Socialist believes Scots want change beyond SNP's vision
Scottish Socialist Party chief believes voter registration is key to winning referendum
Scottish Socialist Party national convenor Colin Fox: “This isn’t a Celtic-Rangers match: this is more like Celtic-Partick Thistle.” Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Colin Fox of the Scottish Socialist Party walks into Buchanan Street bus station in Glasgow with a “Yes Scotland” satchel over his shoulder, wearing a broad grin. A month out, Fox is bullish that he is on the winning side, despite opinion polls.
Fox is a member of the board of “Yes Scotland”, the pro-independence campaigning group, which is dominated by the Scottish National Party and its leader, first minister Alex Salmond, who emphasises the role of the smaller parties when it suits him.
For now, Fox, the national convenor of the SSP, tolerates the SNP’s dominance, but nurses the belief that everything will change if Scots vote for independence when they go to the polls on September 18th.
In the 1980s, Fox worked for Militant in London when the Trotskyite group was influential within Labour. Ten years, ago, he became the Scottish Socialist Party’s national convenor after his charismatic predecessor, Tommy Sheridan, was jailed for perjury.
By then, he was a member of the Scottish parliament at Holyrood – one of six SSP deputies – but the 2007 election saw the loss of all six of its seats, when the party felt the ire of voters over Sheridan’s conduct.
Salmond is miscalculating, Fox believes. Firstly, he seeks to argue independence will make everything possible, but also change nothing: the pound will remain the currency, the queen will stay on the throne, Scotland will remain in Nato.
Fox argues Scots want change, but change on a level that far exceeds Salmond’s desires or ambitions. “He is trying to appeal to a conservative audience, to people that he believes have to be won over.”
However, nearly half of the SNP’s own support base opposes independence: “If we win then, yes, a large proportion of the vote will have come from the SNP, sure, but a very large proportion will not be SNP voters, and they’ll not be ignored.”
Too many in Scotland are talking up the dangers of post-referendum division, he believes. “Yes, there are differences of opinion. But this isn’t a Celtic-Rangers match; this is more like Celtic-Partick Thistle,” he says, with a roar of laughter, before quickly growing serious again to dismiss Salmond’s idea that Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats will get a say afterwards.
In a speech in March, Salmond proposed that “Team Scotland” negotiators would be appointed to represent Scotland’s interests in the 16 months of negotiations that are laid down if voters do say Yes.
“Salmond’s view is that Team Scotland would operate as some sort of government of national unity, with Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats,” Fox says. “Well, we think if Yes wins then Yes is democratically entitled to have its mandate implemented.
“And that does not mean offering the Tories, Labour or the Liberal Democrats – who are even more hated than the Conservatives ever were – a second bite at the cherry so that they can undermine independence.”
Questioned about the pledges that the SNP has made to win votes, he emphasises that September 18th is about the principle of independence: “The next 16 months of negotiations are about the kind of independence that we want.
The SNP’s desire to cut corporation taxes “so we can get a few more Amazons and Starbucks and join into a race to the bottom in competition with Ireland” is not supported by a large percentage of Scots, he says.
Just one of the 60-odd opinion polls says Yes can win, but the margin is narrowing. In the council estates, a majority are ready to vote Yes, but often they are not registered to vote. “There has been a major campaign to get people to sign up,” Fox points out.
Often, the campaign must overcome an unwillingness to be registered that dates back more than 30 years when tens of thousands fell off the electoral roll in a bid to escape Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax.
“Now, the challenge is not to persuade somebody to vote: it is to persuade them to register. There are two egg-timers at work here: one is for the margin between Yes and No; the other is for the clock. The question is which of them runs out first.”