2007 - 2022

Manic Monday

europe-mapsmall-848x450More than ever, we need to hear the radical voices. We need to make sure that Independence isn’t the end goal, that it’s just the start. But more importantly, we need to make sure that saying that isn’t just rhetoric, that we actually make arguments for a better Scotland based on the reality of our situation, argues Jim Monaghan.

One thing that all the various sides in the forthcoming debate (yes, various, it’s not a binary debate) can agree on is that the events of Monday 13 March were momentous and could, just possibly be the beginning of the end of the UK.

By the end of this manic Monday Nicola Sturgeon emerged a clear champion. She had stolen Theresa May’s thunder, and left her opponents on both sides of the border caught in the headlights, nodding in unison going “blah blah distraction blah blah divisive”.

That it’s divisive is not in doubt, we know this. Politics is divisive, the bigger the question the more stark the divide. But this new set of questions (yes, it is a set and not a single issue) could split parties and split both sides of the 2014 referendum.

Although Sturgeon clearly stated in her speech that this was not a case of choosing one union over another, her interviews after made it clear that she was suggesting just that. It has been a long-held policy of the SNP to support EU membership. The preferred timing indicates that the Scottish Govt is hoping for a last minute lifeline to stop Scotland leaving the EU at all. Sturgeon sees a Yes vote in Indyref2 as a “Remain” vote. The trouble with that position is that it is one that hasn’t been put to the people – it’s an assumption.

We know some things. We know that almost 40% of Scottish voters opted for the UK to leave the EU. We know that 45% of Scottish voters opted for Scotland to leave the UK and, at least temporarily as part of that process, also leave the EU.

We think we know other things. Figures from post-referendum surveys and polls that seem to have been accepted as fact tell us that almost a third of SNP voters supported Brexit. Supposedly, around 20% of people who vote SNP in Holyrood elections also voted No in Indyref1.

But none of the statistics we have ask the question that needs to be answered – i.e. should an independent Scotland be a member of the EU? There is a desire from The Scottish Govt and MSPs from The SNP and Scottish Green Party to continue membership of at least the “single market” if not full membership of the EU. We have only voted on whether the UK as a whole should remain in the EU, this is a very different question.

There seems to be large movement in support or sympathy with EU migrants living in Scotland that contradicts the main theme of the Brexit campaign in England. Often, commentary right now can mistake the right to “Freedom of Movement” with the Single Market. Any Govt of any independent state can, if they wish pass a law to allow the freedom of movement of EU citizens in and out of their country. It is entirely up to them. Of course, they cannot guarantee that the arrangement is reciprocal, that their own citizens are free to travel and work within the EU. But the mood right now is more about protecting the rights of people coming here than it is about whether our Barry can go and work as a Barista in Berlin for the summer.

The Single Market is a different issue, this market has rules and those rules have real implications for anyone who believes that an Independent Scotland’s raison d’etre is a fairer, more just and more equal society. One of the main drivers of the economies in the Single Market has been privatisation. It’s a fundamental plank of the EU project, not some fleeting fashionable policy.

We know this in Scotland. The Pantomime that happens when vital ferry services come up for tender is a fine example. Despite the fact that the publicly owned Calmac have won the contract both times, they have had to reduce staffing and other costs each time to beat off rival bidders. In 2006, the Lab/Lib coalition in Holyrood opened the bidding to howls from the SNP who wanted the national ferry company to be given the contract. “It’s not us – it’s the EU made us do it” was the Executive’s response. Then last year we saw a bizarre role reversal with the SNP Govt pleading “our hands are tied – it’s the EU” and Labour disagreeing and calling for the contract to be given to Calmac.

If an Independent Scotland is to be anything other than a slightly better organised liberal democracy, aiming for “growth” as a primary goal, rather than as a result of better achievements, then it has to be able to begin to reorganise society through the ownership of industry, land and community assets. I know this has a familiar ring, coming from an old lefty it’s a pretty predictable line. But it’s not important that we agree or disagree about that. What is important is that we agree that we want to be able to, to have the power to, change it if we decide to.

