Eric Chester (RCN) outlines his view of the political dangers represented by the SNP
The independence referendum has substantially changed the political landscape of Scotland. With 45% of the voters supporting independence, and many others deterred from joining them by a last minute fear campaign, there is a widespread belief that the election was stolen and that another referendum is in order. Still, there is no possibility of another independence vote being held for at least another five years. This stalemate has engendered a deep resentment that pervades Scottish society.
One result has been the popular belief that all of those who supported independence need to remain united until the next referendum and independence. In effect, this position means rallying behind the SNP, the dominant political party in Scotland. Since the vote, thousands have joined. When First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke recently, the Hydro auditorium in Glasgow was filled to capacity, more than 13,000. With the rise of the SNP has come the eclipse of the Labour Party, which had controlled Glasgow politics for decades.
The Scottish National Party is the party of a certain segment of the Scottish capitalist class. Brian Souter, the owner of the Stagecoach bus network and one of the richest individuals in the UK, has given more than a million pounds to the SNP. Needless to say, he did so knowing full well that the party would not challenge his wealth or power. In particular, the SNP has made it clear that the bus system and the railroads will remain in the private sector, even though privatised companies such as Stagecoach, provide an infrequent, and often shoddy, service at a high price. Souter is also a Christian fundamentalist who has vocally opposed gay rights, while also working to undermine a woman’s right to choose. His influence within the SNP has led many to question whether an independent Scotland would chip away at abortion rights.
SNP leaders have derived their own version of the lessons learned during the referendum campaign. Sturgeon has gone out of the way to reassure the business community, including the transnational corporations, that an independent Scotland would not threaten their interests. In a recent interview with the Financial Times (December 1, 2014), Sturgeon vowed that businesses had “nothing to fear” from the SNP. Indeed, she was a “very strong ally” of companies of every size. Although Sturgeon claimed to be a “social democrat” who believed in “greater equality,” she also insisted this could only be achieved when businesses thrived in a friendly environment, thus creating a “strong economy.”
There can be no question that the SNP will act to further the interests of the capitalist class, even though this means defending the interests of huge transnational corporations based outside of Scotland. Yet despite this much of the Scottish Left is eager to enter into an electoral alliance with the SNP for the upcoming election to the UK parliament and beyond. Such an alliance will of necessity require the broad Left, the Green Party, the SSP and the leadership of the RIC, to furnish activists to energise the campaigns of SNP candidates.
In Scotland, with its strong tradition of working class militancy, an alliance between the broad Left and the SNP represents a major step backward in class consciousness. Two arguments are usually advanced to justify a cross-class coalition:
First, there is the belief that an independent Scotland will represent such an important step forward that important demands that advance the struggle against class exploitation, patriarchy and bigotry must be shelved until independence is gained. This is the essential fault with every form of nationalism. Scottish capitalists such as Brian Souter do not have the same interests as the workers they exploit.
Now is the time to build a strong, militant movement for fundamental change. Waiting for some future event to occur can only serve to hinder the building of a strong working class movement. This is particularly true in this case when the date of the next referendum is indefinite and will surely be several years from now.
Second, the SNP has been skilful in presenting one face to the Left and a very different one to the corporate mainstream. At the same time Sturgeon was reassuring the Financial Times she was also urging progressives to vote for the SNP in the 2015 election to Westminster. Her plea to the voters argued that a large SNP bloc in the UK parliament could provide the potential swing votes to allow the Labour Party to form the next government, contingent upon Labour’s acceptance of certain demands. As outlined by Sturgeon and Alex Salmond, who is likely to lead the party’s caucus, the SNP would, of course, insist on a further devolution of powers, but it would also demand that the next UK government desist from funding the next generation of submarine-based missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Thus, the Trident missile system would not be replaced and twenty billion pounds, or more, would be saved.
Getting rid of all submarines armed with nuclear weapons stationed at Faslane Naval Base has become a major issue for the Scottish Left and there is no doubt that, in itself, this would mark a significant step forward. Still, the SNP’s effort to coopt progressives on the basis of this electoral maneuver needs to be carefully examined. There is a considerable doubt that the upcoming election will result in the Labour Party electing the largest parliamentary contingent while at the same time falling short of a majority. There are several other plausible outcomes that would not require Labour to enter into negotiations with the SNP, thus nullifying the premise of Sturgeon’s electoral strategy. Furthermore, it would seem that the decision to replace the Trident has already been made, although the formal vote in the UK parliament has been scheduled for 2016. The three mainstream UK-wide parties have announced that they will vote to approve the funding of the new missile system. In addition, contracts for essential parts of a new missile system have already been signed. A contract for twelve missile launchers, enough to arm one sub, has been signed between General Dynamics and the UK government, through the U.S. Navy (Sunday Herald, November 23, 2014).
Even if the SNP is in a position to bargain with the Labour Party, it is likely that it would agree to enter into a coalition on the basis of an agreement providing the Scottish parliament with greater powers while permitting the Trident replacement program to proceed. Perhaps to sweeten the deal the SNP would come back with a pledge to lengthen the period over which the missile system was built, thus lessening the immediate financial impact, or perhaps the number of submarines to be built would be reduced from the four currently being considered.
In any case, the SNP would return to Scotland insisting that its representatives had made the best possible deal. The SNP is the ‘excuse’ party. For years, it has implement austerity cuts and blamed the Tories or Westminster. Even once devolution has been implemented, the same excuses will be offered. Should Scotland become independent, the SNP would seek to shift responsibility for further cuts on to the mess created by the UK government in the past. The excuses never end.
As socialists, we should definitively reject any electoral alliance with the SNP or any other mainstream party. We need to focus our efforts on building grass-roots movements that can challenge the system on the streets and in the workplace. To do this will require a firm commitment to raise demands that move beyond the constraints set by a globally integrated capitalist economy. Of necessity, these demands will embarrass the SNP and thus undermine the spurious unity of all those who support Scottish independence. Finally, socialist candidates to public office should stand on an explicitly socialist program as they maintain their total independence from all of the mainstream capitalist parties, including the Labour Party and the SNP.
The situation in Scotland in the aftermath of the referendum opens real possibilities for revolutionary socialists, but only if we continue to resist the curse of nationalism.
For other contributions to the debate on Scottish self-determination by Eric Chester see:-