Activists oppose far right attacks on Drag Queen Story Hour

Posted on: August 5th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
image of protestors outside portsmouth library

Counter-protest to push back the far right bigots outside Portsmouth library (Picture: Stand Up To Racism)

Activists are organising counter-protests to far right attacks on Drag Queen Story Hour events at libraries.

Supporters of Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) are mobilising in several towns and cities, including Leeds on Saturday.

Drag Queen Story Hour with drag queen Aida H Dee are story-telling sessions for parents and children. But the far right wants to shut them down. This includes the fascist party Patriotic Alternative—led by Mark Collett, the former leader of the Nazi British National Party’s youth wing,

SUTR said, “We condemn the attempts by some on the far-right to foster the pernicious myth that drag is a kind of ‘child grooming’ or in some way sexual, leading to accusations of paedophilia.”

Aida H Dee said her performances aimed at 3–11-year-olds have no sexual language. It comes as a survey by Just Like Us showed that 55 percent of LGBT+ 11 to 18-year-olds are anxious about their mental health on a daily basis. In comparison, 26 percent of non-LGBT+ people feel the same.

Three confrontations took place in Brighton on Thursday. Steve Guy, a local socialist activist, reports that some 150 to 180 supporters of the drag queen faced off around 35 opponents at the central library.

They were armed with video cameras and broadcasting equipment, with around eight outright fascists among them. The rest were a mix of conspiracy theorists, religious activists and anti-vaxxers, including Piers Corbyn “whipping them up to provoke violence”.

“There were clashes, but because of the numbers they were containable,” Steve said. “When the parents finally emerged from the reading session, we cheered and applauded them.”

Some SUTR and trades council banners joined the counter-protests. “But the majority of the pro-drag queen forces were young and committed,” Steve says. “The second confrontation at Hove library was a slightly less well-attended affair, on their side as well as ours,” he added. “There was a noticeable absence of hardcore Nazis.

“But the narrow pavement which we shared with them, meant that intermingling was inevitable. When the clashes came there were two arrests.” This included one from each side.

A library in Woodingdean outside of Brighton cancelled the event as the bigots intercepted the drag queen, harassing her.

Steve says overall the counter-mobilisations were a success “as without it the right wing would have succeeded in intimidating the parents attending these events”.

Weyman Bennett, SUTR national co-convenor, said fascists, the far right and bigots are attempting “to stir up hatred against LGBT+ communities”.  

“It’s clear that the bigotry expressed in the Tory leadership contest is giving confidence to the far right to go on the attack,” he said.

“Stand Up To Racism stands with LGBT+ communities and will be helping to build support events in coming weeks to oppose attempts to intimidate children, parents and LGBT+ people.”  

Join anti-racist and anti-fascist groups on solidarity protests, in Leeds on Saturday, Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales next Tuesday, Cardiff on next Friday August, Rochdale on 16 August, Bolton on 17 August and Oxford on 23 August.  

Amazon striker speaks out

Posted on: August 5th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Picket line with a crowd of workers in orange high visibility vests outside an amazon fulfillment centre

Wildcat strike at Coventry Amazon fulfilment centre (Picture: twitter/@Walkout20201)

An Amazon striker says “everyone stayed out” after bosses tried to intimidate them back to work.

Ben, who works at the BHX4 fulfilment centre in Coventry, is one of the hundreds of Amazon workers who’ve joined wildcat strikes at sites across Britain since Wednesday. “Yesterday was the main event,” he told Socialist Worker. “We had people on the day and night shift walk out.

“We had over 300 people that stopped working. We only planned to strike two hours before it actually happened. When we did, the managers said we wouldn’t get paid unless we returned to work. But everyone stayed and didn’t go back.

“Today we had around 30 to 40 people who went on strike and walked out and marched into town.”

Ben added that he and other workers were inspired by the action in Tilbury. On Wednesday workers in the fulfilment centre in Tilbury, Essex, stopped working after being offered a tiny pay increase of 35p an hour.  

Videos on social media showed workers sitting in the canteen after downing tools. When a manager tried to persuade workers to get back to work, they responded with anger and made it clear they would not be going back. 

A manager is heard on social media saying that it “wasn’t safe to be gathered in the canteen”. To this, workers shouted back, “We are fine.” Amazon bosses also withdrew catering services and threatened to sack workers if they left the premises.

