The Scottish National Party (SNP) announced last week that its 2016 election manifesto would outline the “triggers” for pushing for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
That the announcement came hours after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as new Labour leader was no coincidence. SNP leaders fear their left flank may now face a bigger challenge.
“This poses a dilemma for the SNP,” Bob Thomson, a Labour member and independence supporter, told Socialist Worker. “It has been socially liberal in some policies but has gained from the impression that it is more ‘left’ than Labour.
“They talk good but their actions tell a different story.”
The SNP is also worried about the Yes movement getting out of its control. Thousands of its new members demand a second referendum. To their dismay the party leadership left debating a new referendum off its annual conference’s draft agenda.
“I want a second referendum as soon as possible,” health worker Frances McGhee told Socialist Worker. Frances joined the SNP after the referendum defeat last September, but sees the party only as a “means to an end”.
She explained, “Things have only got worse. We’re on the brink of another war and the NHS is in crisis—it’s a disgrace. The only way to get change is for Scotland to go independent.”
Lanarkshire independence campaigner Sharon Anderson agreed, “The only way to get rid of the Tories is through another referendum.”
The Yes movement radicalised hundreds of thousands of working class people. But independence in and of itself won’t deliver social change.
While the SNP uses left wing rhetoric, its vision is of an independent capitalist Scotland that leaves power with the bosses.
“We can’t just wait for another referendum,” Glasgow socialist campaigner Angela McCormick told Socialist Worker.
She explained, “The Tories are taking away our trade union rights, and unemployed and disabled people are being made destitute through benefit sanctions. We need the spirit of the Yes movement to fight the attacks we face now.”
That social movement has not gone away. Many Yes voters feel emboldened by the anger at the Tories’ renewed assault, and the way the bosses’ lies and threats have unravelled.
Edinburgh activist Rod McNulty explained, “Many of our Yes campaign group have stayed active campaigning against austerity.
“The longer the Tories are in the more people will inevitably think Scotland should run its own affairs.
“There are lots of people to win over still and campaigning against austerity is a good focus to do that —two birds with one stone.”
Sharon agreed, “We can now show No voters what it was we were talking about. Big companies threatened to leave or cut jobs if we voted yes—that’s happened anyway.”
A movement to resist both Tory-imposed and SNP-implemented austerity must bridge the divisions between Yes and No voters. And it also has to be about putting forward a socialist vision for an independent Scotland.
Angela said, “The protest on 4 October in Manchester can be decisive in launching a fight that can stop the Tories.
“But to defend public services we need more action like the Glasgow homelessness caseworkers and Dundee porters—strikes that set out to win.”
This also means building a socialist and working class political alternative to the SNP.
The Scottish Labour Party’s crisis has given the SNP an easy ride.
Despite its record of cuts, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is still hugely popular.
Unite union rank and file activist Stewart Hume is a leading campaigner against blacklisting in the building industry.
The Scottish government is officially against giving blacklisters public contracts, but blacklisting firms haven’t been barred and keep cleaning up.
Stewart said, “If this is how the SNP acts now then would it be any better if we were independent?”
It is this neoliberal slant that concerns even new SNP members, such as Frances, and underlines the need for a united left challenge.
Stewart wants the left to challenge the SNP as “people keep swallowing its rhetoric”.
Rod says he hopes new left organisation Rise and the Green Party get seats in the Scottish parliament next May and hold the SNP to account.
But he added, “I think it’s a shame that Rise doesn’t involve all parts of the left to be a genuine left alliance.”
Sharon agreed. “The left needs to work through its difficulties. Having more than one option competing for the same vote makes no sense.”
Stewart said, “I’m sometimes a bit disillusioned with the left, it’s still not quite unified yet.
“I’m hopeful it will happen— there is an appetite for it.”