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Independence rally in Glasgow, 1 May

Independence rally in Glasgow, 1 May. Photo: Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Scottish independence will be a major challenge for parties on both sides of the border, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Rallies were held on Saturday, 1 May across Scotland to demand independence just days before a crucial election on 6 May.

The rallies were called by the new membership organisation Now Scotland and the protest movement All Under One Banner (AOUB).

The socially distanced protest in Glasgow’s George Square took place on a crisp, sunny day. Organisers said 200 people attended, and there was also a small, unionist counter-protest.

But this was a small turnout by AOUB standards. When I last attended an AOUB protest in Glasgow, back in May 2019, there were tens of thousands on the streets.

The Covid-19 pandemic means we are in different political territory now. Moreover, it seems most people right now have their minds set on the ballot box.

Elections

And the elections are looking good for supporters of independence. The latest poll by BMG Research suggests pro-independence parties could win a decisive victory, clinching 79 out of 129 seats.

Though polls have narrowed, there has been consistently high and most often majority support for independence since last summer.

This is a sea-change in Scottish politics, though it has been a long time coming. Scotland last voted for a Tory government in 1955, though it’s been ruled by the Conservatives in Westminster time and again.

British imperial decline has dampened unionist support in Scotland, and Tory deindustrialisation policies hit Scottish communities hard.

For a long time, Labour was a natural home for the disaffected, but its failures in government, most spectacularly under Tony Blair, have eroded support.

The cause of independence has filled the void. The argument is simple: we should be able to elect a government responsible to the Scottish people and capable of enacting policies that can ensure a just transition to a greener economy.

The Tories and Labour are campaigning against another independence referendum, which they argue was held and settled in 2014 when the ‘No’ side won by 55 to 45.

But years of Tory austerity, the Brexit referendum, the failure of Labour to shift on independence even under its most left wing leader in history Jeremy Corbyn, and the disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by Boris Johnson has seemingly turned the tide.

Now, three pro-independence parties, the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Greens and Alba could win a decisive victory on 6 May, opening the way for another independence referendum.

There’s just one catch. The Westminster government is unlikely to grant the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, another referendum.

Challenges

The question is: what then? No one knows. The SNP has been unclear on what will happen next – it promises to hold a non-binding, consultative referendum once the Covid-19 emergency has passed. But it is not clear exactly what that means.

It seems fairly unlikely that the SNP will defy Westminster and proclaim independence. It has built its image in the last years as a fairly middle of the road, competent and moderate force in politics.

Its central policies, like the Growth Commission report published in 2018, are best described as social liberalism, and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, while better than that of the Westminster government, has still left Scotland with among the worst death tolls in Europe.

Its election campaign has been characterised by some problematic promises. Such as Scotland joining the EU without holding another referendum.

This is hardly a democratic proposition, but it's also one fraught with danger: what kind of border will exist between Scotland and its main economic partner, England? What kind of arguments will this throw up in any independence referendum, when many Scots have family or friends elsewhere in the UK?

Matters are therefore not straightforward even as Scotland stands on the eve a potential pro-independence majority on 6 May.

But if that does indeed happen, and a clear majority registers a desire to escape Tory Britain, independence campaigners up and down the country will feel the wind in their sails.

To get what they want, they will need to move beyond the desires and plans of their elected leaders.

And when that happens, rallies like the ones held on 1 May will need to be a priority and a stepping stone to a mass working class movement for change. Because self-determination is about ordinary people themselves becoming the main actors on the stage of history.

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Tagged under: Scotland Movement Protest
Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

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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