By Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (This article appeared in yesterday’s Morning Star, but in view of comrade Wrack’s description of Brexit as a “victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists” is clearly at variance with that paper’s pro-Brexit ‘line’).
TUC Congress convenes at an absolutely pivotal time for the labour movement and for firefighters — and the motions tabled by the Fire Brigades Union are intended to reflect that.
The new political situation in Britain is defined by the decision to leave the European Union (EU). The FBU advocated a vote to Remain. Although the EU is a neoliberal bosses’ club, some forget the key role of British governments in driving the neoliberal agenda within Europe.
Austerity in Britain is driven from Westminster, not from Brussels. Europe also provides a common terrain for workers’ solidarity and workers’ rights across the continent.
The Brexit vote was a defeat for the working class in Britain as well as internationally. It was a defeat for internationalism and collectivism. Brexit was a victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists. Brexit has already had detrimental economic effects and worse is likely to come.
Brexit has resulted in a more right-wing government. It means an already difficult period ahead will be even harder for the trade union movement and the working-class communities we represent.
The FBU’s motion is clear that the trade union movement should not blame working-class people for the consequences of Brexit.
We don’t blame workers who voted to leave. We don’t blame migrant workers, they deserve solidarity.
We know two-thirds of Labour voters voted to remain. We don’t blame the labour movement or the TUC — we fought a good campaign to remain and we were right to do so.
Jeremy Corbyn was not to blame for Brexit. Corbyn campaigned from day one to remain in the EU. He was right to advocate Remain while articulating criticisms of the EU. He held scores of meetings and events. He was correct to avoid collaboration with David Cameron and the Tories.
Who do we blame? We blame the Tories. They decided on the referendum. They set the question. They set the timing. It was mostly Tory politicians who fought it out in public. It was mostly Tory voters who voted to leave. They created the mess we’re in. We need to pin the blame for the consequences on them. Every job loss, every cut, every dodgy trade deal, every attack — is their fault. Every example of economic and political turmoil needs to be laid at their door.
The TUC and unions are right to say workers should not pay for Brexit (workers have paid for the economic downturn in countless ways since 2008). But that is not enough. The labour movement has to say who will pay for Brexit. The answer is that the bosses will have to pay.
The wealthy, the ruling class — they have to pay. The money is there — in the banks, in property, in the wealth of the ultra rich — the new Duke of Westminster, Mike Ashley and Philip Green. The government should tax them for what is necessary and by whatever means are necessary.
It follows on from who’s to blame and who should pay, that the labour movement cannot support a partnership approach on Brexit.
In my view, it was wrong for former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber to sign a joint letter with Cameron during the referendum campaign.
We are not all in this together. It is not the job of the trade union movement to act as the tail of British business. It is not our job to accept deals that worsen the conditions of our members so that Brexit can be managed.
The labour movement needs to make itself a factor in the Brexit process. We do that by mobilising our members as active forces capable of shaping our own destiny.
We need to strengthen our links with workers across the world, including within the EU. We will stand in solidarity with migrant workers wherever they are. We need to hit the streets and make our voices heard. We need to speak clearly and act in determined defence of working-class interests.
The Brexit liars must never be allowed to forget this.
In a letter circulated by Open Britain, Labour MPs urge Brexit campaigners, like supposedly “Labour” disgrace Gisela Stewart, to come clean about the most brazen of their many lies:
Compare and contrast:
1/ Morning Star editorial Feb 26 2016:
The EU has done nothing to strengthen Britain’s social or equality legislation. Holiday pay, equal pay legislation, advancement of anti-racist and gay rights were all fought for and won by workers in struggle. To claim otherwise is a mendacious insult to the history of our movement and class.
2/ Morning Star front page Aug 30 2016:
YOUR RIGHTS IN MAY’S HANDS
Unions challenge May to live up to post-Brexit pledges
by Conrad Landin
THERESA MAY risks a “betrayal of British workers” if she does not save employment rights when Britain leaves the EU, unions warned last night.
