Scotland - a fake choice between two reactionary nationalisms

Winter 2014

The Scottish nationalists finally lost the 18th September referendum over Scotland's independence. However, given the considerable resources available to the "No" campaign, thanks to the backing of Britain's three main political parties, the 55.3% score it achieved was hardly an overwhelming victory.

In any case this outcome does not say very much about Scottish voters' feelings towards Scottish nationalism - nor towards the British nationalism championed by the anti-independence parties, for that matter.

As is usually the case in any referendum, rather than stating their position on the question which was put to the vote, a significant number of voters - if not the majority - tried to use their ballot paper in order to express something else - in this case, their rejection of the policies implemented by Cameron's coalition in London. It is the strength of this rejection, rather than the interest generated by the issue of Scotland's independence, which seems to explain the record 84% turnout in this referendum.

Significantly, voters in some of Labour's traditional working-class strongholds, especially Greater Glasgow, ignored this party's support for the "No" and returned a "Yes" majority. Another section of Labour's traditional electorate seems to have chosen the "Yes" vote as a means of rejecting a political system which allows the Tory party to come into office in London, despite the fact that it is barely represented in Scotland - with just 1 Tory Scottish MP, against 41 for Labour and 11 for the Liberal-Democrats.

Conversely, a section of the petty-bourgeois electorate which had been seduced by the SNP's demagogy in the 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament, seem to have opted for the "No" vote, not so much because of their hostility to Scottish nationalism, than because of their fear that their own social status would suffer from Scotland's independence. Another section of this same petty-bourgeoisie may also have cast a "No" vote because of being disappointed by the corruption and nepotism displayed by the devolved political institutions.

In any case, the outcome of this referendum is unlikely to mark the end of Scottish nationalism, no matter how outdated it may seem. This is partly because Scottish nationalism is entrenched in decades of Scottish history, but mainly because, in a period when the working-class movement is absent from the political scene, the only visible alternative to this nationalism is another one which is probably far less attractive - the imperialist nationalism of the "Union Jack", with its looting of the planet and oppression of its populations.

The origins of Scottish nationalism

It should be recalled that the independent existence of Scotland ended shortly after the so-called "Glorious Revolution" in 1688, which marked the end of the bourgeois revolution in England and the victory of the rich bourgeoisie over the radical wing of this revolution. The Scottish bourgeoisie thus agreed to tie its fate to that of the English bourgeoisie and, on 22nd July 1706, the act of Union was signed, creating the "United Kingdom" which came into existence on 1st May 1707.

Subsequently, the industrial revolution transformed this "United Kingdom" into a tightly integrated economic entity, in which the situation of Scotland was neither better nor worse than that of many English regions. However, Scotland's social structure was somewhat different from England's, in that its countryside remained entirely in the hands of very large aristocratic landowners. Consequently, when these landowners turned to commercial agriculture in order to boost their income, brutally expelling landless peasants from their estates, the resulting exodus towards the towns was even more massive than in England. Scotland's former poor peasants went on to join the industrial reserve army of the unemployed, in the cities which were growing around Scotland's two main deep-sea harbours - Glasgow and Edinburgh - but also in English cities, like Liverpool and Manchester, and in Belfast, in Northern Ireland. In the process, the Scottish migrants learnt to speak English and, whether they came back to Scotland or settled outside, their traditional Gaelic soon ceased to be their main language - if they even remembered it. The Scottish identity changed rapidly from a national identity to a regional one, which could no longer be conceived of, outside the Union.

Not only did Scotland become tightly integrated into the economic entity created by the English bourgeoisie, but its own bourgeoisie was instrumental in Britain's industrial, colonial and imperialist expansion. In the 19th century, the Clyde estuary, around which Glasgow had been built, soon became Britain's largest ship-building centre, with a powerful engineering and metal industry. Meanwhile, Edinburgh, Scotland's intellectual and financial capital, came to be known as the "Empire's second city", after London. Indeed, because of the centralisation of the British state machinery around London which left only limited career opportunities in Scotland, the Scottish bourgeoisie played a disproportionate role in Britain's colonial adventures. It was its contribution to the looting of Asia, for instance, which produced some of Britain's future largest companies - like HSBC in banking, the commercial multinationals Swire and Jardine Matheson, the giant port operator Hutchinson, among many others.

