Left Unity after the Referendum – Is there a vision?
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
There has been much recently that might give pause to anyone on the left to stop and reflect on what it means to engage in struggle and in progressive politics; the sad passing of two giants of our movement in a single week – Bob Crow and Tony Benn; the recent closing of the gap in the polls in the independence referendum , meaning ‘game on’ for a huge transformation in our politics; the increasing hysterical tribalism and fundamental dishonesty of the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party.
The Point would be the last to suggest a new period of navel gazing for the left’s constituent elements in Scotland. We have a referendum to win, and when the prize is so huge – national sovereignty for the first time ever in the democratic sense, the end of the British State as we knew it, the opening up of a period of optimism ripe with possibilities for the left – any serious socialist suggesting that winning the vote in September is anything other than priority number one surely needs to wake up and smell the proverbial Java.
Nevertheless, we do believe that, while the imperative is to actions that can win us the referendum in September, it is time to at least start to think and maybe have a few conversations around the question of developing a left unity, or at least a left consensus, post referendum, and the possibility of a single united left – or left/green – electoral challenge for the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2016.
Let’s face it: whatever differences we each may hold with one another pale into insignificance compared to the objective need of the Scottish working class and progressive politics for left consensus and unity. The same objective need exists for a single left challenge for seats in the Scottish Parliament. And we would argue that that will be the case whatever the result of the referendum on September 18th.
If YES wins – and we believe it can – the first elections to a sovereign Parliament in 2016 will take on the optimistic, open character of the first two elections under devolution, if anything more so. The possibility of a ‘rainbow parliament’ with significant representation from forces to the left of the SNP and Labour will be inherent in the situation. If the referendum is lost, any mood of despair will be temporary before the left has to come together again: to fight for what would then, clearly, be the preferred option of a Scottish majority – real devo max, with power over all taxation including oil and gas, welfare, broadcasting, etc, with only foreign affairs and defence reserved to Westminster. This would be in sharp contrast to the paltry, ‘poisoned chalice’ of Calman plus being proposed by the Labour Party that would see a so-called devolved Scottish Parliament control just over a fifth of its potential income from revenue.
So either way, a united and effective electoral, campaigning challenge to the left of Labour and the SNP in 2016 would be a very desirable thing to achieve. Could such a thing happen in Scottish politics? The SSP in its golden years proved that it can – winning almost 140, 000 list votes in 2003. The Greens have also shown a consistent vote on the same scale over a longer period of time. But The Point is going to lay its cards on the table here. We believe the objective possibility and objective necessity exists for a new uniting left electoral and campaigning initiative that would be broader and deeper than the SSP was – even at its height.
We believe that the basis for a post referendum electoral and campaigning alliance already exists in embryo and has evolved organically as a direct result of the referendum itself. We believe that potential exists in the huge success of the Radical Independence Campaign, which at a local level across the country has started to put real meat on its bones and attract participation from left independents, greens, left nationalists, left social democrats and revolutionary socialists. We believe the potential is inherent in the excitement created and the work done by the Jimmy Reid Foundation and others in the ‘Common Weal’ project. We see the appetite for a left politics and for public ownership in the facebook pages of many pro-Yes groupings. We see its potential in the way that disparate voices from different traditions have been able to come together for a single cause.
Can it happen?
‘There’s nothing as divisive as a call for left unity’ goes the old saw, but it really is a matter of choice. Can we collectively summon the vision and the will to meet the objective political need for a single left electoral alliance in Scotland? Can we collectively set aside the differences that exist, and coalesce around a consensual program for radical change that we could take to the Scottish electorate in 2016? Such a movement/alliance, by definition, would have to be broad and inclusive, not narrow and exclusive.
Common Weal Alliance (greens, socialists, progressives)?
Imagineering the future, it’s possible to envision those six words, or something very like them, on the list ballot in 2016.
It is a thought, at least.
Readers, it’s over to you.