The Scottish Labour Party conference on 31 October-1 November voted overwhelmingly (70/30) against Trident renewal.
Support for Trident renewal was spearheaded by the Community and GMB leaderships. Both argued that nuclear weapons were good for the nation’s defence, and good for jobs. According to Community strategy and policy director John Park: “We are supportive of the nuclear deterrent and of the conventional defence industry.”
Trident renewal was presented by Community as the answer to the crisis in the steel industry! But Community’s stance bordered on pacifism in comparison to statements issued by GMB acting Scottish Regional Secretary Gary Smith in the run-up to the conference. Defence diversification is “pie in the sky” and will result in “low-skilled, low-paid jobs with zero hours contracts.” Defence workers are “as vital to our national security as the armed forces.” Their skills are “vital to our defences as an island nation.” Without their skills, “the Royal Navy could not defend the nation.”
According to Smith, “Renewal of Trident is not an academic debate for the coffee shops of north London.”
Among CLPs it was MSP Jackie Baillie who took the lead in championing Trident renewal. In an attempt to undermine Unite’s support for the anti-Trident motion, Baillie released an exchange of e-mails between Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey and the Unite convenor at Faslane, Derek Torrie. The latter demanded assurances that Unite would not “deviate in any way from opposing any anti-Trident motion.” Unite’s position was contrasted with the GMB’s support for Trident workers as “vital to national security.” Were Unite members, Torrie asked, paying dues to a union which was not defending their jobs? The GMB, with Community tagging on behind, is now likely to launch a turf war to recruit Unite members in the Scottish defence industry. This at a time when there are hundreds of thousands of non-unionised workers in Scotland!
Labour Party and trade union activists need to organise to defeat the GMB and Community’s pro-Trident smash-and-grab raid on Unite members. They need to develop a clear-cut defence diversification strategy to meet the legitimate concerns of workers whose jobs depend on Trident renewal. They are right to expect that their unions keep them in employment. The Scottish Labour leadership — or at least sections of it — is unlikely to come up with a serious diversification strategy. Its leader Kezia Dugdale is a multilateralist who supports Trident renewal. And the e-mail sent to members after the conference covering “the highlights of the weekend” did not even mention Trident!
Last weekend’s Scottish Labour Party conference signalled a shift to the left. But the extent of that shift should not be overestimated. And nor should the problems confronting the party be underestimated. The biggest fringe meeting was jointly organised by Unite and the Campaign for Socialism, with John McDonnell on the platform. Jeremy Corbyn’s speech was well received by delegates and visitors. And leader Kezia Dugdale used her speech to outline some of the party's policies as new powers are devolved to Holyrood. These include: restoring the Tories’ tax credit cuts; reversing the Tories’ cut in higher tax rates; increasing tax rates for higher earners to fund higher spending on education; and better pay for care workers. But internal opposition to the policy against Trident renewal is not going to go away. Meanwhile, there has been no decline in SNP poll ratings, currently on 51%. Labour has been unable to shake off the SNP’s “Red Tories” tag, even though it was less than accurate when the SNP first coined it, and now, with Corbyn’s election as leader, stands exposed as nationalist charlatanism.
Labour has also lost support to the Tories, as soft Tory-voters who had switched to Labour as a tactical vote against the SNP return to the Tories following Corbyn’s election as leader (and, probably even more so, after the decision to oppose Trident). And while the Tories at Westminster are attacking the unions-Labour link in their Trade Union Bill, the SNP has decided to open a “second front” in Scotland by attacking the link themselves. In a recent interview on LabourList Dugdale implicitly argued that Scottish Labour would not benefit from moving to the left. According to her analysis, people in Scotland did not vote for the SNP in the general election because they thought it was left-wing. Instead, the SNP won seats because “Yes” voters backed it as the main pro-independence party.
The solution, therefore, is more autonomy for Scottish Labour, to establish its character as a truly “Scottish” party. While greater autonomy should be supported, this is a misreading of the SNP’s success. The SNP’s electoral success is rooted in having transformed voting patterns in Scotland from ones based, however loosely, on class identity to ones based on national identity. Until that big picture changes, the SNP can continue to surf on a wave of nationalist fervour and succeed in misrepresenting the Tories’ class attacks on the working class as Westminster attacks on Scotland. But to win back electoral support Scottish Labour needs to put class back at the centre of Scottish politics, and to have the policies which can mobilise the working class against capital.