Responses to #GE2019
We asked a further range of left activists and commentators to provide their assessments of what happened and what we should do now:
Chris Stephens MP, Neil Findlay MSP, George Kerevan, Bryan Quinn, Siobhan McCready, Gavin Lundy, Jim Sillars, Stella Rooney, Róisín McLaren, Maggie Chetty, Vince Mills, Morgan Horn, and Myshele Haywood.
Chris Stephens, SNP MP, Glasgow South West
The full-scale horror of Labour losses only becomes evident when visiting the House of Commons. So many familiar faces gone to be replaced with Tories who appear to be everywhere. Turn a corner and they are with their new Commons lanyards thinking they own the place.
The warnings were evident during the campaign, with all SNP candidates noting that the Tory vote was strong and motivated, and with a sense of concern that if it was like this in the urban belt of Scotland, it would be similar elsewhere. Yet we hoped a hung Parliament could still be achievable if Labour could hold its own in other parts of Britain. Alas this did not happen, and the Westminster Parliament hosted several Labour colleagues in shock and putting together their own thoughts on what went horribly wrong.
I am sure I am not the only one watching television aghast at the interviews with former miners admitting they voted Tory in seats which Labour had held for generations. It is with no sense of satisfaction that I find myself returned facing a stronger Tory Government with a large majority. The challenges are obvious. Brexit that is neo-liberalism ‘on stilts’. With workers protections, consumer and environmental protections ready to put to the sword, it will take an almighty effort both within and out with Parliament to stop them in their tracks. Early indications already suggest that further restrictions on social security support for the most vulnerable in society will be under attack.
Scotland chose a different path and, with a clear offer to Scots that they should have the right to choose its own future, SNP voters, some voting SNP for the first time, were motivated just as much as Tory voters were. It was clear from very early on polling day the SNP vote was coming out, with indications across Scotland that it was going to be a satisfactory day.
The political divergence between voters in Scotland and other parts of Britain is so great that an independence referendum is now the only way to solve this dichotomy. Encouragement should now be given to those seeking to resolve this issue, and to assist those who find themselves seeking a political space to support firstly a referendum and/or independence. For some this will be the SNP, the Green Party and for others a re-establishment of RISE or other left groups. For others, it will be using internal devices to encourage Labour or various unions to support a referendum. All these developments should be encouraged. Indeed, unions have a pivotal role in ensuring that the debate encourages progressive change.
I will certainly be playing my part to encourage these developments, whilst at the same time building support to resist Tory attacks on unions, on those who have chosen Scotland as their home from other nations, the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society, and our precious public services. For those who support independence, setting out a vision of a different society and different economic and political society is more important than ever.
Neil Findlay, Labour MSP, Lothians
In a West Lothian community centre, voters going to the polls walked past a basket containing food donations. It was placed there so that hungry, needy people could help themselves to donations. A few hours after the polls closed, my local food bank tweeted: ‘Looks like we’ll be busier than normal for the foreseeable future, please consider donating food ahead of Christmas’. Against the backdrop of a Tory landslide, this tragic comment reflects the devastating reality of what lies ahead for many of our citizens. But it also reflects the fundamental need to change the economy in a transformative way so that food bank Scotland and Britain is no more.
As the SNP continues to dominate Scottish politics, the constitutional future of Scotland and Britain will hog the agenda more than ever. We cannot deny the people of Scotland a second referendum where the majority is calling for it. However, there would need to be a clear proposition, something that is impossible until we know the outcome of Brexit and that will not happen in 2020.
Surveying the ashes of the political earthquake, Scottish Labour must now face up to that reality, not grudgingly, not reluctantly but honestly and with as much positivity as it can muster in these difficult times. Tens of thousands of former Labour voters voted SNP. You only need to assess the swings from Labour to the SNP for evidence of that. These voters cannot be ignored. Nor should we pretend they will come back to us any time soon if we don’t address their concerns.
