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The youth vote has been important in the battle of ideas surrounding the Scottish independence debate, particularly since the Scottish government rightly made the decision to grant 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in this referendum.
This is something that the Young Communist League supports, and we argue that it should be extended to all elections. Given the current economic climate there is a lot at stake for young people, and it will be my generation which inherits the fallout from this vote. However, neither of the major campaigns has addressed the roots of the issues currently facing young people.
And what are the issues?
Youth unemployment is still running at around 18 per cent across the UK. Benefit sanctions are increasingly meted out with no regard to a family or individual’s welfare.
This is forcing many off the welfare system completely, resulting in the need for foodbanks skyrocketing across Britain.
Graduates are leaving university with debt running into the tens of thousands and little hope of a job.
According to research published earlier this year by recruitment agency Total Jobs, nearly 40 per cent of graduates are looking for work six months after graduating, while a quarter are still unemployed after a year.
These figures also mask those working on zero-hours contracts in highly exploitative industries and those stuck in their “stop gap,” working mostly in the retail sector on 12 and 16-hour contracts for considerably less than the living wage, and forced to move back in with their parents.
The opportunities to organise trade unions in these workplaces is in my experience extremely difficult.
Trade unions are not recognised at many of these workplaces, and where they are the agreements are dominated by compliant trade unions and partnership agreements, which basically denies workers the right to strike or take action short of a strike.
Also if you’re constantly reliant on your boss giving you, and not someone else, overtime on top of your 12 hours, you need to show willing.
This makes it difficult for workers to raise their heads above the parapet and creates a race to the bottom.
It erodes existing rights within the workplace. Workers have to be constantly available for overtime, and workers who are reliant on overtime often need to be “helpful” to their employer.
Workers often stay on later for no extra money, or work through their breaks.
Young people are so desperate for jobs that when they finally get one it is hard to break their feelings of helplessness and “doff your cap to the boss” mentality.
Internationally the Westminster government, together with Nato and the EU, continues to play a bloody role on the global stage.
Eleven years after the illegal invasion of Iraq, which brought young people out onto the streets in their tens of thousands, it is clear that the occupation has done little except radicalise a generation of Islamic extremists and bring misery and uncertainty to millions of Iraqis.
In Ukraine the EU-Nato-US alliance has used its wealth and influence to back an openly fascist coup, resulting in the deaths of many workers and anti-fascists.
The Communist Party of Ukraine, which has the democratic mandate of 2.5 million Ukrainians, is facing a concerted bid to ban it — a court decision is due this month — and its MPs have been removed from parliament.
Israel is waging an all-out offensive against the Palestinian people and is currently shelling schools and hospitals and other UN safe zones. A huge number of the casualties have been children.
So what are the Scottish National Party’s plans to address these domestic and international issues young people face?
After all it is currently leading the Scottish government, and is the only major party with a plan in the event of a Yes vote.
It will be the SNP leading the charge on the domestic front, and it will be the SNP leading the negotiations on the international treaties.
To say the SNP is irrelevant when the Scottish people gave it a democratic mandate in the last Scottish Parliamentary elections is clearly not in line with reality.
University students from Scotland and most of the EU already don’t pay tuition fees, but will there be money to continue to fund schools and universities, the NHS, the welfare state and the rest of the public sector?
To make an independent Scotland business-friendly the SNP plans to cut corporation tax, which will reduce its income from that source by some 15 per cent.
If we remain in the sterling zone, which is looking unlikely, it will mean that the interest and borrowing rates will be set by the Bank of England, over which the people of Scotland will no longer have any democratic mandate.
If Scotland adopts the euro, borrowing will be capped by the undemocratic and anti-worker European “troika” — the EU, IMF and European Central Bank — which has inflicted misery on the lives of millions of young people across the eurozone.
A Scottish currency remains prohibitively expensive.
In any case, the Scottish government’s desire to remain in the EU will mean that the public sector will still be subject to the EU’s competition laws and the NHS will still come under the remit of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
This will force the Scottish government to put contracts out and accept the lowest bidder — or risk being sued by multinational companies.
Will work in the low-paid, casualised economy change in an independent Scotland?
The SNP recently voted down the Labour Party’s initiative to make private companies taking up government contracts pay the living wage, which is not a promising sign.
More importantly, the SNP’s white paper explicitly promotes class collaboration in the form of partnership agreements.
This will not strengthen industrial democracy but will weaken workers and their trade unions and their ability to challenge austerity, as has happened in Ireland.
What about the international agenda?
Many on the left side of the Yes campaign have claimed that a Yes vote will “break Britain” and smash its centuries-old imperialist agenda.
However, it is clear that an independent Scotland will retain its membership of the increasingly militaristic and undemocratic EU and Nato, meaning we will continue to be tied to those military agendas in eastern Europe and across the world.
It is clear that despite pressure from groups such as the Radical Independence Campaign the SNP’s policies have remained right-wing. This is unlikely to change in the event of a Yes vote.
At different times and to varying degrees young people in Britain have begun to reject the politics of austerity and imperialism.
The huge student protests in 2010 and 2011 briefly politicised young people and made the parliamentary vote much closer than it would have otherwise been.
Subsequent protests and the Occupy movement have been receptive to anti-capitalist politics, but the labour movement so far has not capitalised on them.
Six weeks ago 50,000 marched in London against austerity under the banner of the People’s Assembly.
There have been huge demonstrations across Britain against the atrocities Israel has been committing against Palestinian people.
The public are angry at Westminster’s role in supporting and arming Israel, and the mass media for its complicity in justifying it.
The Scottish government should be commended for calling on Westminster to mount an arms embargo. However, this is not an argument for independence. By remaining part of Britain, devolved structures can mount pressure on Westminster policy, and so are more likely to effect a global change.
These recent protests show that England does not need Scotland to lead the way.
What the working class of Scotland, England and Wales needs is mutual campaigns which target its common enemy: big business owned and organised at a British level.
If we are going to effectively mount campaigns against austerity and privatisation, if we are going to keep the NHS and the rest of the public sector out of the hands of the EU and TTIP, then this will need to be done at a British level.
If we are going to challenge Britain’s neoliberal and imperialist global stance, then this needs to be fought at a British level.
When young people are tentatively looking for alternatives to capitalism, to offer nationalism as an alternative to socialism is to lead a generation up a blind alley.
Zoe Hennessy is general secretary of the Young Communist League.
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