DAVID Cameron’s Tory-led Coalition has decided to call the Scottish nationalists’ bluff by proposing a straight either/or referendum on independence by May 2013. The Tories say they are doing this because of pressure from major businesses, who have claimed privately that delay on the constitutional question will destabilise the Scottish economy.
North of the border most suspect that Cameron’s move is designed to forestall the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose own plans for a referendum are believed to include an option for greater fiscal autonomy, like that of the old northern Irish government, that fall short of the complete independence that the majority of Scottish voters are wary of in the current economic climate.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who oppose independence, favour this option that would also give the SNP, which won an overall majority in the Scottish parliament in last year’s elections, a fall-back position if the independence vote was lost.
The Tories are against giving the Scottish government any more real authority, let alone independence. But they will have to rely on Labour and the Liberal Democrats to win the argument. There’s now just one Scottish Conservative MP in the House of Commons and only 15 in the 129-seat Scottish Parliament.
The nationalists have long taken much of the Tory vote in Scotland but there are clear divisions within the ranks of the Scottish bourgeoisie on the question of outright independence. Some believe it is unattainable and others that it is undesirable at a time of global capitalist crisis. Scottish banks relied on the Bank of England to bail them out in the 2008 crash and many bankers doubt whether an independent Scotland would get an AAA credit rating these days.
Support for independence can be also found among sections of the ultra left in Scotland. But they assume far too easily that such a rearrangement of the constitutional furniture will inevitably have progressive consequences.
The degree of local autonomy won by the Scots is, in itself, no guarantee that the national traditions and culture of the Scottish people will be developed, nor will it automatically lead to the strengthening of working class power.
But the creation of national institutions in Scotland has had some positive developments. Scottish governments have developed policies, under pressure from the labour movement, that reflect more the demands of the working class for social justice. Scotland maintains free university education and personal care for the aged, frozen council tax and introduced free prescription charges and eye tests.
There can be no doubt that Scotland could, if it were carried in a referendum, hold its own as an independent state.
If and when that question is put to the Scottish electorate the New Communist Party would support a vote for independence. At our last Congress in 2009 we said: “The New Communist Party has long recognised the rights of the Scottish and Welsh nations to full national self-determination. We support Scottish and Welsh demands for the right to preserve and develop their culture and national identity. We support their right to posses and control all the physical and other resources present on their land and territorial waters.
We support the demand for genuine self-governing powers for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.“The NCP supports the demand for the encouragement of the Welsh language, which should be raised, in practice as well as in theory, to equal standing with English throughout Wales. We likewise support demands for the encouragement of Scottish Gaelic in traditional Gaelic areas.”