Going back to the days of ’Better Together’ will not help us win back those lost voters or win elections again. Fighting for perpetual second place by fishing in the shallow pool of so called ‘unionist voters’ will never enable Labour to win. Not just for the sake of winning for Labour, but to enable the change and transformation our society needs.
Prior to the 2014 referendum, I spoke at over 60 public meetings arguing the case for constitutional change and for the creation of a federal Britain based on the principle that powers should be devolved unless there is an overwhelming reason not to. I rejected the ‘Better Together’ ultra-unionist campaign but I was still opposed to independence as I believed it would damage my community, my constituents, my family and my country. I pleaded with the then Labour leadership to offer a positive, progressive alternative to ‘Better Together’. That plea fell on deaf ears and in the subsequent years Scottish Labour paid a very, very heavy price.
So, some fundamental questions must be asked and I cannot say this loudly enough – WE CANNOT RUN AWAY FROM THE INDEPENDENCE QUESTION. As a democrat first and foremost I accept that the people of Scotland have the right to choose their own future. For aforementioned reasons I think independence could be bad for Scotland, especially if we follow the SNP Growth Commission proposals. But we have to have an open, honest, frank and adult conversation about Scotland’s future and the ‘national question’.
Brexit has shown that leaving a long-standing political union is a very complex matter – I don’t think it is controversial to say leaving Britain will pose even more challenges. There are big issues at stake – currency, borders, EU membership, the end of the Barnett formula, falling oil revenues and much more. However, once we have had that informed adult conversation, and if the people accept a new prospectus for independence then so be it. That is democracy and, if it happens, Labour should offer its own prospectus for a progressive, socialist, outward looking and egalitarian independent country.
George Kerevan, former SNP MP
Elections are a test of the relative strengths of the main class forces. At a British level, the election showed an almost 50:50 split among working class (C2 and DE) voters between the ‘remain’ parties (including Labour and SNP) and right-wing ‘leave’ parties. We’ve been here before: a significant element of the Protestant working class voted Tory down to the 1950s. Yes, the election shows the bourgeois right has recaptured considerable working-class support. The damage, however, is not as bad as it looks and is repairable.
Crucially, the major working-class cities voted preponderately for Labour (London, Liverpool, Manchester) or the SNP (Glasgow, Dundee). Working-class Tory and Farage votes were concentrated among frightened pensioners and the precariat living in marginalised seaside communities or smaller, de-industrialised northern English towns. These latter are places where class solidarity has already been weakened, unlike the urban conurbations. Conversely, across Britain, the majority of the new proletariat of young workers, immigrants, skilled professionals in small companies, and cultural workers voted solidly in a progressive direction.
In England, Corbynista Labour was the force in mobilising this emerging new proletariat. Factcheck: Labour’s ostensible loss of vote share in London is explained by middle class ‘remainers’ switching to the LibDems. Actually, Labour’s only British seat gain was in Putney. On Merseyside, where Tory austerity has been epically catastrophic, Labour easily held all 14 seats – defectors like Frank Field were booted out. In Scotland, the combined vote share of the progressive parties (SNP, Labour, Greens) remains the highest in Europe – around two thirds of the electorate. This is the best reason for independence I can think of. Suggestion: Scottish Labour might allow a self-determination referendum in return for a French-style Common Programme of the Left at Holyrood for 2021.
In Northern Ireland, the election was truly historic, with parties supporting reunification (Sinn Fein and SDLP) winning more seats than the unionists for the first time. In punishment for allying with the Tories, the DUP lost its Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds. Conclusion: the real, immediate threat to Britain lies across the Irish Sea. Once internal border checks (implicit in the Tory Brexit deal) become visible, the horse manure will hit the fan.