New research by the House of Commons library shows that rights to annual leave, protection against unfair dismissal and equal rights for agency workers could fall away on a technicality if the government does not intervene.
The European Communities Act 1972, which will need to be repealed prior to Brexit, allows Brussels employment law to take primacy over Westminster Acts and become British law.
Regulations protecting young people and ensuring paid time off for health and safety reps could also fall by the wayside.
Ms May promised to put the Tories “completely, absolutely, unequivocally at the service of working people” when she was announced as the leader last month.
But her parliamentary record includes staunch support for anti-union laws and leading the opposition to the Equality Act in the Commons.
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “The Prime Minister came to office talking a good game about standing up for working people. She now has to walk the walk — and the first part of that should be guaranteeing that every single right for workers delivered by the European Union will stay in place.
“Anything less would be a betrayal of British workers, especially given the promises that were made on employment rights by members of the Vote Leave campaign. Every worker and trade unionist in Britain urgently needs clarity on this vital issue.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna (pictured left with Ms May), who commissioned the Commons library research, has written to Ms May calling for the government to enact primary legislation guaranteeing the affected workplace rights.
He is also calling for an audit of decisions made by the Court of Justice of the European Union, followed by a government commitment to maintaining the additional rights that have been derived from legal judgements.
Mr Umunna told Ms May: “You have said repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ But you must now begin to set out what this means.
“You owe it to the working people of Britain to make clear that the pledges made by your Cabinet colleagues to retain EU legislation on workers’ rights will be delivered.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Britain voted decisively to leave the EU and this government will deliver the people’s verdict. In every step we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people.
“We don’t need to be part of the EU to have strong protections for workers’ rights.”
Her ‘Brexit’ material is not yet available on Youtube – so her ‘Ant’ material will have to do for now
I’ve long been a fan of Bridget Christie, and her words (quoted in the Guardian) about her current show in Edinburgh merely confirmed me in my admiration:
“I totally reject this notion, which is coming from a lot of people on the left, that we mustn’t criticise leave voters,” said Christie. “Everybody has to admit that there were a lot of people who voted leave for not noble and legitimate reasons. Just look at the 500% increase in race hate crimes after Brexit.”
She continued: “And people saying that the middle classes and the educated elite are demonising the working classes as racists. Well, I’m working class and I don’t accept that at all. Racists are being demonised; it doesn’t matter what their socio-economic background is. We have to talk about it – in the media and in comedy.”
I put it a bit more tactfully in a (so far unpublished) letter to the Morning Star:
A number of articles and letters in the Morning Star over the past few weeks have objected to anyone mentioning the plain fact that the Brexit vote has been followed by a “spike” in racist incidents.
The pro-Brexit left seems to object to having the consequences of their irresponsible foolishness pointed out to them: this denial reached its apogee with the editorial of August 1st, which stated “”Singling out anti-EU and labour movement campaigns for blame is even more reprehensible”: I can assure you, comrades, that those of us who warned about the consequences of your reactionary stance will continue remind you of your shameful role in encouraging racism and backwardness for the foreseeable future.
Workers who voted “Leave” must be approached with sensitivity: the “left” who pandered to backwardness and reaction must never be allowed to forget what they did. As for the fantasy that a “left exit” is on the cards: get real and face reality, comrades!
That was written before this steaming pile of reactionary/idealist shite appeared … at first it made me very angry, but I guess I’d be better advised to follow Ms Christie’s lead, and just take the piss out of these stupid arseholes.
THE EU VOTE AND UK POLITICAL FAILURE ON SYRIA
From Syria Solidarity UK
Reasons for the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU are many. One is Syria: Both the Leave campaign and UKIP connected fears over immigration to the Syrian crisis. Assad’s war against Syria’s population has created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
In or out of the EU, we have a duty to care for refugees. We also need to understand that this refugee crisis is not caused by EU rules on free movement; it’s caused by the failure of world leaders, including Britain’s leaders, to stop Assad.
Inaction has consequences. At every point when world leaders failed to act against Assad, the impact of the Syrian crisis on the world increased. The failure of British Government and Opposition leaders on the EU vote is in part a consequence of their failure on Syria, but this story doesn’t end with today’s result. Without action, Syria’s crisis will continue to impact on us all.
