England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Scotland: What sort of independence movement do we need?

Last year’s Scottish elections produced a crushing mandate for independence. Showing the highest turnout in decades, a swing of mostly working-class people to the polls delivered a 63.2% turnout.

This has been the product of decades of both vicious attacks from numerous Tory governments and the failure of Scottish Labour to provide a viable alternative. The results indicated a deep desire to break from the disastrous legacy of Westminster rule. Hatred of Johnson and everything he represents is now so widespread in Scotland, that even the leadership of the Scottish Tories recognize he is a liability and have turned wholesale on him.


Support for independence has consistently wavered. Although current polling indicates a fifty-fifty split, which has been used by the capitalist media to simply say that a new indy referendum ‘could go either way’, this does not give the full picture. From 2013 to 2014, the Yes campaign was able to drive up support for independence by around 10 per cent in just one year, in spite of the relentless campaign from the British ruling class of ‘Project Fear’. Support for independence, according to polling in October 2020 brought ‘Yes’ to a shattering 13 per cent lead.

At the same time, in spite of recent troubles, the SNP and Sturgeon have managed to keep overall control in Holyrood. This has been achieved by a general approach of trying to run the SNP train on two tracks at once. With some positive but vague policies including talk of rent caps and a ‘National Care Service’, the SNP has managed to tap into a progressive mood within Scottish society. But the SNP remains a party, in terms of its leadership and those in charge, that remains deeply pro-capitalist. 

While they try to outflank Scottish Labour from the left verbally (not a high bar!) the approach of the Scottish government has unfortunately been marked by SNP-led councils passing cuts without more than a whimper of protest from them. The SNP in power have consistently sided against workers on strike, revealing a general approach of failing to confront the bosses’ system.

The current SNP-Green coalition agreement has continued to base itself on an approach of ‘convincing’ big business of the benefits of independence. Behind the sloganeering of new Finance Minister Kate Forbes about “unleashing Scotland’s entrepreneurial potential” is a promise to the billionaires of a safe future. 


While there is huge anger, discontent and potential for struggle among workers in Scotland, the SNP leadership has actually toned down its already-mild combativity, undergoing a further shift to the right. This has been met with significant discomfort from a growing section of SNP voters. In response, a section of particularly younger pro-independence voters have shifted their support to the Scottish Greens in the hopes of a left alternative. But despite occasional rhetoric of joint-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater putting ‘pressure’ on Sturgeon in government, they have more often instead used their positions to ‘greenwash’ capitalism. 

Only recently, the handing out of around £700m in lucrative private contracts to big polluters like Shell and BP for Scotwind was heralded as a ‘great success’. When Sturgeon herself came under pressure to avoid the creation of the polluting Cambo oilfield during COP26, the Greens generally kept quiet, stressing that their “hands were tied”, and that it was “beyond their control”. Now they remain mostly silent over the opening of the Abigail oilfield. 

While the new SNP-Green coalition has put plans for IndyRef2 on the agenda, they have made no meaningful steps to challenge the Tories’ refusal to allow one. The strategy of simply asking Westminster for a vote, and then taking the matter to the courts after they refuse to grant one will not be enough.

Next steps

More and more are growing frustrated with this approach which raises the question of the type of strategy needed to win a second referendum. Socialist Alternative calls for the building of a mass campaign for IndyRef2 in the streets, communities and workplaces, one which bases itself on the power of the working class and its methods of struggle in the form of strikes, occupations and mass demos to win democratic rights. 

Many of those that took part in mass protests around COP26  have drawn similar conclusions that they cannot rely on capitalist politicians, and that mass action is required to deliver real change. Likewise, workers in Scotland and beyond are coming to see their potential power. In the run-up to COP26, the inspiring action of Scotrail and Glasgow refuse workers pushed the SNP into conceding that, after all, the government did have the money to grant them a much-needed pay rise. 

The powerful model set by this trade union upsurge sets an example for workers from all sectors to demand an end to their exploitation. This includes strike action by transport workers over SNP-Green led Scotrail cuts along with fresh organising from Unite Hospitality in Scotland’s bars and venues. Balloting preparations are also currently underway by predominantly-women workers at Glasgow City Council, to begin ‘round two’ of a years-long fight for equal pay. 

These fights, while led over issues of workplace conditions, also provide a powerful base on which we can rebuild a worker-led movement to fight for socialist change in Scotland. Socialist Alternative will be out in solidarity with these workers, and will be recommending that all those in struggle organise mass meetings and conferences, where discussions can take place about building for common solidarity action. 

This could mark a step towards creating a new left-wing party of struggle, which could be built from the bottom-up by fighting around demands including independence and, linked to that, a socialist programme to unite working-class people and point a way out of the crises of capitalism.  

Socialist independence

Genuine freedom and self-determination for the Scottish people can never be achieved within a capitalist independent Scotland. Only through revolutionary change, by bringing our industries and economy into true democratic control of the majority as part of a common struggle for socialism in England, Wales, Ireland and beyond can we build a society that looks to the interests of people, not the CEOs and shareholders.

A socialist Scotland would nationalise, under democratic control and management, the major sectors of the economy – the energy, banks, finance, and transport sectors. This would immediately release billions from the pockets of the ruling class into the hands of the Scottish people to invest in a mass programme of green job creation to rebuild our public services while keeping our oil in the sea.


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