In Scotland, we are now approaching the halfway mark in a journey that will determine its political settlement for some years to come. The starting point was the referendum on 18 September 2014, the midway point is the general election on May 7 this year and the final point is the election of the new Scottish Parliament on 5 May 2016.
After 5 May 2016, we will be in a reasonable place to judge how society and politics in Scotland will evolve, what values will guide this evolution and how relations will develop with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It will be evolution and not revolution not least because the left in Scotland – inside and outside of Labour and the SNP – has much ground to make up just to get back to where it used to be – and that was not a position of commanding authority. This, of course, would be an advance but it will still leave the left in a pretty lamentable state if it wants to be a contender. Lowering our short-term expectations (but not long-term aspirations) will be important as we set out on another journey of many miles by taking just a few small steps forward.
That said, one thing seems very much more certain. This is that the mainstream parties of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will continue to be beholden to neo-liberal ideology no matter what the voters say on May 7. Political disillusionment with them will continue apace but this will still mean millions will vote for them. The main beneficiaries of the political disillusionment with these three parties will be the likes of the SNP and UKIP. Sooner or later, the hopes placed in them will be disavowed as their ideologies are but mere variants of neo-liberalism.
In the case of the SNP, it’s called social liberalism. The essence of social liberalism is to grow the capitalist economy so that it can provide more employment and more tax receipts in order that living standards can be improved directly (through more in work) and indirectly (through the welfare state). The obvious problems faced here are weak economic growth for the moment and for the foreseeable future, continuing government austerity and the power of capital to make governments bend to their will. Nicola Sturgeon’s change of SNP policy on cutting corporation tax – from being blanket to be being more selective and targeted – does not change this.
Moreover, there are growing concerns about the SNP government’s tendencies towards centralisation so that the democratic part of any alleged social democracy is also being called into question. It appears not only is managerialism taking over but internal enhanced devolution is not on the cards either.
Will there be a revolt within the SNP against this social liberalism from those on the left that have recently joined? Will the revolt be to leave and establish a new left party; will it be to fight to change the SNP from within; or will it be to walk away from politics altogether? There’s room for all three but the critical factor will be which response is the major one.
Meanwhile, the debt deferment deal signed by Syriza has occasioned internal and external revolt. Within Syriza, 41% of its Central Committee opposed the deal while the Greek Communist Party (KKE) has mobilised against the deal. Whether the deal represents the buying of time or a catastrophic setback remains to be seen.
But what is clear is that if the radical left was much stronger in Europe – especially in Germany – the terms Syriza has agreed to could have been much better. Die Linke is not an insignificant force now in German politics but only three of its MPs voted against supporting the terms of the deal Syriza chose – or was forced – to accept.
Turning back to Scotland, the populist and opportunistic left-leaning pronouncements of Jim Murphy have become ever more noticeable. Of course, there is his credibility problem in making them because of his thoroughly Blairite past. But what is more concerning is that sense of promising the earth this side of 7 May with the prospect that the ruse of being in opposition allows just about anything to be said – when, of course, being in government means he would then have to get ‘serious’. One cannot imagine Jim Murphy standing up to Miliband when the prospect of ministerial office hung in the balance.
It is a measure of the poor quality of Scotland’s media that his pronouncements are so very much taken at face value and reported as he wishes – see the hullabaloo around his supposed ‘Clause 4’ moment with his insertion of the words ‘patriotic interest’ into the Scottish Labour constitution.
In the articles that follow concerning the general election, different appeals to the constituency of left, radical and progressive views are made. The appeals are made not just by political parties (important though they are). With only 33% of 18-24 year olds voting in 2010, the argument Terri Smith makes is very important.
This is very much the role that the Scottish Left Review sees for itself – broad and pluralist without being too broad and too pluralist, and informative and provocative yet always constructive. Differences will be detected not only between the options offered but also compared to this editorial. Free and independent thinking that arrives at left conclusions is what we encourage and hope we help achieve.
The other articles in this issue mainly concern the union movement in Scotland given that the STUC meets for its annual congress in late April – not long before the general election. It is very unlikely that there will be a repeat of the attempt by the STUC general council to make a call for union members to vote Labour for such has been the change in the tectonic plates of Scottish politics since 2007. Another indication of the changed political mood is the demand for industrial and economic democracy is being made more seriously than for a long time because unions understand – no matter which party is in office – they need full rights and powers.
Finally, in recognition of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we have two articles examining not just the challenges women face but ways to resolve these. And, in our next issue (May/June 2015), we will dissect the election outcome and analyse what it means for the left.