Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency

With the referendum vote finally here, we are at the end of two years of campaigning by both sides. Neither the SNP-led YES campaign nor the Better Together campaign have offered any genuine change or alternative. Workers and youth must reject any attempt to divide the working class along national lines; instead, we must remain united in the fight for a socialist future.

With the referendum vote finally here, we are at the end of two years of campaigning by both sides. Polls still remain to close to call, and whilst the “No” vote leads, “Yes” has had a recent surge of support that has terrified the Establishment.

The first televised debate between Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, and Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign, in many ways encapsulated the past two years. Each side claimed it was victorious, few questions were properly answered and despite rhetoric to the contrary neither offered a clear vision for change.

The central question of the currency union sums up the two campaigns very well. The “No” campaign can offer nothing positive of its own and only underlines the fiscal holes in the SNP plan. This will always be the case as the three parties involved – The Tories, Liberal Democrats and, treacherously, Labour – have all committed themselves to austerity. Salmond simply attempts to bluff his way through, claiming there will be a currency union despite the other three parties rejecting this.

Salmond's vision of independence: change, or more of the same?

Salmond has consistently attempted to align the “Yes” vote with positive change, linking the issue of independence with the need to preserve social democratic values against “austerity” England. This has played out in constant references to food banks and fears over NHS privatisation (despite the Scottish government having full control over the Scottish NHS), but with no real explanation of where any “change” would come from. Reminiscent of the Obama campaign, “change” has simply become a buzzword.

This becomes clear when you examine the SNP’s promises: keeping the pound, remaining in the EU, keeping the British monarchy, keeping the Bank of England, cutting Corporation Tax. This all adds up to keeping the capitalist system, warts and all. The whole notion is based on an independent capitalist Scotland, subject to the vagaries of the monopoly-dominated market economy.

Such an “independent” Scotland would remain tied to England through business links in a similar sense to Ireland’s so-called independence. In the famous words of Marxist James Connolly, “You can hoist the Green Flag above Dublin Castle, but England would still rule you through her capital.” Incidentally, Irish independence did not prevent the collapse of the Irish economy and banking system in 2008, leading to a massive attack on the working class, which is still continuing.

Any idea that a capitalist Scotland could escape austerity and retain reforms is utopian. We live in a global capitalist system, which is why we have seen crisis and austerity around the world. Under capitalism the needs of profit and big business will always be put ahead of those of working people.

This applies in Britain and elsewhere, as it would in an independent Scotland. The regime of austerity that we are currently living through is not simply a Tory-led ideological attack. It is the demand of the capitalist economy in response to the global crisis. Which is why, across the world, governments of all political colours have been enforcing cuts.

For a socialist plan of production

The nationalist argument that Scotland will be better off because of North Sea Oil is completely out of date. Oil production has been in decline for years. Norway, which is a small, oil rich country, was still not insulated from the crisis and the introduction of austerity measures. While oil has provided a boost to north-east Scotland, investment in oil is being run down. We should also note the historical lack of planning after the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1960s.

What emerged was a state of tax breaks and multinational control, which an independent Scotland committed to capitalism would be unwilling to break with. In order for the people of Scotland to benefit from North Sea oil, a socialist government would have to nationalise it.

Only socialism can address the concerns of working people. Capitalism all over the world only offers austerity and hardship. It is from this perspective that we reject separatism. Whilst nationalism only offers a more localised capitalism, under socialism our resources can be taken into public ownership, which would allow for them to be planned and used so as to benefit the majority.

United we stand; divided we fall

From this we can see that the interests of working class people in Scotland lie, as they do in the rest of Britain and indeed internationally, in the fight for socialism. The working classes that make up Britain are inextricably interlinked.

The Scottish and British working classes have not developed separately, but, because of capitalism, have developed as part of one working class. The same shared experience that once linked dockers in Glasgow and Liverpool now manifests itself in the precarious nature of the service sector employment, which is all that we have left in the vacuum caused by deindustrialisation.

Linked historically and by our class, the true enemy of workers everywhere is capitalism. The task of overthrowing capitalism is the task of the working class. This requires the maximum unity of the working class. All divisions, on lines of nationality, sex or religion, are divisive and serve to weaken the struggle. That is why we are against independence and the splitting up of working people on national lines. This is a class question, which is paramount.

A separate Scotland would serve to divide Scottish workers from their brothers and sisters down south. An independent Scotland would put Scottish workers and those in the rest of Britain in direct competition. This is especially true if we consider SNP plans for a more “business friendly” environment, with lower corporation tax and other incentives, which could lead to businesses relocating from England to Scotland. Lower tax would mean less money for services, and competition between Scotland and Britain would result in a driving down of wages on both sides of the border in a race to the bottom. A loss of jobs or degradation of wages would also be used by the British ruling class to stoke up resentment. This plays completely into the hands of the bosses. On a class basis, an independent Scotland would be a step backward for the historic unity of the working class in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK.

Scottish Nationalism: progressive or reactionary?

We advocate the right of the Scottish people to choose their own destiny, and whether the result of the referendum is Yes or No we will continue to do the same thing: fight for socialism. Certainly if it was the will of the Scottish people, an independent Scotland could be possible under socialism. Within this it is, however, important that we recognise the difference between Scottish nationalism and oppressed nationalisms such as those of ex-colonial countries.

There have been illusions in Scottish nationalism as a progressive force when juxtaposed with British nationalism and even illusions in the idea that Scotland is “oppressed.”

The majority of Scottish people are exploited by capitalism and therefore face class oppression – as does the working class worldwide! Scottish culture, like any culture, will only deteriorate under capitalism.

However it would be untrue to say that Scotland is an oppressed colonial nation. Scottish people have the limited democratic rights of bourgeois parliamentary democracy and cultural expression that everyone else in the UK does. Scottish capitalists have enjoyed the same rights to exploit and colonise as English capitalists and played a big role in the British Empire. The same could not have been said about ex-colonial countries such as Ireland and India.

These countries had very weak national ruling classes; hence their national liberation movements naturally took on a mass revolutionary character in order to struggle for even the most basic democratic rights. Therefore Scottish nationalism lacks any progressive element and, as has been said, poses the reactionary aim of undermining the unity of the British working class.

The different left groups who have jumped on the nationalist bandwagon have forgotten any class analysis. They have capitulated to nationalism, which they see as a short-cut, in response to a lack of faith in the working class. They attempt to portray the vote for independence as a vote for a “social democratic” Scotland - that is, capitalism with a friendly face, something which does not exist.

Socialism is international or it is nothing

Some say independence will be a road to a socialist Scotland, separate from the rest of the UK. The historic example of the collapse of the USSR underlines the impossibility of socialism in one country. As Marx said, socialism is international or it is nothing.

The idea that a socialist Scotland could exist across the border from a capitalist England is frankly ludicrous. This could only happen as part of a unified socialist movement across Britain and further afield. Instead, what is required is a bigger ambition: for a socialist Scotland as part of a socialist Britain in a socialist Europe as part of a socialist world.

We are certainly not in favour of the capitalist status quo. We stand for a fundamental change in society, not based on nationalism but international socialist revolution. We stand for the maximum unity of the working class as a precondition for this. Both the Yes and No campaigns only offer capitalism in one form or another.

We are fighting for socialism, not just in Scotland, but internationally – the only way forward for humanity. Only by creating a strong, unified working class movement armed with the programme of Marxism can we offer a genuine way forward for the peoples of these islands and beyond.