Soft Brexit and Hard Austerity: What is the Alternative? (Issue 27 Editorial)

By Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh


As this goes into print, Theresa May is in talks with Jeremy Corbyn in a desperate attempt to find a deal on how to leave the EU which will be backed by a majority of MPs. She is also trying to get an extension of the leaving date. Her attempts to prolong this tedious crisis are simply kicking the can down the road and everybody knows her days are numbered.

The Brexit crisis is the political expression of the crisis of capitalism. The ruling class has always stoked divisions in the working class in order to maintain power but in the last two decades it has been stepped up in Britain. In order to justify imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the establishment orchestrated a poisonous propaganda campaign of Islamophobia. This also fed into the scapegoating of migrant workers from predominantly Muslim countries as well as Eastern Europe, falsely blaming them for job shortages, housing shortages and austerity. This has kept large sections of the working class distracted from our real enemy, the bankers, landlords and bosses.

However, in doing this, the ruling class has also created a crisis for itself. Capitalism is undoubtedly international. It relies on foreign consumers, it relies on cheap overseas workforces and it even relies on migrant labour. It is clear that the exit of the EU is not at all beneficial for British capitalism.

The need for capitalism to divide workers along ethnic, national and religious lines and the need for capitalism to be international is a contradiction that has come home to roost all over the “developed world”. In Britain, this is reflected with the crisis in the Tory party, which is split between its liberal pro EU wing who represent the vast majority of banks and big business, and the Brexiteer wing who represent the vast majority of the Tory voters and members.

Whilst this is all going on at the “top” of society, life for the working class is getting increasingly difficult. Figures released in March by the Scottish Government showed that more than 240,000 children (around 24%) live in poverty and this had increased by around 100,000 since 2014. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has also predicted this to increase by another 100,000 by 2024 due to a four year freeze on child benefits and the rollout of universal credit.

These statistics only give a glimpse of the level of widespread misery inflicted on the working class as a result of decades of de-industrialization and austerity. It was anger at this and an urge to protest the establishment, which has ruled over such misery, that fueled the 2016 Brexit vote, particularly in England and Wales

However, in Scotland the crisis has expressed itself in different way. Despite Scotland also suffering from austerity and de-industrialization, Scots overwhelmingly voted to remain. A big part of this was down to the independence referendum in 2014, which sparked a mass movement of workers and youth to campaign and vote for Scotland to become independent. Despite yielding a NO vote, it dramatically changed the political landscape of Scotland and the SNP gained an unprecedented amount of support and still dominates today. The SNP’s vision of an independent Scotland in the EU seems, to many, like a viable alternative to the current dire state of affairs. With figures like Jacob Reese Mogg and Boris Johnson leading the charge for Brexit, whilst personifying the most repulsive aspects of the British establishment, it is easy to understand why many hold this view.

However, despite EU leaders posing as beacons of progress, peace and democracy, their actions in Greece, Catalonia and Eastern Europe prove the opposite. The 2014 YES movement became a mass movement based on escaping the austerity-imposing and warmongering Westminster establishment and creating a new, fairer society. But the desires of this movement cannot be gained whilst abiding by the rules of the capitalist EU. This is why, as an alternative, Marxists call for a Scottish Workers Republic to be part of a United Socialist states of Europe.

The vision of an independent capitalist Scotland was expressed in the Growth Commission drafted by bankers, financiers and top SNP politicians last year. It promised deficit reduction, solidarity payments to Westminster and remaining with the pound sterling for an indefinite time period. Many within the YES movement correctly see this is a betrayal and have campaigned against it. Left wing motions against the Growth commission have gone to the SNP Spring conference. This is traditionally a very bureaucratic event but with these motions could lead to much needed debate and the appearance of clear class divisions in the SNP. In any case, another referendum would make these questions even more difficult to avoid, since it would involve the participation of the masses.

Whilst many workers still trust the SNP leaders, their actions have had a suffocating effect on YES activists and there is a growing layer of more class conscious workers and youth who are finding other expressions. Tens of thousands of school students in Scotland have been joining millions more, all over the world, to take radical strike action against climate change. On the trade union front, schoolteachers and Glasgow council workers have forced concessions from the SNP government through radical campaigns and strike action. Airport workers, Lothian bus drivers and Oil workers are also set to strike. This has and will continue to put pressure on the SNP government and exacerbate class divisions within the YES movement.

South of the border, the Labour party is being transformed from a bureaucratic parliamentary machine for Blairite careerists to a mass expression of class-conscious workers and youth. After years of being dominated by the Blairites, the working class is advancing to regain old territory. It is looking more and more likely that a General Election will happen and Corbyn would likely be Prime Minister. This would be a huge morale and confidence boost for the working class and left wing ideas including in Scotland.

The SNP leaders line up with the Blairites by constantly attacking Corbyn. In return, the Labour Party, under pressure from its right wing, alienate many Scottish workers and youth by refusing to acknowledge the significance and progressive potential of the YES movement or the fact that many SNP rank and file would be open to socialist ideas. Socialists either side of the border must stand against this party tribalism, which acts as a poison to our movement. We must build connections between the overwhelmingly left wing rank and file of both the Labour Party and the YES movement.

A Labour government would have an opportunity to put the SNP MPs on the spot to back Labour’s left wing programme. If Corbyn remained principled on questions such as opposing Trident renewal, defending migrants rights and right for Scotland to hold another referendum, he would leave SNP leaders with no ground to attack him. In power, he could then call on the SNP to back his programme. This either would force SNP MPs to become anti-austerity in practice as well as speech or expose those who don’t.

However, as positive as a Labour government would be, we must be clear that 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 business under workers’ control.

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 get in touch.

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