A common programme for people and planet can win ‘Yes 2’

© Craig Maclean

by Ken Ferguson • Post-Brexit Britain has swung decisively to the right with the installation of the unelected Theresa May in Downing Street and across Europe and the US the populist, often openly racist right on a roll.

Anti-immigrant parties such as AFD in Germany register growing support, the soon to be re-run Austrian Presidential poll could see Europe’s first far right elected head of state since 1945 and the shadow of a possible President Trump grows longer.

It is against this ominous background that the broad progressive left of the independence movement needs to frame its strategy and tactics in the run up to any possible second referendum in the period ahead. It is moment of both great opportunity and great danger.

A look at the facts tells its own story. After a post-Brexit spike, the support for a Yes vote has settled too, take a few points either way, about the 2014 level. It still is not a majority.

While there is evidence of Noes switching as a consequence of Brexit there is also a significant traffic in the other direction driven largely by economic uncertainty. It is certainly some way from the 60/40 majority which has been widely seen as a condition for a Yes victory.

Factors that have contributed to this include the massive fall in oil prices, the general demobilisation of independence campaigning as Yes campaigners poured energy into SNP election work and the mood of pessimism engendered by a climate of uncertainty following the June result.

However at the heart of the problem is the hard fact that the case for independence has been largely parked in campaigning terms for the last two years and it is vital that this changes now.

Two further factors complicating the approach of the indy left are the rise of Corbynism and, paradoxically, the dominance of the SNP.

First Corbyn. Anybody on the left will welcome the fact that he won his second leadership poll in the teeth of the largely parliamentary-based Blairite relics who have run an open campaign against him since his first victory a year ago. These are the people who turned Labour into uncritical pro-business warmongers and their defeat is welcome.

However, the result in Scotland indicates that the mass impact of Corbynism in England has only a weak echo here, with his opponent Owen Smith winning a majority in Scottish Labour as the latest polls show the party on a miserable 16 per cent.

Combined with the mammoth task of winning a UK general election, the Corbyn victory does little to suggest that there is any reason to assume that Labour can anticipate being in any position to defeat the Tories and meet Scotland’s needs.

And of course, centrally, Labour have simply got the national question wrong, remaining unionist to the core, failing to learn the lessons of Better Together and as a result face oblivion in Scotland.

On the face of it, for the SNP the polar opposite appears the case. They swept the board at last year’s Westminster polls and retained government here in May. However this has come at a price.

The spectacular growth of the SNP from 2014 now runs the risk of substituting the SNP for the broad Yes movement and can thus in turn tie the fortunes of a Yes campaign to the performance of the government on a range of thorny issues such a fracking, Council Tax reform, council cuts, controversial school plans and so forth.

The old story that Roman Emperors holding victory parades among cheering crowds would be accompanied by a slave whispering “remember thou are mortal” is brought to mind as problems mount for the SNP government and the First Minister falls behind the Tory leader’s approval ratings.

All of this is key information for independence supporters serious about winning a Yes majority, and its central message is clear.

The issue is not primarily the timing of an independence referendum but the policy offer that it puts to voters.

Key areas such as currency, which were weaknesses last time, have to be faced. We cannot this time be boxed into campaigning around a “UK lite” Scottish government white paper.

It would also be a grave mistake, as some leading SNP figures have suggested, to centre the Yes fight on EU membership or pledges of five years of “made in Edinburgh” austerity.

The progressive independence left needs a campaign which offers a radically different Scotland, eradicating poverty pay, providing houses for the thousands on waiting lists, ending the PFI scandal, using our energy riches under public control to combat climate change and fuel poverty.

The reality is that there is wide agreement on the elements of such a programme which is capable of winning the key working class voters for Yes.

What needs to be done is to put such a programme at the heart of the independence campaign and start campaigning on it without delay.

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