Until the mid-19th century Scottish nationalism was not represented by any identifiable political current. It took the discontent created by the economic crises of the second part of the 19th century for the issue of Scottish autonomy to be raised. But it did not last, neither among the petty-bourgeoisie, where it had first emerged, nor in the working class. Keir Hardie's Scottish Labour Party, which had been launched on this basis, went into the Independent Labour Party, which became the political backbone of the Labour Party. As a result, the idea of Scottish autonomy survived in the background, within Labour's "broad church", regardless of the policy of its leadership in this respect.

Paradoxically, it was the internationalist wing of the Scottish working-class movement which revived Scottish nationalism. Against the betrayal of the British working-class organisations which had rallied the banner of British imperialism in World War I, the Clyde working class was the vanguard of the opposition to the "social peace" ordered by the TUC. It was from this breeding ground of radical working-class activists that a new current emerged around the perspective of a "Scottish Workers' Republic" - which was personified by John Maclean, a revolutionary Marxist and one of the leading figures of the opposition to the imperialist war. Although this perspective was primarily a way for its supporters to distance themselves from an official British working-class movement which had turned its back on any kind of class politics, this was a dangerous trend for the working-class movement - and one which was to leave a lasting negative trace. Fortunately, with the generalisation of the unofficial action against conscription across Britain, from 1916 onwards, and, above all, with the enthusiastic impulse generated by the October revolution in Russia and the launch of the Communist International, this radical current integrated itself into the ranks of the new British Communist Party, on an internationalist basis, and any significant and organised form of Scottish nationalism disappeared from the ranks of the Scottish working class.

It took another crisis - the Great Depression of the 1930s - for Scottish nationalism to re-emerge. Some regionalist and nationalist groups appeared in the petty-bourgeoisie as a reaction to the catastrophic devastation of the crisis. Others, more to left, emerged against the perceived betrayal of the Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald, who had joined the "National Government" with a whole section of his party, together with the Tories and Liberals, in order to make the working-class foot the bill for the crisis.

Eventually, in 1934, the traditionalist nationalist groupings joined ranks with the Scottish Tories to launch the SNP, the Scottish National Party. However this party had to wait for another three decades before it was able to become a bit more visible.

A Scottish pawn in the British politicians' game

In the early 1960s, Scotland's antiquated heavy industries went into a crisis - largely due to decades of underinvestment. The working class was worst affected. But as opposed to other past crises, this decline also hit the petty-bourgeoisie which saw its standards of living suddenly going down the drain, after the substantial improvement it had experienced since the war. And since the rest of Britain did not seem to be facing the same degradation (at least, not yet: it just came later), its growing discontent led it to turn to the SNP's demagogy - and the SNP's scores in by-elections began to increase.

In 1970s, the first oil platform was set up in the North Sea, providing the SNP with an argument to back up its perspective of an independent Scotland - around the slogan "this oil is ours". Then came the explosion of oil prices in 1973 which allowed the SNP to peddle the mirage of a Scottish version of Kuwait, which London ministers would have to beg for their oil supply.

The SNP then swopped its traditionalist overtones for a more populist language, accusing England of living a parasitic life on Scotland's oil resources. In the October 1974 elections, the SNP managed to win 30.4% of the votes in Scotland - a score which only one of the three main parties had ever managed to achieve so far. In terms of seats, it was less successful, due to the first-past-the-post system: it won only 11 seats against Labour's 41 and the Tories' 16. Nevertheless, the SNP had now passed the "credibility threshold" and could not longer be dismissed as a "protest party".

What the SNP needed to make a decisive breakthrough in the political system, was the right set of circumstances. And it came in 1978. Labour prime minister James Callaghan had just lost the support of the Liberals and found himself without a majority in the Commons. Overnight, the 11 SNP MPs and their 3 Plaid Cymru colleagues found themselves holding the balance of power. In return for their support, Callaghan offered both parties a referendum over regional devolution. These were held in March 1979. In Scotland, the "Yes" vote may have won narrowly at the polls with a 51.6% score, but the low turnout meant that this was still not enough to achieve the required 40% of all registered votes to win - as stipulated in the Devolution Bill.

Then the Tories came back into office and there was no more question of devolution for Scotland. Moreover, the SNP lost half of its votes and 9 of its 11 MPs - which showed which political milieu had flocked to the SNP over the previous period.