As ever, the biased voting system favoured parties of the ruling class. Yet Boris barely managed a fragile one-point increase in the total Tory vote share, compared to Theresa May in 2017. He can only re-boot a post-Brexit economy through massive, Asian-style deregulation which could wreck his new voting coalition. True, Boris’ victory has defused the immediate parliamentary crisis of the ruling bloc. But political unrest in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the looming post-Brexit economic disaster, mean the ruling order is in existential crisis. Let’s keep our heads and organise.
Bryan Quinn, Scottish Green Party
Standing in a marginal contest between the Conservatives and the SNP was an interesting experience, as the Scottish Greens cut through the noise to demand climate action. Both parties are paying lip service to the biggest crisis facing us, the climate emergency. This is a crisis which will impact upon the world’s poorest the most.
But while SNP candidate, Alyn Smith, put out a leaflet inflating his green credentials, the Tories avoided talking about the climate at all in this election. Now we are facing another five years of them in charge. Climate change was barely mentioned in their manifesto, yet they now have a key responsibility in solving the crisis, as they sit at the table with other world leaders. Their 2050 net zero target only gives us a 50-50 chance of staying below the 1.5c temperature increase needed to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change. Like the Scottish Government, they are also particularly bad at meeting targets, which makes me doubt very much that they will even meet the 2050 target they have set.
It is not the only crisis which this government threatens to deepen. We have already seen the suffering and deaths caused by welfare reform, and the continued roll out of the failed Universal Credit will lead to a further rise in rent arrears and foodbank usage.
Meanwhile, Trump seems keen to do a trade deal with Boris. Everyone should be concerned for the rights, standards and environmental protections we currently have that will be up for negotiation during any trade deals. Boris claims the NHS is not on the table – I don’t believe him.
Scotland clearly rejected Brexit and has clearly rejected Boris Johnson’s offer to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and reject another independence referendum at the general election. Now we are faced with a choice in Scotland: Boris and 5 years of the Tories driving us out of the EU and into a de-regulation race to the bottom or an opportunity to build something new. Even if you disagree with independence, it is hard to justify that circumstances, especially with the contrasting result, do not merit the people of Scotland having a say over their future.
The Scottish Greens believe in a greener, fairer, more equal society. We want to be world leaders in tackling the climate emergency with investment through a Scottish Green New Deal that would rebuild the public sector and create 200,000 green jobs in Scotland. We want a society where everyone has the security of a universal basic income instead of the threat of sanctions and insecurity offered by Universal Credit. The people of Scotland now need to be given a choice. It is up to all of us to make the case for a new, sustainable and more equal Scotland that people will want to vote for.
Siobhan McCready, activist, Labour left
In the run up to 12 December, there was so much positivity. Young activists were engaged. Labour was, once again, getting a hearing on the doors. That hope turned to disbelief and despair the minute the exit poll was announced. So where does Scottish Labour go next?
Two weeks before, I was out campaigning with young activists. Their excitement and energy were infectious. One conversation sticks in my mind though. I was asked, ‘So are you excited about a Corbyn-led Labour Government?’ My response must have seemed a bit flat: ‘This is reminiscent of 1987. We were so sure then too!’ While I was managing expectations, I never in my wildest dreams thought the result would be so devastating for those of us on the Labour left who’ve worked so hard to deliver change.
How can working class communities vote for a Conservative Party and policies that leave people, our people, dependant on foodbanks and handouts? Why have we allowed the Establishment to control the narrative victimising the poor, degrading disabled people, and blaming immigrants for the mistakes of others? How could people reject positive change and be influenced by soundbites, lies and spin from a ruthless right-wing Tory Government? It’s heart-breaking, yet here we are again, back with a Tory Government that few in Scotland voted for.
A hard Brexit is increasingly likely – working class communities didn’t vote for that to ‘Get Brexit Done’.
They did, however, want out of a system of government that doesn’t work for them, much like the arguments presented by those promoting a vote for independence in 2014. Voters continually tell us they want change, to be listened to, that they feel let down and taken for granted by a political class who simple don’t get it. We could argue all day around Brexit and independence, the emotional and economic case being made or otherwise. However, like it or not, as democratic socialists we need to accept that the people have spoken. The left in Scotland needs to listen. Whilst polls for independence sit around the 45% mark, much of the left vote sits there too. Our people, our communities, are giving us a message.
