There are times where the basic course of history can remain unchanged for years, decades or centuries. Where the material conditions in which people live are replicated over and over in a near identical fashion with no reason for alteration. Once every so often though, seemingly unexpected confluxes of events occur; producing contradictions in the current social order that present opportunities for wider social change.
The independence referendum was one of these opportunities. Either the progressive political forces in Scotland allied with the nationalists would win independence or the British state, its compliant media and self-serving political parties, would shut down the threat to their privileged positions in society. In the end the latter won, the onslaught was immense; every possible political weapon was deployed against us from the outrageously biased media corporations to the boot boys of the Orange Order. The most shameful role in this defeat for the Left lies with the Labour Party which allied itself to the most despicable and reactionary elements of British politics.
The prospect of breaking the union of the United Kingdom offered colossal domestic and social gains which could have improved and preserved countless lives. A break with austerity Westminster could have allowed the perusal of a socially fair living-wage economy, where the productive forces of society are harnessed for a more equitable social settlement. The end of Trident could have sparked a new wave of the movement for global nuclear disarmament, and a severely hampered British military would be curtailed from the engaging in the normal bombing campaigns of its US ally. Already the British government is engaging new military action in Syria and Iraq, safe in the knowledge that the Scottish No vote gives a free hand once again to destroy the region all over again.
But the Left can spend no longer on regrets for a world that could have been. The referendum has been lost, but the larger picture must be taken account of. Each of the major players in Scotland has fared perhaps incongruous to the referendum outcome itself and the course of Scottish and British politics has been permanently affected.
The aforementioned defeats for the Yes campaign aside, by far the biggest losers from the referendum are Scottish Labour. The idea of Home Rule espoused by Labour forefathers such as Keir Hardie died long ago within the Labour Party, along with most other working-class principles. The party bureaucracy is now so wedded to the UK state and access to power that it can tolerate no threat to its own privileged position within society. Social and economic arguments to dissuade the population from voting for independence are manufactured as required.
Labour and the rest of the Westminster establishment may have won this referendum, but this victory will cost Scottish Labour in particular dearly. The working class which they long ago abandoned voted in droves for independence. Fortress cities such as Dundee and Glasgow, along with West Dumbartonshire and North Lanarkshire voted Yes, whilst scores of other working class constituencies came within a few percent points of following suit. Those voters will not forgive Labour for their self-serving stance in the referendum; they will punish the party hard at the next Scottish elections in 2016 – the latest Survation poll putting the SNP on 49% of the vote. This would see an increase in the Scottish Government’s majority on 2011.
Further to this, on announcing her intention to stand for leader following Alex Salmond’s resignation, Nicola Sturgeon announced that 26,000 people have joined the SNP since the referendum bringing a total party membership to over 50,000. That figure now stands at over 75,000. The Scottish National Party is now the UK’s third largest party. The SNP’s student wing, at 4,000, is larger than the Scottish Liberal Democrats. The Scottish Greens and Scottish Socialist Party, who joined the SNP in the Yes Scotland coalition, have also reported thousands of new members are swelling their ranks. Compare this to Scottish Labour’s undisclosed membership, estimated to be as high as 13,000 or as low as 5,000.
The forces of Yes are reconfiguring, where the pieces end up remains unknown, they will not automatically accrue to the SNP. Scottish Labour’s electoral fortunes in the Scottish Parliament had already been decaying since even before the 2007 SNP victory. Their support for a No vote, their allegiance to the Tories, Orange Order, Ukip and the rest, have alienated much of their traditional voter base – perhaps permanently. Scottish Labour now faces the abyss. But their annihilation in Scotland can only be achieved if a new, unified, convincing party of the Left can be formed to win over those who Labour abandoned. Only then, in concert with a continued social-democratic stance from the SNP, can Labour be forever removed from the Scottish parliamentary political arena.
Where we go from here
The progressive social forces that backed the Yes movement have been assembled and awoken; they remain mobilised but quickly require political direction less they pursue dead-end political avenues such as the notion of an immediate second independence referendum. It is now incumbent upon those organisations such as the Radical Independence Campaign and others to shepherd that energy in a useful direction to where we can exert the maximum pressure.
On Saturday 22nd of November, the Radical Independence Campaign will host a national conference. Here, the activists and supporters of the progressive forces who backed independence can now take the chance to hold Westminster to account for the frantic promises of more devolution that they promised. The prospect of full independence has been forestalled , we must now argue for real Home Rule. Demands like these, and continued grassroots organisation through initiatives like RIC and others are necessary but insufficient. Aside from RIC, a new vehicle must be created to carry forward the explosion in working class organisation and activism – that vehicle must be a new socialist left political formation.