Westminster parties ‘vow’ more austerity

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ROGUES’ CLUB: the establishment parties’ ‘vow’ isn’t worth the newspaper it was written on

by Ken Ferguson, editor, Scottish Socialist Voice Seldom can the cruel reality behind the smiling mask of the British establishment been so rapidly and comprehensively revealed as in the days after the No vote in the independence referendum. The first casualty was the much trumpeted “vow” by the three Westminster party leaders of vast new powers for the Scottish parliament which was duly splashed across the front page of the ultra-unionist Daily Record. Described by failed former-premier Gordon Brown as “close to federalism” these were due to be delivered in an unbreakable timetable. It soon broke.

Away from the panic about a possible Yes vote, the “vow” quickly became the centre of the pre-Westminster election backstabbing with the Tories, past masters of the art, first off the starting blocks. Cameron’s demand that further devolution to Scotland be linked to change in England.

At a stroke, the hue and cry went up from the Tory pack for “English votes for English laws” a demand almost certain both to delay the delivery of the “vow” and snaps shut the jaws of a political trap on Labour.

Now they either agree to restrict the votes of Scottish Labour MPs and endanger their prospect of majority government, or oppose it and hand the “English card” to the Tories.

Of course this is before the wrangling on powers, tax rates, Barnett formula and all the arcane constitutional wrangling backed by an army of experts from Oxford and Cambridge, all making the “vow” a fading prospect.

Meanwhile the main parties of the British state have united behind a renewed war in Iraq and vowed (that word again) to plough on with hard times and austerity to keep the wealthy and the bankers safe. Stripping away all the window dressing, the main choice offered by Tory and Labour is simply how swiftly to wield the cuts axe with Tories promising £25billion cuts in two years and Labour £27billion in four.

It is against this sombre background that the losing Yes side in last month’s referendum not only has not been crushed but in fact has remained active and mobilised. One sign of this has been the unprecedented growth in the three pro-independence parties as thousands have joined the Greens, SSP and SNP in a show of determination that independence may be deferred but it is not defeated.

Alongside this, Women for Independence report a surge of support and have had to move their national meeting to a larger venue, RIC are looking at a mammoth conference next month and several alternative media projects to combat unionist bias are under way.

The consolidation and development of the energy and creativity of the Yes movement is the absolute prerequisite for driving home the message that the unionists must deliver their “vow” and that independence remains the only sure way to create the basis for a renewed socially just Scotland.

As an immediate task, we need to articulate the demand—apparently promised by Brown during the indyref panic—for the fullest economic and social powers to be devolved to Holyrood.

Such a demand is not just a reflection of the democratic will expressed on 18 September but it puts the unionist parties—most centrally Labour—to the acid test of delivery which, on current form, they will fail.

Given its shameful role in the referendum, and the fact that much of its political heartlands voted Yes, the heat has to be focused on Labour who will now ask those same voters who voted Yes to support a manifesto with £27billion cuts for the poor and Trident missiles on the Clyde.

We can be sure that service-cutting, banker-friendly, war-supporting Labour MPs will seek support with the slogan “the Tories are coming” as if they were worse. However, the truth is that any differences are only of degree and both support austerity and war.

Faced with this grisly choice, some have called for an SNP vote but, although superficially attractive, this option both fails to express the diverse views of the wider Yes movement or provide a vehicle which allows Labour-supporting Yes voters a choice.

Candidates endorsed by the three pro-indy parties contesting even a limited number of key Westminster seats and targeting unionist big wigs could send a powerful message to London that Scotland rejects austerity and war.

Such candidates would also expose the hollow nature of the “vow”, demand devo max and keep the issue of independence firmly on the agenda. The delivery of such an agreement, while complex, needs at least serious consideration. Turning to Holyrood 2016 again, there is much to commend the idea of turning the poll into a vote for independence with the Yes parties co-operating to ensure a pro-indy majority.

With the No vote, we are entering period of sharper cuts, attacks on the poor and a widening war in Iraq and Syria. Coupled with the likely failure to deliver the promised powers to Holyrood, the Westminster system will come under renewed, intense strain.

In these circumstances, the mass Yes movement with its electrifying democracy, respectful pluralism and optimistic vision of a fairer Scotland, can both inform and guide parties and movements both to defend Scotland against the cuts and keep the demand of independence on the table.

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