We are in a different world politically since the first referendum on Scottish independence was held in September 2014. The vote for Brexit is driving a continuous crisis of the UK state while providing fresh opportunities for real democratic change.
It has certainly blown up the idea, espoused by all the parties in the UK Parliament including the Scottish National Party (SNP), that the status quo is what the vast majority want.
Now we see the Tories’ right-wing, free trade plans for leaving the European Union lining up opposite the SNP’s right-wing, free-trade plans for rejoining the EU, including acceptance of the terrible CETA trade treaty, which they supported. The time has come for the people to take a hand here, because there is no alternative on offer that will improve life for the 99%.
For the SNP a referendum tied to the demand for Scotland to have the right to remain in the EU is a high-risk strategy since 1 in 3 YES voters also voted to leave the EU in last year’s UK-wide referendum. They will have to mobilise a huge number of those who voted for the Union in 2014 and for staying in the EU. Is there a direct line from one to the other?
But that’s their problem, really. For people who are in politics in order to achieve real democracy, equality and economic rights, we need an independent approach, based on the reality that neither the EU nor the British state have our interests at heart, and we have little say in what happens in either one. We need a second referendum in Scotland that is not predicated on EU membership but is all about self-determination, not for its own sake but so we can create a real democratic alternative based on the sovereignty of the people and not the corporations.
Brexit was a mass leap in the dark, with a hope that somehow a return to a better past is possible. People in the Midlands and North of England were looking for a return to a period of decent wages, quality social housing, union rights and a welfare state that looked after people, where employers competed for labour instead of people competing for work.
That reimagined past is long gone, swept away by corporate-driven globalisation and intensified by the transformation of the European Economic Community into the EU, a full-fledged agency of neo-liberal policies and practices.
And in any case, the reality of the 1960s and 1970s was a state where immigrants faced horrific discrimination, unions were undermined by blacklists and the actions of the secret state, and the Labour Governments of Wilson and Callaghan were unable to defend what had been won in the immediate post-war period. The support for Scottish independence has some of the same spirit about it too – if only we could get to a point where we had independence we could turn the clock back to pre-Thatcher – if only!
We seem to be faced with the difficult challenge of presenting a vision of an actual, achievable, socialist and democratic future in the face of a whole series of fantasy scenarios, that are currently – albeit momentarily – gripping all classes in society.
One thing is for sure; those of us in Scotland should not allow a second referendum on independence to be all about putting the band back together again and allowing the SNPs electoral fortunes to be a concern for us. This is being recognised by the Radical Independence Campaign, which is looking at the concept of a People’s Independence, and a convention on a new constitution.
We need to separate ourselves from the SNP’s commitment to using a referendum on independence as a means to apply to rejoin the EU.
In any case, what kind of terms would Scotland be offered?
Speaking to Sky TV, Nicola Sturgeon said the disaster of slow growth, rising unemployment and child poverty had to be laid at the door of the Westminster government, not her own.
She went on to say that independence would allow Scotland to develop a solution to the deficit that isn’t based on austerity. But austerity is still being enforced right across Europe and the defence of the Euro is everything, as the people of Greece are still finding out.
Free trade is never designed to favour the poor but the already rich and the corporations. So Sturgeon’s European dream has no more benefit for the majority of workers, male and female, young and old, and of whatever race or colour, than the Brexiteer fantasy of Britain “punching above its weight” in global trade.
Few in Scotland take the federalist proposals of Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and former prime minister Gordon Brown seriously, because they are just another “vow” – to be broken at will, as soon as NO wins another referendum and Unionism triumphs.
But a different section of the Labour Party, supporters of beleaguered leader Jeremy Corbyn (amongst whom you won’t find Brown or Dugdale) are planning a people’s convention on the constitution. It would look at restructuring political and state governance and that would be worth engaging with a view to supporting, but also transcending its aspirations.
A genuine, open discussion about a new constitution that recognises the right to self-determination of all the nations of the British Isles must take place.
A new constitution could, for example, recognise the rights of workers to go where they will, to be represented by a trade union, and make zero-hours contracts illegal.
A people’s independence that truly favours the 99% must consider what kind of economy could be created that was not pinned to EU free trade agreements which only serve the needs of the corporations and the banks.
A people’s convention on the constitution for a post-independence Scotland could campaign for a YES vote, whilst also seeking active connections with a people’s convention on a post-Brexit constitution for the rest of the UK. In fact, it could be inspiring for many to have a chance to work with those who went through the experience of the first referendum, where it was possible to imagine another world was possible.