Scotland's left on independence referendum: For an 'anti-austerity yes vote'

Statements on the Scottish independence referendum by the Scottish Socialist Youth, the International Socialist Group (Scotland) and the Scottish Greens.

By Andy Bowden

January 10, 2012 -- Scottish Socialist Youth -- After almost a year since the Scottish National Party’s landslide victory we have a  date – autumn 2014 for the most important referendum in Scottish history, on whether or not we stay in a union [the United Kingom] dominated by the right wing, a state that invaded Iraq, imposes nuclear weapons on the Clyde, destroyed Scotland’s industrial base, or whether we become an independent nation with the power to fundamentally change Scotland for the better and which reflects the left of centre political terrain instead of being dominated by the Tory home counties.

The referendum date has been announced after months of whining from the unionist [pro-British] parties, all of which have been in disarray since the SNP’s victory. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories [Conservative Party] all called for a referendum to be held as soon as possible after the SNP’s victory – ignoring that when the SNP was a minority administration they all refused to support the SNP’s call for an independence referendum in 2011.

They must be kicking themselves now – the poll on Scotland’s future will now take place after two years of a vicious Tory austerity package that will disproportionately affect Scotland’s economy, which itself has a higher than average public sector employment due to destruction of Scottish industry in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher. If it comes down to choosing between a government led by [the SNP's] Alex Salmond in Holyrood and many years of continued Tory rule in Westminster, even non-nationalist Scots may vote Yes as an “exit strategy” from Tory misrule.

This fear of a referendum being held at the height of Tory cuts is probably what motivated British Prime Minister David Cameron – along with typical unionist arrogance – to try to bring the referendum under the control of Westminster. After 300 years of Scotland having no say in whether or not we stay in the union, Westminster is now very concerned that Scots should have a fair say in it, even going as far as to say a referendum held by the Scottish parliament would be “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. A bit ironic given that the UK has no written constitution – it has kings, queens, princes, dukes, but no constitution.

At the end of the day, no referendum carried out is “binding” under UK law – all of them are advisory. And if there’s a majority yes vote for independence, it does not matter whether it’s in 2012 or 2014 – politically, the union is finished. After years of snidey slagging of Scots as “subsidy junkies”, “dole scum”, too wee to go it alone etc, Conservatives in England are beginning to wake up to the reality of Scottish Independence – the British state would be “Shorn of its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and relegated to minnow status in Nato”.

Unfortunately for the Tories who have less MPs in Scotland than there are Pandas, they’re unlikely to have any impact in stopping the breakup of the UK. Cameron’s intervention into the timing of the referendum shows he has zero tactical knowledge of the Scottish political scene. The unionist pillar of political strength in Scotland is the Labour Party, which has still not recovered from its defeat of 2007 let alone last year’s humiliating rout in Scotland.

Despite the disparity in political strength between the SNP and it’s unionist opponents, by 2014 you can expect the honeymoon between the Scottish media and the SNP to be over, if not at least on hiatus for the duration of an independence referendum campaign. Expect predictions of the apocalypse if Scotland decides to go it alone.

That’s why we need to organise a grassroots independence campaign to ensure we have our own media to promote the case for Independence – with Socialists adovcating a republic, public ownership of oil and taxes on the super rich, in contradiction to the SNP’s model of Scotland as a "Celtic Tiger" like, er, Ireland.

Pro-independence left-wingers don’t just need to organise to win the referendum, but also to shape the future of a post-independence Scotland – to oppose any moves to keep Scotland inside a “Union lite” with British military bases kept in Scotland on lease, or where our economy is run along the same Thatcherite lines that condemns a quarter of Scottish children to poverty.

For the first time in decades we have a chance to fundamentally change Scotland and Scottish politics for the better. Lets get organised to build the Socialist Republic.

[Scottish Socialist Youth is the youth organisation of the Scottish Socialist Party.]

International Socialist Group: Scottish independence -- where we stand

By Chris Bambery

January 11, 2012 --  International Socialist Group, Scotland -- There is a reek of desperation about the manner in which [British PM David] Cameron and his Liberal Democratic Party allies have blundered into a confrontation with [Scotland's First Minister] Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party (SNP) administration in Edinburgh over the referendum on Scottish independence. Why this sudden panic?

First, the reality has sunk in that a referendum will almost certainly vote for "devolution max". The polls suggest support for independence is growing, particularly among the young and the working class. Thus a state of alarm has set in among the Tories and their cronies because the preservation of the [United Kingdom] matters to the British ruling class. Globally, Scottish independence would be seen as a diminution of its power.

At a personal level there are deep ties between the British ruling class and Scotland. There is a British ruling class which unites its Scottish and English components. This alliance was forged on the battlefield, in the bloody construction of empire and in the emergence of the United Kingdom as an industrial and financial global power. David Cameron not only represents, but embodies this, as does equally the British royal family. The realisation Scotland might vote for independence comes as a genuine shock to these people.

Second, Cameron and his Liberal Democrat collaborators have little influence on the situation north of the border. The Tories are openly described as a "toxic brand" on BBC Radio Scotland news and the Liberal Democrats are regarded today as little more than Tories bedecked in yellow. Any united "no" campaign, which is what Cameron wants, would have to rely on the participation and co-operation of the Labour Party. But even a supporter of a "no" vote like Labour frontbencher Jim Murphy rules out appearing on the same platform as Cameron because of the toxicity associated with the Tories.

Thus the coalition government has charged into this confrontation with the SNP administration in a way which will have delighted Alex Salmond. When Cameron, Danny Alexander et al. dictate that Scotland can have a referendum but that they will decide the question, timescale and who runs the vote, it reeks of the old colonial attitude – the old adage that “the natives can have a vote but they cannot be trusted to run things themselves”. The demand from Westminster that a referendum should be a straight choice between union and independence with no third option for "devolution max" also carries the implication that the natives are too stupid to decide on anything more than two options.

