Socialist Worker

The left must fight to shape Scottish independence referendum

by Keir McKechnie
Issue No. 2380

As the referendum on Scottish independence looms next year the ferocity of the pro-union campaign is picking up. Tory cabinet ministers are nakedly using blackmailing scare tactics to bully workers to vote to remain in Britain. 

They say the announcement to close Portsmouth naval dockyards and save Govan and Scotstoun shipyards will come at a price—vote against independence or lose British Ministry of Defence contracts. 

Scandalously, Glasgow Labour MP Ian Davidson joined in the blackmail. He defended a “break clause” that the Clyde shipyards would lose their remaining 1,500 jobs, on top of 800 already announced, if there’s a yes vote for independence. 

Tory science minister David Willetts last week warned that British science and research funding worth billions of pounds would be withdrawn if Scotland separates. 

Willetts threatened earlier this year that Scotland “would be an independent state so it wouldn’t be part of that single funding pot anymore, would it”.

These “Project Fear” tactics are now a staple of the unionist campaign. It is increasingly wrapped up in patriotic jingoism, ugly British nationalism, with racism against immigrants thrown in for good measure.

On the other side of the debate, Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s response to the threats of the blackmail of Grangemouth workers does not inspire confidence. 

Clearly the Scottish National Party (SNP) has no strategy to confront big business before the referendum or in an independent Scotland. 

Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s reply to threats to jobs at the Glasgow shipyards was to say Britain would have no choice but to build warships on the Clyde. 

There was no vision put forward for diversifying industry away from war production or deploying workers’ skills to create green jobs in the energy sector. 

During the Grangemouth crisis Salmond’s intervention amounted to facilitating a deal between Ineos bosses and the Unite union. Salmond was happy to argue for the attack on workers but was silent on nationalising the plant to save jobs. 

This episode shows the powerful neoliberal forces asserting themselves on Salmond and the SNP. It shows the dangers of the vision of a “tartan tiger” Scottish economy that accepts jobs at any price and attracts investment based on low taxes for businesses and low wages for workers.


The left needs to be more critical of the SNP and the official Yes campaign’s approach. We need to push for a radical reorientation of the campaign to have any serious chance of closing the gap, which consistently shows around a third of people in Scotland support independence. 

The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) is a welcome initiative. It has opened a discussion about what kind of society Scotland can become and to develop strategies for opposing austerity, British imperialism and racism. 

It provides an opportunity to reinforce the need to link independence with the fight against austerity here and now. 

The left can play a crucial role in defeating attacks like the bedroom tax and win working people who hate Tory austerity to supporting independence. 

RIC can also play an important role in launching a serious campaign to convince Scotland’s 600,000 trade unionists. 

It needs to argue that independence should mean opposition to privatisation, an end to draconian anti-union laws and the protection of wages and living standards from big business elites. 

That should be true whether they are capitalists based in London or anti-union Scottish billionaires like Brian Souter. 

The Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project has also caught the imagination of many and is a welcome development. This has opened a debate about how we can achieve a fairer, just and more equal society. 

Socialists are fighting for a strategy that emphasises the struggles of ordinary people and wider social forces from below. They are the people that will determine whether we win the referendum next year.

But they will also test how well prepared we are to implement a fundamental transformation of society against the inevitable resistance of capitalist forces in Scotland, England and beyond.

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Article information

Tue 19 Nov 2013, 17:21 GMT
Issue No. 2380
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