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Scottish referendum: A triumph for the Left?

John McAnulty

3 January 2015

On Monday 15th December the Irish Socialist Network held a successful meeting on "Scotland - after the referendum" in An Realta, Belfast. 

The meeting, addressed by Colm Breathnach of the Radical Independence Campaign and attended by a wide range of activists, showed that it is possible to rebuild an open political discussion among socialists in Belfast and that the social space hosted by An Realta may play an important part - it had just hosted a successful exhibition highlighting the oppression of workers in the Donbass region of Ukraine and the massacre of trade unionists in Odessa.

A sour note was struck at the start of the meeting when the ISN announced that only written questions could be submitted. Luckily this restriction was immediately abandoned and an open discussion took place.

The result of this discussion was to highlight a number of weaknesses in the Yes case.

Despite its title, the talk did not deal with the situation after the referendum and concentrated on justifying the decision of the majority of Scottish socialists to support the yes campaign.

One central point was that an independent Scotland would provide a better environment for the workers. However to justify this point in discussion the speaker denied that there was a British working class or significant struggles involving that class.

The other major point was that the spontaneous movement represented such an expansion in political interest and the desire for social justice as to represent an important advance in itself.

The high point that illustrated the speaker's case was a Radical Independence conference that attracted 3000 activists.

Doubt crept in when we learnt that 50% of the delegates had joined the SNP and that other constituent groups such as the Socialist Party and Scottish Socialist Party were looking towards electoral alliance with the SNP. 

The speaker had earlier accepted an analogy comparing the SNP to Fianna Fail.  However he was comfortable with a flood of 75 000 activists joining the SNP on the grounds that their personal integrity would prevent them being suborned by the SNP leadership.

One immediately thinks of the Irish Peace process. The long history of struggle and sacrifice by IRA volunteers and the intense mass struggle by nationalist communities was supposed to guarantee a successful outcome. In fact what we have had is collapse to the right, with sections of the Sinn Fein base bought off and the majority fragmented and demoralised.

The unease became greater when members of the audience were unable to obtain clear answers to straightforward questions:

  • Did the collapse in oil prices weaken the SNP economic case?
  • Was the vote a legitimate expression of self-determination?
  • Given the no vote should socialists call for a re-run of the referendum or fight to build an anti-austerity movement with workers in England and Wales?

I saw in the discussion a justification of the Socialist Democracy decision to call for a no vote. Despite all the activity no new socialist formation has emerged - a socialist project is still being discussed, while existing groups are moving closer to the SNP. If an independent Scotland would provide a better environment for the workers the logical step is to vote for SNP and against Labour in the coming elections.

For all the corruption and decay of Labour, a move to the capitalist and populist SNP would mark a sharp shift to the right.  Labour will have to be outflanked on the left for workers to advance.

At the height of the referendum campaign a young activist declared that he was voting yes to rid Scotland of Tories. I believe the duty of socialists is to tell young activists that there are as many Tories as ever in Scotland, now hiding in tartan kilts!

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