Scotland: ‘This Movement is Learning Fast, Growing Arms and Legs’

Catherine Milligan, a socialist and community activist on the Castlemilk housing scheme in Glasgow, reflects on the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum. Her piece featured earlier on People and Nature.

So Scotland said no to independence with a historic turnout of 84%. The margin was 383,937: this was so close. The “Yes” campaign galvanised 1.6 million voters to challenge and undermine the Westminster staus quo – despite the onslaught by the establishment, which threw its full weight behind a “No” vote.

Every single tabloid and broadsheet newspaper, bar one, supported a “No” vote; banks and businesses threatened to withdraw from our economy; most trade union leaders  advocated a “No” vote. Firms sent personal letters telling workers that if they voted “No” they could lose their jobs. Pensioners were told their pensions would be undermined. Despite all this 1.6 million people voted “Yes”, against the Westminster elite and its austerity.
Solidarity: on the weekend after the referendum, campaigners decided to collect food for Glasgow's food banks, and put the word out on social media to bring donations to George Square
Solidarity: on the weekend after the referendum, campaigners decided to collect food for Glasgow’s food banks, and put the word out on social media to bring donations to George Square

In the aftermath, as you can imagine, even those of us who expected that “No” would win marginally were a tad deflated. It didn’t help that George Square [Glasgow’s main square] was taken over on Friday [19 September] by a hundred or so right-wing “No” campaigners, mobilised by Britain First, singing Rule Britannia and spouting hatefulness and division. It was a complete contrast to the previous evenings, when the square was full of hope and unity, with thousands of people united against Westminster rule and their savage economic policies against the working class. On Friday, some of the Rule Britannia mob were seen wearing Glasgow Rangers shirts and burning the saltire [the Scottish flag]; this provoked loads of angry Facebook posts from Rangers fans who were shamed by these people.

In the months leading up to the vote, I witnessed the working class at its best and most powerful. People were unified in defence of their interests, against the cruel and unfair economic policies which in the past year alone have seen the number of billionaires in Britain rise from 79 to 89, while child poverty is increasing at an alarming rate. Welfare provision, the safety net won and fought for by a united working class, is being dismantled – to the extent that people are left hungry and destitute, and in some cases dying … people are left to rely for survival on the goodwill of food donations from the ever-expanding food bank charities.

Come Saturday morning [20 September] George Square was again back to that fight, with a peace banner up, and a drive for donations to the food banks – reminders of the issues we still face here and now.

The essence of the “Yes” campaign was the drive to eradicate this sort of poverty. It has brought forward our future working class leaders and fighters for socialism. The poorest communities have been uniting together to form their own politics and abandoning the established political set-up.

Yes, the Scottish Nationalist party has increased its membership, as some people see them as leading the fight for independence. I feel this is a knee-jerk reaction to the deflated feeling after the vote, not an endorsement of their working class interest or fair economic policies. Certainly, people I have talked to say that this is the quickest route to gain independence and rid ouselves of the Westminster elite. It’s a last throw of the dice and, as some of them admit, desperate.

It is desperate, and very wrong. Nationalism must be undermined and fought against at all times. The SNP are without shame in their adherence to capitalist economic policies. In the past three years [under the SNP-led Scottish administration] we have seen 55,000 public service jobs lost: many of those are carers for families with severely disabled family members. Remember that the SNP leaders couldn’t answer questions about currency issues, because, like the elite at Westminster, they adhere to capitalist economics of profit before people. They voted against a living wage, advocated a reduction on corporation tax as a priority for businesses so they can make an even bigger profit – while zero hour contracts are imposed on workers and the minimum wage for our young people is held at £2.30 an hour to further attract profiteering and exploitation.

This is who the SNP are. They have no credentials to offer the working class. They are set to implement a further £2 billion worth of cuts come November.

The people who are advocating a vote for the SNP are very wrong and should hang their heads in shame. They show no belief in the working class. The “Yes” campaign was galvanised by people who felt powerless in the onslaught of capitalist economics, who felt that they had no voice in the established political arena. It channeled their anger. They came out in huge numbers and are still coming out – and it’s these voices we should be pinning our hopes to. It’s time now to keep building and advocating for a movement that will continue and mobilise this struggle.

George Square before the referendum
George Square before the referendum

We must – and we are – building on the political awareness that is being born. As Paul Mason rightly pointed out, this energy and politicisation is emerging in a political void. The Labour party, formed historically by the working class, has long since abandoned it and become advocates for capital. It has been exposed well and truly during this campaign – indeed the last Labour bastions were the areas that voted “Yes”. And there was a drive by some trade unions to to withdraw from affiliation to the Labour party.

This movement is learning, and learning fast. It is growing arms and legs, in a way that I have not witnessed in my lifetime, and it is developing its own identity. The community I live in is already organising and mobilising with the aim of giving voice to its aspirations, leading, linking up throughout Scotland and Britain on class issues, against austerity measures. We will build on our strength and unity; we will not be advocating a vote for the SNP, but policies for ourselves.

We had the whole capitalist elite, from the US president to the pope to the queen, scared of our unity. We had them on the ropes scrambling and scared. Feel that power and keep fighting. It’s only us, the working class, that can change and overthrow this horrible barbaric system. 24 September 2014

More on People & Nature about Scotland

Scotland: ‘the opportunity for real people power’ by Catherine Milligan
■ John Maclean: the accuser of capitalism (August 2014) (Maclean’s speech from the dock, 1918)
■ Gas blowout on Total’s Elgin field: letter from a North Sea oil worker to Reclaim the Power

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