Can the Scots left rebuild?

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Whatever way you look at it, the Scottish National Party have won another crushing victory in the Scottish parliamentary election. Due to the bizarre maths of the list system, designed to prevent an overall majority, the SNP won more constituency seats than last time but won less list seats and so do not have an overall majority, missing out by two seats.

The headline news was that the Tories beat Labour into third place. Yes, there are now no “Labour heartlands” in Scotland and the Tories are now the official opposition in the parliament. The political eclipse of the Scottish Labour Party is almost complete and will probably end with the loss of major councils, including Glasgow, next year.

What of the left’s fortunes? In short, terrible. The failure to present a united left platform to voters meant that there was no socialist option in many constituencies but up to four different options on the list ballot paper. Even the combined votes of RISE and Solidarity would not have gained a seat on the Glasgow list.

The SNP and the Greens benefitted from this failure and hoovered up the pro-independence votes. The majority of voters still believe that the SNP can be trusted to run things, even if there is precious little evidence of this. Nicola Sturgeon remains a very popular leader. The Greens have six MSPs and now have leverage over a minority SNP administration. Patrick Harvie should be able to win some movement over a ban on fracking but what else?

The fundamental issue of this election has been independence, even though Nicola Sturgeon tried desperately to manage down expectations of a second referendum. The SNP and the Greens are for independence and together have a small majority. The unionist vote has abandoned Labour and rallied around the Tories. Much has been made of the Tory revival but it is limited to what have always been strong Tory areas such as the Borders.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s campaign featured photo opportunities of herself grinning like a hyena — a million miles away from the debonair millionaires of London. David Cameron never visited Scotland during the campaign and Davidson’s election posters did not even mention the word “Conservative”!

In truth they have little influence except the extra-parliamentary time given to the opposition. Still it galls that the tax-dodging, war-mongering, privatising party of toffs can boast about being the official opposition. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn did not feature in Labour’s campaign. Kezia Dugdale tried desperately to be positive after last year’s disastrous Westminster election and even attempted a slight left face over tax. However, Labour paid the price of being part of the No side alongside the Tories in the referendum campaign two years ago. What will they do in parliament? Surely not vote with the Tories again.

The activism and vibrancy of the referendum campaign was totally missing from this one. There was none of the racist bile that featured prominently in the London mayoral campaign and UKIP did not get a breakthrough after presenting themselves as a bunch of incompetent, clownish bams.

Why did the left in Ireland and Northern Ireland manage to organise an alliance and win seats while in Scotland we failed? It is not the objective conditions. The levels of deprivation and inequality in Scotland, always unacceptably high, are growing after eight years of austerity.

Socialists need to organise and generalise this fight, building the confidence of workers in their own ability to fight. There are fights brewing in education and councils, there is a threat to the Glasgow shipyards, and redundancies continue in the oil industry. Nicola Sturgeon’s honeymoon will be short. We need to build a movement capable of uniting the fight for independence with other strands of struggle.

La beauté est dans la rue!