Politics is in stalemate and Labour is becoming an irrelevance stuck in the middle between nationalism and unionism. It’s time to develop and put forward an alternative socialist constitutional offer to people and we need to discuss this and develop it in terms that people can engage with. The left is too often guilty of overly academic, complex pitches when we need to win over hearts and minds with an offer that resonates. It’s time to listen, talk and agree a way out of this mess, for all our sakes.
Gavin Lundy, National Convener, Young Scots for Independence
It is fair to say that activists around my age have already experienced enough political drama for a lifetime; an independence referendum, an EU referendum, an ordinary general election, and two snap elections. Of all these memorable campaigns, the 2019 General Election will be the most depressing to look back on. But at least that affords us the opportunity to be frank with ourselves.
Across England and Wales, Labour was utterly crushed by a vacuous populist and traditionalist conservative movement with an ‘anti-politics’ ethos. In England, where it worked, this manifested itself as ‘Get Brexit Done’. In Scotland, where it didn’t, this was ‘Say no to indyref2’. Enough politics: everything is fine.
The result – which by the time you are reading this you will have come to terms with more than I have now – was devastating. Many will have their own takes but it was ultimately down to the failure of Labour to build a coalition of voters. I question the idea that being more Brexity or less would have made a substantial difference. Indeed, a pro-Brexit stance would have moved Labour’s electoral difficulties to different battlegrounds than the ones that they ultimately lost on. By the time the election was called, it was too late to ‘bring people together’. This result means continued austerity, economic damage, struggling public services, and the end of the NHS as we know it. So where then, now?
In Scotland, we must now use yet another undeniable mandate to agitate for another independence referendum – a chance to make a clean break from Tory nationalism. In the rest of Britain, I don’t know what the way back looks like. But it is my belief that the best thing for the working class of England would be Scottish independence; a forced realignment of how Britain perceives itself, an opportunity for Scotland to lead by example.
The election featured the interesting phenomenon of young, left-wing, pro-independence trade unionists and political activists joining Labour to help ensure Prime Minister Corbyn. It’s a strange thing to say after I saw Labour hugging Tories as they celebrated Scotland voting against its independence – but I took no pleasure in seeing their work evaporate in the face of an SNP landslide. They wanted a better world now, with Corbyn, not after independence. That was never going to happen.
I hope that these young activists will now realise that Labour in Scotland is at best a distraction, and more accurately; a vehicle for the right and for the British Government to deny Scotland’s right to self-determination through evidence of ‘unionist’ votes. The Scottish left must now be laser focused on winning independence. So, as National Convener of the SNP’s youth wing, I say this to those that joined or campaigned for Labour in 2019: ‘Let’s work together again to break free from Boris Johnson’s Britain. Scotland cannot wait until the next general election in 2024’.
Jim Sillars, former Labour and SNP MP
Nicola Sturgeon never went for an unambiguous vote for independence, using the softest language on indyref2 with a formula that it was right for Scots to make a decision about our future. Something difficult for any reasonable person to disagree. Then, she changed tack, and made the last lap all about stopping Boris and Brexit, to get ‘remain’ voters. She succeeded with that late shift, and has been honest enough to acknowledge that not everyone who voted SNP supports independence.
This was reversion to normal in SNP election campaigning. Most never noticed that between 1992 and 2014, the SNP never fought an election on independence. It was always something else such as ‘A Stronger Voice for Scotland’. Failing to build an independence vote is the reason we were at 29% in February 2014 when that campaign started. So, another election goes by and the SNP sought ‘remainer’ Unionist votes, thus undermining the claim to have a mandate for indyref2. Another chance missed to build the independence vote.