Salmond will relish a confrontation with the Tories because, for many people in Scotland, he will effectively be confronting Thatcher’s spiritual heirs, and in that fight there is only one winner. The scare being spun by George Osborne, Cameron and Alexander is that big business won’t invest in Scotland because of the threat of independence. There’s not a shred of evidence for this and the prime minister’s spokesperson was forced to admit that it was based on private soundings. The business world seems far more worried about Cameron’s "veto" on Europe than on the prospect of Scotland voting for independence within the European Union.

It’s a very basic point, but a referendum which is an act of self-determination should be decided upon and controlled by the people it affects, not imposed by Cameron and his allies. We take the position that we’re for the break up of the United Kingdom by whatever means possible given the UK’s bloody record round the globe (most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya), with a fresh one looming in Iran.

We know that the Scottish ruling class played a massive part in the creation and maintenance of British imperialism, and we will not forgive that, but we want shot of the UK state. They can take [the] Trident [nuclear submarines] and its replacement away from the Clyde when they go, and we want no Scottish troops involved in imperialist wars.

However, on a more positive note, in campaigning for a "yes" vote for independence we can promote the argument for an "anti-austerity Yes vote". Cameron (and now British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband) wants to doom us to at least a decade of austerity. By campaigning for Scotland to escape that nightmare we can fight for our vision of a new society and that can help build resistance south of the border.

While independence for Scotland should be championed, becoming cheerleaders for the free-market capitalist Salmond would be a mistake for the anti-austerity resistance, anti-war movement and the left. We need to build our own independent, united movement in this referendum campaign – one that puts the needs and wants of the people at the fore, instead of the big business independent Scotland aspired to by Salmond and the SNP.

Scottish Greens: Referendum must empower Scots from 16 years up

By the Scottish Greens

January 2012 -- Responding to today's announcement by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Greens have called for the transfer of new powers to come without strings attached and for the urgent opening up of the debate to what kind of independent Scotland the voters are being offered.

The Scottish Greens support votes for 16 and 17 year olds and will campaign for their voice to be heard in the referendum.

Patrick Harvie, member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) said:

It’s essential that the transfer of new powers to put the referendum on a stronger legal footing must be without strings - it must be genuinely empowering. Anything else will be seen by every Scottish voter as a piece of mischief and nothing more. Denying 16 and 17 year olds a vote on the future of their country is a shameful position that must be reversed right away.

Both sides are so far obsessed with posturing and process. Both need to move on to a debate about the kind of society Scotland could become. The real issues are about how independence – or any other option – could deliver a more equal society, a more sustainable economy, and a decent future for our communities.

Greens take the view that independence could offer a radically better future for Scotland, but it’s vital that the campaign engages people with those issues, instead of only offering opportunities for politicians to strut and posture at one another.

[For more on the Scottish Greens' position, see the videos at]

Thursday 12 January 2012
by John Foster

Suddenly we are in the middle of a constitutional crisis.

On Monday David Cameron demanded that Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond hold a snap referendum on Scottish independence.

The following day Con-Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore announced that the referendum would be under UK jurisdiction, legally binding and solely for and against independence.

At first sight these challenges to the SNP government may appear both strange and provocative. They are certainly fateful.

But there is an explanation. It can be found in a little-noticed event which occurred in a committee room of the Scottish Parliament just 10 days before Christmas.

The SNP majority on the Scotland Bill committee recommended rejection of the Bill, which is now going through its final stages at Westminster.

Their recommendation is due for debate in the Scottish Parliament early in 2012. The SNP majority will almost certainly ensure that the Bill's rejection is approved.

This would immediately kill off the Westminster Parliament's Scotland Bill given the convention that no legislation specifically affecting Scotland be passed in London against the wishes of the Scottish Parliament.

Cameron's intervention is an attempt to pre-empt this decision and to try to enforce his own agenda.

Politically there is a great deal at stake.

The Scotland Bill broadly implements the recommendations of the Calman Commission on Scottish devolution. Set up by the Scottish Parliament in 2008, its remit was to examine how far additional powers were required. It reported in 2009.

At the time the SNP saw the Calman Commission, no doubt with an element of truth, as an attempt to head off rising support for the SNP and for Scottish independence. Though heading a minority government in Scotland, the SNP did not at that stage have a parliamentary majority and could not stop the establishment of the commission.

Since then the stakes have been raised.

The SNP won an absolute majority of seats in the May 2011 elections. One of its election pledges was to hold a referendum on independence in the second half of its four-year term in 2014-15. Currently support for independence is running at about 35 per cent. This is clearly not enough for a victory.

This is the political context for the SNP rejection of the Scotland Bill. If passed into law it might well satisfy some calls for greater powers and further diminish support for independence.

In rejecting the Bill the SNP was effectively preparing a new line of defence - a demand for devolution of powers just short of independence, what is called Devo Max.

The SNP's stated objection to the Scotland Bill, as outlined in the committee's majority report, is that it does not give the Scottish Parliament sufficient immediate powers to address issues of economic growth. To do this, it argues, the Scottish Parliament needs what it describes as "full fiscal autonomy" - control over all taxes.

The SNP plan was, and probably still is, for the option of fiscal autonomy to appear on the ballot paper alongside independence.

Salmon's calculation seems to be that that it would be this "compromise" position of Devo Max that would come out top.

This would then leave the Westminster government facing a quandary. Scottish referenda have no legally binding force on the Westminster government. But to reject the will of Scottish people and refuse fiscal autonomy would be just the thing to galvanise support for the SNP and full independence in the 2015 Scottish elections.

This is why Cameron acted as he did.

So what should be the position of the left? The biggest problem here is that there is currently only limited understanding of the economic and political issues at stake.

It is therefore important to look in a bit more detail at the relative merits of "full fiscal autonomy" and the proposals of the Scotland Bill - a piece of legislation which, as the SNP will no doubt stress, is being piloted through Westminster by a Conservative-dominated coalition.

