For too long, the unionist left have been too quiet on the issue of independence and Scotland’s constitutional future. Many people on the left argue that being left wing and unionism are simply not compatible. This article will aim to challenge this argument. It will aim to argue that the left and unionism can be compatible.
Firstly, let’s put into perspective the British and Scottish political scene. Most, if not all of our main parties in power subscribe to the dominant neo liberal political and economic model in some way, shape or form. The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition subscribe to this more so than any other. The parties of big business, of demonising the poor, immigrants, disabled people, women and many other marginalised groups in society, often trying to transfer the blame of the economic crisis away from the banks and businesses to the poorest people in society to roster support for their austere economic argument. The use of foodbanks has risen since the Tory/Lib Dem government came to power, to an almost unprecedented level. They have done nothing to regulate the banking and finance industry, leaving thousands of hardworking and vulnerable people susceptible to ruthless payday lending companies with extortionate interest rates, leaving them in a cycle of poverty. Labour have been no better since 1997, embarking upon illegal wars, expensive PFI hospitals and schools and privatising just about everything the Tories forgot to the first time round. When we look at the state of British politics, you can see the argument for Scottish Independence can almost be lucrative, but not when we have a closer look at Scottish politics.
In Scotland, the SNP are very much putty in the hands of businesses. Although they have a socially progressive policy mandate such as free university and college tuition fees and free prescriptions, there are significant black holes within both policies that do not make them seem as progressive as initially believed. Students are suffering some of the biggest living expenses. A full student loan is currently £4500 for a year. This equates to roughly £450 a month. A typical university hall of residence costs around £400 per month. This leaves students with £50 left after accommodation is paid. Not all students can rely on their parents and not all students can find part time jobs that fit round their studies. Similarly, many patients are being denied lifesaving drugs because the NHS lacks funding for them. Are these really the well-intended, yet poorly thought out policies we want to see in Scotland? In addition, the SNP have repeatedly said they will have low levels of corporation tax in an independent Scotland. Scottish Labour is no better. Johann Lamont became infamous last year when she made her notorious speech on something for nothing culture.
We have to look at what nationalism is and why the Scottish National Party (SNP) exists. Nationalism in Scotland is described as being civic nationalism as opposed to ethnic nationalism. It is the belief that Scottish people have their own identity and thus should have their own nation, separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. Yet nationalism as an entire ideology seeks to marginalise people. It seeks to create a bogey man. It’s symptomatic of all kinds of nationalism. The British National Party and UKIP paint immigrants as bogey men in order to breed a collective hatred to divert blame for the economic crisis away from their belief in libertarian economics. The SNP paint Westminster as the bogey men in this respect: Westminster who oppresses Scottish people with their right wing austerity measures. If you vote for independence, however, all of this will stop and we will live in a land of milk and honey. It isn’t just Scotland affected by the Conservative and Lib Dem austerity policies; it is everyone in the UK who earns a low to middle income. The SNP forget that there are people struggling in Cardiff and Newcastle. It’s clearly a very divisive subject. Three out of five main parties in the Scottish Parliament support Scotland staying within the UK. However, they each have their own vision of Scotland post-2014.
The Scotttish Labour Party- the SNP’s biggest opposition, do not yet have a clear vision on a post referendum Scotland. It’s being left up to the membership to decide that future. Should we remain with the status quo, or should we lay out plans for increased powers to the Scottish parliament from Westminster? Much of Labour’s memberships do support this-increased taxation and welfare powers on top of the powers we already have. But doesn’t this play into the SNP’s pro-independence argument? That if Scotland were an independent country would we have complete control of taxation and welfare? We could have that as part of the UK.
Nationalism seems like quite a selfish ideology. It seems to be that the United Kingdom retains it’s collective spirit because of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Look at the Olympics in 2012. Everyone in the country got behind our Team GB athletes regardless of what country they came from. Would we have that same collective pride after 2014? Andy Murray evoked a sense of pride in everyone in the UK this summer when he finally won Wimbledon in July. It didn’t matter if you were Scottish, British or just a wee guy from Dunblane. And where we come from should never matter. The goal of the left should not be shifting power from one set of politicians to another, but shifting power from politicians to people; from shifting economic power from those who own it, to those who work hard to create it. No matter how much the SNP dress it up, independence is simply another form of bureaucracy. The politics of class do not stop at Gretna. England and the rest of the UK have as rich a heritage as Scotland when it comes to working class politics and the Labour movement. Look at the Jarrow Crusade: where 200 men marched from Jarrow to London to protest against the dirty conditions they lived in, in 1936. Look at the Miners Strike that disproportionately affected areas of South Wales and the North of England. The politics of class do not stop at the border, they are not conveyed by a flag. The politics of class define us more than the politics of our nationality. They extend all over the world, as does the global labour movement.
Socialists are internationalists. They do not place great importance on borders. People suffer everywhere, it does not matter what country we come from, Socialists work collectively together to end suffering all over the world. Karl Marx famously wrote at the end of The Communist Manifesto “Workers of the world, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” The argument that independence is progressive, is almost laughable. Especially when we keep our central bank as the Bank of England and when we keep the monarch as our head of state. The Radical Independence group made up of obscure left wing parties that have had their fair share of internal controversies probably could not muster up the support or the credibility to run an independent Scotland. If Scotland leaves the United Kingdom, it loses some influence in the world. It would have to work hard to gain it again.
Lastly, we have to look at the example of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The USSR lead the way in engineering and technology in the 1950s and 1960s. They were the first to send a satellite into space with Sputnik in 1957 and they were the first nation to send a person into space with Yuri Gagarin in 1964. The USSR in this time had high economic growth and soaring prosperity. Many former Soviet countries have social problems, high unemployment and low GDP per capita such as Moldova, where the GDP per capita is $3,500. Moldova is a European country and these statistics were from 2012.
So perhaps, when we look at working class politics, trade unionism and the labour movement we see that Scotland has more in common with the rest of the UK than we would think. The SNP have disregarded the politics of class- an integral part of socialist politics- and have put the politics of nationalism above this. The people of Scotland have always been rather more proud of their class roots than their national roots. We see that in order to provide a convincing argument for remaining in the union, the left and specifically Scottish Labour have to put forward plans for a post-2014 government. Things are going to change regardless of who wins this referendum. In addition, they also have to emphasise the politics of class. We need a distinctively left wing campaign to keep Scotland in the union and that is to show that class matters and that left wing politics are firmly rooted in the basis of class. That doesn’t change anywhere across the United Kingdom, Europe or the world.