Post-Brexit threat of second Scottish referendum retreats

The figures just don’t add up.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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A recent opinion poll by YouGov will have made unpleasant reading for Scottish nationalists hoping for a post-Brexit referendum accompanied by a pro-independence bounce in their support. Instead, the poll (conducted at the end of August) suggested support for independence remains largely unchanged since the 2014 referendum.

Of the 1,039 people polled, 54 percent were in favour of remaining within Britain. If accurate, these figures would mean that only a 1 percent swing towards independence has occurred in the intervening two years. This would represent a disaster for the SNP, who undoubtedly had hoped for a post-Brexit surge in favour of independence. Hopes of a constitutional crisis sparked by the divergence between the overall Scottish and English Brexit votes have not yet materialised.

Instead, bourgeois political life has carried on largely as normal. A new prime minister and intrigue in the Labour party are providing immediate distractions. With the actual implementation of Britain’s departure from the EU still some way off, any possibly arising constitutional crisis is not a priority talking point. This is one pressure dampening the nationalist agenda at present.

More significantly, Scotland’s budgetary position is continuing to deteriorate. Falling revenues for ‘Scotland’s oil’ have seen the economic black hole grow to £15bn: whilst oil revenues brought £9.6bn to the exchequer in 2011-12, in 2015-16 such revenues amounted to a paltry £60m.

In such a situation, an independent Scotland would be faced with a budget deficit of 9.7 percent, as compared with the overall UK deficit of 4.7 percent. Moreover, an independent Scotland would be seeking EU membership, whose rules state that a member state’s budget deficit should not exceed 3 percent. If admitted to the EU, therefore, Scotland could expect to be subjected to the ‘excessive deficit procedure’, which “ensures the correction of excessive budget deficits or excessive public debt levels. It is a step-by-step approach for reining in excessive deficits and reducing excessive debts.”(Stability and growth pact, European Commission )

In other words, Scotland would be laid waste by the imperialist EU. There would be wholesale privatisation. It would become the next Greece. For a little context, in the most recent announced spending cuts, Glasgow city council is to lose £130m in funding over two years and Edinburgh city council is cutting £140m over four years, with 2,000 public service jobs to go. These latest cuts represent a mere drop in the ocean compared to £15bn, yet they can and will have devastating effects on communities (community buildings are already being sold off, and services put out to the so-called ‘charity’ sector). This should have a sobering effect on workers conned by the SNP’s left-sounding rhetoric.

The Holyrood government received slightly better news from a poll by Kantar TNS, which took place between 10 August and 4 September. When ‘don’t know’ responses were removed from the results, 53 percent backed remaining in Britain, with 47 percent for independence. Like the YouGov poll, there was a small sample size of 1,047. Whichever poll, if any, are to be trusted, neither make particularly positive reading for the nationalists.

In the last edition of Proletarian, we reported First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s post-Brexit referendum comment: “I think an independence referendum is now highly likely.” A week is indeed a long time in politics and events soon dampened SNP enthusiasm for a future independence referendum. Consequently, the Guardian reported:

“Nicola Sturgeon has shelved plans for a quick second referendum on Scottish independence after dire spending figures and a fall in public support for leaving the UK.

“The first minister told Holyrood on Tuesday that her government only planned to issue a consultation on a draft referendum bill – a measure which falls short of tabling new legislation in this year’s programme for government.

“Two months after telling reporters a referendum was ‘highly likely’ within the next two years, she told MSPs that that bill would now only be introduced if she believed it was the best option for Scotland.

“Her officials later said that consultation process could start at some time in the next year, with no target date in mind for its launch or its conclusion. Sturgeon’s official legislative timetable, the programme for government, described the referendum as an option and not as a goal.” ( Guardian, 6 September 2016).

Clearly, a referendum will be held only when the SNP believes it has the best chance of winning. The party’s supporters should consider: either the Brexit vote represents such a vast constitutional change that a second independence referendum is required, or it does not. For our part, we are convinced that the Brexit vote changes nothing. Scottish workers have not suddenly become an oppressed nation in need of national liberation, nor has the EU transformed itself from being a rapacious imperialist organisation into a kind-hearted protector of oppressed workers.

For now, Ms Sturgeon is masking her retreat behind a ‘listening exercise’, announced on 2 September and set to run until St Andrew’s Day (30 November). SNP members are surveying non-members and holding constituency based meetings. This exercise is likely to underline the growing realisation in the nationalist camp that words alone cannot change reality.

No amount of surveys or meetings will cause oil prices to skyrocket to levels sufficient to tackle the deficit. Without this, the SNP vision will likely lack the confidence of the nationalist-leaning sections of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. For now, then, the populist SNP is struggling to remain all things to all people, meaning that the SNP and independence are not the hot ticket some had hoped for, and others had feared.

Meanwhile, progressive workers in Scotland would do well to abandon their vain hopes of an escape from austerity and war via the imperialist EU and instead join forces with the rest of the British working class to build a movement for socialism – our only real way out of the crisis.