Having written the post on Scottish independence and a United Ireland last week, by coincidence this week the British Social Attitudes survey reported on attitudes to Scottish independence in Scotland and the wider UK. It has prompted me to note a couple of other issues that should be taken into account by socialists when considering this question. The survey reported that 32% of people in Scotland support Scottish independence, nine points higher than in 2010 but two points lower than in 2005. So we have seen a significant increase but still very much a minority view which historically has been the case. Since no majority demand for independence is being made just why would socialists support it?
The creation of new nation states is not a demand of socialists and may be supported only if it has some progressive social and political content – such as removal of oppression – that (unfortunately) takes a nationalist form. As the reality of a referendum vote becomes nearer the reactionary content of the demand for Scottish independence becomes clearer, including low corporate taxation, retention of the monarchy, staying in NATO, retention of the pound sterling and financial regulation from London.
The demand for independence also feeds on what is a positive impulse – that the closer the levers of state are the better, which is why the survey also recorded that 43% of people in Scotland wanted Holyrood (seat of the devolved administration) to make “all” decisions. The higher figure emerged in a question in which the word “independence” was not used, and where a second option on so-called devo-max – more power short of independence – was given. The report also said that people were, on balance, relatively favourable to the concept of independence.
The report also recorded that those in England surveyed who said Scotland should leave the UK had increased to 26% from 14% in 1997. This might be linked to the view that Scotland gets more than its fair share of public spending, which increased to 44% from 32%. From such views it is not an enormous leap to believing that the problem of cuts in services can be ameliorated by reducing the spending in Scotland. Such are the divisive results of playing with nationalism.
Some supporters of Scottish independence justify this support by claiming that Scotland is a more left wing country and that it would have a more left wing government if not encumbered with the Tory majority in England and Wales.
There are two problems with this argument. The first is that setting up the answer as a nationalist one is not progress, especially as we see more and more that the content of independence is reactionary. Secondly the argument accepts that English workers can just, how shall we put it, get stuffed by their Tory majority. The thought of seeking to use the claimed left majority in Scotland to leverage a wider left majority, it’s called workers unity, doesn’t appear as a consideration. This has negative effects on English workers’ consciousness which again is more or less ignored by left wing Scottish nationalists. The evidence of this we see above.
The argument has been advanced that what is at stake is the integrity of the UK state and that socialists are not defenders of this state. This is quite true. It is claimed that what is involved in Scottish independence is precisely this question. This is only half true. It is also claimed that the objective of socialists is to break up the UK state. This is not true. The objective is to create a workers state. Scottish independence means not only breaking up the UK state but putting forward the creation of a smaller capitalist State as the solution. A socialist one? This is not true at all.
The SNP-run Scottish government is planning to hold a referendum on independence in autumn 2014. Socialists should oppose Scottish independence in this referendum.