Ben explained why Amazon workers in Coventry decided to strike. “We were told on Wednesday that we would only get a 50p pay rise,” he said. “Of course people have been complaining about bills going up, then they offer us just 50p. 

“We worked through the pandemic and have made the company so much money. But in three years we’ve only received a 75p pay rise—including the 50p the bosses have just offered.”

Meanwhile, workers in the Rugeley Amazon warehouse in Staffordshire walked out on Wednesday after also being offered a pay increase of just 50p an hour. A worker at the warehouse told Staffordshire Lives, “Amazon Rugeley announced a 50p wage increase citing the local Rugeley pay rate average. 

“The news didn’t sit well with the associates, and more than 100 people walked out in the canteen as a protest, which affected a lot of customer shipments. It’s an embarrassment of an announcement that comes as a mockery towards current employees.”

The bosses were worried about action spreading to a warehouse in Bristol. They posted a sign outside that read that there would be no more “distribution of literature.” 

Poor pay and terrible conditions are pushing, often non-unionised workers, to organise themselves and take part in wildcat strikes and sit-ins. Around 100 workers at Cranswick Continental Foods in Pilsworth, Greater Manchester, launched a wildcat strike last Thursday.  

All of these strikes show a new mood of anger—and resistance—in the working class as the cost of living crisis deepens. Socialists, trade unionists and campaigners should go down to their nearest fulfilment centre to send solidarity to Amazon workers. 

  • Ben is a pseudonym

Thousands occupy Iraqi parliament as political crisis intensifies

Posted on: August 5th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Muqtada al-Sadr siting with his hands folded in front of him

Supporters of political movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr shut down Iraqi Parliament (Picture: Wikimedia Commons)

For a full week thousands of people occupied the Iraqi parliament in a standoff between rival political factions that could explode into gun battles in Baghdad.

Behind it is the crisis of a corrupt and sectarian system imposed by the US, meddling by regional powers, and the fate of an uprising by ordinary people.

Thousands of supporters of the Shia Muslim cleric and political movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr stormed the capital city’s militarised Green Zone—the site of government offices—last week.

It was part of a precariously managed confrontation between Sadr and other Shia political groups. All sides have armed wings or militias and—though they’ve been careful to avoid direct clashes—have mobilised their supporters on the streets. It comes after months of wrangling to end a stalemate that has left Iraq without a government for ten months.

A coalition led by Sadr came out of Iraq’s elections last October as the largest bloc in parliament. It ended the dominance of other Shia parties that have controlled most Iraqi governments in the past decade.

Sadr said he wanted to overturn the corrupt and sectarian system that had facilitated their rule. But—though he won the support of Sunni Muslim and Kurdish parties—he didn’t have enough support to form a government.

After months of arguing, manoeuvres and threats, in June Sadr suddenly ordered his supporters in parliament to resign. He accused the Shia groups of putting pressure on the other political blocs supporting him.

This left the Shia factions open to try and form a government themselves. But when they tried to nominate a prime minister late last month, Sadr called his supporters out onto the streets, where they stormed and occupied parliament. This is just one outcome of a deep crisis of the system the US installed after invading in 2003.

Under a sectarian political setup—which Iraq had never had before—power and government office was to be divided between different religious and ethnic groups. It drove division down into Iraqi society, but also fuelled corruption at the top of government.

Shia parties benefited most, as the system favoured them and allocated them the office of prime minister. But every party—Shia or Sunni—benefitted from the system that awarded them positions of power and wealth.

The US’s invasion also laid waste to Iraq’s economy and society, the corruption kept ordinary Iraqis impoverished—sparking repeated explosions of protests on the streets.

In 2018 tens of thousands of people mostly in the south of Iraq protested demanding funding for basic services such as energy and clean water. Electricity shortages had made life unbearable. The protesters explicitly linked the government’s failures to its corruption, including the involvement of Iran in Iraqi politics through the ruling Shia parties.

The country produces a vast amount of oil revenue. They asked why it was that oil companies and other states benefited while they suffered low wages and failing services.

And in 2019 an even bigger movement took over the centre of Baghdad. It called for an end to poverty and corruption—and the fall of the political system that fuelled them. After weeks of protests—which withstood bloody assaults by state forces and sectarian militias—the movement forced prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign.

