International Socialist Archives

International Socialist was the journal produced by our tendency until January 2001, when we left the Committee for a Workers International. We now produce the journal Frontline.

Tensions Surface in the SNP

"Unless Labour learns the lessons of Hamilton South, they could be inching towards the edge of the abyss." The New Statesman

The recent Hamilton South by-election produced the above response from Tom Brown who normally writes for the New Labour loyal Daily Record. The almost victory for the SNP who seemingly came from nowhere to just fail to capture one of the safest seats in Scotland from Labour has yet again provided the catalyst for some serious questioning about the constitutional future of Scotland .

However all is not sweetness and light in the camp of the SNP despite their strong performance in Hamilton. Following the Scottish parliament elections the SNP have seen significant tensions open up within the party There is open talk of nationalist leader Alex Salmond facing a challenge to his position. These divisions reflect the need for the SNP to try to appeal to competing interests and classes in Scotland. There is also increasing debate in the ranks of the SNP about how independence is to be won following the backlash against the SNP and independence by the establishment during the May elections. These divisions will, at a certain stage, result in the splitting of the SNP along class lines.

On the one hand the traditional rural base of the SNP in the North -East of Scotland has seen them win over significant sections of the ex -Tory voting farmers and middle classes. On the other hand if the SNP are to seriously challenge Labour in the working class areas of Scotland a left-wing face is vital.

Threat from the SSP

This is even more so the case now with the rapid growth of the Scottish Socialist Party who are winning support among a significant section of the Scottish working class. At an SNP conference fringe meeting addressed by SNP MSP Kenny McKaskill the issue of the SSP, and it's potential threat to the SNP, came up a number of times at the meeting. This concern among some sections of the SNP will have been added to by the recent defection of Derek Durkin the branch secretary of the postal workers in Edinburgh, to the SSP.

The impact of the Scottish Socialist Party was noted by the following quote following the Hamilton South by election when the SSP came third with 10% of the vote

"Disaffected or impatient Labour voters in England have nowhere else to go, but in Scotland they do: the SNP or, for a significant tenth, the charismatic Tommy Sheridan's Scottish Socialist Party". Tom Brown-New Statesman

The success of the Scottish Socialist Party puts the nationalists in a difficult position. Any attempt to shift the party significantly to the right leaves open the likelihood of the SSP making further inroads into the working class vote in Scotland. At the same time the SNP’s desperation to be seen as a “responsible” party of government will tend to draw them ever closer to big business interests in Scotland. These conflicting pressures on the SNP will, under the impact of events, lead to major divisions in the future


The "Penny for Scotland" campaign was launched by the SNP leadership prior to the May Scottish elections to try and put the SNP clearly to the left of the tax cutting, PFI supporting New Labour machine in Scotland.
A promise to forego the penny tax cut of Gordon Brown was to be used for public services, health and education. Most workers while supporting more money for public services rightly questioned whether one penny on the basic rate of tax would transform the crisis ridden NHS and education service. Especially this was the case when at the same time the SNP were calling for cuts in corporation tax for big business.

Now leading figures in the SNP have called for a rethink. Ian Blackford the SNP treasurer accused Alex Salmond of "Gross and unpardonable errors of leadership" over tax and the euro.

"The important divide in the SNP is between romantics who still believe in John MacLean's Scottish Workers Republic and the bankers, entreprenuars and software writers who have to take the SNP into the 21st century
" These words were written by George Kerevan in his Scotsman column. A leading figure in the "modernisation" wing of the SNP, Kerevan has called for a more mature and responsible SNP. In other words an SNP that appeals openly to the business community.

So with 35 MSP's and almost 30% of the vote secured on May 6th why is it that there are some bitter divisions now opening up inside the SNP? As well as Ian Blackford's attacks on Alex Salmond SNP MSP Margo McDonald has also weighed in to slate Salmond and the SNP leadership for ducking the question of independence when under attack from the press in the run up to the Scottish elections " The SNP" she said "got the campaign 100% strategically wrong". SNP Finance Spokesman Andrew Wilson and Mike Russell both made speeches at conference fringe meetings that sought to redefine independence.

Independence attacked

The root cause for these stresses inside the SNP was their experience of the Scottish elections in May. For the first time the SNP came under a sustained assault from the press and the political establishment in Scotland. An assault that shook the SNP to it's roots and an assault that the pro-big business SNP leadership failed to stand up to.

Towards the end of 1998 the SNP had a lead in the opinion polls in Scotland in voting intentions for the Holyrood elections. There was open talk that the SNP could form either a majority administration or be the biggest party in Edinburgh. Yet when the election campaign began in earnest the nationalists were victims of an open declaration of war against them by New Labour, Scottish and British big business and the media, that they were unable to respond to.

The International Socialist has consistently argued that the interests of capitalism in Scotland and Britain will lead big business to being dedicated opponents of Scottish independence. They will fight tooth and nail to keep Scotland as part of the British union. Both from an economic and a political point of view the big business interests of the major industrial and financial multi-national corporations will lead them to oppose the break up of Britain.

