By Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh
The Brexit crisis marks a new stage in the crisis of British capitalism and is a taste of very eventful year which will be 2019. Scotland in many ways has been quieter on the political front since the referendum but soon it will be dragged into this dramatic situation.
The Tory party used to be the most stable party in Europe. As loyal servants of the ruling class, they could govern over England, Scotland and Wales, ensuring stability and profitability. When the electorate got fed up of them, it mattered little as the ruling class had effective control over the leadership of the Labour Party, which could act as a second eleven in power. Nowadays things have completely changed. The British ruling class have lost control of both parties, are in danger of losing their biggest market in Europe and may even lose Scotland. As this is written, Theresa May is hanging on by a thread having survived a vote of no confidence with over a third of Tory MPs voting to oust her. She still has to table a Brexit deal, which she is very likely to lose. The banks, the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the mainstream press scream about the need for unity and to let Theresa May get on with it, but the Brexiteers, who make up over a third of the MPs are more concerned about their own careers and prestige (amongst their own peculiar circles) and are not listening.
A General Election may well happen in early 2019. This would likely put Jeremy Corbyn in number 10. Whilst many workers and youth look to this situation with hope, the ruling class look to this with fear. The CBI has recently warned against the ‘chilling effect’ Labour’s nationalisation plans are having across boardrooms in the UK. However, what they’re really worried about is the mass movement behind Corbyn which could push the party much further to the left and as time goes on threaten the capitalist system.
The idea of a second referendum on Europe has been widely promoted by politicians and the media both north and south of the border and some may be looking to this as a possible solution to the crisis. But such a referendum would solve nothing and would in fact create more division, giving even more ground to the far-right, who could pose as the most steadfast ‘defenders’ of Brexit.
This is of no concern to the Liberal Democrats, Blairites and Tory Remainers who have been cynically pushing this as a “progressive” idea in an attempt to lure people away from Corbyn to something more “pragmatic”. If past performance is anything to go by, we can be sure that if this project offered anything meaningful for workers, these ladies and gentlemen would not be supporting it. It is amongst this same crowd that we’re hearing more and more noises about a national government of cross party “moderates” designed to prevent an anti-austerity government coming to power. Tory MPs, Nicky Morgan, Nicholas Soames and Anna Soubry have already spoken of this and the capitalist class will seriously push for it if they are unable to tame a Labour government to work in its interests.
In Scotland most (although not all) SNP MPs have been cosying up with this crowd of career, pro-capitalist politicians and joining in with calls for Corbyn to table a vote of no confidence when it was clear he wouldn’t win and would be undermined. While the DUP and Tory MPs continue to back the government, any call for Corbyn to ignore this and table the motion anyway has little to do with bringing down the Tories and everything to do with trying to force Corbyn to swing the Labour Party behind the Blairites’ call for a so-called People’s Vote. In effect, by pushing for for Corbyn to do this, the SNP leaders are doing the dirty work of the British ruling class and are again betraying the masses of members and supporters who joined them on the back of the overwhelmingly left wing, anti-austerity and anti-Westminster messages of the 2014 referendum. This won’t go unnoticed in Scotland where the SNP face other big challenges.
The draft Holyrood budget has received criticism from Labour, the Greens and trade unions as well as some anti-poverty charities. Given that the SNP rely on the 6 Green MSPs to pass budgets, they will likely have to make left concessions to them. However the biggest challenge the SNP faces is the public sector trade unions.
For years, the SNP tried and was in many ways successful in keeping a close relationship with union leaders, with Sturgeon addressing STUC conferences and Holyrood funding more than half the STUC budget. In an effort to keep the loyalty of class conscious workers, they gave concessions, for example to the EIS Further Education strike for pay harmonisation.
However, this can only go on for so long. Austerity isn’t simply an ideological choice but a direct effect of the capitalist system in deep crisis. An expropriation of the banks and their assets could provide funding to solve the crisis in the NHS, housing, education, welfare and local authority budgets. Nationalising all PFI companies without compensation, could clear the Holyrood debt. None of this is an option for a party desperate to appear sensible enough to run an independent capitalist Scotland. Because of this, a friendly relationship with the unions could only last so long, particularly with the unions moving further to the left.
