The chances of a referendum on Scottish independence appear increasingly distant following a Scottish parliamentary vote in favour of a resolution condemning moves towards one. This is a huge blow to the SNP self-declared Scottish Government that is committed to holding a referendum before the current parliament ends in 2011. However the vote has also done little for a Labour Party that has lost all sense of direction, as its leadership exposes itself as utterly unable to capitalise on the SNP’s fall from grace.
It is not far from tragic comedy that the vote on the referendum came as a result of a Liberal Democrat amendment to a Labour motion condemning the SNP for failing to meet their election promises. This is all very well from a Labour leadership that has consistently refused to support action in favour of reducing student debt, dropping class sizes or getting rid of the hated council tax. Hypocritically criticising the minority government for not doing the same will win no support; the Scottish workers and youth know fine well that Iain Gray and his lackeys are tied hand and foot to the right wing government in London who have unleashed one counter reform after another on the provision of public services and benefits. Gray himself was education minister for a period and fully complicit in supporting the privatisation of schools and the continued underfunding of the system as a whole whilst Scottish students were forced to pay an endowment fee once they had finished their course. His attacks on the SNP are nothing but mere parliamentary cretinism.
This is the mindset of the ruling Labour clique in Scotland. They strive to maintain the union between Scotland and the rest of Britain in order to defend their position on the gravy train. They do this through the only methods that they know: sophism, bureaucracy and legal pedantry. Gray foolishly considers it a great victory that he led the Labour Party into what cannot have but been a back door deal with the Lib Dems and worse the Tories, in order to thwart the Nationalists’ attempts to gain a referendum. That he smugly declared that Scotland needed a referendum bill like “a hole in the head”, (Scotsman March 6 2009) only shows how far New Labour have drifted from reality. At the same time as Brown continues to worry about winning support from ‘middle England’ and big business Gray is convinced that he can make the Scottish national question disappear through parliamentary procedure!
This vote may have been a parliamentary success but it will only further the SNP’s image as a party that is pitted against the British establishment. After the vote Salmond’s spokesman declared that the opposition parties had come together in an “anti-democratic cabal” whilst Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, accused them of being afraid of an independence referendum, and prepared to block it at any cost. Beyond this Gray’s hypocrisy is compounded by the fact that he himself supported Wendy Alexander’s call for a referendum less than twelve months ago. In May last year this man, who sees himself as a serious practical politician in favour of discussing the issues that matter in Scotland, aside from the country’s constitutional future, declared that he would support a bill in favour of a referendum “whenever it comes”. Apparently though Wendy Alexander’s challenge to Salmond to call an independence referendum was analogous to a spring sale and was only an offer open for a limited time period only. (Scotsman March 6 2009) Evidently the Labour Party bureaucracy is starting to unravel in its own contradictions as policy is made up on the spot and changes from one leader to the next as though it was some sort of feudal fiefdom.
These events could be fresh from a pantomime and the fact that eight MSPs were not even present whilst Liberal Democrat John Farquhar Munro who spoke out in favour of a referendum previously was found AWOL addressing a health conference in Germany only displays what a farce the Scottish Parliament really is.
However this is not an episode of the satirical comedy ‘Yes Minister’; the future of our movement and working class unity in Britain that is at stake. The British labour movement has over one hundred years of class struggle behind it and the participation of Scottish workers in the recent unofficial action around the Lindsey refinery only confirms the effective results that this can deliver. The Labour bureaucracy is putting all this at stake by failing to take the fight to nationalism. Last year Socialist Appeal supported Wendy Alexander’s call for an immediate referendum, arguing that it is only by the Scottish people deciding their own future and by fighting for a no vote through campaigning on a program based answering the needs of working people through a British Socialist Federation that this question could be resolved favourably. This is all the more true under the current conditions that have resulted in millions of workers and youth searching for a political solution to the capitalist crisis. To see this situation wasted or worse diverted into support for the nationalists would be a disaster for our class; the fight back must start now!