The Scotland Bill's proposals are in fact virtually identical to those outlined in the Labour government's Scotland Bill white paper in 2009 and of the Calman Commission itself.

The main change has been to slightly increase the borrowing limits and to give the Scottish Parliament powers to issue bonds within "prudential" limits which Scotland could afford to repay out of taxation over a 10-year period.

The essence of the Bill's new funding proposal is that UK-levied income tax in Scotland be reduced by 10p in the pound and that the Scottish Parliament would gain powers to levy income tax up to or exceeding 10p in the pound. At the same time the block grant from central government to Scotland would be reduced by the exact equivalent of 10p-in-the-pound tax yield.

So the Scottish Parliament would have the freedom to increase its income through its own taxation powers - or to reduce it. As the 2010 white paper put it, "spending decisions in Scotland will have proper consequences for taxation in Scotland" both at the basic and higher tax bands. The Bill would also devolve two relatively minor taxes - on landfill and the stamp duty on land sales.

But probably the most important aspect of the Scotland Bill is what it does not change. It retains the existing principles for the overall allocation of funding. Under the Barnett formula this still gives Scotland roughly 17 per cent more per head than the UK average. Income from Westminster is guaranteed to remain at this level whether Scotland increases its internal income tax levy or not.

Imperfect though it is, particularly in terms of its impact on some English regions, this block grant allocation still reflects the social democratic principle of the 1960s and '70s whereby central government sought to distribute income across Britain to compensate for relative levels of poverty, ill-health and unemployment.

So what of Devo Max?

It would give the Scottish government power over all taxes. The block grant would end.

Scotland would gain control over corporation tax, national insurance, the ability to determine income tax bands, VAT and other purchase taxes plus the petroleum revenue tax from the Scottish sector of the North Sea.

Would this be enough to cover all existing public expenditure? Probably - just. Petroleum revenue tax varies greatly from year to year and is set to decline in the long term as oil volumes decrease. In 2007-8 there would have been a small deficit, in 2008-9 a surplus and in 2009-10 a slightly bigger deficit. So currently in good years there would be just enough to meet existing expenditure, but little or nothing over.

How, then, would fiscal autonomy promote economic growth? The argument appears to be that by reducing corporation tax - and possibly the upper band of income tax - Scotland would be able to attract more companies to headquarter themselves in Scotland along with more "high net worth individuals."

Government redistribution of income at British level would be replaced by an ability to manipulate market forces. Effectively this would pit it against other parts of Britain.

The minority report of the Scottish Parliament committee roundly condemns this. It "was absolutely opposed to allowing the Scottish government to make Scotland a tax haven for businesses to avoid paying corporation tax that they would otherwise pay to support public services across the whole of the UK."

It also claimed the real objective of control over tax rates at higher levels was "to allow top rate taxpayers to avoid income tax by claiming to reside in Scotland." The SNP would dispute this.

What are the wider issues that socialists and the left will need to consider in order to intervene effectively? Find out next Tuesday in the second of John Foster's two articles explaining the Scottish constitutional crisis.

There's no such thing as an "anti-austerity yes vote". There's just a "yes" vote. The unglamorous truth is that a post-independence government will be led by the SNP, not by small groups to the left of Labour, who between them all have virtually zero electoral support. We know from the experience of the Irish (misnamed) Celtic Tiger that such a government will attempt to attract inward investment away from England by cutting corporation tax and deregulating, thereby launching a 'race to the bottom'. England, now free from Scottish Labour MPs and consequently led by what will be almost certainly be a permanant Tory government, will have to respond with their own programme of business tax cuts, or watch the north of England become an investment (and jobs-free) zone.

So the result of so-called independence will be: 1. Big business gets more tax cuts, north and south of the border, and ordinary people will pay more or lose public services. 2. the 85% of the UK working class that lives in England will be condemned to Tory government for a generation or more. 3. petit-nationalism in England will increase and ethnic minorities will be suffer. 4. consequently, the Welsh will want out of what remains of the union. 5. class politics will take a back seat. 5. British imperialist foreign policy will remain entirely unchanged - it will just be renamed English foreign policy.

Jim Murphy: Labour must lead fight to keep Scotland in the union

Interview: Shadow defence secretary and senior Labour Scottish MP on patriots, class and what is a credible deterrent

Andrew Sparrow, Friday 13 January 2012 15.02 GMT

Jim Murphy
Jim Murphy: I’m proud to Scottish. The only flag I ever wave would be a Scottish flag. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

So much for questions about the military. Jim Murphy is the shadow defence secretary, but he's also one of Labour's leading Scottish MPs and – for obvious reasons – the Scotland questions rather swamped the defence questions when we met for an interview.

Murphy was Scottish secretary before the election. He's not in charge of that portfolio now but, as Labour prepares for what will be a historic struggle with the SNP over Scottish independence, Murphy's going to be a key player. Here are the key points from what he had to say.

• Murphy said the Labour party had to be "in the driving seat" in the campaign to defeat Alex Salmond in the independence referendum. "There needs to be a three-party campaign, ourselves, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories," he said. "But the Labour party has to be in the driving seat on this, along with civic Scotland, the trade unions, business, the community and others."

• He said the Electoral Commission should adjudicate on the issue of whether or not there should be a second, devo max question on the ballot paper. "In football, or any sport, one side does not get to pick the date of the final, then set the rules for the final, and then get to pick the referee," he said."That's what the nats are asking for." And he said Scottish public opinion should determine the timing of the ballot. "If they say autumn 2014 sounds about right, that's their decision," he said.

• He said devo max was a meaningless "advertiser's slogan". The SNP use devo max to describe a full-scale devolution option that they want included in the independence referendum. But Murphy said this was just an "abstract concept" that had not been defined. "I don't know what these things are," he said. "I really don't know what indy lite or devo max is."

• He said that someone from outside politics should be chosen as the figurehead for the pro-union campaign.

