by Martyn Cook, Labour Party member
The leaflet in this post appeared on Twitter recently, and is being distributed by the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) this week. It lists a series of “guarantees” that a Yes vote will bring. What I have failed to establish so far is where these “guarantees” come from. RIC make a song and dance of the fact that a Yes vote isn’t necessarily for the SNP or their White Paper, but this leaflet – and the wider conduct of the SNP – clearly undermine this position.
In terms of the leaflet, there is clearly a contradiction at the heart of the “guarantees”. On the one hand, RIC need to be able to establish some ground upon which these policies will be passed in an independent Scotland. On the other hand, they are desperate to dissociate themselves from the SNP/White Paper. As such, the RIC leaflet makes a series of claims that are seemingly based on very liberal interpretations of the White Paper or just plucked out of the air altogether.
For example, RIC claim that a Yes vote will “guarantee” an end to benefit sanctions. In terms of benefit sanctions the White Paper doesn’t claim to end them, it only wants to “launch an urgent review of the conditionality and sanctions regime.” (pg159) It then goes on to “guarantee” that there will be an end to foodbanks in Scotland, which, while obviously desirable, is a goal that even the much lauded Scandinavian countries are struggling to prevent the growth of.
RIC then claim that a Yes vote “guarantees” and end to ATOS and the Work Capability Assessment of the benefit assessment process. With ATOS, they are already giving up the welfare assessment contracts due to campaigns across the whole of the UK. The White Paper doesn’t call for an end to Work Capability Assessments and in fact will continue most of the system for some unspecified time. (pg 164)
There will also be, allegedly, 30,000 new civil service jobs, but this seemingly is fabricated from other unnamed sources as the White Paper doesn’t put a figure on civil servants (pg 575) and, funnily enough, doesn’t mention the jobs that will inevitably go as a result of independence.
A Yes vote then “guarantees” that the minimum wage will be set at the living wage. Except, of course, in the White Paper, the minimum wage will not be made equal to the living wage; the living wage will simply get “support and promote[d]” after a Yes vote. (pg 396)
The childcare one is a dead give-away though, as that’s just an SNP policy, who almost every “radical” Yes campaigner claims we aren’t voting for. Clearly, that only holds true until it’s convenient or sounds good to say we’ll have those policies after a Yes vote.
With regards to the rest of the “guarantees”, Labour have already adopted it as policy or go beyond what is here (ie, the Bedroom Tax will be scrapped across the UK, and not just in Scotland); has alternatives that are costed (will tax banker’s bonuses for a job creation scheme); will increase the minimum wage and encourage the Living Wage as well, and also increase child care. So to imply that Westminster is an unchangeable institution that doesn’t have the potential for bringing about transformation doesn’t stack up.
The contortions and stick-bending that the Yes Left are having to incorporate to try and justify a Yes vote being class-based or socialist is clearly at breaking point. RIC are desperate to claim that a Yes vote will allow for radical change, but at the same time are simply providing a fig leaf to cover the fact that it is the SNP’s White Paper model of deregulated trickle-down economics that will be delivered with a Yes vote.
This has been apparent for some time. Yes Scotland is supposedly a cross-party organisation, but a cursory glance at each of their positions on currency is revealing. The Greens would like a new currency. The SSP would also like a new currency. The SNP, however, would much prefer a currency union. And low and behold, what is the cross-party Yes Campaign’s position? A currency union….
Salmond has already positioned himself as framing the referendum as vote for the SNP’s White Paper. He is on record in Parliament as stating the following: “I say to Ruth Davidson that, on September 18, if people in Scotland vote for what is in the white paper and the proposals to keep the pound, that is exactly what will happen and any Scottish politician who does not recognise the sovereign choice of the Scottish people will pay a heavy price.”
