The Conservative Party’s victory in the general election will certainly lead to an intensification of austerity in Scotland (despite the rejection of its policies at the polls in Scotland). Having swept all before it in Scotland, the SNP now has a clear mandate to lead fight against any cuts imposed from Westminster.
The question is will it do so? This fact, and what seems now to be the terminal decline of Scottish Labour as a relevant political force in Scotland, poses the question of how the left can play a constructive role and win support. This is an issue which needs to be urgently considered by all involved in socialist politics. Before doing so two issues need to be borne in mind.
The first is that the enormous vote for the SNP was a largely working class one and a massive rejection of the neo-liberal and free market economic policies that have done so much damage to working class families and communities, not just in Scotland but throughout Europe and beyond. Nicola Sturgeon hammered home an anti-austerity, anti-Tory message during the campaign and it was a message which people in Scotland responded too.
The second point, and a more difficult one to confront given the spectacular growth of the SNP membership and its apparent move to the left, is the fact that at its root the SNP is a bourgeois nationalist party committed to making Scotland an attractive place for business investment. It calls for lower business taxes, SNP controlled councils have implemented cuts just as vicious as any by Labour and recently the SNP has told the RMT that if it does not accept cuts to the railway pension scheme in Scotland it will be privatised and ended.
It is this contradiction which makes it possible for the left in Scotland to navigate a way forward. Most of the new members of the SNP will support the campaigns that the left is involved with. It is vital we engage with and work alongside them. Anti-racism, the removal of Trident and the closure of the Dungavel immigration detention centre are good examples.
There are two strikes taking place in Scotland at the moment which we can also unite around. These are of the Dundee Ninewells hospital porters and the Glasgow homeless case workers. Both strikes are over pay after years of underpayment.
Given the fact that health is a devolved matter, the SNP can involve itself directly in the porter’s dispute and meet the workers’ demands. In the case of Glasgow, it can tell the Glasgow Council that it no longer has a mandate and they should immediately settle the strike by meeting the claim in full. These examples show areas were the left can play a constructive role in maintaining pressure on the SNP to deliver on its promises.
Scotland remains part of the British State with a Tory government in London and as a consequence the battle against austerity continues. Nicola Sturgeon is pushing hard for increased powers for the Scottish Parliament. The Smith Commission proposals fall well short of providing people in Scotland with real power to manage the economy and our own affairs.
Any devolved powers to Scotland which leave control over the Scottish budget in the hands of Westminster are ultimately a delusion and can only lead to the Scottish Government managing austerity. Because of this, the question of a second referendum on independence will at some point need to be confronted. Again, this is an area where socialists in Scotland can take the lead. At some point in the next few years the question of a second referendum will have to be confronted. While many SNP members and supporters will agree, the leadership of the SNP remain cautious about proposing such a move.
Resisting austerity by all means necessary, including demonstrations, strikes and civil disobedience should be our immediate priority. However, this can also become the focus for a second vote on independence at some point in the near future.
An issue of major importance is how can the radical left in Scotland move forward on the electoral front? Given the popularity of the SNP and the move to punish Labour, it was always going to be difficult for the left to pick up votes in the general campaign. The Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) ran a positive campaign and gained a large amount of verbal support and sympathy but was badly squeezed by the SNP’s electoral tsunami. However, the Scottish election in 2016 should provide more favourable conditions for the left to stand.
The mechanism for voting MSPs to the Scottish Parliament contains a degree of proportional representation and makes it possible for smaller parties to enjoy a degree of success. The last time the left in Scotland had electoral success was in 2003 when the Scottish Socialist Party won six MSPs.
An important aspect of this was the fact that the Scottish left was largely united in supporting the SSP challenge. In 2016, there could be at least four different groups looking for support. If such a scenario were to happen then it would be disaster. Precisely because we can have success it is essential that left puts aside its differences and presents a united challenge.
On the 27 June, the Scottish TUSC is hosting a conference in Glasgow to discuss how the left in Scotland can unite and offer a unified electoral challenge in 2016. The resignation of Jim Murphy after the disastrous Labour election campaign shows the total disarray of Scottish Labour. If the left can gets its act together then it possible to win union support, and support from wider working class for a radical socialist alternative to the SNP.
Bob Fotheringham is a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and the TUSC Scottish Steering Committee