Brexit, Strikes and Independence: A Marxist View (Issue 24 Editorial)

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

The November/December issue of Revolution, magazine of the International Marxist Tendency in Scotland. Includes articles on the Equal Pay Strike, the EIS dispute, Solidarity with the Sikh community and the YMCA in Leith, Why Marxists Support Independence, reports from the Edinburgh demo and the legacy of James Connolly. We also have articles from the IMT in Brazil, Mexico and Quebec on fighting Bolsonaro, Solidarity with the migrant caravan and fighting racism of the CAQ. Subscribe on the website and if your interested in joining the IMT, get in touch!


“I no longer care how or when we leave the EU, I just want it all over and done with”. According to a Deltapoll survey, 60% of voters in the UK, including REMAIN and LEAVE voters agree with this statement. Whilst the right wing and liberal media will claim such findings are proof of apathy and ignorance among the masses, it’s actually more a reflection of how rotten the government and the whole political establishment is. In reality, no matter what happens with the EU next March, the lives of working class people in this country will not be improved and workers instinctively know this. For over two years the Tory establishment has been trying to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU and their own backbenchers, whilst failing to look “Strong and Stable”. Meanwhile, more and more workers and youth have been showing their powerful desire to fight the whole system.


As this goes into print, Glasgow city council workers are preparing an historic strike on the 23rd and 24th of October, over underpayment of workers in female dominated jobs. Teachers have moved closer to industrial action after the teachers’ union, EIS, rejected the 3% pay rise proposed by COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) and it looks like council workers organised in Unison may follow suit. Oil workers have been striking against anti-social hours and RMT rail workers have refused to do overtime on rest days which the Scotrail bosses are pressuring them to do.


Perhaps most significant was the service sector strike on the 4th of October, where workers in a range of McDonalds, Wetherspoons and TGI Fridays organised by the Unite struck for union recognition, an end to zero-hours contracts, an end to ‘youth rates’ for younger workers and for a £10 per hour minimum wage. This is an area which has been unorganised due to neglect by the majority of union leaders for decades, but where workers are now beginning to realise their own strength. If the struggles of the service, oil, rail and public sector workers were linked and fully coordinated we could have the beginnings of a very powerful trade union movement.


Movements on the political front have been even bigger. On, the 6th of October, estimates of between 80,000 and 120,000 marched through Edinburgh in favour of independence. The slogans, like those of the 2014 movement, were against austerity, war and the Westminster establishment and for a fairer independent Scotland. The week before, thousands of delegates in Liverpool attended the most inspiring Labour Party conference in decades. Speech after speech at this conference showed how the party is transforming from a machine for Blairite careerists into a mass working class movement. This even affected Scottish Labour with arch Blairites Sarwar and Baillie being kicked out the shadow cabinet by Corbyn supporting leader, Richard Leonard.


Despite the huge potential of the newly invigorated Labour Party and the independence movement, there are still illusions amongst such movements which must be tackled, in particular surrounding the EU. The idea of a “people’s vote” has been promoted by the TUC (Trade Union Congress) and some on the left in Scotland sew illusions in Sturgeon’s idea for an independent Scotland in the EU.


People are understandably worried about the effects of Brexit.  The police have warned that they’re preparing for “civil disorder” in response to expected price hikes in basic foods caused by a possible no deal Brexit. Employers are talking about redundancies and even closures. There’s no doubt the Tory government will use Brexit to attack workers rights. Migrant workers, especially those in precarious conditions, are understandably worried about their citizenship. However absolutely none of this can be solved by staying in the EU. Inflation, unemployment, precariousness and xenophobia are part and parcel of the capitalist system and the EU is very guilty of every single one of them. We can only tackle such problems with socialist measures.


Food price hikes must be dealt with by bringing the food industry, including the major supermarkets and manufacturers, into public ownership and workers’ control. Any employer who implements redundancies must be met with expropriation of their assets. Migrants must be given the same rights to live and work here as British workers and all workers must be unionised. If the anger among working class communities can be funnelled into a working class socialist movement then riots and civil disorder can be avoided. Such policies would break EU law and go against the British constitution and socialists must not be afraid of to state this.


When the SNP leaders released their growth commission which effectively promised a capitalist Scotland with all the same problems capitalist Britain has, it was met by wide opposition within the YES movement. The national councils held in Ayr, Edinburgh and Aviemore showed the SNP membership were unhappy with this and generally wanted a much more left wing programme. The Conference in October was kept deliberately tame by the party bureaucracy with the promise to discuss the growth commission at the Spring conference. This debate cannot be held back forever. The mass of independence supporters don’t want the growth commission. If it is forced on them, they will lose faith in the leadership clique around Sturgeon. This could very well lead to a split in the SNP. Without doubt there is a potential for the mass of independence supporters being won over to socialist ideas.


Brexit could trigger a new General Election. It also could trigger an independence referendum. If a general election is called it is not ruled out that Labour will gain more seats in Scotland as part of a UK wide Corbyn led upsurge. However this is by no means certain. Scottish Labour has no mass movement behind it and is much more Blairite dominated than the party down south. More Scottish Labour MPs may just give a future Corbyn government more internal enemies. Corbyn and the Labour left would benefit from reaching out to the Independence supporting left wingers both inside and outside of the SNP. In the event of his election, if he put SNP MPs on the spot to prove their anti austerity credentials by supporting a socialist programme, then this pressure would either push SNP MPs to the left, or, should they refuse to support Corbyn’s programme, expose them in front of working class SNP supporters who would then develop more radical conclusions.

Unfortunately party tribalism gets in the way, as does Labour’s unhealthy determination to cling onto the British Union regardless of the situation. At the conference, Corbyn hinted that he would not oppose another referendum but Scottish leader Richard Leonard explicitly stated he would oppose it. MP, Ian Lavery, on the subject of Scotland said that “Labour must kill off the nationalists and regain that great country”. Despite Labour’s recent mass transformation, the party is still making mistakes which alienate independence supporters. In turn, the SNP leadership use this to attack Labour who they see them a potential threat to their own careers and prestige. Socialists should maintain our criticism of Labour’s unionism and often too timid reformist programme. However we must reject this party tribalism and reach out to Corbyn supporters south of the border who will be our natural ally in upcoming class struggle.


There is a growing revolutionary potential amongst the working classes in Scotland, the rest of these islands and the world over. The role of Marxists isn’t simply to join such movements but to bring the lessons of the history of class struggle, that is the ideas and programme of Marxism, to the movement. We aim to build the forces of Marxism in the Scottish independence movement, the trade unions, the workplaces, campuses, schemes and streets where radicalism is taking place, because only these ideas show clearly the way out of the dead end of capitalism. If you agree with our ideas, do not hesitate to get in touch with us and join the IMT.

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