Scotland: Why Tommy is wrong to call for a vote for the SNP in May

Philip Stott Socialist Party Scotland

Leading socialist Tommy Sheridan has released a video and made various public statements urging those who voted Yes in the independence referendum in September 2014 to “lend” their vote to the SNP for the 2015 Westminster election.

In this response Philip Stott, on behalf of Socialist Party Scotland’s Executive Committee, explains why we believe it is wrong for socialists to call for a vote for the SNP. Philip argues that socialists need to prioritise building a real anti-austerity alternative to the political establishment by supporting the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates in May.

The quotes used here in bold are taken from the video and the blurb that accompanies it. Tommy Sheridan’s video can be viewed on YouTube here.

“On May 7th we have a chance to do something that has never been done; to send a Scottish SNP Majority to Westminster to manage the best interests of Scotland.”

The first point to make is that there is no such thing as the “best interests of Scotland”. Scotland is a class divided country where the rich and powerful – many of them Scottish – rule for themselves and the interests of profit, not for the interests of the working class, the poor and the unemployed. There is a chasm that separates billionaires like oil mogul Sir Ian Wood, Stagecoach owner Brian Souter or the Whisky owning Grant and Gordon families from working class communities in Scotland. Hundreds of thousands of whom have seen their incomes slashed through wage cuts and attacks on benefits.

The numbers using food banks in Scotland have rocketed by 400% in the last year. At the same time the combined wealth of the richest 100 people in Scotland rose 60% to £25 billion in 2014.

The SNP are in no sense a left party. Incredibly, despite colossal levels of inequality, they still support tax cuts for big business, the oil companies and the billionaire elite.

In government the SNP have implemented every penny of Tory austerity leading to wage cuts and the slashing of jobs and public services across Scotland. In what way is this in the “best interests” of working class people in Scotland?

Rather than calling for a vote for a pro big business party, Tommy should be championing support for standing our own socialist candidates. Candidates that will fight to put public ownership, a living wage of £10 an hour, the redistribution of wealth and an end to cuts on the political agenda.

“If we could win Scotland for the SNP then we are putting independence back on the political agenda.”

But the SNP have made clear that they will not be standing on a manifesto calling for a new referendum. Not even if they win a majority of seats in Scotland in May. “We are not campaigning for a second referendum – we’ve had a referendum, we want home rule now”, stated Alex Salmond recently.

The SNP strategy will be to use a their large bloc of SNP MPs to try and negotiate more devolved powers for Scotland after the election. In exchange, the SNP have made it clear that they are prepared to discuss a deal with Labour to allow Ed Miliband to form a government. A government that is promising to continue with Tory cuts that will result in even more austerity for working class and middle class people in Scotland and throughout the UK.

Socialist Party Scotland supports an independent socialist Scotland. We also call for the Scottish parliament to have the full powers of devo max, including powers of all welfare, the minimum wage, the economy, taxation and control of north sea oil and gas revenues.

But we also need to build a party prepared to use these powers for the interests of the 99%; to tax the rich and big business and to nationalise the oil industry and the privatised utilities. These are policies that the SNP are completely opposed to.

“If we could get everyone of a YES persuasion to collectively put aside differences for a day we can defeat the blue and yellow and most importantly the red Tories”

Labour are very likely to lose a majority of their 41 MPs in this election, and rightly so. Their role in Project Fear with the Tories and the Lib Dems has been the final straw for hundreds of thousands of their former supporters. Labour long ago abandoned the working class in favour of the rich elite and big business. The referendum campaign has accelerated their demise in Scotland.

But the SNP are not offering a real alternative. Both Labour and the SNP are making cuts in councils across Scotland, sometimes even in coalition together, as in Edinburgh. So what is the point of voting SNP if they end up supporting and voting for a Labour government that carries out austerity?

Far better would be to join with TUSC and help build a no cuts, real anti austerity alternative. TUSC is a step towards a new mass workers party and we’re calling on the affiliated trade unions to break from Labour and help launch a new mass working class party.

“If we can secure a majority of SNP MPs committed to anti-austerity polices and a new referendum we can secure Scotland’s freedom"

But as we’ve pointed out already the SNP are not anti-austerity. Nicola Sturgeon’s recent speech committed the SNP to only very modest increases in public spending that would leave over 80% of the cuts in place.

At best they are an austerity-lite party. They do support some progressive polices like opposition to Trident. But none of their candidates for Westminster are standing on a policy of calling for an end to ALL cuts and a reversal of the austerity that has been implemented so far. They don’t even support public ownership of the hated privatised gas and electricity companies.

Far less are the SNP proposing to use their majority at Holyrood to refuse to carry through any more austerity and help build a mass campaign to win the money back that has been stolen from Scotland by the Tories.

The SNP leaders accept the logic of capitalism; that the maximisation of profit is paramount and that in an economic crisis cuts have to be made.

Socialist Party Scotland says if capitalism cannot afford jobs for all, a living wage and an end to poverty, then we can’t afford capitalism. The only way for the working class people to be “free” from poverty, cuts and low pay is to build a movement to defeat austerity and to build a new party to fight for socialist change. The recent example of the election of Syriza in Greece shows that an anti-austerity alternative can be built.

“I’m a socialist. I normally stand in elections on a socialist platform or support socialist candidates”

This is exactly what Tommy should be doing. We now have the bizarre situation where Tommy is calling for a vote for the SNP in seats where Scottish TUSC candidates are standing, including local leaders of trade unions who are in the forefront of fighting austerity. Tommy is supporting candidates from the SNP whose party is implementing millions in cuts, as they are doing for example in Dundee and Edinburgh. At Holyrood the SNP have passed on over £3 billion in ConDem cuts since 2011.

Why doesn’t Tommy, instead of calling for a vote for the SNP, demand that all councils and the Scottish government set No Cuts budgets and fight for a return of the money stolen from them? This is exactly what the heroic Liverpool Council did in the 1980’s, while also leading a mass movement that won millions from the Thatcher government for new council houses, sports centres and nurseries.

As our sister party in Ireland – the Socialist Party – has proved recently, it’s possible to build mass support for socialist and anti-austerity ideas. There are now three Socialist Party members elected as MPs (TDs) in the Irish parliament. The Anti Austerity Alliance, which the Socialist Party helped set-up, has 14 elected councillors and are helping to build a mass non-payment campaign against the hated water charges.

Tommy himself was elected to Glasgow council and the Scottish parliament in the past by helping to build a mass movement against the poll tax and by offering a political alternative to Labour and the SNP.

The SNP leaders offer no way forward in the struggle against austerity. A mass movement to cuts and the political establishment can be built. In May, vote for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates in your area. And join with Socialist Party Scotland and help us build a socialist alternative to capitalism and austerity.

A wasted opportunity to build a party for the working class

Socialist Party Scotland worked alongside Tommy Sheridan to build the Hope Over Fear/Socialist Campaign for Independence public meetings in the run-up to the referendum. Indeed the proposal for a distinct socialist campaign for independence, separate from the largely pro business Yes Scotland campaign, was an idea put forward by us in 2012.

At that stage Tommy did not support the need for such an initiative. However, early in 2014 the Hope Over Fear tour was launched, with our support, and it played a very important role in galvanising support for a Yes vote.

The public meetings attracted tens of thousands of people to hear Tommy and others make the case for a radical, left and socialist case for a Yes vote. There was enthusiastic support at all these meetings for an independent Scotland that would bring into public ownership the energy companies, transport and oil; that would end all austerity; raise the minimum wage to a living wage and end the anti-union laws. These ideas were completely absent from the SNP leadership and the Yes Scotland campaign.

Our involvement in the Hope Over Fear campaign with Tommy did not mean there was full agreement on all the issues that were being discussed. Socialist Party Scotland members speaking alongside Tommy always explained that the SNP’s policies for an independent Scotland would not end austerity. They were pro business and moreover the SNP have a record in government of implementing Tory cuts. While supporting a Yes vote in the indyref we also called for a new party for working class people to be built with clear socialist policies if independence was to lead to a change in the lives of the working class majority in Scotland.

Tommy did not, in the main, raise warnings about the SNP in this way. Nor did he explain the need for a new working class party to be built as a challenge to the pro-capitalist ideas of the SNP leadership. Nevertheless, Tommy was widely seen as a working class fighter with a record of struggle and different from the SNP leaders. His leading role in the campaign saw him remerge as a figure with mass support.

Socialist Party Scotland proposed to Tommy in the 48 hours following the referendum that he, along with ourselves and other socialists and trade unionists, should appeal to the tens of thousands who had been mobilised around the Hope Over Fear campaign to join a new, pro independence, socialist and consistent anti-austerity party.

We believed, correctly as it turned out, that tens of thousands of Yes voters were intent on continuing the struggle for independence and against the establishment politicians who were responsible for savage austerity policies.

If a new party had been launched rapidly after the referendum, such a party would have attracted thousands of people. It wouldn’t have prevented the rapid growth of the SNP. Nevertheless, it would have strengthened the socialist movement in Scotland immeasurably. The failure to take these steps represented a wasted opportunity.

Instead, on Sunday 21 September, three days after the referendum and without consultation or discussion with leading members of Solidarity, Tommy released a personal statement calling for a vote for the SNP in May 2015. The result was that many working class people who could have been won immediately to a socialist alternative ended up joining the SNP. This has allowed the SNP to temporarily and partially fill the space for a genuine left and working class party in Scotland.

The task for socialists in Scotland today is not to call for a vote for the SNP. Our task is to stand as widely as possible under a clear anti-austerity and socialist banner. Socialist Party Scotland is striving to do this as part of the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

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