New Challenges for YES Movement and SNP

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

“With the rise of Corbyn, the SNP government needed to move to the left. Given the actual rise of a Frankenstein Tory right in Scotland, we were hardly risking anything. Besides, this morning we might have been celebrating a Corbyn government backed by the votes of nearly 59 SNP MPs.”

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What the General Election results mean for Scotland


The Tory Party has been humiliated. They’ve gone from having an overall majority to having to lean on the DUP. Corbyn is the hero of the hour having lead a campaign that inspired millions to vote and lead tens of thousands into political activity. The SNP still dominate Scotland by far but have taken a major kick. Key figures such as Alec Salmond and Angus Robertson have lost their seats. They’ve lost all their borders seats and much of the Highlands to Tories. In the central belt they’ve also lost seats to 6 seats to Labour who now have 7. They’ve even lost 2 seats to the Lib Dems.

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SNP Spring Conference: Membership Moving Left

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

The SNP’s 2017 spring conference came the same week as Sturgeon announced plans for a second referendum. This of course gave the event its main emphasis and themed how it was reported on by the mainstream press. However other factors were at play at this conference. Under the surface, the class contradictions that characterize the party were very present. A look at the conference can give us a clue into how Scotland’s very turbulent future will pan out.

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Sturgeon’s call for IndyRef2 sparks political storm

by Amy Dean

Nicola Sturgeon this week finally delivered the speech that had seemed almost inevitable ever since the Brexit vote in June last year. By announcing her intention to seek a second independence referendum, Sturgeon has started a political storm that will likely rage on – at the very least – until any referendum takes place. Continue reading Sturgeon’s call for IndyRef2 sparks political storm

Fight Trump! Fight Capitalism!

Later this month Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. His racism and misogyny during his candidacy have already made him a feared and unpopular figure across much of the world. Of course, this is nothing particularly new in Scotland where Trump and his golf courses have been causing controversy for a number of years.
Trump bought the land for his first golf course in Aberdeenshire back in 2005. It did not open till 2012 due to several objections from the local community surrounding environmental impact and its affecting their quality of life. In fact the plan required the support of the SNP government in 2007 in order to go ahead.
Since then relations between Trump and the SNP have somewhat soured. Trump and Salmond’s war of words on twitter culminated in Trump stating that Salmond “may be the dumbest leader of the free world”. He has also had his GlobalScot business ambassador status removed by present First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Where was all the love lost? Primarily through the issue of wind farms. Plans to extend the golf course in Aberdeen were halted by a proposed wind farm in the vicinity of the area. Trump attempted to prevent the wind farm – which he felt would be an eyesore – from being built through a number of legal actions, culminating in taking his case to the UK Supreme Court. He was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, this has not stopped him from buying another Scottish golf course.
Trump’s complete lack of regard for the importance of the environment and wishes of local people have been shown in his comments around the legal challenge and also his responses to questions at a Holyrood inquiry. He has repeatedly ignored the importance of reducing CO2 emissions, describing targets as “phoney” and “absolutely ridiculous”. Rather than appreciating the importance of maintaining the environment he has argued that business and profit making are what matter, stating that wind farms will only succeed in bringing down Scotland’s economy.
Trump’s position on wind farms is hardly surprising given he has previously referred to climate change as a “hoax” and currently plans to reduce funding for climate research. As socialists we understand the link between rising CO2 emissions and capitalism. Profit motivated big business owners like Donald Trump are simply more interested in their money in the bank than the future of the environment. It is key that we understand that it is through socialism and planning the economy for the needs of all rather than the short-term profits of the few that we can overcome the threat of climate change.
Many were justifiably angry and upset when Trump came to power, but now is not the time to mourn but to organise. Trump’s victory was based on the failure of lesser-evil liberalism, which has been increasingly exposed by the global financial crisis. Now is the time to fight back with socialist answers, as has already been shown in protests across America. Here in Scotland we can help through solidarity protests, including protesting Trump’s business ventures and anti-environmentalism here.