Devolution back on the agenda

From the 18th century, Scotland had retained a number of specific institutions - its legal and education system, in particular. At the time this had been a concession to the Scottish middle-class and church. But with time, this concession had proved double-edged. For instance, the Scottish legal profession had nothing to fear from English competitors, but conversely, they could not operate in England, due to the differences between the two legal systems and had, therefore, limited career opportunities. Likewise, the centralisation of the state machinery resulted in few high-ranking jobs being on offer in Scotland.

After 1979, this situation was made even worse by the recession which hit Scotland even more badly than England - with one job in five disappearing in just 2 years. The collapse of Scotland's large industry, the concentration of the new services industries in the South of England and the drastic cuts in public jobs - all this combined to deprive a significant section of the Scottish petty-bourgeoisie of any career prospect.

Against this backdrop, devolution, with a Scottish Parliament taking over all the responsibilities of the Scottish Secretary of State on the basis of a certain level of financial autonomy, began to be seen by a section of this petty-bourgeoisie as a way of regaining its past social status.

Although it was limited at first to the nationalist milieu and to this section of discontented petty-bourgeois, the idea of devolution gained some support among larger layers of voters. In particular it gained some support among the working-class, which was most directly affected by the policies of the Tory government in London - and all the more so because, in four consecutive general elections, between 1979 and 1992, the Tories won a majority in the Commons, while Labour came a distant first in Scotland. Besides, the disaffection of the Scottish working class with Westminster, was compounded by Thatcher's choice to use Scotland as a testing ground for the Poll Tax.

As to Labour, it had every reason to be in favour of devolution since it was virtually certain to win a majority in a future Scottish parliament. Predictably, therefore, after Blair came to office in 1997, he called devolution referendums in both Scotland and Wales. And to make sure not to repeat the 1979 fiasco, any quorum condition was removed from the devolution bill. In both regions, therefore, the "Yes" vote won, despite a turnout which was under 60%. This allowed Blair to posture both as a champion of "regional democracy" and of the "United Kingdom".

As expected, in the first election to the Scottish Parliament Labour was the largest party with 56 MSPs (out of 129 seats) to the SNP's 35. Labour formed a ruling coalition with the Liberal-Democrats while the SNP became the official opposition in the Edinburgh Parliament.

The devolution gravy train

The new Scottish devolved administration had no say over areas such as diplomacy, defence and immigration. But it was fully responsible for others: social services and health, local government, education and training, housing and transport, law and order, agriculture and fisheries, forests and the environment, the arts and... job creation. It was funded through a global annual budget allocated on the basis of an obscure method, known as the "Barnett formula", whose main object was to ensure that regional budgets would go up and down in the same proportion as the overall British budget, without taking any account of the region's real needs.

In 1999, this budget was set at £27bn (reaching £37bn in the last financial year) and although inadequate to really cater for the needs of the population, it was a real bounty for aspiring politicians - all the more so, as they could use it as they saw fit, robbing Peter to pay Paul, if need be.

Very soon Scotland's institutions displayed the same parasitism as their counterparts in London. There was a series of financial scandals, in which politicians from just about every party were caught with their hands in the till - especially Labour, because of its leading position in the Edinburgh Parliament.

One of the first decisions taken by the MSPs had been to award those who lived more than 90 miles from Edinburgh an allowance for housing expenses during parliamentary sessions - which could reach almost £10,000 a year. Subsequently, a long string of expenses scandals - similar to those in the Commons - revealed that some MSPs used their allowances to speculate on Edinburgh's very profitable housing market. Similarly, just as in the Commons, lobbying practices developed around the Scottish Parliament, in which leading Labour politicians were caught red-handed.

Another scandal broke out over the new headquarters of the Scottish Parliament, next to Holyrood castle. Its final cost proved to be more than 8 times the budget it had been initially allocated by MSPs - which earned the new building the nickname of "Follyrood". There were rumours that backhanders had been paid to high flying politicians, but who were the beneficiaries still remains unknown.

