THE SCOTTISH National Party has prospered under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership by pursuing a broadly centre left policy at home whilst championing the cause of Scottish independence. This has allowed Sturgeon to claim the credit for partially shielding Scotland from the impact of Tory austerity, whilst blaming the Tory Government in Westminster for any failures of policy.
This has paid off. In recent elections to the UK Parliament, under the first-past-the-post system, the SNP has dominated with a comfortable majority of Scottish MPs in every election since 2015. In elections to the Scottish Parliament held under a mix of FPTP and PR it is less dominant but still the leading party and has governed Scotland since 2007.
The problem for Sturgeon and her predecessor, Alex Salmond, has always been to translate this electoral dominance into majority support for actual independence. In the 2014 referendum, Scotland voted ‘No’ by 55.3% to 44.7%. Current polling, from January 2023, places the ‘Yes’ side at 46.5% and the ‘No’ side at 53.5%. The sheer awfulness of the Tories as they degenerated into right wing English nationalism has slightly strengthened support for Scottish independence, but not by enough to persuade the UK Government to give in to demands for a second referendum.
Sturgeon was gambling on turning the next election to the Scottish Parliament into a de facto referendum by campaigning on the single issue of independence. This all or nothing approach does not have universal support within the SNP. And this is the reason for her resignation. It will allow the SNP to back away from her policy under a new leader.
Both Labour and Conservatives hope to benefit from this to rebuild their electoral positions in Scotland. Starmer’s staff members were delighted that Sturgeon had gone on the same day that Starmer banished Corbyn. Their election message in Scotland will be, “If you hate the Tories, you can vote for us instead of the SNP. Look, we’ve got rid of Corbyn and his dangerous lefties.”
It is centrist arrogance to assume that whether you are a Scottish nationalist or a socialist is not down to your own agency and political beliefs. They think that by taking down leaders they can take down a movement. We know that it is the movement from below that creates its own leadership, not the other way round.
As long as the imbalance between a London-centric parliament and the rest of the UK exists, it will fuel regional and national resistance. And as long as capitalism exists it will create the conditions for a socialist fightback that can unite workers across the entire country, not least in London itself.
As socialists we should support the right to Scottish independence, while pointing out that we face a crisis of capitalism in which great power rivalry is driving us towards war. We strive not to erect borders but to build working class unity across borders to meet this global threat.