Anyway, everyone with any political nous knows that Nicola’s demand for indyref2 in 2020 is play acting to up the grudge feeling when Johnston says no. If he was clever, he would give her a Section 30 order and see how she got on with a referendum awash with the consequences of the Alex Salmond trial, and the suspended Holyrood inquiry into her conduct, starting again after the trial. How the activist gallery to which she is playing don’t see they are being led up the garden path beats me.
The result of the election is that Scotland is stuck. A group of 48 MPs go to London to demonstrate their impotence. They will shout at Johnston but will have no leverage over him. That call for Unionist ‘remainer’ support, and the admission they got it, will enable him to mock their demands for indyref2. The Scottish Government and its Westminster MPs are happily in the EU’s pocket and will be seen as an EU Trojan horse in this Parliament. The party can hardly threaten Johnston with an electoral defeat if he keeps ignoring them, because there is little political difference between 48 seats they now have and a few more.
There is a near future problem of which the SNP leadership and membership seems blithely unaware – what if Johnston gets a good free trade deal, and Brexit does not turn out to be the economic disaster with the 100,000 job losses that they have forecast? What if it is a success, as I, who voted ‘leave’, believe it will be? Johnston is in a far stronger position vis-à-vis the EU than May ever was with her small majority or he was before the election. Not only has the political balance shifted, but so has the economic one. The German economy, whose car industry sells 870,000 vehicles to Britain each year, is wobbly. Some others are not doing well either. So, his chances of getting a good deal improved dramatically on 12 December. You can bet the Tories have filed away every claim by Nicola and her MSPs and MPs of the ‘catastrophe’ she claimed was inevitable.
Has Johnston no problems? The big one is delivering to those Labour areas he knows gave him the vote this time but put him on probation. I am one of the few on the left who never under estimated him. Behind the gaffe prone and outlandish buffoonery, there is a ruthless politician who knows the first rule is to get elected, and the second rule is to get re-elected. In pursuit of the first rule he, a Tory leader wanting to give a signal to working class voters that he was not the bosses’ frontman, told the CBI to its face that they were not getting the £6bn tax break promised. The left better wake up and smell the coffee. He is going to be hard to beat.
Stella Rooney, Chair, Unite Scotland Young Members
There are no bones about it: this election was a defeat for the left. Our next steps merit reflection. But there several issues we must consider now in the aftermath of the result. Sadly, things may well get worse, and we’re going to have to show practical solidarity with one another in opposition to an uncaring state.
We can take a little time to lick our wounds but we must remain alert. The Tories will immediately clamp down on our right to protest and to take democratic collective action in our workplaces. We must oppose any infringement on the right to strike fiercely, whether this means taking part in civil disobedience or breaking laws which are anti-worker.
It’s time to change our political strategies: simply mobilising our existing base is not good enough. We are obligated to build real workers power. Not only is this more worthwhile, it is our only hope as we cannot legislate against austerity and precarious work. Sadly, there is no bill of employment rights, and no end to zero hours’ contracts coming to save us. Self-organisation is our primary means of defence, and our most important work is not going to take place in parliament.
We must adapt to this vulgar economy or else face being unable to change it. Unions must expand their organising models to include precarious workplaces as a matter of urgency. Listening to the voices of young, migrant and insecure workers is crucial to our recovery.
We must also attach these principles of workplace and collective democracy to the institutions that govern us. We cannot endure another five years of the Tories, and workers in Scotland did not vote for it. Devolution was a lifeline for the Scottish working class, and in the face of a further electoral endorsement of an independence referendum, the left must engage.
Abstention from constitutional politics is no longer an option. It’s time for us to truly engage with both the limitations and opportunities of independence. We must these examine these dilemmas, and understand the direct link to our material conditions. It is a matter of urgency to carve out a space to the left of a hard-right Tory party, and the SNP’s vision of independence based around the neo-liberal consensus.
