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The SNP vision of a deregulated Scotland is reason enough to vote No

union flag melts away from scotlandVision is essential in politics. It illuminates the possibility that things could be different, better and inspires people to not just believe in change, but to be driven to do something about it. That’s why it will play a big part in determining the outcome of next month’s referendum on the question of a separate Scottish state.

Yes Scotland’s vision is set out in a new pamphlet called Your Choice. In it we are told how so different things will be six years after independence. Of course, to suit the argument in this “imaginary community” as it is described, some things will remain exactly the same.

Side-stepping the impact of EU membership and Britain’s opt out from the Schengen Agreement, English-born “Scott” will need no passport and pass no border controls or customs posts when he visits his family in Manchester in 2020.

“Maisie” will continue to get her triple-locked old-age pension from the same neighbourhood post office. And “Laura” still has no university tuition fees to worry about, while “Suresh” continues to receive free personal care. Both the latter two measures were already introduced and sustained under the existing devolution settlement.

The fictional character in this imaginary community who attracts my attention the most however is “Barbara.” A publican, her life is transformed in an independent Scotland. How? She is “freed up from high business taxes and red tape.

Perpetuating the myth that business is overtaxed, the SNP has pledged to cut the main rate of corporation tax by up to three percentage points below the prevailing UK rate. It fails to mention that the main rate of corporation tax is only payable by big businesses with an annual profit of £1.5 million or more, meaning that “Barbara” would be exempt anyway.

The Malt and Barrel might be a thriving pub in 2020 but it is unlikely to be earning super profits of this order. As every trade unionist knows “freed up from red tape” is code for cuts to health and safety regulations or perhaps in this case food hygiene and environmental health regulations or maybe even licensing requirements.

There is a final part of this vision of Scotland in 2020 which concerns the pub’s workers who we are told are “happy and productive thanks to the new guarantee to raise the minimum wage at least in line with inflation.” So there we have it: a deregulated, minimum-wage society reliant on failed trickle-down economics where the burden of taxation shifts from big businesses to working people. Any trade unionist thinking of voting Yes should read this.

There is a much more audacious and radical vision if the people of Scotland vote No — one which appeals beyond naked self-interest to the wider well-being of community and class. It takes us back to out very roots as a movement.

It is one where we have economic as well as political democracy which is the very essence of socialism. It demands intervention at the level where economic power lies. Because the reality is that Scottish economic interests and working people’s jobs in Scotland are inseparable from those of England and Wales.

Scottish-based businesses export twice as much to the rest of the UK as they do to the whole of the rest of the world put together. In some industries like financial services it is ten times as much. Four out of five big businesses in Scotland are owned outside Scotland.

Most are either quoted on the London Stock Exchange or wholly owned subsidiaries of overseas-owned multinational corporations.

So while there is the possibility of voting for some form of political independence on September 18 it will not bring about economic independence. One without the other renders the hope of socialist transformational change a false one. As GDH Cole wrote:

In politics democracy can nibble, but it may not bite, and it will not be able to bite until the balance of economic power has been so changed as to threaten the economic dominance of capital.”

So it is only by acting across the whole of this unified and integrated economy that working people can bring about root-and-branch change.

A change that doesn’t just tinker with this or that policy but whose aim is a reconstruction of society itself and the relations of power within it.

As power relations are determined by economic relations that means above all a change to the balance of power between those who own the wealth in the economy and those who through their hard work and endeavour create that wealth.

It is a change which will provide for public utilities like electricity and gas, water, the Royal Mail and the railways to be publicly owned and accountable at the level which makes the most sense on the grounds of social justice, environmental sustainability and economic efficiency.

A change which will usher in an economy of the people for the people by the people, that means the equal participation of women and men in order to challenge economic power where it rests — in the City of London and where it is organised at the level of the British state, and where it is unleashed, in the workplace.

A change which will prioritise meaningful work for all in greening the economy and building a socially just society. Reducing social security spending not by attacking the poor but by enforcing a living wage not a minimum wage and by building again — not least the affordable council housing that we desperately need.

Exercising the power of public procurement as a force for common good and community benefit. A regional policy renaissance too as part of a new planned approach to the economy but within Britain in a co-operative manner rather than outside it in the competitive race to the bottom favoured by the nationalists.

A change built on the substantial but unrealised potential power of working people’s pension and insurance funds to control the commanding heights of the economy through direct democratic means.

