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  • Published in Analysis

The Scottish population is increasingly convinced of independence, as new polling data shows. Pete Ramand argues that the argument is moving in the SNP's direction, but those who are backing independence don't neccessarily share SNP's vision of an independent Scotland.

Scottish independence is now supported by a majority of Scots and by a majority of the UK’s population, according to new polling data.

The landscape of Scottish politics has been transformed in only a few short months. At the beginning of 2011 the script was know by all – Labour would walk the May elections and Scottish independence would be off the agenda for a generation – and not a pundit or poll could be found to say otherwise. Fast forward to November and it appears that along the way the participants lost the script. As well as the unprecedented SNP majority at Holyrood, consistent polling data has recorded a rise in support for the break up of the British state. The most recent poll conducted by ComRes found that 49% of Scots back independence (up 11 points since May) while those against fell by 9 points to a new low of just 37%. Interestingly it also suggests popular support for independence amongst Labour voters and also support by a majority of female voters.

This isn’t just one erroneous poll. Recent research all points in the same direction: a form of independence is now the most likely outcome of any referendum.

And while commentators who previously pontificated about the absolute impossibility of this outcome reel about its implications and duck for cover, it is time for the left to develop an honest appraisal of the situation.

In many respects it should not be difficult to see why support for independence is growing. It is clear that the forces who will coalesce to form the No campaign are in disarray. The Scottish Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are barely worth mentioning. They command no authority in Scottish society and are either hated or the butt of numerous jokes – often both.  Labour, having suffered their worst election result in Scotland since 1931, have been saddled with the humiliation of having to continue with Iain Gray as their leader – ostensibly due to constitutional quibbles, but in reality due to a dearth of any real talent amongst the Blairite leadership of the organisation.

The reality is that none of these organisations continue to maintain any meaningful form of social base within Scottish society. The Conservatives, the traditional voice of the Scottish landed elites, has seen its electoral base and influence shrivel to a bitterly reactionary minority. The Liberals have been electorally wiped out, and any support they had amongst the vaguely progressive middle classes has been eradicated by a student movement who demanded a pound of flesh for Clegg’s lies about fees.

As for Labour, it is clear that their acquiescence to neoliberalism and privatisation has systematically eroded their support amongst the working class for more than a decade. But in the context of mass economic crisis their failure to articulate an alternative vision to that of Cameron’s austerity Britain translates into political suicide. The assumption amongst the leadership of Labour that working class voters had nowhere else to go and would remain loyal to the Party through thick and thin was at best wishful thinking – at worst it was patronising drivel with a large dose of gross incompetence.

Richard Leonard – former assistant secretary of the STUC and Labour candidate in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley – recognizes this in the July/August edition of Scottish Left Review:

Days after the election Strathclyde University Professor John Curtice concluded that Labour’s vote fell more heavily in areas with more working class voters and in areas with relatively high levels of social deprivation. This has since been validated by research for the Carman, Jones and Mitchell ‘Scottish Election Study’ which found in its sample that Labour could only secure the support of 36 per cent of working class voters, whilst the SNP attracted 42 per cent.

Evidence also shows that if you are younger or poorer, you are far more likely to support independence. This is certainly no coincidence. The reality is that the SNP are the only party in Scotland that has recently built and developed a social base within Scottish society. However the SNP’s vision of a neoliberal Scotland does not gel with the aspirations of the people of Scotland. Young working class people support independence because they are sick of the status quo and of a deeply alienating neoliberal society, not because they are hardened nationalists who celebrate the Battle of Bannockburn on an annual basis.

In this context the arguments of the left are vital. The question of independence must be – and inevitably will be – tied to the question of crisis and austerity. However unless we come together now we will allow Salmond to hegemonies the pro-independence campaigns at a time when the argument for an independent Scotland free from austerity has more credence than ever.

This article first appeared on the website of the International Socialist Group.

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