Leaders failed to act in October 2011 when Syrians took to the streets calling for a no-fly zone.
By the end of 2011 there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in the region.
Leaders failed to act in 2012 when journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed reporting from the horror of besieged Homs.
By the end of 2012, there were nearly half a million Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2013 when the Assad regime massacred as many as 1,700 civilians in one morning with chemical weapons. That August, there were 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees.
Also in 2013, the UK failed to act when the Free Syrian Army faced attacks by ISIS forces infiltrating from Iraq. Instead of strengthening the FSA to withstand this new threat, UK MPs denied moderate forces the means to defend themselves.
By the end of 2013, there were 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2014 as the Assad regime ignored UN resolutions on barrel bombing, on torturing and besieging civilians. Diplomacy without military pressure only emboldened Assad to continue the slaughter.
By the end of 2014, there were 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2015 as Russia joined Assad in bombing hospitals, humanitarian aid convoys, and rescue workers, and Syrians were denied any means to defend themselves.
By the end of 2015, there were over 4.5 million Syrian refugees.
Now the UK Government is failing to act as Assad breaks ceasefire agreements and breaks deadlines on letting aid into besieged communities. The UK has failed to deliver on airdrops. The UK has failed to apply serious pressure to stop Assad’s bombs.
There are now 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the region. There are many millions more displaced inside Syria. Just over a million Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, but that is a fraction of the total who have fled their homes.
The refugee crisis is just one impact of Assad’s war on Syrians. Voting to leave the European Union won’t insulate Britain from further effects of Syria’s man-made disaster. This crisis can’t be contained and must be brought to an end, and it can only end with the end of Assad.
Act now. Break the sieges. Stop the bombs. Stop the torture. Stop Assad.
- Also well worth reading: The Forces besieging Aleppo are counting on our indifference by Natalie Nougayrède here
- Click this link to sign the petition “Publish the identity of aircraft used to bomb hospitals in Syria”: On 29 July, unidentified aircraft bombed a maternity hospital in Syria supported by Save the Children. As part of the Coalition against Daesh, the UK has data on military aircraft flights in Syria. Where data can identify aircraft used to bomb hospitals, the UK should publish their identity. Click this link to sign the petition:
- Physicians for Human Rights have documented 373 attacks on medical facilities in Syria. Deliberate attacks on hospitals are a war crime. Those responsible should not be allowed any measure of deniability. Background: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/07/syria-fatal-airstrike-on-maternity-hospital-a-potential-war-crime/
By Alan Thornett (from the Socialist Resistance website)
It was clear, long before it was launched, that the EU referendum held serious dangerous for the left and for multiculturalism and anti-racism in Britain. The campaign itself was always going to be a carnival of racism and xenophobia and an outcome in favour of Brexit would trigger a major shift to the right in British politics—both at the level of government and in terms of social attitudes. Racism and xenophobia would be strengthened and the left thrown onto the defensive.
And now we have it. The Theresa May government, established within a remarkable few frenzied days, is the most right wing in modern times, not just in terms of Brexit but across the board—and she is playing all this to the full. Osborne is gone (replaced by Phillip Hammond), Nikki Morgan gone (replaced by Justine Greening), Michael Gove gone (replaced by Liz Truss), Amber Rudd is home secretary, Jeremy Hunt remains at Health—for confronting the doctors no doubt.
Possibly the most frightening, hard line Brexiteer, Andrea Leadsom goes to the environment (DEFRA). She is not just a climate denier, and in favour of bringing back fox hunting, but she has close links to the Tea Party movement in the USA!
Leadsom would have been to the right of May had she been elected to the Tory leadership—which she might well have been had the vote gone to the Tory ‘rank and file’—and the way she was removed from the race in advance of this might well reflect divisions in the ruling class over how far Brexit should go.