In my opinion, the striking thing about The SNP’s 2014 referendum campaign was the noticeable lack of ‘independence’ in the Scottish Govt’s model. It was all about not rocking the boat – keeping the pound; leaving fiscal control with the Bank of England; keeping the monarchy; staying in a single UK energy market; a single UK market in research and development, in universities; membership of the EU and NATO – it seemed a bit toothless but not pointless, a bit like having a bit more devolution.

Ok, it is an exaggeration but it WAS safe, it WASN’T radical. The radicals were those who didn’t pay much attention to the White Paper, who saw the referendum as a first step to doing things better, who were interested in kicking open half-shut doors to see what possibilities lay behind them. The romantics of the pro-Indy left were calling for a more adventurous approach. One reason that they could try to offer this alternative vision to the Govt plan was that Scotland would not be bound by the EU Single Market rules. Visions of community-owned power grids, a nationalised public travel industry with free travel for all, Govt subsidy of key industries etc, are off the table if an independent Scotland is a member of the EU.

So there is a danger that, if the Scottish Govt pin Yes to EU membership, a more radical vision might be impossible. The very thing that might have tipped the balance in favour of Yes in 2014 could actually become a weak link this time round. Arguments of public ownership models will be slapped down by opponents as fantasy politics if campaigners claim these are achievable within the EU.

So, if the message is again a safe one, how do we win over the generally leftist Scottish public, notorious for their progressive thinking?

Sadly, there are some things we know. We know these things from actual votes and polls over years. And these figures suggest that that the radical vote, the left vote, here in Scotland isn’t as large as we think it is. It may be that, to cross the line and win Independence, the Scottish Govt need to convince the mainstream thinkers, the no voters who are not on the left, and the normally ‘safe’.

The narrative that we on the left of Scottish politics tell ourselves is that there is an overall general leaning to left policies and ideas – that we are somehow more radical in our thinking than other parts of the UK and that this is where the battle will be won or lost. The voting figures say otherwise. I am no John Curtice, all I can do is highlight some voting figures for interpretation.

In the first election for the newly devolved parliament in 1999, The Scottish Green Party (SGP) and Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) each had an MSP elected. By the next election in 2003 both parties had seen a huge rise in their support leading to the election of 13 MSPs between them (7 SGP 6 SSP). The total vote for both was 13% on the regional lists. That was the peak for the left vote in Scotland. By 2007 their combined vote had returned to almost exactly where it was in 1999, the SNP benefitting from that fall by taking the list votes from those parties.

Although the SNP did tale some of the popular headline policies of those parties, their 2007-11 programme featured mainly an extension of similar polices to the previous Lib/Lab coalition. Extending universal ‘benefits’, slight changes to land reform etc are all “good guy” policies but not really radical or transformative.

Since then the SNP have continued to play safe and do so for good reasons, it is what Scottish voters look for. It may be uncomfortable for us to acknowledge, but Blair and Browns New Labour were very popular in Scotland, returned by the electorate three times, even after Iraq. In 2010 when New labour finally lost power in Westminster, their vote in Scotland went UP!

Since then, under Miliband and then Corbyn, Labour have taken a leftwards direction, which has coincided with the collapse of their support in Scotland, the more left they get, the less popular they become. The Tories have now replaced Labour as Scotland’s second Party, our electorate have rejected a Corbyn-led, potentially left Labour. Could it be that we have been kidding ourselves? Are we allowing a narrative that suits us to cloud the reality of how people in Scotland vote and what they want from their Parliament? As we complain about the SNP playing safe it could be that they are doing so as it is the correct strategy. One thing that we can see clearly is that whatever they are doing it works for them – they are winning.

If this analysis is true then it makes sense for the Scottish Govt to continue on that path and try to court the middle ground, which might be what delivers Independence rather than a radical agenda.

That leaves the pro-indy left in a difficult position; they could be marginalised and, once again, left in a quandary about supporting Independence as a “first step” rather than as a radical move in itself. Winning the argument for a progressive Scotland could be more difficult this time and, if YES wins, even more difficult in a newly Independent Scotland within the EU.

The next two years will not be an easy time for the left. It never has been easy but, more than ever, we need to hear the radical voices. We need to make sure that Independence isn’t the end goal, that it’s just the start. But more importantly, we need to make sure that saying that isn’t just rhetoric, that we actually make arguments for a better Scotland based on the reality of our situation, not on how we wish things were.

