Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Momentum with the Yes Campaign

This article from me was printed in todays Morning Star newspaper

THREE polls published in January have put a spring in the step of the campaign for Scottish independence. The first two, by ICM for Scotland on Sunday and TNS, show support for independence up 5 points since September. The third by Ipsos-Mori confirms that working-class voters are much more attracted to self-determination than their richer compatriots.

For those of us involved in the Yes Scotland campaign these polls provide further evidence that victory is within our grasp. The latest rise takes Yes support to 47 per cent against 53 per cent for No once the “don’t knows” are excluded.

These figures have been described by the country’s leading psephologist, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, as “the best polling news the Yes side has yet had in the referendum campaign.”

They highlight the wisdom of the “slow burn” strategy that has allowed voters time to come to terms with the full significance of independence.
The poll from Ipsos-Mori shows that class is increasingly the clearest guide to voting intentions.

Working-class Scots are now twice as likely to vote Yes compared with those with a material interest in maintaining the status quo.

The Scottish Socialist Party’s central message has always been that working-class Scots stand to gain from independence. In our pamphlet The Case for an Independent Socialist Scotland we argue that working-class Scots will be economically, socially and politically better off and this is now permeating deeper into this debate.

So what are the perceived advantages of independence for working-class Scots?

The list is a long one. There would be no measures like the hated bedroom tax here after independence, no privatisation of Royal Mail, no more poll tax experimentation, no more blaming immigrants and claimants for an economic crisis caused by City bankers, no more Trident nuclear missiles stationed on the Clyde, no more Scottish soldiers sent to die in Iraq or Afghanistan and above all no more hated Tory governments. Scotland would, according to the latest OECD report, be the eighth-richest country in the world.

That’s an attractive list by anyone’s reckoning, let alone compared to the continuing deterioration in our living standards, the widening inequalities and the xenophobic, anti-claimant policies emanating from Westminster or the ongoing attacks on our political rights promised by the union.

And the polls are expected to narrow further if Ukip emerges as the biggest party down south in May’s European elections, as they are not likely to win a single seat in Scotland.

Moreover if the Tories look like winning the 2015 Westminster general election both factors will further expose the gulf between the political centre of gravity of politics in England and that in Scotland — a factor Labour insists on denying.

But perhaps the greatest potential game-changer in this referendum lies in the risk Labour must run with its “devo max” dilemma. Put simply, the No campaign in announcing “extra powers for Holyrood” must attract those voters who do not favour the status quo or independence.

These voters make up the bulk of the crucial “don’t know” category in the polls. To stop them voting Yes Labour needs to offer a substantial set of additional powers to Holyrood such as gathering in income-tax revenues and setting a separate welfare policy.

Yet ultimately it must be able to get its plans through a hostile Westminster Parliament. Many believe it is a circle Labour cannot square. The national question is plainly a live one in Scotland and the break-up of the British state is already well under way.

As I have reported in this newspaper before three-quarters of Scots no longer identify themselves as British according to the 2011 census. All of this has led to a profound political crisis for new Labour.

Whereas virtually the entire left in Scotland backs self-determination Labour finds itself acting as the “capo” of an unsavoury mob that involves the Tories, the Lib Dems and Nigel Farage.

And defending what? A union no longer fit for purpose, a political reality that forces Scots to accept governments and ideologies we have rejected time and time again.

It means Scotland’s left-of-centre majority is ignored by a neoliberal Labour Party whose focus is on winning a British parliamentary majority by pandering to an “M4 corridor” whose values are completely alien to us.

Labour in Scotland used to distance itself from the policies of its southern counterparts. Not any more. Now we have Scottish leader Johann Lamont decrying universal benefits and claiming Scotland cannot afford free school meals for five, six and seven-year-olds.

She tells us that the health and wellbeing of primary schoolchildren was “not [her] priority” when one in three of them in her Glasgow constituency live in desperate poverty. For the record, she believes spending £100 billion on a second generation of nuclear missiles and building two aircraft carriers at a cost 100 times the price of the school meals is a “priority.”

The Scottish Socialist Party has made a very positive and widely respected contribution to the broad Yes Scotland coalition. More than 500 people have applied to join this past 12 months via our website alone. We have enjoyed innumerable invitations to present our socialist case for independence to new audiences throughout Scotland. Our pamphlet putting the socialist case for independence enjoyed record sales and we hosted a very successful Scottish Socialist Voice forum in December to discuss the Scottish government’s white paper with a distinguished panel that included Jim Sillars, Professor Mike Danson, John Finnie MSP, Councillor Maggie Chapman of the Greens and Isobel Lindsay from Scottish CND. We have also organised dozens of SSP public meetings throughout Scotland on the socialist case for independence and we are actively involved in the Radical Independence Campaign.

And we believe the prospects for a game-changing result in September are better than ever. British politics will never be the same again.

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