One Year on Since the Referendum

Amy Dean

As we reach the first anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum of September 2014 it is important to reflect on the events of the referendum itself, what has happened over the past year and how we can move forward.

The referendum was undoubtedly a political earthquake in Scotland and more broadly Britain. With an 85% turnout the referendum saw the biggest participation at any vote in Britain since the introduction of universal suffrage; and this turnout was reflective of the thousands of people brought into politics for the first time. Particularly in the summer just weeks prior to the vote itself “Yes” stalls were to be seen on streets across towns in Scotland. Just days before Scotland went to the polls Glasgow city centre was filled with “Yes” rallies made up of thousands of workers and youth looking to fundamentally change society.

For the first time many people felt they were taking part in a politics that actually mattered, something that could actually make a difference to their lives. This was reflected in voting patterns which saw the youngest group – 16 and 17 year olds who were allowed to vote for the first time – having by far the largest percentage of “Yes” voters at 71%. The four council areas that had a majority “Yes” vote – Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire and Dundee – are also traditionally industrialised areas that have since suffered from de-industrialisation and accompanying levels of high unemployment and poverty. It should also be noted that all of these areas were at one time Labour strongholds, and this was the case up until very recently for all apart from Dundee.

Overall 45% of people voted in favour of independence. The sigh of relief from the British establishment was audible as their worst fears failed to materialise. Whilst 45%-55% may sound like a fairly large margin, it is important to analyse the context of the referendum. Up until the summer months of 2014 the “No” vote was comfortably ahead, in the vast majority of polls “Yes” failed to get above 37% until August 2014. It is therefore in some ways unsurprising that up until summer 2014 the Better Together campaign seemed to be doing relatively little; only upon “Yes” creeping up in the polls – and particularly after the YouGov poll showing “Yes” ahead in early September – did (mostly) Labour MPs begin to descend upon Scotland.

In addition to “No” being ahead for such a long time, we should also consider the power of the British establishment and the fear mongering it carried out. Whilst Better Together seemed fairly thin on the ground, the activity it did engage in seemed to be purely based around negativity and playing on anxieties around an independent Scotland. Primary points included scares around pensions, job cuts, increasing prices, currency and the finite supply of North Sea oil. This fear mongering was continually churned out by the majority of the bourgeois press, which backed the Better Together campaign.

How then did the “Yes” vote pull ahead, especially against this backdrop? Fundamentally the impact of the 2008 economic crisis and the resulting austerity cannot be underestimated. Since 2008 internationally the working class has experienced capitalism at the sharp end with growing unemployment, poverty and inequality. This has only been compounded with the bankers, who played the leading role in the crisis, having been rewarded with growing bonuses whilst the working class have been expected to shoulder the crisis with huge cuts to public services and have experienced the longest fall in real wages since the 19th century. In response to this there has been seething frustration and anger amongst workers and young people that for a long time failed to fully show itself in Britain. Through the referendum this frustration found an avenue to express itself. The “Yes” campaign, as opposed to Better Together, put emphasis on change and a fairer more social democratic society with slogans such as “Bairns not Bombs” and “NHYes”. The difference can particularly be seen in the second debate between Alex Salmond and Alastair Darling on 25th August 2014 (after which the spike for “Yes” in the polls began). Whereas Darling continued the standard Better Together fear mongering, Salmond placed his emphasis on an independent Scotland being opposed to the austerity and foodbanks of ConDem Britain.

In the year since the referendum this sense of frustration and need for change has continued to be expressed in Scotland. The general election of May was of course a huge part of this, indeed it can be seen as a tremor coming from the referendum. The Labour Party had been on something of a downward trajectory in Scotland since the 2007 Holyrood election which saw the SNP take power for the first time (this was then consolidated into a majority in 2011). This can largely be related to their lacklustre policies such as “carry a knife, go to jail” whereas the SNP had by this point moved to a more social democratic position with their lead policies being ending prescription charges and tuition fees for Scottish university students. However, at general election level the Labour party had maintained their dominance with 41 seats out of 59 in 2010, compared to 6 for the SNP.

In 2015 this of course all changed. The huge popularity of the SNP was obvious after the referendum as they climbed to over 100,000 members in a country with a population 5,000,000. Meanwhile Labour were more reviled than ever before for the part they had played in the Better Together campaign. Whilst the ever popular Nicola Sturgeon took over the SNP leadership the Labour Party turned to arch Blairite Jim Murphy to solve their woes. Going into the election Sturgeon chose not to emphasise independence but put her party forward as the anti-austerity option – this proved very popular, to the extent that after the first televised leaders’ debate “can I vote SNP in England” became one of the top google searches. As opposed to this Labour carried a mish-mash of policies with progressive ideas such as a non-dom tax and opposing zero hour contracts being accompanied by stern warnings that the party would continue the austerity proposed by the Tories as this was the only option.

Again there was huge media fear mongering around the SNP and their attempt to break up the union. Miliband was repeatedly questioned over whether he would consider coalition with the nationalists. Eventually he made the scandalous move of saying that he would rather let the Tories govern than go into coalition with the SNP due to the importance he placed on the union.
It is fair to say that everyone (except Jim Murphy who said he would not lose a single seat to the SNP) expected Labour to lose and the SNP to gain, but the scale of defeat was hard to imagine. Labour were left with just 1 seat, equal with the Tories and Lib Dems, whilst the SNP won 56. Key party figures including Murphy himself and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander lost their seats. Swings from Labour to SNP of over 20% were the norm whilst the largest was 39.3% in Glasgow North East. For the first time since 1906 Glasgow was left with no Labour MPs. This can be seen as a rejection of the Labour Party that had gotten into bed with the Tories for the Better Together campaign and for years taken Scottish votes for granted whilst giving little back to the electorate.

Since the election there have been yet more events in Scotland. Mhairi Black’s maiden speech with its references to Tony Benn, rejection of Tory austerity and understanding of why people have turned towards the SNP as an alternative has been viewed online over 10 million times. The SNP have voted against the Tory budget whilst the majority of Labour MPs only abstained. The Scottish Labour Party have had another leadership election with Jim Murphy eventually being forced to go despite his best efforts. Kezia Dugdale as new leader does not particularly suggest a new direction – she was Murphy’s deputy and has been firmly to the centre of the party – however the direction of the UK Labour Party and the possible election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader may impact.

On a broader scale the Jeremy Corbyn Labour leadership campaign is obviously of extreme importance to wider British politics. Hundreds of thousands of people have been brought into the Labour Party and indeed into politics – over 105,000 people have joined since the election and nearly 113,000 have registered as supporters – the majority in order to vote for Corbyn. As with Yes in the referendum many are seeing Corbyn with his anti-austerity, progressive, left politics as a chance for change. Meetings up and down the country have seen over 1000 attendees, with many not able to get into meeting rooms. This is yet another expression of the frustrations in society. In Scotland meetings were also well attended though membership figures have not increased at quite the same rate with a reported 3400 members having joined since the general election and 3300 having registered as supporters. This can perhaps be put down to the SNP currently occupying an anti-austerity position and the right-wing elements of the Labour Parliamentary Party – including those that are attempting to purge new members and the majority who failed to vote against the Tory budget.

Internationally the success of PODEMOS and other left parties at Spanish local elections has shown the frustration of workers and youth to be of a global nature. This was also reflected in the election of Syriza in Greece back in January. Elected on an anti-austerity programme Tsipras and co quickly stepped back from their programme and continued with major elements of the austerity demanded by the troika of lenders – the IMF, European Central Bank and the EU. However in the summer Greek exit from the Euro threatened as Syriza appeared to be unwilling to accept the austerity measures demanded from the Troika. In early July they were given a mandate to reject these measures by the Greek people through a referendum. In something of an incredible move, just days after the referendum took place, Tsipras signed virtually the same deal – a worse one, in fact. Since then he has stood down as Prime Minister, the left section of SYRIZA has split and new elections will take place this month.

The situation in Britain and internationally shows that the sentiments, frustrations and desire for change in Scotland are in line with those being expressed internationally. However, the situation in Greece is also cause for warning. Despite being elected on a left programme Syriza continued to carry out austerity and became stooges to the Troika. This is precisely because they were unwilling to break with capitalism and austerity is what is demanded by the bourgeoisie and its crisis. Capitalism is a system built on exploitation and convulsed by crises, the current one being the biggest since the 1930s.

You cannot control what you don’t own. Unlike the exceptional period of the post-war boom this is not one in which serious reforms can be won from the capitalists. In order for the change that was demanded in the referendum to be carried out we cannot rely on the SNP. The SNP is a party of contradiction. Whilst claiming to be anti-austerity at the general election it was carrying out austerity at local authority level, with a notable case being cuts to schools and hospitals in Dundee, and cuts to colleges have also been carried out by the Scottish Government. Along with expressions of fairness and social democracy, the SNP independence plan also included a cut in corporation tax.

For true change we need socialism – a fundamental break with capitalism and a taking of the major parts of the economy into the hands of workers. This way instead of being ran for profit they could be run for the good of society – there is plenty of money in the system, the problem is one of exploitation and distribution. As we have seen the sentiments in Scotland are reflective of the global working class and a socialist Scotland would be too isolated to work on its own. Therefore we must look to international solidarity with the global working class and towards a socialist world.

Taking The Carmichael

The leaked memorandum detailing Nicola Sturgeon’s supposed desire for David Cameron to continue as Prime Minister was one of the more high profile failed attempts of other parties to dent the SNP’s general election landslide. At the time of the leak in April the story gained a fairly high level of coverage. Though, as the SNP were the only party to even pay lip service to fully ending Tory austerity it seemed to make no difference to the final result as the SNP won an unbelievable 56 of the 59 Scottish seats. There was much speculation around who was behind the leak with the name of Liberal Democrat MP and Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, featuring heavily.

At the time Carmichael denied any knowledge of the leaked memorandum but it has since emerged that he was behind it. Since this was revealed at the end of May there have been a plethora of calls for Carmichael to stand down from his position as MP for Orkney and Shetland. It was reported on 9th June that a campaign raising money to stage a legal campaign against Carmichael in order to force his resignation has reached its £60,000 target.

The Liberal Democrat Party have stood by Carmichael who represents 1/8th of their total MPs and their only MP in Scotland. Statements have been made to the tune that Carmichael deserves a “second chance” and he has attempted to defend himself by arguing that he had no reason to believe that the contents of the memorandum were not true. Both Sturgeon and the ambassador involved in the leaked conversation have denied that she made any statement in support of Cameron, even the memo itself had the disclaimer that the words attributed to Sturgeon may have been “lost in translation”. It is clear that Carmichael is desperately trying to cling to his political career and claim some integrity when his deceit has already been revealed. For the Liberal Democrats they are attempting to cling to one of their few MPs in the aftermath of their atrocious electoral showing. If a by-election were to take place it would almost certainly go to the SNP – Carmichael only beat the SNP candidate in May by around 900 votes. However it is unclear if Carmichael will be able to retain his seat what with the afore mentioned crowd funded campaign along with the formal inquiry launched by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner at the beginning of June.

Carmichael’s plight points to the ineptitude and impotence of his political party and broader centre ground politics. Whilst Clegg tried to save his party with a “radical centre” slogan during the general election campaign, the past five years carrying out the Tories bidding only showed voters the true colours of the Liberal Democrat party and their inability to offer an alternative. This can be a key message taken from the general election campaign in Scotland where the Liberal Democrats and more prominently Labour appeared to fail to grasp that the SNP’s popularity sprung from their rhetoric around change and anti-austerity message. With no response to this and wedded to “responsible cuts” they resorted to scare-mongering and snipes (though perhaps not all on the same scale as Carmichael). Even in the aftermath of the election we have seen a failure to grasp that the SNP represented the popularity of anti-austerity as the heads of the Labour Party have lurched to the right with 5 out of 6 (Jeremy Corbyn as an honourable exception) leadership candidates speaking constantly of aspiration, supporting business and continuing cuts.

Carmichael’s actions come from a weary centre ground politics that has no response to the global crisis of capitalism other than to place it on the shoulders of the working class and can only attempt to snipe at the SNP. In actual fact there are plenty of criticisms to be made of the SNP – especially the cuts they are carrying out at local and Holyrood level whilst claiming to be an anti-austerity party. As socialists we condemn the petty intrigue representative of grey centre-ground politicians and instead look to show that to carry out the demands of ending austerity and creating a fairer, more democratic society we need revolutionary change and to take the copious wealth in Britain into the hands of the money through workers’ control of the banks and big business.