SNP: You cannot Please Two Masters

When voters in Scotland abandoned the Labour Party, it looked like things could not get any worse for Scottish Labour. However, nearly 20 months after the disastrous General Election, where the party was nearly wiped out North of the Border, Labour continues to decline in Scotland.
The direction and the leadership of the party have been vocally criticised also by its most crucial financial backers, namely trade union leaders. Many trade union members are SNP voters and had previously been YES voters at the Independence Referendum, but their leaders’ criticism of the LP is a rather novel development. Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, went as far as praising the SNP and suggested that the party led by Sturgeon could be the key to getting Labour into government in Westminster. Are Scottish Trade Unions about to desert Scottish Labour and affiliate to the SNP? Will this tactic pay off? Is the SNP able to pander to the interest of both big business and trade unions?
In recent weeks, the Leadership of Scottish Labour has been criticised by some of its most important donors – trade union leaders. The General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, claimed that Kezia Dugdale had done a disservice to the party by openly backing Owen Smith as Labour leader during last summer’s leadership elections. Her Welsh counterpart – Carwyn Jones – had stayed neutral despite potentially having a good reason to back Owen Smith, who is a Welsh MP. McCluskey went further and claimed that the SNP could be the key to getting Labour into power after the next general election.
Gary Smith, the leader of GMB in Scotland, has been consistently critical of Kezia Dugdale. He defined Scottish Labour as a “middle class protest party” far from the issues of working class people. Earlier on this year the union, which is affiliated to Labour, did not carry out a consultation with its members in Scotland over which candidate to back in the party’s leadership contest, due to the perceived irrelevance of Scottish Labour.
These criticisms do not come out of the blue and are a consequence of a shifting Scottish landscape, where the Labour party is not able to retain the support of its most traditional backers.
The Scottish Trade Union Council (STUC) leader addressed the SNP conference in Aberdeen in 2015 . This was watershed event, in that it was the first time that the ‘leader’ of the trade union movement was invited to address the SNP conference. In turn, Nicola Sturgeon spoke at the STUC congress last year, and used her speech to stress her commitment to workers’ right and the positive influence the ‘critical friends’ in the unions had on her party’s policies.
Although the STUC is not affiliated to the Labour Party, around 10 of its constituent unions are, and these recent developments may suggest that some of the big trade unions could reaffiliate to the SNP. At the rank-and-file level, the shift has already taken place. The SNP Trade Unions Group has over 15,000 members according to the information the group itself provides. This is about the same size as the whole membership of Scottish Labour, which recent estimates place at 18,000.
Many union members voted YES in the Independence Referendum and gave their support to the SNP in the following year’s general elections. SNP Socialists, a new left-wing group within the party, was set up in 2016 and generated some interest. Although its meetings are not public, this confirms a shift in the membership of the SNP, which has been joined by many left-wing voters.
This influx of left-wing and trade union forces poses an existential question to the SNP. So far, and with far more limited powers, the SNP tried to appease to both big business and workers with their vision for a low-tax, high-earning independent Scotland. This has won them the trust of both business and working people, but anyone versed in the ideas of Marx knows this honeymoon period cannot last forever. The first cracks have started to appear. The interests of workers and capital are inherently opposed, and any party trying to champion both causes will only last in power as long as it manages to delay answering the fundamental questions of economics. The SNP has so far done brilliantly, focusing on the two constitutional questions, but they can only put off the question of austerity, privatisation and workers rights for so long.
Since the referendum, new powers have been given to Holyrood, but the executive has been very careful in using them as little as possible. Although Holyrood was given new responsibilities regarding the administration of 11 benefits, the government decided to hand the new powers back to the DWP until 2020. The Scottish Government also gained new tax powers but again used as little as possible of them, and their greatest progressive measure was that of failing to implement a Tory tax cut for the highest earners.
As long as the party leadership wants to appeal to big business, its claim to be a party for Scottish workers will necessarily remain fictitious and awaits exposure. If anything, this influx of socialists and trade unionists will expose the bourgeois nature of the SNP leadership sooner, and possibly lead to a left-right split in the party.

