2014 10 – Editorial

Scots wha hae – a blow against economic liberalism!

What should the left make of the Scottish Referendum? Reactions across the UK have varied. Trade unionists in Northern Ireland have paid particular attention to the events on England’s northern border. Trade unions were split in Scotland, perhaps more “Better Together” than “Yes”. The referendum has been a major event for the UK and for Europe. It’s still too early to comprehend all its ramifications.

Immediate reactions were that it was Gordon Brown “wot won it”.  His intervention to secure a “devo-max” “Pledge” from the main UK parties to a breakneck timetable were widely accepted to have turned the “Yes” tide in the last fortnight.

Polling undertaken by Lord Ashcroft immediately after the referendum and published in the Daily Telegraph has revealed a much more complicated picture. It showed that six in ten of those voting for ‘No’ were motivated more by “fear” about the risks of independence than “hope” for the future. By contrast eight in ten Yes voters were motivated more by hope than fear. So, who was fearful, and why?

The ‘No’ vote was entirely secured by overwhelming support from those aged above 55. Every demographic from aged 16 to 55 voted ‘Yes’! The “better together” camp  failed to win any of the age groups below  55 years of age. For the 65+ demographic it was simply a blowout, with 73% voting “No”. In a nutshell, old people filled with fear, blocked independence. Scare stories about the viability of their pensions may well have been a factor in this.

Looking at the “Yes” vote, the largest “Yes” votes came in the more socially deprived areas. Glasgow was “Yes”, to Edinburgh’s “No”. The Labour interventions from Brown, Darling, Murphy and others were touted to have ‘won’ this election, but Labour appears to have lost its own people in the heartlands of Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire and Dundee. In the medium term, this is likely to mean the decline of the Labour Party in Scotland. Already the SNP has gained many new members and looks likely to go from strength to strength.

That the referendum became a close run thing, strangely enough, showed the strength of socialist support in Scotland. Many people said they were voting ‘Yes’ because they were disgusted at what has been happening to the National Health Service. The intervention of renowned public health academic, Allyson Pollock’ was seminal, though little covered in the English press.

Ms. Pollock trained in medicine in Scotland and was formerly director of the Centre for International Public Health Policy at Edinburgh University. Now head of the Public Health Policy Unit at University College London, she indicated that the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 has abolished the NHS in England as a universal service, with the NHS reduced to a funding stream and a logo. Increasingly all the services are going to be contracted in the marketplace. According to Pollock “It abolished the duty on the Secretary of State for Health to secure and provide comprehensive healthcare; that is a duty that still holds in Scotland, but doesn’t hold in England”…. “In the absence of any reversal of neoliberal policies in England, the clearest way to defend and promote the principle of a public NHS is to vote for Scotland to have full powers and responsibilities of an independent country.”

Pollock’s view resonated widely, with 56% of Scots “Yes” voters indicating in Lord Ashcroft’s poll that the NHS was a key issue determining their voting intention.

Equally, Scots look on with horror and bemusement at the Labour “Academy” and Tory “Free School” programmes in England, facilitating the corporate capture of the English public education system.

With Cameron and Miliband competing, post referendum, to offer ‘long finger’ change beyond the Westminster elections, or to “Make it about England”, what credibility can Labour have left among Glaswegians, the Labour Party heartland? All other Labour voting areas in Scotland are purely secondary to Glasgow. Watch as Labour slowly melts away like snow on a ditch. And what odds now on the SNP holding the balance of power after the next Westminster election?

It is not all “hope” for Scotland’s “Yes” campaign. In the run-in to the referendum there were clear signs of a re-emergence of sectarianism and not all from the unionist side. Old Labour, particularly in Scotland, was an integrating force within the British working class. New Labour ditched that inheritance without a backwards glance. Now, in a situation where the Tories and Labour are incapable of diffusing communal antagonism, where does that leave the old Catholic/Protestant divide? The energised Yes campaign now has a responsibility to address an underlying sectarianism which could become more of a problem in the future.

A range of immediate issues arise, not least of which is settling the West Lothian Question. If the Tories get their way, Scots MPs may not be able to vote on English affairs. This makes it more likely that the English parties will pursue free market agendas unfettered and vigorously, like privatisation, thus widening the emotional gap between the two nations.

English reaction will be hard to gauge on “devolution all round”. There has been little enthusiasm for regional government to date, but this may change in areas near Scotland, like the North East, and perhaps Yorkshire, which has a strong regional identity, as well as in cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Scots MPs will largely be spectators to the US-UK foreign policy being hatched in Westminster and Scotland’s defence and foreign policy interests will start to diverge sharply from those in England. The next imperative from the UK state, having survived the Scotland scare, it seems, is to join a US war in Iraq and quite possibly Syria.

The referendum was fought “cleanly” on the tired and out-of-touch “Westminster politics”.   It didn’t really ignite onto the ground of the ”Deep State”. Democracy in the UK is, historically, a relatively recent phenomenon, grafted onto the 300 year old State.   The London-centric nexus of military, political and financial interests that run England, and notably the mendacious dominance of the City of London, didn’t receive much air time in Scotland. Our guess is that they will now.

Likewise, continuing English angst over the EU will be a running sore for the Scots. A ‘Brexit’ from the EU would immediately precipitate a constitutional crisis.

The Welsh will want something more like what the Scots now have. The unionists in Northern Ireland may clamour for majority rule type adjustments to the Stormont arrangements. Republicans meanwhile, diplomatically silent during the Scots poll campaign, may well feel energised by the Scottish situation and press for a fresh border poll.

All said, it would have been astonishing if a majority in Scotland had voted “Yes” considering the resources ranged against that position and the step into the unknown that independence would involve after more than 300 years of Union. As Salmond himself said, Scotland is the winner because of the commitments given by all of the unionist parties to increased devolution. In this context, Salmond’s resignation is baffling. Is he not aware of the scale of his own achievement?

Overall, although the “No” side won, “Better Together” shouldn’t take too much satisfaction from its narrow victory. Scotland has struck a blow against economic liberalism. Trade unionists here, and elsewhere, can only welcome this development and expect more of this across Europe in the future.



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