• He said David Cameron had "mishandled" the referendum issue in recent days. Until now, senior Labour figures have generally avoided criticising the government over this issue. But Murphy said briefing that the Westminster referendum plans would include a "use-by" date was a mistake.

• He said Tories like Michael Forsyth should stay out of the pro-union campaign because their influence would be counterproductive. Murphy also said he personally would refuse to share a platform with any Tories during the campaign.

• He criticised the Lib Dem position on Trident. "The Lib Dems seem to know what they are against," he said. "But they have no idea what they are for."

• He said he would be tempted to stand for the Scottish parliament not the Westminster parliament if he were starting his political career now.

We met in Murphy's office in the Commons on late Wednesday afternoon. Defence did get a mention – one thing I learnt is that, if you think Lib Dem hostility to Trident makes eventual Labour/Lib Dem co-operation more likely, it's best to think again – but I generally focused on Scotland, as well as asking a few questions about Murphy's background and career. I'm still not sure I fully understand Murphy's distinction between patriotism (Labour, good) and nationalism (SNP, bad), but in other respects the interview was very revealing. Here's how it went.

Tories and Scottish independence

Q: There is speculation that some Tories would not mind if Scotland went independent, because it would be easier for them to win elections. Do think think that's true?

A: I don't know many Tory MPs. I know a lot of Tory voters, because I've got a lot in my constituency. [When Murphy won Eastwood in 1997, he overturned a majority of 11,688 in what had been the safest Tory seat in Scotland.] The sense I get from mainstream Tories is that they would rather have a United Kingdom with a Labour government than the break up of the United Kingdom.

Q: But do you think they are less worried about the break up of the UK than you are, for party political reasons?

A: In the darker moments, for a tiny number of Tory MPs, they might think "what's the big deal?" But I think for the majority of Tory voters in my constituency, and probably for the majority of Tory members of parliament, they don't want to lose one of the countries in the United Kingdom on their watch. I think the Tory party will avoid the demon on their shoulder that says "let's cut and run".

Organising a pro-union campaign

Q: What conversations have you had with the Tories about the independence referendum?

A: I've said that I'm not going to share a platform with David Cameron, so I'm maybe not the best person ... They bump into me in the corridor and things and say "what are you going to do?" I said to them I think they've mishandled parts of the last couple of days, in the same way the SNP have mishandled parts of the last few days. Both the Scottish and the British government have led an inelegant dance in the past couple of days.

Q: In what way?

A: The UK government briefed over the weekend that the referendum would come with a use-by date. On the basis, that that did not happen, I think that was inelegant. And, for the nats [the SNP], they clearly were panicked. To announce a referendum by Twitter – I know it's fashionable, and I tweet, but the constitutional future of the UK should not be announced in a haphazard, 140 characters. This is about hundreds of years of history, not 140 characters on your mobile phone.

Q: Have you talked to George Osborne about this? [Osborne chairs the government committee dealing with the issue.]

A: They approached me and said what are you going to do. But I'm not in formal talks about how do we make it happen. There needs to be a three-party campaign, ourselves, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories. But the Labour party has to be in the driving seat on this, along with civic Scotland, the trade unions, business, the community and others.

Individual Labour party members will take their own view as to whether they share platforms at a national level or at a constituency level with Tories. In some constituencies across Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, across Fife and all these places, it's not an issue.

Q: Why is it an issue for you personally?

A: I just have a different outlook on life. I voted with the Tories on AV, but I did not share a platform with them. It's a personal choice. I didn't grow up in a family that would want me to be enjoying my time standing next to a Tory on a platform. It's not who I am.

Patriotism versus Nationalism

Q: Do you have a view as to who should be leading a campaign against independence?

A: In favour of devolution. I'm not against things. I'm for things. The Labour party can't be against things. It's got to be for things. That's not a trite correction of your question. It's really very important.

Q: How do you frame that, then?

A: I don't think it's that hard. It's choice between patriotism and nationalism.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: I've said this before – all nationalists are patriots, but not all patriots are nationalists.

Q: But what does that mean?

A: I'm proud to Scottish. The only flag I ever wave would be a Scottish flag. Intense, immeasurable, DNA pride in being Scottish. It's what I am, from the tip of my toe to the top of my 6ft 2.

Q: But what's the difference between your pride in being Scottish and Alex Salmond's?

A: I don't think you have to take that patriotism and take the political expression of it to a constitutional philosophy that is through time, forever, always right.

Q: So nationalism is inflexible patriotism – or patriotism without the wriggle room?

A: I think to take it and constitutionalise that patriotism as a narrow, political expression – as if the only way you can be a patriot is by being a separatist – it's just wrong and unhealthy.

Our argument with the public is, we're Labour, we're patriots, and because we love Scotland, we want to be part of the United Kingdom. There is nowhere better than Scotland. But there is something bigger. I think that is the argument that you have to make.

Timing and scope of the referendum

Q: Alex Salmond has said that he wants his referendum in autumn 2014 and he wants two questions. The coaltion is resisting that. Do you think that the UK government should compromise or should they play hardball and threaten to take it to the supreme court?

A: I think you should do two things. The Scottish government and the Scottish people are not the same thing. What does Scotland want? Which would be Scottish business, Scottish trade unions, the Scottish public. If they say autumn 2014 sounds about right, that's their decision. If the Scottish public say we would rather have it earlier, stop your bloody squabbling, just get on with making a decision, then let us make the decision pretty soon. That's one thing.

And, the second thing, on the rules of it – just let the Electoral Commission decide. In football, or any sport, one side does not get to pick the date of the final, then set the rules for the final, and then get to pick the referee. And that's what the nats are asking for. "We'll decide when it is, we will decide how it is and we will decide it is and we will decide who oversees it." That's just not right. No one thinks that's right.

Leadership of the pro-union campaign

Q: Do you have a view as to who should be the figurehead for the campaign against the SNP?

