A Scottish independence poster from 2008. Photo: Flickr/the justified sinner A Scottish independence poster from 2008. Photo: Flickr/the justified sinner

Once again a challenge to the union can provide space for proper oppositional forces to develop, argues Brian Heron 

1The Scottish National Party leadership of Scotland’s devolved government have launched a big gamble, setting in motion a new referendum on Scottish independence – with clear time limits in the next two years for its implementation. This dominates all of Scottish politics now and a lot of the UK’s political life too. The risks for the SNP are considerable. The SNP have made the Westminster government’s hard-faced approach to Brexit the launching pad of their new initiative for independence. Yet over a third of SNP voters in Scotland voted to leave the EU. The polls in Scotland currently give the UK loyalist vote a small majority – should there be a new referendum – and that is despite current Tory rule at Westminster, which is deeply unpopular. And a sizable majority of Scots have, since the 1st referendum in 2014, maintained the view that there should not be another vote on independence any time soon. This morning (13 March) Labour leader Corbyn clarified his comments last night when he said that the Scottish Parliament had the right to call a new referendum if they wanted, by explaining that this morning that did not stop him or his party opposing one! The Tory leader and Britain’s Prime Minister May hoped that any new referendum would only take place after the Brexit deal (or non-deal) and that the Scots would then be voting, if they voted at all, on the prospects of being out of the EU and out of the UK – an apparently lonely and impoverishing future! The SNP could see that coming. They are placing their bets on disrupting Brexit before it finishes, with a new opening to the EU allowing access to the market etc., being driven by the changed political weight of a divided United Kingdom. The SNP are aware of the pressures now in Northern Ireland, where the popular vote has just broken the Loyalist majority and put unity with an EU based Southern Ireland on the medium term agenda. Against all this is the implications of the terror of the Spanish, Italian and even Belgian EU governments of the idea that the EU provides any succour or support to small nations in Europe carving out their own sovereignty. The battle over Scottish Independence will produce a series of crises but, in the first stage, none greater than the damage coming to the already half-dead Scottish Labour Party.

2Scotland’s one remaining Labour MP, Ian Murray, managed to denounce Corbyn’s leadership of his party only an hour or two before the SNP made its dramatic move. Now Scottish Labour has to choose between a defence of the Tory Brexit on the one hand and the SNP’s call to retain trading and other positive links to the EU, on the other. It will denounce the SNP for its ‘diversion’ (along with the now more credible Scottish Tories) and simultaneously claim that it can force a milder, more pro worker Brexit out of the Tory government in Westminster with its one Scottish MP in the British Parliament and its minority in the Scottish Parliament – better than the SNP, with its 56 MPs in Parliament, its control of the Scottish government at Holyrood – and its threat of independence! Scottish Labour’s crisis, in this case not aided by the left leadership of the British party, is that it has turned decisively from its own roots, where Scottish Labour once stood in favour of independence – as a means to better challenge the dominant controls emanating from Britain’s imperial centre. Most recently, initially spearheaded by some union leaders and by Corbyn himself, a secret move was made to win the remains of the Scottish LP leadership at least to a federal view of Britain with an independent Scottish LP. This was decisively turned down by Scottish Labour’s Blairite leader Kezia Dugdale, and her supporters. And now, while the SNP are risking all in a frontal confrontation with May’s austerity government, Scottish Labour do not know which side they can be on and will inevitably appear to come out supporting Westminster over Scotland. Scottish Labour is about to become a history lesson.

3Like Scottish Labour, many British Trade Union leaders and Labour MPs are deeply hostile to Scottish independence. They start from what they see as the basic and practical in their thinking, so beloved of the hard-headed approach they believe stands above theories and speculation. Scotland’s independence means the end of any majority for Labour at Westminster. Beyond that is a view that national consciousness splits the cause of the unity of the British working class. Perhaps some might take a moment to consider how the assertion of British identity aids the unity of the European working class? Rightly, in the case of a certain type of Brexit, they would argue that such a unity might be enhanced. (Not, sadly, the one that is being delivered.) But this thought does not apply to Britain’s ‘unity’ or the right of independence for Britain’s ‘nations’. In hard-headed reality, Scottish Labour has already crashed – at least from the point of view of leading Labour’s charge to government at Westminster. But how can the unity of the working classes  of Britain (and extended into Europe) still be served? By the fight (including the fight with the SNP) for a genuine anti-austerity, anti-war, anti-racism based independent government in Scotland. That of course is the basic and practical battle that the Scottish Labour Party should now be leading.

4Already Sturgeon has begun to set out the terms of the independence battle that she wishes to lead. She has understood than Scottish independence cannot be won just on the rejection of Westminster’s little Englander jingoism. Already she has commented on the fact that not all of the Scots who voted against Brexit also voted to have an independent Scotland in 2014 – and talked of a new and fairer society to widen the terms of the debate that will now begin. The Brexit debate, at least in England and Wales, was dominated by the right wing of the Tory Party and by UKIP. And it is the former that have reaped the political benefits so far. In the debate to come over Scotland there must be a genuine left voice about the society, the economy and the politics we live in and that ones we want. The SNP is not that voice, and, at the moment, both Westminster Labour and Dugdale’s Scottish Labour are shouting in the wrong direction. It is time for the Labour membership and the movements against austerity and racism to make themselves heard. Britain’s political crisis rolls on. It is unstoppable. All of the main political forces now in movement across the country have less and less of a safety net.

Tagged under: