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.