Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: First Minister of Scotland / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0, license linked below article

Probably not, if we leave it in the hands of Sturgeon and the UK Supreme Court, argues Vladimir Unkvoski-Korica

The big headline in Scotland was First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement on Tuesday that she plans an independence referendum in October 2023.

Behind the headline lies an awkward reality. The ‘consultative’ referendum will be referred to the UK Supreme Court to find out whether it’s within the Scottish Government’s powers to hold the vote.

Should the ruling go against her, Sturgeon promised to run the next general election, expected in 2024, as a proxy vote on whether Scotland should be allowed a second referendum.

But the truth is that this kind of approach muddies the waters. Scotland has repeatedly voted for pro-independence parties, including at the last Holyrood election in 2021.

What would be different after the hypothetical next vote for the SNP in 2024 has been left unaddressed.

Who even needs more evidence that the UK has a democratic deficit? The danger here is that the cause of independence is becoming cynically subordinated to the electoral interests of the SNP.

And the SNP has become comfortable in power, sending MPs to Westminster, dominating Holyrood and running a variety of local councils, which allow it to set up extended patronage networks.

Confronting the British state endangers all that, which also explains why the SNP has become increasingly mainstream in recent years, especially since adopting the neoliberal growth commission in 2018.

We also just found out, the day before Sturgeon’s announcement, that Scottish legislation often gets secretly amended in order not to fall foul of the Crown. It is hard to see Holyrood taking on Westminster if it isn’t prepared to take on the Queen.

As long as the SNP remains the main party promising an independent Scotland, though, it remains appealing to all those who reject Tory Britain and who take one look at Starmer Labour and laugh out loud.

But, even though the SNP looks unassailable, its leadership would do well to remember that Labour looked just as unassailable in Scotland until recent times.

Labour’s long-term failure to deliver ultimately caused people to look for an alternative. The lure of Scottish independence was precisely that the newly independent state could be used to deliver the kind of social democratic reforms that Labour promised and failed to deliver.

The longer the SNP is in power, though, the weaker its claim to being an alternative holds.

With the greatest squeeze on living standards in decades now under way, and a summer of discontent in terms of strikes and demonstrations on the horizon, September 2023 and January 2024, look very far away indeed.

The SNP appears distant and cold from the perspective of striking binmen, teachers and lecturers, rail workers, health workers, postal workers and others.

For the left in Scotland, the return of the possibility of campaigning around independence will certainly be a welcome break from the doldrums of the pandemic era.

But we need a bolder vision of a more democratic and just Scotland than that offered by the SNP to ignite the kind of passion that is needed to embolden people to confront Westminster.

Championing a Scotland with no Tory anti-trade unions laws, free of the shackles of the monarchy, out of NATO, and welcoming of migrants, needs to be at the centre of such a vision.

We urgently need a decisive intervention in the extra-parliamentary struggles over the coming months to help workers realise the power that they hold to shape an independent future.

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Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.

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