Sunday, 21 February 2016

Why Scotland Needs a Strong Real Labour Party

With the announcement that the EU referendum will take place a little over a month after the Scottish Parliamentary elections it seems David Cameron is confirming what everyone in Scotland already knows. That an SNP government is a foregone conclusion. Most discussion in mainstream and social media is not whether the SNP will win a majority but rather by how much, and whether SNP 1&2 is a good strategy.

For the Labour Party their decimation within Scotland will continue, no longer the Party of Scotland, they are now afraid to lose the mantle of the opposition party in Scotland, with the Conservatives getting ever closer to their share of the centre right vote. As a former member who left after the referendum, I take no pleasure in seeing their collapse. Too many good people have invested too much time in building this party that it is still painful to see it collapse in such a way.

Fingers are often pointed at the staggering contempt Scottish Labour showed the people of Scotland during the independence campaign campaigning with the Tories, others see the removal of clause 4, the era of New Labour and the illegal invasion of Iraq. In truth the beginning of the end for Labour started far longer ago. From the refusal to support direct action on the Poll Tax, the shift to the centre ground, changing it’s long standing position on nuclear weapons and position on the House of Lords. It is fair to say that Labour abandoned the policies, so strongly supported and therefore abandoned the people of Scotland long before the voters in Scotland abandoned them.

 Campaigning in the Scottish referendum as part of Labour for Independence, we argued that the only way for Labour to be restored to the party of the people of Scotland was to support independence and remove itself from an English Labour Party who could only win an election by supporting ‘Tory Lite’ policies to appeal to Middle England. Ironically it is the Labour membership in England and Wales which has supported a return to real Labour values (despite protestations from the PLP), while the Scottish Labour Party has voted for a their list candidates to highlight the inadequacies of their current MSPs by bringing in Westminster already decimated by the SNP such as Anas Sarwar to top their regional list.

Supporters of the SNP and Scottish Independence may be quick to dismiss the importance of a Scottish Labour Party that is capable of challenging the SNP in opposition and as a potential governing party. There are however great risks involved in such dominance by one political party. Without the checks and balances of opposition the SNP are liable to end up the same way as Scottish Labour did... No longer representing the people they elected to represent.

Some of the shine may already be coming off the SNP train, with a worrying lack of commitment to banning fracking, the imposition of brutal local service cuts by SNP majority councils and a reticence to announce a referendum in their election manifesto. The problem being there is no political movement or party capable of offering opposition, nor a credible alternative to what the SNP propose.

After the referendum it became clear that the Labour Party could no longer be relied upon to deliver a coherent opposition let alone a vision for Scotland. I joined the Scottish Socialist Party with the belief that if it was able to organise and move from the far left fringes of the electorate to appeal to traditional Labour voters on a platform of transitional socialism. Unfortunately due to the alliance with RISE it seems the party is not capable of moving into a position of mass appeal. The political alliance is stuck firmly in far left political sphere leaving the Scottish political scene to continue to have a void of an effective political opposition to the SNP.

 Scottish Deputy Leader Alex Rowley has recently stated that it is vital for Labour to be seen to be ‘standing up for Scotland.’ This is a clear indication that Labour for Independence’s critique is still a valid one, that the only way for the Labour Party in Scotland to embrace independence both as a party and for Scotland. Only then will they begin to develop a trust with the electorate that they really do have their best interests at heart.

These would of course only be the first steps. After a spate of elections, referenda and leadership changes, Labour need to use the post council election lull to begin to develop their own vision again, one centred in the communities of Scotland, representing the people of Scotland, the working class, those whom the Labour Party was created to serve. In the interests of plurality, in the interests of democracy, Scotland needs a strong real Labour Party... So too does the SNP.

A Vote to Stay in the EU.

