By Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland
The Scottish Government has produced its white paper on Scottish independence. This “blueprint for a better Scotland”, as described by the SNP’s first minister Alex Salmond, is a prospectus for a continuation of the profit-driven system of capitalism that will fail to deliver an end to austerity. Only through clear socialist policies, widespread public ownership and a war against poverty and low pay can a way to a better, socialist Scotland be found.
At the launch of the white paper, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon described the debate on Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK as a “choice between two futures”. On the one hand, a future from the Better Together campaign and the pro-union parties of a continuation of Westminster cuts, attacks on welfare and low economic growth. On the other hand, a future under independence with the SNP that would open up the possibility of a growing economy, higher wages and an amelioration of austerity.
It’s true that the white paper promises some welcome commitments, including the abolition of the bedroom tax and an end to the rolling out of the dreaded Universal Credit and some improved childcare provision. In contrast to the savage austerity being carried out by the Con-Dem government, these modest reforms with the vague hope of something different under independence can boost support for a Yes vote in September 2014.
However, the detail of the white paper reveals that the SNP are completely committed to maintaining the foundations of a weakened and diseased capitalism that will mean continued falling living standards for the majority. Regardless of the wishes of some of the genuine SNP members and Yes campaigners, who believe that independence can open the door to a social and economic transformation in favour of the working class.
In truth, neither of the “two futures” can offer a way out of increasing poverty and worsening social conditions for the working class. Not surprisingly, the third option of a socialist Scotland based on democratic public ownership of the economy and an end to all cuts is not put forward by any of the pro-business parties.
A socialist future
Socialist Party Scotland is supporting a Yes vote in the referendum next year. But we reject completely the false options offered up by the official Yes and No campaigns. In truth, they are proposing a different arrangement of the furniture aboard the Titanic. In contrast we believe that the powers of independence should be used to carry through decisive measures against the shipwrecked vessel of capitalism – not attempt to patch it up and sail on regardless.
An independent socialist Scotland, linked to a voluntary and democratic confederation of socialist states, including England, Wales and Ireland, would lay the basis for a transformation in the lives of the majority and a permanent end to austerity.
The Scottish government white paper provides a crystal-clear insight into the type of society the SNP leadership envisage building following a successful Yes vote in September 2014.
As the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson put it: “Scotland’s first minister and his deputy behaved today…..as though they were launching a corporate re-branding exercise.” Robinson, former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association and who is no friend of the left, is nevertheless correct in his estimation of the outlook of the SNP leadership.
The ideological bedrock underpinning the white paper is an unbridled faith that a capitalist Scotland would provide the basis for economic growth, rising living standards and a “successful and secure Scotland”.
An independent Scotland would continue with the pound and with the Queen as Head of State. It would apply to join both the capitalist institutions of Nato and the EU. Nor would there be plans under the SNP to nationalise any of the key sectors of the economy. The energy companies, oil and gas, transport and the banking system would all be left to the profiteering of the corporate sector.
The commitment to join Nato would mean Scotland allowing nuclear armed submarines and vessels being allowed to use Scottish ports and waters. Equally the SNP are proposing joint military arrangements between and independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. This makes a mockery of the SNP’s anti-nuclear weapons policy and signals their intention of being prepared to support and assist the military and foreign policy of British imperialism in the future.
To emphasise their enthusiasm for a business agenda, a key plank in the SNP’s plan is a promise to slash Corporation Tax to 3% below whatever the UK rate is in 2016. This will apparently ensure the creation of 27,000 jobs over 20 years, according to a computer model used by Salmond and Co.
In an independent Scotland the SNP expect labour productivity to rise by 1%, exports to China, India and Brazil would increase by 50% and this, alongside the cuts to business tax rates, would mean a total of 200,000 extra jobs in an independent Scotland.
The SNP prospectus takes no account of the outlook for either the world economy in general, or the terrible position in the Euro zone and the rest of the UK in particular.