Wishful thinking never won nothing.

Comments (12)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I’m in a similar position to the writer. I’m disappointed that the Scottish government has not tackled some of the more difficult jobs.

    Do we want a land tax instead of council tax; do we want government run energy and transport companies? Can we find a way to mop up the many people that either cannot get work or cannot get enough hours without running from one part time job to another? Can we introduce a citizen’s income but demand that the recipients put as much as they are able back into the pot? Do we want to break up the monolithic councils that are too large and are run by officials rather than councillors?

    We have not even properly discussed these questions, never mind coming to any conclusions.

    An independent Scotland would be able to make these decisions. Indeed with a rainbow parliament, rather than large groups in coalition or even majority, these things will be proposed, discussed and might get implemented.

  2. Endrun says:

    And so it begins. The campaign to divide the Yes campaign.

    Can you not just haud yer wheesht for a bit and work to give Scotland the control it needs to make these decisions?

    Where are these Yes votes going to come from? Are there really that many people out there who wont vote yes because they aren’t being offered a radical enough vision, or are the Yes votes needing to come form the people who are scared of change, worried about the future, concerned about pensions, jobs, their standard of living, the precarious nature of existence, whether the foodbank will have tampons, have little concern for radical identity politics, and don’t see gender equity or land redistribution as frontline issues.

    1. Dougie Blackwood says:

      Did you take an active part in the last Yes campaign? It was a glorious uplifting experience. In our group we had the full spectrum of views from Green to SSP to SNP and a few more right wing than anything else. We had these discussions and it was an excellent crucible to set up and knock down ideas from all viewpoints.

      We vote SNP just now for the sole aim of achieving independence. Once we get there we need to encourage all people to contribute, to argue and to participate. The SNP will shrink and fragment and that is no bad thing. We do need a broad consensus of views and the way to get that is by avoiding a top down command system.

      1. Endrun says:

        I was overseas. Now I am not knocking the enthusiasm, but remind me again.. what was the outcome?

        So now, who do you think we need to talk to.. swinging No voters, how do you think they will be convinced?

        1. Dougie Blackwood says:

          Certainly not by reading the press or by watching the TV news. Many of the undecided do not read our posts on social media. In the end we need to get round the doors and engage them in the discussion; not by hectoring but by politely explaining the answers to their doubts.

          This is what moved us from 28% to 45% last time. We are at 50% now and with the right effort we can get over the line.

  3. Steve Arnott says:

    Jim – I liked your article. Like you I’m firmly on the left side of the YES argument.

    Like you, I believe it will be necessary to mobilise the radical/working class YES vote to win and that tying indyref 2 to the EU puts that at risk.

    But also, like you, I understand that YES 2 also needs to be a broad campaign that can win some of those more middle-class pro-EU votes that voted NO last time.

    However, I do not believe that these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive. Myself and the online platform The Point have been arguing for a while now that there is a way to ‘square the circle’ and send a positive signal to both sets of potential YES voters – those who voted or lean towards a Leave EU position, and those who voted or lean towards a Remain in EU position.

    That is for the Scottish Government to say that while the democratic deficit issue of hard Brexit has triggered this second indyref, the vote is for an independent Scotland, for ALL of the good reasos for an independent Scotland, and that, once independence is achieved, they will guarantee the new indy Scotland its own referendum on returning to/remaining in the EU.

    That debate could then take place in a truly Scottish context with the real issues – some of which you outline in your article – being raised. And it would be free from the xenophobic, anti-immigrant context of last June’s UK poll.

    Such a move would effectively neutralise the issue of the EU as a potentially divisive issue in the YES campaign that our Unionist opponents will inevitably seek to exploit. We can’t expect to show them an open goal and expect them not to shoot, right?

    But its also wholly in accord with the remarks made by Nicola Sturgeon in her speech yesterday; that it is not her, the SNP, or even the Scottish Government that will decide the future of an independent Scotland, but the sovereign people of Scotland themselves.

    For all of these reasons, I would urge people like yourself and others on the left, especially the organised political formations – Rise, Solidarity, the SSP, and STUSC – to get behind the idea of a post indy referendum to resolve the EU issue.