Scottish Labour cannot continue to block a referendum simply because it would rather have a socialist Britain. Tragically, the ‘British road to socialism’ is off the table for the foreseeable future. Labour’s programme for government proved popular: we must have honest discussions about how this policy programme can best be implemented in Scotland. Our principles of worker’s self-determination must guide these interrogations of the British state in its current form. I hope we can have these important discussions in comradeship for we are going to need each other in the fight yet to come.
Róisín McLaren, National Co-spokesperson, Scottish Socialist Party
This election was to be won or lost on the clarity and popularity of the party’s Brexit position. Labour’s was nether clear nor popular. However, this defeat represents something more profound. It is symptomatic of the unravelling of Labour’s electoral bloc.
Social democratic parties do not build an apparatus for government within the working class, i.e. thriving branch structures, popular education, support networks, because they are not trying to prepare the working class for overthrowing the system and governing.
Instead of this grassroots structure, as Jon Cruddas puts it, Labour relied on a historic compromise: the working class allowed itself to be represented in parliament by the middle class, on the proviso that these middle-class representatives would operate in the working class’ interests. The breadth between this deal and the reality of its execution has been growing. It has now ruptured. Labour is now so out-of-touch with the class it is meant to represent that this election saw Welsh ex-miners voting Tory.
The Labour right will argue that Labour lost due to a manifesto that was too left wing. Policies like an immediate minimum wage rise to £10 an hour will be derided as economic fantasy. In this regard Labour’s loss is damaging to the entire left, as it associates such policies with defeat. In a pattern, that is exasperatingly familiar, Labour will swing to the right under Keir Starmer while the unions and Labour left will fall back in line with the logic of ‘electability’.
Just as exasperating is the situation in Scotland. The SNP’s 48 seats are not indicative of a rise in support for independence. Unionists voted SNP because they were the most effective proponents of ‘remain’. Sturgeon is now forced to ask for a Section 30 order, which will not be granted. The reaction to this refusal will be to lead the charge through the courts. This brings us not an inch closer to independence. There is no legal right to a referendum. Independence is a political argument which must be won on political grounds.
George Kerevan has postured civil disobedience as a route to independence. Peter Bell argues that Scotland should unilaterally declare itself independent. These are tactics, not strategy. Both a mass civil disobedience campaign and UDI require the moral authority of overwhelming support for independence to gain legitimacy. Therefore, the independence movement’s task is to build support to such a majority that its democratic legitimacy is unquestionable. SNP will never entertain extra-parliamentary action. Compromised by their cross-class base, its vision of independence is fundamentally conservative. Noting this, is it not the Scottish left’s job to peel support off from the SNP to a socialist project that can effectively fightback against a decade of Tory rule?
Maggie Chetty, former chair, Communist Party of Scotland
Boris Johnson’s electoral victory revealed two conflicting strands of the thinking of working people in England – rejection of the Corbyn project and profound alienation. The exception to this is in Liverpool where the people’s continuing boycott of the Sun has insulated them from its racism and anti-Corbyn rhetoric. In Wales, Labour and Plaid Cymru increased their vote after an excellent performance by Plaid’s Leader Adam Price.
Scotland presented a different outcome with its SNP electoral gains from the Conservatives, Labour and Jo Swinson’s seat. The LibDems took a seat in Fife from SNP’s Stephen Gethins. Interesting to the ‘yes’ campaign in Scotland is how the English electorate is beginning to echo the ‘yes’ campaign’s 2014 calls for Britain’s finances to be less concentrated in London and the South East. It is extraordinary to consider that the person to touch on the alienation of the North East was George Osborne with his talk of the need for a Northern Powerhouse – not that he did anything about it as indeed we expect of Boris Johnson!
Scotland has firmly rejected the Corbyn manifesto – good as it was. We are left with a single Labour MP, the centrist, Ian Murray in Edinburgh South. Scotland’s politics in the post -election period have been enlivened by the word that the Labour for Independence is to be established again. Leading figures like MSPs, Monica Lennon and Neil Findlay, have called for the Scottish Government to have the right to hold a second referendum on independence. Richard Leonard speaks of the need for Labour to become engaged with the debate on constitutional change in Britain. No doubt the subject of federalism will emerge which always seemed a doomed project – whoever expects Westminster to agree to share its powers must have more than a dash of naivety!