The devolved institutions were supposedly responsible for "job creation" and, indeed, took this responsibility very seriously, but.. in their own way. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of civil servants in charge of Scotland's administration went up from 45,000 to 60,000. Out of the 15,000 new jobs some probably provided unemployed workers with a useful job and, above all, a wage. But this was not the case for all, by far. For instance, it was hard to understand the fact that 4,500 jobs were created just to service the needs of the two dozen or so members of the Scottish Executive. Likewise for the 106 quangos which were set up during the same period. Their function was often unclear, but they all offered positions for managers as well as for financial, legal and other experts. In reality, many of these "new jobs" had no other purpose than to provide nice little earners for a social milieu which was already not badly off, especially for those with the right connections within the ruling parties.

In other words, those who had hoped that the Scottish climate would free the bourgeois parliamentary system of the corruption and cronyism so prominent in Westminster, were soon deeply disappointed.

At the bosses' beck and call, just like in London

The Scottish institutions had the power to vary income tax rates by plus or minus 3%, compared to those applied in England. But they have never used these powers so far - neither to reduce the taxes paid by the poorest, nor to increase those paid by the richest. Blair had made sure not to give these institutions powers which might have affected the bosses' interests, whether in terms of profits or in terms of their relationship with workers. In particular, setting the rate of corporation tax and welfare benefits was off limits for the Scottish Parliament.

However, Scottish politicians never even tried to break loose from this straitjacket - they showed just as much respect for capitalist interests as their colleagues in Westminster. For instance, the Scottish Executive, hired the services of a host of "consultants" drawn from leading business circles, who were paid a fortune for a few hours of their "expertise" each week. Such was the case, for instance, of "Sir" John Ward, who was appointed as part-time chairman of Scottish Enterprise, a quango which was supposed to promote the development of Scottish industry, with a very substantial budget. Not only was Ward the CEO of two financial companies at the time, but he was also a previous head of the Scottish CBI, the bosses' organisation. Of course, who other than such a character would have the required "expertise" for distributing subsidies to his fellow bosses?

During this period, most of the pro-business measures which were introduced in Britain by Blair, were also introduced in Scotland. Large areas of public services were contracted out to private companies and, just as in England, this resulted in degraded services, while the conditions of the workers concerned went down the drain. Just as in England, a significant share of public funds were transferred straight into the coffers of big private companies, through Private Finance Initiative and Public-Private Partnership schemes. Likewise with the anti-working class measures introduced by Blair, especially against the unemployed. Under the pretext that they had no power in this field, the Scottish institutions zealously implemented the measures decided in London, without the slightest resistance.

There were only two areas in which the Scottish Parliament tried to distance itself from Westminster. On the one hand, in the field of linguistics, Gaelic sub-titles were added to official documents, even though few Scots actually understood this language. On the other hand, new measures were introduced in an area which could have been less tokenistic - personal care. Just as London was in the process of separating this type of care from medical care and making it chargeable, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation in 2002 to entitle everyone over 65 to free personal care, if they were assessed as needing it. Except that no extra money was allocated for it. As a result, there was soon a huge backlog of elderly people waiting for an assessment. When people managed to pass the assessment, they still had to wait for the service to actually be provided. So that in March 2006, an estimated 5,000 people who were entitled to free personal care, where still waiting for it, because the administrative machinery which was in charge of delivering the goods was blocked by a shortage of funding.

The SNP in office

In the 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament, the disappointment caused by Labour's policies, both in London and Edinburgh, and the unpopularity of the Iraq occupation resulted in a change in the majority. The three main parties lost just 6 seats - among which Labour lost 4 - but the SNP won an additional 20 seats, at the expense of the many small lists which had been represented in the Parliament so far, from the Greens to the far-left. As a result, the SNP became the largest party in Holyrood - although, only by a hair's breadth, since the SNP had 47 MSPs against Labour's 46. It formed a minority government.

In order to win this tiny majority, however, the SNP had had to go through an extensive revamping operation. In 2004, a veteran of the SNP's "left wing", Alex Salmond, had been elected to the party leadership. Subsequently, the SNP's language became more left-sounding, so as to sound to the left of Labour - which, of course, was not very difficult, given how much Labour had shifted to the right under Blair. To many Scottish voters, the SNP appeared as representing the continuity of Labour's traditional values as opposed to Blair's "New Labour". This feeling was boosted by the SNP's posture against the Iraq war - even though its opposition was always very respectful, since it never did anything in practice to organise anything against it. But this was enough for the SNP to capitalise on the public's hostility against the Iraq war, across the political spectrum.

