- Right-wing Labour’s anti-independence stance alienating working class
In the third of our series of articles exploring Brexit and the ‘national question’ Philip Stott of Socialist Party Scotland examines its effect on Scotland.
The tumultuous Brexit crisis under Boris John-son’s leadership has opened a new phase of instability for British capitalism. Once again it’s the threat of a break-up of the UK that is exercising mounting concern.
As the fifth anniversary of the working-class uprising of 18 September 2014 (Scottish independence referendum) approaches, demands for indyref2 are growing louder.
Recent opinion polls have revealed a developing systemic threat to the capitalist union with a 52:48 split in favour of Scottish independence.
Were Boris Johnson to win a general election, that support is very likely to increase decisively. A major confrontation with a Johnson government would follow, with mass mobilisations on the streets demanding a referendum.
This is something the pro-capitalist Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership are extremely reluctant to advocate, preferring to channel the anger in a ‘safe’ electoral direction.
Reflecting the fears of the ruling class, Gordon Brown, co-architect of New Labour, has opined that Johnson could be “the last prime minister of the UK”.
Brown, however, seems blind to the role that his and Tony Blair’s big business policies played in driving the mass support for Scottish independence that emerged during the 2014 indyref.
Austerity, ruined public services and rising in-work poverty all laid the basis for mass opposition to the capitalist political establishment, which found an outlet through the demand for independence. Socialist Party Scotland campaigned for a Yes vote and an independent socialist Scotland in 2014.
For the working class in particular, demands for democratic rights are, at root, a desire to break from the nightmare of life under a system run for the billionaire elite.
Indeed the same factors drove the vote in favour of leaving the EU in 2016 among large swathes of working-class communities across the UK.
It was both the growing support for independence and the imminence of a general election that encouraged Labour’s John McDonnell to announce that a Labour government, if faced by a request from the Scottish parliament for an indyref2, “would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy.” Referencing himself and Jeremy Corbyn, he went on to say “There are other views within the party but that’s our view.”
All hell then broke lose. The Scottish Blairites launched an immediate attack. A statement from the majority of the Labour group in the Scottish parliament said: “We deplore any attempts to undermine the official policy position of the Scottish Labour Party… that is, opposition to a second independence referendum.”
This was to double-down on Labour’s abysmal collaboration with the Tories and big business as part of the 2014 Better Together debacle.
The May 2019 European election saw Labour lose both their MEPs, dropping to just 9.3% support. They came fifth, behind the SNP, Brexit Party, Tories and the Lib Dems.
Corbyn and McDonnell have at least now taken a more sensitive attitude to the growing support for independence and demands for an indyref 2.
If Corbyn in power was to stand up to the inevitable blackmail and sabotage of the bosses and carry through the necessary measures against capitalist interests, the nationalisation of the major sectors of the economy in particular, this would have huge appeal among the working class in Scotland.
Even then it would be crucial to stand for the right of Scotland to be independent, on the basis of majority support. An independent socialist Scotland could form a free and voluntary confederation with a socialist England, Wales and Ireland as a step to a socialist Europe. This is the policy fought for by Socialist Party Scotland.
Corbyn and McDonnell are paying a heavy price for allowing the capitalist wing of the Labour party to remain in situ. By blocking the majority pro-Corbyn membership from having the right to deselect right-wing MPs, the opportunity for big business to sabotage the possibility of left government, either before or after a general election, has been strengthened.
A general election is now imminent. Growing support for independence means the SNP are likely to make significant gains by turning the election into, at least partially, a referendum on independence to escape the Brexit turmoil.
Johnson will seek to win a general election by running on a populist platform, pledging to be the only politician prepared to implement Brexit.
If Corbyn stands on a fighting left manifesto he could defeat Johnson. Such a manifesto should include leaving the EU on the basis of policies that would benefit the working-class majority. For example, massive investment in housing, public services, jobs and wages, ending Universal Credit and for public ownership of the economy.
A recent poll showing 54% (after removing those who did not know) want to leave the EU by any means, including a no-deal, underlines the dangers if Corbyn was to advocate staying in the EU in a general election campaign.
The same poll found 88% thought parliament was out of touch with the public. 89% felt MPs “ignore the wishes of voters and push their own agendas” on Brexit.
This reflects a rage against the capitalist establishment that a mass working-class party with socialist policies could base itself on, to offer a future to millions whose lives are being destroyed by a profit-driven capitalist economic system.