SNP Draft Budget Hides Austerity

The presentation of the draft budget for the Scottish Government is normally not a particularly interesting event, but the draft for 2017-2018 draws attention due to the further devolution of tax and welfare powers to Scotland this year.
The ambitious use of these new powers to change Scotland for the better is not the story of finance secretary Derek Mackay’s announcement, however. Former Alex Salmond advisor, Alex Bell, derided the Scottish Government as “cowards” for the lack of wealth-redistributing reforms in the draft budget. Mackay claims that the budget will mean more money coming from taxes to local services, but he is attempting to pull the wool over our eyes.
Mackay claims an “extra” £79m is to be raised through the use of the Scottish Governments new powers. The reality of this is that with powers over income tax, he will not be raising the tax threshold on the 40p rate as the Tories have done for the rest of the UK. Not losing that £79m through a tax cut could hardly be described as “extra” revenue.
Another piece of creative accounting includes boasting “additional spending power” (note a very careful choice of words) for local government by ending the SNP’s council tax freeze. So Mackay counts a 3% increase in Council Tax towards a total of £241m for “local government services”. Even though the final decision to actually increase council tax is not down to him, but local councils themselves.
The independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre finds Mr Mackay’s most dodgy budgetary trick to be the double-counting of funding for social care, which is included in the totals for both the Health and Local Government budgets, appearing to enlarge both! This did not go unmentioned by the opposition parties at Holyrood.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale attacked the draft budget by highlighting the real cuts to local services the SNP is implementing. Unfortunately for her, Scottish Labour’s criticisms sound like hypocrisy, as it is very difficult to imagine them doing anything different. For all their talk of using the Scottish Government’s new powers to prevent cuts, we know they’d swindle us just as much.
Local government definitely is a loser in this draft budget, however. In exchange for the Scottish Government allowing councils to raise Council Tax by 3%, there are cuts of £327m to local government grants. This sort of financial relationship – whereby the lower unit of government is hamstrung by cuts from above and given insufficient powers to make up the shortfall – is exactly what the SNP leadership complains about concerning the tax powers devolved to Holyrood and austerity cuts to the block grant from HM Treasury. In reality the only solution in either case is by defying austerity budgets and the bourgois law that defends them. Any idea such as this, as we’ve explained previously, could gain much resonance amongst the SNP’s membership and support. However the leadership are far from willing to carry out such a thing.
The SNP tops will always argue, of course, that only with the powers of an independent country can the Scottish Government truly run Scotland in “Scotland’s interests”. But whose interests are those, really? With more power comes more responsibility, and with the new devolved powers coming in April 2017 and beyond, the Scottish Government will be more responsible for the management of the Scottish economy and its budget will reflect that. For so long as the SNP are wedded to capitalism, they will have to implement the agenda of Scottish capital when in Government.
In these times of great uncertainty following the Brexit vote and ever-declining predictions for economic growth, the austerity agenda of capitalism has become somewhat more cautious. We saw this with the new Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Statement. The UK Government will adopt a slightly more Keynesian policy due to the instability of the British and European economic outlook, financed by the swelling national debt. This is the only area where the SNP are using Holyrood’s new powers to the maximum: borrowing money.
Currently the majority of the Scottish working class trusts the SNP to defend their interests. Where they want influence now is in the other half of their cross-class alliance for independence: the capitalist class. This draft budget which implements austerity cuts while trying to hide them behind misleading statistics and crumbs-from-the-table reforms shows this cautious new attitude.
The SNP will continue to speak up for “Scotland’s interests”, covering up the contradictory class interests at the heart of Scottish society and the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon has quickly become a stalwart defender of Scottish and British capitalist interests in the EU by using this deceptive slogan. She may still mention fighting the Tories from time-to-time, but on whose behalf? However the SNP have a problem in that their support comes from a healthy attitude of wanting to fight the Tories along with austerity, trident, warmongering and the rotten Westminster clique. I.e. an opposition to the some of the most unjust but inherent traits of capitalism. Even though Sturgeon et al are wedded to capitalism the mood and expectations created during the referendum and the SNPs rise are something which they will not be able to control forever.
The class contradictions of the SNP in time will lead to huge splits and formations of radical left wing currents where the ideas of revolutionary socialism will gain huge resonance. It is important now more than ever that we do not keep our criticisms of the SNP leadership to ourselves. If the working class does not fight for its interests – if we do not fight for socialism – nobody will. It’s not going to be handed to us by Parliaments or passed via referendum. 2017 will be a more turbulent year than 2016 as the crisis of capitalism and infighting among the ruling class intensifies. This is a precondition to revolutionary moments, but they will only come if we get organised, educated and take the offensive. Make Revolution your New Year’s Resolution!

SNP conference: Implications for class struggle in Scotland

by Ross Walker

Ross Walker of the Edinburgh Marxists discusses the events of the recent SNP annual party conference, where leader Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Beneath the apparent party unity surrounding independence, however, it is clear that strong class contradictions are developing within the SNP. Continue reading SNP conference: Implications for class struggle in Scotland

Scotland, The UK and The Fight for Socialism After Brexit