Pandemic shows the Growth Commission is Dead. Fight for a Scottish Workers’ Republic

Almost six years have passed since the Scottish independence referendum, and over this time, the UK has been ruled by a perpetual Tory government. This stasis has led to a resurgence of the independence campaign. It is important to analyse what such an independent Scotland would look like in our current crisis.

By Chris Samson, IMT Edinburgh

It has been almost two years since the Growth Commission Report was published, and with the pandemic upon us, the short-sightedness of the report is on display for all to see. One would expect that a Scotland free from the political mire of Westminster would be able to allocate its resources adequately in response to a crisis, but those with a keen eye can see that the leadership of the independence campaign did not share this aspiration.

Austerity and Adversity

Supporters of the report will speak wonders of their hopes to level the spending deficit, which has only increased in Scotland since the referendum. However, the new independent nation wouldn’t be taking ownership and control of the main levers of the economy. In fact, even the idea of a corporation tax is rejected . There is one expected solution to this dissonance: austerity and cuts.

A weakened public sector prior to our current crisis would be disastrous for the infant nation. The preparation required for Covid-19 is impossible to quantify, but the growth commission lacked the foresight to add any wiggle room for an immediate crisis. The pipe dream of financial independence would be dashed on the kerbside in a storm of frantic borrowing in order to claw back control against the virus.

However, this does not dismiss the case for an independent Scotland. A socialist programme of nationalisation and democratically planned economy could be built up, strengthening our health service and infrastructure, even over the course of a few years, providing this new worker’s republic were not to remain isolated but instead to be a stepping stone to wider revolution.

Vulnerable workers in a capitalist economy

Over the last couple of months, we have seen the largest disaster to hit the working class in living memory. Hysteria has set in, and the capitalists have reacted in the only way they know how. Mass sackings on one side, and unsanitary working conditions on the other, workers are being victimised en-masse. The inaction of the Tory government has shown the UK the true face of British capitalism. In time this will likely strengthen the case of independence as a future alternative.

However, independence under capitalism would not be an alternative. If Scotland had adopted a Scandinavian model of capitalism, which was already impossible to implement (as we analysed in more detail here), this would not have protected workers from unemployment, reductions in income and job insecurity. The projected unemployment rate for New Zealand (an example country in the report) has spiked to 13%. While the response of some other countries like Denmark’s could stem the bleeding to a limited extent, such an approach would be impossible in a fledgling capitalist Scotland in the current crisis. The already strained public spending on welfare would be impossible to maintain with this violent crisis, leading inevitably to greater financial dependence on the UK.

Once again, we must turn to a socialist alternative, one which would have the foresight to adequately tackle the current crisis, and in turn minimise the effect on workers. Shortages of PPE and aid would not materialise, and so working conditions of our most vulnerable front-line workers would be more bearable. Not only this, but surplus materials vital for combating the virus could be exported to vulnerable regions of the world. Of course, a socialist Scotland would be negatively impacted, as anywhere would be by the pandemic, but with the correct preparations and economic planning the mass unemployment, big death rate and economic disaster would not transpire. With the banks, financial institutions, corporations and land nationalised under workers control, resources could be distributed fairly. The working day could be shortened without loss of pay, work could be shared more evenly. Unemployment would be unknown to socialism.

Exploitation, Extortion and Expropriation

The Growth Commission Report itself states that Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe resource-wise. But under capitalism there are many resource rich nations that are desperately poor, because the multinational corporations that dominate the market exploit them. The Growth Commission advocates for this wealth to be used to spur development of business centres in Scotland in order to drive innovation and investment. This is a manipulation of the truth. Scotland’s resources are almost entirely controlled by British and foreign corporations and these companies would retain their control over these resources. 

These issues were explored by the Scottish-born Marxist James Connolly, who wrote about the independence movement in Ireland: “If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization 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”.

This is exactly what is observed in the smaller European economies today. An intrinsic binding of their economies to their larger neighbours: Irish wealth, created by the Irish working class, often ends up in the hands of a big British or European company, rather than being democratically controlled to meet the needs of society. 

For these reasons, a nationalised, democratically planned economy is the only way to guarantee Scotland’s labour and resources are converted into greater living conditions for Scottish workers.

The growth commission has proven itself to be redundant and undeserving of the mass movement of workers and youth who fueled the independence movement. This is why the report has been unpopular, including among SNP members. When the next opportunity for independence arises we must ensure  it is under the banner for a Scottish workers’ Republic as a stepping stone to an international socialist revolution. We appeal to independence supporters to join the International Marxist Tendency to support this goal.