Cracks in Nationalist Movement: Socialism the Way Forward

Aiden O’Rourke

Too wee, too poor, too stupid. This was the way in which the Better Together campaign attempted to paint the masses in Scotland during the independence referendum. It’s common knowledge that the SNP dominated the Yes campaign leadership and that at the time it rightly railed against the reactionary narrative that the Better Together campaign and its faithful capitalist mass media tried so desperately to portray. With this in mind and in light of the recent scandals which have plagued the nationalist party, albeit played up by an unashamedly anti-nationalist press, it’s only too easy to appreciate the irony in the shoe now being on the other foot. The ongoing controversy ranges from the privatisation of essential services, such as Scot Rail and most recently the privatisation of Business Stream – a publicly owned subsidiary of Scottish Water; to the granting of £150,000 worth of state aid to the highly profitable ‘T in the Park’ music festival in order to help relocate to a new site.

These are just a couple of brief examples and there will be many more, genuine in some cases and no doubt manufactured in many others, but the result is that it is now the nationalists who decry any attempt at critical thought from those who either voted yes in the referendum or who have since joined many hundreds of thousands of others in Scotland in ‘lending their vote’ to the SNP. We must appreciate that the tens of thousands of people who joined the nationalists immediately after the referendum, many of whom are self-declared socialists, by and large did so for genuine left reasons. It is logical that, having been inspired into action by the political whirlwind of the referendum, they should seek to get involved with the party that on the surface at least is leading the charge against austerity and the Eton boys club down in Westminster. Extreme caution is imperative though. Within the confines of the capitalist, bourgeois parliamentary system, there are immense pressures on even the most well-meaning of nationalists to follow New Labour down the parliamentary rabbit hole to opportunism and corruption. The utter change Mr Salmond once declared is far from realised in practice. That’s where Socialism comes in.

As Marxists, we of course shouldn’t be surprised at the current situation. We would expect that what could be best described as a bit of a political headache bordering on crisis for the SNP would of course happen to any other governing bourgeois party working within the constraints of a bourgeois parliamentary system. It’s also particularly important to note that for the nationalists to be enjoying the levels of support they currently do is unprecedented for a Scottish government of eight years, especially one as supposedly powerless as the SNP have consistently claimed to be.

We can hardly expect the left wing of the bourgeoisie to be clamouring for revolutionary socialism or socialist policies any time soon. However the lip service which the nationalists have paid to Socialism together with the appropriation of socialist language and terminology has undoubtedly tapped into a wider anti-establishment mood. This has bolstered their support – in spite of carrying out Tory cuts at Holyrood and council level. It mustn’t be forgotten that despite the unprecedented swelling of their ranks, that despite being a party in which a majority are now either socialists outright or to some extent sympathetic; the SNP are not, have not and will not be a mass socialist party. They are a party based on cross-class interests, a Scotland for all; simultaneously claiming the legacy of ‘Old Labour’ whilst taking the money of Brian Souter.

Take away the national question, toss in a bit of ‘Corbynmania’, and suddenly things aren’t so straightforward. Why? Well, it’s because the SNP’s leftward shift, other than being easy given the vacuum Blair’s monstrous betrayals created, was not motivated out of any feelings of sentimentality. It was a cold and calculated political decision which has clearly paid off for the given their fortunes in the elections. Put to the test though, the reformist rhetoric of social justice and anti-austerity hasn’t prevented the privatisation of vital public services on their watch. It’s not enough to simply blame all of our woes and troubles on Westminster and demand an independent Scotland. As it currently stands, without a revolutionary socialist party in place to guide the masses, the only result of an independent Scotland will be a country similar to that of Ireland. Yes, they may have ‘national pride’, but in no way, shape or form are they any closer to Socialism as a result. For all its merits, Ireland now is as bourgeois as any other advanced western capitalist country.

The famous words of Easter Rising leader and Revolutionary Socialist James Connolly still apply today to Scotland and indeed Ireland after a century or so since they were first uttered,

“If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.”

​Independence alone is not enough. The starting point for the complete transformation of the economy and society must be along socialist lines, here in Scotland, and spreading outward to our comrades across Britain, Europe and globally.