Very soon after coming into office, in the last months of 2007, the SNP Scottish Executive was confronted with the first cracks of the financial crisis. Its policies were not much different from those of Gordon Brown's Labour government in London. It subscribed willingly to the bailout of the big banks - especially as two of them, RBS and HBOS, were Scottish-based. Likewise, it increased its subsidies to companies through, among other channels, Scottish Enterprise, whose budget was miraculously spared from the austerity drive. Meanwhile it introduced cuts in both public services and social budgets.

Nevertheless, the SNP tried to consolidate its electoral support with a few headline measures which would not be too costly. The first measure, which was introduced in 2007, was primarily targeted at the nationalists' petty-bourgeois electorate. University tuition became free for Scottish students who chose to study in Scotland, thereby repealing the university tuition fees introduced by Blair in 1998. But, by the same token, this created a grotesque situation in Scottish universities, whereby English students had to pay the full tuition fees just as if they had been studying in England, whereas, in accordance with EU regulations, EU students studied for free just like Scottish students.

However the most far-reaching measure taken by the SNP during its first term, especially among the working class, was to scrap prescription charges for all - thereby returning to the fully-free NHS as it has been introduced by Labour back in 1948. This only reinforced the illusion among working-class voters that the SNP was the only true "Old Labour" political party.

Since this last measure had been introduced just one month before the May 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament, it was clearly primarily designed to be a vote-winner. However, this transparent electioneering did not prevent the SNP from increasing its score by a third and its share of the Holyrood seats by half - largely due to the discredit of the Con-Dem coalition which had come into office in Westminster the year before. Indeed, these elections were less a nationalist tidal wave than a vote against the parties in power in London - which lost half of their seats. The SNP replaced the Liberal-Democrats in the rural north of Scotland while the Tories were left with only one seat. Labour's losses in terms of votes were not as bad, but it lost 7 seats due to the concentration of the right-wing votes on SNP candidates. Even more significant was the fact that in Greater Glasgow, which had been considered so far as an impregnable Labour stronghold, the SNP topped the poll in terms of votes, winning the same number of seats due to the election system. In any case, the SNP now had an absolute majority in the Edinburgh Parliament and was totally free to implement his policies.

They want their cake and eat it

Having promised a referendum over independence during the election campaign, the SNP had to deliver. Salmond embarked on protracted negotiations leading to legislation being passed in London and Edinburgh to define the referendum's framework.

But these negotiations involved a lot of pussy-footing on the part of the SNP. Ironically, it turned out that the SNP was not so strong on independence after all, and that its preoccupations were far more down-to-earth than its nationalist tirades implied.

Thus, instead of a referendum for or against independence, the SNP tried to get Cameron to agree to the addition of a third option, the so-called "Devo-Max", which would take devolution much further, almost to federalism. Under "Devo-Max", the Scottish institutions would have been entirely responsible for Scotland's finances. They would have set all rates of taxation and collected taxes, both direct and indirect. They would have had full powers to borrow on financial markets, without having to seek Westminster's agreement, while paying their share of Britain's overall public expenditure. Defence and foreign affairs would have been the only area in which London would have retained full control.

In short, with "Devo-Max", the Scottish nationalists would have had their cake while eating it: they would have had full control of the management of a complete state machinery, while retaining the financial security resulting from still being an integral part of an economic entity as rich as Britain.

But Cameron didn't intend to concede any ground to the SNP in this respect. He was definitely against a "Devo-Max" option, because this could only generate more doubts about the already precarious health of Britain's state finances. But, equally decisive in his opposition, was the fact that he desperately needed a "victory" to revamp his image, in the run-up to the 2015 general elections - and if opinions were to believed, the SNP would have won the case for a "Devo-Max" option.

The SNP clung to its third option as much as it could, but to no avail. The fact was that Cameron was in a position to dictate his terms, if only because without his agreement, there could no referendum at all. So, after over a year of protracted negotiations, the final agreement provided for a yes/no referendum on the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?". The only concession Cameron made to the SNP was to agree to lower the voting age to 16, for the first time ever in Britain - something that the SNP was apparently hoped would be a vote-winner.

Campaigning for capitalist interests

At first, the SNP's referendum campaign focused on its traditional themes. Once again, North-Sea oil was called upon to substantiate the idea that the Scots were unfairly "exploited" by London and that independence would mean much higher standards of living. As the credibility of this argument was wearing out in direct proportion to the depletion of the North Sea oil reserves, the SNP produced official studies which were meant to show that much larger reserves remained untapped off the Scottish coast.

