National Sections of the L5I:

Can Scotland go it alone?

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The Scottish National Party, under the leadership of Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, has built up its support since devolution by appealing to disillusioned Labour supporters on the one hand, and forging a close relationship with Scottish capitalists, like former Royal Bank of Scotland chief George Mathewson and Stagecoach head Brian Souter, on the other.

The party has skilfully used the parliament at Holyrood to introduce policies that appeal to workers  abolition of the council tax and student fees, free central heating installation for pensioners, opposition to PFI and nuclear weapons  while adopting the neoliberal programme of financial deregulation, tax breaks for business and the ruthless promotion of Scottish corporations at home and abroad.

Salmond nicely summed up this unhappy mishmash when he said in an interview in Total Politics that Scots "didn't mind the economic side [of Margaret Thatcher's policies] so much. But we didn't like the social side at all."

The usually media-savvy leader rushed to retract his comments, but the cat was out of the bag. The policies that ripped the heart out of Scotland's steel industry, shipyards and mining communities and imposed the hated poll tax were economically sound, Salmond claimed, they just could have been implemented in a nicer way!

Try as Salmond might, it is rarely possible to keep the bosses and workers happy  helping one usually means attacking the other. In times of economic crisis, this is doubly true.

The SNP and the crisis

The SNP has pointed to an "arc of prosperity" covering Ireland, Iceland and the Nordic countries, claiming that an independent Scotland could join them. The nationalists also cite globalisation as the economic environment within which small nations could flourish. They argue North Sea oil and Scotland's financial sector could help finance the country's service sector while employing a skilled workforce.

The current crisis has, however, blown this economic model to pieces. The Daily Telegraph even described the "arc of prosperity" as an "arc of insolvency". First Denmark, then the "Celtic Tiger" Ireland slipped into recession in 2008. Then Iceland went bankrupt.

Next the price of oil, which seemed to rise indefinitely during the boom, plummeted as demand contracted in readiness for a global downturn. And soon after that, Scotland's HBOS collapsed, leading to its emergency takeover by Lloyds TSB, while Mathewson's RBS was effectively nationalised when Westminster bought a 63 per cent stake in it.

Salmond's globalisation is in crisis and the SNP's vision of prosperous independence suddenly looks out of sync with reality. Salmond's independent Scotland could probably find the money for its own bank bail out if needs be. But it would be just as reactionary as Brown's  socialising the losses to save the system so that at some point in the future the profits could be privatised again. And, like Brown's bail out, a Salmond bail out would mean cuts in the welfare services on which Scottish workers depend and attacks on workers in the public sector too.The fact remains that most Scottish workers are still not in favour of independence. A recent YouGov poll said that those wanting independence now were outnumbered by 34 to 50 per cent. But the same people, when asked whether they would feel the same if there was a Tory government in Westminster, voted 50 to 41 per cent to abolish the Union.

Many Scottish workers still remember the 18 long years of Conservative rule. Even the prospect of a new Tory government clearly makes them more inclined towards independence.

But there is ultimately little difference between the SNP and Tories. Both put the interests of capital before workers. True, the SNP is promising to abolish the hated council tax and replace but they plan to replace it with an extra 3p on income tax that will hit workers.

Even more revealing is the fact that the SNP has refused to make more revenue available to pay local government and Holyrood employees a decent wage. Instead it is pushing through a pay cut and facing down workers, who have mounted two huge strikes in the last three months.

Class struggle not nationalism

For socialists our starting point must be the class struggle of the workers against the bosses regardless of their nationality. We must fight against the public sector pay cut, for example, across Britain, mobilising workers regardless of their nationality or, for that matter, ethnicity to defeat the government.

At the end of the day, all nationalisms peddle the lie that workers live in one big family with "their" ruling class. The only family the Scottish workers are part of is the international working class, including their sisters and brothers in England and Wales.We must oppose Scottish independence, campaign against it in any referendum and reject all the nationalist rhetoric attached to the demand for it. By encouraging nationalism and damaging international solidarity independence would weaken the class struggle.

The Scottish ruling class, having led their nation to independence, would be in a stronger position to demand sacrifices from workers in the early years of building the new state. The Scottish workers, to the extent that they saw themselves first and foremost as Scots rather than members of the working class, would be disarmed in the face of appeals to unite behind the Saltire.

But it would be undemocratic and self-defeating to oppose a referendum. Socialists should be in favour of an immediate referendum  posing the question of full and unconditional independence clearly and unambiguously. We have no interest in preserving the British state against the wishes of a majority of the Scottish people. If they so decide, even by the smallest majority, then all democrats should take action to ensure their wishes are immediately respected.