    And, of course, winning indy is the beginning of the journey, not it’s end.

    From that point of view the left could also usefully come together to campaign for direct democracy to decide other key constitutional and existential questions after indy is achieved…such as whether we should remain in NATO, for instance. Or whether we should retain the Monarchy or become a modern, democratic republic?

  4. Wolf of Badenoch says:

    It’s important to clarify the reasons for the need to tender Calmac (and indeed all UK rail services), as there is considerable, albeit not deliberate, mis-information above.

    The EU does require fare and open tending for services, and tends to frown on state aid. The goal of this is not to prevent state owned endeavours, but to prevent state owned monopolies where poor service is being delivered as a result. If you want an idea of what this looks like, maybe have a look at Amtrak.

    The EU leaves the tendering system up to each member state. So, for example, France and Germany have no issue with a system where a state owned company regularly wins tendered routes.

    Of course, in Britain circa 92, the system that was drawn up was designed to prevent nationalised industry. Blair had no real wish to change it and until the collapse of Network Rail and recent failures in rail franchising there was no imputus from anyone beyond the socialist left to change it. Of course, now the Scottish Government has had parts of the UK tendering system amended or overturned in court – it has the freedom to run key industries in the way that the communities they serve need.

    It is easy to pin everything on the EU. But that is exactly the case that Boris Johnstone made for many years, creating the diabolical image in the British mind that led to Brexit.

  5. Graeme McCormick says:

    I’m not convinced we need a left right perspective to be radical. My vision is one where public funding is sourced from rent or tax from our land on a square metre basis. If the model is thought through then no other taxation is required. That changes the public revenue dynamic from wealth in all its forms to land holding and occupation and it applies equally to the personal and corporate and the public organisation too. It would appeal to the entrepreneur as much as the lowly paid. It also provides the means to produce the citizen’s income.

    It has already been established that paying the real Living Wage benefits not just the employee but the business as well if the business is enlightened and prepared to change its model. That’s not a right/ left thing; it’s just good business sense. Let’s take that a bit further and aim to change the culture of work so that the norm is 25 hours a week and not 35+ without loss of salary. Some businesses are transforming their employees’ lives, the customer experience and improving growth by changing to such a model. By doing so the employee has better life/work balance and the business experiences growth and dramatically better productivity , something which the UK has failed to do since the War if compared to a host of other developed countries. That should be an irresistible strategy if explained by example

  6. Chris Clark says:

    This is wonderful. In a little more than a day, in several media outlets but notably Bella, the drive and energy that lifted the support for Independence to a point where it nearly succeeded is returning. We’re all talking about Scotland’s future. We need to be an Independent, responsible and mature self-governing country first, then we have the means to decide on our future. I look forward to a blossoming debate, stimulating political awareness and an engagement in our destiny. The Future rather than the Past. What a great start.

  7. w.b.robertson says:

    i want independence. however, like many Scots, I cannot understand why we would want to free ourselves from the Westminster yoke = to substitute Brussels. The mighty EU is not my idea of a radical and democratic organisation. Future membership, even if granted, is unlikely to help the left. Mr Monaghan has summed up the situation and outlined the dangers of jumping out of a frying pan into the you-know-what.

  8. David Ralston says:

    If you ever get an independent Scotland, you’re going to get a shock when the ‘left-leaning’ Scots myth is punctured. But by then the proper nationalists will have got what they wanted out of you.

  9. Redgauntlet says:

    It’s a good, thoughtful article by Jim. Hats off.

    I don’t know the answers to the questions Jim raises. But I think it’s clear the SNP have to pitch in the centre / centre left to win the referendum. And of course – though Nicola never explicitly said as much – that means the EU.

    In terms of the Left, I don’t know. It turns out that most people seem to like being bourgeois, or else, are happy to devote their wholes lives to becoming so.

    From my point of view, it’s a totally bizarre choice, but it seems that Thatcher was not entirely wrong. People like having cars and houses and credit cards and a box-set of Game of Thrones, which, by the way, is a pish TV series if ever there was one…

    It’s a totally bizarre choice. People could be reading “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” by Oscar Wilde. But they prefer to watch TV. What can you do?

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