The SNP and the People’s Vote: A Mistaken Course

by Shaun Morris

After Theresa May’s humiliating defeat in Parliament in January, the SNP have once again lent their voice to calls for another referendum on Britain’s EU membership. The SNP leaders have endorsed the idea of a “People’s Vote” since October of last year, but had remained largely quiet on the issue, until the impasse in Parliament became clear.

A “People’s” Vote?

A new referendum would not break this deadlock, however, nor would it “protect Scotland’s interests” as the SNP leadership claim. The “People’s Vote” is indeed popular among the SNP membership, (though not among UK voters generally) with upwards of 70% saying they are in favour. Like Sturgeon et al, they view another vote on EU membership as a way of reasserting that Scotland is strongly pro-Remain.

What would the reality be, however? Any new referendum would just be re-treading the last. As in 2016, Scottish votes in a UK-wide poll would be outweighed by those in England. The “democratic deficit” that the SNP complain of would once again mean “Scotland’s voice” could be ignored. Though another referendum – in an abstract sense – may now be popular among SNP members, once the concrete proposal becomes clear, its limitations will be obvious.

There is no guarantee the result would be any different. In fact, it is quite unlikely. The hubris of the People’s Vote Campaign leads them to automatically assume “Remain” would coast to victory in a new referendum, due to the special crisis in British politics that the 2016 result unleashed. They arrogantly assume the working class will be enthusiastic to vote for a return to the status-quo that existed before June 2016, as if that was a time of comfort and stability.

Rift in the SNP

Several high-ranking SNP figures have broken ranks with Sturgeon and the rest of the leadership over their calls for another referendum. Perth MP, Pete Wishart, and ex-Cabinet Secretary, Alex Neil MSP, have expressed their concern that, as in 2016, Scotland’s vote would be ignored and say a “People’s Vote” offers no guarantees otherwise.

Moreover, Wishart warned that trying to reverse the 2016 Brexit vote by demanding another vote would set a dangerous precedent for another Scottish Independence Referendum, potentially inviting similar attempts by Unionists as Scotland negotiated its separation from the UK. Arming the ruling class with the excuses to call subsequent referendums until they get the result they desire would restrict even further the ability of the working class to affect the decisions of bourgeois democracy, particularly when the decision is inconvenient for British capitalism.

Alex Salmond and Angus MacNeil MP have also spoken out against Sturgeon’s stance. They argue that the political crisis should not be used by the SNP to try and keep the UK in the EU, but as an opportunity to make the case for independence. Referencing an old Irish Republican saying, Salmond stated: “As far as I am concerned Westminster’s Brexit difficulty should be Scotland’s opportunity.”

In response to calls for the party’s focus to shift back to independence, Sturgeon gave one of her typical non-announcements, promising that new details about another indyref would be coming “soon”. How soon is not clear, and whether the announcement will actually commit the SNP to doing anything concrete remains to be seen. In the meantime, Angus Robertson has established a new polling company for the statistics-obsessed tops of the party to focus their attention on. This will go up like a lead balloon with the wider independence movement, which is growing impatient for progress.

Parliamentary manoeuvres vs class struggle

The SNP MPs were correct to join with Labour to support Jeremy Corbyn’s vote of no confidence in May and her chaotic government. The Tory back benches – who had just weeks before tried to oust May and condemned her as PM – hypocritically stood by her and saved the government from collapse. After this display of temporary, last-ditch unity by the representatives of the ruling class in the face of a General Election, Ian Blackford MP shamelessly extended an olive branch to May on behalf of the SNP. Along with the Lib Dems, SNP MPs indicated they would not support repeated attempts by Labour to force a General Election. This actively sabotages the best chance of kicking out the Tories at a time when they are at their weakest.

In his letter to May, Blackford naively assumes a negotiated solution can be magicked into existence. May has no interest whatsoever in granting concessions to the Scottish government on an independence referendum or the EU exit deal. When she has lost control of the lunatic reactionary base of the Tory party, why would she provoke them further by offering even a cup of tea to the “nats”? When her deal rests entirely on winning over the DUP and rebel Tories, why would she look across the Commons floor to the SNP?

Instead of attempting to negotiate the impossible, the SNP should have solidified their alliance with Corbyn, ignored May’s offer of useless talks and joined Labour’s call for a General Election. Rather than taking this objectively progressive step, however, the SNP leaders insist on making their usual hypocrisy-laden attacks against Corbyn.

Digging their heels in with the “People’s Vote” milieu of MPs, which includes some of the most reactionary Blairites and Lib Dems, the SNP have heckled Corbyn to “get off the fence” about a new referendum, despite the SNP having been on that same fence mere months ago. They call on Corbyn to join forces with them in Parliament to oppose a no-deal Brexit, even though he had already insisted that this was Labour’s position, supporting anti-no-deal amendments to May’s deal. Similarly, the SNP leaders make attacks and spread confusion on Labour’s position on the Customs Union and Single Market.

The rank and file of of the independence movement must  oppose this kind of opportunistic behaviour and be wary of SNP MPs building bridges with reactionary Blairites and Lib Dems in pursuit of a new referendum. Doing so would undermine Corbyn and actively serve the interests of the Tories and the ruling class. It will not go unnoticed by the SNP membership that it is these same “Red Tories” which they joined the SNP to oppose.

Which way forward?

The SNP could work towards a progressive alliance between SNP MPs and Corbyn to force a General Election and remove the Tories from power. The SNP should support a socialist Labour government in Westminster, particularly if it is a minority. In turn, Corbyn should stand on principle and guarantee Scotland’s right to self-determination, with a second independence referendum at the time of Holyrood’s choosing. Only by kicking out the Tories with a mass movement armed with socialist strategy and tactics can a way forward be found for the Scottish working class.

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