Scotland: Why socialists support independence

Scottish Socialist Party spokersperson Colin Fox addresses the Edinburgh rally for independence, September 22, 2012.

By Colin Fox

September 20, 2012 -- Colin Fox's blog -- Tommy Docherty, the legendary wit and manager of Manchester United, once quipped after his team had suffered a humiliating defeat, "We lost 4-0 and frankly we were lucky to get the nil." The Tories [Conservative Party] in Scotland know just how he felt, for they are so hated that out of 56 MPs they have just one, and they were lucky to get that!

And yet, as incredible as it may seem, their coalition partners [in the British government] are despised even more. The Liberal Democrats now have no constituency members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) in mainland Scotland and were "mauled" in last year’s local elections for "joining" the hated Tories at Westminster.

All of which presents the Labour Party with a real dilemma. As cheerleaders for the "No to [Scotland's] Independence" campaign, Labour is in coalition with the Tories and Lib Dems. Former MSP Charlie Gordon, who lost his seat to the Scottish National Party (SNP), expressed the widespread unease in Labour leader Ed Miliband’s army when he tweeted recently, "Tory millions and Labour activists ‘Better Together’!!*??"

This is the political opposition facing the exuberant Independence movement as it rallies in Edinburgh this Saturday, September 22, 2012]. It will be the first time supporters have had the opportunity to meet since the launch of the "Yes Scotland" campaign in June. And it promises to be quite a day. Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond will speak for the SNP as will Patrick Harvie of the Greens and myself for the Scottish Socialist Party. Our three parties – founders of the Scottish Independence Convention in 2005 – will be joined by thousands of people from across Scotland including many from civic and cultural communities.

It is noticeable that the terms of this debate have shifted significantly since the 1990s. "Unionists" [supporters of Scotland remaining part of the UK] now accept Scotland is a nation with an inalienable right to self-determination. They also accept that Scotland is perfectly capable of running our own affairs and even concede we would be one of the world’s richer nations. It was not always so. But they insist "we will be even wealthier as part of the UK". I will come back to that claim, but first it is important that socialists also recognise that supporting self-determination does not make you a nationalist.

Lenin for example supported the rights of nations to self-determination, so did Rosa Luxemburg, John Maclean and James Connolly. No one familiar with their work would call them "nationalists". Independence is not divorced from the class struggle, it is part and parcel of it. And for the Scottish Socialist Party independence means Scots will be free from the neoliberal stranglehold of financial speculators who dominate the world economy today. The SSP sees independence as a stepping stone to a better society, not an end in itself. We strive for an independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic. And that vision is enjoying greater and greater support as this debate unfolds.

The Scottish Socialist Party contends that if all the income, revenues, taxes, levies and duties raised in Scotland, and currently transferred to the UK Treasury were to stay here, it stands to reason Scotland would be a wealthier place. But we also accept that working people will only be better off if we fight for our share of that wealth. There will be no automatic gains from independence.

Only the working class will improve their collective living standards. And improve them they must because Scotland endures some of the worst social conditions in the UK. With 225,000 people officially unemployed and a further 800,000 in par- time, casual or insecure temporary employment earning the national minimum wage [£6.08] or less, there is much help needed. One in three households now shiver in fuel poverty as standards of living and the quality of life plummets like the temperature gauge. Scotland’s obscene inequalities are widening not narrowing as we stare down the barrel of the worst economic recession in 80 years. The 1700 jobs lost at meatpackers Halls of Broxburn this week were merely the latest in a long line of setbacks for communities like West Lothian.

The independence debate so far has been widely criticised for being too focused on procedural issues; whether there will be one question on the ballot paper or two? Which parliament has the legal power to call the referendum? Which bodies will oversee the electoral operation? These matters look likely to be settled soon, allowing the debate to focus on the most substantive issue, whether working-class people will be better off with Independence or not?

"Better Together' argues that Scotland reaps rewards from the Union. The truth is that British capitalism holds working-class people in Scotland back. It denies them opportunities and is now carrying out swingeing cuts in their living standards and vital public services. Equally, warmongering Britain, with the fifth biggest military budget in the world brings shame on us all, as it is used to occupy Afghanistan, having invaded Iraq and bombed Libya.

All of which poses an increasingly straightforward question for progressive Scotland. Do we pin our hopes on another useless Labour government or set sail for Independence? Ed Miliband promises more cuts, more warmongering, more tax breaks for the rich, more tax hikes for the working class, more privatisation and more assaults on civil liberties. We’ve have had plenty of that. Scotland’s social-democratic character manifests itself in other decisions – the abolition of National Health Service prescription charges, free elderly care, free university education, free travel for our senior citizens. These provisions signify Scotland’s commitment to collectivism and rejection of austerity, cuts and most of all the Tories.

The Independence movement has a striking opportunity to transform Scotland and provide the country with the political settlement it needs. The way to win the referendum is to embrace this "transformational agenda" and promote an alternative vision for Scotland, one which rejects the neoliberal, warmongering capitalist model currently on offer.

[Colin Fox is Scottish Socialist Party spokesperson, former MSP for the Lothians. He is a founder member of the SSP. He Yes Scotland advisory board.]

Speech to the September 22, 2012, Edinburgh Yes Scotland rally

By Colin Fox

Friends, I bring you greetings from the Scottish Socialist Party and I am proud to be part of this wonderful occasion and this vibrant movement as Scotland again asserts our inalienable right to self-determination and Independence.

Look around you. It might be September but this, this is the beginning of the Scottish Spring. Let the world take heed from Edinburgh today that we Scots are marching for our freedom and we are equally determined to secure our full democratic rights.

And we re-assert today that supporting a country’s right to self-determination does not make you a nationalist per se, it makes you a democrat. And as a democrat, a democratic socialist, one question interests me more than most today – will working-class people in Scotland, who make up the vast majority here, be better off with Independence or not?

To that question, which millions of people rightly demand a straight answer, we can stoutly reply, YES SCOTLAND – For if all the revenues, taxes, duties, profits and wealth generated here in Scotland stayed here, rather than be transferred to the UK Treasury or boardrooms abroad, it stands to reason we would be better off. That is what Independence means.

But working-class people understand we have to stand up for ourselves and so I urge you to join with us in this great cause.

There are of course many shades of opinion gathered here today and I respect that, but I want an independent Scotland that is a modern democratic republic, where we the people decide our own future, freely, democratically and without interference or constraint.

This great movement gathered here today seeks the same goals as billions of other people throughout the world, the chance to secure our independence and realise the economic emancipation and social progress we are capable of.

Jimmy Reid famously distinguished "Scotland is a nation. Britain is a state". And the British state today is in decline. It is at the epicentre of a worldwide financial "racket" that exploits the world and goes to war regularly to protect its "operations". That connection brings shame on Scotland.

An independent Scotland by contrast could be a beacon to the world.

We would never send our sons off to die in wars motivated by imperial plunder. An Independent Scotland would declare peace with the world not war, nor threaten our fellow human beings with nuclear annihilation or environmental destruction.

So let us today resolve that we are building a new Scotland,

  • where no one gets left behind,
  • where wealth is not the measure of greatness or nobility,
  • where helping others wins more gold medals than helping yourself,
  • where prejudice and ignorance are eradicated like the tuberculosis my grandmother, and so many others like her, died of in the 1930s,
  • where independence brings economic emancipation and freedom to everyone not just a select few and where all these are inalienable rights belonging to all those who chose to live here.

That then is our message today ringing out loud and clear to our fellow Scots and to the world.