The change of leadership to May, however, is still a big shift to the right and has left the Tories in a stronger, more united, and ideological coherent position, that they were under Cameron—despite the problems they face in implementing Brexit. UKIP has been sidelined, at the moment, by what is in effect, the partial UKIPisation of the Tory Party.
Most significantly, the key positions in terms of Brexit—the issue that will define her administration—go to hard-line right-wing Brexiteers:David Davies as minister for Brexit, Liam Fox as the newly created Minister of foreign trade and Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. It means that these people have been handed the power to reshape Britain’s place in the world for the next generation if they get their way.
There are big changes in the structure of government as well. Most significantly the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been abolished and merged with Industry—which is a disaster for the environment and the struggle against climate change.
The Tory right, who have been skulking in the background and sniping about the EU since Cameron won the Tory Leadership from David Davis (and also Liam Fox) in 2005, are back with a vengeance. They are now in charge and are running the show.
It is these people have now been handed the opportunity, by this referendum vote, to reshape British politics (and Britain’s place in the world) on the scale that Thatcher was able to reshape British politics after the defeat of the miners in the 1980s—and they intend to grasp it with both hands. It is not going to be easy and there are many pit-falls in the Brexit process, but unless the May leadership is stopped at next election (and only Corbyn can do it), this is the very dangerous direction of travel.
Even if May is inclined at any point to make concession on Brexit, there will be plenty on the right ready to step in and stop her. UKIP will be waiting to capitalise on any back sliding and there are plenty on the Tory back benches ready to rise up against it.
This whole situation is not just a blow to the left in Britain but it is serving as an inspiration to right-wing forces right across Europe. Le Pen is already welcoming it with both hands and promising a similar referendum in France if she wins the Presidency next year.
Young people in British, who have lost the most under recent governments and who, for the first time face a reduced standard of living in comparison with the previous generation are the most hostile to all this, and were the most pro-remain section of society, and once again have the most to lose.
Three million EU citizens in Britain, who were denied a vote in the referendum, are left wondering what their status in Britain is likely to be after they have been used by May as a bargaining chip in the negotiations with the EU elites.
This was reflected in the 100,000 strong demonstration of mostly young people that took place in London immediately after the vote—organised through social media. It was not a demonstration organised by the left or of the labour movement but it was organised on a progressive basis and was strongly pro-immigration.
The situation of the left
Socialist Resistance argued for a remain vote on the basis that the referendum would be a carnival of reaction leading to a major shift to the right in British politics, and we have been right on both counts.
Those far-left organisations—the SWP, the Socialist Party, and Counterfire, along with the CPB—that agued for exit from the EU on the basis that such a vote would bring down Cameron, push the political situation to the left, and open up new opportunities for radical politics, even increase the chances of a Labour government, got it dramatically wrong. In fact, some are still arguing that there has not been a shift to the right a week after the formation of the May government.
A Brexit vote was always going to bring down the Cameron government, but its replacement, as Socialist Resistance argued throughout, was always going to be well to its right. It was always likely to open the way for dangerous realignment of the hard right—either within the Tory Party or as a part of a wider realignment. In the event it has been the former, and even worse and quicker than most of us predicted.
Those taking SR’s position in the referendum—of a critical remain vote to fight xenophobia—were accused by the Lexiteers of being ‘liberal leftists’ or of departing from basic principles on the class nature of the EU. John Rees accused us (on the Counterfire website) of practicing what he called ‘the linear school of historical analysis’:
“There will not be an automatic lurch to the right even with a figure like Johnson or May as Tory leader. The Tories will just have suffered their biggest reverse since the defeat of Thatcher. Their backbenchers are split down the middle. They only have a 17-seat working majority. They are under investigation for electoral fraud in more seats than that. They have just had to make a series of policy reverses… Only someone entirely wedded to the linear school of historical analysis could fail to see an opportunity for the left in this situation.”
Alex Callinicos was in a similar mode in International Socialism just before the vote. He argued—whilst accusing the ‘Another Europe is Possible’ campaign of “a slide into class collaboration”—that a Brexit vote would shatter the Cameron government just a year after winning a general election. Yes indeed! But what comes next?
