This article was originally written for socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International.
At least 80,000 marchers packed the rain-soaked streets of Glasgow in a mass Scottish pro-independence demonstration, on Saturday, January 11 January 2020. The date for the mobilisation was set hours after Boris Johnson’s general election victory last December.
This was not just a repeat of the sizeable, ‘All Under One Banner’ marches of the last couple of years. The protest reflected mounting anger at the prospect of another Tory government and a growing willingness to struggle for independence to change society and end austerity.
The marchers were, more than previously, drawn from working-class communities across Scotland and particularly Glasgow and the West of Scotland. Many had also travelled in the early morning from Scotland’s other towns and cities. The young were the last to appear, but came in their thousands and with militancy; many of them were too young to vote even in the first indyref in 2014.
The protesters chanted, “Tories, Tories, Tories Out, Out, Out”; “Boris Johnson’s Got To Go” and “When Tories Say Cut Back – We Say Fight Back”.
Rather than being despondent after the election, the mood on the demo indicated that there is a growing mood to fight.
Homemade banners were displayed with the slogan, “Our Right To Decide”; confronting the arrogance of Tory leaders, like Johnson and Michael Gove but also Blairites, like Jess Philips Labour MP, who deny the right to a second independence referendum.
This was a march that showed the growing space to the left of the official leadership of the independence movement, the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP naively believe that Johnson will cave into accepting the mandate of the SNP, who won 80% of Scottish Westminster seats in the December general election, on a pledge of delivering indyref2, and will agree to negotiate a second referendum.
But the ruling class in Britain will do all they can to oppose a second referendum, fearing the result will mean the break-up of the UK. Under those conditions, a Catalonia-type confrontation is developing that will see mass pressure on the SNP to defy the Tories’ refusal to concede the right to self-determination.
What is clear is that a mass movement for democratic rights is unfolding in Scotland.
Despite the biblical weather, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI) street stalls were busy and we got a great response to our slogans. We heard many times, “An independent socialist Scotland? I agree with that, give us one”, as we gave out thousands of leaflets.
The argument from nationalists that we should not raise socialism, at this stage, but only focus on independence, was a weaker one, this time.
Marchers crowded around our stalls to sign petitions calling for a mass working-class campaign to demand IndyRef2 that the Scottish government defy Boris Johnson and the Tories and organise a referendum.
We linked these demands for democratic rights explicitly with the need to fight all cuts and austerity, for public ownership of the economy and socialist change.
After the march, Socialist Party Scotland held a public meeting on, “How can we build a mass working-class movement for indyref2?” Workers and young people came to hear more about the Socialist Party Scotland.
Glasgow Unison branch secretary and Socialist Party Scotland member, Brian Smith, spoke, addressing the powerful role the organised working class and the trade union movement can play in fighting for democratic rights and to change society.
Brian made clear that workers and trade unions are in conflict not just with the Tories but also the SNP and Labour over cuts, low pay, attacks on the trade unions and privatisation.
An independent, working-class and trade union campaign needs to be built to fight for socialist independence. Brian also highlighted that workers in Scotland need real socialist political representation.
Socialist Party Scotland members will be fighting in the trade unions for full democratic discussion and debate over the issue of independence and for the trade unions to lead a mass movement for indyref2.
Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland National Secretary, pointed to the international crisis of capitalism and the mass movements taking place of workers and youth in Chile and France.
Philip explained how Socialist Party Scotland supported Corbyn’s radical left policies but had also demanded a change in Labour’s anti-self-determination position in Scotland and the failure to articulate a socialist exit from the EU.
Both these issues proved to be fatal for Labour in the general election. Even now, after the catastrophic result, the left in Labour does not seem to be willing to confront the Blairites and change course.
And the struggle for socialist policies will be crucial to winning a majority for independence, as the SNP tack further in a pro-business direction, narrowing the appeal of independence.
Tricia, an NHS worker who came to the meeting and who has voted for the SNP, expressed real anger at the cuts to the NHS and the role of the Scottish government in implementing austerity.
The SNP have been increasingly exposed since 2014 over austerity and last Saturday’s mobilisation for independence reflects the political vacuum to the left. What is needed is a new, mass workers’ party in Scotland fighting for socialist policies to lead the struggle against cuts and capitalism and for an independent socialist Scotland, along with a struggle for socialism across these islands and throughout Europe.