The Scottish government highlight the Nordic States and Germany as the ideal templates for a future independent Scotland. Yet as Socialist Party Scotland has pointed out many times, the so-called Nordic Model is in the process of being dismantled, a result of the deep economic crisis engulfing world capitalism and the savage austerity that has come in its wake. In the case of Sweden the social gains made after the post-war period have been hugely undermined by a succession of ex-social democratic and right wing governments. (You can read more on Sweden and the Nordic states here http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/6330)
Germany has recovered from the crash of 2008 in terms of its GDP growth.
However, the social conditions of the working and middle class have worsened considerably. A recent report found that 5.5 million “middle-class” Germans have, as a result of the economic crisis, been now reclassified as “low income earners.” 22% of the total workforce in Germany is officially low paid.
It’s a complete illusion to believe that under the conditions of economic crisis, falling growth rates in China, India and Brazil, a frozen Euro zone etc that a capitalist independent Scotland could find a road to economic recovery and sustained rising living standards.
On the contrary, the so-called economic recovery has been a recovery for the elite and big business, not for the working class and the middle class whose incomes and wages are falling, and are continuing to fall.
The Scottish Government’s own economic report highlighted the fact that earnings per hour in Scotland dropped by 8.1% between 2009 and 2012. Real wages for workers are being cut across the public and private sector, with the SNP at Scottish Government and council level playing its full role on ensuring this onslaught continues.
418,000 workers earned less than living wage in 2012, which was almost one-in-five of the workforce. There are 280,000 households in Scotland with at least one person working who live in official poverty.
The levels of poverty, underemployment and low pay are endemic in Scotland, which the SNP’s report does highlight. Their belief in a “fairer capitalism” that would float all the boats at the same time flies in the face of the reality of an economic system locked into unending cuts and long-term austerity for the majority of society.
The capitalists and pro big-business governments are intent on imposing a long-term readjustment in expectations. They hope to teach the working class to live on less, with fewer benefits and worsening public services, including health and education. While those at the top of society continue to get richer at our expense. The proposals from the SNP leadership for an independent Scotland would not alter that trend, rooted as it is in the same economic system that has created the social crisis that we have today.
Working within a straightjacket
In reality, the SNP’s white paper recognises the straightjacket that an independent capitalist Scotland would be operating within. In the section on the first budget that the SNP would propose in a newly independent Scotland, they firmly come out against a major increase in public spending. “The Government will ensure that Scotland has stable and sustainable public finances, underpinned by the discipline of a fiscal framework.”
The first independent SNP government would increase spending by a paltry £600 million a year. To put this in context, £4.5 billion will have been cut from the Scottish government budget by the Con-Dem’s by 2016. The SNP would therefore maintain almost 90% of the cuts suffered in the last few years by public services, workers jobs, incomes and pensions.
The SNP do commit to abolish the bedroom tax, increase government-funded childcare to 30 hours a week during term-time for three and four year olds, among some other changes. The paltry minimum wage would rise by inflation, but there is no commitment to legislate for a real living minimum wage. Pensions would be a poor £1.10 a week higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. But there are no commitments to reverse the devastating cuts suffered by millions of people in the last few years. There is also a commitment to “negotiate” the renationalisation of Royal Mail and to remove Trident from Scotland within five years.
There will be no tax increases on the rich or big business. Indeed a key economic measure for the SNP will be to cut corporation tax by 3%. There will a range of other “incentives” for business to invest in Scotland, tax breaks, write offs and government subsidies. This will thereby effectively deny hundreds of millions of pounds to public services, wages and benefits for the sake of the business sector.
How else is it possible to tackle the chasm in inequality, rampant poverty and social depravation unless decisive measures are taken against the elite and big business who have accumulated unprecedented wealth in the last 30 years
The answer to this question is that the SNP have no intention, under independence, of encroaching into this area. Instead the white paper makes clear that the “rules” of capitalism will be followed to the letter.
Scotland, under the SNP’s plan, would form part of a “sterling zone”, resulting in the Bank of England being responsible for interest rates and overall “financial stability”. In other words the BoE can insist any Scottish budget is “sustainable” and does not threaten the interests of currency union. This is no different to the demands made by the European Central Bank on countries like Greece and others to cut spending and carry out austerity measures, if they are to stay part of the Euro.