A: This is only 48 hours old. We're talking – myself and Johann [Lamont] and Douglas [Alexander] and Margaret [Curran] and Anas [Sarwar] and some of the other MSPs – about how we put it all together, with business and trade unions, and how you create space for the other two parties, and people of no party, and academics and celebrities and footballers and all that sort of thing.

Q: Does it need a figurehead?

A: I think it does, yes. I think it needs someone probably from outside of politics to be the figurehead. That's only my instinct.

Tory role in a pro-union campaign

Q: And does it help having Conservatives campaigning? Is it helpful having Michael Forsyth [the Thatcherite former Scottish secretary] arguing your case?

A: No. Michael Forsyth is a passionate, driven man. But Michael is not the best ally to have in this.

Q: Is it helpful to have any Conservatives on your side?

A: Annabel Goldie [the former Conservative leader in Scotland] is a decent, respected, thoughtful woman. No one dislikes Annabel. There are Conservative politicians that Scotland listens to and Annabel is one of them. Michael? People say about Marmite you either love it or loathe it. I don't think Michael is Marmite. Or he's one-sided Marmite. He has paid the price for being Mrs Thatcher's last true believer.

Alex Salmond

Q: It is impossible to read anything about Scottish politics these days without seeing Salmond described as clearly the most talented, wily, successful etc politician in Britain. Do you believe that?

A: In politics you're all sugar or you're all shit, in an old phrase that one of my relatives used to have. And at the moment he's all sugar. No one is as bad as their bad ratings and no one is as good as their good ratings. But he's had a quarter of a century of practice.

Q: Those who say he's a wily operator look back at that quarter of a century and they say that the SNP used to be a bit of a fringe party and that he seems to have achieved a lot since then.

A: He won an election, which wasn't expected. Let's not forget, he's wrong as least as often as he's right. The arc of prosperity? His first speech as first minister was that we should copy the Celtic Tiger across the water. I don't think Scotland wants to copy the Irish economic model of interest rates or VAT rates or any of that sort of stuff. On Kosovo, it was [according to Salmond] "unpardonable folly" for Nato to get involved in saving the Muslim civilians ...

Q: But that's the point, isn't it? Some politicians can say sensible things and get slammed. And others can make terrible mistakes but survive because they some Teflon quality. He seems to be one of those.

A: Let's see what happens during the referendum.

Devo max

Q: Let's use one of the comments on the blog I posted inviting readers to suggest questions: "How does Jim feel about the growing devo max camp within the Labour party?"

A: What is devo max? You've got devolution, you've got independence, and then you've got two other constructs – devo max or indy lite. I don't know what these things are. I really don't know what indy lite or devo max is. It's as if somebody from the SNP has walked into one of these soft drink refrigerators. It's not a soft drink. It's a constitutional settlement we're being asked to get involved in here. They don't exist as a concept. The Labour party's view is that devolution can always evolve and can always be improved. Devo max is an advertiser's slogan.

Q: Would it be helpful if people stopped talking about it?

A: No, politicians can't ask people to stop talking about things. People can talk about whatever they want.

Q: But once it's out there as an idea, you've either got to trash it or come up with an alternative. You can't just pretend it's not being talked about.

A: I don't think we want to trash the idea. I don't think you win a referendum by trashing ideas. The premium in this referendum campaign will be who makes a reasonable, rational, patriotic case. But these words are abstract concepts that no one is capable of defining. The conversation in the Labour party isn't about devo max or indy lite. It's about how do you strengthen devolution.

Q: And what's your thinking on that?

A: The Labour party shouldn't have a closed mind about additional powers to the Scottish parliament over time. But that's not the same thing as devo max or indy lite, whatever those things are. We're talking about further powers to the Scottish parliament before it's even got the powers from [Scotland bill].

Scotland bill

Q: How much difference will the proposals in the Scotland bill actually make?

A: The Scotland bill was the Labour party's proposal. And the tax-varying power is potentially transformative. In future, the Scottish parliament will have to set its own tax rate. It will have a default rate lower than the UK rate and they can take a decision. Do they want the same rate, a higher rate or a lower rate? Because at the moment they have the power [to vary their tax rate] but they never use it.

Q: And how will that work out? I keep being told by my Scottish friends that the Scots have a stronger commitment than the English to the public sector and the public service ethos. Yet, since devolution, they have not shown any appetite for using the powers they've got to spend more money on it. Do you think Scotland will end up with higher taxes than London? Or lower taxes?

A: Well, the optimist within me makes me hope that instead of looking to blame London for all the problems, they'll look in the mirror and make a decision, which is that we have the power to change the tax rate in Scotland.

Q: But will tax go up or down?

A: I don't know whether it will be up or down. I think in Scotland there is a greater affection and instinctive affinity with a sense of community than exists in some other parts of the United Kingdom.

Q: But in the last 13 years that has not translated into a willingness to stump up a bit more in tax.

A: It ebbs and flows. In general, my view is that Scotland is a bit more communitarian in how it wants to find its answers to some of the big problems. Does that instinctively lead to higher taxes? I'm not sure it does. At the election that Labour lost and the nats won, the nats didn't asks for a mandate for higher tax. The Scottish people voted for the party that promised lower tax. Labour promised a council tax freeze for two years. The Nats promised it for five years.

Labour's record in Scotland

Q: You mentioned Labour. One of the questions on the blog came from dellamirandola who said: "You definitely need to ask him why, given that Scotland has produced so many prominent Westminster Labour figures, Scottish Labour is so rubbish."

A: I am Scottish Labour. That's the strange thing about that question.

Q: So what went wrong last year?

A: We didn't give people enough of a reason to vote for us. In politics you've got to be able to complete the sentence: "I'm voting Labour because ..." And I don't mean me, I mean the public. People need to have convinced themselves that there are reasons to vote for you. If the public can't complete that sentence, you're not really in the contest. And while of course I would rather not have lost, the only slight lining to a really dark cloud is that we will never be complacent again. And we will go into that referendum with a memory and feeling of dreadful defeat. And this referendum contest is much more important than last year's Scottish election, immeasurably so. Labour's involvement in this will be the best campaign Scottish Labour's ever had.

