the Scottish people answered their cooing ‘Please don’t go’ message.
The pledges from Brown and all three unionist parties were a mixture of very vague and downright deceitful. It promised to defend the Barnett Formula. But five days after the No vote the London Times carried a front page announcement of plans to slash it! The Vow refers to additional income tax raising powers, control of some welfare. What is critically missing is control over the fundamental purse strings – for instance Corporation Tax on big businesses.
Without the ability to raise adequate funds for the public purse, a Scottish government would either face resorting to some form of privatisation/private investment to shore up the NHS and other services, or use whatever Income Tax powers conceded by Westminster to levy higher taxes on the working class and lower middle class.
The Vow is not only a late concession to mass pressure from a panicky ruling class – especially their Labour lieutenants – but also a cunning trap. To ensnare Scottish governments in passing on cuts and austerity dictated by Westminster; a devolved government taking the blame for measures they don’t have the economic levers to fully combat.
So what should we do about it?
We should demand and campaign for ‘The Powers to Transform our Lives’. Powers including the ability to implement a £10-an-hour national minimum wage, agreed unanimously at the recent TUC conference. Powers to reverse all attacks on benefits – not just the Bedroom Tax. Powers to tax the very rich and big business precisely to defend our NHS and other services.
And the power to end fracking and take the energy companies into public ownership, to combat fuel poverty and pollution. Powers that fall short of independence, but would avoid the trap being set by Westminster for Holyrood to implement and take the blame for cuts dictated by Westminster. Labour deserves to be punished for their central role in denying the Scottish people democracy.
In the trade unions, we should help stem the tide of resignations from union membership in disgust at union leaders who told members to vote No, and used members’ fees to help finance Better Together and/or United with Labour. Instead of leaving the union, leaving workers defenceless at work and leaving even more control in the hands of undemocratic national union officials, we should organise mass withdrawal from payment of members’ fees to Labour in those unions affiliated to Labour, demanding instead that the unions make the break from Labour.
Labour’s UK conference add enormously to the reasons why trade unions should stop funding their New Tory exploiters: support for the Tories’ cuts plans; means testing of pensioners’ Winter Fuel Allowance; cuts to child benefits; regionalised capping of welfare payments; and support for dragging us into another war mere days after a referendum where they told us we are ‘better together’.
In the 2015 Westminster elections, we need a Yes Alliance, a pro-independence slate of candidates embracing the three parties that were in Yes Scotland – SNP, SSP and Greens – and others in that coalition. A continuation of that successful alliance in May’s general election would be one important strand to sustaining the struggle for outright independence, as well as hammering Labour for their treacherous role. And such a multi-party alliance could reach Labour voters that the SNP on its own would never win over, given the tribalism of SNP-Labour loyalties.
A far greater prize in the staging posts towards independence and socialism is the 2016 Scottish parliament elections, a mere 18 months away! The tens of thousands who fought for a Yes vote could fix their sights on winning an absolute majority of pro-independence MSPs in 2016.
The SNP leaders speak of independence being off the agenda for another generation, in some cases a lifetime (70 years!). They are wrong. Referenda are but one means of winning independence. The democratic election of a majority of pro-independence MSPs in 2016 – SNP, SSP, Greens, Independents – would surely be equally a people’s mandate for Scottish independence?
That is a short term opportunity that shouldn’t be spurned by talk of “waiting another generation”. We should all be immensely proud of the 1.6 million who conquered mountainous obstacles to vote Yes, and also wide open to the hordes of No voters already bitterly regretting having listened to the lie machine.
We should be proud and confident of the tens of thousands who will keep up the fight to win self rule – not in 70 years or even ‘a generation’, but in the foreseeable future. And we should celebrate and embrace the 2,600 – in the first five days after the referendum – who said ‘The time has come to be an organised socialist, I’m joining the SSP!’
The struggle continues – our day will come.