Independence must be transformation not ‘transition’
Reading the SNP’s long awaited Sustainable Growth Commission Report reminded me why I left the Labour Party. It reads like an extract from Tony Blair’s playbook. Readers of a certain age will recall how the ‘Old Fettesian’ warmonger demanded Labour abandon its core values and become ‘New Labour’ to win over ‘Middle England’.
In attempting to placate ‘Middle Scotland’, former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson has adopted a similar approach. His report is full of Blairite calls for ‘more flexible labour markets’, ‘greater tax incentives for business’ and ‘further inward investment opportunities’ for capital. Such neo-liberal orthodoxy may be expected from a former RBS economist, but it offers merely another vision of low taxes for employers and low wages for employees.
There was a widespread acceptance on the ‘Yes’ side that the economic case for independence presented in 2014 was our Achilles’ Heel, leaving too many legitimate questions unanswered: how would we deal with the inevitable flight of capital?; how would an Independent Scotland cope with a collapse in world oil prices?; what impact would Scotland’s falling population have on our long-term ability to pay pensions?; and, how could we turbo charge Scotland’s chronically poor productivity levels?
Andrew Wilson was charged with bringing forward answers to all these questions. His report, however, has not only failed to deliver the illusive ‘silver bullet’ SNP leaders promised us, but it has also been met with dismay across the broader independence movement.
On the central question of what currency we would use, Wilson opts for the most conservative option of all, the status quo. His ‘Sterlingisation’ plan insists we keep the Pound in an informal or ‘transitional’ arrangement that would leave our new nation at the mercy of financial foes we could not protect ourselves from. Such an approach gives us no power to vary exchange rates, interest rates or implement spending promises. The Scottish Socialist Party has long argued we should have our own currency so that our Government will be able to implement its programme in full using all the economic tools available to it.
Wilson’s ‘steady as she goes’ strategy also recommends ten years of fiscal austerity after Independence to pay down the national debt. Thus, the same approach the SNP slammed Labour and the Tories for introducing in the aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse, would be his post-independence economic centrepiece. Politically, this plan not only capitulates to ‘the moneymen’ in the City of London, but also it completely undermines the message that Independence is about manifest social change.
Responding to Wilson’s conclusions, SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, warned her party conference in Aberdeen last month it must stop obsessing about the date of the next referendum and start making a far more persuasive case for independence capable of winning over the persistent majority who oppose it. Such advice is well placed but ironic given her own obsession with Brexit these past two years and her party’s repeated failure to mention independence in three consecutive General Elections!
Andrew Wilson’s Sustainable Growth Commission report does nothing, however, to make our case for independence more persuasive. And yet having said that, he does the independence movement one important service for he highlights the profound difference between the right and the left in our approach to the National Question itself. For the left, independence is, and has always been, about change, about securing significant material improvement in the living standards of ordinary working-class people, about breaking free from the British state stranglehold. For the right, however, it is about ‘an orderly transition’ from the existing economic power relations to something similar governed from Edinburgh.
For Nicola Sturgeon, the Growth Commission’s conclusions leave her ‘left flank’ badly exposed. They are much too right wing for a nationalist party desperate to pose as left of centre. Speculation is already rife that this report will be quietly jettisoned in due course for this very reason.
In the meantime, a sizeable opening has appeared to the SNP’s left. As recent polls confirm however, Scottish Labour’s failure to advocate an independent socialist Scotland, means they are unlikely to benefit from this new landscape. The Scottish Socialist Party’s programme for independence is much more likely to appeal as it includes material advantages for working class people such as:
* A £10/hour Living wage for all with 16 hours guaranteed as a minimum,
* Returning our railways, oil and gas and energy industries to public ownership,
* Ending the industrial scale tax evasion of rich Scots,
* Rescinding all the scandalous PFI contracts signed, much to their detriment, by Scotland’s public sector,
* Developing Scotland’s vast green energy industry with the profits going into public housing provision,
* For a modern, democratic republic.
These demands and others supporting the case for an independent socialist Scotland received great support on the recent independence rallies. Delivering such demands is the key to persuading Scotland’s working-class majority that independence means real change for them and not more of the same.
Colin Fox is the national spokesman of the Scottish Socialist Party.