Last week, over 200 people crammed into Ayr Town Hall to hear speeches on the subject of ‘The Socialist Case for Independence’.
Ayr is one of the few constituencies that elects a Tory to the Scottish Parliament: it is not known as a hotbed of radical socialism; although nearby Alloway did, of course, produce Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, a man of the people and advocate of socialism in many of his works.
The main speakers at the Ayr meeting were Jim Sillars and Colin Fox. Mr Sillars was born and raised in Ayr: he was Labour MP for South Ayrshire in the 1970s before going on to join the Scottish National Party and become SNP MP for Govan. Colin Fox was formerly the Scottish Socialist Party MSP for the Lothians and is now one of the SSP’s national co-conveners.
The brilliant turnout for the meeting reflected a number of things: one being that people are keen to get information ahead of the Independence Referendum on September 18th; another that many Scots are looking to independence to deliver a radically different country.
It is a tactic of the Tory-funded British Unionist campaign ‘Better Together’ to misrepresent the pro-independence campaign as being all about Alex Salmond and the SNP. The unionists want people to think that if they vote ‘YES’ in September then they are voting for Salmond and the SNP. Quite simply, that is not the case.
Personally, I think Alex Salmond is the most competent politician of his generation. Also, in every poll about public opinion in relation to party leaders, Salmond comes out in front, far ahead of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Incidentally, the leader of so-called ‘Scottish’ Labour, Johann Lamont, was ‘not known’ by 26% of respondents to the most recent poll on this subject.
Despite Alex Salmond’s popularity – in terms of opinion polls and winning elections – there is a section of the Scottish population who dislike him. That is the nature of politics: it is impossible to achieve universal support. The British Unionist campaign seeks to tap into this relatively small reservoir of hostility towards Salmond by misrepresenting what will be decided by the Independence referendum. Similarly, ‘Better Together’ attempts to persuade Labour supporters that they will be voting SNP if they back ‘YES’ in the referendum.
In reality, neither Alex Salmond nor the SNP will be on the ballot paper when we enter the polling booth on September 18th. We will be asked one simple question: Should Scotland be an independent nation? In response, we will put one cross in one box – either ‘YES’ or ‘No’.
The referendum isn’t about Alex Salmond or the SNP, it’s about who takes decisions that affect the lives of the people of Scotland. If we vote ‘No’, then governments in London will continue to take those decisions. We will continue to have Tory governments imposed on us even after we have rejected them at the ballot box: we will continue to have austerity and savage cuts to public spending imposed on us. However, if we vote ‘YES’, then we will have all the powers of a normal, independent nation and we will always get the government for which we vote. Decisions over our lives will be taken by a Scottish government elected by the people of Scotland.
After a ‘YES’ vote in the referendum, there will be negotiations between the current governments of Scotland and the UK – regarding the distribution of assets and liabilities – before Scotland becomes an independent country in March 2016. Two-months later we will go to the polls to elect the first independent Scottish Parliament and government. At the May 2016 election, if Scots don’t want to elect the SNP as our government or Alex Salmond as First Minister, then they don’t have to vote for them. In an independent Scotland we will always get the government for which we vote.
Last week’s meeting in Ayr set-out a radically different vision of an independent Scotland to that currently proposed by the SNP. Jim Sillars and Colin Fox described a Scotland where the interests of the people are prioritised ahead of those advocated by multi-national corporations and banks. Such a ‘people first’ policy-agenda will never be advocated by any of the British Unionist political parties – Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat – all of whom are fully signed-up to the free-market capitalist system that panders to big business and locks into poverty huge swathes of the population.
There will never be a socialist government in Britain: the people of England, the majority in UK elections, do not support socialist policies. In Scotland, however, we regularly state our belief that politicians should put the interests of the people first. We can make that happen, but only after we have broken free from the right-wing, capitalist-driven policies of the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems – the same parties that stand shoulder-to-shoulder against Scottish independence.
The Labour Party long ago abandoned socialism, but in Scotland many party members still hanker for the days when Labour created the National Health Service and embarked on Europe’s biggest-ever programme of house-building to meet the needs of the working class. The more enlightened members of the Labour Party in Scotland have joined ‘Labour for Independence’, an organisation that knows the only way to take-back control of Labour and re-establish it as a party of and for the people is to vote ‘YES’ in the Independence Referendum. In an independent Scotland, a left-wing Labour Party could once again be a positive force in Scottish politics.
Despite the scare-stories of the British Unionist parties, there is nothing to fear about independence – it is the normal status for virtually every nation on the planet. Independence is simply being a normal country, controlling our own affairs and implementing policies to meet the needs of the people of Scotland. Independence is having the full powers that will allow us to build a better, fairer country.
Independence puts the power over Scotland into the hands of the people of Scotland. With independence, we will decide our future.