Sadr played a complicated and contradictory role in all of this. He made a name for himself as the leader of an armed resistance movement that challenged the US occupation and humiliated the British army in Basra.

He’s rebranded himself as a type of Arab or Iraqi nationalist, and positioned himself as a champion of the poor against the corrupt, sectarian system. Yet he’s also tried to game and manipulate that system, making and breaking alliances with governments and opposition parties alike.

He has tens of thousands—if not millions—of supporters, many of them ready to take up arms.

At times he’s aligned himself with protest movements from below. And at other times—when he can’t control them—he’s turned on them. After originally joining the 2019 movement, Sadr ordered his armed supporters to side with the forces trying to drown the protests in blood in 2020.

That was one of the biggest blows to the movement and helped to drive it off the streets. Now, in its wake, Iraq’s political crisis could enter a new and bloody chapter.

Police watchdog suffers same ‘sickness’ as Met, says Daniel Morgan’s family

Posted on: August 4th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
an image of cressida dick in police uniform who  next to a portrait image of daniel morgan

The IOPC police watchdog excused Cressida Dick’s possible breach of “professional standards” in the Daniel Morgan case (Picture: Wikimedia Commons)

Top cops breached their own “professional standards” over the murder of Daniel Morgan according to the police’s own tame watchdog—and nothing will be done about it.

Daniel Morgan was found in the car park of the Golden Lion pub, south London, with an axe in his head in 1987.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report comes after an independent panel last year found the Met was institutionally corrupt over the case.

Despite five police inquiries and an inquest spanning two decades no one has been convicted over Daniel’s death. The Metropolitan Police admitted corruption wrecked the original murder investigation, but has spent the following decades covering it up.

In June last year, an independent panel found the Met had been “institutionally corrupt” over the case.

The IOPC took 14 months to decide that nothing needed to be done about one of the worst scandals—in a crowded field—in the Met’s history. It said it had determined there was an “indication” Cressida Dick “may” have breached the standards of professional behaviour.

The findings relate to a period between 2013-2015 when she was an assistant commissioner and the senior officer responsible for the inquiry. But it concluded that no disciplinary action was necessary, saying there was “no evidence to indicate Commissioner Dick intended to protect corrupt officers”.

Daniel’s family reacted with anger and said they were “disappointed but not surprised” by the IOPC’s review. “What we find here is a rather shabby exercise by the IOPC to avoid the implications of the police corruption and criminality which the panel’s report compelled them to acknowledge,” they said.

“In the same vein, we see the IOPC forced to find that ex-commissioner Cressida Dick ‘may have breached police standards of professional behaviour’ in the obstructive stance she chose to adopt towards the work of the panel. But they then go to look for reasons not to use their powers to act on that finding.

“In doing so, the IOPC shows that it suffers the very sickness within its own ranks that it purports to diagnose within the Met.”

The panel inquiry last year said, “The panel has never received any reasonable explanation for the refusal over seven years by assistant commissioner Dick and her successors to provide access to the Holmes accounts to the Daniel Morgan independent panel.”

The IOPC in contrast said Dick had appeared to have “acted in the genuine belief she had a legitimate policing purpose”, due to concerns about protecting information. But she “may have got it wrong”.

The IOPC concluded, “There are no new avenues for investigation which could now result in either criminal or disciplinary proceedings”. Quite.

NHS in ‘apocalyptic’ crisis as wait times increase by 144 percent since 2019

Posted on: August 4th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
graffiti blue heart with the letters NHS in the middle

Years of cuts, staff shortages and privatisation has led to a major crisis in the NHS (Picture: Gordon Joly)

NHS accident and emergency (A&E) waits are now “apocalyptic”—and they could be driving 1,000 patient deaths a month.

But the government is systematically hiding the truth to cover-up the fatal consequence of years of cuts, staffing shortages and privatisation.

Almost 700,000 people have waited more than 12 hours in A&E in the first seven months of 2022, according to leaked NHS data. The “hidden” monthly trolley waits, not published in national data, have more than doubled compared to 2019.

The average number of people attending A&Es is similar to 2019 at 1.7 million, suggesting the waits are not driven by an increase in people using the service.

