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A Message to the Left

21/08/2014 15:50 BST | Updated 20/10/2014 10:59 BST

A Message to the Left

As the referendum debate enters its final stages, it is becoming more and more clear that we are dealing with a struggle between left and right. Next months's referendum presents a choice between remaining part of a UK state entrenched in a right wing, neoliberal consensus, or opting for what would almost undoubtedly evolve to be a left of centre, socialist oriented alternative in an independent Scotland. Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the current conflicting visions for the future of the NHS, where rapid privatisation down south stands in increasingly stark contrast to the unwavering commitment to a universal public health service north of the border.

The Scottish alternative is a very real one, the ever shriller scaremongering of the no-campaign testifies to that, but for it to become a reality, it is imperative that the left - both in Scotland and in the rest of the UK - stop fighting amongst themselves, recognise this unprecedented opportunity to reject the right wing mantra of 'there is no alternative', and grab it with both hands.

For this to happen, there are a few things which need to be set straight.

There are two classic arguments which inevitably emerge in any debate about independence amongst the left. The first is that 'we shouldn't break up the British working class', and the second is that 'Scotland would leave (the north of) England at the mercy of Conservative rule'. There are three points to be made in response.

1. It is NOT Scotland's job to save England from itself. If the majority in England continues to vote for the Conservatives and right wing policies, then that is England's responsibility, not ours.

2. Even if Scotland did choose to surrender Tory-free, independent nationhood in favour of the status of permanent 'buffer land' for (the north of) England, it would be in vain. Despite the accepted wisdom that Scotland acts as a bulwark against the Conservatives in Westminster by consistently voting Labour, the reality is that Scotland's inconsequential vote has next to no influence on the outcome of UK elections. Have a wee look at the Thatcher era. Scotland repeatedly and vehemently rejected Thatcher and the Tories at the polls, and what we did we get? Three terms of Tory rule. In 1979, the Conservatives had a majority of 43 MPs: without the Scottish MPs, they would have had a majority of 70. In 1983, a Tory majority of 144, without the Scottish MPs, it would have been 174. In 1987, a Tory majority of 102, without Scottish MPs, it would have been 154. Nae change, then.

Since 1945, only twice has the Scottish vote had any impact: in 1964, the Labour majority of 4 would have been -9 without Scottish MPs, changing a Labour majority to a hung parliament, and, similarly, in the 1974 October election, the Labour majority of 3 would have been -8 without Scottish MPS, again changing a Labour majority to a hung parliament.

In short, 'Scottish MPs have NEVER turned what would have been a Conservative government into a Labour one, or indeed vice versa'.

3. So much for electoral statistics. It is this last point which is by far the most important, and one which many in the rest of the UK have already woken up to.

The development of a healthy, functioning, social democratic, Nordic-style Scotland would be good for the left everywhere. It would deal a death blow to the 'there is no alternative' consensus in the UK Parliament, providing a concrete example of a real alternative to neoliberalism. This would in turn empower and inspire the English left: in response to claims of 'there is no alternative', they would be able to say, 'Aye, there is, and it's just across the border'.

The London-based Guardian appears to have come around to the scale of opportunity offered by Scottish Independence: John Harris has written that if he had the vote he would 'grab the chance of Scottish independence', recognising that there is 'a chance for at least one part of these islands to exit a decayed consensus, and beat a path towards something better.' I have lost count of the amount of articles I have read from other English and Welsh expressing the same sentiment. Bella Caledonia's English for Yes series contained some fantastic contributions, and there are many more to be found online, not least at English Scots for Yes.

The radical change and shift towards to the left which could stem from a yes vote - and it would be the huge responsibility of the people of Scotland to make sure that it does - would not only irreversibly transform the British state and spur the English left into action; in challenging the imperialist, plutocratic, antiquated, undemocratic and neoliberal British state, it would send shockwaves throughout the world.

Instead of arguing that we should all remain unhappy in the UK for the sake of futile and abstract 'class solidarity', let's wake up to the fact that Scottish Independence offers the best opportunity for radical change that we on the left will see in our lifetime.

We cannot let it go to waste.