The Scottish response to Brexit

SNP pressing for another bite of the cherry.

Proletarian writers

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Nicola Sturgeon meets with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels

Proletarian writers

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Despite a 52-48 split in favour of a Brexit nationally, in Scotland, 62 percent of votes cast were for Britain to remain in the European Union. This was a gift to the SNP, giving the party some semblance of a moral case for a second Scottish independence referendum – having previously assured the people that the 2014 referendum was a once in a generation vote.

Yet in the build-up to the EU referendum, former SNP leader Alex Salmond revealed his party’s opportunistic plans – namely, that in the event of Scotland voting to remain, and the rest of the UK voting to leave, this would be used to trigger a second Scottish independence referendum.

In a joint interview with The Daily Telegraph and Huffington Post, Mr Salmond said that any second referendum “would have to happen logically in the time scale set in the Lisbon treaty … two years from the date of invocation of Article 50. [The clause in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty that triggers the withdrawal process for a member state that has decided to leave.]

“The rational thing to do under these circumstances is to have the referendum in that period because in effect Scotland would not leave, Scotland would remain and the rest of the UK would leave.

“Under the context that would be quite legitimate because Scotland would have voted to remain and the UK would have voted to leave.”

Asked if he expected the vote to be before 2020, he said: “Yes because Scotland would remain and the UK would leave – it would be a perfect democratic mandate for both of these things.” (Brexit would trigger second Scottish referendum within three years, Alex Salmond warns by Christopher Hope, The Telegraph, 13 June 2016)

As the Brexit result became clear, the position of Salmond was reinforced by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

“Speaking at her official residence, Bute House, she said: ‘I intend to take all possible steps and explore all possible options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted – in other words to secure our continuing place in the EU, and in the single market in particular.’

“Asked if there were any other options available to the Scottish government, she replied: ‘I think an independence referendum is now highly likely but I also think it is important that we take time to consider all steps and have the discussions, not least to assess the response of the European Union to the vote that Scotland expressed yesterday.’” (Brexit: Nicola Sturgeon says second Scottish independence vote ‘highly likely’, BBC News, 24 June 2016)

Firstly, it should be noted that Sturgeon’s primary desire is to remain “in the single market in particular”. This is what guides the SNP, and the leadership of all major parties on the EU question – for imperialist parties cannot help but defend imperialist institutions. They cannot help but defend the right of the bourgeoisie to exploit the workers unhindered in a single market.

Whilst the SNP’s leaders portray themselves as champions of migrants, they are simply champions for the migration of capital. Those with leftist illusions in the SNP must see through this charade. It is not the first, nor will it be the last time that the SNP seeks to prove its credentials to imperialism.

We should not forget that it was the supposedly ‘left’ first minister who previously said: “We would consider ourselves to be a key ally of the United States … We would want to be a continuing member of the Nato alliance to be part of collective security … We’re supportive of the sanctions against Russia and have been a voice of support within the UK for the government’s position.” (First Minister talks up US-UK foreign policy in Washington, raising eyebrows among left indy group at home, CommonSpace, 11 June 2015)

This is the subservient and slavish ‘independence’ espoused by the SNP, whereby economic policy is dictated by Brussels and foreign policy by Washington.

Regarding the need to “assess the response of the European Union to the vote that Scotland expressed”, we have now seen the EU response. Sturgeon immediately visited Brussels, but received little encouragement from diplomats. In the first place, the Spanish have zero interest in Scotland acquiring favourable terms with the EU, or indeed becoming an independent state, given the Catalan situation.

Additionally: “The German government told the Glasgow Herald that this was an ‘internal’ British issue and declined to comment further when asked if it would engage directly with the Scottish government.

“Denmark said its minister for foreign affairs ‘will not intervene in the internal UK discussions following the referendum last week’. The Czech government said it was ‘premature to address the question of an independent Scotland and its relation to the EU’.

“The Estonian foreign affairs ministry did not wish to engage in ‘speculation’ but its Slovakian counterpart opened the door to bilateral talks, saying its appreciated Scotland’s pro-EU attitude.” (Nicola Sturgeon snubbed by EU member states including Germany by Simon Johnson, The Telegraph, 29 June 2016)

Appreciation for Scotland’s pro-EU attitude was never going to be enough for the SNP to get some miracle deal to keep Scotland in the EU on its own. Too many stumbling blocks exist: the Catalan question, Brexit negotiations, Scotland not being a state, and so on. Therefore, if the British government actually implements the referendum result and actions Article 50, Scotland, like the rest of the UK, will leave the EU.

As a result of Sturgeon’s failure to land a deal with Brussels, a second Scottish independence referendum looks extremely likely. Nevertheless, some commentators are suggesting that the SNP really does not want a second referendum, owing to fears of another defeat. (See, for example, This is why Scotland will not get another independence referendum by Matthew Nitch Smith, Business Insider, 29 June 2016)

However, recent polling will have given encouragement: “Now a poll by Survation conducted on behalf of the Scottish Daily Mail … in the wake of the Brexit vote found that 53.7 percent of Scots now want independence compared to just 46.3 who do not.” (Scots favour second independence referendum following Brexit, poll finds, Independent, 29 June 2016)

The apparent growth in support for independence is easily explained in the context of what has happened since the last referendum. Scots remember the morning after the previous indyref, with all the main parties’ leaders promising constitutional change that did not materialise. The disastrous SNP policy of full fiscal autonomy was put on the backburner – a policy, incidentally, which would have had disastrous consequences for Scotland and the SNP, costing the treasury between £7-8bn per annum, and the SNP its credibility.

