Will David Cameron be the last prime minister of the United Kingdom? With the prospect of a Tory government looming in 2010, the argument for independence is once again front page news in Scotland.
First minister and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond is attempting to set in train a referendum for later next year.
It will ask voters to choose from four options – the status quo; to transfer some powers to the Scottish Parliament; greater devolution for the Scottish Parliament, including control over all state functions except defence and foreign affairs; or, independence itself.
Salmond has to win a vote at the Holyrood parliament for the referendum to go ahead. Labour, the Tories and Liberals have pledged to vote against the plans.
At the moment, the Tories have just one of Scotland’s Westminster MPs, out of a total of 59. Even if Cameron wins, they are unlikely to gain more than two or three at the general election.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne has already promised “savage cuts” in public spending, and this, coupled with the perception that the Tories have no mandate to rule in Scotland, will increase the pressure for a referendum.
There are long memories of Margaret Thatcher’s administration, with minority support in Scotland, ramming through privatisation and introducing the poll tax a year before it came into force south of the border.
I do not believe that independence will deliver the “independent socialist Scotland” so beloved of some sections of the Scottish left. The country will still be run for profit by a tiny minority, and Scottish workers will continue to be exploited by Scottish and international bosses alike.
But the Union is not something that socialists can ever defend. It is built on the imperialism, colonisation and racism of centuries of British rule across the globe – and the exploitation of Scottish, Welsh, Irish and English workers at home.
The Union has always served the interests of the ruling class. The United Kingdom is still an imperialist power, fighting an imperialist war in Afghanistan. Socialists have no interest in maintaining the “unity” of this state.
I believe that socialists should support the referendum and call for a Yes vote. A poll for the Sunday Herald this week shows support for independence at 31 percent with 46 percent against, so victory is far from assured.
This has led some commentators to mistakenly claim that Alex Salmond has lost the deft touch that has allowed him to navigate the notoriously choppy waters of Scottish politics with only a minority administration in his support.
They point out that he has seen his “arc of prosperity”, stretching from Ireland to Iceland, held up to ridicule by the declawing of the Celtic Tiger and the bankruptcy of Iceland.
But the SNP still has the ability to win over many of Labour’s working class supporters by employing social democratic rhetoric and opposing the Afghan war.
However, it is also pledged to put Scotland at the cutting edge of the world economy, by promising corporate investors that it is fully committed to neoliberalism.
If a referendum vote failed to deliver independence, Salmond could blame the other parties for their allegiance to Westminster. He could then pressure Cameron to support more regional autonomy for Scotland, while central government continues to fund its welfare state.
That is the path that Catalonia and Quebec have followed, and it has proven successful in fulfilling the aspirations of a section of the capitalist class. The SNP can talk left but its overall project is a social democratic statelet run along neoliberal lines.