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Vol. 78/No. 39      November 3, 2014

Scotland separation vote fails, workers
on both sides concerned about bosses’ assaults
MANCHESTER, England — With 85 percent voter turnout, the Sept. 18 referendum for Scottish independence was defeated by 55 to 45 percent. While Scotland’s basic relationship with the United Kingdom remains unchanged, so do the social contradictions in the U.K. that have been brought to the fore by the worldwide crisis of capitalism and tug at the seams of the declining world power.

The support for separation in Scotland is not driven by a struggle against discrimination or national oppression. For working people, the referendum was a typical “lesser evil” choice presented by rival capitalists parties. Whether for or against, the vote was decided by how most people judged the outcome would affect living standards and employment, as well as government welfare, pension and health care services. And capitalist politicians on both sides focused their appeals on these issues.

The Scottish National Party, which for the first time in 2011 took a plurality of seats in Scottish parliamentary elections, initiated and led the independence campaign. Though couched in nationalist rhetoric, its main pitch was a supposed “Scottish” road to avoid the economic crisis that has gripped the U.K., Europe and the world. Among the selling points were the fact that Scotland has a smaller budget deficit, higher tax revenue and the great bulk of tax-generating oil and gas reserves than the rest of the U.K. The SNP government has also taken a more cautious approach to the nationwide assault on welfare. At the same time, camouflage was given to the SNP’s anti-working-class course by various leftist organizations that claimed independence and the break-up of Britain would lead to progressive social change.

“I voted ‘yes,’” Sean Tulloch, a warehouse worker from Edinburgh, told the Militant. “Nationalism wasn’t the issue for most people, it was what are the possibilities for their future.”

“It wasn’t about William Wallace,” said Linda McKay from Cranhill, a working-class housing complex in Glasgow, referring to the historic leader of Scotland’s first war of independence against the English monarchy during the 13th and 14th centuries. “My sons voted ‘yes’ hoping for change, but I voted ‘no’ as I was not sure about the unknown.”

The capitalist class in Scotland was divided, as various layers had more to gain or lose from independence. In the rest of the U.K. the propertied rulers and their main political parties — Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats — were behind a campaign to keep Scotland in the union. The three parties stepped up their efforts in the final weeks as opinion polls showed growing support for a “yes” vote.

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot, was given pride of place in the campaign. Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron, Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nicholas Clegg and Labour Party leader Edward Miliband also traveled to Scotland. The capitalist politicians promised to give the Scottish Parliament greater control over taxation and spending on social services, while maintaining the “Barnett formula,” which has been used for the last 36 years to allocate public spending for each nation within the United Kingdom and gives Scotland a greater per capita amount than England or Wales. The Barnett formula was first implemented in 1978 amid labor struggles and rising discontent in Scotland over disparities with the rest of the United Kingdom in wages, housing and health care.

The vote to maintain the union came not only as a relief to Britain’s main ruling families, but also to those in much of Europe and beyond, who were concerned about the uncertain financial impact of sorting out currency, debt and banking in an independent Scotland, as well as broader fallout from an accelerated decline of British capitalism. The pound sterling rose to a two-year high against the euro, after a precipitous drop in face of polls indicating an edge to the “yes” vote.

Among the few ruling-class figures outside the U.K. who backed Scottish independence were Russian President Vladimir Putin and Artur Mas, president of the Spanish regional government of Catalan, which is pressing its own independence referendum under similar pressures.

The modern capitalist state of the United Kingdom inherited a country patched together in previous centuries from different nationalities and national grouping during the rise of the British Empire. One of its features was a highly centralized government that over time became harder to maintain and less useful for Britain’s rulers. Following a Labour-government organized referendum in 1997, a Scottish parliament was established with devolved powers over schools, health, transportation, the courts and police. An elected assembly with more limited powers was established in Wales. But pressure for further “devolution” continues with the decline of British capitalism.

Hours after the Sept. 18 independence referendum vote was tallied, factional divisions between Britain’s three main capitalist parties resurfaced. Cameron announced that plans to give more powers to Scottish Parliament would be combined with ending voting powers for members of U.K. Parliament from Scotland over matters that only effect England. Miliband had to reject the move, as Labour relies on support in Scotland from which it draws 40 MPs, compared to one Conservative.

Meanwhile, a few days before the referendum tens of thousands of public sector workers in Scotland began voting for strike action, demanding more than the paltry 1 percent annual pay raise offered by the Scottish city and town councils. “The only way we’ll get anything is by voting with our feet,” said Leo Thomson, a government health care worker and Unison trade union member.  
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