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Vol. 78/No. 33      September 22, 2014

Scotland independence debate in UK
driven by divisions among capitalists
EDINBURGH, Scotland — After months of public debate, a high turnout is expected in Scotland for the Sept. 18 vote on whether the country should separate from the United Kingdom. In response to a recent poll indicating a slight lead for independence, the British pound took its steepest dive in more than a year.

The competing pro-independence and “Better Together” campaigns are backed by rival factions of the ruling class, both appealing to the “Scottish people” for support. But neither side has anything to offer working people — Scottish or otherwise — who share common interests and concerns throughout the U.K.

The referendum is the initiative of the Scottish National Party, the governing party in the Scottish Parliament led by Alex Salmond.

The SNP announced Aug. 28 the endorsement of the “yes” campaign by 200 business leaders, who promise a road to economic prosperity. “An independent Scotland will recognize entrepreneurs small and large as the real wealth and job creators of the nation’s economic future,” the letter from the 200 said.

Tony Banks, chairman of Business for Scotland, commented, “Our members know Scotland’s balance sheet is relatively stronger than the U.K.’s.”

The factionalism is driven in part by sharpening rivalries that grow out of the worldwide slowdown of capitalist production and trade. Among the key issues is access to tax revenue from North Sea oil. “It’s Scotland’s oil,” declares the Scottish National Party.

The three main parties of British capitalism — Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats — are united behind the “no” campaign, concerned that the breakup would accelerate the decline of British imperialism.

“Continued union offers greater certainty and stability for our business,” Ian King, chief executive of aerospace giant BAE Systems, said in March, voicing the majority sentiment of the British ruling class.

Salmond has said that an independent Scotland would retain its membership in NATO, keep the Queen as head of state, seek EU membership and keep the pound sterling as its currency.

More than economic questions are at stake. “For the second military power in the West to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms,” former NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, a Scot, said in a speech in Washington earlier this year.

The pro-independence section of the Scottish bourgeoisie and meritocratic layers beholden to them have lost interest in maintaining the military power necessary to defend the interests of British imperialism in the world and believe they can do fine without it. The independence campaign has called for the removal of Trident nuclear submarines from their base in Faslane, Scotland, in coming years. While the United Kingdom’s ruling families insist on control over strategic nuclear weapons in the event of a breakup, the prospect of relocation presents political and military problems for them.

In a TV debate, Salmond railed against benefit and health care cuts imposed by London and used the government cuts as a club against Alistair Darling, a former Labour chancellor of the exchequer and head of the “Better Together” campaign.

Meanwhile, the SNP-led government itself has been chipping away at health care and other social gains in Scotland, alongside their counterparts throughout the U.K. “Look at the cuts in my local hospital St Johns in Livingston,” said Leo Thomson, a health care worker and former coal miner.

While the pro-independence campaign is dressed up in appeals to Scottish nationalism, national sentiments or grievances are much less a factor among workers and farmers than they have been in decades past. Instead, most working people are approaching the referendum from the point of view of how its outcome may affect their living standards and working conditions, under attack by the bosses and their government.

“A ‘yes’ vote would mean all the wealth would be taken out of the hands of Westminster,” said Jamie Devlin, a pest control worker from Glasgow. “It’s not about the SNP, but the Scottish people. Independence will open up change.”

“I am taking home £30 [$48] per week less now than two years ago and I’m working harder on 10-hour shifts,” said Jacek Kawaleca, one of 1,700 workers, many Polish, who were laid off in February last year when the Halls meat factory in Broxburn closed. Kawaleca, who is now working at a nearby meat plant, said he hadn’t decided how to vote, but feared greater uncertainty with independence.

Retired worker John Murray said he’d vote “no” because he didn’t want to risk losing his state pension.

Meanwhile, what workers have in common throughout the U.K. is brought into sharper focus by initial stirrings of labor resistance. On July 24, for example, 900 workers downed tools the day Prime Minister David Cameron was due to visit the Total oil company construction site for a new gas plant in the Shetlands, a group of islands 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland. Since November 2013, when 47 workers were briefly locked out, there have been ongoing protests by the workers seeking extra pay for housing and travel time.

Last October Salmond helped lead a campaign by oil bosses to pressure workers at the Grangemouth refinery into accepting a no-strike pledge under threat of a lockout and permanent closure.

We need “better than we have now, but we’d be no better off with a ‘yes’ vote and Salmond,” said Linda McKay from Cranhill in Glasgow, who receives disability benefits.  
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