The right question

To balance John Foster’s sceptical piece about the “national conversation”, the Morning Star published the following:

Talking about independence (Wednesday 29 August 2007)
KEN FERGUSON on why the SSP welcomes Scotland’s new ‘national conversation.’

THE shock waves from new Labour’s May defeat in the Scottish elections and the advent of a minority SNP government in Holyrood are rapidly rewriting the rules in Scottish politics.

A series of progressive announcements on increased resources for schools, scrapping hospital closures and halting plans for a further private prison have all hit the spot with the public.

While nobody on the left will doubt that, at bottom, the SNP is pro-business, many voters will ask, as they review the record of the last eight years of Lab-Lib governments: “So what?”

Faced with this series of progressive moves, the reaction from the pro-unionist parties has been to form what amounts to an “unpopular front,” supposedly in opposition to independence and in defence of the union.

However, with the coronation of arch market forces fan Wendy Alexander to the leadership of new Labour, a wider agenda has started to break cover.

Earlier this week, press reports – clearly sourced from new Labour – told of moves to form what amounts to a unionist coalition to “seize the policy agenda” when Holyrood reconvenes in September.

The reality of any such moves, which are now being denied in true Mandelson fashion, would be a further rightward lurch, with Thatcher’s heirs and the opportunist Lib Dems linking with Alexander’s neoliberals.

The evidence of public reaction to the left-wing ideas put up by Salmond so far suggests that the public are not likely to find more pro-market ideas very welcome.

The background against which all this is played out is the launch by the SNP government of a white paper on independence – part of which is a “national conversation” on the issue.

Despite some criticism from the pro-unionist left, the truth is that the “conversation” is a deft move by an SNP which knows that it is outnumbered in voting terms in the Scottish Parliament.

By taking the debate beyond MSPs into wider civic society, the SNP is banking on swinging support in the direction of both forcing a referendum on independence and in favour of independence itself.

These developments take place at a point where, in terms of the Scottish Parliament, the forces of the left are at an eight-year low.

The split opened up by Tommy Sheridan’s libel case simply made the already difficult situation worse and contributed to all SSP and Solidarity MSPs – including Sheridan – losing their seats.

The abject failure of the Labour left to muster six MSPs to challenge the recent leadership election speaks volumes of the balance of forces there.

Faced with this difficult challenge, the SSP has both restated its support for an independent Scottish republic and pledged to fully engage with the debate around the national conversation.

Party branches are lobbying MSPs in favour of an independence referendum and raising the issue in street activity and in the party’s Scottish Socialist Voice paper.

The party’s position was set out in detail in a statement from the SSP executive, which said: “The Scottish Socialist Party welcomes the coming ‘national conversation’ on Scotland’s future.

“Unlike the three London-controlled parties, the Scottish Socialist Party is not afraid of a wide-ranging debate, followed by a democratic vote on Scotland’s future.”

Reaffirming support for independence, the statement spells out: “We believe Scotland would be economically, politically, culturally and socially better off making our own decisions and standing on our own two feet.

“We look forward to outlining our own unique vision for an independent socialist Scotland.

“In the meantime, the SSP will also support any steps to strengthen the Scottish Parliament short of full independence. We have called, for example, for Holyrood to have control over broadcasting, energy, fiscal policy, drugs and other matters that are currently reserved to Westminster.

“However, only full independence can rid Scotland of nuclear weapons, disentangle Scotland from the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, allow us to welcome refugees fleeing famine and persecution and enable Scotland to draw up its own democratic constitution fit for the 21st century.

“The SNP vision for independence would involve a ‘union of the crowns.’ The Scottish Socialist Party, in contrast, believes in sweeping away the remnants of feudalism, inherited power and class privilege which the monarchy symbolises.

“In the coming national conversation, we will be arguing strongly for an independent Scottish republic. The SSP believes that the fight for independence involves confronting powerful vested interests at the heart of the British Establishment.

“When they site their nuclear weapons here and rely disproportionately on our sons and daughters to stock their armies and die in their wars, it would be naive to imagine that the British state will be led gently down the slippery slope to full independence.

“We believe that the forces in favour of independence – including the SNP, the SSP, the Greens, the Independence Convention and Independence First – have a major battle on the hands to win the Scottish people decisively to the cause of Scottish independence.”

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