Build a working class alternative
"All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born." Yeats poem about the revolutionary uprising in Ireland, Easter 1916, applies, in a different way, to the electoral ’uprising’ that took place in Scotland on 18 September, 2014.
Voting Yes became, for many, a mass revolt against austerity. The capitalist class – major corporations, the majority of the capitalist media and the Westminster politicians – all united to predict Armageddon if a majority of Scots voted Yes.
In defiance of all the threats – which the Scottish National Party (SNP) was incapable of answering – 45% still voted for independence.
Across Britain capitalist politicians have spoken in awed tones at the phenomenal turnout; which proved definitively – as we have consistently argued – that working class and young voters are not apathetic but only disillusioned with the diet of pro-big business, pro-austerity parties on offer to them.
In reality, the capitalist politicians’ expressions of enthusiasm for the high turnout were a thin veneer painted over their real feeling – fear.
The 1.6 million who voted for independence were overwhelmingly working class. The young were also disproportionately in favour – 71% of 16 and 17 year olds voted Yes.
Hundreds of thousands of working-class people registered to vote for the first time or for the first time since they left the register during the mass campaign against the poll tax.
The private hopes of the capitalist class that the defeat of the Yes campaign would mean a return to ’apathy’ are already being dispelled. Instead a radicalised and defiant working class is searching for a way forward. All of the Westminster parties are sinking to new levels of unpopularity.
Labour, which historically has dominated politics in the working class heartlands of Scotland, is hated for the role it played in fronting the No campaign on behalf of the Tories and the capitalist class.
Despite this, some sections of Scottish workers may hold their noses and vote for Labour in the general election as a means to try and get rid of the Tories. Others, however, will never vote Labour again.
All the parties which supported a Yes vote are growing, with 14,000 joining the SNP so far, reflecting that they are seen to have stood up to ’project fear’.
However, a significant section of Yes voters have no illusions in the leadership of the SNP. Support for socialist ideas is growing rapidly.
Our sister party in Scotland, Socialist Party Scotland is campaigning for the immediate launching of a new mass workers’ party. Such a party, in the current situation, could grow very rapidly, transforming the situation.
Unfortunately, some on the left – including Tommy Sheridan who played a positive role in the referendum, putting forward a left case for independence – now seem to be calling for a vote for the SNP in 2015, with building an electoral left alternative being put off into the indefinite future.
This would be a very serious mistake which cannot be justified on the grounds of ’unity’ for independence.
We are in favour of the maximum possible principled unity between organisations and parties which stand in the interests of the working class. The SNP, however, does nothing of the kind and has consistently put forward pro-big business, anti-working class policies, including implementing major cuts in Holyrood.
It will be putting forward a new cuts budget in a matter of weeks. The potential exists in Scotland for the development of a mass party of the working class which would be a qualitative step forward in Scotland but also act as inspiration to workers in England, Wales and well beyond.
The aftermath of the referendum is also continuing to reverberate in England and Wales. The Westminster capitalist parties are undoubtedly heaving a sigh of relief. A week beforehand, as they belatedly recognised the scale of the surge to Yes, there was genuine panic that the union was about to unravel, dramatically weakening the power and prestige of British capitalism.
Their nightmare scenario has been staved off, but all the major parties have been weakened by events in Scotland.
The Tory Party was once the most successful capitalist party on the planet – with a skilled leadership reflecting the power and long-term strategic vision of British capitalism. Today’s bungling, inept Tory leadership ultimately reflects British capitalism’s decline.
Cameron’s crass statement on the steps of Downing Street attempted to tie the No campaign’s ’vow’ to give more powers to Scotland to giving more rights to England’s MPs to deal with ’English matters’.
This was an attempt to appease the right of his party and to cut across the growth of Ukip. It was also a cynical manoeuvre to try and win votes in England from Labour.
It ignored, however, the bigger issue: the inevitable fury of the Scottish working class if the ’vow’ turned out to be worthless, leading to a further growth in support for independence.
Cameron has been forced to beat a hasty retreat, claiming that he never intended to tie the Scottish and English questions together!
In fact the ’West Lothian’ question has been exaggerated by the Tories for their own reasons. There have only been two periods since 1919 – from 1964 to 1966 and between March and November 1974 – when the party in government had not won a majority in England.
Of 5,000 votes in the House of Commons since 1997, the outcome of only 21 depended on the votes of Scottish MPs.
However, a section of the parliamentary Labour Party is echoing Cameron and Ukip. This reflects their fear of the electoral consequences of the English nationalism that the Tory right and Ukip are trying to whip up, which they are responding to by joining in!
The Labour leadership, however, has called for a ’convention’ to look at proposals for devolution. This is cynical: an attempt to delay dealing with the problem.
But a real convention – made up of democratically elected representatives of workplaces and communities – would demand to look not only at the West Lothian question and regional devolution but also issues concerning parliaments which are more important for the majority of voters: such as the endless expenses scandals and the 11% pay rise that MPs have recently voted to give themselves.
The workers’ movement should demand that the salary of MPs be cut to the level of the average wage. Where expenses are needed, they should be strictly necessary ones only – similar to what some building workers and others are able to claim against tax as they travel the country in pursuit of their work.
Moreover, rather than MPs checking and auditing their own expenses, why not scrutiny committees made up of workers, the unemployed, those forced onto benefits and small shopkeepers and business people threatened by the ongoing economic crisis?
The workers’ movement should also make demands to transform the current truncated ’democracy’. The House of Lords should be abolished; there should be a single assembly which combines the legislative and executive powers hitherto divided in Britain. Members should be elected for a maximum of two years with votes at age 16, with the right of recall by their constituents.
Democracy like this would lead to greater participation by the mass of the population. A change in the electoral system to proportional representation would also be an improvement.
The fact that these issues are not being raised so far in the debate in Britain reflects the absence of a mass party that stands in the interests of the working class, which is needed as urgently in England and Wales as it is in Scotland. The Labour conference, taking place now, confirms yet again that a Labour government will mean continuing vicious austerity – a freeze on child benefit for two years, keeping the Con-Dem benefit cap, raising the state retirement age and scrapping the winter fuel allowance!
This programme will not mobilise popular support for Labour. It is an understanding that a Labour government will mean no real change which led many workers in Scotland to vote Yes.
This, not the West Lothian question, is also the major factor that endangers a Labour victory. Nonetheless, the hatred for the Tories and the growing division in their ranks means that Labour may well be elected despite itself.
This is a new era of four, or in fact five, six and more-party politics, in which ’stability’ will be elusive.
New party needed
Whatever the political stripe of the next government, it will be weak and crisis-ridden – managing an economy which, at the very best, is stagnating.
The most important lesson of the Scottish referendum is that working class people – if organised – have the power to force change.
The coordinated public sector strike action taking place on 14 October is an important step in the battle against low pay, and also vital preparation for the industrial struggle against austerity that will be needed beyond the general election.
Ukip are making gains by posing as the anti-establishment party, while in reality they are a bunch of right-wing millionaires and stockbrokers.
A real ’anti-establishment’ party is urgently needed. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is working to prepare the ground for a party – a mass party of the working class with clear socialist policies – which would be capable of uniting different sections of the working class and cutting across racism and nationalism.
As a step in this direction the Socialist Party is arguing for TUSC to aim to stand as widely as possible in the 2015 general and local elections.