Not standing for the Scottish leadership

Q: Last year, some people suggested that you should stand for the Labour leadership in Scotland. How seriously did you think about it?

A: I didn't think about it, really.

Q: Why not?

A: The jokey answer I give on telly and radio is that my marriage survives because I live in a different country four days a week and I'm only home at weekends. The actual answer is, I've got a job. I enjoy this job. It would be arrogant to switch parliaments.

Holyrood or Westminster

Q: If you were going into politics now, would you go into Holyrood politics or Westminster politics?

A: I think if I was going into politics afresh, I would be tempted to go into Holyrood politics. When I was elected, the Scottish parliament did not exist. Now you have a parliament that is increasingly in the minds of the Scottish public. It's about to have more powers, real teeth.

Q: If an 18-year-old came to you and said, "I believe in politics, I believe in public service, I want to do my best for my constituents", would you advise them to stand for the Scottish parliament or for Westminster?

A: If they were 18 and said they wanted to be in parliament, I would say, "Do something in between". I got interested in politics through personal experience of growing up poor in Glasgow and growing up white in South Africa. I would say go and do something, be something, achieve things, get a feel for life. There's more to politics than parliament.

Defence spending

Q: Turning to defence, why do we have to spend so much on it? This was raised by someone on the blog [DWearing] who said that Britain spends 2.7% of GDP on defence, while countries like Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany spend much less, and that they're just as secure and richer.

A: The Germany economy isn't bigger than ours because they spend less on defence. There's not a cause and effect there. I've announced some defence cuts that we support and we have to make some further cuts.

Q: But, as David Cameron keeps saying, Britain will still have the fourth biggest defence budget in the world. Does it need to be that high?

A: You don't set your specific defence spend as a matter of principle. You invest the amount in defence you feel is necessary to fulfil Britain's role in the world. The only commitment we have is the Nato commitment, for 2% [of GDP spent on defence]. Beyond that there isn't a philosophical, in principle, level at which you would set defence spending. It's enough to get the job done. Traditionally, the Labour party has been strong on defence. It's part of the Labour party's heritage. Of course, we have arguments about it. But generally we've been strong on defence and one way of measuring that strength isn't how many times you commit your forces into action, but how much you are willing to maintain defence expenditure.


Q: Where do you stand on Trident? The Conservatives are wholly committed to a Trident replacement. But the Lib Dems in their election manifesto ruled out a "like-for-like" Trident replacement and said there should be a cheaper alternative. Trident lite, if you like. Are you at all attracted by that?

A: I'm not an expert on the weapons systems, so you defer to the advice that the experts give. On the politics, the Lib Dems seem to know what they are against. But they have no idea what they are for. As far as I can tell, they are looking at nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. And there's a long list of experts who will say that's a pretty ill thought out way of doing it. So for the Lib Dems it's all politics and little defence.

Q: But it's also money. A nuclear-tipped cruise missile system would be a lot cheaper.

A: But in good times and and in bad the Lib Dems have had a political answer to a defence problem. What's our view? We are not wedded to one weapons system.

Q: Are you committed to a submarine-based system?

A: Our criteria is that phrase you hear all the time, and it's not an anodyne avoidance way of describing it. It's "credible" - so what's credible? "Minimum" - so let's have as few as necessary. Independent - self descriptive.

Q: Does a deterrent have to be submarine-based to be credible?

A: That's where you get to. The evidence up until now has been that that's the way you do it credibly.

Q: What policy reviews have you got underway?

A: We've got five different strands to our review. One of which is procurement, which is the one we're furthest ahead on. That was published when Alan West made his comments about the Danes and Belgians. [They weren't complimentary]. It got us some coverage, I suppose. So the review on procurement is halfway towards completion. We produced a document last year. There's a review on future threats that we're going to get rolling this month or the beginning of next month. A review on the future architecture of defence decision making, greater European co-operation and everything else. Forces welfare and covenant issues. And then the future size and shape of the armed forces.

Q: Which review will cover the nuclear deterrent?

A: That is inside threats. To some extent that's parked until we see what the government's evidence is [on Trident replacement], and we will ask them to share it with us on privy council terms. But our starting point is the 2008 white paper, which was that a minimum, credible, independent, nuclear deterrent was at that time submarine-based, with an argument about whether you go from four boats to three boats. The government has now got its review. If they alight on new evidence, we'll look at that.

Q: I'm inferring from that that you have no appetite to remove the submarine-based deterrent.

A: I'm really not wedded to something. I didn't get involved in politics or join the Labour party because I love a weapons system. But I'm not a unilateralist, and the Labour party is not a unilateralist party. And you either have a credible nuclear deterrent or you don't. Iran and North Korea are going in one direction. Does that increase or decrease the need for Britain to have a nuclear deterrent? I think most people would say, my gosh, in a world of Ahmadinejad and North Korea, we should continue to have a nuclear deterrent.

Working class versus middle class

Q: On the blog I posted, someone [tadramgo] raised an interview you gave to the New Statesman last year in which you said it was Labour's job to help working-class people have middle-class kids. They challenged this. "Do you believe that working-class culture is something that we should automatically wish to abandon? Do you reject the idea that one should 'rise with your class, not out of it'?"

A: Things like the national minimum wage and tax credits were part of that effort to lift a great many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people from where they were ... How did I get a break in life? I got a break in life because we emigrated, and I got out of the housing scheme we were in. But you can't run a Labour government along a policy of the luck of the few to get a fortunate break in life. I genuinely believe that it is our job to give folk the chance to climb the income ladder, to change their way of life, to buy their house, if that's what they want to do, to buy a nice car.

