The Scottish independence referendum will take place in Autumn 2014, Alex Salmond has announced. Chris Bambery argues that socialists have to make the case for an anti-austerity, anti-imperialist Yes vote.
There is a reek of desperation about the manner in which Cameron and his Liberal Democratic allies have blundered into a confrontation with Alex Salmond and the SNP administration in Edinburgh over the referendum on Scottish independence. Why this sudden panic?
Firstly, the reality has sunk in that a referendum will almost certainly vote for ‘Devolution Max’. The polls suggest support for independence is growing, particularly among the young and the working class. Thus a state of alarm has set in amongst the Tories and their cronies because the preservation of the Union matters to the British ruling class. Globally, Scottish independence would be seen as a diminution of its power.
At a personal level there are deep ties between the British ruling class and Scotland. There is a British ruling class which unites its Scottish and English components. This alliance was forged on the battlefield, in the bloody construction of Empire and in the emergence of the United Kingdom as an industrial and financial global power. David Cameron not only represents, but embodies this, as does equally the British Royal Family. The realisation Scotland might vote for independence comes as a genuine shock to these people.
Secondly, Cameron and his Liberal Democrat collaborators have little influence on the situation north of the border. The Tories are openly described as a ‘toxic brand’ on BBC Radio Scotland news and the Liberal Democrats are regarded today as little more than Tories bedecked in yellow. Any united ‘no’ campaign, which is what Cameron wants, would have to rely on the participation and co-operation of Labour. But even a supporter of a ‘no’ vote like Labour frontbencher Jim Murphy rules out appearing on the same platform as Cameron because of the toxicity associated with the Tories.Thus the coalition government has charged into this confrontation with the SNP administration in a way which will have delighted Alex Salmond. When Cameron, Danny Alexander et al dictate that Scotland can have a referendum but that they will decide the question, timescale and who runs the vote, it reeks of the old colonial attitude – the old adage that “the natives can have a vote but they cannot be trusted to run things themselves. ” The demand from Westminster that a referendum should be a straight choice between union and independence with no third option for ‘devolution max’ also carries the implication that the natives are too stupid to decide on anything more than two options.
Salmond will relish a confrontation with the Tories because, for many people in Scotland, he will effectively be confronting Thatcher’s spiritual heirs, and in that fight there is only one winner. The scare being spun by George Osborne, Cameron and Alexander is that big business won’t invest in Scotland because of the threat of independence. There’s not a shred of evidence for this and the prime minister’s spokesperson was forced to admit that it was based on private soundings. The business world seems far more worried about Cameron’s ‘veto’ on Europe than on the prospect of Scotland voting for independence within the European Union.
It’s a very basic point, but a referendum which is an act of self-determination should be decided upon and controlled by the people it affects, not imposed by Cameron and his allies. We take the position that we’re for the break up of the United Kingdom by whatever means possible given the UK’s bloody record round the globe (most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya), with a fresh one looming in Iran.
We know that the Scottish ruling class played a massive part in the creation and maintenance of British imperialism, and will not forgive that, but we want shot of the UK state. They can take Trident and its replacement away from the Clyde when they go, and we want no Scottish troops involved in imperialist wars. However, on a more positive note, in campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote for independence we can promote the argument for an ‘anti-austerity Yes vote.’ Cameron (and now Ed Miliband) wants to doom us to at least a decade of austerity. By campaigning for Scotland to escape that nightmare we can fight for our vision of a new society and that can help build resistance south of the border. While independence for Scotland should be championed, becoming cheerleaders for the free market capitalist Salmond would be a mistake for the anti-austerity resistance, anti-war movement and the left. We need to build our own independent, united movement in this referendum campaign – one that puts the needs and wants of the people at the fore, instead of the big business independent Scotland aspired to by Salmond and the SNP.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.
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