Does the SNP offer semi-skimmed change?

SNP Nicola Sturgeon

Another Scotland is necessary: change without change is not enough – we want the real thing

by Andrew Kinnell The Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek makes the point that in today’s neoliberal society contradiction is the norm, people are increasingly offered “products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol”. Zizek argues that this combination of ‘pleasure with restraint’ is a fundamental part of the ideological framework that shapes our everyday lives; and I believe that the SNP’s policies equate to a similar ‘beer without alcohol’, change without change approach, and that we on the left must remain critical of. 

Nicola Sturgeon told the SNP conference that the SNP opposed the anti-democratic House of Lords, she also outlined their commitment to oppose the renewal of Trident Nuclear Weapons and said that the SNP wants to challenge the austerity politics of Westminster.

As a socialist, I welcome all of this and indeed support all of these measures, however that is not the full picture. While the SNP are happy to slam the anti-democratic House of Lords, they paradoxically support the divine right of kings and believe the Monarchy has an important role to play in society, according to the First Minster the Monarchy operates as “a model that has many merits”.

With Trident too, the SNP have made it clear that they are against the immoral weapons of mass destruction and will always vote against any renewal; and yet they support NATO, a nuclear military alliance designed to assist US imperial interests across the world.

The SNP have tried to position themselves as an economically ‘progressive’ party offering a different solution to the austerity agenda of Westminster, however at a local level the SNP have, like all the other main parties, slashed budgets of local authorities.

The SNP’s economics in particular highlight their attempts to appeal to all, to offer the ‘coffee without caffeine’ attempting to appeal to folk like Bryan Souter while concurrently trying to appeal to the working class voters who are sick of Westminster austerity. The SNP suggest that Scotland can both have a ‘competitive’ market-led economy and simultaneously have a Scandinavian social democracy with generous welfare state supporting all in need.

Research by Michael Keating and Malcolm Harvey in 2014 suggested that there would be two, distinct paths an Independent Scotland could follow: either follow the neoliberal market economy (the Celtic tiger’ the SNP favoured until the crash) or the social democratic model with high taxation, a strong welfare system and state intervention.

While Keating and Harvey never considered socialism as an alternative their point was very much valid- there can be no socially just neoliberal economy, it’s against the very nature of the system. The SNP’s plans for the economy in an independent Scotland was one of their weakest arguments during the referendum campaign.

They tried to appeal to the relatively affluent ‘Tartan Tory’ SNP heartlands while reaching out to the working class majority, (aided by RIC and the SSP) in the traditionally Labour heartlands of Glasgow, Dundee and much of the central belt.

The result of the referendum was clear, the working class were much more likely to vote for independence with the better off most likely to oppose it. Yet too much of the SNP’s effort went into appeasing the well off with ‘change without change’, ‘beer without alcohol’ pledges.

Yes we want independence but we’ll keep the pound, we’ll keep the Queen, we’ll lower taxes and so on—only to meet with failure. Despite the attempts to win over and entice the Tartan Tory demographic they overwhelmingly voted no (including Alex Salmond’s own constituents), while many working class areas voted in favour of self-determination.

Another contradiction in the SNP message has been their approach to the UK General Elections. The SNP, now with over 100,000 members are set to do very well in Scotland as working class voters rile against the long-declining Labour Party that toxically stood shoulder to shoulder with the Conservatives during the referendum campaign.

Current polls predict the SNP are to win at least 30 seats, some polls suggesting as many as 53. The SNP are pledging to be a voice for Scotland in Westminster and make sure the Westminster establishment deliver on their ‘vow’ of more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

This is a reasonable position, however their approach to the Labour Party has again been a contradictory one. Sturgeon has recommended voters back the progressive choice: the SNP in Scotland, Plaid in Wales and the Greens in England.

However the SNP know that there will be only two parties seeking to form a government, the Tories or Labour. The SNP as expected have completely ruled out any deal with the Conservatives but have remained open to some sort of deal with the Labour Party.

So while the SNP, quite rightly, attack Labour in Scotland, at a UK level they are willing to prop up a neoliberal Labour government which has pledged to have ‘iron discipline’ when it comes to deficit reduction. The SNP of course pledge to put the ‘backbone’ into a Labour government and have committed to force Labour away from austerity.

Yet the message is another coffee without caffeine solution: we want the Labour Party wiped out in Scotland but we want to see a Labour-led government in Britain. They want to play a part in a government led by a party they are apparently vastly different from in a state they committed to dismantling. This really is taking the change without change message to the extreme, May will tell how many Scots buy this message.

So while we on the critical left welcome the demise of the Labour Party’s hegemony in Scotland, we must be equally critical of the currently buoyant SNP. We want a better Scotland, a fairer Scotland, with social justice, democracy, internationalism and ultimately socialism at its heart.

The SNP like to think they offer this with their ‘beer without alcohol, coffee without caffeine’ solutions, but the message we need to tell people is it just doesn’t taste the same. Change without change is not enough, we want the real thing. Another Scotland is possible – we can’t leave it up to the SNP to deliver.

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