By Angela McCormick
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 389

Scotland’s vote: a question of class

This article is over 7 years, 10 months old
The battle over Scottish independence is heating up especially with signs the polls may be narrowing
Issue 389

“I was so angry, if the referendum vote had been the next day I would have voted yes,” said an up-to-now undecided friend. This was in response to George Osborne’s high handed flying visit last month to tell us that an independent Scotland couldn’t have the pound as its currency. Better Together — the No to independence campaign — has played its strong card early in 2014. While it has exposed faultlines in Alex Salmond’s official Yes strategy, it has also confirmed that every time Cameron and the Tories speak out for the No vote they strengthen our side.

The Socialist Workers Party is for the break up of Britain. The very real prospect of a dismantled British state is something we relish and puts us squarely in the Yes camp. We are part of the campaigns organising to convince people to vote Yes. Our argument is simple: the working class has nothing to gain from staying part of the United Kingdom.

The whole debate is hotting up. What kind of Scotland do we want? What would it mean for people’s daily lives? Would we better off? What about pensions, pay, jobs, education? These issues are being talked about everywhere. The scare tactics from “Project Fear” are failing to hit the mark as ordinary people demand answers to the questions which matter to them. The intervention of celebs like David Bowie, with his ludicrous appeal via Kate Moss, only serves to highlight this gulf.

Cameron’s recent “phone a friend” appeal to people in England and Wales has backfired. There will be joint action in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Anti Bedroom Tax movement in England and Wales on 5 April, just as there was on the successful day of action against Atos on 19 February. Maybe not the kind of exchange Cameron had in mind? We are united by our hatred of the Tories.

The number and size of the public meetings and events on the Scottish independence referendum have increased massively. Every night, across the country, debates and forums are attracting working class audiences in their hundreds. These are organised by a range of organisations including the official Yes campaign, Radical Independence Campaign, socialists, trade unionists, community activists and others. Many of the politicians at these meetings are being taken to task for past and present failures to provide an alternative to the neoliberalism of previous Westminster governments.

The prospect of no more Tory governments is attractive and is putting further pressure on the Labour Party in Scotland. They are in an unholy alliance with Tories and Lib Dems in the Better Together campaign. This is angering many. The recent packed launch meeting of Labour for Independence is to be welcomed and has taken the debate into the heart of Scottish Labour.

In the trade unions the question of what the vote means for their members is gaining prominence. In a recent consultation across the PCS in Scotland 18,025 voted for a neutral stance, with 5,775 in favour of backing Yes. There was not a single branch in favour of a Vote No position. The Scottish TUC has published the second paper from its “A Just Scotland” consultation. This reflects the questions trade unionists have put to all of the parties involved in the referendum campaign. Both the PCS and STUC have a neutral stance on the referendum vote, but the lack of a radical alternative argument from the No side is stark.

Would the break up of Britain split the unity of the working class north and south of the border? This is a key argument for those on the left who oppose independence, for example the Red Paper Collective, linked to the Labour left, and the Communist Party. But this is to confuse the unity of the working class with the unity of the British state and the capitalist interests it represents.

We are for the unity of workers north and south of the border, with or without independence, but we should reject the idea that remaining part of Britain will preserve class unity. Of course there will be workers who don’t support independence but are just as committed to fighting for a better world as we are. We have to both patiently argue the case for independence and seek to unite against the onslaughts workers are facing.

The kind of Scotland we will have after the referendum will not be decided by the vote on 18 September but by the strength of the working class and left movement. This means making the case for a fight now against austerity and racism. More importantly for the Yes campaign, if we put the radical socialist case for independence we have a greater chance of winning. The idea of “vote yes and nothing will change” does not inspire those suffering low pay, increasing living costs and attacks on public services.

A recent poll by ScotCen Social Research found support for independence is significantly shaped by class, with poorer voters more likely to back independence than those from the wealthiest backgrounds. ScotCen found 40 percent backing for independence among people with household incomes below £14,300 and 36 percent support among those with household incomes between £14,300 and £26,000. In contrast, among households with income above £44,200, only 27 percent plan to back independence.

Alex Salmond is right to say that what the Tory, LibDem and Labour politicians of Better Together say now about the impossibility of a currency union does not reflect what would be argued after a Yes vote. They are using bullying tactics.

But the question remains what kind of independence we are being offered when it ties Scotland’s economic policy to the Bank of England, the monarchy and continued membership of Nato. We should be saying No to all of these. Social justice, anti-racism and the scrapping of Trident nuclear weapons need to be at the heart of the campaign to signal the possibility of real change.

The recent victory over the Bedroom Tax in Scotland shows how a working class movement can challenge the Westminster assaults on the poor while not allowing the SNP government off the hook. Across Scotland, Labour and SNP political representatives, from councillors to MSPs, assumed that they could capitalise on the hatred of the Tories and point to either the election of a Labour government or a Yes vote in the referendum as the only solution.

In meetings and on protests we argued that those facing eviction and increased poverty couldn’t afford to wait that long. This movement across the UK has pushed Ed Miliband to commit Labour to repeal the hated tax if elected. In Scotland we forced the Scottish government to agree to fully mitigate the costs of Bedroom Tax.

This shows the importance of independent working class and socialist arguments within the Yes campaign. The polls since December are showing around 40 percent for Yes but there is still a way to go if we are to win — and the key to victory is class, not nation.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance