by Ken Ferguson
With the super hyped Cameron EU “deal” already fading from memory, the real reason for the supposedly historic EU referendum is growing ever clearer.
At heart this has little to do with benefit levels, emergency brakes or border controls and everything to do with divisions in the Tory party and competing visions of how best to keep the world safe for capital generally and the money lenders of the City of London in particular.
All this overlaid on the fight for the party between the supposed “one nation” Tories who favour social compromise to secure their aims and the unrepentant disciples of Thatcher who, like their heroine, simply bludgeon their opponents.
It is no surprise that the latter’s stock in trade is founded on a union jack waving nationalism which embraces a thinly-veiled racism driving their obsession with immigration. It is this view, shrilly backed by the right wing papers such as the Mail and The Sun, with Farage at its centre, which is now setting the terms of the debate.
For the left, the current debate has no easy answers. Some who back a leave position argue that the EU is an un-reformable capitalist club, while others call for the construction of alliances with other progressives to change it from within.
Like the Scottish Socialist Party, the Voice takes the latter view. Both agree that the issue at stake is how to break the power of neoliberal capitalism as a first step to a society putting people before profit.
Meanwhile however, the reality is that the debate is taking place on grounds chosen by the Tories and the issues in the spotlight aren’t workers’ rights or privatisation but freeing business from red tape, reinforcing border controls and cracking down in quasi-racist terms on immigrants. The strong likelihood that this will set the tone for the next four months as what is in fact an internal Tory debate—with the UKIP extremists joining in—is portrayed as a national UK political debate.
For the left this presents both dangers and opportunities. The danger is that politics across the UK—including a pro-EU Scotland—is pulled to the right as the right wing media replay a sub-racist version of Project Fear against all things European, played out against the background of demands for Britain in general, and England in particular, to rally to the union jack and get out.
That Scotland is not necessarily immune to such politics was evidenced in a recent Daily Record poll which projected the possibility of UKIP winning up to seven MSPs in May, highlighting the urgent need for a pro-independence left alternative with real answers to such issues as low pay, chronic housing shortages and breaking the grip of the no-mandate Tories in Scotland.
The opportunity lies to challenge both the supposed left-turning Labour and the business-as-usual managerialism of the SNP from a position which clearly supports the right of Holyrood to call a second indyref as a key step towards transforming Scotland.
The current crisis of cuts and sackings in local councils is a prime example of why such a programme is urgently needed, as the SNP, after years of freezing the unfair Council Tax, signal that they have U-turned on plans to replace it, planning to tweak it instead.
We need to be clear that RISE, Scotland’s Left Alliance, opposes both Westminster and Holyrood cuts and—picking up on the work pioneered by the Scottish Socialist Party—backs an income-based Scottish Service Tax to make the rich pay their fair share of council services.
A real alternative is also urgent, on the issue of the right to call a second independence referendum, and the timing, and issues on which the pro-indy forces would campaign to win.
There must, in this context, be real doubts about the approach of the SNP where on the one hand we are told that a commitment to indyref2 will not figure in the Holyrood manifesto but will be “unstoppable” in the event of Brexit.
This is at best confused and at worst dangerous for the entire independence case. The idea that a mandate for a second referendum can be left out of May’s manifesto, only to be claimed from a triumphant Tory right which has just won a Brexit vote over the UK irrespective of Scottish votes, is fantasy.
The idea that a UK Tory Prime Minster—probably post-Brexit Boris Johnson, basking in a union jack sunburst of hard-right victory—would then concede a referendum not sought two months earlier in an SNP manifesto, is just not credible.
However, even more importantly, the left needs to be clear not just of the indyref case but of the policies on key issues such as currency, on which it would be fought. Such a strategic approach is essential for victory, rather than relying on random events, including Brexit, to determine our approach.