Inside the question/diatribe was a sense of working-class culture. What is working class culture? I go to the football every week. I play football twice a week. My stag night was at the greyhounds. At Christmas, where did I go? I went to my local greyhound track. Is that me conforming to some ill-informed, nonsense, working-class stereotype? I go to the greyhounds because I like it. I'm middle class now by income and I'm working class by culture. That's how I think of myself. It really annoys me, this "you leave behind working-class culture". Culture is part of who you are.

The Murphys and Norman Tebbit

Q: You've talked in the past about how, when you were growing up, your father lost his job and travelled around the UK looking for work and that as a result your family ended up moving from Glasgow to Plymouth. [For example, in this interview.] Since I heard that, I've always wondered what you felt about Norman Tebbit's "on your bike" speech.

A: My family got on a bus. What did I think of it? If you separate the messenger from the message, I think people have got to – people are mobile, in terms of where they can work. But I thought his speech was cold hearted. It was lecturing, hectoring, mean and cold spirited from a man who didn't understand anything about it.

Q: I thought his point was that he did understand it, because his father had gone through unemployment.

A: But that wasn't his life. It's what you then take from the experience. I don't take from my experience that everyone has to go on a bus to Plymouth. I don't want a country where everyone has to get on a bus to Plymouth.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

From the blog of the Socialist Party of Great Britain:

Politicians, national and local, are getting worked up over a referendum on Scottish independence and the media are encouraging the rest of us to get involved. But why should we?

It is of no concern to workers in Scotland whether they are governed from London or by a separate independent government in Edinburgh. This is because the cause of the problems they face is the capitalist economic system of production for profit, not the form of government. And the capitalist economic system would continue to exist in a politically independent Scotland.

The only people to benefit from Scottish independence would be the local politicians, who would be able to award themselves grander titles and grander salaries. For workers on these islands there is a precedent in Ireland which broke away from the UK in 1922. Can anyone claim that this has made any difference to the position of workers there?

In Scotland’s case not even the local capitalists would benefit. An independent Scotland would have no choice but to stay in the EU and so could not erect tariff walls to protect them as the Irish government did for a while to try to protect the fledgling capitalist class there.

The fuss, however, does illustrate two general political points. First, about how referendums can be manipulated to try to get the result the organisers want. Wily politician that he is, SNP leader Alex Salmond knows that if the vote is a straight yes or no on independence the chances are that he will lose. So he wants to put two questions to the electorate,. One on independence. The other on increased powers for the Scottish Parliament which he knows would have a better chance of being carried. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has made the same calculation and so is seeking to impose a vote on independence only.

The second point is about the relationship between declared goal and immediate aims. It’s a question that concerned the pre-WWI Social Democratic movement too. As well as socialism as their ‘maximum’ programme they had a ‘minimum’ programme of reforms to be achieved under capitalism. As a result their support came to be built up on the basis of these reforms rather than socialism, and they ended up becoming in practice capitalist reform parties, with socialism as a mere desirable long-term aim. Eventually that was dropped too.

The SNP has got itself into a similar situation. Its long-term aim on paper may be Scottish independence but it has built up its electoral support on the basis of being a better administrator of political affairs in Scotland than the Labour Party. Some who voted for them may also think that a separate Scottish party in charge in Edinburgh can get a better deal than an all-UK party. Whatever the reason, they will not have voted for the SNP because they want Scottish independence. Which, as stated, is why Salmond lacks the courage of his convictions.

We don’t want or care about Scottish independence (any more than we care or support a "United Kingdom" or an "independent Britain") so it’s not our business to advise those who really want this how to best go about getting it. But we do want world socialism and do know that the way to further this cause is to advocate that and that alone and not seek support on any ‘minimum’ programme if reforms.

That way, support for a socialist political party will be support for socialism and not for something less. When a majority for this has evolved socialists would have no fear of a referendum on the single question of “Capitalism or Socialism?” and would not want, would in fact indignantly reject, a fall-back, second question on “Do you want a reformed capitalism?” Unlike Salmond, we’d say bring it on.

So we have a pro-yes call by the SWP's branch in Scotland which has the cheek to call itself the "International Socialist Group". Apparently they think that an independent Scotland could avoid the austerity that all other capitalist governments are being forced to impose. Or perhaps, as good Trotskyists, they are only pretending to believe this to attract support in the hope that when it doesn't work the workers of Scotland will turn to them for leadership.

These people are incapable of taking a principled stand on anything. If they really were international socialists they'd come out and say that an independent and inevitably capitalist Scotland would make no difference whatsoever to workers in that part of the world and, like the SPGB, urge people there who want socialism to write "world socialism" across their ballot paper in any referendum on Scottish independence.

SWP one-eighty on Scottish independence, and the return of the prodigal son

Submitted on 1 February, 2012 - 13:36
Dale Street

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is calling for a yes vote in the referendum on Scotland’s constitutional status which is due to be held in 2014.

According to recent issues of its paper:

“(We) back independence for Scotland. The UK is an imperialist power that pillages the world’s resources. A yes vote in the referendum would weaken the British state…. The break up of our ‘kingdom’ would be one small victory against its rotten record.” (Socialist Worker 2285)

“Britain is a major imperialist power that still wants to be able to invade and rob other countries across the globe. A clear yes vote for independence would weaken the British state and undermine its ability to engage in future wars.” (SW 2286)

Problem number one, for the SWP, with this position: Its argument for a yes vote is a “timeless” one. Britain has been an imperialist power for centuries. So why is it only now that the SWP has decided that Scottish independence would be a “good thing”?

In the past the SWP has been vigorously anti-independence. When it briefly joined the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 2001, for example, one of the sticking points was its refusal to share the SSP’s unconditional support for Scottish independence. What has changed since then?

Problem number two with this argument: It is a “universal” one. If the break-up of Britain along national lines is a ‘good thing’ because of Britain’s imperialist history, then, logically, the break-up of any and all imperialist states along national lines would equally be a ‘good thing’.

