The Working-Class Argument for Scottish Independence

On September 18th, the people of Scotland will vote on whether they wish to leave the United Kingdom and become independent, the first time that there has been such a constitutional referendum. This has arisen due to the victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament, a pseudo-federal institution with some independent powers over matters of health and education separate from the UK Government at Westminster. Whilst nationalist and class politics rarely go together comfortably, the case for a yes vote in September emphasizes progressive politics rather than bourgeoisie nationalism or Mel Gibson-inspired notions of ‘freedom.’ Working-class radicals are sharing a platform with neo-liberal supporting nationalists because they see the opportunities for the Scottish working class if Scotland gains independence from the UK.

Scottish society isn’t fundamentally different than the rest of the UK. As a region, it shares many similarities with other areas historically dependent on heavy industry, such as the North-East of England and the former mining areas of Wales. On the other hand, Scotland pays more taxes per person than the rest of the UK, oil in Scotland’s North Sea accounts for over a quarter of corporation tax paid in the UK, and cotland’s renewable energy sector has massive potential. Despite this wealth in resources, Scotland’s mortality and poverty rates are higher than UK averages, and Glasgow has the lowest life expectancy of any UK city. Due to UK government attacks on the welfare state, the Scottish working-class are increasingly reliant on charity to put food on their table.

Higher rates of poverty might account for the limited appeal of right-wing politics in Scotland. In the 2010 UK election, the right-wing Conservative Party won just one Member of Parliament in Scotland, out of a possible 59. In Scotland, the centre-right Labour Party dominated the later twentieth-century based on an historical working-class appeal and left-wing politics. But the the British Labour Party has moved further to the right in order to appeal to prosperous voters in the south of England, and the British working-class continue to be hammered. Today, 900,000 more people live in poverty across the UK than in 2010. Labour’s shift to the right was exploited by the SNP, who have repeatedly moved to the left of Labour on a number of social issues, presenting themselves as the most progressive of the main parties in Scotland and winning support from a large section of the working class.

Socialists opposed to independence argue that constitutional change will not necessarily lead to an improvement in the condition of the Scottish working-class. That may be true, but it could protect the few benefits already available in Scotland that don’t exist elsewhere in the UK. Currently, prescription medication and higher education are free in Scotland, benefits not afforded to those in England. The UK government imposed a controversial under-occupancy charge on social housing residents deemed to have “spare” bedrooms in 2012, penalizing the working-class people who rely on social housing.  Following a mass grassroots campaign, the Scottish Government developed a plan to cover the extra charge.

With full independence, Scotland could fully reject the current austerity agenda and take steps to becoming a substantially more equal society than is possible in the existing political system. An independent Scotland would be nuclear-free, with the Scottish Government’s pledge to remove the UK nuclear arsenal from their current base at Faslane, near Glasgow, a position not supported by any London-based party. The Scottish Health Service will continue to be free at the point of need, as the service in the rest of the UK is becoming increasingly privatised. University education will be free, while students in England pay £9,000 per year.

Whilst some prominent Scottish socialists, such as George Galloway, have spoken in against separation, the campaign has support on the Left from several lifelong socialists, including s Tommy Sheridan, Tariq Ali, and Billy Bragg. A range of working-class and left-wing grassroots organisations, such as Radical Independence, The Green Party, and the Reid Foundation, are also involved, demonstrating the appeal of the campaign based on class issues and progressive politics. On the other hand, right-wing and reactionary groups such as the Loyal Orange Lodge, the right-wing populist UK Independence Party, and the fascist British National Party are actively campaigning against independence.

Instead of offering a better future for the working class, the campaign against independence has emphasized the political upheaval that this change would cause over issues of currency, membership of the European Union, international treaty agreements, and other ‘high politics’ which have little impact on the day-to-day lives of the Scottish working-class.

A vote for independence for Scotland is an important step in the country’s working-class struggle. A “yes” vote not only opens up the potential for a radically more progressive Scotland. It also represents the best immediate opportunity to improve the condition of Scottish working-class society. To paraphrase James Connolly, hoisting the St Andrews flag over Edinburgh Castle is not the end result for Scottish socialists campaigning for independence. It is merely a start.

Andy Clark

Andy Clark is a PhD student in History at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. His research focuses on the resistance of women workers to factory closure in Scotland during the early 1980s, with an emphasis on the impact of deindustrialization on working-class society and worker militancy.

 

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5 Responses to The Working-Class Argument for Scottish Independence

  1. kittysjones says:

    I agree with the communists and socialists, who have always been internationalists, and don’t support nationalism because it undermines solidarity. Whereas nationalists believe that the world is divided primarily into different nationalities, geopolitical zones, socialists consider social class to be the primary divide. For socialists, class struggle, not national identity, is the driving force of history. And capitalism creates an international working class that must fight back, united and co-operatively against an international capitalist class.

    Progress, evolution and development, by their very nature, demand of us that we extend ourselves beyond where we are. But the loss of a fundamental recognition of our common bonds, shared experiences, collectivism – the breakdown of solidarity – is retrogressive and involuted. http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/antidote-to-the-anodyne-the-internationale/

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  2. kittysjones says:

    And the British communists – From the Communist Party’s statement on Independence: “If a majority of the Scottish people vote for independence in the 2014 referendum, then their decision should be respected. Our commitment to the right to self-determination is one of principle. At the same time, the Communist Party maintains its other principle of judging the exercise of that right in terms of the class interests of the Scottish people and of those of working people in Britain and internationally.

    On this basis Communists do not believe independence on the terms proposed is in the interests of working people today any more than it was in the 1970s. At that time Communists and the Left in the trade union led the way in the fight for a Scottish parliament with powers to intervene in the economy, to develop public ownership and increase labour’s power over capital – powers that would in turn strengthen the bargaining power of working people across Britain. It is our conviction that independence as proposed in the White Paper would weaken such bargaining power and strengthen that of big business and of its state machine at both British and Scottish level. Membership of the sterling area would subordinate Scotland to current neo-liberal policies without any power to change them – as the same time as seriously eroding the opportunity for united working class action across the nations of Britain to do so. ”

    http://www.communist-party.org.uk/britain/cp-in-your-area/scotland/1876-statement-on-scottish-independence-4-march-2014.html

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  3. Pingback: Why I’m voting Yes

  4. Jim Pita says:

    Curious what do the communist party of Scotland think of this?

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