Support for independence for Scotland, ahead of a referdum, is still based on a sizeable minority. However, it is growing and is gaining ground amongst radicalised sections of society feeling the brunt of austerity cuts.
Over 10,000 people took part in the March and Rally for Scottish Independence in Edinburgh on the 22 September. It was clear a large element of the turnout were SNP activists and supporters. However the demonstration was also a broad cross-section of Scottish society, with a significant mobilisation of workers, trade unionists and young people also present.
Socialist Party Scotland activists spoke to many young people who were on the their first ever political demonstration. This indicates the demand for a real change in society, especially with young people being denied a future by the Con-Dem cuts aided by the SNP and the other big business parties. It is understandable that with an agreement likely between the Tories and the SNP leadership for a single question referendum, many young people will back independence as a way of changing and fighting back against the savage austerity attacks.
The turnout showed that although support for independence is still based on a minority, (according to latest polls 30-40%), it is growing and is gaining ground amongst radicalised sections of the population who have been at the brunt of austerity cuts.
First Minister and SNP leader Alec Salmond, opening the rally, contrasted the record of the SNP in power, with no tuition fees for Scottish Students, free NHS prescriptions and protection from the "worst of the austerity cuts", with that of the Con Dem’s in Westminster.
Salmond spoke to his audience with a radical speech that tacked to the left. After spending the last few months making overtures to big business promising low corporation tax and a haven for business investment, he was silent on this, focusing on attacking the Tories and presented a social democratic image of an independent Scotland.
Understandably this got an enthusiastic response from the crowd, as did every anti austerity point made by further speakers at the rally.
Several speakers from the platform, including journalist Ruth Wishart, spoke of being recently convinced of the need to support independence, as the current situation which the Con Dem coalition in Westminster has created is unbearable.
Amar Anwar, a solicitor with a track record of anti racist campaigning, who until his decision to write for the Scottish Sun, represented Tommy Sheridan, made one of the most radical speeches at the rally stating independence would be a "step away from the Tories austerity.” He was the only speaker to call for all present to mobilise and join the demonstration called by the STUC in Glasgow on October 20.
The content of the rally, although full of anti Tory rhetoric, showed the lack of a voice clearly and independently representing the interests of the working class in the YES campaign.
Although critical reference was made to the SNP leadership’s U- turn over an independent Scotland being part of Nato, none of the speakers highlighted the record of the SNP in government in passing on the £3.3 billion of the Con – Dem’s cuts. The demonstration was held two days after the SNP’s draft budget was put to the Scottish Parliament which included yet another effective pay cut for public sector workers and other cuts.
Trade Unionists have responded to Finance Minister John Swinney’s budget calling him "Osborne in a kilt" after they heard of the 1% pay cap, in real terms a wage cut, in the public sector. The SNP government are implementing limited stimulus measures, with investment in infastructure projects but this will not offset the impact of the cuts they are passing on from Westminster. On the day the budget a number of councils across Scotland announced huge cuts, such as North Lanarkshire which announced 1,300 job cuts.
It is clear that constituent parts of the YES campaign are buckling to the pressure to not raise criticism’s of the SNP or the campaign’s pro big business orientation in the hope that a "unity" will win a Yes vote. This includes the Green’s and the remnants of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
Despite the SSP’s material calling for an "independent Scottish socialist republic" and opposition to austerity cuts, Co Convenor Colin Fox’s speech would have reinforced illusions that an independent Scotland under the SNP would be free from austerity.
Fox even claimed that all Scotland’s wealth and resources would be "in the hands of the people" if a Yes vote was delivered, without raising demands for public ownership and nationalisation. This coming after the SNP leadership have bent over backwards to reassure the oil and gas multinationals that their investments would be protected and that profits would be easier to make with lower taxation
Workers and young people, through their own experience of the SNP’s forthcoming austerity plans, will increasingly question the SNP and those giving them radical cover. In the run up to the 2014 referendum, the SNP leadership’s pro capitalist policies and their preparedness to pass on the Con-Dem cuts can limit the impact of the Yes campaign and may become a barrier to a swing behind a Yes vote.
The March and Rally showed that many workers and young people see independence as a possible way out of the nightmare of savage cuts and austerity but their voice will, on Saturday’s evidence, find a very pale reflection in the YES campaign. Socialist Party Scotland’s leaflets, calling for an independent socialist Scotland, and proposing a conference to set up a mass campaign involving trade unionists, young people and community campaigns to demand the powers of independence are used for the 99%, the majority in society, got a positive response.
We also called for a political alternative to the main parties of cuts, a mass working class party that would stand for public ownership of the economy, wealth redistribution an end to the anti-union laws and a massive programme of job creation. Many of the people present at events like this, who have been recently politicised, could potentially be drawn towards the idea of socialism and the building of a new workers party as an alternative to the parties of big business, including the SNP.