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VOICES OF SCOTLAND Young people don’t hate democracy, they hate capitalism

Scotland’s youth face a democratic crisis and the left have to present the answer, writes JOHNNIE HUNTER

A PROMINENT study published towards the end of 2020 through Cambridge University made the stark discovery: “This is the first generation in living memory to have a global majority who are dissatisfied with the way democracy works while in their twenties and thirties.”

This has received significant coverage in parts of Scotland’s media and academia. 

The study found that “in almost every global region it is among 18 to 34-year-olds that satisfaction with democracy is in steepest decline.” 

These findings apply to Western capitalist countries in general and Scotland and Britain in particular. 

The truth is that Scotland, just like Britain as a whole, isn’t a democracy and never has been. 

The ruling-class parliamentary system they have constructed is set up to obscure who holds the real power and give the illusion of real democracy. 

That is what young people in both Scotland and Britain are turning their backs on.

Scotland’s political system has all the same hallmarks of corruption as we see in Westminster, from “preferential treatment” for political donors, to tap-on-the-shoulder appointments in the Civil Service and the millions handed to profiteering private-sector firms during the pandemic. 

The Scottish government is riddled with the vested interests operating within and as paymaster to the SNP. 

The SNP’s online party conference at the end of 2020 had a wide array of corporate sponsors, including Coca-Cola, the Rail Delivery Group, Heathrow Airport and — most tellingly — the City of London Corporation.

The big business links of the SNP have been well documented, including by former SNP MP George Kerevan. 

The SNP’s so-called Commission on Sustainable Growth is headed by Andrew Wilson, a corporate PR consultant who was working at RBS at the time of the 2008 financial crash. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appointed another former RBS banker, former CEO of Tesco Bank and current chair of Buccleuch Estates, Benny Higgins as the head of the economic advisory group on post-Covid-19 recovery. 

The SNP has actively sponsored landlordism, appointing Gerry More, housing industry insider, former director of Cala Homes and current director of the Stewart Milne Group, as private rental sector champion.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has also been filled with representatives of the oil, energy and investment industries. 

These are just a snapshot of the real interests behind Sturgeon and the SNP. 

In Scotland, too, the privately owned monopoly media plays a fundamental role in keeping the whole pantomime running.

Narrowing the scope of political debate to the always right-wing “centre ground,” lowering the general political and intellectual level of public discussion and distracting and dividing working people by promoting racist and xenophobic or reductive nationalist views. 

The easy ride the SNP government has received from across the whole spectrum of the “mainstream” media is clear to anyone willing to see it. 

Scotland has the worst mortality rate in Europe during this pandemic, second only to England, but Sturgeon has largely escaped criticism. 

This has been the case even before and certainly since the infamous endorsement of the SNP by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun in 2015.

What little local democracy that once existed in this country that allowed councils to make progressive changes for working people has been viciously stripped away.

The SNP has built on foundations set by the Tories and has energetically centralised government and shackled local authorities in Scotland, all in an effort to ensure their right-wing economic model and European Union diktats are adhered to. 

But young people in Scotland aren’t just rejecting this corrupted and anti-democratic political set-up.

They’re rejecting the outcomes of an economic system which has proven itself unable and unwilling to protect the lives and dignity working people, a system which can only prioritise increasing the wealth of a shrinking number of multibillionaires.

This was confirmed in the Cambridge University study, which found that “globally, as the first millennials began university at the turn of the century, satisfaction with democracy was higher than in their parents’ generation.

“It fell sharply following the financial crisis of 2008, with millennials losing faith harder and faster than older generations.”

The past 13 years of crippling austerity in Scotland and Britain have seen the so-called democratic institutions of this country implement an anti-working-class and anti-youth agenda.

This has created an epidemic among young people of poverty, precarity and mental health problems.

It is no surprise that the youth have little faith left in Scotland’s ruling-class parliamentary system — in fact it would be worrying if they did.

The challenge for the left and the trade union movement in 2021 is to take up mantle of the true advocates of democracy and popular sovereignty in Scotland.

These issues are real and already with us. Ruling-class politicians are able to consistently push through anti-worker and unpopular measures with an air of legitimacy because less than 20 per cent of the population voted SNP in the last Scottish election or Tory in the last general election.

Companies are allowed to sack workers, shut down entire industries and communities at will — the Caley and BiFab being just two recent examples.

Why? Because the SNP and Tory governments and their courts say they can.

Disillusionment with capitalism is an opportunity for the left but it also presents challenges.

Capitalism thrives on political apathy among young people. The right wing is seeking to capitalise on this disillusionment to take working people towards dead-ends.

Now is the time to make bold arguments for progressive federalism for the peoples of Britain, to demand the revival of local democracy and the proper return and use of powers from the European Union to the devolved parliaments. 

A failure to do so will see the left and trade union movement sleepwalk into another binary referendum where the choice will be between neoliberal politics imposed from Westminster or an SNP independence in name only which would actually mean surrendering more powers than ever before to Brussels and a decade of austerity on a Greek scale.

Johnnie Hunter is general secretary of the Young Communist League.


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