Tuesday, November 24, 2015


This a continuation of the series we have been publishing on the rise of the New Left in Europe. The second section of part 3 on Catalonia will follow.



by Stephen Morgan

129) Another complex manifestation of the radicalization in society and the shift to the left in general, has been the rise of nationalist, independence movements in Catalonia and Scotland, each with a strong left component. These are, by far, not the only nationalist movements in Europe, but, for the moment, they are the most significant ones.

130) The combination of the economic crisis, the betrayal of the leaders of the traditional workers' parties and historical animosity between the Scots and the English, and between the Catalans and the Castilian ruling class in Spain, has meant that many youth and radicalized sections of the middle class, together with many workers have turned towards secessionist movements to express their anger and in the hope that independence could be a way out of the crisis.

131) In both regions, there have been recent votes on independence, both of which were lost, but in which the separatist votes were very high. In 2014 in Scotland, 44% voted in favour and 55% against independence. In 2015 in Catalonia – where for constitutional reasons it took the form of regional elections – it was closer, with the pro-independence parties winning a majority of seats and 48% of the vote, just short of the 50% majority needed to declare victory. However, like the shift to the left in general, there are both similarities in the movements in Scotland and Catalonia and a great deal of differences as well.
SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at 2015 conference


132) In Scotland, the left nature of the independence movement has been much clearer than in Catalonia. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland hasn't experienced an independent left movement such as Podemos or SYRIZA for historical and cultural reasons. Instead the new left movement has manifested itself in support for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is a left-nationalist party, that stands for secession and campaigns on a left-reformist programme of defending jobs and services. In its programme it states that the SNP fights for a, “real alternative to the pain of austerity, an end to unfair policies like the Bedroom Tax, a higher minimum wage and protection for our NHS and vital public services.”

133) Traditionally SNP support came from among the middle classes and the SNP has always been a petty bourgeois center party. But to stand any chance of taking power and winning a yes vote in a referendum, it had no choice but to move to the left. This was also facilitated by the shift to the right in the Labour Party and the absence of an autonomous, left movement like Podemos or SYRIZA, which left a vacuum on the left, which the SNP could fill. As a result, there has been a tendency to paint the independence movement as a working class movement. However, while there is no doubt that a large number of workers did vote for independence, it was not necessarily a majority. 

134) Many workers in Scotland were not convinced of the economic benefits of breaking away from the United Kingdom, and were afraid that it could lead to a loss of jobs and a fall in living standards. Workers understand that the Scottish economy is intrinsically linked with the national and international economy. They also know that the majority of the Scottish economy is controlled by the British ruling class, rather than by a Scottish bourgeoisie.

135) More than 70% of Scotland’s total economic output  is controlled by non-Scottish-owned firms and  83% of enterprises employing 250 or more people are owned by non-Scottish companies. Furthermore, virtually the whole of the North Sea oil and gas production is owned by foreign firms, and the top 90 banks and finance companies operating in Scotland are registered outside the country, with their profits going directly back to England or abroad.

136) Many Scottish workers feared that with the complications and instability which independence could bring, it might lead to many of these companies leaving Scotland or reducing their investments. Secondly, many Scottish workers feared that independence would divide them from other workers in Britain employed by those companies. They know that the capitalist class tries to play one group of workers off against another in different countries, and that this can lead to a reduction in wages and less job security. Moreover, organizing joint industrial action across international borders is a very difficult thing and they feared that if Scottish trade unions broke away from the all-British union structures, this would weaken solidarity with other British workers and undermine their ability to defend themselves against the bosses.

137) Until now, the British Labour Party has always been the traditional party of the Scottish working class., indeed Scottish workers played a key role in creating it. Scotland has long been considered a rock-solid bastion of the Labour Party, returning an overwhelming number of Labour MPs to Parliament. But in the 2015 UK national election, the Labour Party suffered a humiliating, PASOK-scale defeat in Scotland, and its catastrophe decline there has severely undermined its ability to form a future national government.

138) The Scottish referendum took place 8 months before the UK general election in 2015, and while many workers had voted against independence, when it came to the general election, they voted overwhelming for the SNP, mercilessly punishing Labour, not only for its betrayal of the British working class in general, but for the chauvinistic, class collaborationist position it put forward in the run up to the referendum. Labour had campaigned against independence, in alliance with the right-wing Conservative (Tory) government, which was carrying out draconian attacks on the working class in Scotland.

139) The Tories are largely despised in Scotland. They are seen by Scottish workers as the representatives of the English ruling class responsible for the suppression and exploitation of the Scottish people. Indeed, such is the hatred for the Conservative party that they have never succeeded in getting anymore than a handful of MPs elected from Scotland.

