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Down with the union – support Scottish independence

This article is over 8 years, 11 months old
A year from now people in Scotland will vote on independence. Dave Sherry says a yes vote in the referendum is a chance to put forward a socialist vision that can expose the limitations of nationalism
Issue 2371
Many socialists are arguing for a yes vote for an independent Scotland

Many socialists are arguing for a yes vote for an independent Scotland (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Scotland’s referendum next year will decide if people support an independent Scotland. It is a simple Yes or No ballot. Socialist Workers Party members in Scotland will be arguing and campaigning for a yes vote.

Socialists in Scotland can’t stand back and wait until the vote. We have an opportunity to engage with people looking for something more than the Scottish National Party (SNP) currently offers. 

The Tories, Labour and Lib Dems are against independence. But there are worries within Labour about what lining up with the Tories will do to its vote in Scotland.

Polls have regularly put support for independence at no more than a third and the Yes camp has been unable to shift opinion in their favour. 

Their failure to offer a strategy to fight austerity and show how a vote for independence will benefit working class people has left many unconvinced, particularly trade unionists.

The Scottish Trade Union Congress has no agreed position on the referendum but supports more devolved powers.

The SNP and its leader Alex Salmond dominate the Yes campaign and pose as left-leaning nationalists. But Salmond used to be an economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland and is completely committed to capitalism.

Not everyone who supports independence shares Salmond’s vision of a capitalist Scotland. Pro-independence can be anti-imperialist—to support the break up of the United Kingdom, not to line up behind the nationalists.

A yes vote in the referendum will weaken the British state and its role as the US’s junior partner. Britain is an imperialist power and willing to intervene in Syria and Iran. This is one reason why David Cameron was so desperate to preserve unity. 

The Save the Union campaign endorses a reactionary idea of Britishness based on imperialism, racism and anti-immigrant hysteria. They will use the First World War centenary and the Commonwealth Games next year for propaganda about a glorious imperial past. 

It won’t be about the unity of the British working class but unity of the British state. For them this will not be about the Chartists, the Suffragettes or the Great Miners’ Strike. 

Socialists arguing against independence provide left cover for the pro-union camp. We have to argue for a clear working class, socialist alternative. Otherwise we hand the argument to the unionists and nationalists.  

Devolution (see below) has meant delegating responsibility for the cuts. The SNP government “reluctantly” accepted the Tories’ savage cut to its funding from Westminster in 2010. 

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s SNP first minister, then argued his 35 percent cut to the Scottish housing budget was not as bad as the 65 percent cut to housing in England and Wales. He also said an independent Scotland would stay in Nato, the Western military alliance. 


Leaving Nato had been the party’s most popular policy. The fight that erupted around its decision to dump it was a major turning point in the debate on independence. The row brought out the need for a serious, socialist intervention that won’t accommodate to nationalism.

Under Salmond’s leadership, the SNP has sought to position itself as the inheritor of the social democratic tradition to win over disillusioned Labour voters. But the SNP is committed to a pro-business agenda. 

Salmond was damaged by revelations of his close relationship with Rupert Murdoch. The Sun newspaper had backed him and the SNP. It emerged that he met with Murdoch and, like Tory Cabinet member Jeremy Hunt, promised to back his bid to gain total control over BskyB.

The SNP’s commitment to a capitalist Scotland was clear from its first budget in late 2007. Money was spent ensuring business rates went down—hitting local authority services.  

Last year, SNP finance minister John Swinney said he was “providing all the support we can to the business community”, boasting “Scotland has the most competitive business rates in the UK”. 

The existence of Scottish nationhood is not in question and there is no reason why Scotland could not become a capitalist nation state like any other. It is hypocrisy to oppose Scottish nationalism and claim that it is reactionary, while remaining silent about British nationalism or even worse, championing it.

But we should be under no illusions about what kind of Scotland the SNP has in mind. It wants to retain the royal family, sterling, the Bank of England and Nato. It is a single issue party, intent on achieving independence and nothing else. 

Edinburgh-born socialist James Connolly wrote about this very problem in Ireland in 1910. “If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the socialist republic, your efforts would be in vain,” he wrote.

The SNP solution is simple—it’s called Edinburgh government. There will be no change in the system of government nor the corrupt society the system of government is a part of. 

Their argument is like saying Coca Cola rots your teeth when it’s bottled in London but if you site the bottling plant in Edinburgh then Coca Cola is good for you.

An independent Scotland would not be a socialist Scotland. Scots are not more left wing than the English and there can be no Scottish parliamentary road to socialism. 

If people vote for independence workers will still need unity in struggle against those who rule us. But the break up of Britain would be a small victory for the world working class and that is something to fight for.

The limited powers of the Scottish parliament have been a bone of contention since it was established:

  • It was created in 1999 after the Labour government in Westminster passed the Devolution of Scotland Act
  • This gave the new parliament limited powers to make its own policies on health, education and social spending. It has some tax raising powers but does not control defence or what happens to the money from North Sea oil
  • Proposals to increase these powers are known as “devo max”. These won’t be on the referendum ballot paper—despite polls showing that they are the preferred option of most voters north of the border
  • Scottish politicians try to use the limits imposed on the Edinburgh parliament by devolution to avoid responsibility for imposing austerity cuts


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