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How the independence vote can radicalise Scotland

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Issue 2417

The scale and breadth of the movement in favour of independence is phenomenal.

Groups have been formed bringing people together by profession, nationality, sexuality, ethnicity and more. One such group is Scots Asians for Independence.

Its joint secretary Tahir Mohammed spoke to Socialist Worker. He said the group is drawing in lots of activists to go canvassing, hold street stalls, distribute leaflets and newspapers outside mosques and organise fundraising events. 

“We were going door to door three days a week,” Tahir said. “But now as we get closer to the vote we’re doing it every day.”

He said Scots Asians recoil from “the hostile policy of Westminster towards immigration”. Tahir cited an online poll in June of listeners of a leading Asian radio station in Scotland that put support for a Yes vote at nearly 60 percent.

“Pro-independence groups have been formed by Chinese, Africans, Arabs and all these different groups but you don’t find this in the No campaign.”

Independence is seen as an opportunity to break with the Westminster political and economic system and achieve a measure of social justice.  Austerity has deepened that feeling for many.

Tahir Mohammed

Tahir Mohammed

Tahir explained, “People have seen factory and shipyard closures, and less money spent on Scotland. They tested the Poll Tax out on us and then there’s the bedroom tax as well.

“Instead of spending all that money on nuclear weapons we could spend the almost £700,000 a day on health, welfare and education.”

It may seem strange that while support for independence is growing fewer people overall are convinced of its economic benefits. 

More now think Scotland’s economy would get worse under independence, jumping ten points in a year from 34 percent to 44 percent.

Yet it is not as simple as people just believing the right wing arguments that Scots are “subsidy junkies” living in a “Skintland” which could never survive as an independent state.  

By not focusing on arguments to redistribute wealth or tackle the inequality that scars Scotland the Scottish National Party (SNP) is helping sow seeds of uncertainty. 

SNP leader Alex Salmond is losing on the economy because he is not putting the key arguments that will make the difference. Allowing debates to be dominated by questions of what currency will be used plays into the unionists’ hands.

Yet there is a growing belief that Scotland could be different.

A little reported fact shows why radical arguments to tax the rich and use Scotland’s resources to address inequality are a potent weapon for the Yes campaign.

Two years ago 43 percent of Yes supporters believed independence would reduce the gap between rich and poor—the current figure is 78 percent.

Class and wealth matter when it comes to September’s vote. In the poorest working class communities support for independence is 38 percent, according to the survey, 13 points higher than support in the wealthiest areas.

The No campaign remains ten points ahead in most polls. But as many as a third of voters are still undecided. Anger at the No campaign offensive to blackmail voters over the currency and the economy saw support for Yes shoot up.

Gail Morrow is an anti bedroom tax activist and has been part of helping to organise the successful Hope Over Fear tour by leading socialist politician Tommy Sheridan. 

She explained to Socialist Worker why almost 15,000 people have gone along to hear him put a socialist case for independence. 

“People are getting hammered with the same crap on the telly all the time trying to drive fear into them. But they’re realising that politics is not out of their reach.”

At a recent meeting on a Friday night, hundreds packed into a local community hall in Wishaw, near Glasgow. The biggest worry in the room was not whether or not there would be a currency union after independence.

Instead there were arguments put to make sure politicians were held to account and could be sacked if they are caught lying to get votes. People were concerned about funding health and education as quality, free public services.

They wanted to know how there can be a Scotland where working class people are not punished for the actions of the rich. 

One young unemployed worker asked, “Do you know where Tony Blair is and why is he’s not in jail for his war crimes? Do you think we should become a republic and get rid of the monarchy? And do you think we could decriminalise cannabis?”

Arguing a radical vision of a different kind of society and how we can get there is the best counter to the mainstream debate around the referendum.

Project Fear - a leaflet from the No campaign

Project Fear – a leaflet from the No campaign

If the argument is not put it will allow the unionist campaign to recover.