They fear economic dislocation and conflict arising from a separation of Scotland from the rest of Britain. Looming large is also the effect that an independent Scotland would have on developments in the rest of Britain- Wales and particularly Ireland. It is partly also a question of prestige. From a world point of view Blair and the New Labour government are desperate to position Britain along with the US at the head of the new world order. Witness Britain's intervention in the Balkans and Blair's role in promoting the new "third way" which he is trailing around Europe. The idea of allowing Scotland to slip out of the union unopposed is unthinkable from the point of view of capitalism.

There is another factor, not so prominent at this stage, in the thinking of the ruling class and that is the potential for an independent Scotland to be a challenge to the power and privilege of big business in Scotland and Britain. This factor can grow in importance as the struggles of the poor, the low paid and trade unionists escalate as capitalism continues to fail the working class in Scotland and across Britain.

All of this is news to the SNP leadership who have a completely blind approach to how the struggle for national independence could be won in Scotland.

Margo McDonald is correct when she says that the SNP "ignored criticism over separatism and divorce". But they did so because they had no answer to these attacks. The main plank of the anti-SNP assault was the economic costs of Scottish independence. Hundreds of thousands of jobs would go under separation, the cost of a separate Scottish army, civil service and benefits system would be astronomical their critics said.

Free market

The "penny for Scotland" campaign which promised to forgo Gordon Brown's one penny tax cut in Scotland gave the impression that the SNP were prepared to levy more taxes on the working class while at the same time promising to cut corporation tax for big business.

In other words the economic programme of the SNP, tied as it is to the interests of the free market, was incapable of tied as it is to the interests of the free market,was incapable of inspiring workers and young people in Scotland and countering the propaganda of their opponents. For many people in Scotland the SNP were seen as yet another big business party. Which partly explains the high level of abstentionism on May 6th with the idea of "nothing worth voting for"

It also became clear that Salmond and Mike Russell the SNP "dream team" reflecting the outlook of the SNP leadership had no stomach for taking on the people who they have been courting for the last few years. The nationalist leadership have gone far in the direction of a business friendly approach. Dumped has been their promise of public ownership for the railways despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of people support renationalisation after the carnage at Paddington.

The former public utilities such as gas and electricity would remain in private hands. A so called social democratic SNP is gradually being replaced by a neo- liberal approach which would cut taxes for big business. Kenny McKaskill so called left-wing member of the SNP said there was too much stress on poverty and socialism was now dead. We should now be promoting Scotland as a “can do” country. In other words a business friendly economy.

George Kerevan a prominent SNP ideologist is now calling for a flat tax rate for all regardless on income. In other words the more you earn the more you get to keep. He goes further by insisting on even more reductions for business taxation and sums it all up with the incredible statement that "no western nation has achieved independence without the leadership, never mind the tacit support, of it's business community" This statement is no accident. It precisely sums up the thinking of the SNP leadership who aim to win over capitalist interests to the cause of independence with the lure of low taxes, low wages, low interest rates and the creation of a Scottish "tiger economy.'

Yet faced with only the opening shots of the organic opposition by big business to the prospect of an SNP Holyrood administration, never mind independence, the SNP leadership abandoned the fight. "Ignoring the criticism" as Margo McDonald put it is too kind. Salmond had no answer precisely because of the SNP's free market economic programme. At the same time support for independence slipped during the campaign as a result of the anti- independence deluge of propaganda and the feeble attempts of the SNP to counter it.

And yet support for independence in Scotland is not going to go away. It is a permanent and central part of political life in Scotland. With a combination of New Labour in power in Westminster and the coalition in Edinburgh between the Liberals and Labour the SNP can make advances. More importantly support for independence is likely to increase as the limited powers available to the Scottish parliament fail to transform the lives of the working class in Scotland.

Socialist alternative

In the longer term the struggle for national rights in Scotland, the battle for independence must be linked to the struggle for socialism. Moreover a movement would need to be built that put the working class at the head of such a campaign and took it out of the hands of the pro-capitalist nationalist leadership who will be largely incapable of leading the type of movement necessary to win national independence.

Such a movement would also put socialist internationalism at it's head. Even if Scotland achieved independence it would be vital to build links with the working class in the rest of Britain before, during and after such a movement. That's why our vision of Scotland is of an independent socialist Scotland where the vast wealth of the country was owned and managed by the working class as a whole through public ownership and democratic control.

By showing what would be possible if we took the resources of society and planned them to eliminate poverty, unemployment and low pay a socialist Scotland could then build a voluntary socialist alliance of states including England, Wales and Ireland as a step towards a socialist Europe. The vision of an independent Scotland as viewed by the SNP leadership would be one based on the same poverty and inequality that dominates our lives today. The CWI will continue to champion the democratic rights of the people of Scotland to have an independent state but we will also stand unflinchingly for a socialist society and working class unity across Scotland, Britain and throughout the world.