Labour has to go back to basics in Scotland

25 May 2016

By Sandy McBurney

New Labour’s formula has delivered the greatest electoral defeat in Scottish Labour’s history. It’s time for change

Scottish Labour suffered a historic defeat in the Holyrood elections, securing just 20 per cent of the vote and 24 seats. The biggest shock of the night came when they were pushed into third place by the Tories. Why and how did this happen to the mass party of the working class, which up to 15 years ago dominated Scottish politics?

The first thing to say is that the Labour Party north of the border is very Blairite. In December 2014 they elected as leader right-wing Blairite Jim Murphy, who beat left-winger Neil Findlay. For 40 years or more Labour has been the dominant party in Scotland, administering capitalism in local government and then, after 1997, in the Scottish Parliament. Labour bureaucrats ran the show. There is a small left, but the pro-capitalist right has always dominated the party.

Kezia Dugdale, the current leader, was Murphy’s deputy and is also a Blairite. Dugdale supported Yvette Cooper for leader but has since taken some steps to the left in order to try and regain support from workers alienated by New Labour.

The most publicised part the manifesto was the proposal for an increase in taxes: up to 50p for the top band and a penny more for everyone else. Dugdale made her personal opposition to scrapping Trident well known, despite the Scottish party’s position for abolition being in the manifesto.

But this was not the class struggle manifesto to end austerity that we needed. In a period demanding class struggle against the Tory offensive, this was not a manifesto to inspire the working class for the battles ahead. The working class was clearly not convinced by the proposal to increase taxation, especially better off workers, some of whom have stayed at home or even switched to the Tories.

Candidates of the right dominated the lists. Anas Sarwar and Johann Lamont topped the Labour list in Glasgow, for example. Everyone knows they’re not Corbyn supporters; very few Corbynites were candidates as you had to be a Party member for six months to participate in the selection process.

Scottish Nationalism has sunk roots into working class areas. Labour has worn down its support over the years, especially since the disastrous Iraq war. The Saltire can be seen flying in some working class areas, something that was never seen before. Socialist politics can win them back, but not warmed up Blairism.

Since the election, some on the Labour right have touted Home Rule for Scotland as a way of winning back support from the nationalists. There are also calls from the right for Labour in Scotland to become a totally separate party divorced from the party in the rest of Britain.

But history shows, you can’t out-nat the nationalists. The real way to counter nationalist illusions is by adopting class struggle politics, not aping the nationalists. The need for a British-wide fightback and British-wide unity of the working class has to be central. Separatism is playing into the hands of the SNP and the right.

The nationalist left

Despite the claims during and after the referendum of the left growing and a mass influx into the SSP, the truth is, the Scottish left is smaller than at any time since 1960s. Solidarity scored 0.6 per cent and RISE 0.5, an abysmal vote for both. Neither Solidarity nor RISE stood in the constituency section; Solidarity called for a vote for the SNP, and RISE for a vote for any of the pro-independence parties. Compare this to the left’s vote in 2003, when the SSP won over 100,000 votes, 30,000 in Glasgow alone.

Solidarity may now call it a day. A lot of their activists left before the vote when there was another falling out with their leadership. RISE are very disappointed and disoriented. SSP activists did not like having RISE foisted upon them.

TUSC stood in just six constituencies. Their vote wasn’t too bad, as they were the only lefts standing: two in Dundee and three in Glasgow, scoring around 600-900. They also pushed independence but were more critical of the SNP than RISE or Solidarity.

But taken together the left is in complete crisis. RISE has sunk, with many leaving the sinking ship. Ex-SSP people are talking about joining Labour… to argue there for Scottish independence.

Way forward

It’s important for the left to fight for a British-wide fightback and promote a British-wide socialist programme. What is the best vehicle for this? The Campaign for Socialism (CFS) has grown and looks likely to become the Scottish section of Momentum. Led by Neil Findlay, the CFS has called a meeting for Sunday 29 May to discuss the way forward.

The danger is that the CFS will not stand up against the Labour right-wing.

Those who want to build Momentum have a better idea of the need to get onto the streets, rather than the non-confrontational Labour left stalwarts. I think we need to put up a candidate of the left against Dugdale, for example, but it looks like the majority of the left don’t want that at present.

The New Labour careerists failed to deliver for workers in Scotland, so they lost their support. The party can be rebuilt but only if the left advances a class struggle socialist program and takes on and removes the Blairite right from their positions of leadership.

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