When Women workers of Glasgow City Council struck over equal pay claims worth between £500million and £1billion in one of the most militant strikes in Scotland in recent history, this proved to be a red line. The SNP leaders in Holyrood and Glasgow City Council explicitly opposed it with some even ridiculously claiming it was some sort of GMB/Labour Party conspiracy and the strikers were being “duped”.
Teachers, council workers and FE lecturers have rejected pay offers and are likely to strike in the new year which will cause more conflict between unions and Holyrood. On top of this, the SNP recently blocked a move by Labour and the Greens to have Scotrail nationalized, despite the proposals having been drafted by Common Weal, a left wing YES supporting group with a lot of support within the SNP.
On top of this, it’s only a matter of time before workers in the private sector start to organise and fight back en mass. We’ve seen signs of this, particularly in England with McDonalds and Wetherspoons workers striking over pay. There has been a mass militant campaign against the owners of Brassica in Dundee who didn’t pay their staff when they went bankrupt. To add to this, Oil workers in the North east have balloted for strike action.
Ex-MP and prominent SNP activist George Kerevan, who recently joined the SNP Socialists, came out in criticism of the leadership’s opposition to the equal pay strike, saying the struggle must be seen as our struggle (i.e. struggle of the YES movement). He also warned that the SNP may lose ground to Corbyn, particularly among the youth, if they don’t move to the left. The growth commission, which outlined a programme for an independent capitalist Scotland, has proved to be unpopular amongst members at the three national councils. The SNP traditionally deal with such potential divisions by quelling debate using their bureaucratic party structure but they can’t continue to do this without losing support and members.
Independence has certainly not gone away. In fact polls show that it remains around 45% and that the Brexit crisis is pushing people further towards it. Mass demonstrations earlier this year showed the potential of the YES movement which despite the pro-capitalist stance of the SNP leadership, can still inspire people to the street on an anti-austerity and anti-establishment basis. In the time this will likely cause splits within the movement and possibly even the SNP with mass left wing currents being formed.
It is very possible that a parliamentary deal between the SNP and Labour may be required to form a government. In such a scenario it would be essential for SNP and Labour MPs to support any attempts to reverse the appalling austerity and attacks on workers in the UK carried out by the Tories and defend the government from the inevitable onslaught from the press, CBI, House of Lords etc. along with workers supporting both parties. Any other policy from the SNP leadership and any support, indirect or otherwise, for the Blairites would be a betrayal of all Scottish workers, and particularly those who voted to break with the capitalist Westminster Establishment in 2014. However, for such a deal to happen, Labour would at least need to support Scotland’s right to another referendum and the abolition of Trident.
We must also be clear on the limitations of Corbyn’s programme aside from the questions of Trident and Scottish independence. Its reliance on taxing the rich and borrowing money to spend on public services will be met with flights of capital and sabotage as happened when Syriza came to power on a similar programme in Greece. This can only be fought by taking on the capitalist system itself starting with the nationalisation of banks and big employers under workers’ control.
General Election Now!
Marxists in Scotland support the call for a General election now and to kick the Tories out. A Corbyn-led government will be a big step forward for class struggle throughout these islands and will inspire many more into political activity. Policies such as the reversal of anti-union laws would provide a morale boost for the trade union movement and the victory of explicitly left wing ideas like these would give a boost for left wingers within the YES movement who see the fight for Scottish self-determination as inseparable from the fight against capitalism. If Sturgeon will not help Corbyn form a government, then the SNP will rightly be seen as undermining the best chance we’ve had in generations for a genuinely left wing government.
Already, the ideas of revolutionary Marxism are gaining popularity. It is our task to build around these ideas to end austerity, crisis and exploitation in Scotland, these islands and the world. If you want to get involved with us please do get in touch.