Fighting austerity fuels independence

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Hands Off Our Parliament demo after SNP MPs' walkout

We were told the sharp fall in the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) Westminster seats last year was proof that Scots had rejected independence. Not so, according to the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey released in June.

It said the increase in support for independence in the 2014 referendum “has proven to be much more than a short-term phenomenon”.

Despite the SNP vote dropping from 50 percent to 37 percent between the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, with 21 fewer seats, there was no corresponding slump in support for independence.

Remarkably, almost four years later, support for independence is as it was. Scots have also elected another pro-independence majority to Holyrood in 2016.

After the Brexit vote SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon argued that a second independence referendum was “highly likely”. The result — 62 percent Remain in Scotland, 53 percent Leave in England and Wales — boosted a longstanding SNP argument that decisions are imposed on Scotland against its wishes.

Theresa May’s Brexit power grab has fuelled discontent. Sturgeon hoped her “Scotland in Europe” strategy would take off but the BSA survey said the “vote to leave the EU has not had a significant impact on the level of support for independence”.

The SNP Scottish government seems more concerned with keeping access to the EU Single Market than following through on Holyrood’s vote for a second independence referendum 15 months ago.

Sturgeon’s muted condemnation of the repression of the independence movement in Catalonia was a sign of her fear of upsetting EU leaders.

Only after internal pressure from members over eight months did the party officially take a side at their conference in June. Labour, however, has been shockingly silent on this issue.

Evidence from the report suggests that the SNP’s pro-EU stance lost votes last year among supporters (and opponents) of Scottish independence. It was largely in the overlaps of higher than average votes to leave the EU and to stay in Britain that the Tories gained a dozen MPs.

But constitutional questions were not the only factors driving people’s votes last year. What cannot be discounted is austerity — and the SNP’s role in implementing it.

Just weeks before the snap Westminster poll the Scottish council election results undermined the claim that voters rejected independence.

Of the 17 council areas with a stronger No vote in 2014, ten of them saw the SNP lose seats. In nine of these the party was running the council making cuts. And in the 12 council areas with a stronger Yes vote four saw the SNP lose seats — in three it was again responsible for cuts.

Like everywhere in Britain, Scots are sick of austerity. But they will find no comfort in the economic plans proposed by the SNP’s Growth Commission, which is a recipe for continuing cuts. Simply changing the flag but not the economic model will not inspire people.

The hope of change that fuelled support for Yes in 2014 has been dampened by the reality of the SNP in office. Around 170,000 SNP voters switched to Labour between the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.

Backing for the SNP among independence supporters in the snap election had not been as low in a Westminster or Holyrood election since 2010.

A “vital clue” in explaining this, says the BSA survey, was that Labour’s “support rose markedly between 2015 and 2017 among supporters of independence”.

This was despite Labour’s then Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale’s strategy, which “did not make any advance at all” among Unionists.

But as long as Labour opposes a second referendum it will likely maintain its distance from potential support no matter how much to the left its policies may be compared to the SNP.

A new layer of leadership within the independence movement — of people who refused to go back in their box after being politicised by the 2014 campaign — are growing restless.

Tens of thousands are marching in the streets in a series of demos, organised by the All Under One Banner group.

Many see independence as the route to less inequality and an end to austerity. They may like most of Corbyn’s policies but have difficulty seeing beyond his opposition to independence and backing for Trident renewal.

We want to dump nuclear weapons. And weakening the imperialist British state and its “special relationship” with the US, especially in the era of Donald Trump, is the best reason to break with the Union.

While Sturgeon hedges her bets and resists pressure to use her mandate for a second referendum the movement should start asserting the values of the independence they want to see.

When the far-right is growing in confidence we must reject the Tories’ “hostile environment” and say migrants and refugees are welcome here, whether Scotland is independent or not.

And the thousands set to join the marches in Inverness, Dundee and Edinburgh in the coming months can urge action against cuts now — whatever party implements them.

Fighting for change now can strengthen the movement for future battles.