By Hector Sierra and Bob Fotheringham
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2810

The SNP’s Scottish independence campaign launch—just hot air? 

The Tories will say no to a new vote, so what will the SNP do?
Issue 2810
Scottish independence, Nicola Sturgeon at the launch of Building a New Scotland

On the road to Scottish independence? Nicola Sturgeon launched Building a New Scotland on Tuesday (Picture: Scottish Government on Flickr)

The Scottish National Party (SNP) says it’s launching a new campaign for independence. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is set to speak in the coming weeks about “a route map towards a referendum”’. 

At the moment, it’s unclear if this will involve more than requesting a Section 30 from Westminster—the mechanism whereby the Scottish government would be allowed to pass legislation to trigger a new vote. This is how the 2014 referendum took place.

It was a different story when the SNP requested a Section 30 in 2017 and 2019, with Theresa May and then Boris Johnson denying it. Sturgeon has said that a second independence referendum (indyref2) will happen in 2023 with or without a Section 30 order.

But the SNP has also made it clear they it doesn’t contemplate a “wildcat” referendum like the one in Catalonia in the Spanish state in 2017. Its plan is to challenge Johnson in a protracted legal battle.  

Waiting for a Labour government may be another possibility. But there are reasons to doubt whether Keir Starmer’s approach would be different from Johnson’s. Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy this week ruled out a referendum in the next ten years. 

Sturgeon’s calculation may have been that pressing on allows them to say to supporters they have tried to win Scottish independence while placing the blame on the Tories when it doesn’t happen. But by doing so the SNP has pushed itself into a corner. In 2023, it will either have to press ahead with indyref2 whatever it takes—or concede it doesn’t have a strategy to achieve it.  

Indyref2 could happen without a Section 30. It would involve a campaign of mass civil disobedience and grassroots organisation to defy the British state. The same tactics that activists have deployed to successfully stop immigration raids or fossil fuel infrastructure could be used. But the SNP cannot conceive of this possibility because it flies in the face of its pro-market vision of independence.  

On Tuesday, Sturgeon released the first of a series of papers outlining a new vision for independence. It doesn’t offer anything new. 

It merely contends that living standards in Scotland could be more aligned with similar-sized countries in Europe by breaking away from Britain. The paper restates the conclusions of the 2018 Sustainable Growth Commission Report making the case for Scotland as a business-friendly country open for investment by international capital. 

Future policy papers will look at areas including EU membership, the military, what currency to use, and the economy. The thrust of these will almost certainly be about re-joining the EU and Nato membership and delaying the removal of Trident to an indeterminate future. They are also expected to set out keeping the pound and tying the Scottish economy to the Bank of England. All this will place a straitjacket on any possibility of real change. 

It’s a far cry from the aspirations that saw hundreds of thousands voting Yes in 2014, or that have fuelled enormous pro-independence marches since. It reflects how far the SNP is moving to the right and emptying independence of any real meaning. 

Sturgeon’s statement about indyref2 will raise expectations. But for now, the base of the Scottish independence movement remains fragmented and weak and this will make it harder to challenge the SNP’s project. 

More than ever, the left must have its own vision of what independence should be about. It should be about ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons, unleashing a truly just transition away from fossil fuels and binning forever the neoliberal policies of cuts and privatisation the SNP has enthusiastically advocated.

Calls for independence have to be linked to a transformation in working class people’s lives. They have to be linked to class struggle, not unity with bosses. And with the Tories in crisis, this should be the time to go on the offensive.

Building solidarity with the rail strikes, strengthening the anti-war movement and resistance to the cost of living crisis is how socialists can fight for such a vision within the Yes movement.

  • All Under one Banner demonstration, Sat 25 June, 12.30pm Bannockburn. Details here
  • March for Independence at Faslane nuclear base, Sat 30 July, 12.30pm. Details here

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