Brexit poses problems for independence

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Sturgeon Flickr tiocfaidh_ar_la_1916.jpg

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon

The response of many in the independence movement to the decision of eight Labour MP’s and three Tories to split from their respective parties is to bemoan the ongoing British political crisis brought about by Brexit, and to use this as further proof of the need for Scotland to split from the UK.

This is understandable. The majority of Scots voted against leaving the EU and both the Tories and Labour have largely ignored the concerns of the Scottish government and supporters of independence in the debate about how Britain should be governed post Brexit. Any final deal with the EU is more than likely to give a UK government greater control over decision making in Scotland than at present.

However, no matter how much the SNP may attack both the Tories and Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit, this cannot hide the fact that it has brought to the surface major problems for the future of the independence movement.

The main strategy of Nicola Sturgeon and the leadership of the SNP has been around how to maintain access to the single European market for Scottish business, and to this end they have aligned themselves with the so-called “people’s vote” campaign.

Missing is any clear commitment as to when a second independence referendum will take place, or the main arguments needed to win a second vote beyond the slogan “Scotland in Europe”.

But, perhaps most importantly the Scottish government and the SNP have not explained how they will get agreement from a UK prime minister for a second independence referendum, given that IndyRef2 is likely to be vetoed by whichever major UK party is in power.

Left wing SNP MP Tommy Sheppard is the latest to add to the confusion arguing “that the people’s vote should take precedence over independence” and that until there is clear indication of which direction the UK is moving “it is very difficult to move forward on the question of independence”.

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish justice secretary and someone tipped to be a future leader of the SNP, recently described those wishing to split from the Labour Party as “the talent” and described Corbyn as “a rubbish leader”.

Steven Gethins, the SNP spokesman on international affairs in the UK parliament, came out strongly in support of the EU and Donald Trump in calling for the overthrow of the Venezuelan government.

The SNP’s position on Brexit has moved it much further to the right. It is now aligned with pro-European Tories, the Liberal Democrats and Blairites both inside and outside the Labour Party.

This is a direct contradiction to the spirit and substance of the campaign which inspired people to vote for Independence in 2014. This revolved around an end to the neoliberal policies of austerity and cuts and opposition to both New Labour and the Tories and their commitment to engage in warmongering.
Once again, the SNP could only get its budget proposals through the Scottish parliament with the support of the Green Party. The Greens’ support for the budget came after they gained concessions from the SNP which included increased council spending and talks about replacing the council tax with a more progressive form of local taxation based on the ability to pay. The latter commitment cannot be taken seriously given that the SNP agreed to this over a year ago and has made no effort to move in that direction.

The reality of the impact of the SNP/ Green budget was exposed a few days later, when Glasgow City Council announced it would have to find a further £50 million in spending cuts.

Included in the cuts is the need for the council to find extra cash to resolve the recent equal pay dispute. The SNP run council has tried to claim a degree of kudos for the settlement.

This is nonsense. It only agreed to the women’s rightful demand after strike action, supported by other council workers in the city.

It is shameful that the people of Glasgow, which includes some of the poorest areas in the UK, will have to pay to resolve a dispute which should have been settled years ago.

Given the scope for a serious left wing criticism of the SNP then it could have been expected that the Labour Party with a socialist such as Richard Leonard as its leader, could have made some progress in challenging their policies and winning support.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Scottish Labour still sit in third place behind the Tories in Scotland with current polls showing the SNP likely to pick up seats from Labour in a UK general election.

In truth Leonard has been a major disappointment as leader and is largely ineffective. This stems partly from his opposition to independence and hostility to InyRef2, but also comes from his treatment of the independence movement as a whole, which he seems to regard as an enemy that has to be opposed to a greater extent than even the Tories.

A small number of football fans in Scotland have made public their support for Tommy Robinson. This more than adequately illustrates that Scotland is not immune from racism or the worrying growth of the far right across Europe and beyond.

Fortunately, Labour and SNP members have been able to unite around the issues of racism with both prominent Labour and SNP politicians along with major trade unions and anti-racist organisations supporting the Stand Up to Racism demonstration on 16 March.