Inevitably, a Scottish government that, for example, threatened to set a needs budget that reversed the cuts and invested in jobs and services would be told that the interests of the currency would be threatened. Financial markets would undermine the stability of the pound and other forms of blackmail would be used. This would necessitate a left government in Scotland breaking from the currency zone and carrying through the nationalisation of the finance sector in Scotland, alongside the major sectors of the economy under democratic working class control and management.
Salmond and co’s belief is that they can grow the economy in Scotland and thereby increase employment and wages, sustained by the establishment of new small and particularly medium sized businesses. They point to Germany and the existence of the Mittlestand – the relatively large small and medium sized business sector – that an independent Scotland should model itself on. Their hope is that a new growth and investment in the manufacturing sector would allow a “re-balancing” of the economy away from the finance driven and service sector dominated economy.
The reality is that Scottish/UK capitalism, and the economies throughout the advanced capitalist sector, turned to finance and services as a reaction to the profits crisis that engulfed the world economy in 1973/74. Mass deindustrialisation, especially in Scotland, devastated many working class communities. This lead to a rise in lower paid, part time and insecure jobs. Today, 70% of the GDP of Scotland and 80% of all jobs are in the service sector, which includes finance and the public services.
It’s clear that in order to change the direction of the economy would require any future government of an independent Scotland to take hold of the economic levers through a programme of widespread nationalisation and democratic control of the economy. You can’t control what you don’t own. Only by implementing a socialist plan of production would it be possible to break the cycle of the “race to the bottom” in wages and conditions and to rebuild the economy on an environmentally sustainable basis.
This is something the SNP leadership are completely opposed to. Instead they pin their hope on a better form of capitalism and a trade-off between workers’ rights on the one hand and the interests of big business on the other. Or, as they out it in their economic document, there needs to be “burden sharing between the richest and the poorest.”
The SNP model for independence proposes a “Team Scotland” approach post-independence, with workers and employers and the government ensuring “greater social partnership approach to be rolled out across all aspects of economic and social policy.” They want “all key players, public sector, trade unions, business, employers and the third sector to be parties in a common vision.” As well as the need to “build a partnership approach to addressing labour market challenges.”
Partnership has been used in many countries – Ireland being a prominent example – to bind the trade unions into a false policy of accepting cuts to jobs, wages and pensions to aid the “common good”. The policy of “we’re all in this together” only ever operates one way; against the working class and in favour of the rich. It effectively undermines the ability of the unions to fight industrially and politically to defend their member’s interests – which are incompatible with those of big business.
The Scottish government put forward a document to the trade unions in Scotland in 2011 proposing the unions agree to wage freezes and other attacks on terms and conditions as a trade-off to ensure no compulsory redundancies. This was rejected by a majority of the unions. However, the SNP in power in Holyrood and in local government have implemented these attacks anyway, not in partnership, but unilaterally. Including years of effective pay cuts, as well as passing on contribution rises for public sector pensions to NHS staff, teachers and civil servants. The “partnership” model is a dead-end for the trade union movement and can only weaken and undermine their collective strength.
The SNP’s role in the events at Grangemouth are a warning to anyone who thinks that their model for independence would be a welcome relief from workers’ facing savage attacks on their rights. Salmond, it should be remembered, called on Unite to sign a no strike deal with billionaire Ratcliffe and Ineos. While appealing to Ratcliffe to re-open the petrochemical plant, the Scottish government were encouraging Unite to agree to cuts in wages and pensions at the plant. The white paper is completely silent on the need to abolish the anti-trade union legislation in an independent Scotland.
German works councils are put forward as a good example that the trade unions in Scotland should emulate, according to the SNP. Yet, these works councils are largely toothless in changing the policy of the big corporations and have played no effective role in tackling the attacks on workers’ rights in Germany.
In reality the working class has to rely on its own collective strength, particularly the organised trade union movement and building for generalised strike action across all sectors of the economy. Only a policy of establishing fighting trade unions and by building new mass workers’ parties is it possible to defeat the cuts agenda that will continue in an independent capitalist Scotland and lay the basis for a socialist transformation of society.