With Scotland voting to remain in the EU by almost a 2:1 ratio, it is clear that the working-class vote diverged between Scotland and the rest of Britain. Whilst the debate was dominated by immigration, the fact is that many voted simply to protest against the status quo. The divergence was with regard to whom the protest vote was being used against.

Nationally, the leaders of the main parties were for remain – so the natural protest against the status quo was to vote leave. In the Scottish context, however, although the populist government was also for remaining in the EU, the figureheads of leave – Johnson, Farage etc – represented all that is hated by working-class and nationalist voters alike. This saw the protest vote wielded against ‘Westminster’, the right wing of the Tories, and the far right.

The Scottish result, then, can in part be explained by a bulk of largely well-meaning people voting the wrong way for relatively decent reasons. Like the Guardian-reading, liberal-left type south of the border, many voters in Scotland, as a result of wishing to be pro-immigrant etc, have found themselves allied with imperialism.

Proletarian internationalism vs bourgeois nationalism

Of course, we ourselves will always defend the migrant population. We, too, are for internationalism and the unity of nations. But this does not mean a fake unity and the internationalism of the bourgeoisie. We could never, in the name of ‘internationalism’ support an institution of imperialism, such as the EU, which is specifically designed for the purpose of exploiting the workforce more efficiently.

We could not support this domineering EU, which places its tentacles upon non-European markets and peoples and wages predatory imperialist wars. We could not support an ‘internationalism’ that is organised to prevent the rise of socialism for the sake of capitalist preservation.

It is this very economic system that creates the material conditions of poverty, unemployment and war that necessitate migration. One cannot truly ‘stand with migrants’ without also opposing the economic system that caused their need to uproot in the first place. Defending migrants does not only entail a defence of the free movement of people (which, of course, we do defend); it also means working to bring unity to the working class so as to build the movement for socialism.

Only when the exploitation of man by man is ended will there be true unity of nations; only then will the miserable conditions which force the mass uprooting of peoples be ended. And only by opposing imperialism can we give support to oppressed workers everywhere. This is the true meaning of proletarian internationalism.

Capitalism is the disease; poverty is a symptom. Migration is an attempt on behalf of the sufferers to treat the symptom, and we defend workers’ rights to try to find a cure for the poverty that has been inflicted on them. But defending the free movement of people in isolation from the wider movement for socialism is still only treating the symptom; it does not address the cause of the problem. Only the communists wish to cure the disease; only the communists wish to do away with the endless and ultimately unsuccessful attempts at treating symptoms.

Moreover, to imagine that the free movement of people will be better defended within a stronger EU is not just wishful but deluded thinking – as the EU response to the migrant crisis has shown all to clearly. Like any capitalist institution, the EU and its various member states are busy whipping up anti-immigrant hysteria, taking advantage of the arrival of refugees that their own warmongering has created to try to divide and weaken opposition to their rule.

The EU and its members are all busy using refugees from imperialist war as scapegoats for the deepening capitalist economic crisis, and as an excuse to militarise the union’s borders into the bargain. So much for the free movement of people! The ‘progressive’, ‘enlightened’ and ‘humanitarian’ EU is quite simply a mirage.

How it is that the land of Red Clydeside has undergone such political degeneration in 100 years? From the potential ‘Petrograd of the west’, this former hotbed of anti-imperialism is now not only aligned with imperialism, but is often smug in doing so – under the false pretence of progressiveness. How is it that some sections of the most militant workers have become so infected by the bourgeois nationalist disease?

With every successive failure and crisis since the second world war, social democracy (represented by the Labour party) has exposed itself to the workers. The failure to capitalise on this disillusionment is the historic failing of the communist movement in this country, which for so long allowed itself to become fatally infected with opportunism and class collaboration.

Between the publication of the once-proud CPGB’s revisionist manifesto in 1951 and the formation of our party in 2004, the British communist movement was little more than a Labour party pressure group. With every betrayal of the workers at home and abroad, the Labour party lost sections of its core support base, but these workers no longer had a strong communist movement to give leadership to their aspirations.

With nowhere left to turn, many were faced with the choice of nationalism or apathy. Both causes have benefited from revisionism and social-democratic treachery. Rather than support Labour like the noose does the hanged man (ie, in order to finish it off as quickly as possible, as Lenin recommended in 1920), revisionists have given their total sycophantic support to this party, even as it has made its loyalty to British imperialism clear.

The class struggle was replaced by class collaboration. This could do nothing but alienate the so-called ‘communists’ from the working class. For this reason, our road is a long one. Not only is our class disorganised and demoralised, but it has learned to distrust the very name of communism. This distrust will only be overcome by steady and principled work aimed at bringing socialist understanding back to our brothers and sisters in the working class and reigniting their desire to harness their class-conscious instincts for socialism.