The summer recess is a time for reflection. Jeremy Corbyn is using the break to campaign in Scotland in constituencies where the SNP hold wafer-thin majorities. Nicola Sturgeon is rebooting the SNP’s approach to independence. In doing so, she should reflect on the real story of the general election: the ideological shift in British politics. For three decades Tory and Labour administrations have peddled the falsehood that ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA) to the Anglo-neoliberal model. Labour’s manifesto ‘for the many, not the few’ demonstrates that a progressive left-of-centre agenda can resonate with working class voters.
Although the June results should not be interpreted as majority opposition to independence, the SNP hierarchy and the wider pro-independence movement must learn from Corbyn’s policies, which, in contrast to the SNP’s, addressed many working class concerns and connected to young voters. As Carolyn Leckie observed in the last Scottish Left Review, in the general election 64% of voters in Scotland voted for progressive manifestos offered by the British Labour Party, the SNP and the Greens. The campaign to deliver a majority ‘yes’ vote must build on those 1.7m plus voters. In this context, the case for independence has to be advanced around four central arguments.
The first is economic. The broad left politics of the 1970s campaigned for an alternative economic strategy as a counter to corporate capitalism. By comparison, Corbyn’s raft of policies is not that ‘radical’ but they are a welcomed alternative to further privatisation. The Scottish Parliament needs additional fiscal tools – corporation, dividend and wealth taxes – to mitigate the impact of neo-liberalism on the social fabric of society. It needs its own currency and central bank, and a National Investment Bank (NIB) to fund investment in social housing, public transport and renewable energy. A NIB would also fund an industrial strategy that helps SMEs innovate and improve productivity. The onus is on the pro-independence movement to provide a convincing economic strategy that is environmentally sustainable, socially just, and can deliver high quality public services: a vision of democratic socialism fit for the twenty first century.
The second argument relates to social justice. Neo-liberalism is more than just an economic system. It has a political and ideological agenda: a minimalist state and the privatisation of the self. The Grenfell Tower disaster is a totemic testimony of deregulation and a culture that stigmatises and marginalises the poor. Social class continues to determine life chances. Disclosure of the BBC’s pay scales exposed gender pay inequality, but it also revealed class and race inequality. Few top earners at the BBC are working class or Black or Asian. Class dictates children’s futures and, at the other end of the age spectrum, it accounts for decades-long inequalities in areas such as health and life expectancy between rich and poor pensioners.
The broken neo-liberal model has created a largely deregulated, non-union and atomised labour market. The SNP hierarchy needs to acknowledge the connection between reduced levels of union membership, collective bargaining and growing social inequalities. The left case for independence must espouse policies that will strengthen workplace unionism, fix a dysfunctional labour market and help redistribute wealth through pay bargaining, and progressive taxation.
The third argument concerns Brexit. The British Labour Party and the ‘yes’ movement are divided. The pro-independence movement needs clarity and unity on Scotland’s position within, or outwith the European Union. Membership of the single market and the customs union – the Norwegian model – is a desirable option if coupled with a promise to hold a plebiscite for full EU membership once Scotland is a sovereign state.
Finally, there is the democratic argument. A cacophonous chorus of voices have pronounced that indyref2 be taken ‘off the table’. But, however the unionists parties spin it, the 2016 Scottish parliamentary election, the council elections and the June result has given the Scottish Government a ‘triple-lock’ democratic mandate to hold a referendum. Post-Brexit, there is another good reason for a second referendum before 2020. The British state is facing an unprecedented crisis. Naomi Klein has written that neo-conservatives wield power through ‘the shock doctrine’: using people’s disorientation following a major crisis to push through right-wing measures. While the Tories are in disarray, the SNP leadership and the wider pro-independence movement should capitalise on the political crisis to advance the argument that independence is the road to a progressive, democratic Scottish state.
We need a manifesto ‘for the many’ that sets out a radical programme, just as audacious and transformative as the reforms undertaken by Atlee’s (1945-1951) Labour Government. A manifesto that addresses multiple crisis, that meets the needs of Scotland’s working-class majority, and that can inspire and win a majority for independence.
John Bratton is emeritus professor, co-author of ‘Capitalism and Classical Social Theory’, convenor of Yes Stockbridge and a member of Unite.