September 18 will see an unprecedented mobilisation to the polls for the referendum on Scottish independence.
An estimated 75-80% of the 4.1 million people entitled to vote are likely to take part. The strength of feeling, in particular the desire by many working class Yes supporters for fundamental social and economic change, will see hundreds of thousands of the most alienated from the pro-capitalist political establishment participating.
Comparisons with the 2011 Scottish parliament elections are striking. Barely 50% voted then, which means that around 1 million extra people are likely to vote in the referendum.
This mood reflects, as Socialist Party Scotland has consistently explained, that support for independence is being driven by a desire to escape from savage austerity and falling incomes. This is the key factor as to why, despite an unprecedented campaign by Project Fear, the polls have not seen, as yet, any sustained fall in support for a Yes vote as September 18 approaches.
The current poll of polls, with just over a month to go, continues to show No in the lead, but only by 56% to 44%, an uncomfortable position for the pro-union establishment and the interests of British capitalism that they represent.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of working class and young people normally disenfranchised from the political process are intending on voting has helped to create a significant trepidation among the ruling elite as to the result. The stubborn solidity of the Yes vote is certainly not a result of a convincing case from the SNP leadership or the official Yes campaign. Rather than offering up policies for fundamental change, an end to austerity and a transformation of lives and living standards, Alex Salmond and co have desperately sought not to raise expectations too high as to what independence on a capitalist basis could deliver.
Currency war exposes SNP’s weakness
This was evident by Salmond’s performance in the recent STV debate with the leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling. A mass audience of over 1 million people watched it on TV, while a further 500,000 followed the debate online.
This was a major opportunity to advance the case for decisive economic and social change under independence based on public ownership of the economy and an end to cuts.
Instead, Salmond persisted with the line that under independence the SNP would be a safe pair of hands for capitalist interests, would “balance the books” and would seek a formal currency union with the rest of the UK.
In practice this would leave the Bank of England in control not only of interest rates, but also, in practice, the levels of spending in an independent Scotland as well.
The leaders of the three pro-union capitalist parties – Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems – have ruled out a Sterling zone in an effort to undermine the SNP’s case. Yet Salmond and the SNP leadership have continued to insist that a currency union is “inevitable” once “normal” relations have been returned to following the referendum. But the overwhelming priority of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg is to inflict a defeat on the Yes campaign, and they see the SNP’s currency proposals as an Achilles Heel to be remorselessly attacked.
A poll immediately following the TV debate saw support for independence fall by 4% – an indication that the SNP are vulnerable as their pro-business position becomes further exposed.
Socialist Party Scotland have consistently explained that even if the Westminster government eventually agreed to a formal Sterling zone with an independent Scotland, it would be an austerity-laden trap from its inception. By ceding control to the Bank of England and British capitalism an independent Scotland would be locked into a programme of long term cuts.
This has also been the experience of the Euro zone where the vicious troika of the European Central Bank, the EU and the IMF have insisted on savage austerity budgets for member states. The consequences of this economic torture for Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal etc have been catastrophic. A capitalist independent Scotland would face exactly the same diktats under the SNP’s planned currency union with the rest of the UK.
In contrast, a socialist government would carry through the democratic nationalisation of the finance sector in Scotland and repudiate the capitalist debts built up through the bailing out of the banks in 2008/09.
It would also be necessary to bring into public ownership, under working class control, the key economic sectors of the economy, including oil, transport and manufacturing.
Through these measures, as well as a state monopoly of foreign trade, it would be possible to use the vast wealth of capitalism to break with the austerity practices of the BoE, ECB and the IMF etc and invest in jobs, a living wage and the rebuilding of public services in an independent socialist Scotland. This policy would have to be conducted alongside an appeal to the working class in the rest of Britain and Europe etc to break with capitalism and establish a democratic socialist confederation of states.
Salmond says that it’s Scotland’s pound and “we’re keeping it”. But locked out of a formal currency union, were that to be the case, none of the alternatives of “sterlingisation” (using Sterling without a formal currency arrangement and which is in reality the SNP’s Plan B), joining the Euro or a separate Scottish currency – without the nationalisation of banking, finance and the wider economy – would represent an escape from permanent cuts.
socialist policies needed
While it’s unclear what the outcome of the referendum will be, a major contributory factor in the No campaign still holding a lead is doubts about whether an independent capitalist Scotland would economically deliver for the majority.
When asked by the polling organisations more people consistently believe that both they and the country as a whole would be worse off under independence.
While this reflects the doubts and uncertainties arising from the deluge of negative propaganda from Project Fear, big business and the media, what is also clear is that the SNP’s pro-big business policies are an obstacle to answering the lies of Better Together.
The SNP are not campaigning in the referendum for a decisive end to cuts and austerity, Indeed the Scottish Government have implemented £3 billion in ConDem cuts sine 2010 in Scotland. The SNP’s Outlook for Scotland’s Public Finances paper promises a meagre £1,000 independence bonus, but not until 2029. “If possible”, say the SNP, they would increase public spending by £1.2 billion in 2017/18. However, the cuts to the Scottish parliament’s budget will have been £6.7 billion by then. A reversal of the cuts under the SNP’s plans for independence is ruled out.
As Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister, commented “Independence is not a magic wand. We won’t wake up the day after becoming independent and find that all of Scotland’s challenges have disappeared or that overnight we’ve become a richer, more economically successful country.”
This lack of a decisive break from capitalist policies and austerity by the SNP leadership is weakening support for a Yes vote. None more so than promises to slash taxes for big business under independence, including of the vastly profitable North Sea Oil industry.
In contrast there is huge public support for public ownership of gas, electricity, transport and oil. The anger at the pro-rich policies of the main parties is growing by the day, as is the idea of a need for a new party to represent the working class majority.
Socialist Party Scotland is campaigning for a Yes vote in September. But we are also putting forward a programme that calls for the powers of independence to be used to end the cuts and for public ownership and democratic control of the main sectors of the economy. We also need a new mass workers party to fight for these policies.
These ideas have been finding enthusiastic support at public meetings across Scotland. Alongside Tommy Sheridan and others Socialist Party Scotland have been organising public meetings on the theme of Hope Over Fear – the Socialist Case for Independence. More than 14,000 people have come to hear Tommy Sheridan since January as part of the tour, looking for ideas they are not getting from the official Yes campaign.
The support for an anti-cuts, pro socialist case is an indication of the potential for a new mass workes party to become a major force in Scotland.