We are as they say living in interesting times in Scotland.
On the 18th September Scotland goes to the polls to answer the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The latest opinion poll shows Yes ahead for the first time with a 2% lead.
Both sides will be campaigning right up to the last minute; no one will be taking the result for granted.
I’ve written the following piece to offer an overview of what is happening and to highlight one of the main issues that has led to most debate and division in the labour and trade union movement here in Scotland that of social justice and the best way to achieve it.
I think that it’s fair to say that the debate has had its highs and lows.
People have been verbally abused for holding opposing views, eggs have been thrown and there have been reports of physical attacks.
Social media has also been deployed to attack opponents with the cybernats gaining a particularly dubious notoriety.
The more positive side of the campaign has seen meetings being organised in halls the length and breadth of Scotland by both campaigns sometimes debating the issues together and sometimes apart.
People that have shown little interest in politics up until this point have become engaged with the political process and got involved in both campaigns.
Amongst predication's of a 70% turn-out we have seen town halls extending their opening hours so that people could register to vote come the deadline for registration.
The Yes campaign includes the SNP, Green Party and SSP.
The SNP have published a White Paper setting out their vision of an independent Scotland that keeps the pound, membership of Nato and retains the Queen.
Though this is clearly designed to appeal to voters as a safety first approach to independence there are those in the Yes campaign who want an independent Scotland to take a more radical approach.
The SNP’s favoured option of a currency union has not only been ruled out by the three main UK parties but has also been dismissed as ‘Stupidity on Stilts’ by Jim Sillars a former Deputy Leader of the SNP who is calling for an independent Scotland to have its own currency.
The main No campaign is called Better Together and includes the Labour Party, Tories and Lib/Dems.
The Labour Party also has its own campaign called United with Labour.
These are strange times in Scotland for the left.
Those that under other circumstances would be expected to make common cause find themselves on different sides of the argument.
In one corner you find Tommy Sheridan supporting a Yes vote in the other George Galloway and the Morning Star opposing this view supporting No.
There are two opposing arguments put forward on the left as to the pros and cons of independence.
The main argument revolves around how best to deliver social justice.
In the Yes camp there are those who believe that an independent Scotland can be a progressive beacon to the rest of the world.
this view notably Billy Bragg who is of the view that an independent Scotland will lead to a radical reawakening of the left in the remainder of the UK or rUK as it has been called during this debate.
With the Tories only having 1 MP in Scotland a Yes vote is also advanced as the best way to ensure that Scotland never has to suffer a Tory Government again.
These same voices also believe that in an independent Scotland the Labour Party will become more radical.
The Labour vote has been targeted in a sustained way by the Yes campaign.
Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister made a direct appeal to Labour voters at the SNP spring conference saying that she did not want them to abandon their party but to vote Yes to reclaim their party.
The Radical Independence Campaign which includes the SSP has also sought to target the traditional Labour vote by organising what it terms as mass canvassing and voter registration on council estates.
On the No side the view of the left is that independence weakens the prospect of further progressive change and weakens solidarity and unity amongst the working class.
The NHS, National Minimum Wage and Pensions are cited as examples of how workers have benefited in the past from being part of a union that shares resources.
In the future the introduction of a Living Wage, 50p tax rate and removal of the Bedroom Tax are seen as policies that will advance the cause of social justice throughout Britain.
Federalism is also being floated by some in the No campaign as a basis for a future constitutional settlement.
The Red Paper for Scotland (redpaper.net) produced by trade unionsists, members of the Labour Party and others on the left under the red paper collective banner has sought to influence the debate, mainly in regard to a No vote.
In essence their analysis is that:-
‘The answers to the real problems facing us all will not be found in
Some political commentators outwith Scotland have also expressed constitutional change, but in political change.’
As well as offering views on the economy, class and democracy it also challenges the Labour Party to be more redistributive in its approach.
In terms of the trade union movement six major trade unions support a No vote; the GMB, the NUM, USDAW, the CWU, ASLEF and Community.
In recent days the RMT has voted in favour of supporting a Yes vote.
PCS held a special conference following consultation amongst branches which reached the decision that PCS would not support either Yes or No but take a position of PCS informs – you decide.
A number of meetings have been held around Scotland where members have been invited to hear both sides of the debate.
A booklet has also been issued to members in the past week setting out where the political parties and respective campaigns stand in relation to a series of set questions on issues such as public services, austerity and taxation.
The STUC has also remained neutral and has held events under the A Just Scotland banner to stimulate discussion.
During the course of the campaign Labour, Conservatives and Lib/Dems have all promised more powers for Scotland within the current devolved set-up should there be a No vote.
Therefore there will still be change if there is a No vote.
With the count being straight after polling stations close on the 18th September the early hours of Friday the 19th September should see clarity as to which road Scotland is travelling down and what the implications of that might be for the future of the United Kingdom.