During the post-war boom the working class achieved significant reforms in Britain, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. Today these gains are being stripped away. We still have to fight for reforms and advances for the working class, as well as against the austerity agenda of the political establishment. But the struggle for even limited improvements in the lives of the working class are, under the conditions of economic crisis, increasingly coming up against the limits of the what the system can tolerate. This poses the need for a thoroughgoing socialist transformation of society.
Project Fear is the apt working title given to the Better Together campaign. Typical propaganda leaflets proclaim; “Can you afford to go it alone?” They raise the threatening spectre that under independence pensions, benefits and wages would be under threat. The craving irony of these statements from politicians who have heaped a tsunami of austerity onto the heads of the working class is not lost on many.
Predictably, the leaders of the main capitalist pro-union parties have ratcheted up their anti-independence propaganda in response to the white paper. The Con-Dem’s Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael bluntly stated that an independent Scotland would not be able to keep the pound as its currency post-independence. This has followed on from the not so veiled threats from Labour and Tory politicians that the Scottish shipyards would lose MoD contracts and thousands of jobs in the wake of independence.
Leading figures in the European Union, who are looking over their shoulders at the threat to other multi-national states, have also suggested that Scotland would need to re-apply for membership. The right wing government in Spain, facing a major national conflict in Catalonia and other areas of the Spanish state, have threatened to veto an independent Scotland’s application for membership.
These threats and attacks are just an anticipation of a vicious campaign of denigration from the majority of the pro-capitalist political establishment in the run up to September 2014. Although the SNP leadership are completely committed to a capitalist project in the form of Scottish independence, the overwhelming interests of British capitalism are against the break-up of the UK. The SNP leadership’s proposals for independence, which are really changing one union in favour of another reformed union, reflect that pressure.
Nevertheless, despite these concessions by the SNP leadership, the attacks will continue. There is a real fear that the consequences of a Yes vote in 2014 would destabilise what is left of the UK state even further. This includes deepening sectarian division in Northern Ireland and driving forward demands for further devolution, and even independence for Wales. Additionally, the prestige of British imperialism would also suffer a real blow in the event of the break of the UK state. For all these reasons the attacks of Project Fear will continue and even be stepped up, particularly in the event of an increase in support for independence in the run up to the referendum date.
A socialist programme for an independent Scotland
From the beginning of the debate around the referendum Socialist Party Scotland has been calling for a specific trade union-led, anti-cuts and pro-working class campaign. One that while supporting a Yes vote, would also fight for the powers of independence to end and reverse the cuts and nationalise the main sectors of the economy and the privatised utilities, alongside increases in the minimum wage, benefits and pensions, an end to privatisation, and a reversal of all anti-trade union laws. The left-led Scotland No.2 branch of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) has played an important role in helping to establish the Trade Unionists for Independence campaign.
However, a majority of the socialist left in Scotland have been largely uncritical supporters of the Yes campaign. They have also given their backing to the ideas around the Common Weal Project, which was set-up by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, and the Radical Independence Campaign, which bases itself on the Nordic capitalist model as a way forward for an independent Scotland.
The majority of trade union leaderships in Scotland however are currently taking a back seat and failing to actively put forward a pro-working class campaign. Some unions including USDAW, Aslef, Community and the GMB are supporting the Better Together campaign, many of them without proper consultation with their own members in Scotland.
In contrast the PCS civil servants union, within which the Socialist Party plays an important role, will be holding a special conference of its Scottish branches and membership to draw up a platform for the referendum. Socialist Party Scotland members in other trade unions, including Unison and Unite will be calling for a debate and a democratic discussion to allow members to draw up a policy that puts the interests of the working class centre stage in the referendum debate.
It would be a big mistake to allow the pro-capitalist forces gathered around the Yes Scotland and the Labour/Con-Dem Better Together campaigns to dominate the discourse over the referendum. The voice of the organised working class needs to be heard with a clear anti-austerity and pro-public ownership message. One that also recognises that there are differences among the working class on the issue of the referendum, although the vast majority of polls show a big class polarisation in voting intentions with highest support for independence among the poorest and the low paid.
Central to this in the burning need to build a new mass working class party that would fight for the powers of independence to be used in the interests of the working class. The Labour affiliated trade unions should break their links with Labour and along with the unions like the PCS, FBU, RMT etc prepare a conference to launch a new working class party.
