The outcome of the referendum on independence places a very heavy responsibility on all those committed to the cause of social justice and of the advance to socialism, writes Tommy Morrison, Scottish Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain. This article first featured in the Morning Star 20/09/2014.
The Scottish referendum saw a firm majority voting against the SNP recipe for independence.
EU and Nato membership, the monarchy, neoliberal economic policies and a currency tied to sterling did not win the confidence of the Scottish people.
At the same time the outcome places a very heavy responsibility on all those committed to the cause of social justice and of the advance to socialism.
Labour’s traditional heartlands did vote Yes. This happened in Dundee, Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire.
These are also the areas with the highest poverty, worst unemployment and most severe deindustrialisation. Even if the Yes lead here was only narrow, this is the result to which the left must pay most attention.
These are precisely the places that a generation ago remained committed to a belief in working-class solidarity.
Voting Labour reaffirmed an understanding that class unity had been able to deliver full employment and all the benefits of the welfare state and public ownership. This conviction has been largely lost. It is what must be restored.
This is doubly important if the scars and divisions arising from the two-year-long referendum campaign are to be overcome.
There are dangers of a disinherited generation, of hundreds of thousands who now believe that a new future has been snatched from their hands. In many cases people who had abandoned any faith in conventional politics and been politicised by the referendum.
SNP campaigning was specifically directed at Labour voters in working-class areas. At the polling stations in Clydebank and Glasgow its shouts were “End Tory rule forever,” “Put David Cameron on the dole,” “Give your children a future,” “Say Yes to change,” “Say Yes to save the NHS.”
These slogans bore no relation to the neoliberal policies carried in the small print of the Scottish government’s White Paper. But it is what people will remember — Alex Salmond’s pledges that people would “have their own nation” and thereby the power to fulfil their dreams.
The left now has to win this generation to understand that “Tory rule” can be ended, and ended quickly — but only if there is a mass movement for progressive change across the whole of Britain.
The same disenchantment exists outside Scotland — expressed in terms of non-voting and voting for Ukip and more extreme forms of nationalism.
The Scottish referendum is therefore a warning. The Labour Party must change its policies.
The so far minimal moves to ditch the legacy of Blair and new Labour must be speeded up — and the trade union movement must use its still significant influence inside the Labour Party to ensure that this is done.
Today the policies of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (and the TUC) are exactly what so many in Scotland believed that independence could deliver — an end to austerity, nationalisation of utilities, halting all privatisation, scrapping of universal credit and ending all anti-union laws.
Although the trade union movement has itself been the biggest victim of neoliberal policies and has to struggle to survive, it still has six million members. It has the potential to revive class politics where it matters — to provide the democratic basis for mass campaigning in working-class communities.
In Scotland the first annual general meeting of the People’s Assembly will take place in Glasgow on October 4. It has the active backing of most major trade unions and a growing number of trades union councils — including those in the areas that voted Yes: Dundee, Clydebank, Glasgow. It also has the support of significant political figures across the left including the Labour Party and the SNP.
It must be made a rallying point for a new start in Scottish politics — but also one that returns the labour movement to its roots in working class communities.
There also needs to be a return to the labour movement’s traditional objectives in terms of the Scottish Parliament itself. As fought for by the Scottish Trades Union Congress in the 1970s and ’80s, it was seen as a parliament that could directly aid the campaigns of working people for economic democracy, full employment and wider public ownership.
Despite the powers on paper of the current Scottish Parliament, it has remained a prisoner of the wider neo-liberal framework enforced by both Westminster and the EU. Deficit limits and directives imposing market competition have thwarted any progress towards economic democracy.
Some concessions have been made as a result of the referendum campaign, particularly the commitment to the principle of income redistribution across Britain in terms of social need.
But this again will only become real if linked to a wider understanding of the need to ditch neo-liberalism and EU-imposed austerity.
The stakes are high — particularly for the 2015 election. Clarity will be needed on the left on the road ahead.
In Scotland one key forum will be the Morning Star’s Scottish conference organised for Sunday October 5 on After the Referendum: What Way Forward for the Trade Union and Labour Movement.
Leading figures from the trade union movement, from the Labour Party and the SNP will seek agreement on basic, unifying objectives that can indeed end Tory rule forever.