The SNP highlighted some of the magnificent benefits that would result from such a bounty, provided Scotland was independent. For instance, the nationalists proposed to channel part of the future oil revenue into a "sovereign fund", similar to that of Kuwait and of Norway, which would protect Education and the NHS against any form of privatisation and guarantee that they remained free at the point of use, regardless of the ups and downs of the world economy - contrary to what had happened in England.

Of course, there was no question of the SNP exposing capitalist profiteering, neither in the oil industry nor with respect to its responsibility for the crisis. While its demagogy was partly targeted at the working-class electorate, the policies it was proposing were mostly targeted at big business - Scottish and otherwise. The SNP failed to mention that it was the shareholders of the oil majors who had lined their pockets with the profits of North-Sea oil, rather than these profits having gone towards benefiting the "English" population. And that of course, Scottish independence would change nothing to this. When it boasted that Scotland's future oil income could be used to bring back "full employment", by attracting foreign investments in order to revive an industry which had been devastated by successive crises, the SNP stopped short of exposing the role of the powerful industrial companies which had been slashing jobs left, right and centre, in Scotland just as much as in England. Nor did it mention the fact that, in order to attract these foreign investments, Scottish workers would have to make themselves "attractive" to investors - i.e. agree to an aggravation of their exploitation by the bosses.

But even in this role as respectful promoters of capitalist interests, the nationalists could not win - in any case, not in the eyes of the capitalists themselves. Not that the capitalists were necessarily too worried about the prospect of Scotland's independence. For instance, in an interview with the Financial Times, a top director with HSBC explained that the banks had always been able to rely on state officials' willingness to pass agreements designed to facilitate transactions between big financial players - and that there was no reason to believe that things would be different in an independent Scotland.

Some capitalists, like Jim Ratcliffe, the notorious union-bashing CEO and largest shareholder of Ineos, one of the world's 10 largest petro-chemical groups, did go so far as to shore up the SNP's case by celebrating the advantages of a "small state", whose leaders were more "accessible" to companies. But then this is understandable, considering that national borders are not a big issue for a multinational like Ineos, which is listed in London, is Swiss-based for tax purposes and has production units in half-a-dozen different countries across the world! As to the "accessibility" mentioned by Ratcliffe, wasn't it rather due to the fact that Ineos' turnover is in the same order of magnitude as the Scottish government's entire budget?

In front of the capitalists, the SNP was no match for the three main British parties, which regrouped under the banner of the "Better Together" campaign for the "No vote". With their long-standing record for managing the interests of the capitalist class in office and the backing of the huge economic weight of the British state, with all the subsidies, tax rebates and other forms of financial support it provides for companies, these parties had far more convincing arguments than the SNP. As a result, it was Cameron who, with Ed Miliband's wholehearted support, had no difficulty in setting the agenda of the referendum campaign.

And they pulled out all of their big guns. The financial press obligingly published full-page adverts in support of the "No" vote, with the signature of the CEOs of some of Britain's largest groups. RBS and Lloyds, the two banks headquartered in Scotland in which the government has had a controlling shareholding since the 2008 bank bailout, announced that in case of a "Yes" victory, they would "have to" move their headquarters south of the border, with the likely loss of tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland. The private insurance and financial investment giant, Standard Life, which is also Scottish-based, soon made a similar announcement. As to engineering and weapon-manufacturing groups Babcock and BAE, both large Navy subcontractors which employ, directly or indirectly, tens of thousands of workers in Scotland, they implied that they might also "have to" relocalise their activities to England.

Blackmail as a political argument

In fact, one of the main planks of the "No" campaign was blackmail, pure and simple - by brandishing the cataclysms which were allegedly bound to result from independence.

The catastrophic flow of jobs out of Scotland was one of these cataclysms, but there were many others.

For instance, there was the farcical polemic around the issue of which currency an independent Scotland would use, in which the three main parties easily managed to ridicule the nationalists. The SNP's proposal, which was not very popular in nationalist circles, was to retain the British pound within the framework of a currency union. Cameron retorted that such an option was off the table since London would no longer have the means to control the expenditure of an independent Scotland and, therefore, to guarantee the stability of a common currency. At the same time, he went out of his way to highlight that, should Scotland introduce its own currency based on such a small economy, it would have to pay exorbitant interest on its public debt.