A cancer patient, who says she faced a wait of 31 hours in A&E, said it was like “a cattle market”. Tracy Summerson, who had nausea and a fever, was eventually admitted to Lincoln County Hospital last week. She said there were more than 30 other patients who waited a similar amount of time.

Summerson, who has stage four malignant melanoma, said, “There were people coming with sick bowls being sick next to you. When you are immune-suppressed you’re supposed to go in a side room out of germs’ way, but they needed all the rooms for consultations.”

The NHS has been collecting data on 12-hour waits, measured from the moment a patient arrives in A&E. This data is far higher than the official figures published by the NHS each month. They only measure the time waited after a decision to admit a patient is made.

Data obtained by The Independent newspaper shows a 144 percent increase in the monthly 12-hour waits from arrival in 2022 compared to 2019. It shot up from almost around 37,000 a month to almost 100,000.

Dr Katherine Henderson is president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. “We have long known that the actual number of patients staying in emergency departments for over 12 hours have been hidden,” she said. “But these figures are worse than anyone could have imagined.

“These figures represent real people, real lives—lives being put at risk. While the pandemic will have had an impact, this is the consequence of years of unheeded warnings about the lack of beds, staff and social care available. A decade of underfunding is behind this, and the NHS is struggling to catch up.”

Meanwhile the Health Service Journal collated new data from 20 of the largest trusts and compared it with the publicly reported “trolley wait” figures.

For some trusts thousands of cases are captured under the new measure, compared to just tens of cases under the official trolley wait figures. They include Liverpool University Hospitals (LUH) Foundation Trust, Manchester University, Mid and South Essex, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, and The Royal Wolverhampton Trust.

From the 20 trusts examined, there were around 33,000 cases in total under the new measure, around six times the 5,300 under the published figures.

Statistician Dr Steve Black around 1,000 additional patients a month may be dying in emergency departments because of long waits. He published a report on mortality rates in A&E earlier this year.

“The number of monthly waits also show clearly why Covid cannot be blamed for the current problems,” he said. “The current state of waits in major A&Es is apocalyptic and we are seeing neither honesty about the numbers nor any good ideas about how to improve them.”

Yet another cut in pay for NHS workers will make the situation even worse. That’s why, as well as battles to defend the NHS itself, there has to be a fight for above-inflation pay rises for health workers.

The regional health committee of the Unison union in the north west of England has agreed to make Friday 26 August a day of action, with each branch encouraged to do some pay activity on the day. It’s the day regulator Ofgem announces the next rise in fuel prices.

Such union events can build workplace strength, organise more activists, and to push for strikes against the government’s proposed pay cuts. They can also increase the pressure on union leaders not to back off.

The NHS is in crisis and resistance is crucial.

Cardiff protest targets Tory hustings

Posted on: August 3rd, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
A group of 20 people with an XR banner, a SUTR placard and a message over public sector pay

Trade unionists, climate campaigners and anti-racists protested outside the hustings (Picture: Cardiff SWP)

Protesters in Cardiff forced Tory party members attending a leadership hustings to endure a gauntlet of fury on Wednesday. With only a few hours to prepare after discovering the venue, some 60 people gathered to voice their fury at leadership hopefuls Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak and their supporters.

Tories had to battle their way through the protesters, who filled the air with chants about child poverty and the racist plan to deport migrants to Rwanda.  There were activists from the People’s Assembly, Stand Up To Racism and Extinction Rebellion—who provided the drumming.

“It was a really good protest,” activist Phil Allsopp told Socialist Worker. “The fact they had to walk between us was incredible. It feels good to shout at a Tory.”

It was an opportunity for everyone who hates the Tories to let off some steam. Some people had travelled from as far as Abergavenny, some 35 miles away,

The commotion of the protest drew in passing children and teenagers who gave the Tories a piece of their mind. “There was a lot of young people, they were really angry. They were walking up to the Tories and saying, ‘you should be ashamed of yourselves’,” said Phil.

Inside the hustings, Sunak doubled down on his support for fracking, the racist Prevent programme, and specifically reaffirmed his commitment to implementing the Rwanda policy.   