This was underlined again in his second debate with Alasdair Darling of the Better Together Campaign last night. Salmond repeatedly made reference to a Yes Vote reflecting the “sovereign will” of the people and a Yes vote providing a “mandate” for a currency union. Again, this is the SNP/White Paper position he is stating. The SNP have a majority government and will still have that influence and power if there is a Yes vote when they undertake negotiations with the UK government. It is clear that they will be proposing the White Paper position throughout – a Yes vote has provided a “mandate” for this.
RIC are happy to pose with the SNP and the likes of Business for Scotland as an example of how apparently broad the Yes Campaign is. However, no matter how small or inconspicuous they try and make the SNP’s sign in a group photo, it is clear they dominate the Yes campaign’s policy and vision.
This is not to say that a No vote in itself is progressive or will provide answers but if, for socialists at least, the challenge is to bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families, then we must be able to challenge the dominant forces of capital. For Scotland, these forces are by and large organised and operate at a British level, and will continue to impact on us even after a Yes vote.
What we need to argue for is not a breaking away from the UK, but increased democratic controls over the British economy. The urgent need for economic democracy is the only “guarantee” that this referendum can provide.
by Vince Mills
One of the interesting, though perhaps more bizarre aspects of the current independence debate in Scotland is how some sections of the Scottish Left have been shifting to the right and even slipping into the nationalist camp, apparently without noticing it; others have adopted a strategy which hints at radical change but in their effort to achieve this, promote its ideological antithesis.
This latter position is most clearly articulated by the SWP and a range of other groups and individuals in the Radical Independence Campaign. Their argument that they support independence and not nationalism is premised on the belief that there will be a disintegration of the British state following a Yes vote.
The former is most closely associated with the remnants of the Scottish Socialist Party and others, like the Labour for Independence group (origins and purpose contested) who previously might have voted for, or even have been members of the Labour Party; it is a straightforward recognition that fundamental change is not on the agenda and some form of limited social democracy is the best we can hope for. Of the two it is position that carries more weight.
It may be difficult to believe that socialists in Scotland, many of whom were loud in their condemnation, and correctly so, of Labour’s seduction by right wing ideas under Blair, can support a nationalist agenda, but here is how Colin Fox, the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, received the launch of the SNP’s economically right wing White Paper:
“The white paper sets out a vision of independence that represents a significant advance for Scotland in my view – affording us the right to self-determination and the chance to build the type of nation we want.”
To be fair to Colin he highlights its weaknesses as well as what he sees as its strengths, but it is the political shift of a Party that once presented itself as an advocate of radical socialism that is important here. As spokesperson of the SSP, Colin is acknowledging that in itself the White Paper marks an advance (despite its neo-liberal economic assumptions) but that, more importantly it offers the ‘chance’ to build the kind of nation we want thereby signalling that the SSP will accept independence even if it does not lead in a left direction. In other words, by accepting independence as an objective in itself, he is thereby re-defining the SSP as a nationalist party. And if that is not enough, despite attacking the limitations of the White Paper, Colin signs up the left to work for independence among working class voters despite any guarantees of a better Scotland:
“Left-wing organisations that support independence such as the Scottish Socialist Party have a crucial role to play in persuading working-class voters who are justly sceptical of the sort of change Alex Salmond and the SNP have in mind that they would still be better off with independence.”
Why they would be any better off if the SNP’s pro NATO, pro EU Pro monarchy, pro low business tax Scotland, as it almost certainly would be, is based on two unstated assumptions. The first is that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP and the second is that the politics of an independent Scotland will indeed be more progressive.
These are both unfounded. It is indeed the SNP’s white paper we are voting on, a party which had the highest share of the popular vote in the recent European election and the last Scottish Parliament elections and has the greatest number of councillors. It is by any measure the dominant political force in Scotland and is not about to disappear any time soon.
Meanwhile the myths bubbling up around Scottish ‘exceptionalism’ are surely bursting. In May in the run up to the European elections, where UKIP managed to win a seat in Scotland the Glasgow Herald had already reported: “UKIP policies to curb immigration, cut overseas aid and crack down on benefits claimants are backed by a majority of Scots, a surprise new poll suggests…”
This poses a significant political and largely ignored challenge (by the SNP) to its desire to increase productivity by growing Scotland’s population through increased immigration.
