|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 200 July/August 2016
Scotland’s EU vote
Britain’s EU referendum produced a political earthquake that has shaken the capitalist elite to its core. The 52% to 48% vote to leave the EU was above all a working-class revolt against austerity and the political elites.
Only in Scotland, London and Northern Ireland were there majorities for remain. In Scotland, there was a 1.66 million (62%) to 1.01 million (38%) vote for remain. Turnout was lower by around 6% compared to England and Wales. In Glasgow only 56% of the eligible voters took part.
A major factor in the lower turnout was the general disgust among a section of the working class towards both ‘official’ campaigns which were seen as two wings of the establishment. However, in many working-class areas the vote to leave was higher than the 38% average.
In Dundee, where there was a 40% vote to leave, a left Labour councillor who was campaigning for remain commented: "There are strong parallels between disenfranchised working-class Scots voting Yes in 2014, and working-class people across the UK voting to leave (and it’s not just in England). Having spent yesterday in Kirkton [a working-class area of Dundee] and then at the count, I saw these boxes being opened and sorted. So, I know the majority there voted to leave".
The other important factors as to why there was a lower leave vote in Scotland was the disgust with which Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the ‘official’ leaders of the Brexit campaign, were viewed. Much of their campaign was tinged with English nationalism, especially from UKIP leader Farage.
In addition the Scottish National Party (SNP), the biggest party in Scotland and still with some authority following the 2014 independence referendum, ran a major campaign portraying the EU as a ‘progressive, job creating’ institution.
The Scottish Greens, Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems, alongside the SNP, produced a joint statement claiming the EU was "vital for jobs, investment and opportunities for the people of Scotland". Sturgeon also shared a TV debate platform with the Tories in defence of the interests of Scottish and British big business. The SNP’s role as part of ‘project fear’ will not be forgotten by many working-class people. Despite the unremitting pro-EU propaganda more than one million people, including around a third of SNP supporters, voted in favour of exiting the EU.
Nicola Sturgeon has argued that a vote to leave the EU in Britain, with Scotland voting to stay, would be a "material change of circumstance" that would put a second independence referendum on the agenda.
However, the SNP leadership are cautious. Sturgeon’s speech after the result was indicative of this hesitation. "I intend to take all possible steps and explore all possible options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted – in other words to secure our continuing place in the EU, and in the single market in particular. The option of a second referendum must be on the table and it is on the table".
Asked if there were any other options available to the Scottish government, she replied: "I think an independence referendum is now highly likely but I also think it is important that we take time to consider all steps and have the discussions, not least to assess the response of the EU to the vote that Scotland expressed yesterday".
While not committing to an indyref immediately or even definitely proposing to have one, the SNP is using the threat of a second referendum to try and extract from the UK government and the EU an agreement that Scotland can negotiate access to the European single market and for Scotland to continue having a relationship with the EU.
That hesitant position can change if the SNP is refused but it is not keen to move immediately to another referendum. With almost 40% of people having voted in Scotland to leave the EU, and unless and until polls in favour of Scottish independence change markedly, an imminent referendum is not likely.
The outcome of the EU referendum is a catastrophe for the ruling class in Britain. But while the capitalist class is in chaos, it is urgent that the working class finds its own political voice.