This month we review two books that put the SNP’s plans to break up Britain under the spotlight – and find these plans full of flaws...
The Modern SNP: from protest to power, edited by Gerry Hassan, paperback, 230 pages, ISBN 978-0-7486-3991-5, Edinburgh University Press, 2009, £21.99.
This year’s Scottish TUC rejected a motion to support the break-up campaign.
Labour’s policies towards Scotland produced the outcome it claimed to oppose, as John Curtice points out in his excellent contribution to a revealing set of studies of the Scottish National Party. Curtice writes: “ ‘Devolution,’ famously quipped the former Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, George Robertson, ‘will kill Nationalism stone dead.’ Yet eight years after the founding of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, was installed as Scotland’s First Minister and a nationalist administration was formed for the first time. ... devolution threw an electoral lifeline to the SNP that eventually enabled it to come to power.” Curtice remarks, “Labour’s Scotland Act had provided the means for the SNP to gain power.”
Contributions to the book by Stephen Maxwell, and Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, expose the SNP’s neoliberalism. They show that the SNP backs the privileges and powers of finance, that it wants a lower corporation tax and lower wealth taxes and that it praised the Irish “Celtic Tiger”, where poverty and inequality were among the worst in the developed world.
The SNP backs, and is backed by, big capital. It backed Donald Trump’s luxury golf resort against local people’s wishes, and accepted vast sums from Brian Souter, the extreme right-wing millionaire. The SNP was silent on the bankers’ promotion of other people’s debts and on finance capital’s role in landing us all in the crisis which destroyed the Scottish-led banking sector.
As Hassan writes of the SNP’s neo-liberalism, “by 2007 this influence had gone much further with the party embracing a ‘Scotland plc’ agenda of independence based significantly on the financial sector, light-touch regulation and not challenging vested interests – all of which has been thrown in the air by the global economic crises of 2008-9.”
The SNP embraces the EU’s single market and wants to give the EU powers over Scotland’s economic policy, defence and foreign policy. It backs the EU policy of privatisation: it even wants to sell off Scotland’s forests.
Next year’s referendum is a huge decision – the SNP’s attack puts our nation’s 300-year history of unity at risk. We have to defeat the SNP and the ultra left, both of which openly call for break-up. The government’s decision to allow a separate vote in Scotland concedes the SNP’s case, that only Scotland can decide its future; it assumes the point at issue. A separate vote promotes the idea that “it’s nothing to do with us”.
But even in this gerrymandered referendum, Scotland must and will vote against break-up. In 2007, when the SNP won the Scottish Parliament election, 25 per cent backed break-up. Polls now show just 30 per cent support, a mere 5 per cent rise in six years. At this rate, it would take till 2037 to win a majority for break-up.
Scotland and the Union, 1707-2007, edited by Thomas M. Devine, paperback, 246 pages, ISBN 978-0-7486-3542-9, Edinburgh University Press, 2008, £24.99.
Thomas Devine, Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, edited this intriguing collection of essays. There are three essays in a section on the foundations of the Union, four on the history of the Union, three on challenges to the Union, and three on devolution and the future.
The 1707 Treaty was not a conquest or a colonisation. It recognised and respected Scotland’s ancient sovereignty. It overcame English assumptions of superiority over Scotland.
Capitalists did well out of the Empire; not so the working class – as Devine notes, “The majority...remained mired in poverty.” Between 1815 and 1939, two million people emigrated from Scotland overseas and another 600,000 moved to England. But the Empire did not define the Union; we don’t want to echo the Empire’s claim that it did.
On the future, William Miller, Professor of Politics at the University of Glasgow, showed, worryingly, that the fall in unionist votes, i.e. votes for parties ostensibly for retaining the union, is greater than the rise of nationalist votes. And that the fall in opposition to a Scottish parliament is greater than the rise in support for break-up. He also shows that Scottish culture is no more egalitarian than English culture. Class determines attitudes to equality, not whether people are Scottish or English.
In the 2007 elections, the SNP got just 32.9 per cent of the constituency vote. Polls showed that 64 per cent of those intending to vote SNP-backed separation. Labour’s support did not collapse: it fell only slightly. Overall, a large majority of the electorate voted for unionist parties. The SNP won only because the pro-separatist Socialists and Greens failed so dismally.
Our only defence against fascism and rampant capitalism is a united British working class – the very thing that Scottish separatists would end up smashing.
A Scottish breakaway would split the British working class, which has been a single, united class for more than 300 years. The break-up of Britain would split our trade unions, to the benefit of the employing class.
Britain has been a single united country for 306 years now, in a way that the EU is not, with a unified economy, unified transport and communications systems, a single political system, a single, National, Health Service, a common language, and united trade unions. Most of us dislike the idea that policy standards now vary from place to place because of devolution.
This year’s Scottish TUC rejected a motion to support the Yes to break-up campaign. The Scottish branches of ASLEF mandated their delegates to oppose the Yes campaign, and urged the need for a united working class throughout Britain.
Trade unionists have a special responsibility to ensure a No vote and reverse this separatist trend once and for all. United we stand, divided we fall. ■