The Scottish referendum on independence is just under a year away and the arguments in both camps are sharpening.
The official pro-Union Better Together campaign has adopted a negative campaigning strategy, best known as "Project Fear". This unholy anti-independence alliance is being fronted by Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. It amounts to flooding the media with hyped up scare stories about Scotland sinking as a country if it dares to opt for independence.
Horror stories of a collapse in living standards, baseless claims of tens of thousands of job losses and immigrants pouring into Scotland, whose sole purpose is sponging off the welfare state, are becoming the standard propaganda being pumped out daily in Tory newspapers and other media. As the referendum gets closer we are witnessing the ugliest side of British nationalism, with racist values and the glorification of Britain's imperial past becoming more prominent.
There are also problems within the pro-Union campaign. Despite opinion polls consistently showing that around a third of the population support independence in Scotland, some Labour strategists recognise that tying the party so closely to the Tories' campaign could do Labour's long-term electoral fortunes across Scotland some real damage. This is why Labour has launched a United with Labour campaign and is making moves to distance itself from the Better Together campaign.
There is some evidence that this strategy is having an effect. Labour won a recent local by-election in Govan, leaving the SNP with no local councillors in the area. Labour also won the Dunfermline by-election from the SNP by a majority of over 2,000 votes. Labour's commitment to abolish the Bedroom Tax if elected has also helped Labour portray itself as a party still in touch with its social democratic roots.
Yet there is a more fundamental reason why the No campaign is still way ahead in the polls - the SNP and the official YES campaign are not offering a radical enough vision to inspire enough working class people to back independence.
The SNP under Salmond's leadership has been executing a difficult balancing act. So Salmond is reassuring big business and the British state that nothing will fundamentally change in an independent Scotland; the British pound will stay, the Bank of England will retain control of interest rates, the Queen will remain as head of state and Scotland will stay in Nato. But Salmond has also announced that the SNP will scrap Trident, re-nationalise Royal Mail and abolish the Bedroom Tax in an independent Scotland.
This, combined with opposition to tuition fees, NHS privatisation and prescription charges, has helped the SNP build a base of support across Scotland, but not enough to shift a large enough section of society to support independence to date. This is the biggest problem for all the forces who support independence, and one that the left in Scotland needs to tackle if we are to have any chance of winning independence and do so on an anti-austerity and anti-imperialist basis.
There is an urgent necessity to build support for independence on a socialist and internationalist basis. Over 25,000 people marched in Edinburgh for independence in September. This demonstration was not characterised by a hardened Scottish nationalism but more by opposition to Tory austerity, foreign wars, nuclear weapons and racism.
The challenge facing the left is to oppose Cameron, Osborne and British imperialism without becoming uncritical cheerleaders for the SNP and the nationalist position. We must not accept the position that says,"Let's get independence first, then we can fight on economic and social issues afterwards." Socialists need to link up independence with the fight against austerity in the here and now if there is to be any real chance of winning the referendum.
This raises the question of whether independence will improve the living standards of working class people. Importantly, it means strong opposition to not only the likes of multinational Ineos bosses holding workers to ransom at Grangemouth; but also to Salmond when he calls for workers at the plant and Unite to sign a no-strike agreement, give up their final salary pension scheme and other hard fought for pay and conditions in order to keep Ineos in Scotland.
The situation can be turned around but it requires putting opposition to austerity measures like the Bedroom Tax, welfare reform and the Tory anti-union laws at the centre of the independence campaign. It requires a vision that puts opposition to neoliberalism, multinationals and social inequality centre stage. We still have everything to play for.