The stars of the election have been the SNP with substantial gains and the people of Northern Ireland where they punished the DUP for their intransigence, moving support to the left/middle ground (Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance party) and opening the door to more progressive outcomes in the years ahead.
What for the future? The SNP has to sharpen up its act and ditch policies like the Growth Commission roundly which was rejected by many left ‘independistas’. It will also have to examine the legal options including the Treaty of Union which I suspect Westminster would like to forget about. It should be upping the ante in every conceivable way including on the streets but also maintaining patience so as stop the opposition wearing itself out.
Scottish Labour should fall in with the pro-independence campaign for its survival as a party. If it was wise, it could re-build Labour from a Scottish base and cities like Liverpool. An SNP/Labour/Green alliance in Holyrood would become unstoppable and be a beacon for the rest of Britain – a challenge to the poisonous Tory Government, a safe haven for decent, pro-peace politics and a green industrial revolution that would attract our friends and neighbours in the rUK and Europe.
Vince Mills, Secretary, Scottish Labour Left
As you might expect from someone who believes the EU is a major impediment to socialist advance and, therefore, voted to ‘leave’, I was not surprised by the overall vote for the Tories’ ‘Get Brexit Done’ against Labour (however bitterly disappointed I was). I think gut working class hostility to the EU is well placed and I expected the Labour collapse in ‘leave’ voting areas.
I also believed, therefore, that, even in Scotland, had Labour sustained its 2017 stance of respecting the EU referendum result, it may have been able to appeal that section of the 1,018,322 citizens who had voted to leave in 2016, most of them working class and many of them SNP supporters – a third of SNP supporters voted ‘leave’ – who felt abandoned by the SNP leadership on this issue.
Bin EU logo or EU logo arises from the bin
Indeed, from a class perspective, the depth of support for the current SNP leadership is difficult to explain. It is not just questions about the underfunding of some services or mis-management of others – it is the explicit espousal of a neo-liberal offer on independence embedded in the Growth Commission. This raises the obvious question: in that case, why did Labour do so badly?
It is because the SNP has supplanted Labour as the ‘the party of moderate progress within the bounds of the law’ as the Czech writer, Jaroslav Hasek, would have it. The SNP’s politics very much reflect its membership, 71% of which are ABC1 – upper to lower middle class.
While we on the left may sneer at this, like Blair, Sturgeon has found a way to keep her influential, middle class, core vote happy while poverty and inequality remain endemic in large sections of the working-class Scotland, many of whom (32%) did not vote on 12 December and remain well out of the reach of the union movement.
Of course, I am not writing off the role Scottish nationalism plays in this electoral dominance. As a potent mixture of grievance and entitlement often feeding off the very poverty it masks, the dominant form of nationalism explains and inflames a legitimate working-class sense of injustice, as national oppression and then directs it to a managed expression of anger at the ballot box.
Labour needs to adopt a much bolder strategy, embracing parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggle that goes beyond winning elections to transforming society. We must engage with all of those suffering under capitalism. Labour, therefore, should support the union movement and other dissident groups when they resist exploitation and cuts and this includes local government. This should be underpinned by an approach to the constitution which maximises the capacity for solidarity across the regions and nations of Britain with the ultimate aim of confronting capital at its very heart, in the City of London.
Morgan Horn, Industrial Organiser, Young Communist League
A Tory majority this big spells even more disaster for working people and our institutions. The pundits would have you believe that this result is a rejection of socialism – it is not for 10.5m voted for a radical manifesto. Labour’s policies were popular but constitutional questions reigned supreme. It is now up to us who believe in the cause of socialism to defend it and to continue to bring people together under a vision and a hope for a better future that is possible. For despite the devastating defeat, our ideas and our principles remain.
