In Scottish Left Review (Jul/Aug 2022), George Kerevan bemoaned what he sees as increased working-class support for the SNP in the 2022 Scottish council elections stating: ‘With the avowed anti-capitalist parties remaining miniscule and irrelevant, what alternative did the working-class have?’
Kerevan criticised the election campaign and the ‘negligible’ votes of the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (STUSC) and the overall political approach of ‘descendants of the old Militant group’, meaning the Socialist Party Scotland (SPS).
Nowhere does he seek to explain what the strategy of STUSC actually is: encouraging workers, trade unionists, socialists and community campaigners to stand together on an anti-cuts and socialist platform. Indeed, STUSC stood the largest number of candidates on the left in these council elections, with at least one candidate in nine local authority areas. Or that SPS has consistently called for unions – or sections of them – to move towards launching a new mass workers’ party.
The STUSC results were very modest, although an increase from 2017 in areas like Glasgow. Much of the Scottish left stood aside and some even backed pro-capitalist candidates whose parties have supported cuts, like the SNP, Scottish Greens or Alba – a party Kerevan is a member of. STUSC does not currently have the social weight to make an electoral breakthrough but does that mean it is correct to let the cuts parties have a free run?
His claims of ‘left-wing ineffectiveness’ amidst signs of ‘significant working-class resistance’ are bogus. He has nothing to say about the successful strike ballots in Glasgow City council over equal pay – with SPS and STUSC activists playing a key role – that forced major concessions from the SNP-led council. The amount won by low paid working-class women in Glasgow now totals c.£750m. This would not have been possible without the combative socialist leadership in unions like Glasgow City UNISON.
Kerevan is also wrong to say that the anaemic increase in Scottish Labour’s vote represents a ‘return to class politics’. Rather, it was mainly a drop in the Tory vote with pro-union voters shifting to Sarwar. Elections analyst, John Curtice, pointed out in areas like West Dunbartonshire, Labour’s vote increased mainly in middle-class areas. If Kerevan’s analysis of a working-class return to Labour is correct, how can the loss of North Ayrshire council to the SNP despite a major mobilisation by the Scottish Labour left be explained?
STUSC, rather than inhabiting a ‘laager’, did more than any other force to encourage union and community activists to stand in the elections, with repeated appeals and conferences open to all who wanted to see a socialist challenge. We also supported James Toner, an anti-cuts independent standing in Castlemilk (Linn ward) who got 9.4% of 1st preferences, coming fifth in a four-member ward. STUSC also received support from CWU Scotland No. 2 branch.
Kerevan’s pointed Alba’s very modest results. In wards in Glasgow and East Lothian, STUSC beat Alba, despite far larger media coverage, sitting councillors and parliamentary resources. Unlike STUSC, Alba did not put forward a socialist programme or the ‘needs budget’ the Scottish Left Review editorial rightly called for, preferring to focus on divisive identity politics and opposing the Gender Recognition Act reform.
Rather than STUSC and SPS having narrow political horizons, it seems, it is Kerevan who is guilty of this. Instead of supporting the call for the building of a new workers’ party, Kerevan points clearly in the direction of not standing socialist candidates at all. Indeed, this is the only conclusion you can draw from him pessimistically writing the ‘stasis [on the left] is only likely to increase’ because Sturgeon calling for a referendum on 19 October 2023 ‘will serve as a political cover to keep the pro-independence left in line while the SNP government imposes swingeing real pay cuts in public services. For how can the independence left attack [Sturgeon] when she is demanding … a Section 30 order?’ The only proposal Kerevan makes is: ‘We probably need the equivalent of the People’s Assembly north of the Border’.
The opposite conclusion is necessary. If a new workers’ party existed in Scotland today, with a correct approach on the right to Scottish self-determination, the SNP would be fatally undermined among its working-class base. It is only due to the lack of that alternative that the SNP is able to temporally maintain its support. The task is to advocate for the necessary steps to build a new mass party – a task all the more urgent as the SNP and Scottish Greens move even further to the right and in a pro-business direction.
With growing industrial action, surely then it’s time to draw the conclusion that workers in Scotland will need far more effective forms of political representation. Never has the gap between the capitalist political establishment in Scotland (primarily the SNP and Labour) and the working-class been greater. It will not be enough to just take a syndicalist position relying upon industrial action alone, or on waiting for independence.
Matt Dobson is a member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party Scotland (https://socialistpartyscotland.org.uk/)