By John McAllion
The British left inside the Labour Party has resolutely raged against the idea of Scottish independence. For them, breaking up Britain means wrecking the solidarity of the British working class.
As they see it, Scottish self-determination means sacrificing Britain’s capacity to redistribute wealth across its nations and regions. They accuse those on the nationalist left of wrapping themselves in a flag and ignoring class issues such as inequality and the power of capital.
Unfortunately, the Britain they imagine themselves to be living in does not exist. Savage cuts in public spending and services, the harshest anti-trade union laws in Europe, brutal assaults on welfare provision and deepening inequality and poverty are all hallmarks of what it means to be part of Britain in the 21st century.
The Union Jack they shelter under is stained with the blood of workers from across the world who have been sacrificed at the altar of Britain’s big power status.
The British Labour Party, of course, is supposed to be the means by which a very different kind of Britain can be forged. Rooted in the trade union movement and working class, it is supposed to lead the assault on the citadel of British capital and open up the parliamentary road to socialism. It is supposed to be the political expression of the organised labour movement. However, this again ignores the kind of party that Labour has now become.
Not only has its leadership become “intensely relaxed” about the filthy rich it has become increasingly divorced from its one-time working class base. Its leader now describes trade union involvement in the party as “part of the death throes” of an old and hated politics that he is determined to change. Alongside rejecting their funds, Ed Miliband now plans to strip the unions of any remaining influence within the party. The 50 per cent block vote at conference and union seats on the National Executive and National Policy Forum are all set to be scrapped at a special party conference next year.
Jack Jones once said that he could imagine the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party involving murder but never divorce. Miliband is now effectively suing for divorce. The Labour Party of the 21st century will no longer be rooted in the organised labour movement. It will be just another Atlantacist and pro-market party anchored to the centre ground of British politics. The prospects for socialist change through it or the British state are zero.
So are the prospects for socialist change through an independent Scotland any better? Some would point to the timidity of the SNP case for independence and argue that they are not. An SNP Scotland would retain the monarch, the pound sterling, membership of NATO and the European Union while opening up the Scottish economy to corporate penetration. This argument ignores some of the more radical SNP policies such as scrapping Trident and rejecting Westminster’s welfare reforms. The SNP won the last Scottish election because it positioned itself to the left of Labour on a range of social and economic issues.
It is Labour not the SNP which is refusing to reverse Tory cuts while threatening benefits such as free concessionary travel and free university tuition currently being delivered by the SNP government. However, the case for independence does not rest on what an SNP government would or would not do.
The referendum vote on 18 September 2014 is not about political parties or their manifestos. It is about whether we want democratic control over Scotland’s economy, society and politics to rest with the people who live in Scotland or not. Who will first govern an independent Scotland will not be decided until two years later when the first post-independence general election is held. It should not be assumed that because the SNP have long been the cornerstone of the independence movement that they will automatically form the first independent Scottish Government in more than 300 years.
Churchill led Britain through the dark years of the Second World War only to be kicked out in the first post-war general election. Voters use their heads not their hearts when electing governments. It is in the 2016 election that Scottish voters will choose between the policies of different parties. It is then that all of the pro-NATO, pro-EU and pro-market parties will be required to account for their policies.
What will be different will be that for the first time, no Westminster-based party will contest that election and that Scottish voters alone will determine the outcome. This presents Scotland’s organised labour movement with an unprecedented opportunity to mount a serious political challenge from the left. The forward march of labour, long halted at the British level, will begin again and breathe new life into the cause of labour across this island.
This article appears courtesy of The Scottish Socialist Voice.