140) As a result of its alliance with the Tories in the independence campaign and its failure to present any class-based arguments.  If they had clearly supported the right of Scottish people to independence, but argued for the maximum unity of the working class and offered the perspective of a future federation of independent British states of Scotland, England and Wales, they would have caught the year of many Scottish workers. But, instead, Labour became seen as just another representatives of the oppressive English ruling class, and so although many workers voted no to independence in 2014, they mercilessly punished Labour in the 2015 national, general election. While the LP's overall vote in the UK also fell dramatically at a national from 40% to 30%, in Scotland its vote plunged from 40% to 24%, loosing 40 of its 41 MPs. SNP support, on the other hand, rocketed from 20% to 50% of the vote.

141) However, despite their stupendous victory in the general election, the austerity policies now being carried out by the SNP in the Scottish Parliament and city councils will erode their support. They are cutting millions of pounds from spending on public services and thousands of jobs are being lost. The SNP is betraying the working class and dumping its left programme in practice. It is shifting to the right, and as it increasing fails to deliver promised reforms and continues with its austerity measures, Scottish workers will begin to become disillusioned with it. It will also become clearer to Scottish workers, who voted for independence, that there cannot be a solution to their problems on the basis of an independent capitalist Scotland, and that there needs to be solutions on a national and international level. Then, there will be great opportunity to gather support for socialist ideas based on a Socialist Federation of Britain, and a European Socialist Union.

142) It is not clear whether the LP has been permanently destroyed in Scotland. It still commands a quarter of the vote, but because of the first-passed-the-post, constituency-based voting system – rather than proportional representation like other countries – they have not returned MPs corresponding to the size of the vote. An overall vote of 20% does show that the LP still has some base in Scotland. With the betrayals of the SNP, it is possible that it could recover, but to what degree is unsure.

143) Historical and cultural factors suggest that the shift to the left in Scotland will still probably find its main expression inside the traditional parties of the SNP and Labour Party, rather than through the development of some autonomous SYRIZA/Podemos-style movement. The victory of  Jeremy Corbyn as British Labour Party leader and the emergence of a more radical, left-wing British Labour Party could also attract back some disillusioned workers, who voted for the SNP.  The Scottish Labour Party (Scottish wing of UK LP) really has nowhere to go but left. The reformist nature of the SNP and the betrayals of the right-wing Labour leaders means there is no center ground for them. Indications of such a shift to the left came at the Scottish LP conference in 2015, when it voted to scrap the Trident missile programme, based in Scotland.

144) However, there are other possible variants. It could also be possible in the future that a more socialist left-wing develops within the SNP, in opposition to its shift to the right, and that eventually a split takes place in in its ranks, leading to the creation of a new more radical, left-wing nationalist party. Furthermore, if the right-wing manage to suppress the new left in the British Labour Party, it couldn't be entirely ruled out that the Scottish Labour Party would shift further to the left and even break away from the national party, creating an independent, left-wing Scottish Labour Party – which might then enter a coalition with a new break away, left-wing Scottish nationalist party.

145) How things develop also depends a lot on the economic situation. Increased growth could see a decline in the nationalist movement, there are even indications that a section of SNP voters have actually turned back to the Tories. Despite considerable poverty in de-industrialized areas, other areas of Scotland are relatively prosperous. The Scottish capital, Edinburgh, for has example, has the best living standards of any city in Britain, with the highest wages, low unemployment and the lowest costs of living than anywhere else.

146) But another major world crisis could put independence back on the agenda, as well as pushing society further to the left in general. However, the correlation between the economy and the so-called “National Question” isn't always simple and straightforward. There are many other political factors and unforeseeable factors which can also change the direction that events take.


Peter A Bell said...

There is no such thing as the "Scottish Nationalist Party". SNP stands for Scottish NATIONAL Party.

How can an article such as this have any credibility when its author can't even get a basic fact like that right?

Richard Mellor said...

Peter, In your comment on Google you said you were so offended you couldn't read on. I responded from my phone but I don't see it. It could well be my mistake as I put this up and I transferred it to word. It wouldn't be difficult to make such a mistake, a simple mistake that you are making a catastrophic one.

That something like this would deter you from reading on reflects a somewhat childish attitude on your part if you ask me or perhaps you did read on and have some disagreement with it that you are not sharing.

SMorgan said...

Thanks for pointing that out Peter. Its a simple typo, and nothing to get too worked up about

best wishes,