Nicola Sturgeon has played another blinder and lit a bonfire underneath the cosy Westminster establishment. There will be another independence referendum in Scotland, or at least she will ask that Westminster grants permission for one to take place between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019.
She has rightly judged that Theresa May’s government is weak and clueless and that plans for Brexit are a mess. Scotland voted to remain in the EU. England and Wales did not. Article 50 is enacted. This is the material change that Sturgeon said would trigger a new independence campaign.
Predictably, May said no, at least not now. Witness the hysterical reaction from the usual suspects: the right wing press, the Tories and, yes, the Labour Party. The same old alliance has quickly coalesced around British unionism. One Daily Telegraph journalist called for Sturgeon to be executed as a traitor! And they accuse us of being divisive.
Sturgeon is taking a gamble. She sees that the Tories are floundering and that Labour’s opposition to them is weak. The right wing press seem to be running the Tory government. The pursuit of a hard bosses’ Brexit, continuing austerity measures, relentless cuts to public services, and a consistently racist campaign on refugees and immigration are viewed with alarm in Scotland.
The recent humiliating U-turn on National Insurance payments for the self-employed exposed how weak May’s government can be. May could have made some concessions to Sturgeon over Brexit, but she did not.
Two years of intransigent, right wing negotiating over Brexit while austerity continues is too much to bear in a country that didn’t vote for either Brexit or the Tories. Add to this the increasing threat to the union developing in Northern Ireland, and this seems like a good time for Indy Ref 2.
However, the outcome is not certain. The combined forces of the political establishment both at home and abroad, managed to create enough fear and doubt to carry the No vote last time. We were told that the UK guaranteed jobs and prosperity; neither were forthcoming. Many fear that a hard bosses’ Brexit threatens their future.
Many of the same arguments used to support the union are now being rubbished by the same people in support of Brexit. The promise of EU membership is based on an ideal that the current neoliberal leadership of the EU does not in any way match up to. The EU itself is under threat on multiple fronts and membership of it should not be a condition of any campaign for independence. As many as a third of people supporting independence also supported Brexit.
On the upside, a recent Social Attitudes survey by the academic John Curtice shows that support for independence is higher than ever, particularly among the young. The last campaign started with support for independence at about 26 percent. In the 2014 referendum that had risen to 45 percent. This campaign starts with the figure at 46 percent.
The last campaign was an invigorating experience for everyone involved. Attempts, by Labour in particular, to characterise the campaign as divisive, racist and downright nasty could not be further from the truth. The collapse of Labour as a political force since the last referendum may find its former supporters joining the independence camp. This will also put pressure on Labour-supporting trade unions on the issue.
The left played a significant role in shaping the independence movement and getting the vote out. Thousands turned out at marches and meetings discussing more radical ideas than the SNP offered in 2014, but the left did not benefit politically.
In fact, as the SNP swept the board and Labour collapsed, the left is weaker and split. In the last Scottish parliamentary elections voters were given a choice of up to six different socialist groups in some constituencies. The voters were not impressed.
All the socialists inside and outside the SNP need to unite in this campaign. We need to bring anti-racism and anti-austerity into the heart of the campaign. Getting what we want will take more than a referendum vote; it will require mass mobilisations in the streets, and we need to start campaigning now.
The SNP will reach a peak in political representation after the council elections in May. After that they should be vulnerable. They may try to play for time, accepting a delayed referendum, perhaps 2021, in return for some deal on Brexit. This is not acceptable.
Austerity is relentlessly driving down living standards. The Child Poverty Action Group has predicted that child poverty in Glasgow is set to double by 2020. Endless debates about constitutional reform and Brexit will not change that.
We need locally-based groups to start organising now, putting the left case for independence, uniting different campaigns under the independence banner.
A Scotland not “afraid to know itself” has to stand up for what it has consistently voted for, defy the ruling class and build an anti-racist, inclusive, outward-looking society.
That will require a fight. Are we up to it?