Monday, 15 June 2009

Where now for the SNP

These are heady days for the Scottish National Party. If the results of the European elections were repeated in the forthcoming Westminster contest Labour would be annihilated in Scotland. There would be no Labour MP's in Edinburgh where they currently have four. Both Alastair Darling and Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy would be roundly defeated, and the Nationalists would take a majority of Labour seats.
The SNP, in Government in Scotland, out polled Labour for the first time in a UK wide election last week, surpassing even their Holyrood triumph of 2007. They have been ahead of Labour in the polls for two years now.
Whereas in England Labour is hemorrhaging votes to Cameron and the right, in Scotland it is the SNP and they stand to the left of Labour in every conceivable measure. Furthermore they have virtually monopolised the left vote.
Labour just doesn't know how to handle them. They are at sixes and sevens strategically. Their historic opposition to a referendum on Independence was dropped by the hapless Wendy Alexander only to be imposed again by Iain Gray their 3rd Scottish leader in as many years. Having tried and failed to pigeon hole the Nats as irresponsible big spenders, Labour now, laughably, wheels out the old bogey that 'the SNP brought down the Callaghan government in 1979' and are in effect just 'Tartan Tories'! This charge is both preposterous and inept since Labour are the self proclaimed heirs to Thatcherism with their own wars, privatisations and low taxes for the obscenely rich.
Like it or not working class voters see the SNP as the most attractive anti Labour vehicle, one which has ended the rampant PFI/PPP privatisation of the NHS in Scotland, opposed the war in Iraq and pledged to rid Scotland of the nuclear weapons stationed on the Clyde. Furthermore it is widely noted that the SNP picked up all the Bills pioneered by the Scottish Socialist Party between 1999 and 2007, on free school meals, abolition of the unfair Council tax and scrapping prescription charges and represented them to Holyrood. Labour voted against all three.
Of course just as the SNP creates problems for Labour it also provides a clear challenge to the Scottish Socialist Party. There is an important response to that challenge however and it is this. Whilst the SNP has certainly adopted a progressive social programme it remains nonetheless a bosses party, a big business representative. Its support for neo liberalism is equal to any Tony Blair ever demonstrated. Indeed Alex Salmond has moved significantly towards courting capitalism in recent years.
'Salmond's dilemma' here is however best illustrated in relation to the financial collapse. The SNP's independence model 'took a helluva beating', to quote the famous Norwegian football commentator, as the banking collapse all but wiped out what Alex Salmond referred to admiringly as the “Arc of prosperity” of Ireland, Iceland and Norway. His defence to charges that an independent Scotland under the SNP would have bankrupted the country has been to claim that they -the SNP - would have kept the banks 'on a tight leash' and prevented all their reckless acquisitions and 'toxic trading'.
This is, to put it mildly, just not supported by the facts. Some might go further and suggest, in Salmond's favoured language of the streets, that his claims are 'utter mince'. In my experience as an MSP at Holyrood over 4 years watching the SNP at close quarters, they were the most obsequious of all the parties towards the banks. Desperate to reassure RBS, HBOS, and Standard Life for example and the other financial institutions in Edinburgh - Europe's fifth biggest banking centre measured in terms of equity under management - that their interests were safe with the SNP, they have been putty in Sir Fred Goodwin's hands. And indeed they still are as the banking classes insist on making working people pay for the economic collapse which RBS , HBOS and the others caused.
So lets call a 'shovel a shovel'. The SNP is every bit in 'hock' to big business as New Labour. Alex Salmond's fawning over US billionaire Donald Trump was a clear case in point. Trumps plan to trash an area of outstanding natural beauty in Aberdeenshire in order to build a £1bn luxury golf complex was rushed through at the highest levels of the Scottish Government and the entire episode shows conclusively what side the SNP are on.
Like New Labour they have been caught in the headlights of the worst capitalist recession in 80 years. As hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs on the back of it the SNP offer no resistance whatsoever. The recent sacking of 700 workers by computer giant Hewlett Packard in Erskine offers yet another case in point. When the issue was raised in the Scottish Parliament the workers got tea, sympathy and offers of retraining but sadly no promise from First Minister of 'Erskine no more'.
Despite vacuous talk about “standing up for Scotland”, as closures and sackings mount, the SNP simply wring their hands and walk away blaming — no doubt correctly — the Westminster Government. And as far as Gordon Browns imminent swingeing cuts in public spending are concerned the SNP will huff and puff about them and then implement them. Indeed their Finance Minister John Swinney has his own agenda for what he calls Scotland’s 'bloated' public sector.
Perhaps the most intriguing factor looming over Scottish politics however is the potential impact of a Tory Government elected in London. The Holyrood Parliament was established in response to what many Scots saw as the 'democratic deficit' wherein we voted Labour and yet were landed with an alien Tory government. The election of Cameron next year looks certain to reignite that conflict and at the same time boost the drive for independence.
The SNP is committed to holding an independence referendum next year. Both Labour and the Tories intend to block it in the Scottish Parliament, running the considerable risk of being seen to prevent Scotland's right to decide. Whilst it is fair to say that the SNP has done next to nothing these past two years to mobilise and embolden the independence constituency ahead of that referendum campaign, it will be a critically important vote.
The SSP will actively campaign for a Yes to Independence vote because we firmly believe working people and the poor will be economically, socially, culturally and politically better off if able to determine our own future and make our own decisions. Unlike the SNP we favour a Scottish republic, a break with the monarchy, a Scotland where the banks and corporate elite are under the control of the public.
The old British certainties in Scotland where undermined fatally by years of Tory arrogance under Thatcher and Major. Labour was forced to deliver the Scottish Parliament as a result of this famous 'democratic deficit'. Having done so they set a new politics in Scotland in motion.
The SSP will remain an important part of the process of change arguing for a break with an increasingly irrelevant Westminster, for a green socialist Scotland, a republic capable of delivering justice for all and acting as a beacon of resistance to neo liberalism internationally.

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