Whilst the battle in Labour for its leadership now rages, working people still need to be empowered, and for that we look to the unions. For too long, the union movement has failed in its primary purpose of representing our class. Over the past 20 years, union leaders have become the gatekeepers and managers of decline, and the collapse of membership and overall industrial clout reflects this. Unions need to organise or we will soon be rendered unfit for purpose.
Make no mistake, the Tories are coming to wipe us out. If we thought the Trade Union Act 2016 was bad, we are going to get hit with even worse. We have already seen their plans to legislate strikes and pickets in certain sectors out of existence. We cannot sit back and watch this happen – when the Tories come for the transport workers, we need to be strong enough to act in defiance with them, and we need to be willing to break the law.
We need united collective action. It’s the only hope to build power for our class, to reconnect the link between the individuals and the collective, the workplace and the community, the people and the political weapon that will liberate them.
We have a hell of a fight on our hands over the next five years and workers need to be centre of that fight. We are the wage slaves; we are the mortgage and rent payers; we are the ones who suffer from social security attacks; we are the ones in huge amounts of debt to subsidise our employers’ low wages and our landlords’ extortionate rents; and we are the primary agents of change.
Building trust and showing workers that they can take control of their own lives by building collective strength is the only way to undercut a growing divisive, racist and fascist rhetoric. We can do this by encouraging and facilitating workers to look at workplace issues as our class issues; and to transform these issues in to transformative actions. It is up to us to ensure that these links are made.
We need to organise to fight like we never have before. We need to take the struggle beyond just resisting the onslaught of the Tory government and in the direction of transforming society in the interests of the working class.
Myshele Haywood, activist, Scottish Green Party
It feels like the start of a dystopian film. Foodbanks. Rough sleepers. Children curled up in hospital corridors. Elderly and disabled people dying in freezing flats. Refugees dying at sea. There’s a climate emergency brewing, but it seems abstract and far away. Everything looks bleak.
As we enter the third decade of the twenty first century, things are about to get much worse. The Tories have consolidated their power. They’ve established lying and corruption as acceptable in public life. They’ve facilitated eye-watering levels of inequality. They’ve spread instability, division, suspicion. They’ve empowered the far right. It’s slash-and-burn politics, and it’s terrifyingly efficient.
How do we take down such a monolith? On the left, there’s a tendency to look for the ‘one right answer’, and become evangelical about it. But what if the concept of ‘one right answer’ is itself part of the problem? We know that ecosystems need diversity to thrive. How can we restore our political ecosystem with a single movement or party or ideological position? We can’t take down a monolith by building a bigger monolith – or a small one in the same image.
Whatever answer we think we’ve got it hasn’t worked. We need to stop expecting someone with a red flag to come over the hill and save us. Equally, we need to stop deluding ourselves that we’re the ones with the red flag.
Too often, we worry about winning people over. We chap doors when we want votes. What are we actually offering, aside from promises? What are we contributing to people’s lives? Instead of thinking about how to take people with us, let’s think about how to stand with them. Instead of asking for their support, let’s consider how to provide support and mutual aid.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. We don’t need instructions or permission from on high. But as the Tories continue to break their promises, we need to be the ones who show up, follow through, and get shit done. We need to rebuild trust and solidarity.
Look around your neighbourhood, see what needs doing, and do it. Get to know people who don’t attend political meetings. Build relationships. Strengthen what the Tories are trying to destroy. Volunteer at a library, foodbank, or community centre. Perhaps take inspiration from groups like Living Rent, Better Than Zero, the Unemployed Workers’ Network, or hundreds of small organisations working on local issues. Where can you put your skills or money or time to good use?
Destruction is easy. Rebuilding is hard. Now is the time to set aside ideological certainty. We need to stand together, protect what can be saved, heal what’s been damaged, and prepare the ground for new growth.