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Editorial: The Scottish Referendum

Whatever the outcome, capitalism was going to continue and with it the problems it inevitably generates as a system that puts, and has to put, profits before meeting people’s needs. Whether this is done from London or from Edinburgh makes no difference. An independent Scotland would be capitalist just as much as if it remained part of the UK.

Nevertheless, from a purely political point of view, the Yes campaign was demanding a far-reaching change, well beyond the mere change of government or local council that’s usually at stake in elections. It was demanding the break-up of one of the longest-established capitalist states and one that had once been the dominant power in the world. So it was a decision that could be described as “historic” in the sense that if could have affected the future course of history. People in Scotland realised this. Which is why 8 out of 10 of the population aged 16 and over came out and voted.

As socialists, who advocate the use of the ballot box in the course of the socialist revolution, we are comforted by this as it bears out our contention that when there is perceived to be something really important at stake, people will vote.

To continue for a moment the analogy between the Yes campaign and the movement for socialism. The Yes campaign did represent a threat to the interests of the British ruling class. A breakaway by Scotland would weaken them in the struggle between states over economic issues that is built-in to the capitalist world system. Capitalist Britain would not only be diminished in size but also in diplomatic status and clout.

Some argue that, faced with a threat like this, a ruling class will resort to force as the British ruling class did when Ireland tried to break away in 1919. This time they pursued a different strategy. When it appeared that, despite their earlier calculations, the Yes side might actually win they bent over backwards to offer more powers to the Scottish parliament in a bid to buy off the movement.

We suggest that this is the more likely reaction of a ruling class to a growing socialist movement committed to using the ballot box and enjoying widespread support. Not that it would work. In fact it didn’t work in Scotland. Those supporting Yes refused (as the socialist movement would) to be bribed and change their intended vote. Those in the No camp continued in their resolve to vote No, largely no doubt because they felt that there was no point in taking the unnecessary risk and disruption that a Yes victory would involve.

That was understandable. The partisans of independence were painting an unbelievable picture of how life would be so much better if Scotland was no longer ruled from Westminster. A social democratic paradise was to be established in Scotland. Reformism, despite failing to do so on every previous occasion it has been tried, would somehow be able this time to make capitalism work for the benefit for wage and salary workers and their dependents. Socialists didn’t believe this either.

The trouble is that politics is now going to be as boring as before as the professional politicians, North and South of the border, wrangle over purely constitutional matters while capitalism and the problems it causes continue.