To the left of the SSP’s analysis we have the SWP and other Radical Independence supporters who argue that a Scottish secession will somehow or another lead to the break-up of the British state. This assumes of course that the British state can neither be reformed or transformed though existing democratic institutions but, as the old light bulb joke would have it, can only be smashed. Leaving aside the debate on the nature of the British state and whether in Keir Hardie’s view it is a ‘useful donkey’ or in Marx’s that ‘it is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’, the question that needs to be answered by its Left advocates is how a Scottish secession fundamentally weakens it, in either an independent Scotland or in rUK.
Bear in mind that the state that will most likely emerge in Scotland will be deeply tied to that of the rUK through our integrated economy, (perhaps through a currency pact). In rUK, the power of finance capital, umbilically linked to the brokers of political power, will remain untouched in the City of Westminster where it will still control the flows of capital in and out of Scotland.
A real challenge to the power of capital in an independent Scotland would require in the words of James Stafford in Renewal a “chaviste economic strategy of nationalisation, investment and redistribution …” it would also mean “…capital and exchange controls, as well as the swift abandonment of EU membership. This is a recipe unlikely to meet with either success or popularity in a small, open, wealthy and European economy like Scotland’s; even less so during the brief initial period when the framing conditions for Scottish independence would be decided …”
As Stafford suggets above, such a strategy would at the very least require an honest dialogue with and compelling narrative offered to Scottish working people and their institutions about the difficult and dangerous political terrain they were about to move onto. Not only has such dialogue not been entered into, while sections of the ultra-left massage each other’s delusions about the possibility of radical change following the referendum, the main Yes campaign of which they are part sets out quite a different future.
In the Yes Campaign’s ‘Your Choice’ pamphlet, in a section headed “WELCOME TO SCOTLAND 2020” it cites the example of Barbara “Today: Up to her eyes in paperwork, Barbara wishes she had more time to focus on what she does best – running the most popular pub in town. 2020 A hardworking businesswoman, Barbara has always had what it takes. Now freed up from high business taxes and red tape, she has a thriving pub on her hands and her employees are happy and productive thanks to the new guarantee to raise the minimum wage at least in line with inflation.”
So, on the one hand a section of the Scottish Left espouses national independence for its own sake in the hope that it provides a chance for a better future, while another pretends to promote revolutionary change through support for independence, while in effect supporting a campaign for a Scotland of entrepreneurial aspiration.
Whatever the result of the referendum, both these left factions will be marginalised, but all the more marginalised if it is a No vote. This is not because they have not tried to have strategic engagement with the working class. They have tried very hard to engage, to the extent of abandoning their own objectives in favour some quite toxic to the left. The problem is that they do not have a credible strategy for serious social change. That is not an area where the Labour Left can feel an excess of confidence either which is why, as soon as the vote in September is over, the Scottish Labour left needs to meet and discuss our strategy and programme for fundamental change. A No vote must also mean another country.
by Dale Street, Socialism First
Back in July of this year a senior aide to SNP First Minister Alex Salmond briefed the media that Salmond “would not object to the term ‘independence-lite’ as a description of what was on offer at next year’s referendum.”
Last week’s publication of the SNP government’s White Paper “Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland” demonstrated that, for once, Salmond was as good as his word.
The Queen will remain Head of State. Scotland will remain a member of the European Union. Scotland will remain a member of Nato. And the pound sterling will remain the currency.
Just for good measure, all the BBC’s output will still be screened in Scotland, passports will still be the same colour and format as British ones (except, obviously, for the word “Scottish” on the cover), and National Lottery tickets will still be on sale, with Scotland receiving its “fair share” of funding.
In other words, the 650-page White Paper was simply a very wordy version of Salmond’s recent discovery that an independent Scotland will maintain five of the six existing ‘unions’ with the UK.
