SNP climbdown on indyref2

In the latest edition of the Scottish Socialist Voice (issue 496), I suggest it may be argued no one won the 2017 General Election. The ‘victor’ Theresa May lost a perfectly good majority and a 22% lead in the polls to emerge as the least stable Government in forty years. Her campaign will undoubtedly go down as one of the most incompetent any party has run in the post-war period. So much for Lynton Crosby’s invincibility! On the other hand, Labour also lost – its third defeat in a row. And all the other parties trailed in far behind, including the SNP, as ‘the big two’ hoovered up 85% of all the votes cast.

The Tories, having reached a deal with the DUP, will try to hold on, of course, because they fear a second election would see Jeremy Corbyn sitting in Downing Street, a prospect that both alarms and galvanises them. But the Parliamentary arithmetic and divisions inside their party over Brexit, the central issue facing her Premiership, suggest May will not last five years.

Whilst 2017 will be remembered as ‘the Brexit election’ – with indyref being the central issue in Scotland – Corbyn’s vote shows there is a deep reservoir of discontent in Britain; over austerity, poverty wages, public sector pay caps, workplace insecurity, widening inequalities, greater indebtedness, the lack of affordable housing and the uncertainty Brexit brings.

At the same time, the Tories saw a marked revival in their fortunes north of the border particularly in rural and conservative Scotland at the SNP’s expense. Tactical voting against indyref2 galvanised them. The Nationalists meanwhile lost 21 seats and held on, just, in a dozen more. Their grip on Scottish politics is slipping badly because dis-satisfaction with their lacklustre record in Government at Holyrood is widespread. They were once the beneficiaries of an anti-Labour mood but patience is now fast running out with Nicola Sturgeon’s failure to improve the things that matter.

Indyref2 was the main issue and frankly the SNP’s tactics were inept. The Unionist parties were able to show how unpopular the SNP’s proposal for a second vote at this time and on the EU issue was and gained ground; the Tories took 12 more seats, Labour 6 more and the even the hapless Lib-Dems took another 3 in their old fiefdoms of Caithness, East Dunbartonshire and West Edinburgh. Nicola Sturgeon’s response has been to retreat even further on indyref2 and to reiterate her neo-liberal view that ‘a soft Brexit’ and membership of the European Single Market is now more important than independence.

A new realignment of Scottish politics is now under way with allegiances shifting on both right and left. Conflicts are emerging within the SNP with the leadership foolishly claiming, as Mike Russell did in The National on 17 June that this was their second best general election result ever, inferring the strategy will be to simply ‘carry on regardless’. The left in the party, such as it is, disagrees. Former MP George Kerevan, for example, speaking at a Radical Independence Campaign meeting in Edinburgh I attended on 20 June insisted the result was a very significant setback. The correct response, he argued, was now to decouple the independence movement from the SNP.

The SNP has not made the case for Independence for three years. Moreover their fiscally conservative prospectus has been undermined by the collapse in North Sea Oil prices, the deficit in the Government Expenditure and Revenue figures [GERS] and by an economy which, as Jim and Margaret Cuthbert have demonstrated, is effectively in a recession masked by consumer spending fuelled in turn by unsustainable credit card debt.

What the pro-independence left needs to do now is to construct a far more compelling economic case. We must also press for initiatives at Holyrood and beyond to tackle the grotesque poverty, inequalities and social injustices rife in Scotland today. The SNP has done next to nothing to address these scandals. The left could then take a leaf out of the SSP’s book and promote legislation at Holyrood to guarantee the legal right to affordable housing, a living wage and to lift people out of poverty. The Scottish Socialist Party put forward more Bills – to scrap the Council tax, to return the railways to public ownership, to introduce free school meals, to abolish NHS prescription charges and to introduce free public transport – in our time at Holyrood than any other party pro rata.

But, as the SNP and others have found to their cost, work inside Parliament is not enough. The pro-independence left must also mobilise resistance to neo-liberal orthodoxy in Scotland and to do so on the streets, workplaces and in working class communities throughout the land.

Colin Fox is the Scottish Socialist Party national spokesperson