An Open Letter to a socialist supporter of the SNP

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Dear Jimmy,

A few weeks ago we carried a series of articles arguing for a Labour vote rather than a Green vote in the general election.

The arguments in the articles were all very calm, cool and collected, a series of reflections on the fact that whatever the apparent attractiveness of – at least some – Green policies might be, this did not justify calling for a vote for the Greens.

But when it comes to arguing with people like yourself – socialists who are calling for a vote for the SNP in the general election – I don’t think that the same measured and moderate approach is justified.

That’s because I think you’ve simply lost the plot.

It’s true, I admit, that this isn’t a conclusion I’ve reached overnight. It’s a conclusion which I began to reach during last year’s referendum campaign, when your eyes started to glaze over at the prospect of Scottish independence.

From a socialist point of view, your arguments made no sense at all. You seemed to argue – in fact, you did argue – that the referendum was an opportunity to pass judgement on all the bad things British imperialism and the British state has done over the past 300 years.

(As part of the imperialist centre, Scotland had been just as “guilty” of all those bad things as Britain. But that basic historical fact, like so much else, simply passed you by.)

You also argued that the very existence of the British state was an obstacle to democratic and working-class advance in Scotland. (It was the only time that the working class got even a passing mention in your delirious pro-independence outpourings.)

I don’t know if you came up with that argument yourself, or whether it’s something you picked up from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) website: “The single biggest obstacle to the Scottish people building a better society is the British state, the Westminster regime, the Crown powers.”

(If you did pick it up from the SSP website, I’m surprised that someone who prides himself on being a class-struggle socialist didn’t find anything odd about this statement. Such as the reference to “the Scottish people” rather than the Scottish (or British) working class. Or the vague reference to “a better society” rather than to workers power and socialism.)

Either way, your argument didn’t make sense.

The British state and the “Westminster regime” can hardly be said to be impervious to reform. In fact, they’ve been subject to quite a lot of reforms over the past 300 years.

How else, for example, could there be such a thing as the universal franchise? Something of a step forward, I’m sure you’d agree, compared with the franchise which existed in Scotland (and England) in 1707.

Sure, the British state is an obstacle to achieving workers power. And it certainly does contain feudal leftovers, such as the Crown powers, which are absent in other states.
But the reason why the British state is an obstacle is not because it’s British or because the Houses of Parliament are located in Westminster rather than Milton Keynes. It’s because it’s a capitalist state, and that’s why capitalist states exist.

It’s not really a difficult argument to get your head around.

Your argument – and that of the SSP – that Scottish independence was a necessity because of the nature of the British state struck me at the time as being about as logical as arguing for independence for Bavaria because Article 14 of the German constitution guarantees private property.

Or arguing for independence for Texas because: a) it has a lot of oil (cf. Scotland); b) it would be a blow against US imperialism (cf. blow against British imperialism). In fact, I do recall some members of the SSP advocating independence for Texas for precisely those reasons.

But there was one thing you were crystal-clear about during the referendum campaign.

You did NOT support the SNP. You had NOTHING IN COMMON with the SNP. You were a socialist, NOT a nationalist. It was a GROSS SLANDER to suggest that you were accommodating to the SNP and to nationalism in calling for a ‘Yes’ vote.

But now you’re calling a vote for the SNP.

I will say, however: credit where credit’s due. At least you’re open about calling for a vote for the SNP. Unlike all those people in and around the ‘Radical’ Independence Campaign who are backing the SNP but too shamefaced (and dishonest) to admit it.

Some people might regard it as an impolite way to put it, but I’ll say it anyway: your arguments for a vote for the SNP for garbled, incoherent and completely off-the-wall. (In that sense, I would concede, they are a ‘logical’ extension of your call for a ‘Yes’ vote.)

Argument number one: Labour are Red Tories. There’s no difference between Labour and the Tories.

Not much to say in response to this. Other than that it shows just how far removed you are from reality. To say that Labour’s policies are woefully inadequate is true, and I’d agree with you if that was your argument. But to argue that there’s simply no difference is really quite whacky.

In fact, given Labour policies such as increasing the higher rate of income tax, increasing corporation tax, introducing a mansion tax, taxing bankers’ bonuses, and limiting the use of zero hours contracts, the difference between Labour and Tory policies is probably greater than it has been at any point over the last twenty years.

(I agree to your inevitable objection: Given how far to the right Labour shifted under Blair, it’s not difficult to move to the left from that starting point. But that shift has taken place and needs to be registered.)

And even if there really was no difference between Labour and the Tories – as if trade unions have 50% of the vote at Tory Party conferences! – this would, at most, be a reason not to vote Labour. It would not be a reason to vote SNP instead.

