Scotland: SNP/Scottish Green government announce second independence referendum

Socialist Party Scotland (CWI) members at an independence demo in Edinburgh

Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party (SNP)/Scottish Green government recently announced their intention to hold a second independence referendum on 19 October 2023.

Socialist Party Scotland (CWI) supports the right to indyref2 and advocates a mass mobilisation of the working class and trade unions in the streets, workplaces, schools and colleges to deliver it.

This weak and divided Tory government can be defeated on this issue as well as on the cost of living crisis by the workers’ movement taking mass coordinated action.

Yet, a Tory prime minister will yet again be asked by the Scottish government to agree a section 30 order to allow a legal referendum. A section 30 order allows for a joint agreement between the Holyrood and Westminster parliaments to allow indyref2 to take place.

Whoever is the Tory PM will, of course, refuse. Indeed within minutes of Sturgeon’s announcement, the UK government had said: “We are clear that now is not the time to be talking about another independence referendum”

Courts not neutral

The SNP’s strategy to overcome this obstacle? Ask the unelected, pro-capitalist judges on the UK Supreme Court to decide on the competency of Holyrood to legislate for the referendum, which the Tories say is beyond the scope of the Scottish parliament.

Sturgeon even went as far as to say that if the Supreme Court rules against the Scottish government it won’t be the fault of the court and the judiciary, only that of the Westminster government.

But how many times have workers and trade unions seen the legal establishment used to declare strike action illegal after majority votes for strike action, including the Communication Workers’ Unions in 2019 for example?

Why would the Supreme Court rule in favour of the Scottish government on this issue, given what is at stake? Under capitalism, the courts are not neutral. They reflect the class nature of society and can in no way be relied on by those fighting for workers’ and democratic rights.

Should it be the case, as is likely, that the court rules Holyrood cannot legislate for a ‘legal’ indyref, the next UK general election will be a “referendum on independence”, claimed Sturgeon. With the SNP standing on a single issue; the right to negotiate the terms of independence with Westminster.

Yet the SNP won a majority of Westminster MPs from Scotland in 2015, 2017 and 2019. They have also been the ruling party at Holyrood since 2007. Another election victory in 2024 will deliver what exactly?

An election campaign as a platform to advocate mass working class struggle for the right to self-determination and for a socialist solution to the cost of living crisis would be a different matter.

But Nicola Sturgeon et al are mortally afraid of such a scenario.

The SNP are complacent about the growing anger against their pro-capitalist cuts policies and utter failure to advocate a way out of the cost of living crisis.

The SNP may not find winning another general election leaning on the national question as easy as previously.

Already sections of the SNP and the independence movement are demanding that only SNP candidates should stand against unionist parties, with all other forces including the socialist left standing aside.

Socialist Party Scotland opposes this approach which would actually undermine building a working class mass movement for the right to indyref 2.

Instead, we would support a wide socialist stance including the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to offer a fighting alternative.

Parliamentary cretinism

‘Parliamentary cretinism’ was a term coined by Karl Marx to describe the illusion that a vote in parliament or appeals to the ruling class to abide by the “democratic will of the people” could suffice.

That “incurable disease”, in the words of Engels, could easily be applied to an SNP leadership who seems to have no understanding of the entrenched hostility of the capitalist class as to the consequences that the break up of the UK would have for its economic and geopolitical interests.

There was not a word from Sturgeon in her speech about the need to build an extra-parliamentary campaign based on mass struggle for the right to decide.

On the contrary, the entire premise of the SNP strategy was, “a referendum must be lawful and constitutional as a matter of principle or it would not be recognised by the international community otherwise.”

Yet as was so clearly demonstrated in the Catalonia referendum in 2017, the so-called “international community’ did not lift a finger following the brutal suppression by the Spanish state. In fact the EU and all the main capitalist institutions supported the actions of the Spanish government in repressing the independence movement.

It is not ruled out that a mass movement in favour of indyref2 could force the capitalist class to concede to another referendum. Appeals to the courts and official ‘public opinion’ dominated by capitalist interests are designed to fail.

Right now, with support for independence running at around 46%, and with the fear of the impact that a majority independence vote would have in further destabilising Northern Ireland and Wales, it is not a road that the main parties of British capitalism want to go down. And that includes Ker Starmer’s Labour Party.

The SNP leadership’s insistence that bourgeois legality must decide the rules of the struggle is absolutely linked to their support for capitalism.

Rightward turn

Indeed there has been a marked turn to the right in the social and economic policy of the nationalists since 2016.

This was seen most recently when the Scottish government unveiled their spending plans for the next five years at Holyrood.

It included plans to cut tens of thousands of jobs across the public sector to “ reshape and refocus the public sector post-Covid and the spending review calls upon all of the public sector to look creatively at ways to sustainably address that challenge.”

This comes hot on the heels of the SNP/Green coalition’s decision to hand over vast swathes of wind energy capacity to big energy.

As we reported: “Large areas of the Crown Estate in Scotland are being handed over to energy multinationals and investment funds by the SNP/Green Scottish government.

“Climate destroying big business is being welcomed with open arms to largely run at least 15 giant offshore wind farms off the coast of Scotland”

Every page in the Scottish government’s recent ‘National Strategy for Economic Transformation’ document mentions “entrepreneurship”. Sometimes there are two mentions in a single sentence.

For example this gem of an aim to: “establish Scotland as a world-class entrepreneurial nation founded on a culture that encourages, promotes and celebrates entrepreneurial activity in every sector of our economy”

The same pro-business approach applies to the latest economic case for independence. Ireland, Belgium and the Nordic countries were all cited as examples of what a successful independent capitalist Scotland could achieve.

There was nothing said about the cost of living crisis tearing through Europe, with rocketing inflation, rising cost of housing, food and collapsing working class living standards, including in Ireland and the other countries they want to model an independen t Scotland on.

The capitalist crisis that is raging internationally can only be resolved with socialist policies, nationalisation under workers’ control and management of the economy and a socialist plan to end poverty and inequality.

Socialist struggle

We stand for a united struggle of the working class in Scotland, England and Wales against the Johnson government and for a socialist alternative.

That’s why Socialist Party Scotland fights for an independent socialist Scotland and a voluntary socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland as part of the struggle for socialism internationally.

For an end to capitalism and the profiteering billionaires that are destroying the lives of the working class globally.

We argue for the building of a new mass working class party led by the trade unions to fight for self-determination and for socialist change.

The struggle for the right to indyref2 is a struggle against capitalist interests. Whether that’s Boris Johnson’s Tories, Keir Starmer’s Labour or the UK Supreme Court.

The SNP’s support for capitalism and big business means they are incapable of leading the struggle for democratic rights, never mind for socialism.

Nor are they able to overcome the opposition and hesitations of workers who are doubtful about the SNP’s increasingly pro-capitalist policies.

A new mass worker’s party and socialist policies could, in contrast, unite the working class and cut across the inevitable divide and rule tactics of the Tories and the capitalist class.

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July 2022