Although the political union, created by the Treaty of Union of 1707, would be ended, the five other ‘unions’ would remain: European Union, currency union, Union of the Crowns of 1603, defence union (i.e. NATO), and a social union.
(An example of the “social union” as understood by Salmond, is: “People in England will still cheer Andy Murray, and people in Scotland will still support the Lions at rugby.”)
The reason for the SNP’s emphasis on how little would change in an independent Scotland is that most people in Scotland don’t want independence.
Opinion polls consistently show a 60% to 40% split against independence amongst those who have a definite opinion, with around 15% of the total electorate undecided.
In order to try to construct a majority for independence, the SNP’s chosen tactic is to argue that life under independence will not be much different from life now.
As numerous political writers have put it, it is an attempt to change the question from “Why independence?” to “Why not independence?” Clearly, over the next ten months the “Braveheart” metaphor is going to be noticeable for its absence
Of course, things will not be entirely the same in an independent Scotland. But insofar as there is any change, then, according to the White Paper, it will all be for the better.
The bedroom tax – mentioned 37 times in the White Paper – will be scrapped. Royal Mail will be renationalised. The National Minimum Wage will increase at least in line with inflation. The state pension age may (or may not?) be lower than in the remainder UK (RUK).
Trident will be scrapped by 2020. Children aged three and four will be guaranteed 1,140 hours of free childcare. Energy bills will be cut. Pensions and mortgages will be unaffected, and there will be no increase in general taxation.
Corporation tax will be cut by up to 3%. Air Passenger Duty will be cut by 50%, prior to its eventual abolition. A Scottish Broadcasting Service will be set up. And for those worried about ‘defence’, there will be a Scottish security and intelligence service plus a Scottish Defence Force with an annual budget of £2.5 billions.
In an independent Scotland Scots will be £600 a year better off on average, according to the White Paper.
The fact that the White Paper doubles up as an SNP election manifesto –implementation of any or all of these policies would be a matter for the government of an independent Scotland – is another example of how the SNP hopes to win a majority for independence without really talking about … independence.
The raft of policies contained in the White Paper diverts attention away from the core question of independence – i.e. the relationship between the people of Scotland and the rest of the people of the UK – and replaces it with a hotchpotch of electoral bribes.
The party of independence for Scotland is so fearful of trying to argue the case for independence that it wants to run the independence referendum as if it were just another Holyrood general election.
And many of the electoral bribes are not as attractive as they might seem as first sight.
Trident will go. But there will be a ‘don’t ask – don’t tell’ policy on visits to Scottish ports by NATO-country ships carrying nuclear weapons. And the billions saved on weapons of mass destruction is to be spent instead on weapons and military forces of modest destruction.
There will be no nukes on Scottish soil – but plenty in Scottish waters.
The cut in corporation tax means a race to the bottom as an independent Scotland tries to attract foreign investors. It’s good that the National Minimum Wage will rise in line with inflation – a much higher proportion of the workforce is likely to be dependent on it.
The promise to cut energy bills turns out to be a promise to transfer responsibility for spending on increasing domestic energy efficiency from the power companies to the Scottish government.
Out of the well-known goodness of their hearts, the power companies will then supposedly pass these savings on to consumers by cutting their bills. (And surely the power companies already make enough money without being in need of what amounts to a public subsidy?)
An SNP government will scrap the bedroom tax in 2016 – but in the meantime it is failing to provide local authorities with sufficient funds to meet the demand for Discretionary Housing Payments.
An SNP government will also extend free childcare to three and four-year-olds in 2016 – but the SNP has the power to do that right now. Questioned about why it was not doing so, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explained:
If we did that now, then the revenues would flow straight to the UK Treasury rather than staying here in Scotland to help us fund that policy, to help us support that properly. That is why we need the full powers of independence.
In simpler terms: People going out to work as a result of the expansion of childcare would pay taxes. Right now, those taxes, unsurprisingly, go to the UK Treasury. But, for the SNP, it’s better to have less childcare (and less employment) than to have more money going to the Treasury.
