The SNP-led Scottish government has overseen the sell-off of the Scottish rail network to the firm Abellio - a subsidiary of the Dutch national rail company Nederlandse Spoorwegen. The affair has been a telling early indication of what to expect from the SNP leadership in critical moments in the struggle between people and profits.
The scandal of privatisation
Privatisation has become a scandal since the initial sell off in 1993. Standards have drastically dropped and fares have gone through the roof. The whole fiasco has become a textbook example that the blind forces of the market, despite claims otherwise, are completely incapable of running the rail network in a logical or cost effective manner.
Indeed, it has been yet another blow ideologically for the defenders of the capitalist free market who argue that, if left to its own devises, the market can run the entire economy (and society) with efficiency.
Naturally since the 2008 banking crisis, these ideologues have been slightly quieter, but their system remains in place and is exposed most thoroughly in the failure of privatised railways. Recent surveys have shown that the general public have totally lost faith in this failed project and support the re-nationalisation of the railways - a demand that has been consistently campaigned for by the railway workers and transport unions.
However the Scottish government’s decision to award the contract to the "truly innovative" Abellio – which already runs other rail services in the UK, such as Northern Rail - flies in the face of these facts, reinforcing private control of Scottish railways for the next decade. The Tories could hardly conceal their glee and were quick to congratulate the SNP leaders. MSP Alex Johnstone said:
"The transport minister has done well to resist calls from sirens of the extreme left who would see us return to the investment vacuum and the catastrophic management failures of state-owned monopolies of the 1970s."
Coming at a time when the SNP leadership claims to be the champions of Scottish interests, this affair has led to questions of their class outlook and whether or not they are a real force for radical change at all. They have been condemned by the Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party, the RMT and TSSA, and even Scottish Labour.
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, condemned the sell out:
"Only a few weeks ago, the Scottish people were promised the power to run a publicly-owned railway which would put them first, ahead of private rail firms. Now the Scottish government wants to hand that railway to a firm run by Dutch state railways."
Yet not all socialists have criticised the SNP leadership. Some have even risen to their defence, absurdly fighting the corner for the SNP leaders and continuing to argue that the SNP is the best party to defend the interests of Scottish workers.
The SNP has recently soared in popularity; after the referendum campaign there has been a massive increase in their membership and wider support. Scottish people have been propelled into political activity by the referendum; all issues were laid bare in front of people, scrutinised and debated at length.
Hanging above the whole affair was the unavoidable context of the international economic crisis which has exposed the weakness of British capitalism and the degeneration of the establishment. The Yes campaign was able to gain an echo amongst those who wished for a clean break from the whole mess, particularly those worst affected by the crisis.
In the absence of a strong political opposition across the UK, especially due to the right-wing policies of the Labour leadership, the vacuum has opened the door to the SNP, who have styled themselves as a real alternative to the status quo, offering policies that resemble a left-leaning social democratic alternative to Tory-Liberal austerity and Labour austerity-lite.
In the wake of such mass political engagement following the referendum, the parties that supported the Yes campaign have recruited many of the newly-enthused campaigners into their parties. The SNP in particular has seen its membership skyrocket, by some estimates to over 100,000 members, making it now one of the largest parties in the UK.
The "three stage" perspective for socialism
On top of this, illusions have been sown by some pro-independence parties to the left of the SNP, who argue that an SNP victory in the UK 2015 general election is the best way to secure another chance at independence. Astonishingly, Tommy Sheridan has recently called for socialists to vote for the SNP in 2015, echoing this strategy. His "three stage" solution – a formula of SNP first, then independence, and finally – socialism – can only be described at best as opportunism.
We reject this “three stage” perspective for socialism. The SNP government in face of the deepening capitalist crisis will inevitably carry through attacks and counter-reforms. It is nothing to do with “good intentions” and everything to do with the logic of capitalism. To believe this will be a short-cut to socialism is complete folly. The Holland government in France got to power promising to “tax the rich” and ended up making massive cuts and attacks on French workers.
