Left voices vital to shape new Scotland

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by John McAllion

Next September, voters in Scotland will be asked to answer yes or no to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The simplicity of the question and of the possible answers to it belies the complexity of motivations and reasons that explain why voters will opt for one answer or the other.

George Galloway and Tory Lord Michael Forsyth may both be calling for a No vote – but not for the same reasons. Colin Fox and property entrepreneur Michelle Thomson are inspired by very different visions of the independent Scotland both are calling for via a Yes vote. By its nature a Yes/No referendum will inevitably throw up politically odd alliances and associations. It also presents the pro-independence left with strategic and tactical difficulties. Some argue that our sole focus should be working within the SNP dominated Yes Scotland campaign to deliver a Yes majority. For them that will mean temporarily burying the many differences we have with the SNP over the monarchy, NATO, the economy and much more. Unity on the Yes side is all.

Ultimately, even the SNP’s limited version of independence is preferable to the alternative of remaining within the UK. Such an approach is fraught with danger. Independence at any cost cannot be a rallying call for a Yes majority. If we are to depend on the hard core of nationalists who support independence as an end in itself we will certainly lose. We can only build a majority for independence by convincing significant numbers of non-nationalist Scots that voting Yes is a means to delivering for them and their families a very different social and economic future.

The pro-independence left has a key role in delivering those non-nationalist voters for the Yes campaign. Whatever political hinterland we spring from – socialist, trade unionist, environmentalist, republican, feminist, anti-racist and much more – we are all united by our vision of an independent Scotland opening up the possibility of radical social and economic change.

Changing all of our futures together and not independence as such should therefore be the relentless focus of our campaign. Nor is there any need for an agreed manifesto for change that we can all rally behind. There is widespread political disillusionment within Britain today. The comedian Russell Brand’s rant against voting in a recent Newsnight interview is evidence of a widespread and growing discontent with a political system that is no longer fit for purpose.

The interview – in which he denounces British democracy as a front for self-serving politicians who serve only the needs of capitalist corporations – went viral within a week of broadcast. More than 9 million hits on the internet are proof enough of how his critique resonated with people across this island.

The Scottish left needs to tap into that swell of discontent. Across the left we need to link the constitutional change we are all calling for to the political, social and economic change that millions of voters want to see.

Each constituent part of the left can bring its own unique contribution to that process.
Socialists can and will argue for collective solutions to the persistence of poverty and inequality. Greens will make the case for a sustainable Scotland and much more. Wider movements like the Radical Independence Campaign will make the case for a better democracy rather than just a separate Scotland.

The Common Weal proposal from the Jimmy Reid foundation has already flagged up the potential for Scotland to become a Nordic style social-democracy. There does not need to be a left position on independence that commits everyone to every detail of what an independent Scotland might look like. Nor need there be a separate left campaign set up in opposition to Yes Scotland with its SNP majority.
Next year voters will be asked to say yes to the idea of an independent Scotland. They are not being asked to endorse the SNP, SSP, Green or any other version of what kind of Scotland.

They will be asked to answer that more difficult question in the 2016 election that follows upon the 2014 referendum. This side of that referendum, the role of the left is to persuade voters that the best hope for the social and economic changes that they want to see lies in breaking with the moribund political status quo that is stifling all possibility of real change. We will only be able to do that if we relentlessly direct our fire at the limitations of the status quo and link the constitutional change we seek to the social and economic needs and desires of those who will determine the outcome of the referendum.

The Scottish left needs its collective voice to be heard if that is to happen. However, it need not speak with exactly the same tongue. Different voices from different perspectives is our strength rather than our weakness in the context of this Yes/No referendum.

The prize is great – a new democratic settlement between governed and government that enshrines individual and collective human rights within a framework of law that holds all, including Capital, equally to account. If we can’t put our differences aside and unite behind that idea, we don’t deserve the victory we all claim to seek.

Courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice