Where to begin?
So says Bilbo Baggins at the start of Peter Jackson’s mighty Hobbit and Lord of the Rings sextuplet of films. Bilbo however, is looking back on a whole journey, a complete adventure.
Today, in Scotland we know we’ve just witnessed a huge, old politics smashing, milestone of an episode. We know, however, that we are still journeying, that our adventure hasn’t ended. We in Scotland have had our victory at Helm’s Deep over Saruman – but the Dark Lord still sits in his Tower in Mordor, casting a shadow over all Middle-Earth.
Those of us who sat up all night watching Labour and Lib-Dem MPs fall like the proverbial ninepins in every corner of Caledonia may recall a remark by STV’s resident psephologist for the evening. ‘No meteorological metaphor is too over-the-top to explain what is happening in Scotland”, he said. A jokey meme-poster put out by The Point on the eve of poll put the question thus:
By our own lights then, what happened in Scotland was somewhere between a supervolcanic explosion and a mass extinction event. The three unionist parties retained one panda each in Scotland – crumbs of comfort for their talking heads in the studio. The SNP won 56 out of 59 seats, often with massive swings in what we used to call, quaintly, ‘Labour heartlands’. Taken together with the curt dismissals of Lib-Dem Tory enablers like Danny Alexander by virtually the whole Scottish electorate, it was clear by dawn that three things were happening.
Firstly, the fire, ire and desire of the forty five percent Yes voters had carried over like an unstoppable wave into the General Election vote, and was being added to by significant numbers of NO voters.
Secondly, that the Scottish electorate were using their votes to punish parties they saw as collaborating with the Tories,
Thirdly, a decisive and fundamental shift of working class loyalties had taken place in Scotland, away from a Labour party thirled to the Union and with a misplaced sense of electoral entitlement, to a pro-independence, anti-austerity, left leaning social democratic party, with a leader people genuinely like and trust in Nicola Sturgeon – the SNP.
The overall swing to the SNP on the night was a record breaking 24% across Scotland. As well as winning 56 seats, they took a majority of the popular vote (50.2%). If you added on the significant votes of the pro-indy Greens, and the less significant votes for the pro-indy socialist groupings that stood in a few seats, then 52% of the electorate voted for pro-independence parties.
Another 5000 votes on top of the 1.4 million cast for the SNP could have seen the party make the full clean sweep, because Carmichael and Mundell held on by the skin of their teeth.
You didn’t need to be someone buying into every message or policy of the SNP to feel a sense of history, of a class and a people shaking off mental and emotional shackles to reach for something new, and potentially better; rejecting the same old guard with same old tired rhetoric and excuses; choosing Hope Over Fear
What a pity then, that tired old, Blairite ridden, Balls talking, triangulating, press baron pandering Labour in England failed to live up to expectations, and landed the whole of the UK with another five years of Tory Government.
“Delighted for Scotland...Gutted for England "
- Tweet from Irvine Welsh
As progressive left pro-independence activists across Scotland enjoyed our Magrit, Douglas, Danny and Murphy moments we were very aware that the shine was taken off the occasion by the knowledge that Cameron had made it back into number 10 – albeit with a reduced majority. The Point is heartsick for our fellow progressives in England and Wales who fought hard to see an end to the Tories only to see the Labour establishment let them down yet again.
The reasons will be poured over, examined, dissected ad infinitum over the days and weeks ahead. The likeable and honest Labour writer and commentator Owen Jones has pointed out the absolute campaign of hatred and vilification towards Ed Miliband from the usual suspects in the Tory press in England, culminating in the Sun’s disgraceful ‘dog whistle’ anti-semitism front page of May 6th. All this is undoubtedly true – but Nicola Sturgeon also came in for some pretty low and nasty stuff from both Tory politicians and the metropolitan commentariat. Nevertheless, she ended up being the most popular politician of the campaign both North and South of the border. Why? Perhaps because she stuck to her principles throughout and actually came across as a politician who meant what she said.
The Point believes Labour’s capitulation to the Tory party/Tory press agenda, portraying the SNP as some rabid apocalyptic mob ready to soil the playing fields of Eton, did not assist Labour’s cause. Ruling out working with the SNP to the extent of leaving the door open for the Tories to get back into No 10 played to the Tory racist agenda and its ugly stirring up of anti-Scottish sentiment. It also left Miliband looking like he didn’t really want the job.
What is absolutely certain is the new BIG LIE being trotted out by the dimwits of Scottish Labour and their fellow travellers in England – that it was the SNP, and the Scottish voters who dared vote for them, that allowed the Tories back in – will not stand up to even the most casual scrutiny.
Those who put forward such an analysis seem to forget that the vast majority of working class people in Scotland and throughout the UK can actually count. Even if every seat in Scotland had gone to Labour, Labour would still have lost. It was the failure of Labour in England to win around 40 seats they absolutely needed to take that has set the UK up for five more years of Tory reaction. The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens held up their part of the bargain and could have offered 60 progressive anti-Tory votes to lock out Cameron, if Labour in England had done their job properly.
“(This is) further confirmation that politics in Scotland and England are now on two
fundamentally different trajectories."
- Tommy Sheridan
There is a new reality that cannot be ignored and the term ‘democratic deficit’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.
