‘I can confirm today that the Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week’ announced Nicola Sturgeon to a standing ovation from her Party Conference in Glasgow.
But wait! Isn’t this the same ‘Draft’ Bill she unveiled last month in her ‘legislative programme’ for Holyrood? And isn’t it the Bill that is to be discussed for a year containing no specified date for a second referendum? And isn’t that referendum merely ‘consultative’ lacking the legal validity of the 2014 vote? And if passed isn’t the Bill to be stuck in her handbag and used only if a majority for Independence magically materialises?
What, many will ask, is the SNP doing to advocate the case for Independence now and to effectively counter Unionist arguments. For it has not done so for two years. Rather it puts its own party interests ahead of the independence cause.
Despite the nationalists winning two consecutive General Elections in Scotland support for Independence has not grown. Indeed the latest poll by BMG for The Herald [13/10/16] has it falling. In the aftermath of the EU Referendum in June 59% said they’d back Independence. Now it is down to 45%.
‘Indyref2 before 2019 to keep Scotland in the EU’ ran the newspaper headlines on her speech. But the BMG poll also found 47% are against holding another Referendum with only 38% in favour. Three quarters of those against the vote said BREXIT makes no difference. BMG research director Dr Michael Turner concluded ‘The poll shows the EU is no game changer’ confirming the SSP’s view that to win ‘INDYREF2’ the YES campaign must convince on the issues affecting the day to day lives of Scotland’s working class majority.
The SNP has confused public anger over ‘the democratic deficit’ on June 23rd with a misplaced affection for the anti-democratic neo-liberal EU in Brussels. More worryingly for a First Minister with an outsized passion for the EU the evidence shows most Scots will not vote for Independence simply to remain inside that bureaucracy! The passion Nicola Sturgeon displays for the EU reveals above all her loyalty to Scotland’s big business interests not ‘its people’.
More and more voters are asking when they see the SNP’s motto in primus ‘Standing up for Scotland’, what ‘Scotland’ do they mean? For, as the recently published figures for multiple deprivation show, they are not ‘standing up’ for Scotland’s working class communities.
Nicola Sturgeon’s obsession with the EU signifies first her party’s economic neo-liberal orthodoxy. And second reveals the SNP’s Right-wing is far stronger than it’s Left-wing. She would do well to heed the warnings from observers like Martin Jacques [‘The Observer’ 18/09/16] that the economic and political dominance of neo-liberalism may be coming to an end. The huge support for Sanders, Corbyn, Syriza and Podemos on the left and Trump, Le Pen and Brexit on the right represent a popular backlash against neo-liberalism and a desire for profound improvement in people’s living standards. Such ‘inchoate expressions of resentment’ as Jacques puts it, are railed against the very economic orthodoxy the SNP supports. Their economic policies widen inequalities, push down real incomes for the masses, proscribes public ownership and compels the ‘marketization’ of public services with taxes on business and the rich discouraged.
The election of Angus Robertson MP as SNP Deputy Leader came as no surprise. His victory will have cheered party chiefs at Jackson’s Close for it endorses their orthodox neo-liberal economics. Known as ‘Mr NATO’ by his critics and firmly on the Right of the party, Robertson saw off two left wing challengers with ease in the ballot of 125,000 members. The result tells us a great deal about the political balance of forces inside the nationalist party.
It is ironic that having won mass popular support for not being Labour, for not being the party most closely associated with neo-liberalism, the SNP is in the same ideological camp. They won Parliamentary seats on the promise of ‘standing up’ to the excesses of neo-liberalism. But they have not done so. They advocate rather than ‘attack’ this hegemonic doctrine of corporate capitalism and in doing so they jeopardise the prospects of Independence.
Only by delivering the message of change working class voters need can the SNP secure the second Independence vote. But their passion for the neo-liberal EU and the outlandish claims they have made on its nature, on their place in the BREXIT negotiations and on stopping Scotland’s departure from it, exposes their real agenda. ‘Scotland’s business community’ has the SNP in its pocket and, as Kenny McAskill has recently admitted, produced ‘timid and managerial’ ambitions from the First Minister after two years in office. Such criticism is entirely valid even if it comes from a former Minister who did little to confront this ‘managerialism’ himself over the past 10 years. Nonetheless he is right to conclude a majority cannot be won for Independence on such a neo-liberal prospectus.