John Lowrie and Paul Cockshott




The Hope over Fear campaign has released posters for its March rally with the design above. It says ‘BREXIT? LAUNCH THE LIFEBOAT NOW’ The poster is in SNP colour scheme and prominently displays the SNP logo.

Is this slogan something that socialists should support|?

At the time of the EU referendum, the socialist left was unanimous in saying people should vote to Leave since the EU is a pro-capitalist institution within which social democratic, let alone genuinely socialist policies are impossible. Solidarity Scotland also took that position.

Very much to the surprise of the political class and the ruling class generally, the result was a victory for Leave, tipped by a higher than expected turnout of working class voters, who voted disproportionately to leave. Ashcroft polling said:

  • A majority (57%) of those with a university degree voted to remain, as did 64% of those with a higher degree and more than four in five (81%) of those still in full time education. Among those whose formal education ended at secondary school or earlier, a large majority voted to leave.
  • The AB social group (broadly speaking, professionals and managers) were the only social group among whom a majority voted to remain (57%). C1s divided fairly evenly; nearly two-thirds of C2DEs (64%) voted to leave the EU.

The political establishment is of course mainly drawn from the university educated and from the professional, business and managerial classes, so they were shocked by the result. This applied to all the main parties: Tory, Labour and SNP.

The difference in voting reflected the real difference in class interests. The professional and business class benefit directly from EU links, may get EU funding, and like the availability of extra labour for whose apprenticeships they do not pay. The SNP transparently act in the interests of those employers who want to supplement the relatively small local labour supply with people from Europe.

The SNP along with the bulk of the Labour right and a portion of the Tory MPs have, since then spent the best part of 3 years trying to prevent or delay what had been the largest democratic vote in our history. There is a real danger that, over the course of March, they will succeed in delaying or cancelling exit from the EU.

It is understandable, that the SNP, who are now a neo-liberal, rightist pro-EU party would put forward a slogan that sees a second Scottish independence referendum as a way of staying in the EU. But since as socialists we want to leave the EU it is difficult to see how we can support this objective.

The predicament of Corbyn, who downplayed his historic opposition to the EU for the sake of party unity shows the risks of opportunism in this respect. Ever since the referendum he has been under mounting pressure from the Blairites in the Labour Party to reverse his initial correct position of respecting the referendum. Since he had failed to make a principled socialist case for leaving during the referendum, he has been in a weak position to resist. He has now capitulated to the Blairites and said he will support a second referendum. Support for the EU has been the key wedge that the ruling class has used to try and dislodge the social democratic leaders of Labour and turn it back into a neo-liberal party.

We must not make the same mistake for the sake of collaboration with the SNP. At least Corbyn was compromising with people in the same party, if we back the SNP aligned ‘Lifeboat’ slogan, we are compromising with a rival political party.

Consider what will be the outcome if the UK has left the EU at the end of March, we then have a second Scottish referendum which the SNP pose as a campaign to get back into the EU. If they win the campaign and get independence, then they will take Scotland right back into the EU. Such a course of events will certainly set back the cause of socialism in Scotland – since we well know that socialist progress is impossible in the EU.

A much preferable option is for a referendum on Scottish independence to be delayed until our exit from the EU has become an accomplished and accepted fact. So far, the Brexit referendum has produced a shift to the Left in the UK. The Tories lost ground to a Labour Party that is more socialist than it has been since the 1970s. There is a real possibility that within a few years a relatively progressive Labour government will be elected, no longer constrained by EU rules. Once the advantages of being out of the EU for the working class become apparent, then will be a much better time to hold a second Scottish independence referendum.