An Phoblacht

Scottish independence closer than ever - Emergence of new pro-independence parties the key

ALAN McCOMBES, National Policy Co-ordinator for the Scottish Socialist Party, replies to MICK DERRIG's article in last week's paper which argued that devolution has successfully defused the campaign for Scottish independence.

Mick Derrig's article on the state of Scottish politics missed out some vital ingredients, which in turn renders his analysis one-sided and superficial.

It is true that the SNP has suffered a decline in both membership and electoral support in the past few years. But it is a mistake to draw from that the sweeping conclusion that "the dream of independence has been successfully defused by Tony Blair".

While the SNP's fortunes have declined, there has been a corresponding rise in smaller pro-independence supporting parties, principally the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish Green Party.

Between them, these parties won 13 MSPs in 2003 — up from just two in 1999. Their support among the electorate rose from 6% in 1999 to 15% in 2003.

In the 1997 General Election that swept Blair to power, one in five Scottish voters backed pro-independence parties. That figure is now one in three.

Mick Derrig says that Westminster neutered the Scottish Parliament by introducing a voting system that denies the SNP an overall majority. But the architects of devolution failed to foresee the emergence of the new pro-independence parties.

There are plans to launch by the end of this year 'Independence Convention' through which pro-independence parties and individuals can co-operate in accelerating the drive towards independence, while maintaining their distinct ideological positions.

There has been a dramatic long-term shifting of the sands in Scotland's relations with the UK. In 1979, just 38% of Scots rejected any sense of a British identity.

By 2002, that figure had risen to 77%.

Against that background, there is at least a strong possibility that the three pro-independence parties, plus independent MSPs who are anti-Union, will form an outright majority within the Scottish Parliament after the next election in 2007.

Mick Derrig is also on shaky ground when he attributes the SNP's decline to disillusionment over the cost of the new Holyrood Parliament building.

Newspapers such as the Tory-unionist Scotsman have indeed tried to use the spiralling costs of the building as evidence that Scots "don't deserve the power that they have, never mind deserve to be entrusted with full sovereignty".

But most people are well aware that it was the Westminster Government, backed by the pro-Union parties in Scotland, which took the key decisions that led to the Holyrood fiasco.

According to a recent poll carried out by the respected Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, 66% of Scots want more power to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. The poll also found that fewer than 5% want a return to direct rule from Westminster.

Yes, there is disappointment at the failure of the Scottish Parliament to make a real difference; but that is dwarfed by the contempt felt towards a Westminster government which is up to its neck in blood and lies.

The SNP's failure to capitalise on anti-Westminster sentiment has little to do with the Holyrood project and plenty to do with the party's increasingly bland, boring, pro-establishment image.

Even the SNP's own leadership contestants have acknowledged that fact over the past weeks of campaigning.

Far from proving Tony Blair "totally and utterly correct", the shift of hundreds of thousands of Scottish voters from the SNP — and from Labour — towards new, radical, leftist, pro-independence parties, means that the long term future of the United Kingdom is more precarious than the New Labour establishment could ever have anticipated prior to the setting up of the Scottish Parliament.

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