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IT IS sometimes hard to remember, given the constant repetition by the SNP leadership that “Scotland voted to Remain” in the 2016 Brexit referendum, that more than one million Scots, 1,018,322, voted for Britain to leave the EU, more than the 977,569 who voted for the SNP in the 2017 general election.
Incidentally, another little bit of obfuscation that Nicola Sturgeon and her acolytes like to indulge in is that the terms of the referendum allow us to assume how Scotland, if it were not part of Britain, would vote on EU membership. How many times have you heard Scottish Nationalists complain about Scotland “being dragged out of Europe?”
Given EU conditions on membership, for example on public spending limits which will be discussed below, assuming Scotland would vote for membership of the EU based on the 2016 vote when it was the membership of the United Kingdom that was being considered is either politically naive or politically dishonest.
SNP enthusiasm for EU membership no matter what also signals that the Sturgeon leadership is prepared to ditch the 36 per cent of SNP voters who voted Leave, the vast majority of whom are likely to be working class, according to Ashcroft’s survey.
This is unlikely to worry the Sturgeon faction, however. The socialist-free polity that the EU guarantees is an extremely important safeguard to the increasingly neoliberal politics of the SNP leadership should they win a second independence referendum, and the ascendant SNP right wing believe that the road to victory depends on a blatant appeal to Scotland’s middle class self-interest.
The flag of freedom for capitalist expropriation was first raised in the so-called “growth commission” last spring. It was written by ex-SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, a corporate lobbyist and former PR man for the Edinburgh financial industry.
The Star gave it considerable, critical, coverage but by way of a reminder, the report, full title “Scotland: A New Case For Optimism,” conceded that an independent Scotland would take up to 25 years to match the economic performance of countries like Denmark, New Zealand and Norway. It outlined a 10-year plan to cut Scotland’s likely £13.3 billion deficit arguing that increased growth would mitigate the inevitable and significant reduction in public spending.
For the first time in a long time, there was sharp criticism of the SNP leadership from within the independence movement. Jonathon Shafi, co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign, said in the Scotsman:
“The report advocates tight fiscal discipline, reducing an independent Scotland’s prospective deficit to no more than 3 per cent in the first five to 10 years, and lower than the growth rate during the transition period. This means reducing public spending to satisfy the City of London, who an independent Scottish Finance Minister would have to answer to.”
Actually, the deficit reduction seems more likely to be an effort to meet EU rules. They state that no member may have a budget deficit larger than 3 per cent of gross domestic product or debt above 60 per cent of GDP, more underpinning for any nervous middle class soul tempted to vote for independence but concerned that it might lead to an orgy of public spending resulting in a sufficiency of decent schools and hospitals and an efficient and cheap public transport system.
And just in case any class conscious Scottish capitalist is worrying about a radical trade union movement driving up wages in an independent Scotland in the EU, George Kerevan former SNP MP and critic of the “Growth Commission” wrote in Scottish Left Review:
“Scottish productivity and growth rates would be tied to England’s unless — and this is key — we were to try to reduce wage costs directly through a combination of austerity and liberal market labour ‘reforms’.”
A Scotland committed to limiting trade union rights in order boost profits would be completely at home in the EU. In 2011, the European Council approved the Euro Plus Pact. This committed eurozone countries and six others to the introduction of national laws governing employment. It entirely debunks the myth, even if we had not witnessed the attacks on Greek trade union rights, that the EU is somehow “union friendly.”
The Euro Plus Pack required the review of wage-setting arrangements, removing centralised collective bargaining, ending wage indexing and “rebalancing” wage settlements so that “the public sector supports the competitiveness efforts in the private sector.”
However, Left Nationalist critics are going to find moving the Sturgeon clique on this issue very difficult, because the overt pitch to middle-class Scotland that the constitutional protection of capitalism (to borrow a phrase from Danny Nicol) that the EU offers appears to be working.
Recent polling analysed by Professor John Curtice suggests that attitudes towards the EU and support for independence have become interdependent. Last year those who had voted Remain were evenly divided between Yes and No to independence; those who had voted Leave were opposed to independence by almost two to one. Recent polls, however, suggest that support for independence has increased slightly and this has been entirely among Remain supporters. It has not changed in relation to leave supporters.
It would be reasonable to assume then, that some Scottish Remainers are being persuaded that their interests are best served in an independent Scotland that will ensure their economic security through membership of the neoliberal EU.
That means that a sizeable section of the Leave working class have been abandoned. The Scottish Labour Party should see this as an opportunity to consolidate support for class politics among those voters.
To do that, it needs to dispel the myths about the benign nature of the EU, expose its neoliberal core and promote the excellent, radical programme that is being developed by the Scottish Labour Party. The EU’s purpose is the defence and expansion of European corporate capitalism. Labour’s is the defence and advance of the international working class. Its about time we not only said that, but did it.
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