The SNP tried to respond to this scaremongering by resorting to the face-saving fallback position of Scotland joining the eurozone. But Cameron was quick to reply that even if Scotland's request was agreed by both the European Union and the eurozone - which was far from being a foregone conclusion, especially if England opposed Scotland's candidacy (although Cameron was careful not to mention this as a possibility), the whole process would take years and, in the meantime, Scotland was likely to have to face very hard times!

Then came another polemic, this time over the way Britain's public debt would be shared out after independence. Since the SNP has always made a point of demonstrating that it would be a responsible partner for the financial industry, it has also made a point of stressing its determination to take responsibility for Scotland's share of Britain's public debt, in proportion to the size of the Scottish population. But this allowed Cameron to catch the SNP in a trap laid out by its own demagogy, by arguing that the only fair way to share out Britain's public debt would be in proportion to GDP. And since, according to the SNP, Scotland's GDP was so much inflated by its oil revenue (on paper at least), its share of the public debt should be much larger than the figure presented by the SNP - something which would require a significant increase in Scotland's income tax rates. This was the kind of argument which was likely to scare the SNP's petty-bourgeois voters who began to doubt this party's promise of using the oil revenue to cut taxes.

One reactionary nationalism against another

While the SNP had nothing to "sell" apart from its nationalist mirage, the supporters of the "No" vote had really nothing more to offer than this kind of scaremongering.

Indeed, apart from their predicted catastrophes, what perspective did they have to offer? Remaining in a "United Kingdom", whose royalty has long passed its sell-by date and whose political and judicial systems have hardly changed since the 18th century? Remaining in a "Great" Britain which still occupies Northern Ireland against the will of a large section of its population, thereby preventing its reunification with the Irish Republic, and keeps waging military ventures across the planet, for the benefit of a handful of multinationals, thereby spreading terror and death among the populations of the poor countries? There was definitely nothing positive or attractive in the nationalism of the "No" camp.

And what about the supporters of the "No" vote themselves? Cameron was threatening Scottish voters with terrible disasters if they dared to break away from the "Union" with England. But wasn't the same Cameron also threatening to break away from the EU, officially under the pretext of stopping Britain's "invasion" by EU migrants, but in reality, to protect the profits of the City bankers and allow British bosses to undercut their European rivals by disregarding the EU's employment regulations? As to Miliband, didn't his party support, or even preside over, every single military venture launched by British imperialism, from WWI to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the present bombings of the same country? Didn't his party orchestrate the 2008 banking bailout and pave the way for the past six years of austerity and regression in its living conditions experienced by the working class?

But, against the reactionary nature of the "No" camp, the nationalist mirage put forward by the SNP was not just illusionary - it was just as reactionary. Adding yet another national border to the countless artificial divisions inherited from a more or less distant past, especially in Europe - borders which are the cause of so many tensions and only aggravate the built-in irrationality of the capitalist system - could only be a step backward for society as a whole. The fact that Scotland's independence would have been an unwelcome development was perfectly illustrated by the SNP's determination to have its own Scottish army and to join the Cold War imperialist alliance, NATO. It would have been a reactionary outcome for the 800,000 or so Scottish workers living in England, who would have become immigrants overnight. As to Scottish workers living in Scotland, they would soon have been faced with blackmail, demanding from them that they should agree to be more "competitive" in order to attract foreign investors. Ultimately, all Scottish workers, both those living inside or outside Scotland, would have been made to foot a bill designed to allow a thin layer of politicians and the privileged to keep for themselves the perks and spoils of a state apparatus of their own.

The fact that, despite all of this, many Scottish workers chose to cast a "Yes" vote in the referendum, to express their rejection of what the main parties represent, only highlights the absence of any political perspective offered to the working class against the capitalists' attacks in the crisis. In short, this highlights the absence of a party defending its political interests and determined to take the lead in its struggles. Had such a party existed, it would have called on Scottish workers to refuse to have anything to do with this bogus choice between two reactionary nationalisms and, instead, to build a counter-offensive bringing together all its forces, Scottish and English, in order to start regaining the ground lost to the capitalist class. In the absence of such a party, many Scottish workers chose to use the only means they were offered to express their real feelings - even though, as a result, what they expressed was unfortunately ambiguous.