Socialist Party Scotland calls for the powers of independence to be used to dramatically increase taxes on the rich and big business. We also argue for an immediate levy – of at least 50% of the un-invested funds of the big corporations – to be used to develop a massive programme of socially useful production, job creation and public services. A socialist government would take urgent steps to solve the economic crisis by taking into democratic public ownership the major corporations that control the economy, including finance, oil, transport, and manufacturing.
To be successful in the long term an independent socialist Scotland would seek to build a united movement with the working class in the other nations in the UK, Europe and internationally. This would lay the basis for a voluntary socialist confederation of states and an international plan of production.
A socialist programme for Scotland
Socialist Party Scotland is supporting a Yes vote in 2014 and that the powers of independence be used to:
- Nationalise, under democratic workers’ control, the oil and gas industry, the renewable energy sector, and the major sectors of the Scottish economy. This would release billions to invest in a massive programme of job creation and to rebuild our public services.
- Bring the banks and finance sector into public ownership under democratic working class control.
- Renationalise gas, electricity, transport and the privatised sectors of the economy.
- Tax the rich and big business. Increase the minimum wage and end the attacks on welfare.
- No to Nato. Trident and all weapons of mass destruction out of Scotland. Invest in socially useful jobs.
- Abolish all anti-trade union laws.
- Trade unions should break from Labour and build a new mass working class party.
- Reverse the cuts. For a Scottish government representing working people, the unemployed and the poor that defends jobs, wages, public services and pensions and refuses to make cuts to pay for the crisis.
- For a socialist plan of production in an independent socialist Scotland as part of a voluntary confederation with England, Wales and Ireland as a step to a socialist Europe.
Radical Independence Campaign needs clear socialist policies
By Matt Dobson
Around 1000 people attended the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference on November 23rd. There were a large number of young people, mainly students and also mobilisations from the SNP and Greens. Over 100 trade unionists attended a session on “Industrial Democracy”. This was the second RIC conference, in 2012 around 800 attended.
The large numbers attending, reflected a growing hope from those who participated, that a YES vote for independence in the referendum on the 18Th September 2014 will lead to an escape from austerity and a fairer society.
This year also saw a higher turnout from the Third Sector and even business people, showing this layer are comfortable with the political direction of the leadership of RIC – the Jimmy Reid Foundation think tank (authors of the Common Weal Project) and the International Socialist Group (ISG) a split from the SWP.
However, the attendance at the conference showed there is an openness to radical and anti-capitalist, anti-austerity and even socialist ideas. The RIC leadership (supported by sections of the socialist left) have clearly adopted the perspective that a fundamental break from capitalism and the promotion of explicitly socialist ideas in the pro-independence movement is not needed.
Instead, the Common Weal was promoted as the main policy and point of agreement coming out of the conference. (For our analysis of the Common Weal see http://www.socialistpartyscotland.org.uk/news-a-analysis/scottish-politics/511-can-the-common-weal-deliver-or-do-we-need-clear-socialist-policies) The basis of this project is a “Nordic model” economy with a mixture of public and private ownership, a more equitable tax system, with an emphasis on medium and small sized enterprises where bosses and workers work together. These ideas had wide support at the conference as an alternative to austerity but are fundamentally flawed and unviable under crisis-ridden capitalism. A reality which will become clear sooner rather than later to workers and young people.
The conference saw the leadership of RIC focusing on their vision of independence, declaring “principles”that they would demand are implemented in a “constitution of an independent Scotland”. This was outlined by academics, RIC activists and speakers from the SNP, Greens and the remnants of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
SNP MSP’s were given an uncritical platform at the conference despite their record of implementing Tory cuts and refusing to use their powers to mitigate the Bedroom Tax.
The session aimed at trade unionists on “industrial democracy” showed the contradictions present at the conference. Many attending expressied a wish to discuss key issues for the working class such as political representation and challenging the onslaught on wages and conditions by the capitalist class. This came up against the agenda of the RIC leadership who wanted to focus on how principles of industrial democracy and co-operation between bosses and workers would be a cornerstone of an independent Scotland.