Argument number two: Getting more SNP MPs to Westminster would keep a Labour government on the left and ensure it implemented what the SNP calls its progressive policies.

Logic never was your strong point, was it?

If Labour are Red Tories (argument number one), then there is no way the SNP could push them to the left (argument number two). And if Labour are Red Tories (argument number one), then how could they have progressive policies which could be implemented only thanks to a contingent of SNP MPs (argument number two)?

There’s also the obvious point that you don’t get a Labour government unless lots of people vote Labour (including voting for Labour candidates far removed from socialist politics). Voting SNP instead of Labour makes the chances of a Labour government (which the SNP would supposedly push to the left) less likely.

Yes, the Labour right wing in Scotland is making a big thing out of this argument. And yes, you and the SNP can accuse them of scaremongering (just as in the referendum anyone who pointed out that the SNP’s sums did not add up was accused of scaremongering).

But that does not alter the fact that more seats for the SNP mean less chance of a Labour government and more chance of a Tory government.

Your argument number two also has no more in common with reality than your argument number one.

Example one: Since last September Labour has had a policy of increasing corporation tax (unfortunately by just 1%). SNP policy throughout the referendum campaign was that an independent Scotland would cut corporation tax by 3%. This policy was abandoned by the SNP only last month.

A straightforward question: Has Labour adopted a policy of increasing corporation tax under pressure from the SNP? Or has the SNP dropped its policy of cutting corporation tax to con Labour voters into believing that a contingent of SNP MPS would ensure a Labour government implement its progressive policies?

(In this case: a progressive policy which the SNP still does not support, even if, for the last four weeks, it has abandoned support for a cut in corporation tax.)

Example two: In January 2014 Labour announced that it would restore the 50% rate of income tax for top earners. The SNP has consistently rejected that policy: there would be no tax rises in an independent Scotland. This policy of no 50% tax rate was dropped by the SNP just one week ago.

Another straightforward question: Did Labour decide to restore the 50% tax rate under pressure from the SNP? Or is the SNP’s one-week old support for the 50% tax rate another attempt to con Labour voters into switching to voting SNP?

And the SNP’s promises to work with Labour in Westminster but – heaven forbid! – NEVER with the Tories does not sit very well alongside their record in Holyrood.

Or did you miss that interview with Annabelle Goldie (former Tory leader in Holyrood) in the “Daily Record”, the one where she said:

“They (the SNP) were quite happy to work with us when they needed to. Alex Salmond knew he could not get agreement from Labour. When he had to get support for his budget, I don’t remember him jumping up and down and saying he cannot do business with the Tories.

Alex Salmond took those Tory votes and Alex Salmond was glad to get them. What suited him in 2007 and 2008 and in the ensuing years of minority government is the very thing now he says he’ll have no truck with.”

The SNP is not a political force to push a Labour government to the left. In words of one syllable, John McDonnell (leader of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs) explained why not in an article in the “Daily Record” last week:

“Given their track record in Scotland of supporting cuts in public spending, their attempts to race to the bottom on tax and in privatising rail and now the ferries, there is a huge divide between what socialists in the Labour Party stand for and the nationalists of the SNP.

What we (the Labour Left) want are the exact opposite of the cuts and privatisation programmes inflicted on the Scottish people by the SNP. You can’t be an austerity party in Scotland and expect to be taken seriously as an anti-austerity party anywhere else.

A vote for the SNP is a vote for their version of austerity. Worse, voting for the SNP might help the Tories stay in power. That would be a massive blow for the working class in Scotland and England.”

In fact, it’s really quite sad – although I think a more aggressive expression would not be out of place – to see SSP members out on the streets campaigning to unseat Labour MPs who share John McDonnell’s politics.

Do you really think that unseating Katy Clark and replacing her by an SNP right-winger is going to: a) help bring about a Labour government; b) push that Labour government to the left?

Argument number three: Voting SNP and sending as many SNP MPs as possible to Westminster is a way to fight back against austerity.

That’s an odd argument.

Just seven months ago you were telling me that there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that you could fight austerity at Westminster, that austerity was INSEPARABLE FROM the very existence of the British state, and that’s why Scotland HAD TO ACHIEVE independence.

But now you’re telling me that you can fight austerity at Westminster after all! It all depends on who gets elected and on the basis of what politics! I suppose I should be flattered that you now agree with one of my anti-independence arguments, even if it’s taken you seven months to get round to parroting it.

But now you’ve come up against a new problem: the SNP’s own record of ‘fighting’ austerity. Because, for all their demagogy, soundbites and rhetoric, their ‘opposition’ to austerity consists of implementing it.

