They illustrate above all a nation engaged. Millions are debating political choices, often for the first time, as our nation faces the independence referendum with an intensity rarely seen anywhere far less encouraged. This debate has been a godsend for those serious about socialist politics as thousands of people recognise our ideas are as relevant as ever. This point was reinforced again this week when the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report showing the economic difficulties facing the average family. They concluded that the average family with two children needs a pre-tax annual income of £40,600 in order to afford a minimum acceptable standard of living. That figure is £10,000 higher than the average actual income for such a family.
And a similar report by Unison’s Glasgow health branch revealed that Scotland’s largest employer, the NHS, has 48 per cent of its staff on certain grades unable to afford basic provisions like books, a warm winter coat or new shoes.
For the Scottish Socialist Party such economic and social realities are at the heart of this debate. A Yes vote in September is not only a vote for independence it is a rejection of the neoliberal economics and warmongering politics predominant at Westminster. Scottish Socialist Party public meetings on independence now routinely attract hundreds of people. And several more are planned between now and 18 September.
Sales of our independence pamphlet have been unprecedented. More than 700 people have applied to join the party in the last year as a result of our pro-independence position. New branches are springing up across the country. Such interest in our party vindicates the patient and persistent approach we have followed and the determination of SSP members to champion our party’s incomparable political record.
The SSP involvement in Yes Scotland, the Radical Independence Campaign and many other pro-Indy groups has helped shape them all. With the polls still showing a No lead it is inevitable people reflect on what that outcome might mean. But this contest is not over.
The prospect of another Tory victory in 2015 is one factor that might lead the Yes campaign to victory. A majority of Scots have made it clear they will vote Yes if it looks like Cameron and the Tories are set to win another five years in power at Westminster in 2015.
And the impact of the biggest grassroots political campaign since the anti-Poll Tax struggle 25 years ago is another important factor still to be fully felt in persuading ‘the missing million’ – those who do not usually vote – to support Yes this time.
Opinion polls often fail to record these respondents for a variety of socio-economic and statistical factors. Few polls ever record the opinions of Scotland’s poorest communities.
But polling done by the SSP, the Radical Independence Campaign and by local Yes groups reveal many thousands of voters in this ‘missing’ constituency fully intend to say Yes this time round.
And Scotland will never be the same again if they do. The nation will be transformed from top to bottom, despite what Alex Salmond and the SNP imply by keeping the Queen, keeping the pound and keeping hold of NATO’s coat-tails. Quite how many of those engaged in this debate stay involved remains to be seen. Clearly Scottish democracy will the healthier the more that do so.
Be all that as it may, the SSP has re-emerged as a leading force on the Scottish left. Those who talked of ‘a post-SSP’ political landscape in Scotland over the past five years are now exposed as mere ‘wishful thinkers’.
Clearly there can be no talk of a new left in Scotland after 18 September without the SSP. Our party has benefited greatly from engaging in this debate. SSP activists understand just how important a party is in such circumstances.
We have worked with others in the independence movement without hiding our socialist programme or political identity.
And we have both aired and developed our programme for 21st century socialism – a socialism based on democracy, equality and an end to environmental and human exploitation worldwide – and are much the stronger for it.