SNP taps anger in Scotland

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(453)

The general election looked very different north of the border. Bob Fotheringham outlines the dynamics of independence, the disappointment in Scottish Labour and the anti-Tory feeling that shaped the result.

Politically, the difference between England and Scotland could not be starker.

The Tories won 47 percent of the popular vote in England. In Scotland the SNP won 45 percent with Labour at 19 percent and the Tories on 25 percent. How can the difference be accounted for?

In Scotland there is strong anti-Tory sentiment which goes back decades. The alienation felt by many working class voters in England which led them to support Brexit and then to vote Tory is not absent in Scotland. But it does have an alternative outlet, and that is to support independence and, as a consequence, to vote SNP as the best means of achieving this.

This is a feeling which the SNP have skilfully exploited. Their election message stated that to defend the NHS, end austerity and welcome migrants voters must support the SNP and independence. It is a message that goes down well.

In comparison to Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon was given an easy examination during the election. Independence supporters in Scotland rightly complain about the unionist bias of the vast majority of the UK press, including the BBC.

However, Sturgeon largely avoided the smears aimed at Corbyn. Unfortunately, she also used the anti-Semitism slurs directed at Corbyn to her advantage, echoing the mainstream media when it suited.

The SNP made a major issue of the democratic deficit imposed on Scotland. Scotland voted remain in the EU referendum. There is considerable anger that the country is being taken out of the EU against the wishes of the majority, particularly given the fact that Scottish voters were told during the 2014 independence referendum campaign that the only way for Scotland to stay in the EU was to vote to remain part of the UK. This is an issue which unites remain and leave voters.

During the summer a number of huge demonstrations organised by All Under One Banner made sure backing for independence remained a live issue. It also provided the SNP with a huge activist base which campaigns enthusiastically for independence.

The election was a disaster for Labour in Scotland, and for its leader Richard Leonard, who has made valid criticisms of the Scottish government.

The SNP has implemented Tory austerity and there are major problems in Scotland relating to the NHS particularly around the SNP’s new flagship hospital in Glasgow where two children recently died due to contaminated water. Sturgeon continues to protect the oil industry despite her commitment to renewable energy.

As Labour solidly opposed independence and a second referendum, its criticisms of the SNP sound hollow to the majority of working class voters. Leonard, in the wake of the election result, has said that Labour in Scotland will need to have a fresh look at the constitutional question.

There is emerging evidence that Labour for Independence is being inundated with requests from people looking to become involved. In an important development a group of Labour activists calling themselves Scottish Labour for Radical Democracy has issued an open letter demanding “radical self-determination for Scotland”. They state that they “support an escalating strategy of non-cooperation and civil disobedience against that (UK) government, pursued at all possible levels”.

The main SNP election message throughout the campaign was to stop Brexit. It targeted its message at those who voted to remain in the EU and said “no” to independence.

The SNP has been one of the main movers alongside the Liberal Democrats, pro-EU Tories and right wing Labour for a second EU referendum. In doing so it helped create the circumstances which ensured a left wing leave alternative to the EU was never put to working class voters in England.

The SNP was not responsible for Labour campaign failings. Nevertheless, if one of the SNP aims was to stop Brexit then this was a major failure.

The SNP has been provided with a mandate to push for independence. The question now is how it intends to fulfill this.

In her post-election press conference Nicola Sturgeon stated that the Scottish Government will “make the legal and political case for a second independence referendum”. This is disingenuous. There is no legal route that the Scottish Government can use to force the Tories to agree to a second independence referendum.

To believe that the Scottish or UK courts will voluntarily agree to a process which could lead to the break-up of the British state is particularly naive.

All Under One Banner has called a march for independence on 11 January. It has also called a National Assembly of Yes Groups for 15 February, again in Glasgow. Both these initiatives need to be given widespread support.

The key to winning Scottish independence is to mount a radical campaign which involves working class communities across Scotland and learns from the energy of the climate change movement.

The campaign, as well as directing its energies at opposing Tory rule in Scotland and winning independence, has to demand the Scottish government stop implementing Tory austerity.

It has to take the fight into the labour movement and the unions. To this end the increased support for Labour for Independence is welcome.