There is growing fear, horror would not be too strong a word, among the capitalist establishment in Britain at the possibility of a majority Yes vote on 18 September in the Scottish independence referendum.
The editorials and commentators of the ‘august’ journals of British capitalism are awash with concern at increasing support for independence in the last few months.
Typical of these was columnist Philip Stephens writing in the Financial Times on 10 April: “I am beginning to fear that he [Cameron] will be remembered instead as the prime minister who watched Britain amble into break-up.”
Martin Kettle warned in the Guardian on 16 April: “One way or another the UK is shifting beneath our feet right now... Scotland is significantly more likely to vote Yes to independence in five months time than it was five months ago.”
This wave of concern comes in the wake of a series of opinions polls throughout January, February and March that have shown support for independence increase to 44% on average. Worryingly for the pro-union side the rise in support for a Yes vote has come despite the unleashing of a barrage of threats about the economic consequences of independence.
The ‘Dambusters Strategy’, the name given to it by the Tory leadership, has thus far utterly failed.
Project Fear is failing
The governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney kicked off a coordinated intervention by British capitalism in January by pointing to the inevitable difficulties of a currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK, post independence.
He was quickly followed north to Edinburgh by George Osborne who delivered his ‘Sermon on the Pound’ two weeks later: “If Scotland walks away from the UK, it walks away from the UK pound.”
Within hours Labour’s Ed Balls had given the same message: “Alex Salmond [Scottish National Party leader] is saying to people that you can have independence and keep the pound and the Bank of England. That is not going to happen.”
Lib Dem Treasury secretary Danny Alexander insisted it was “crystal clear a currency union would create unacceptable risks both for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”
A deluge of announcements by big business quickly followed this choreographed assault. RBS claimed they would have to move parts of its business to England, as did Lloyds, Tesco Bank and Scottish Widows. Oil giants Shell and BP insisted that a Yes vote would cause them major problems.
The vast majority of the capitalist media, who are staunchly opposed to the break-up of the UK, have regularly churned out scare stories to assist in this campaign – “Power bills will rise”, “elderly care will be unsustainable”, “supermarkets will increase food prices” and the “pensions system will collapse” are typical.
No doubt the calculation was that this propaganda would deliver a knockout blow to support for independence. Instead it has had the opposite effect. But there has also been another unintended consequence of this intervention: a dramatically increased politicisation of the campaign which is driving sections of the working class and young people to the left.
This is not reflected by the policy of the SNP leadership who are desperate to prove themselves a safe pair of hands for big business interests.
Support for Yes was already highest among the hardest-hit victims of austerity who are increasingly looking towards independence as a possible escape route from unending cuts and falling living standards. An opinion poll in December 2013 found that support for independence was 47% among the poorest fifth of households in Scotland. In contrast, among the wealthiest fifth backing for a Yes vote stood at 26%.
The sharpened politicisation which has emerged under the hammer blow of the attacks of the big business dominated ‘Project Fear’ has entrenched support for a Yes vote even further among significant sections of the working class.
These developments drove former Labour minister and ex-secretary general of Nato George Robertson to claim: “The loudest cheers for the break-up of Britain would be from our adversaries and enemies... the forces of darkness would simply love it.”
All three main pro-union parties are now promising more powers for Scotland, to bolster support for a No vote in September. The stick will still be wielded, but the failure of Project Fear means the carrot of enhanced devolution is now needed.
The strategists of big business and their political mouthpieces are now openly discussing the nightmare scenario for British capitalism - the break-up of the UK. But they will fight tooth and nail to defend their class interests and to try and ensure a No majority in September.
As an editorial in the Financial Times put it: “what is not in doubt - and has been too little discussed - is that the rest of the UK would be weakened. The international status of the ‘rump UK’ would be diminished. Britain’s prized reputation for political stability would slip; investor confidence would be lost.”
Or, as Tory Prime Minister David Cameron put it recently: “independence would rip the rug from under our reputation.”
United in austerity
A major stumbling block for the political parties spearheading the No campaign is their diminished levels of social support in Scotland. The Labour/Tory/Lib Dem pro-austerity lash-up has virtually no activist base on the ground.
Ed Milliband and Ed Balls’ declaration that they will stick to Tory austerity if elected in 2015 has bolstered support for a Yes vote among Labour voters. As has the incredible decision by Labour MPs to vote for the Tory cap on welfare at Westminster in March.
The Scottish Labour leadership is still tarnished after calling for an ‘end to the something for nothing culture’ under the SNP. A reference to free tuition and prescriptions and bus travel for the elderly.
In contrast to the Better Together campaign ‘Yes Scotland’, although dominated at the top by the SNP leadership, has hundreds of local campaigns and thousands of activists - many of them not members of the SNP. The official Yes Scotland propaganda is largely based on the SNP’s White Paper for independence. It proposes limited reforms, a pledge to increase the minimum wage by inflation, to double the number of hours parents are entitled to for childcare for three and four year olds and to scrap Trident nuclear weapons.
Yet, average wages in Scotland have fallen by 8% since 2009. Almost 500,000 workers in Scotland are earning less than the living wage of £7.45 an hour. There has been a 400% increase in the number of people using food banks in Scotland in the last year.
