The Scottish left: the strongest nationalists

Submitted by cathy n on 26 June, 2017 - 9:43 Author: Ann Field

“The Labour Party in Scotland has been wiped out.” That was the verdict of the Socialist Party Scotland (SPS) on the 2015 general election. The next step was: “The trade union movement must now prepare to build a new mass party for the working class.”

In alliance with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the SPS had stood ten candidates in Scotland under the ‘Trade Union and Socialist Coalition’ (TUSC) banner. Their votes ranged from 0.2% to 0.7%, and amounted to only 1,772 in total.

But that did not constitute a “wipe-out”.

The slump in the Labour vote in 2015, explained the SWP, demonstrated that “the crucial task for all on the left in Scotland is to quickly discuss and organise for a united left alternative in next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.”

The SWP was contemptuous of “some in the Labour Party who argue that what is happening in Scotland is just a wave of nationalism.” What this “failed to understand” was “the shift in the political landscape and the potential for the left to grow.”

Apart from allying with the SPS to stand TUSC candidates, the SWP had also given a tacit call for a vote for the SNP: “The SWP is not calling for a blanket vote for the SNP on 7th May” (in effect: a call to vote SNP in most constituencies, but not all).

For the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) Labour’s performance in Scotland in the 2015 general election had borne out its pre-election predictions:

“Make no mistake about it. We are witnessing the end of an era. Like the Liberals prior to the labour movement, Scottish Labour is a beast that will soon be almost extinct over the next decade.”

The election result was further proof of the need for unions to disaffiliate from Labour:

“The unions in Scotland need to stop propping up the bankrupt project that is Labour. We’ve seen attempts by the biggest of all unions, Unite, to drag Labour back to the left. That’s proven utterly futile.”

“Union leaderships should combine with the SSP and all genuine socialists to build a mass working-class socialist party to stand up for Scotland’s working-class majority population.”

The SSP had stood four candidates in the election – after the SNP and the Greens had, unsurprisingly, ignored SSP proposals for a single pro-independence ‘Yes Alliance’ candidate in each constituency. Their total vote was 895.

In their approach to this year’s general election and analysis of its results, the SPS, SWP and SSP struck a very different tone. But it was no better that that adopted two years earlier. And it was certainly a lot more incoherent.

The SPS stood no candidates in the general election. Nor did TUSC. Nor did the non-existent “new mass party for the working class” which the SPS had looked forward to after the 2015 general election. Instead, the SPS “campaigned in support of Corbyn’s manifesto.”

But this did not mean campaigning for a vote for the party in Scotland (Scottish Labour) which was standing on the basis of that manifesto (however inadequately it promoted its contents in its election campaigning).

The SPS coupled its support for “Corbyn’s manifesto” (minus support for Scottish Labour) with “pointing to the need to adopt a far more sensitive approach on the national question”, including “as a minimum the right to a second referendum when there was a majority in favour of one.”

After the election the SPS talked up “significant swings to Labour in working-class areas in Glasgow and across the West of Scotland”. In fact, the popular vote for Labour in those constituencies was either static or less than in 2015 general election.

The SPS also fell over itself with helpful tips about how Scottish Labour could have improved its performance and “doubled their numbers (of MPs) in Scotland”. But such belated advice would have had more credibility coming from an organisation which had actually campaigned for a Labour vote.

In the run-up to this year’s general election the SWP again made an implicit call for a vote for the SNP, using the formulation “We call on our readers to vote Left in every constituency – to choose the candidate who is best able to carry forward the fight against austerity and racism AND FOR INDEPENDENCE.” (Emphasis added.)

Any number of Scottish Labour candidates would have met the first two criteria but none would have met the third. But in England and Wales all Labour candidates were endorsed by the SWP, for what it was worth, simply because they were Labour.

In other words: it was okay to vote for a right-wing Labour candidate in England, but wrong to vote for a left-wing anti-independence Labour candidate in Scotland!

The SWP looked on in awe when a thousand people turned up to hear Corbyn speak in Glasgow during the election campaign. But this was coupled with criticism of Corbyn for not supporting a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Corbyn was “on the side of the majority of Scots who don’t want a second referendum,” complained the SWP. But the normally let’s-not-waste-our-time-with-any-of-this parliamentary-shite SWP was aggrieved by Corbyn’s failure to “respect the majority for a second referendum in the Scottish Parliament”!

In its analysis of the election result the SWP concluded that “using the crude measure of first-past-the-post elections, independence has won this election”. The three anti-independence parties, explained the SWP, had won only 40% of the seats.

But in the real world, using the only slightly more sophisticated measure of the popular vote, independence lost. Anti-independence parties picked up 63% of the vote.

Inconsistently, the SWP attributed the SNP’s loss of seats to the fact that “the SNP leadership staked so much on a second independence referendum.”

So: independence won the general election in Scotland, according to the SWP, but the party which had championed independence had lost seats because – errrr – it championed independence.

The SWP was realistic in its analysis of Scottish Labour’s poor showing in the election and the fact that its increase in the number of seats held masked a more basic electoral stagnation. But, at the end of the day, this was all irrelevant.

With the election – yawn – out of the way, the SWP could get back to business as usual:

“We should not postpone the fight against austerity to focus on a second referendum and let the SNP off the hook. Battling against those attacks now should be at the centre of the left’s political action.”

Like the SPS’s “new mass party for the working class”, the “mass working-class socialist party” which the SSP had looked forward to in 2015 had also failed to materialise by the time of this year’s election.

Left to its own devices, the SSP stood four fewer candidates than it had in 2015, i.e. none.

“But that does not mean that we will not be campaigning,” the SSP explained. It would be campaigning – for independence:

“Our annual conference last weekend committed all SSP members to spend the next six weeks making the case for independence and helping to ensure this become the ‘independence election’.”

This was the vital task confronting SSP members because “Theresa May is heading for a 60-70 seat majority at Westminster, and Labour is heading for a hiding.” Only Scottish independence could provide a defence against the approaching Tory onslaught.

Boldly, the SSP declared its readiness to criticise the SNP for failing to be sufficiently pro-independence:

“In the very important debate Alex Salmond initiated last week between him and Nicola Sturgeon about this being ‘the independence election’, we are bound to say we agree with Alex. … We will press the SNP to put an unequivocal commitment to independence in its manifesto. And we will criticise them if they do not.”

Unfortunately for “Alex”, having the SSP on his side turned out not to be enough to save him from defeat.

But the SSP was as good as its word. In an article snappily entitled “Independence Offers Our Only Escape From a Zombie Tory Government” SSP co-convenor Colin Fox let the world know:

“Our party will be writing to the SNP to insist they put independence at the epicentre of their manifesto. We will be campaigning to increase support for independence with a series of sparkling initiatives which we will unveil in the next few days.”

But the election result was not as predicted by the SSP. May’s credibility, the SSP acknowledged, was “in tatters”. Corbyn’s gains had shown that socialist ideas “are highly popular, and this must be welcomed.” And a second general election was “a strong prospect.”

The SSP attributed the loss of 21 seats by the SNP to “their failure to make the case for independence – supposedly (sic) their core belief.” This is the same SNP which, according to the SWP, “staked so much on a second independence referendum.”

The SNP’s defeat, concluded the SSP, “underlined the case for a reinvigorated broad-based Yes movement.”

In other words: prospect of strong Tory government necessitates Scottish independence; actual election of weak Tory government necessitates … Scottish independence.

Some things never change. And one of them is socialist organisations which have collapsed into tailending nationalism – even when the nationalism they chase after is in electoral decline.