Scottish voters bring break up of Britain closer

Voters in the 2011 Holyrood election Scotland swung from parties right across the political spectrum to the Scottish National Party (SNP) to give them a majority in the next Scottish parliament. The primary reason was that they saw as large as possible SNP representation in the Scottish parliament as the best way of protecting Scotland against the Coalition’s £111 billion austerity programme of cuts and tax rises.

The secondary reason was to give the SNP the option if life became so unbearable under the coalition’s austere winter term of five years to go for an independence referendum and set Scotland up as an independent country based on a different set of principals which valued public services and care of all in society.

Not everyone thought this of course and only just over half of the electorate voted in the election with many believing no matter what party you have in Holyrood they would be unable to significantly stop the cuts.

But when the Scottish electorate looked to see who would be their bulwark against Cameron and Clegg’s assault on them they looked at Labour and what did they find? A party that had been partly responsible for the financial bubble and crisis and recession that has led to the cuts. A party whose solution to the debt crisis was to have its own austerity programme of £72 billion cuts and tax rises.

When they looked at the LibDems they saw a partner in the Butchers coalition who said there was no alternative to the debt burden but cuts in services and tax rises. When they looked at the small socialist parties they saw a fragmented left that has remained partly paralysed since November 2004 by the events surrounding Tommy Sheridan News of the World case and resulting trials. This was not helped by the appearance of George Galloway’s Respect party in Glasgow which was backed by sections of the left. His pro-union stance, pledge to back Labour and opportunist exploitation of the sectarian issue in Scotland fell on deaf ears and he failed to even get half the votes he needed to get elected.

Even Tory supporters deserted their party, albeit in smaller numbers than the LibDems, for the SNP.

Only the Greens held on to their seats and increased their vote as they offered the only coherent unified alternative to the cuts with promises of wealth redistribution and taking control of the banks.

The SNP offered no real alternative to the cuts either but talked blandly about defending Scotland’s interests. The cuts were in effect the elephant in the room for the major parties in these elections. They all talked of job creation when they all knew that jobs were already being lost and up to 100,000 public sector and many tens of thousands of private jobs would go in Scotland over the course of the Coalition’s five year term of austerity.

Instead the SNP focused on extending their five year council tax freeze which has already cost the public sector about £240 million in cuts – and they dropped their alternative to it a progressive local income tax. They made no mention of their up and coming two year public sector freeze – in effect a 10% pay cut with inflation running at 5% a year. There was no mention of their administering and managing of the Coalition’s £1.3 billion cut to the block grant for 2011/212.

Of course there is much worse to come in the way of cuts for Scotland. By the end of Coalition’s term in May 2015 the annual cut to the block grant will be in the region of £6.4 billion – 20% or 25% adjusted for inflation. On top of that £1.6 billion will have to be cut off the National Health Service budget to match the efficiency savings that are being made in England. Interesting deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon is already openly talking about the need for the NHS in Scotland to make efficiency savings.

Here in the coalition’s cuts programme lies the SNP’s strategy. It will be five years to the next Scottish election because a four year cycle would mean it would clash with the next Westminster one in 2015. By then the cuts will have gone deep and may have to be even deeper under the Coalition or possibly the IMF’s auspices. Under the Coalition’s best case scenario – which is likely to prove too optimistic – public debt is set to grow to 105% of real GDP by 2015 and the annual interest payments alone will eat up 20% of our annual tax revenues.

With the SNP saying they are not to blame for the cuts – they are the Coalition’s brainchild to solve Labour’s mess – they will call a referendum on independence saying that the only way out of this mess is if Scotland has full independence and fiscal powers. They are about to start a fight with the Coalition over the Scotland bill which is shortly to have its third reading in Westminster and has had legislative approval by the Scottish parliament at the start of 2011. It cuts basic and higher taxation by half while at the same time cutting the central grant by £11 billion a year to Scotland.

Restoring the tax rates to their original level will only bring in an additional £6 billion in revenue leaving a £5 billion shortfall to the block grant. The Scottish Parliament can raise the tax rates higher than in the rest of UK to avoid the shortfall. But the aim of the whole bill is to open up the door to implement the cuts the coalition needs to make in Scotland while shifting the blame for them onto the Scottish parliament – you can have cuts or tax rises.

There are two dangers to this strategy. One the Scottish people rise up against this austerity programme and say to the SNP: do something now about these cuts and tax rises. Two, the SNP have no programme to fill the £8 billion gap (£10 billion in real terms) in public spending by the time of possible independence in 2016 apart form a Celtic Tiger mark II economy. A solution to the spending gap would require amongst other thing taking North Sea Oil and the banks under public control and ownership, a rich tax on the super wealthy and progressive local and national taxation where the better off pay considerably more than the less well off. Of course the SNP is not prepared to do this and upset their corporate friends or wealthy and better off voters.

This gives the best opportunity for the left in Scotland to argue that there should be no cuts not just under independence but now. Secondly to put forward a programme that makes the rich and wealthy pay for this crisis and takes the wealth and power under peoples’ control in Scotland.

That way we can push the march towards the break of the British capitalist state not just into independence for Scotland but a Scottish Socialist Workers Republic that will inspire and be copied by others on these islands.

Ralph Blake

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