 Articulating that another Scotland is possible is meeting an enthusiastic response. The Radical Independence Campaign held its second national mass canvass last week, attracting 587 activists going door to door in 43 different working class areas.

The results mirror those of its first mass canvass at the end of June—42 percent supported Yes, 28 percent No and 30 percent undecided.

The Labour Party is split over independence. Many of its members are angry at the pro-austerity pact with the Tories and the Lib Dems in the Better Together campaign. So much so that Labour leaders created a new campaign.

United with Labour was supposed to reassure the grassroots, but it faces its own grassroots challenge from Labour for Independence. Bob Thomson is an ex Scottish Labour Party chair with 51 years membership and a leading figure arguing Yes.

He told Socialist Worker, “We’re campaigning with Labour members of all ages and a range of service and experience. This includes former lord provosts, local government leaders, party office bearers, Labour Party Young Socialists, etc.”

More Labour Party voters are becoming convinced by the arguments according to a poll published last month. It said 28 percent of voters who backed Labour at the 2011 Scottish elections plan to vote Yes, up 7 points on its previous three-month average.

Bob argued, “A Yes vote is not a vote for Alex Salmond or the SNP but a vote for change and hope, the opportunity to implement real Labour policies and values.”

During the last four years of Tory rule working class living standards have been savaged. This places a greater importance on arguing against privatisation and protecting services.

It’s also why we should back the 70,000 local government workers in the Unison union who are set to ballot for strikes to join the pay revolt. 

If they vote Yes it would raise the potential of the 14 October local government strike being united.

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSAS) results for 2014 were released last week. They reveal that the Yes and No campaign arguments are having an impact and there is a battle to be won.  It paints a contradictory picture of changes in public opinion during the campaign that began at least in February 2013 when the ballot paper question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” was finalised. Support for independence in 2012 was 23 percent, in 2014 it has risen to 33 percent, and up to 30 percent are still undecided. Although not the highest figure ever recorded over the 15-year series, it demonstrates rising support for the Yes campaign.

The Scottish SNP government senses the anti-Tory mood and has already made pledges to renationalise Royal Mail and for no privatisation in the health service. 

That a No vote would continue the attacks on public services should not be in doubt. 

The Better Together parties are committed to more cuts, privatisation, axing public sector jobs and freezing wages.

Gail thinks “anything has got to be better than what we’ve got” but she worries her son will need to emigrate for a better future if there is a No vote. She hopes a Yes vote would inspire people to fight for a fairer, more just society all over Britain.

Although opposition to Tory austerity is a key feature of the independence campaign, the Gaza protests recently have posed the question of British imperialism and its support for Israel.

Protests pressured the Scottish government to call for an arms embargo on Israel, offer medical aid to injured Gazans and accept Palestinian refugees. It stood in stark contrast to Tory David Cameron’s support for the apartheid state.

Although these were just words from the SNP, people in Scotland got a glimpse of how foreign policy could be different after a Yes vote. 

Socialist Worker supports a vote for independence. We are in favour of the break up of the imperialist British state and weakening its ability to join US military adventures and illegal wars around the world.

Independence would be a blow to both sides of the so-called special relationship.

A Yes vote would also call into question Britain’s status as a leading nuclear state and raise the possibility that it may be forced to abandon its nuclear capabilities altogether.

We should have no illusions that a Yes vote will bring a socialist Scotland. In an independent capitalist Scotland there would still be bosses wanting cuts and politicians willing to implement them. 

We will still need to make sure the SNP leadership does not get its wish to keep Scotland in Nato. A Yes vote should be a vote against war and nuclear weapons. We cannot rely on the SNP to win it.

Anti-austerity and opposition to war and poverty motivate thousands of independence activists. We have to argue for a vision of real change to inspire working class voters to be a decisive force on 18 September.

Whatever happens, ordinary people’s raised expectations of change will be hard for our rulers to put back in a box. But we still should throw all our efforts towards trying to make Britain history.

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