The publication of the Ashcroft poll on the 5th of August will be looked back on as a small but significant event in the history of Scottish independence. Indicating majority support for independence — 52% — for the first time in years, and majority support for holding a new referendum, it has boosted the confidence of the Independence movement and confirmed the fears of the ruling class.
Shaun Morris, Glasgow Marxists
As it became evident that Boris Johnson would win the Tory leadership contest and become Prime Minister — a worst-case, nightmare scenario to many in Scotland — warnings about the future of the Union came from across the spectrum of bourgeois politics.
In her last address as PM in Scotland, Theresa May issued a veiled accusation to Boris, that some in her party were “taking the Union for granted” and that a mishandling of Brexit — namely, no-deal, which Boris’ Government views as an immediate prospect — would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Similar warnings came from Gordon Brown, who lashed out at the growth of “divisive nationalism”, and blamed Brexit for fueling the flames. Brown’s comments are a classic statement of ignorance and ill-will from the Labour right-wing, attempting to equate the Scottish independence movement with the xenophobic chauvinism that dominated the Leave campaign. How the chief sloganeer of “British jobs for British workers” thinks he has a leg to stand on is a question even pondered by the BBC News copywriter.
CULMINATION OF CRISIS
Boris’ ascension to Number 10 has shattered the ruling class’ confidence in their own political leaders. A reckless careerist, clownish classicist and sleazy windbag, Boris represents the complete degeneration of the British bourgeoisie and their party — the Conservative and Unionist Party.
The Tory party membership represents the narrowest stratum of the most backward sections of society: the most intransigently reactionary, “little Englander” diehards whose blood boils at the very thought of the EU, migrants, “snowflakes” and the rest. It is these people who have elected Boris as Prime Minister and to whom Boris appeals.
They are single-minded in their pursuit of Brexit, at the expense of all else. 62% of Tory members said they would accept Scotland becoming independent as a price of Brexit. This has no doubt sent a chill up Ruth Davidson’s spine, who was once thought of representing the future of British conservatism.
Having desperately backed the losing horse in the leadership election, Davidson is probably more acutely aware than any other Tory Unionist the danger that Boris and Brexit represent to the unity of the United Kingdom. She has said as much, openly condemning the Government’s de-facto acceptance of no-deal, and while attempting to hold face against the SNP, expressing the sense of doom and inevitability about independence that Boris heralds among her class.
All classes in society can sense that Britain is approaching the culmination of its Brexit crisis. Parliament is paralysed; the Government is haunted by leaks, defections and threats of no-confidence votes. The economy slides towards recession; Britain’s international reputation has lost all veneer of respectability and importance. On the 31st of October, the Prime Minister promises a departure from the EU come what may, ending decades of political and economic integration overnight and casting adrift on the rapidly receding tides of world trade.
In this dire situation all the players are moving into place for another independence referendum which could very possibly result in a victory for Yes.
OPPOSITION FORCES GATHER
Speaking at the Edinburgh Festival, John McDonnell dropped a bombshell on Scottish Labour by announcing that a Labour government would dutifully accept a request for an independence referendum from the Scottish Parliament, and could not oppose such a democratic measure.
Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray angrily attacked McDonnell’s comments, calling it a “thoughtless rant” and cynically labelling himself an “internationalist” opposed to this supposed concession to “divisive nationalism”. This was echoed by Richard Leonard, who more softly rebuked McDonnell and dug his heels in once more as anti-independence and anti-referendum.
Blairite wrecker-in-chief Tom Watson jumped at the chance to give his unsolicited opinion, predictably contradicting McDonnell and preaching his latest gospel against the sins of “division” caused by referenda — though apparently another EU referendum is an exception.
The Labour right-wing’s attacks will fall on deaf ears however, not least because the majority of workers couldn’t care less what they have to say, but because nearly half of Labour members support independence. In July, a YouGov poll revealed around 40% of Labour members support Scottish independence, with almost a third of Scottish members supporting it too.
Following McDonnell’s statements and the weakened position Boris Johnson finds himself in, having his majority in Parliament cut to one, the notion of an alliance between the SNP and Labour has become concrete.
The Government’s collapse approaches as quickly and as certainly as does Brexit. Seizing this moment, Labour and the SNP could coordinate a vote of no confidence in Boris, triggering a general election. It is rumoured in the press that this is precisely what is planned when Parliament returns from recess on the 3rd of September.
This would undoubtedly be a progressive step, putting to the test both Labour and the SNP’s ability to work together in the interests of the working class, to kick the Tories from power and enact their programme of reforms and ending austerity.
Should Labour not win an outright parliamentary majority in the next election, it would also bring sharply into focus the question of whether the SNP will support a Labour minority Government. Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out an outright coalition, but neither she nor Corbyn or McDonnell have rejected the idea of other means of parliamentary support. The Tories rely on their reactionary partners the DUP to govern, so why should not Labour invite the support of the SNP?
John McDonnell has even entertained this idea, stating that it would be a test of the SNP’s progressiveness. This is correct, but Labour cannot so easily discard the SNP if they do not meet all of Labour’s demands. It is obvious that the price of such an alliance would be a guarantee to the SNP that another independence referendum could be held at a time of the Scottish Parliament’s choice.
This demand would be a test of Labour. It would require Corbyn, McDonnell and Leonard to recognise the resurgence of the national question in Scotland for what it is; not an outgrowth of inward-looking nationalism, but the opposite, an expression of rising class struggle that is internationalist to the core; to view the independence movement not as an enemy of a socialist Labour government, but an ally.
Moreover, it is not Labour’s leaders who must hold the SNP to their word on being progressive, but the mass rank-and-file of the SNP and the wider movement itself.
Despite tabling the referendum bill, which was the first truly concrete step the SNP leaders have taken towards a new referendum, they still see challenges over when to call one. SNP councillor Chris McEleny and Angus MacNeil MP have attempted to propose an amendment to the SNP’s conference in October committing the party to an independence referendum in October 2020. This has been rebuffed for now, but there is still the likelihood of an explosive debate on the issue, on a higher level than even the Growth Commission and currency debates.
This could spell an open split between the rank-and-file and the leadership, superficially about the strategy of the movement but really signifying a division along class lines. It would likely be temporarily papered over during a general election, but would carry on into 2020.
NEW PHASE OF CLASS STRUGGLE
For millions of people across Britain who hope for fundamental change, either through an independence referendum or the election of a Labour government, it seems their moment is approaching.
The ruling class has kicked the can along until they have run out of road. Compromises and delays can only prolong the inevitable, and the Prime Minister spins himself as a man of no compromise, no delay.
What we can say for certain is that Britain is preparing to enter a new phase of class struggle; one of mass upheavals, sharp and sudden changes and churning up all manner of political questions. For Marxists, the chief question among this is the question of revolution — not just in Scotland and Britain, but across the world.