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Time to look at the small print of Scottish ‘independence’

union flag melts away from scotlandDown the years it has been my good fortune to address political rallies and educational schools staged by the industrial wing of the labour movement. Last week rail union Aslef’s Scottish political forum was convened at the Scottish Parliament and we discussed the Scottish National Party government’s white paper on independence.

At the crux of the white paper is the claim that if Scotland votes No in next year’s referendum “decisions about Scotland would remain in the hands of others.” But that is precisely what will happen if Scotland votes Yes.

The choice of a currency between sterling and the euro means that either the Bank of England or the European Central Bank will control monetary and fiscal, and so exchange rate, policy. Under the SNP’s proposals Scotland would keep the pound but lose all influence.

The white paper is quick to point out that the commanding heights of the Scottish economy will still be quoted and floated on the London Stock Exchange. Under the SNP’s proposals Scotland would keep British capital but lose all regulation and control over it.

As Scotland’s Future also highlights, as a member of the European Union Scotland will be required to comply with regulatory requirements – “many of which relate to the operation of the (EU) single market.” So there is complete acquiescence to neoliberal economics and the free movement of capital and no interest in negotiating these externally determined rules.

The growth industries identified in the document – food and drink, energy, creative industries, tourism, life sciences and financial services, with the exception of the whisky industry – is substantially dependent on the “rest of UK” market. This is even after 40 years of EU membership. Figures for the last year for which the government’s own figures are published (2009) show the food industries based in Scotland sold four times as much to the rest of Britain and Northern Ireland than to the whole of the rest of the world put together.

The Scottish-based insurance and pensions industry exported over 200 times more to the rest of Britain and Northern Ireland compared to the whole of the rest of the world.

For utilities like electricity and gas the export ratio is even greater, with exports of electricity from Scotland to the rest of these islands 473 times more than to the rest of Europe.

Pulling out of democratic engagement at the level which determines prevailing macroeconomic conditions in such a big market for Scotland’s key growth industries is not a recipe for export growth but contraction. Besides which there is no reason why an industrial strategy could not be devised and implemented with many of the devolved Scottish Parliament’s existing powers.

So for example “support for indigenous companies and ownership by strengthening the role of the Scottish Investment Bank” heralded in the white paper could start tomorrow.

The white paper records that 16 per cent of all private-sector workers in Scotland are employed by companies whose ownership rests outside Britain. In fact 34 per cent of all private-sector employees work for companies which are owned outside Scotland.

For bigger enterprises – that is those employing more than 250 people – which generate 64.5 per cent of all turnover in the Scottish economy and therefore represent the major engines of economic development, 64 per cent work for companies ultimately owned outside Scotland. Many of them are either London Stock Exchange quoted companies or subsidiaries of overseas-owned multinational corporations.

So the SNP’s blueprint for independence in economic terms doesn’t provide for greater independence but rather less.

Those on the left of Scottish politics who believe that a Yes vote would create the conditions for an immaculate conception of socialism are misplacing their faith. Not only because the interpretation of the referendum result and the negotiations that would ensue would not be in the hands of those who want a radical economic and social transformation but would be in the hands of those who do not. But also because working people in Scotland would lose, not gain, the opportunity to organise and intervene at the level where economic power lies.

It will come as no surprise that at an Aslef political forum public ownership stirred interest. The white paper’s feeble offer to “consider different ownership models for the rail network” is a very weak prospectus made only worse by the clear declaration that if the SNP government has its way the existing rail franchises including a new 10-year one for Scotrail will go through unchallenged.

Of course in response to this and the other debates arising from the white paper the Labour Party itself must regain its vitality, focusing not simply on what it would do in power but what it can do in opposition. And it must campaign in parliaments, but agitate outside too.

One clear and intelligent message from these Aslef activists was that while the Yes campaign’s economic case simply lacked credibility that did not weaken the demand for the pursuit and popularisation of a credible case for change stemming from a No vote – a demand that must be met not after September 18 2014, but well before it.

Richard Leonard is regional organiser for GMB Scotland. This article first appeared in the Morning Star


  1. eric clyne says:

    Best piece on the indie debate in ages.

    I write from Arbroath where the SNP thinks it is a fine thing that we cannot use the Abbey grounds – which cost a fiver to enter – as they have to be controlled by the heritage industry. meanwhile local SNP brainstorming way of finding a ‘new centre’ for Arbroath town. Hello? The Abbey? You know, the one which natives cannot use!

    I like the union. It gives the left a better chance to effect change.

  2. stevie mcl says:

    Eric there is no left.Labour Party in Scotland has already declared ehere they stand.Shoulder to shoulder to shoulder withe the Tory party.Take a look at BT funding.Self serving career politicians who care only for themselves.
    Cant comment about your issue in Arbroath but numerous uninterrupted years of a Labour council in Glasgow and we have areas with the highest poverty , lowest life expectancy and terrible unemployment.
    4 percent representation across houses in westminster and only one Scottish MP in elected government.900 unelected “Lords”.
    Forgive me but I think its a YES for me.

  3. stevie mcl says:

    could you maybe explain why you feel staying in the Union a better chance for the left.After Indy it may be (hopefully) a landslide left victory in the first election.
    Take a look at Labour for Indy.Indy is not all about the SNP.
    A NO vote is guaranteeing nothing but further cuts , Barnett gone and lip service to Scotland.We are not too wee , too stupid or indeed to poor.

  4. Stephen says:

    “After Indy it may be (hopefully) a landslide left victory in the first election.”…wow two qualifications in a single sentence.

    Lets look at the last landslide in Scottish politics , went to a party who’s leaders quite literally first statement on being elected was that he wanted to the power to cut corporation tax.

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