Colin Fox surveys the landscape and get prepared to batten down the hatches.
This article was written before the announcement of the general election for Thursday 12 December but anticipated that one would be called.
I voted to remain in 2016 as ‘The lesser of two evils’ but I’ve changed my mind. Reading Costas Lapavitsas’s The Left case against the EU on holiday in Bilbao recently caused me to reflect on my choice and on the issues Scottish Left Review has asked us to comment upon. In my revised view, the EU is an organisation beyond progressive reform. Whilst I acknowledge the 2016 referendum was not driven by the left, the past three years have also shown how malevolent a force the EU is today. Its neo-liberal practices reach far and wide and its political spokesmen have worked non-stop to thwart their biggest defeat in 70 years.
I never doubted Brexit would happen however. The implications of the vote were too profound for it not to. The majority voted to leave and their instruction had to be adhered to. And the ‘no’ vote in 2014 kept Scotland locked into that reality.
EU sycophants like Nicola Sturgeon, Keir Starmer, Tom Watson and Jo Swinson had no intention of accepting the result, happy to pedal myths of all kinds as Brussels directed them. They argued for example the 2016 vote itself would lead to economic catastrophe. It didn’t. Further predictions of looming economic Armageddon followed. Each proved just as inaccurate. They even blamed the collapse in car sales on Brexit when it had nothing to do with it. The fall in UK diesel exports for example was driven by global concern over C02 emissions and lethal particulates.
As a consequence of the UK establishment’s Brexit skulduggery, I fear Boris Johnson is going to win the forthcoming election, painting himself as ‘The people’s champion’! ‘Leave’ voters and the ‘scunnered middle’ sick and tired of Brexit make up the majority of the electorate. The contest will, I fear, see millions of lifelong Labour voters hold their noses and opt for Johnson because they feel betrayed and think Corbyn incompetent.
If all this sounds too pessimistic you can seek more comforting conclusions elsewhere. But that would be the wrong thing to do. The great Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci never flinched from facing unpalatable truths head on. His ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’ philosophy was imbedded in the need to face the facts as he saw them, in his case those posed by Mussolini’s fascism in the 1930s. Gramsci’s trademark prescription is necessary today as the prospect of another Tory Government undermines the likelihood of another legally binding referendum on independence. I regret that because independence offers the only chance of democratic advance and social progress north of the Border I can see any time soon.
Whilst Nicola Sturgeon was right to insist at SNP conference last month that independence will only be secured democratically, it was perhaps the only thing she has been right about these past 4 years. She was wrong for example to pretend Scotland could stay in the EU when the UK left. And wrong to argue the 2016 vote, where Scotland opted to ‘Remain’, somehow made the case for ‘yes’ on its own. It didn’t. If she had put even 1% of the effort she dedicated to pedalling ludicrous myths about the EU into making the case for independence we would be much nearer the majority we need today. Furthermore, she has done nothing to advance the crucial economic case for independence. Her endorsement of the lamentable Sustainable Growth Commission, for example, has made that task more difficult because it repels the very people we need to win over i.e. the working class majority who see in independence a rejection of the neo-liberal status-quo not its reinforcement.
If the political picture has one positive, however, it is surely the widespread, if inchoate, popular resistance to global warming. As one participant in our recent Scottish Socialist Voice Forum on climate change in Edinburgh declared: ‘Whatever else may be said about ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and their political confusion they have certainly made protest fashionable again’.
And yet ‘protest’ will not be enough. I was struck by a comment made by an analyst at UBS in the Financial Times recently who held that attempting to restrict global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels is already a lost cause. The best we can hope for, he insisted, is to manage a 4 degree rise with all that entails. Since low lying countries such as Bangladesh may be under water by 2050, mankind faces stark, existential challenges; how to save large portions of humanity from drowning, disease and premature death when the predominant political ideology rejects universal access to limited resources in favour of rewarding wealthy elites still further. As the dominant political philosophy today rejects the idea of saving the lives of billions, it is surely the system itself that must be replaced.
Again, readers looking for easy solutions must find them elsewhere! The labour movement in Scotland and beyond faces profound challenges. Brexit is going to happen. Boris Johnson looks set to win a sizeable Parliamentary majority, strengthening both the Tories and global capitalism, preventing another independence referendum and those democratic solutions to the dangers posed by global warming. Socialist solutions, including a Green New Deal and a break with the private ownership of capital, have never been more necessary nor face a more daunting challenge.
Colin Fox is the national spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party. He sat on the YES Scotland Advisory Board 2012-14 and was SSP MSP for The Lothians 2003-2007