And Truss promised to extend the Rwanda policy to more countries, increase military spending and squirmed as people questioned her earlier promise to cut public sector pay,

“Anyone who’s thinking about organising a protest outside a Tory hustings should do it,” said Phil. “Get everybody involved—any networks you’ve got, any trade unionists, any activists, and get people down there.

“It’s definitely worth doing. In coming out on the streets against the Tories you might give people more confidence to oppose Tories in the future.”

Loud and raucous protests can help build more anti-Tory action and show Sunak and Truss what ordinary people think. 

Instead of a process involving just a few tens of thousands of the most right wing people in Britain, the rest of us can have our say.

The Tory hustings are:

Fri 5 August Eastbourne

Tue 9 August Darlington

Thu 11 August Cheltenham

Tue 16 August Perth

Fri 19 August Manchester

Tue 23 August Birmingham

Thu 25 August Norwich

Wed 31 August London

Abortion rights activists crush anti-choice bigots in Kansas referendum

Posted on: August 3rd, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
20 pro-choice protesters with signs such as "Abortion is ahuman right". Solidarity with resistance to removing Roe v Wade in US

A solidarity protest in London stands with people in the US fighting the assault on abortion rights in May (Picture: Guy Smallman)

People from Kansas sent out a rallying cry for abortion rights on Tuesday, as they voted to protect women.

Voters in a state referendum overwhelmingly backed maintaining abortion access in the Kansas constitution. Early figures show that almost 60 percent of voters chose to keep abortion rights, with official figures due in a week.

The constitution allows pregnancies to be terminated up to 22 weeks with other restrictions, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and mandatory parental consent for children.

In Kansas, Taylor Hirth, wept as she celebrated the result with her nine-year-old daughter at a watch party in Overland Park. “I’m a rape survivor, and the thought of my daughter ever becoming pregnant and not being able to do anything about it angers me,” she told the BBC.

“I never thought this would happen here, but we have worked so hard here to get the vote out. Republicans underestimated us.”

The referendum was called by the anti-choice, right wing Kansas legislature. It hoped to wipe out abortion rights access, but its gamble hasn’t paid off. A bitter campaign raged throughout Kansas in the weeks before the vote.

Republicans showed faux concern for women by campaigning under the slogan, “Value them both.” Some churches held anti-choice sermons from the pulpit. And pro-choice activists defaced a Catholic church and a statue of the Virgin Mary.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June, it meant that individual states had the clout to decide local abortion laws.

The Kansas result is a major defeat for anti-choice bigots who though the staunchly Republican state would vote to axe abortion access. It backs up polling that has consistently shown abortion rights are well supported by ordinary people.

And it shows how the limits on reproductive freedoms are not driven by a groundswell of reaction from below, but rather a tirade of attacks from above.

Rachel Sweet, the campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom said, “We did it—these numbers speak for themselves. We knew it was stacked against us from the moment we started but we did not despair.

“We knocked on tens of thousands of doors and had hundreds of thousands of phone calls. We countered millions of dollars in misinformation. We will not tolerate extreme bans on abortion in our state.”

It was a bitterly fought campaign, with the anti-choice side largely funded by the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile in the White House, Democrat president Joe Biden is poised to sign an executive order that he says will help protect abortion access. But the legislation is vague and will take a long time to be implemented. It says that the government should consider ways to expand federal funding for women travelling out of state for abortions.

Yet it doesn’t give any indication of how this could be achieved. Currently the government-subsidised Medicaid programme only covers abortions in 16 states.

It is not enough. His first executive order, signed just days after Roe v Wade was overturned, directed the government vaguely to “take action”.

Biden’s failure to move swiftly to protect abortion rights is a question of political will and shows the dead end of Democratic party politics. And his reluctance to speak on this question is a desperate attempt to appeal to the right.

There are upcoming set-piece battles for abortion rights. California and Vermont are holding state constitution referendums in November.

The Kansas result is an important one. At a time when abortion freedoms are under relentless attack from the top of society, it shows that they are more contested among ordinary people. And the more contested they are, the more opportunities there are to win others round to the pro-choice battle.

Break with Sturgeon’s strategy to break up British state

Posted on: August 3rd, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
A person holding a Scottish flag that has the word YES outline in the centre in reference to scottish independance

Only a mass movement can break up the British state (Picture: Garry Knight)

The next Tory prime minister should face the prospect of revolt over independence in Scotland—on top of the resurgence in class struggle. And working class fights against the Tories, bosses and bigots could run through the fight for Scottish independence, seeing it as an opportunity to break with all their rotten policies.   