As an internationalist and a socialist, I believe in the collectivism of action which can take place across several nations. I believe in freedom of travel and I believe in a notion of collective human rights. It is for these reasons that I support an ‘in’ vote in the future EU referendum. The European Union is by no means perfect, it is run with a capitalist agenda, but this can be reformed and we are far better placed to do so working with like-minded comrades than removing ourselves from the process.
It is vital that the left are a part of this discussion, there are so many valid reasons for or against being a part of the European Union which revolve around individual and collective rights and societal issues that we cannot leave the arguments to the xenophobic anti immigrant far right and the neo-liberal arguments of the Westminster establishment. I fully support the campaign to stay in the EU on a programme of reform and mutual benefit for workers throughout the European Union.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Learning From The Referendum: A Must If We Want To Win The Next One

Recently I was finally able to take the time to read Jim Sillar’s new book In Place of Failure. In this Jim highlights some of the key battles fought and lost by the SNP and Yes campaign and offers suggestions from a socialist perspective as to how we can combat these issues when a second referendum occurs.

What was striking from reading this book was the level of duplicity by the No campaign, which reading it even now provokes real anger. More though was our inability to counter arguments on the economy and pensions which undoubtedly played a role in the referendum defeat.

This book is a vital piece of work from which we can begin to set out honestly and without force or malice, where the major issues in our campaign were and what can be done to fix this. This is an issue which should have been addressed on the 19th of September, however due to the mass membership of the SNP and subsequent landslide victory at the Westminster Elections in Scotland, was put onto the back burner.

With just months to go before the Scottish Parliamentary Elections, the questions of where we went wrong in the last referendum have still to be answered, until we have truly reflected on what needs to change in the referendum 2.0 then we cannot proceed into a new campaign.

There should have been a Plan B on currency, why there wasn’t from the Yes campaign showed an inherent weakness that it was too reliant on the SNP. There should have been a larger push for the ‘grey’ vote, those without access to social and alternative media, who were threatened into a no vote out of genuine fear of having their livelihood stripped from them. Yes community groups should have had a specific pensioner forums, targeting their households, ensuring real dialogue with these voters.

More to the point the Yes vote failed to win because it was too conservative for far too long. Only in the last 6 months of the campaign did we move away from ‘nothing will change’ attitude adopted by some of the SNP higher ups to the message of real social change that independence could bring brought about by the work of RIC, LFI, WFI and many more. Another Scotland was and indeed still is possible. In the next referendum we need to push our message forward, we need to counter ‘expert’ bankers, military brass and supermarket CEO’s who say we’re doomed if we go it alone. Let them debate their evidence for this and see how long it stacks up for. The people of Scotland proved during the referendum that they understand the key issues, they are not needing talked down to, Better Together got away with these claims because we let them hide back under the covers... We can’t make that same mistake again.

The question of timing is now also key. Questions will be asked of the SNP if they decide to play safe for a majority at the expense of putting a second referendum in their manifesto. Nicola Sturgeon also has made the point that an ‘out’ vote in the EU referendum in the ROUK while Scotland votes to remain would trigger a constitutional crisis which would set a second referendum in motion. I have never been one to count on David Cameron or other Tories to put us into a winning position.

It is right that the SNP affirm the hopes of the 100,000+ who joined the party post September 18th seeing the SNP as the vehicle to an independent Scotland. Should they decide to play safe many within the party must surely wonder why they continue to support the SNP when the party themselves have closed off any hope of referendum in the near future.

While I have been critical of the potential destruction of the SSP within RISE, the alliance could prove to be an important factor within this election as will the Greens. While the Green Party look much more likely to profit from spending the post referendum period, growing and developing their infrastructure to accommodate new members, both RISE and the Greens may be able to persuade SNP voters to put enough pressure on the party to ensure a second referendum is included in the manifesto.

The next couple of years will no doubt shape the constitutional argument over the Scottish Independence more than ever. With another recession already occurring, more and more cuts with each passing Westminster budget, an EU referendum and following this election the SNP will themselves have some serious economic choices to make to enact the cuts coming to the Scottish budget.

We need to recognise that our defeat in September wasn’t just down to the bias of the media or the lies of the BT campaign. We have to up our game for the second referendum. In the last campaign we gained 20% points to get to 45%. If we want to get to 60% we have to keep talking about independence, continue to show the benefits for our society, learn the mistakes we made and come out fighting...

Ready for Round 2?