New forms of industrial democracy too with statutory rights for workers to convert their employment into co-operative ownership and so grow economic democracy from the bottom up.

A change brought about not because profit-taking businesses are contributing less through taxation but rather more. And where change is manifested in greater wage solidarity and equality between those at the top and bottom of the pay scales of public as well as private corporations.

It is not a weakness but a strength that this kind of alternative political and economic strategy is being called for by trade unionists and those on the left of politics right across Britain. We have always had to counter the dominant ideas and culture from the sanctity of ownership to the iron rule of the market. And we must do it again.

History has shown us that we need hope and progressive ideas and so a vision. But we need to retain the means of realising that vision if it is to become more than a dream.

The shape of today’s Scottish economy demands that if the working people of Scotland are to have any control and ownership of it, as I believe we should, then continued political and formal democratic participation at a British level isn’t just sufficient it is wholly necessary for that change to come.

The people of Scotland are being offered a vision of change while being urged to vote in such a way will make it impossible to realise. That’s why they should vote No.

Richard Leonard is political officer and regional organiser at GMB Scotland. This article previously appeared at the Morning Star


  1. Robert says:

    That’s your view and your entitled to it me I’d be voting yes to independence. I was listening to ;labour in Scotland a few years ago they had become the Tories, we would bring in charges for prescriptions, we would charge student fees ,we would end the bus pass, we would be the Tories.

    For the GMB to be mouthing this maybe it’s time I left the Union.
    the time has come to show England they are now the master of the four nations they’d love to think they are.

  2. Syzygy says:

    Spot on analysis… a very welcome change from the usual. Thank you Richard Leonard.

  3. Mukkinese says:

    It seems to me that the yes camp are being very reckless.

    The U.K. have said again and again that there will be no currency union, their position could not be more clear. Yet the yes camp just pretend that means nothing.

    The idea that threatening to default on Scotland’s share of the debt will blackmail future chancellors into negotiating is a very risky proposition.

    If it does not work, the Scottish economy will drop like a pole-axed cow.

    If Scotland does manage to get the U.K. to agree to a currency union with this threat, the agreement will be very, very stringent and not in Scotland’s favour.

    Whatever happens, an independent Scotland must own it’s decisions.

    The U.K. has made it clear what it’s position is. If it sticks to that you cannot then point the finger of blame south.

    If it negotiates a currency union which puts Scotland in a financial straight-jacket, you cannot blame them for looking out for their own interests.

    It was your choice to become a separate country…

  4. David Pavett says:

    I agree that the case of Barbara and her pub is an indication of the conservative economic policies which would be pursued by the SNP if Scotland became independent. I thought at first that, even so, this argument against independence was a bit thin depending on a couple of lines in a popular pamphlet. But then I looked at the Independence White Paper and saw that the same point is hammered over and over again: Scotland will introduce “competitive business rates”. We all understand what that particular race to the bottom means. Not only that but the whole thing is illogical because the document also repeatedly claims that

    This government will continue our commitment to the Small Business Bonus which has reduced, or eliminated entirely, business rates for tens of thousands of properties across Scotland …“.

    I have not followed the debate closely beyond generally being an English admirer of Scotland and the Scots, having been to Scotland several times, having lots of Scottish friends, being a big fan of the Scottish Enlightenment, and generally wanting the union to remain. So I decided to look at the websites of the Yes campaign and that of Better Together.

    I have been critical of some of the negativity of the Better Together campaign but when you look at both these websites it seems to me that it is just no contest. The arguments for independence are very poor all the strong analyses and arguments are on the Better together side.

    I hope the Scots stay with the union. There is just something a bit crazy about breaking up a polity of people who are so obviously highly integrated and overwhelmingly sharing a common culture and language. I believe that were it not for New Labour and the poor state of the Scottish Labour Party we would never have reached this point.

  5. Peter Rowlands says:

    The article is faulty in that it seeks to deny that socialist goals could not be viably fought for in an independent Scotland,which they could. Having said that however such aims are more likely to be achieved for the whole of the current UK, including Scotland, within the current framework.

  6. swatantra says:

    Vote YES, and change the face of Scotland for the better. With independence comes pride and faith and responsibility in your country.

  7. David Melvin says:

    Why is the Labour party so frightened by democratic dialogue in Scotland? Scotland may have some hope of democratic change with independence. The union offers austerity and privatisation. Labour provide, with its threats to the Scottish people if they dare to vote for independence, political cover for its Tory allies. The three unionist parties deserve each other.

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