Since 2007 the SNP have cut 130,000 places in Further Education colleges, the main route for working-class youth into Higher Education. That’s why class inequalities in Scottish education have remained unchanged under the SNP.

More cuts have been imposed on the fire service under the SNP than under any other Holyrood government. The SNP member who was the FBU’s Scottish Regional Secretary got his just rewards for agreeing to those cuts by being booted out of office last year, losing the election by 20% to 80%.

There is a chronic shortage of nurses in the Scottish NHS. Accident and Emergency (A&E) services in the Scottish NHS are in a state of crisis, performing even worse than in England. More people are waiting longer for A&E treatment.

But the SNP government’s spending on the NHS remains proportionately lower than the Con-Dem coalition’s. What has increased under the SNP is spending on private healthcare – up by 47% since 2011, amounting to £100 millions.

Since 2007 Scottish government funding of local authorities has been cut by 24% in real terms, even though, using the SNP’s own figures, the cut in the Westminster grant to Scotland has been less than half that (10%). SNP-controlled councils have passed on those funding cuts by axing jobs and services.

SNP-controlled Dundee Council is currently implementing £8 millions worth of cuts. The SNP-Labour coalition in Edinburgh is now imposing £22 millions worth of cuts, axing 1,200 council jobs, and withdrawing £11 millions of funding for voluntary sector organisations.

When the Procurement Reform Bill was going through Holyrood the SNP voted down Labour amendments requiring that at least the Living Wage was paid by any employer awarded a public contract (although, to better masquerade as the workers’ friend, the SNP has now changed its policy on the Living Wage as well).

This is not the record of a party committed to fighting austerity. It’s the record of a party which implements austerity.

And the SNP’s demand for Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland (FFA, which is what the SNP really wants from the next Westminster government) would mean more austerity.

The last Institute for Fiscal Studies report and the last Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report both confirm that replacing the Barnett Formula by FFA would result in an annual shortfall of around £6.5 billions. This could be plugged only by tax rises or spending cuts involving massive job losses.

In the referendum campaign the SNP’s answer to this shortfall was: oil. But since last September the price of oil has fallen from $110 a barrel to $50 a barrel.

The SNP’s figures never stack up. But they carry on regardless. And when anyone points this out, the response from people like you is: Scaremongering!

Argument number four: Voting SNP, sending SNP MPs to Westminster instead of Labour ones, and the resulting hung Parliament will create new openings for working-class and socialist politics.

This is no more than your referendum refrain of ‘an independent Scotland will create openings for the working class’ applied to the general election. Now we’re supposed to believe that replacing Labour MPs by SNP ones is going to boost working-class politics.

It was nonsense then. And it’s even more nonsensical now.

The SNP is not a working-class party. It has no links to the trade unions. It is not a vehicle for working-class political representation. It does not claim to be any of these things. And it does not want to be any of these things.

Sorry to state the obvious, but the SNP is a nationalist party. That’s why its election material talks about Scotland, not class, and why it appeals to voters’ national identities, not their class identities:

“The general election is Scotland’s opportunity to make our voice heard loudly and clearly. Whatever the outcome in May, only one party is stronger for Scotland: the SNP. More SNP seats – more power for Scotland.”

That’s the message from SNP politicians as well. According to Stewart Hosie: “The general election is Scotland’s opportunity to hold real power at Westminster.”

(Scotland to hold real power at Westminster? Something you and the SNP were telling me only a few months ago was absolutely impossible! And yet the SNP claims that they are the one party you can trust!)

And that’s the message that people are buying into on the doorstep.

That this is not an election in which the different competing parties represent different class interests (however inadequately in the case of Labour). It is not an election in which you vote to decide which party will form the next government. It is an election in which you vote for which party will best represent Scotland.

(If you haven’t noticed that, you should get out more.)

Politics ceases to be a matter of conflicting class interests. Instead, it becomes one of competing national interests. And that is truly fatal to any prospect of advancing a specifically working-class political agenda.

You probably still have enough leftovers from your socialist politics in you to recognise that the statement “You’re a traitor to your country” is an inherently right-wing statement.

But when the SNP denounces Labour Party members as “traitors to Scotland” for having voted ‘No’, you delude yourself into believing that’s the stuff of a working-class break from Labour to the left rather than a collapse into nationalism.

The SNP is not a vehicle for your avowed socialist politics. It’s the object of your fantasies. And your fantasies are a measure of your own collapse into nationalism and your readiness to be a self-deluding satrap for the SNP.

In fact, when I wrote above that you had lost the plot, I was really being too charitable. Politically, you’ve clearly lost the will to live.

Yours, most certainly not in solidarity,

Anne Field

• This article was originally published by Workers’ Liberty.

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