In the event they were both wrong. The Brexit vote has not brought about a shift to the left but the biggest shift to the right in British politics since Thatcher took office in 1979—and, unless it is reversed, it could have equally disastrous long-term consequences.
The Lexiteers, however, were still defending the same position three weeks after the vote. This was the position argued by Peter Taaffe three weeks after the vote in Socialism Today: “The vote to leave the EU has rocked capitalist institutions—in Britain and internationally. It is yet another reflection of the anger at mass poverty and savage austerity—and of the growing anti-establishment mood… It is totally false to draw the utterly pessimistic conclusions which some small left groups have done that this result could lead to a ‘carnival of reaction’ in Britain and encourage right-wing forces in Europe and elsewhere.”
Playing the race card
It should be clear now, if it was not clear before, that this referendum was not, at the end of the day, a referendum on the EU but on immigration: i.e. ‘are you in favour of the free movement of people—yes or no?’ This scenario was played out in interview after interview, on the streets, the response was overwhelmingly: too much immigration—end free movement. And the uncomfortable fact is that given Britain’s imperialist and colonialist history, decades of bi-partisan institutionalised racism practiced by both Tories and Labour, and the disgusting xenophobia of the tabloids—the Sun, the Mail and the Express in particular—over many years, it was always going to be thus.
Since the vote racism has been strengthened, racist hate crimes have doubled, the political situation has moved to the right. The Tory Party has also moved to the right, and we are heading for an exit process from the EU that will be shaped by the xenophobic right in which ending free movement of people and cutting immigration to the bone will be the order of the day.
Not that the referendum can be reduced to immigration. There were other important factors involved—not least poverty, alienation and an anti-establishment backlash. In the end, however, it was racism that put the energy (or the venom) into the Brexit campaign. It was the driving force of the Brexit turnout.
Richard Seymour puts it this way: “It was the question of the free movement of labour within the European Union that that harnessed the energies for Leave”. He continues: “Not that most of those who voted Leave had much experience of migration—the areas with the highest numbers of EU nationals living in them were also those with the strongest Remain votes. But that is how it usually works with race politics in the UK.” There are exceptions to this but it is broadly true.
The racist dynamic, however, could not have been clearer. Immediately the mainstream Brexit campaigns took the decision to concentrate almost exclusively on immigration the Brexit vote went into the lead in the polls. There was indeed an anti-establishment backlash. The problem with this is that such backlashes are not necessarily progressive. In fact much of UKIP’s support has been based on it.
In fact the mainstream Brexit campaigns ran the most openly racist campaign in modern times, and they were very effective. What used to be known as playing the race card now passes for ‘normal’ politics. Unless this is reversed quickly they will have done serious damage to British society. The most damaging long-term damage that the referendum campaign has done in Britain has been to make racism ‘respectable’.
The answer of the Brexiteers to the dispossessed and the alienated was that immigrants were taking British jobs, driving down wages and living on benefits. Their campaign broadcast featured a map of Europe with arrows streaming towards Britain from across Europe—representing a flood of immigrants on the move, mostly from the East. During the campaign a Labour pro-remain MP Jo Cox was assassinated by a fascist shouting ‘put Britain first. It is hard to separate his actions, at least at that moment, from the politics of the mainstream Brexiteers. It was a warning that some very unpleasant forces were at work.
Worse than that, the findings of the Ashcroft poll immediately taken immediately after the vote found that by big majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, and immigration, as forces for good voted to remain in the EU, whilst those who saw these things as forces for ill voted, by even larger majorities to leave. It is a frightening picture.
There has been another remarkable development as well. Lexit organisations with long histories of anti-racism have been talking down and seeking to minimise the racism and xenophobia involved in this referendum both before the vote and after. The same has been the case with the situation of the 2.4 million EU citizens living in this country who are set be used as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations with the EU.
The Lexit campaign refused to regard the fate of these people as any kind of problem right through the campaign and has said nothing about it since. When I raised this issue at the launch meeting of the campaign earlier in the year I was told that ‘it was very unlikely to be a problem’.