By that ‘logic’: Until the arrival of independence mass unemployment would be a great deal for Scotland – the unemployed would pay nothing in taxes to the UK Treasury, but the UK Treasury would pay out billions in welfare benefits.
(The issue of expanding childcare looms particularly large in the White Paper and its presentation. This is because women are one of the groups most resistant to supporting independence. Hence the inclusion of a specific election bribe targeted at women in a White Paper about independence.)
In responding to publication of the White Paper/SNP election manifesto the thrust of criticism in the media and from the cross-party Better Together campaign was that the White Paper was a contradictory wish-list in which the sums did not add up.
They had a point.
It would not be up to Scotland alone, for example, to decide whether there would be a currency union with the RUK or ongoing membership of the EU.
But the White Paper simply assumes that, despite statements to the contrary from both the UK government and the EU Commission, the rest of the world (plus the BBC and the National Lottery) will carry out the SNP’s policies.
And some weighty academic research has also repeatedly concluded that the SNP’s assumptions about the income of an independent Scotland are unrealistic. “The Times”, for example, singled out:
The questionable assumption that between 2011-12 and 2016-17 onshore tax revenues would grow by 23%, a stellar performance compared with the preceding five years, when they grew by only 3%.
Less than consistently, the SNP argues that a currency union would be “common sense” because economic cycles in Scotland are much the same as in the UK as a whole.
So much for the longstanding SNP argument that independence is needed because Scottish economic cycles diverge from those in the rest of the UK, but Westminster governments consistently adopt policy in response to UK, not Scottish, economic cycles.
Promises such as scrapping Air Passenger Duty and the reliance on oil production to fund spending also sit uneasily against promises of a more environmentally friendly independent Scotland.
But much of the media and Better Together criticism of the White Paper is only a mirror image of the SNP’s politics. While the latter promise everything in an independent Scotland, the former predict only doom and gloom.
Neither side in the debate links the issue of Scotland’s constitutional status to basic questions about a root-and-branch attack on the social and economic inequalities and the environmental destruction inherent in all capitalist states.
The best that the SNP can offer is a vision of a slightly ‘fairer’ society, albeit one funded through attracting multinationals by tax cuts and increased income from non-renewable sources of energy.
The mainstream campaign for a ‘No’ vote does not even go that far.
They do not present the constitutional status quo (or increased devolution, which is what most Scots support) as a ‘better’ way to achieve social change. They run an essentially conservative campaign based on little more than scaremongering.
In theory, the Better Together campaign could argue for the status quo (or increased devolution) on the basis that a Westminster government could use the resources of the larger unit of the British state to redistribute wealth and power in order to create a fairer society.
In fact, because the campaign is an alliance between a latter-day Scottish brand of New Labour, Lib-Dems and the Tories, it is inherently incapable of promoting a pro-union case which challenges inequalities and injustice.
Over the next ten months socialists need to intervene in the ‘constitutional debate’ (which the SNP wants to reduce to an extended general election campaign) from a class perspective.
For socialists, the ‘social union’ that counts is not one that revolves around tennis players and rugby teams but the existence of an integrated labour movement (notwithstanding the independent status of the STUC) based on a free and voluntary association of organised labour in the constituent elements of the UK.
The ‘social union’ which counts is one based on the class interests, values and political attitudes which are shared by workers in Scotland and the rest of the UK: 63% of people in England agree with the statement “there is one law for the rich and one for the poor”, as do 61% of people in Scotland.
But for both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns the labour movement is just so much voting fodder. Its only role in politics is to be either electorally bribed into a vote for independence-lite or scaremongered into a vote for the status quo.
What is needed, and long overdue, is a campaign which challenges the politics of the mainstream ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns and counterposes united labour movement mobilisation to the sterility of the current referendum ‘debate’.
The Red Paper Collective’s response to the SNP’s White Paper for Independence.