But, to make this a reality, requires going beyond first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s vision. Her plan rests on asking the UK Supreme Court to rule whether the Scottish government can hold an independence referendum in October 2023 without permission from Westminster.

Sturgeon’s legal team argue that, although the 2014 referendum took place with the British government’s say so, it could have happened anyway. That’s because, their legal argument goes, the power to hold one is not in fact what’s known as a “reserved matter” under the Scotland Act.

Despite calls from the Tory government to have the request rejected, the Supreme Court is set to hear the case on 11 and 12 October.

Will Sturgeon’s plan work? It’s an incredibly flimsy legal case, so she has a back-up. The Scottish National Party (SNP) will fight the next general election on the single issue of independence, making it a “de facto referendum”.

However, the SNP winning 50 percent of the vote will be difficult. People vote in a general election on a range of issues. And what about Labour and working class voters who want rid of the Tories but support independence?

Any vote for the SNP of over 50 percent may well provide them with the moral high ground. But what next? How will the SNP move forward to independence while the British government says no?

This week Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss said she would simply “ignore” the “attention-seeking” Sturgeon. It is not just the Tories who oppose this process. Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar have said there will be no discussions or pacts with the SNP which involve independence. Starmer has said he too would not support holding a referendum, and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy ruled one out in the next ten years.

A mass movement from below could make it impossible for a Tory prime minister to “ignore” independence. Thousands of people already regularly campaign, take to the streets and spend a large amount of time persuading people about the advantages of an independent Scotland.

However, the SNPs plans leave the base of the indy movement without any role to play. The process of winning independence rests completely in the hands of the SNP politicians. So does the nature of a future independent Scotland, in the extremely unlikely event that Sturgeon’s strategy proves successful.

So, what is Sturgeon and the SNP’s vision for the future? She’s launched papers on Independence in the Modern World and Renewing Democracy Through Independence. Others will cover currency, public finances and the economy, social security and pensions, defence, and a range of other issues

Sturgeon’s paper on Independence in The Modern World and her plans to hold a second referendum received widespread coverage. However, her presentation on Renewing Democracy Through Independence received a lot less attention in the British press. But this is perhaps the strongest of her arguments for Scottish Independence.

Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. Since then, apart from the Labour government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Scotland has been governed by a Tory party it did not vote for. And, even then, the Labour government proved to be a major disappointment for most working class people in Scotland.

The current Tory party leadership contest is another case in point. Barely 0.3 percent of the adult British population—made up of mainly white, well-off people living in the south of England—will determine who is the next prime minister.

It is Scotland’s right to hold a second referendum. The fact that this is being denied by both the Tories and Labour politicians is a democratic outrage. Look at the system used to elect the British parliament, which can see a Tory government take power with a “majority” of 42.4 percent of the vote in 2017 and a “landslide” 43.6 percent in 2019. On this basis, there is more than enough evidence to believe that the SNP has a mandate to push forward for a second vote.

Socialists both inside and outside the Labour Party should support Scotland’s democratic right to hold a vote on independence. Some people on the left argue that Scottish independence would break the unity of the British working class. But one of the best ways of ensuring working class unity across Britain is for socialist and trade union activists to support Scotland’s right to vote for independence. Winning this position would help break people from the Tories’ British nationalism, which seeks to bind working class people to a fake “national interest”.

Independence in the Modern World

The SNP’s vision is one where Scotland is “competitive” within global capitalism, joins the neoliberal European Union (EU), becomes a member of the Nato warmongers’ alliance, keeps the pound, and has the queen as head of state. There has always been a direct connection between its limited plans for a future Scotland, and how independence is brought about.

Sturgeon’s Independence in the Modern World document, which mixes aspirations for independence with hard-headed neoliberal realism, is a case in point. Much of the paper tries to take on the arguments raised by the Better Together campaign’s “Project Fear” during the 2014 referendum debate.

In response, Sturgeon wants to prove that an independent capitalist Scotland is viable, hollowing out any prospects for social transformation. The document compares Britain to ten other European countries similar in size to Scotland. But is seeking to emulate their economies a good idea?

