Scotland: SNP government present plans for referendum on Scotland’s future

Call for new powers – but to be used in whose class interests?

The Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Scotland has published their plans for a referendum on Scotland’s future relationship with the rest of the UK. The referendum would take the form of two separate questions.

The first question would ask if the people of Scotland wish the devolved powers of the Scottish parliament to be extended. The second would ask whether the extension of powers should be such as to allow Scotland to move to becoming an independent country. Currently, public support for strengthening the powers of the Scottish parliament is running at over 60%, while backing for independence is supported by 25-30%.

However, the first question is not clear because what would the proposed new devolved powers for the Scottish parliament be, short of independence? Will they be the very limited powers outlined in the Calman Commission, which is supported by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories? Or, alternatively, the option of “devolution max” – which would see control over taxes and benefits, and all other powers passed to the Scottish parliament except defence, foreign affairs and financial regulation. Another possible variant would fall somewhere between these two options and would come on the basis of negotiation with one or more of the other main parties.

Alex Salmond and the SNP have opted not to put the referendum proposal forward as a formal bill to the parliament because it is certain to be defeated. Instead, they have put it out for consultation until the end of April, with the parliament not voting on it until after the Westminster general election. They are calculating that the outcome of the election – especially if the Tories won – would see a hardening of the mood in Scotland and make it more difficult for the opposition parties to oppose a referendum.  

Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all oppose a referendum, on what is effectively now a vote on the constitutional future for Scotland, rather than a referendum on Scottish independence alone. Their position, that it is the wrong time to have a referendum, is untenable – especially given Labour’s support for a referendum in Wales for more powers for the Welsh assembly. Even if the referendum bill is defeated in the Scottish parliament later this year, the SNP are certain to use the “denial of the democratic rights of the Scottish people” as a main issue with which to fight the 2011 Scottish general election.

For this reason, it is possible that following the general election the position of one of the other main establishment parties may change. Only one party’s support, either the Lib Dems, Tories or Labour, would be needed to effectively see a majority for a referendum in the Scottish parliament.

Powers over nationalisation 

The International Socialists (CWI Scotland) supports a genuine referendum on Scotland’s future. It should include both a question on independence and one allowing real and significant strengthening of the powers of the Scottish parliament. These should include new powers over corporation tax, income tax, the minimum wage, pensions and other benefits, as well as the powers that would allow the Scottish parliament to carry out the nationalisation of major corporations, including the financial sector.

At the same time, it is clear that the powers of the parliament are one thing – the determination to use them in the interests of the working class, young people and the unemployed is another.

The SNP are carrying through savage cuts in public spending, both at a local council level and through their control of the Scottish government. They rightly blame the cuts in the Scottish block grant handed down to them by the New Labour Westminster government. Alex Salmond is also correct when he says that whoever wins the election huge cuts in public spending are on the way. What he fails to point out is that the SNP would, and are, doing exactly the same in the form of attacks on local authority funding, pay cuts for public sector workers and therefore are no different from the other big business parties who are seeking to make working class communities pay for an economic crisis we did not create.   

SNP leader Alex Salmond argued that if Scotland had the powers of a normal independent country, his government could act to tackle the recession and prevent the cuts that are looming. But his economic models of Ireland and Iceland have collapsed, as a result of the global capitalist crisis. And in both these countries governments are carrying through brutal austerity measures against their own people. The SNP also modelled their vision of an independent Scotland on a powerful financial sector – but both Scotland’s main headquartered banks had to be effectively nationalised to save them from collapse and thousands of jobs are being cut as a result.

While supporting a referendum and supporting a Scottish parliament with full powers, the International Socialists are working to build a real political voice for workers and young people in Scotland. The forthcoming general election will see International Socialists members standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition ( that is offering a socialist alternative to the parties of cuts, unemployment and economic crisis. We will use this campaign to argue for the building of a mass working class party to fight the attacks, which have already begun and will only increase after the general election.  That is why we also need to put the case for ending the crisis-ridden capitalist system and to replace it with the building of a socialist Scotland, free from poverty, unemployment and cuts.    

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March 2010