The first speaker in this session was ISG member and Unite activist Bryan Simpson who correctly raised the need to defend his union and activists like Stevie Deans, victimised at Grangemouth, from Tory inspired witch hunts and to campaign against the anti-trade union laws. However Bryan was vague about how a mass campaign would be organised to make sure workers’ rights were protected under independence. He also gave a one sided analysis of the reasons for the setback suffered by workers at Grangemouth, with Unite accepting far ranging attacks on conditions and union representation in order to keep the petrochemical plant open. Bryan gave the impression that the anti-trade union laws and the “power of the British state” made this set back inevitable. Bryan mentioned the growing public pressure on the SNP government to nationalise the plant but made no mention of the need for Unite to have called for the occupation of strategic parts of the plant and nationalisation, that would have won mass support.
Bryan and the RIC leadership are putting forward the false perspective that it isn’t possible for trade unionists and workers to win struggles against the “British State” and that only a breakaway offers the Scottish working class the chance of winning victories. The key demand for a one day general strike across the whole of the UK was absent from the speeches of RIC activists.
However it was raised by trade unionists in the discussion. The idea of “workers on boards” and co-operation between workers and bosses was put forward by academics such as Gregor Gall. This raised debate in the meeting with workers from the NHS and the private sector where partnership models between employers and the unions exist, giving concrete examples of how this was unviable, and that these agreements tied workers into accepting attacks. Even if provisions for workers’ rights existed on the paper of an independent Scottish constitution it would also depend of the strength of the unions and the level of class struggle.
Cheryl Gedling, speaking from the PCS, correctly pointed to the need to fight back against the austerity cuts implemented by the SNP and the Scottish government (and was one of only a handful of speakers to raise this criticism of the SNP at the conference). Cheryl also highlighted that support for independence was a consequence of a lack of political representation for the working class. This was also highlighted by a GMB activist enraged by the undemocratic decision by his union’s leadership to back the pro NO Better Together campaign. Although this was a key point of discussion in this session, the RIC leaders present made no comment.
The ISG leaflet at the conference made a vague call to “unite the left” but gave no ideas on how this would be done and on what ideas or program. It also failed to call on the trade unions to break from Labour and begin the process of forming a new workers party , even in the wake of the Falkirk scandal. The leaflet also called for RIC activists to embrace the participation of Business Scotland (a pro independence pressure group) in an “overwhelmingly left wing movement”.
Although SSP speakers Colin Fox and Raphie De Santos called for public ownership of the oil and energy industries they effectively promoted the mixed economy model of the Commonweal as it reflects “the social democratic aspirations of the Scottish people”.
The idea that rather than a transformation from capitalism to socialism, a “perestroika” restructuring of the Scottish economy with indigenous ”social democratic” bosses coming to an agreement with workers was a main theme of Jimmy Reid Foundation Director Robin McAlpines keynote speech at the closing rally.
McAlpine ignoring the reality that the “Nordic model” has broken down with social discontent and inequality existing and increasing in Sweden and Denmark declared “our tax model should be based on theirs”. McAlpine argues that a fair taxation system can be devised removing the need to take the major parts of the economy into public ownership. But bosses whether Scottish, Danish or Swedish are adept at hiding their profits in tax havens and faced with a hit on profits will refuse to invest. McAlpine even suggested an independent Scotland should join the Latin American trading bloc UNASUR as it’s “progressive”.
RIC launched a broad campaign that will work with the official YES campaign, “Winning Scotland”, that will be based on mass canvassing and also a campaign for school students (voters in the referendum will be aged from 16 upwards).
It’s clear from this conference, as with the YES demonstration which attracted 20,000 in September, that the pro-independence movement is growing and attracting radicalised layers of young people and workers.
However what is being put forward by the leaders of RIC will leave even those participating in the campaign with questions about how a “fairer society” will actually be achieved without breaking with capitalism and struggling for socialism.
Socialist Party Scotland got a positive response from trade unionists and a number of young people attending for our leaflet which raised the idea of an Independent Socialist Scotland for the 99% with major industry, the banks and resources being brought under democratic workers control and ownership and a new workers party.