Norwegian “success” has largely come through North Sea oil—which we need to keep in the ground. Ireland has a private health care system, low business taxes and high rates of inequality, with 25 percent of the population experiencing ongoing deprivation. This in a country that, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is the fourth richest in the world based on per capita GDP.

Sweden is another of the comparator countries in the document. It is the third biggest arms exporter in the world based on per capita exports. Only the US and Israel are greater. Its lax restrictions during the pandemic have led to it having death rates rivalling the US. Support for the far right Sweden Democrats has grown, and it now has 60 seats in the Swedish parliament.

Meanwhile, the context of the current debate on independence is different to 2014. It involves the cost of living crisis, the existential threat of climate catastrophe, the war in Ukraine and the impact of eight more years of Tory rule and the pandemic. To deal with all these issues requires radical solutions way beyond the capacity of the SNP hierarchy.

To put forward the case for an independent Scotland, Sturgeon skilfully harnesses Boris Johnson and the Tories’ incompetence, corruption and contempt for ordinary people. She places the economic and social problems, which blight the lives of millions of people, firmly at the door of the Westminster government.

There is an element of truth to this. But it’s not the full story. The NHS, education and policing are all under the control of the Scottish Parliament. While the Scottish Budget is set by the UK Treasury, the Scottish government does have money-raising powers. It has control over income tax rates and bands as well as limited borrowing powers. These have never been used to any great extent.

The SNP’s determination for Scotland to rejoin the EU highlights its economic thinking. Membership would mean EU fiscal constraints on public spending and borrowing, designed to lock in neoliberal economics.

Meanwhile, the NHS in Scotland is in crisis, with record waiting times in A&E and for scheduled operations. This is only one aspect of the crisis facing ordinary people in Scotland. While the SNP is not mainly to blame for this, it certainly must share the responsibility.

The SNP’s priorities can also be gleaned from its warmongering. At the start of the Ukraine war, Sturgeon said that Nato should not rule out a no-fly zone. This would have risked a direct confrontation between the US and Russia, two nuclear-armed powers. The Scottish government has just donated £64 million to the Ukraine war effort rather than spend the money on public services.

The SNP are committed to Scotland joining and strengthening Nato, with increased spending on conventional weapons. While it has pledged to remove Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland, it now says that it’s opposed to the “non-proliferation of nuclear weapons”. Which is not the same as their complete removal. Stewart McDonald, the SNP spokesperson on defence at Westminster, recently said that nuclear weapons would not be immediately removed from Scotland after independence. He said an SNP government would not rule out “a short-term arrangement”. 

How is the independence movement responding? There is anecdotal evidence that Sturgeon’s initiative has raised expectations among some independence activists. Inactive Yes groups are starting to hit the streets again. However, this is a long way from the enthusiasm and optimism of 2014 or the huge All Under One banner protests. Some 200,000 marched in Edinburgh during October 2019 and 90,000 marched through Glasgow in the pouring rain after the election of 2019.

The impact of SNP inaction has led to infighting in the movement and to a strong degree of cynicism about its intentions. This, along with the pandemic, means that the activist base of the movement is no longer what it once was. At a recent Now Scotland online meeting, very few present believed Sturgeon’s initiative is likely to succeed.

Support for independence grew out of the onslaught of neoliberalism in the 1980s and after. The Labour Party proved to be pathetic in its response, and people in Scotland found an alternative to support in the form of independence and the SNP. The question is, for how much longer?

There is also a serious question mark over whether Sturgeon through legal and constitutional means will succeed. The bottom line is, she simply does not have a plan to effectively confront the British State when it says no to another referendum.

Socialists in Scotland should remain committed to independence and support the fight to break up the British state. However, sections of the working class are involved in much more radical arenas of struggle. These are both separate from and part of the independence movement. They include the anti-racist struggle, the climate change movement, and crucially the increased wave of strikes across Britain brought about by the cost of living crisis.

They open up the possibility of a real confrontation with the Tories and the bosses’ profit system. The current Tory chaos provides a serious opportunity for resistance, which should be utilised by the whole trade union movement. The current wave of strikes across Britain, if nurtured, developed and spread, provides the possibility of bringing about real change, way beyond the limited vision of Sturgeon and the SNP.