The possibility of an early general election is very dangerous for Labour because the Brexit vote has pushed the situation to the right. One of the reasons that May stresses ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and that a big reduction in immigration is her red line in the negotiations with the EU, is in order to claim to speak for the Brexit vote for the next general election whenever it comes.
She will only go for an early election if she has a big lead in the polls and feels confident that she can tap into the Brexit vote effectively. Labour needs time to tackle the Brexit effect and start to turn the situation back towards the left before it can be sure of winning an election.
Those in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) who are ganging up with the Tories to remove Jeremy Corbyn on the basis that his departure is essential to winning the next election could hardly be more wrong. The key to defeating the kind of government that May is constructing is precisely the kind of radical anti-austerity and anti-racist alternative that Corbyn represents. It is only this approach which has a chance of cutting through the xenophobic fog of the referendum, give real hope to the dispossessed and the marginalised, and build the kind of movement necessary.
The argument of the PLP plotters that the best way to win the next election is to go back to the politics that lost the last two elections makes no sense. It is a complete misunderstanding of the dynamic of politics in Britain today.
Winning the next election for Labour will require, not a reversion to past failed policies, but a radical programme of austerity busting measures that can mobilise the deprived the alienated and the forgotten. Another thin gruel of Tory policies will not mobilise the movement necessary.
A majority Labour government could become increasingly difficult to achieve, particularly if, as is likely, the boundary commission proposals to reduce the number of seats at Westminster goes through by 2018. Labour needs to call for a progressive anti-austerity alliance in Parliament with the SNP and the Greens now and in the run up to the next general election, whenever that comes.
One way that Labour can boost its chances at the next election is a pledge for radical electoral reform. First and foremost getting rid of the notorious first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. This would not only win votes in the election itself but would reshape the system for the new realities of British politics. It would also increase the turnout in elections since every vote would count—which was a factor in the high turnout in the referendum.
The political structure in Britain that prevailed throughout the 20th century has fallen apart with the rise of multiple parties. The voting system that sustained it has become a byword for everything undemocratic and corrupt. Smaller parties (of both right and left) have been emerging with substantial votes—the Green Party and Ukip in England and the SNP in Scotland in particular. We now have what is effectively a six-party system. Under these conditions the FPTP system has gone from the undemocratic to the outrageous.
In the last election we had parties of both the left and the right winning millions of votes but getting minimal representation. Scotland, quite rightly, is heading for independence—though whether the May administration will agree to it as Cameron did is an open question. It any event Scotland will still be not be independent in 2020, but after that who knows.
Jeremy Corbyn has to grasp the nettle over this and come out strongly in favour of electoral reform. John McDonnell, Clive Lewis and others have already called for it along with Caroline Lucas and Owen Jones. It would be a big mistake for Labour to go into the next election whenever it comes without radical proposals for a proportional voting system that would ensure that every vote counts and not just a few marginal constituencies. PR is not just a vote winner in itself but it is crucial with the situation so volatile and the old consensus breaking up. To this should be added the proposal to give the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.
This as part of a manifesto that deals with the housing crisis, the decimation of our NHS, with the growth of zero hours contracts and food banks, the rise of racism and other forms of inequality is the path that we need to go down – a path that will inspire even greater numbers that Jeremy Corbyn has already done over the remarkable last year.
Above: the reality of Brexit … and ‘Lexit’
The following letter appears in today’s (July 20) edition of the Morning Star. We republish it here because (a) letters do not appear on the MS website; (b) it’s from an active and well-respected Unite member, and (c) it states some simple truths very bluntly. I might also add that as the MS is under the political direction of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), and campaigned for a supposedly “left” exit vote in the referendum, it is to the paper’s credit that they’ve published such a stinging rebuke:
Brexit vote has encouraged racists
AS A delegate to Unite’s policy conference in Brighton, I was disappointed to find in the Communist Party’s conference bulletin no mention of the spike in racist attacks on migrant workers.
Many trade unionists actively campaigned against leaving the European Union because we knew the racists and right would use the referendum to whip up hostility to migrant workers. Exit from the EU has shifted politics to the right, not the left.
