Wednesday, 12 February 2020


The election of brutal Boris's Tory regime against the overwhelming wishes of Scottish voters has triggered debate in the trade unions about Scottish independence; in particular, a second referendum.

The SSP is at the heart of this vital discussion. Since our foundation in 1998, the SSP has not only defended the right of the Scottish people to decide - their democratic right to self-determination - but also positively advocated a vision for an independent socialist Scotland that is planets apart from the future advocated by the SNP. 

The growing inclination of trade unionists to at least support the right to a second referendum  - including many who personally oppose independence - is another hammer-blow to a Scottish Labour Party already under siege after their disastrous 2019 election results.

The opening salvo from the top echelons of the Scottish trade union movement came from outgoing STUC general secretary, Grahame Smith, who in December appealed to Scottish Labour to recognise the right of the Scottish people to IndyRef2. 

After a full debate at the February Scottish Council of branch delegates in Scotland's biggest trade union, Unison, an overwhelming majority (roughly 3:1) voted to "support the call for a second independence referendum, at a time to be determined by the Scottish parliament". This is a momentous breakthrough for democracy, from the largest component of the biggest civic organisation in Scotland, the trade union movement.

Of course, it is not a vote by Unison to actually advocate independence, but it quite rightly stands for Unison members and Scottish workers in general having the opportunity to vote on independence, rather than being denied that choice by a dictatorial Westminster Tory government. 

Unison committed to taking this issue into the wider trade union movement, including at STUC conference.

Subsequently, the Executive Committee of the Bakers' union (BFAWU) voted in favour of a second Scottish independence referendum, correctly using the hashtag #Democracy in their announcement. 

Even under Corbyn, Labour denied Scotland the right to choose

Crises in Scottish Labour 

These union decisions add an explosive new ingredient to the trouble bubbling away inside Scottish Labour. 
For decades, in complete contradiction to the tradition of socialists defending the right to self-determination, Labour set its face against not only Scottish independence but even a people's vote on it. 
The 2017 Labour Manifesto bluntly asserted "Labour opposes a second Scottish referendum. It is unwanted and unnecessary and we will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK" - in a chapter ironically titled 'Extending Democracy'!

In 2019, Labour vacillated from saying they would not allow a second referendum "in the early years of a Labour government" to never allowing it! 

On top of their naked collaboration with the Tories in Better Together in 2014, plus their decades of vicious austerity when in local or national government, this anti-democratic stance contributed to Scottish Labour's dismal results. Until recently the colossus that bestrode all Scottish political office, Scottish Labour can now only win a mere 18% of the vote, returning one unprincipled Blairite to Westminster. 

Labour MSPs Neil Findlay & Monica Lennon support IndyRef2

No wonder senior Labour figures like Monica Lennon and Neil Findlay have come out for the right to a referendum, with some scrambling round for a distinct policy wrapped up in nebulous names like devo-max, federalism and 'radical democracy'. 

Leader Richard Leonard was humiliated by his own Labour Scottish Executive when they chucked out his proposal of a special conference on the issue. 

Scottish Labour are staggering round like headless chickens on the national question, prisoners of their own British unionist dogmatism; at root, their adherence to capitalism and its institutions. 

It will take the potential power of unions and socialists to end their misery and map out a path towards a democratic socialist Scotland that could act as a beacon to the struggles for socialism by workers in neighbouring nations. 

SSP persistently puts a working class case for self-government 

SSP: Workers' Natural Allies 

In taking this brave and democratic stance, Unison and the BFAWU have a ready-made ally in the SSP.

For 21 years since our formation, we have both championed the right to self-determination and persistently campaigned for an independent socialist Scotland. 

A few days after the disastrous election of the Tories in December, I wrote to all unions in Scotland on behalf of the SSP, proposing an STUC-led demo "in the earlier part of 2020" against a Tory government "with absolutely no democratic mandate to rule and ruin Scotland".

In our letter to Scotland's unions, we advocated several reasons for a demo: solidarity with workers in struggle; defence of workers' rights, of the NHS, of migrants and indigenous workers alike from the vicious racism and division incited by government and media. But the final suggested theme of a union-led Demo was to "defend the right of the Scottish people to decide their own future (regardless of your view on independence) instead of having it imposed by a Tory government the Scottish majority haven't voted for since 1955." 

In articles in The National newspaper and Scottish Socialist Voice, we've made persistent calls on the unions to "defend the right of the Scottish people to choose."

So the SSP warmly welcomes this immensely important, seismic shift in union policy towards the right to self-determination. 

We repeat our appeal to the entire trade union movement to debate this issue amongst their membership, and stand up for the ABC democracy that the unions were in part born to champion: the right to vote! 

Chartists fought for the right to vote 180 years ago

Defending the Right to Vote 

The mid-19th century Chartist movement spearheaded the fight for adult suffrage. Over centuries, trade unionists and socialists suffered persecution and victimisation for battling for the right to vote for the working class, including women. In many nations saddled with military dictatorships, the workers' movement were and are the primary force demanding the freedom to vote. 

But in Britain, 2020, Boris Johnson ruthlessly refuses to countenance a free vote on Scottish independence, terrified after the all-too-close call for the ruling capitalist rich in 2014.

So what are the mass organisations of the working class supposed to do as this reactionary populist blusters his way past the pleas of the elected Scottish parliament for the powers to hold a vote? Ignore the Tories' denial of democracy? Leave all the pleading to a Scottish government whose recent statements make plain they have no bottle for a battle that transcends the rules imposed by the Westminster Tory regime? 

No, the unions have a right and a duty to unite around the elementary, democratic right of the Scottish people to choose, to vote, to determine our own future, rather than be chained like slaves by a Johnson government with no mandate to dictate over Scotland. 

So all unions need to thoroughly debate this democratic demand, and follow in the footsteps of Unison and BFAWU. 

For Independence and Socialism 

But there is a world of difference between upholding the right to vote on independence - which we hope the entire trade union movement can unite and rally around - and actually mustering a working-class, pro-trade union, socialist case for independence. That is precisely what the SSP has done since 1998, including in our unions. 

Unless we convince workers that they won't be swapping decades of brutal Westminster austerity for a further decade of austerity in an independent Scotland - which is the repugnant prospect offered in the SNP government's Sustainable Growth Commission Report - there is not a snowball's chance in Hell of winning a working-class majority for independence.

We need instead to broadcast the vision of a self-governing Scotland with a £12 minimum wage; a Legal Maximum Income initially set at ten times that minimum to help confront inequality; a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week for all who want it; a 4-day week on 5 days' pay; democratic public ownership of energy, construction, transport and banking to combat poverty, housing crises, underemployment and pollution through a Socialist Green New Deal - a clean, green socialist Scotland that treats all its citizens as equals, regardless of their origins. 

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