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Opposition to the establishment will be strengthened if people south of the border support Scottish independence

As the standoff between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon continues, the Left south of the border needs to be clear which side it is on.

Liberal London-centric commentators argue a referendum should be denied in the name of unity, but the Left needs to argue that the fate of Scotland should rest squarely in its people’s hands.

The argument that there is no mandate for a second referendum is absurd. The Scottish National Party is the biggest party in the Scottish Parliament and holds 54 of Scotland’s 59 UK parliament seats. In fact, the SNP has the biggest mandate of any elected government within the UK.

It was a party formed around the issue of Scottish independence. Pushing for a second referendum was a cornerstone of its successful manifesto. It must surely follow that the SNP’s dominance north of the border is not just a mandate for the party itself but also a mandate for a second referendum.

It is undeniable too that the EU referendum has changed the terms of the debate.

Theresa May has argued that any independence referendum should take place after the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union have become clear. In doing so, May was perhaps targeting the remain-centric framing of the independence debate the SNP had been projecting.

It is clear that while a majority of Scottish voters voted to remain in the European Union last summer, opinion has steadily shifted in the opposite direction in the months since, meaning the SNP’s initial strategy of linking a Scottish referendum with Brexit was deeply flawed.

It would appear that this reality has been noted, and, aided by May’s apparent attack on democracy, the SNP’s narrative will now focus on Conservative rule and a lack of democracy. This is an important development.

The left south of the border

There is a simple question of democracy here. If large numbers of Scottish people want a second vote on the union, they should have it. Socialists should always support the right of nations to self-determination without condition. But there is also the question of strategy. Some on the left oppose any talk of another Scottish referendum, arguing that it threatens to divide the UK after the Brexit vote and divides opposition to the Conservatives and the establishment.

But unity based on the denial of democracy isn’t worth the name. Opposing independence would in fact align the left with the Westminster establishment which could only have disastrous results. This should be clear from the impact of Labour’s campaign against independence last time has had on the prospects for unity. It led to the meltdown of support for Labour in Scotland, therefore undermining the possibility of Scottish support and solidarity with the Corbyn project.

It is absolutely clear too, that the huge impetus behind the Yes vote in the first referendum was created by opposition to the politics of austerity and war that have dominated Westminster for so long. The weakening of the British state, that would be caused by Scottish independence, should be welcomed at any time. If it is caused by a rebellion against right wing government policies it is doubly welcome.

Independence on such a basis would be seen as a huge blow against Tory policies, it would give confidence to everyone who opposes the government south of the Border and open up the possibility of practical alliances between left forces in Scotland and the movements for change elsewhere. It would weaken the national government’s ability to project itself as a major imperialist power and to launch foreign wars.

Genuine opposition to the establishment will only be strengthened by supporting Scottish independence and landing the enormous blow to the state that it would surely bring, rather than awkwardly aligning with it to try and resist Scottish self-determination.

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