In my local shop a Romanian worker who has been in the country for many years is fearful for her children walking home from school and now sleeps with a bucket of water in her hall in case there is an arson attack in the night.
Many of the rights and protections gained by European trade unions through campaigning in the EU will be lost as directives relating to the workplace fall away.
This right wing government will move increasingly to a low-wage, low-corporation tax economy.
It is disappointing that the CPB is adopting a Little Englander approach and turning away from European solidarity. I struggled at times during the referendum campaign to separate the political positions of the CPB and Ukip
Chair, Lewisham Town Hall Branch LE/1183
By Dale Street (this article is also published at the Workers Liberty website and in the current issue of Solidarity)
Will there be another referendum on independence for Scotland after the EU referendum? That is now a central focus of mainstream political debate in Scotland. And that spells bad news for socialists and the broader Labour and trade union movement.
At a UK level the EU referendum saw a 51.9% majority in favour of “Leave” on a 72% turnout. In England 53.4% backed “Leave” on a 73% turnout. But in Scotland 62% backed “Remain” on a 67% turnout.
The day after the referendum former SNP leader Alex Salmond responded to the different voting patterns in England and Scotland by touring television studios bullishly predicting another referendum on Scottish independence within two years. The same day SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon struck a more cautious note.
Relying on a clause in the SNP Holyrood election manifesto that a change in “material circumstances”, such as Scotland voting to remain in the EU but Britain voting to leave, would justify a second referendum, Sturgeon said that a second referendum was “highly likely”. Unlike Salmond, Sturgeon recognises the problems confronting what would be, for the SNP, a make-or-break second referendum. Turnout in the EU referendum in Scotland was not only lower than in England but also markedly lower than in the independence referendum of 2014 — 67%, compared with 85%.
1,700,000 people in Scotland voted last week in favour of the UK remaining in the EU — compared with just over two million who voted in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK in 2014. (But the electorate in 2014 was larger, as 16 and 17-year-olds had a vote.) Support for Scottish independence does not equate with support for “Remain” in the EU, the avowed trigger for another referendum.
In the run-up to the EU referendum opinion polls found that one in three SNP voters backed “Leave”. Exit polling on the day of the referendum came up with the same figure. In fact, in an article in the Sunday Herald prior to the EU referendum Sturgeon’s sales pitch to “Yes” voters was not the merits of EU membership but the prospect of another referendum on Scottish independence: “Sturgeon tells Yes supporters: Voting Remain is best hope for second independence referendum.”
There are also political problems in staging a second referendum on independence, and economic problems in winning a majority to vote “Yes”. The decision to call such a referendum is a reserved power. The Westminster Parliament would have to agree to it.
Sturgeon’s counter-argument is that the SNP and Greens will vote together in Holyrood in September on “legislation” for a second referendum, and that it would be “inconceivable” for Westminster to refuse authority for another referendum.
The economic problems which would confront an independent Scotland remain unchanged, if not worse, than in 2014. Scotland has a structural deficit of £15 billions (9.7% of its GDP). Public spending in Scotland is higher than in the UK, with the gap of some £9 billions a year funded by the Barnett Formula. The slump in the price of oil and a weak economy on the brink of recession (even before the EU referendum) have added to the economic problems, as well as exposing the hollowness of the economic predictions contained in the 2014 White Paper on Independence.
And then there is the question of the currency in an independent Scotland. In the space of the last fortnight the SNP has come up with four varieties of what the currency would, or might, be: the pound; the euro; a new currency linked to the pound; an independent Scottish floating currency.
On the other hand, the SNP might find it easier to sell the idea of an independent Scotland in the event of a second independence referendum. With the UK heading out of the EU anyway, an independent Scotland would not be at risk of losing membership of the EU. The EU would be portrayed as a milch cow which would make up for the losses incurred by exit from the UK. And a “Yes” vote would be presented as the expression of an outward-looking pan-Europeanism.
Why is or any or all of this bad news for socialists and the labour movement? Read the rest of this entry »