By Tommy Sheridan
As a lifelong socialist and ardent supporter of Scottish independence I simply cannot let the latest stupidity of the Scottish Labour Party in relation to the question of a second independence referendum pass without comment. Someone has to grab the Scottish Branch leader, Richard Leonard, by the scruff of his neck and explain to him that once you are in a hole the worst thing you can do is keep digging.
The Labour Party in Scotland used to weigh votes rather than count them such was their electoral dominance of the country over several decades. Scotland was universally recognised by all political commentators and pundits as a ‘Labour stronghold’. We rejected Thatcher in ’79, ’83 and ‘87 and Major in ’92 but we still ended up with Tory governments regardless and the country stayed loyal to Labour and the British Union.
Tony Blair came along in 1994 and many traditional socialists seen right through him as the Tory Lite candidate. He was bereft of principles but blessed with soundbites and sublime acting skills. He could fake sincerity expertly and that served him well.
Similarly inclined Tory Lite voters fell for his charms as did some free market Liberals. He is credited with winning the 1997 General Election but any objective study of the polls at the time will show previous Labour leader, John Smith, who died suddenly of a heart attack in 1994, had already secured a commanding lead in the polls on the basis of voter exhaustion with continued Tory policies, brazen sleaze and constant enrichment of the few. Blair won the 1997 General Election but the basis of victory was disillusionment with the Tories and the leadership skills of Smith rather than any Blair magic.
Blair set about expunging any hint of socialism from the Labour Party. He demanded they be referred to as New Labour but under the Trades Description Act they should have been compelled to call themselves the Red Tories.
The critical socialist clause, Clause IV Part IV, which committed Labour to public ownership of industry, coordinated economic planning and fair distribution of wealth was reformed out of recognition. The socialist soul of Labour was effectively expelled and free market Tory policies were introduced. The Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) robbed public funds blind and richly rewarded big business consortiums to build capital projects at astronomical costs compared to traditional publicly funded schemes. It was an accounting measure to artificially massage public finance accounts and Al Capone would have been proud of them. Dick Turpin would have been embarrassed. At least he had the decency to wear a mask.
Labour principles like free education and the National Health Service were fundamentally undermined. Blair abolished student grants and introduced tuition fees making higher education unaffordable to many working class families. Internal markets and competition was ushered into the NHS paving the way for privatisation of essential services and opening it up to big business parasites. When Tories accuse Labour of marketising the public NHS and exposing it to privatisation they are not wrong.
Blairite reforms of the welfare system combined cutting the number of welfare workers to the bone alongside cruel incentive schemes to drive vulnerable people off benefits and punish others with horrendous sanctions and rigged examinations. The despised ATOS and nasty schemes like the Bedroom Tax where all spawned by New Labour. The Scottish working classes were increasingly embarrassed by such policies and Labour membership plummeted alongside reduced majorities at successive elections. Scotland still voted Labour but in less numbers and vastly reduced enthusiasm.
Then came the biggest Blairite crime of them all, the Iraq war. A war that was promoted on the basis of lies and distortions which ultimately cost over one million Iraqi civilians their lives and created a monstrous whirlwind of hate, terror and Islamic fundamentalism which the world still suffers from today.
That war crime was a step too far for many traditional Labour voters in Scotland. Labour lost significant votes and seats in the 2005 UK General Election but it was the 2007 Scottish General Election which exposed the increased fragility of Labour support as tens of thousands switched allegiance to the SNP and against all the odds and predictions they were able to form a minority government for the first time with 33% of the Scottish vote compared to Labour’s 32%. More people in Scotland voted SNP than Labour for the first time in Scottish electoral history (664,227 to 648,374).
Four years later in 2011 the shift in allegiance from Labour to SNP continued apace as the SNP Minority Government policies on promoting free education, free prescriptions, free elderly care and defending public services proved popular. The SNP share of the popular vote rose to 45% and their 902,227 votes dwarfed Labour’s 630,461. Labour in Scotland remained fiercely Blairite and by the time of the 2014 Independence Referendum they had chosen to enter a pact with the devil in the shape of the Tories to defend the British Union against Scottish independence.