So, should the Alaskan Independence Party ever achieve its goal of a multi-question referendum on the state’s constitutional status, the SWP would call for a vote for independence? Independence for Alaska might not be a fatal blow to US imperialism, but it would certainly be a setback.

On the other hand, given Germany’s record of “invading and robbing other countries”, socialists should presumably have opposed the reunification of Germany in 1990. (Some socialists actually did so — but their arguments were largely based on emotional revulsion against German identity: “Nie wieder Deutschland”.)

In fact, why does the SWP not take its argument to its logical conclusion and advocate the break-up of the European Union?

True, that would throw European history back by over half a century and recreate a patchwork of warring states. But it would certainly weaken capitalism at a continental level – not just at the level of one state – and doubtless constitute “one small victory against its rotten record.”

Although the SWP’s pro-independence articles stress that the key divide in the world is class, that workers need unity in a struggle against their rulers, and that “our class unity will continue to be our greatest strength”, they fail to explain how Scottish independence relates to such basic socialist ideas.

They fail to do so because independence for Scotland is at odds with such ideas. Socialists generally favour the creation of larger political units and breaking down existing state barriers where they exist as this provides the most fruitful ground for creating working-class unity.

In fact, the very articles which advocate Scottish independence admit that in an independent Scotland “Scottish rulers will still exploit Scottish workers… Scottish workers will still need to fight their bosses … and workers in Scotland, Wales and England and beyond will still need unity in struggle against our rulers.”

Nowhere do the articles even attempt to explain how the creation of a new national boundary and a new national unit of capital accumulation will facilitate “unity in struggle against our rulers.”

The SWP’s current argument for a yes vote is different from previous arguments advanced by the SWP in which it described circumstances where, supposedly, socialists might support a vote for independence.

According to former SWP guru Chris Bambery, for example, speaking at a debate with the SSP in 1999: “We would have no problem in voting for a referendum which posed separation as a vote of confidence in the Blair government. We’d have to judge on the concrete terms.”

Similarly, in an article published in Socialist Worker in 2006, Neil Davidson argued: “Britain is an imperialist state at war. … A referendum in these circumstances would effectively be a judgement on Britain’s role in the New World Order, and New Labour’s record more generally.”

This is consistent with what Davidson wrote in his above-quoted article in International Socialism: “Support (by socialists) for separation should always depend on the concrete circumstances in which the issue is posed and its impact on the wider struggle against capitalism.”

So, again, if in 1999, 2006 and 2007 (and many other years as well), support for independence was justified only in a set of narrowly defined circumstances, why now can it be justified on the basis of generalities about Britain’s imperialist past (and present)?

There appear to be two reasons for the SWP’s embrace of independence for Scotland.

One is the ongoing collapse of the SWP into a crude and classless “anti-imperialism”, in which a class perspective is subordinated to supporting any movement or demand, no matter how reactionary, which is deemed to be in conflict with “imperialism”. Thus, Scottish independence is a ‘good thing’ because it weakens British imperialism.

The second reason for the SWP flipping is accommodation to prevailing left orthodoxy.

On the Scottish far left support for independence is now mainstream. The SSP and the Socialist Party (Scotland) have been consistently pro-independence. The International Socialist Group (Scotland), which broke away from the SWP last year, has also joined the ranks of this choir.

Far easier for the SWP to drift with this pro-independence current than to try to promote political clarity (especially given its own deficiencies in that department).

Oppose Sheridan speaking ban, but no hero’s welcome!

Tommy Sheridan — one-time leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, one-time leader of “Solidarity — Scotland’s Socialist Movement”, and then a convicted perjurer —was released from prison on Monday 30 January.

In 2006 Sheridan won a libel case against the News of the World concerning allegations about his private life. In January of last year he was sentenced to three years in prison for having committed perjury during the libel trial.

Anyone serving a prison sentence of less than four years is entitled to automatic release after the half-way point in their sentence, and the six months prior to their release can be spent on a home detention curfew.

Hence Sheridan’s release from prison after just a year.

But stringent conditions have been attached to Sheridan for the next six months: he has been banned by the Scottish Prison Service from speaking in public.

This means that he will have no chance to intervene in campaigning around this May’s local government elections, or to intervene in the early stages of the referendum campaign (in which Sheridan, when allowed to do so, will be calling for support for independence).

Sheridan’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, has described the ban as an attempt to “gag” his client and as “unprecedented and absolutely draconian, denying my client the right to earn a living.”

Socialists should oppose the ban on Sheridan speaking in public. Apart from the legal arguments about the imposition of the ban, there is a more fundamental democratic argument that the ban represents an infringement of Sheridan’s rights.

Banning Sheridan from speaking in public also denies people the right to call him to account in public.

Sheridan has served a prison sentence for his perjury. But he still has to answer to the left for his bogus allegations against socialists, wild claims about conspiracies and vendettas supposedly targeted against him, and his style of questioning female witnesses in the libel and perjury trials.

But the protests of Aamer Anwar (and, speaking through his lawyer, of Sheridan himself) about the “gag” imposed on Sheridan also reek of hypocrisy.

With a fine sense of timing, Sheridan’s release from prison coincided almost to the day with the (delayed) release of Gregor Gall’s book, Tommy Sheridan: From Hero to Zero?

The book’s appearance was delayed by attempts by Aamer Anwar, acting on behalf of Sheridan, to prevent its publication. As the Scotsman reported last March:

“(Sheridan) has instructed his solicitor to threaten Professor Gregor Gall, and the academic’s employer, the University of Hertfordshire, with legal action over the publication of Gall’s book.”

“We will use every legal challenge to stop it from being published,” promised Anwar. Sheridan’s solicitor demanded to know what financial support had been provided to Gall, questioned whether the book was really an academic work, and accused Gall of research misconduct.

Eight months later a university investigation concluded that the allegations were “without any merit or foundation.” Double standards from Tommy Sheridan? Surely not!