The real programme of the Scottish National Party leadership is built around capitalist demands. Even their version of “independence” came with a British Monarch, the Pound and the Bank of England. The SNP, despite the recent influx of many ordinary workers and youth, has its base rooted in the interests of a Scottish ruling elite – a breakaway section of the British capitalists who stand to gain more from an independent Scotland, with all the lobbying access, privileges and influence, that the rich and powerful are used too in the halls of capitalist democracies. They stand whole-heartedly for capitalist independence, with themselves at the head. This has nothing to do with genuine socialism.
Only in this recent period has the SNP appealed beyond this nationalist base to layers of the working class, who are rightly sickened by the continuing betrayals of the Labour leaders and desire change by any means necessary.
Contradictions, conflicts, and divides
This class contradiction in the SNP - between a leadership that is wedded to capitalism and a radicalised rank-and-file who are looking for a genuine alternative to austerity - will lead to continuous conflict with, and eventually massive disillusionment in, the SNP leadership, due to their unashamed commitment to the current system.
Socialists must stand for socialism first and foremost if they are to stand for anything at all. Those who shy away from arguing for a clear socialist alternative and instead put false obstacles in the path, risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy and could find themselves supporting interests hostile to socialism.
The SNP leadership does not have a revolutionary outlook, and cannot imagine a world without capitalism; to them it is impossible that the working class could ever take control of the country’s resources and democratically run them in the interest of society instead of individual profit. Their loyal respect for the rules, regulations and laws that ties people down into this exploitative system mean they could never deliver radical change.
The decision to re-privatise a crucial section of Scotland’s infrastructure is a clear example of this outlook. When asked why – in the face of overwhelming support for nationalisation - they chose to hand over the railways to private hands, the SNP leaders simply shrug their shoulders and complain that they don’t have the power to nationalise, effectively blaming Scottish people for rejecting independence – which we are told would certainly have delivered nationalisation, albeit in a limited fashion and likely at the cost to other public services.
But the question remains, if they are truly the defenders of the Scottish people, then why did the SNP leaders not use their powerful support, their heightened popularity, and the overwhelming support of Scottish society to announce nationalisation de-facto and rally the population in support? The answer is clear; they are in awe of capitalist laws and are not prepared to break with the current system and the interests of the bosses and bankers. Furthermore, they have no faith in the independent revolutionary potential of Scottish working people – a fact that doesn’t even enter their heads.
SNP leaders: managers for big business
At such a juncture an important question must be asked: if the SNP leaders cannot break with the laws of the current system, then can they be anything more than mere managers for big business? How will the party cope when future critical moments present themselves and pressure from markets to attack workers’ conditions is ramped up?
The special position the SNP has enjoyed by being a party that can shun responsibility and blame all unpopular policies on Westminster is coming to an end. Soon, Scottish governments may well be setting their own fully-funded budgets and face the same pressure that is being felt around the world – the pressure to be “competitive” under international capitalism - will come directly to bear.
However even without such powers, the SNP leaders seem content continuing to faithfully manage the system in Scotland on behalf of, and within the confines, of the British state. For now the supporters of the SNP are left with a clear warning of the real character and outlook of the present SNP leadership.
For a revolutionary leadership with a socialist programme!
More than ever, the workers of the world need a leadership with an independent class outlook and a revolutionary socialist programme. Only on this basis is it possible to channel all the discontent that is bubbling under the surface of this rotten system, uniting the working class together into a movement bound by common socialist interests. Such a movement would be unstoppable and would truly strike at the heart of the problem, providing real power to accomplish a fundamental change.
Our economic assets and public services should be socially owned and democratically run for everyone’s benefit, instead of being squandered on the private profits of the rich. In the end, only a bold socialist programme, as an alternative to capitalist private control, will achieve this.