Indyref 2023: Where are the SNP going with this?

— Shaun Morris, Glasgow

Several months from Nicola Sturgeon’s bold pronouncement that there will be an independence referendum next year, we are still waiting for the Scottish Government to make any kind of move towards making that a fact.

As predicted, instead of organising any kind of mobilisation of the independence movement or launching a campaign, the Scottish Government has begun to release a series of ‘Building a New Scotland’ reports. These, of course, have had no impact whatsoever. The independence campaign is still dormant, for all intents and purposes.

The details of the first report, ‘Independence in the modern world’ are hardly worth discussing. It compares the ‘models’ of capitalism in a handful of European countries versus the United Kingdom, splitting hairs over slight differences in tax policies, welfare systems and economic approaches. The legendary – or mythical – ‘Nordic model’ even makes a reappearance.

This is drawn together in a startlingly weak argument, stating that the conclusion that Scotland would be better off independent doesn’t necessarily follow from these comparisons, but maybe it could. Thrown in is also plenty of hokey neoliberal jargon about ‘social solidarity’ and ‘economic dynamism’.

Nothing new is being presented, nor should we expect any new arguments in the rest of the series. The general approach is to just re-hash the 2014 white paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ and the 2018 Sustainable Growth Commission Report.

While the SNP leaders still insist that there will be a referendum next year, the reality is that this promise will be dropped in about a month’s time. In early October, the UK Supreme Court will have a hearing on the question of whether Holyrood has the power to hold an independence vote.

It is expected that the Court will reject the Scottish Government’s appeals and reaffirm that the only route to a legal referendum is via a Section 30 order – ie, with Westminster’s express permission. Sturgeon and the SNP tops are hoping that this will provoke democratic outrage in Scotland and boost support for independence.

This will likely be the case, but if this anger is not channelled in a constructive direction then it will quickly dissipate. It would not be the first time that the SNP wasted an opportunity to seize on rising independence feeling to make a concrete step forward.

The SNP has already hedged itself against this outcome, however, by touting the ‘de facto referendum’ at the next Westminster General Election. Nobody knows what margin of victory is required in this vote for independence to move any closer, but even if they don’t get it the SNP will still be the winner.

This had led some commentators to suggest that the current scheme is not about achieving independence at all, but merely an exit strategy for Nicola Sturgeon. She has already begun to signal to press pundits that she is nearing retirement from the First Minister’s office and SNP leader. If the SNP fails to put Scotland on the path to independence with its current strategy (most likely), Sturgeon can at least resign saying she ‘did her best’ and pass the torch to someone else.

There is no doubt some truth to this argument, but the idea that the October 2023 plan is all a contrivance to lay the basis for Sturgeon’s glowing political obituary is overly deterministic.

The SNP leaders are bourgeois nationalists, caught up in their split loyalties to their nationalist cause and their class compatriots among the British capitalists – the majority of whom, even in Scotland, oppose independence. Bigger forces are at play than simply the SNP leadership clique’s concerns for Sturgeon’s legacy as longest-serving First Minister.

The key problem here is not so much the SNP’s connivance, as it is their impotence to achieve anything on the basis of legalistic manoeuvres and moralistic appeals to the Tories in Westminster. The deck is stacked against them in this regard, but they keep playing in hopes that the dealer goes bust. They seem to have forgotten that the house always wins.

It is only a matter of time before some SNP mandarins decide that making bold pronouncements about independence from Bute House is resulting in diminishing returns for the party, and indy talk is best left to the party faithful at conference fringe events.

Former Yes Scotland strategist Stephen Noon made minor waves recently by advising Sturgeon to “compromise” on independence: abandon the ‘divisive’ idea, instead work to strengthen Scotland’s powers within the UK and propose something that Unionists can agree to. In his words, getting “not 100%, but 90%” of what they want. Notably, Noon made these comments after spending time training to be a Priest with some Canadian Jesuits, who remarked to him the horrid ‘divisiveness’ of Quebec nationalism.

There are not too many comparisons between the national question in Quebec and in Scotland, but some readers may recall that it was a part of the zeitgeist in 2014. It may still be instructive, in how the Quebec nationalist movement suffered defeat in two referenda, was unable to achieve a third and now has effectively abandoned the idea. Instead, the focus has shifted to Quebec’s autonomy within Canada, and the reactionary nature of bourgeois nationalism has been fully unleashed by the right-wing CAQ party.

Could Scottish nationalism and the SNP go through a similar evolution post-Sturgeon? That is still a few years in the future, so time will tell.

All this may seem pessimistic, but at Revolution Scotland we have no cause for pessimism. For us, the importance of the independence movement is the decisive role the working class plays in it. For many workers in Scotland, it remains an ideal and a pragmatic choice to rid themselves of Tory rule and the stinking decay of Westminster.

The working class is definitely not asleep, but beginning to stir. The waves of strike action this summer and the building anger against the capitalist cost-of-living crisis show what titanic changes in the situation are brewing. The challenge now is to unite on a class basis, place no trust in the bourgeois leaders, and put forward a programme of real struggle and socialist revolution.

We believe the foundation of that programme is encapsulated in the slogan: For a Scottish Workers Republic and World Socialist Revolution!