The Red Tory description was entirely appropriate as they joined with the Blue Tories in an alliance called Better Together which launched a Project Fear campaign of lies, distortions and calculated scaremongering to convince enough pensioners in Scotland that their pensions would not be guaranteed in an independent Scotland. It was a lie but a calculated and effective lie.
Scottish Labour celebrated victory alongside their Blue Tory friends in the early hours of September 19th 2014 but their gleeful embrace of the Union flag and clinking of cheap champagne filled glasses came at a cost. Labour in Scotland had won a pyrrhic victory only. The cost was to be the loss of working class and young people’s support and allegiance. Overwhelmingly the former Labour heartlands, the lowest paid and the young embraced the vision and hope embodied in the independence message. Labour had crossed the Rubicon by linking arms physically and metaphorically with the Tories, the party of Thatcher and hatred of Scotland.
In 2016 Labour in Scotland suffered humiliation at the Scottish Parliament election. While the SNP’s 902,915 votes climbed to 1,059,897 Labour’s fell to only 514,261 and their vote share plummeted to only 22%, neck and neck with the Tories. The SNP won 46.5% of the constituency votes cast. For the third election in succession, and despite being the governing party, the SNP’s votes tally increased. Labour in Scotland suffers from the Blairite hangover as does Labour across England and Wales but while it continues to tie its mast to the British Union and even oppose the democratic right to hold a new IndyRef2 ballot it will be forever sunk below the waterline. Being an intelligent man Labour’s Deputy Leader, John McDonnell, recognises that Achilles heel and offered the following statement on stage at an Edinburgh Fringe Festival interview on Tuesday when asked his position on a second independence referendum:
“The Scottish Parliament will come to a considered view on that and they will submit that to the Government and the English parliament itself. If the Scottish people decide they want a referendum that’s for them. We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy. There are other views within the party but that’s our view.”
What he means by “our view” is that of him and elected leader Jeremy Corbyn. Nothing extraordinary in that statement. He merely stated what every individual with an ounce of democratic fibre in their bodies would acknowledge. The Scottish Parliament is a thoroughly democratic forum which exists to represent the people of Scotland and advocate on their behalf.
The interviewer should have pressed him further as that Scottish Parliament has already came to a “considered view” and voted in March of 2017 in favour of holding IndyRef2. Labour in the Scottish Parliament spoke and voted against that proposal. That is their right. However what they are not entitled to do once they lose the vote is turn around afterwards and announce they will call on Westminster to thwart the democratically expressed will of the Parliament. That is exactly what Labour’s branch leader in Scotland did in the aftermath of the debate in 2017. Despite being elected to the Scottish Parliament and drawing a hefty salary from it he proceeded to diminish it’s very credibility by arguing that a decision of that Parliament should be ignored by Westminster. What a democratic phoney and political pygmy he is.
In 2017 Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party defied all the political pundits who unanimously predicted his complete electoral annihilation. Despite the horrendously biased reporting of him he secured an incredible 10% swing to Labour, the largest since 1945, and slashed the Tory majority. Yet in Scotland the Corbyn bounce was risible. They recorded a less than 3% increase in vote share and the actual number of extra votes won amounted to only 9,860. Under ‘Lionheart Leonard’ the Scottish Labour result resembled a whimper instead of a roar. The Tories beat them into third place and it is clear they refuse to learn the lessons of recent political history.
Until Labour in Scotland drop their blind and undemocratic attitude to IndyRef2 they will remain in the doldrums of irrelevance. John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are right to acknowledge the Scottish Parliament’s democratic right to speak on behalf of Scotland in relation to the question of IndyRef2. While their ‘comrades’ in Scotland continue to deny that basic tenet of democracy they will forever be also-rans and justifiably reviled and by working class communities who want Labour to represent them not the British Establishment. With leaders unable to lead on key questions like democracy and the constitutional question in Scotland Scottish Labour will never recover. Socialists in Scotland will continue to support the party of independence, publicly owned NHS, compassionate immigration policy, anti-austerity and anti-nuclear weapons. That party is not a socialist party unfortunately but the SNP currently is far more progressive than Scottish Labour.
This article was written by our Political Adviser, Tommy Sheridan and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or policy of Solidarity as a whole