A recent charities report entitled Scotland’s Outlook declared a ‘humanitarian crisis’ as a ‘poverty storm engulfs Scotland’. It revealed that 870,000 people in Scotland were living in poverty, which the report articulated in language normally used to describe an international disaster zone. A further £6 billion is due to be cut from benefits and welfare in Scotland over the next two years by the Con-Dem Coalition.
SNP - change flag, not system
Under these conditions the SNP’s timid proposals will be like attempting to empty an ocean with a teaspoon. The White Paper from the Scottish government confirmed that under independence the SNP intend to continue with austerity and tax cuts for big business. They are opposed to even modest measures of public ownership, including of the profiteering gas and electricity companiews.
Plans for a currency union with the rest of the UK underpin the SNP’s proposals. It would be the “best option for business”. Under Salmond’s plan, an independent Scotland would cede control over interest rates to the Bank of England and, in practice, give up a significant degree of control over Scottish budgets as well. Such a euro-style straitjacket would bind an independent capitalist Scotland into long-term austerity. This would leave a Scottish government unable to increase public spending and put an end to cuts under these rules - or risk expulsion from the currency zone.
A separate Scottish currency would not offer an automatic way out either. Only a wide-ranging programme of socialist measures, including a refusal to pay the debt stacked up by the bailout of the banks in 2008/09, linked to the full democratic nationalisation of the banking system and the major sectors of the economy can lay the basis for a way forward and a full reversal of the cuts.
Socialist alternative needed
The desires of millions of working class people for an end to austerity will not be met under the SNP’s plans. Socialist Party Scotland supports a Yes vote but we are opposed to the SNP’s pro-business blueprint. Instead, we are playing a key role in building a socialist campaign for the independence referendum alongside Tommy Sheridan and others.
The overwhelming majority of people who are attracted to independence are seeking a solution to savage austerity and a way out of the crisis. This has created a unique vacuum for ideas that are far to the left of the official Yes Scotland campaign.
The space that has opened up for a socialist case for independence was reflected in late January when Tommy Sheridan was invited to address a meeting organised by independence supporters in Kirkcaldy. His speech was filmed and sent out via YouTube and has been watched 120,000 times.
Tommy raised many good points on the need for public ownership, an end to cuts and low pay and for an independent socialist Scotland. Since then hundreds of working class people have been turning up to hear Tommy Sheridan speak at public meetings, looking for a socialist and left-wing case for independence that addresses their needs. There is huge potential for socialist ideas to grow in the next few months with such a campaign.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum in September, the struggle against cuts and austerity will continue. As will the need to build a new mass workers’ party with a socialist programme to help end the nightmare of capitalism and build a socialist future.
- Stop austerity and reverse the cuts
- Introduce a living wage of £10 an hour and end zero-hour contracts.
- Proper jobs and trade union rights for all workers
- End the attacks on welfare - for a living income for all
- Build a new mass working class party based on the trade unions, socialists and anti-cuts campaigners
- Bring into public ownership the banks, oil and the big corporations that dominate the economy under democratic working class control
- For an independent socialist Scotland as a step to a socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland and a socialist Europe
Queuing up to hear socialist ideas
350 people attended the ‘socialist case for independence’ meeting in Dundee on 15 April to hear Tommy Sheridan and John McInally, vice-president of the PCS union, speaking as a Socialist Party member. One hundred people had to stand as all 240 seats were full 15 minutes before the meeting started.
Chairperson Sinead Daly introduced the meeting, explaining that it was organised to offer a vision that was absent from the official Yes campaign. “This meeting will discuss how the powers of independence could be used for the working class. It doesn’t matter if you change the flag over Scotland unless you go about preparing for the building of a new society, socialism, from the ground up to end cuts and austerity.”
John McInally gave an excellent speech explaining the need to build unified and coordinated strike action by trade unions to defeat austerity. John pointed out the need for public ownership and the building of a new mass working class party to represent the majority. That hundreds of thousands were looking to independence to escape poverty and low pay, zero-hour contracts, etc. But to do that socialist policies are needed and a party to deliver them.
Tommy Sheridan made a very powerful speech railing against poverty, food banks and cuts. He lacerated the Labour Party and Project Fear and called for public ownership of gas, electricity, oil and the pharmaceutical industry, for a living wage and an end to zero-hour contracts and the removal of Trident.
During the question and answer session there was clear opposition to the SNP’s currency union plan, to the Queen remaining as head of state, to the bosses’ club of the European Union, as well as real anger towards Labour. There was also strong support for public ownership and for a new working class party.
Copies of the Socialist Party Scotland ‘Ten questions on socialism and the indy referendum’ leaflets were snapped up as people entered the hall. We sold out of copies of the Socialist newspaper. 135 people put their names down for more information about the case for an independent socialist Scotland and £480 was collected at the end of the meeting.
Hope Over Fear - the Case for an Independent Socialist Scotland tour will run for the next few months and thousands are expected to attend to hear a socialist alternative.
John McInally’s speech on can be viewed on You Tube: search for ‘John McInally Yes Dundee’
Tommy Sheridan: Search for: ‘Tommy Sheridan Yes Dundee’
See www.socialistpartyscotland.org.uk for analysis of the referendum