In Scotland, a majority voted for a party that stood on the following basis – a real tem increase in public spending and an end to austerity; support for the living wage and an end to zero hours contracts; reversing privatisation of the NHS and defending public services; no renewal of Trident; tax increases on the wealthy through restoration of the higher rate, a mansion tax and a crackdown on corporate tax avoidance; a moratorium on fracking; a moratorium on benefit sanctions; renationalisation of the railways and Royal Mail; abolition of the bedroom tax; abolition of the House of Lords; full fiscal powers for Scotland and locking the Tories out of Government.
These policies were given a national mandate on May 7th by anybody’s book.
By contrast, in England, nearly half of voters, taking the Tory and UKIP vote together, voted for increased austerity, further deeper welfare cuts, continued NHS privatisation, bigotry and xenophobia, continued rule of the Westminster elites, corporate capital, and the Little Englander. No fans of the witch-hunting Welshman, we are nevertheless reminded of Neil Kinnock’s most chilling and effective speech... ‘I warn you not to be poor, not to be old, not to get sick...’
There will also be the little matter of an in-out referendum on the EU, for which there is little appetite in Scotland. Of course, there are real questions for any socialist about the nature of the EU, whether membership benefits the working class and whether it can be reformed or should be rejected...but those are not the issues that will predominate in what will be an ugly and xenophobic campaign led by the far right in England.
The 56 SNP MPs who will go to Westminster will have a job on their hands. Parliamentary arithmetic means they can’t stop the Tories – but they can harass the Bullingdon juggernaut, and present a political alternative to reaction and austerity at every turn. They can and should be Scotland’s voice of opposition to the implementation of Tory policies in Scotland that the Tories have no mandate for. In fact, Tory policies have been decisively rejected at the ballot box by the Scottish electorate
Meanwhile, more and more Scots will be drawn to the natural conclusion that there is only one final way to deal with this mother of all democratic deficits and ensure the Tories never govern Scotland again – and that is through independence.
“There is a roch wind blowing through the great glen of Scotland this morning....”
- Alex Salmond, after Hamish Henderson
So what next?
In Scotland we look forward to our own Parliamentary elections in one year’s time. The prize for all the pro-independence parties in Scotland is potentially a huge one. Labour and the Lib-Dems are unlikely to recover in such a short period and the SNP must fancy their chances of taking a big majority of the 72 constituencies that will be up for grabs on the ‘first’ vote. Indeed, would anyone rule out that they could win a majority in the Scottish Parliament – 66 seats – on the basis of the constituency vote alone?
Because of the way the additional member system works this could make it virtually a waste of time for the SNP to stand on the regional list. One huge possibility that The Point will throw out there for activists and party strategists to think about is this: Let the SNP stand unchallenged in the constituency vote (taking all the YES vote and the NO voters who now want Devo Max or full fiscal autonomy) while the SNP does NOT contest the regional list or ‘second’ vote, and a YES Alliance, composed of the Greens, socialists and non-party pro-independence figures, stands on the list. The SNP could make a clear call to vote SNP in the constituency ballot, and Yes Alliance on the list.
This could mean that we end up not only with a Scottish Government committed to independence, but a pro-Scottish opposition committed to independence. Three to four seats on the list would be winnable for independence in every region on this basis, taken up by Greens, socialists, and non-party talented folk from Women for Independence, the Yes movement, Business for Scotland and so on.
Could it happen? Of course, if our movement is prepared to think ‘outside the box’.
Yes, it would involve some horse-trading and organisation, but it’s doable. It would strengthen the momentum for independence, give kudos to the SNP, cut across opposition jibes about a ‘one party state’ and leave the Unionist parties in the Scottish Parliament as a rump. An inspiring and radical common program would have to be arrived at, and I suspect that parties and individuals within any Yes Alliance would want to preserve the right to pursue their own particular politics over and above any common program that was agreed. It’s certainly not something that should be rejected out of hand.
The first step in any process for socialists, though, and whatever strategy is settled on at the end of the day, is for all the various socialist and left party groupings in Scotland to unite in one left, pro-independence coalition themselves for 2016. The Scottish Left Project appears to be the main vehicle seeking to achieve this at the present time and we wish it well.
“Our priority remains: to put an end to austerity"
- Nicola Sturgeon, May 8th 2014
Beyond the electoral tasks and responsibilities here in Scotland there is a job of resistance and civic protest to be done across the whole of the UK. Tory slash and burn will have to be opposed on the streets and mass protests built against welfare cuts, continued NHS privatisation and the pampering of the wealthy elites while working class folk are reliant on foodbanks. A second major recession in the period the Tories are in office – likely because their economic ‘recovery’ is based on a new housing bubble and speculative sand – could throw everything into sharp relief. The Point fights for independence for Scotland, but we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters across these Isles in resisting Tory attacks on living standards and basic decency.
A different Scotland is rising. It is a Scotland that is challenging the ideologically crazed orcs of the Bullingdon club, and giving hope to people elsewhere in the UK that politics can move and change in a progressive direction as it undoubtedly did on May 7th in Scotland.
Let’s make that the enduring legacy of the historic General Election of 2015.