The Point
Last updated: 15 November 2017. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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A Call to the Scottish Left:Show Corbyn our Support

Oh how the tables have turned! 10 years ago Britain was as right wing as they come. Labour were in power not only in England but Scotland too, with the vast majority of Scottish MPs flying Labour's banner. They also controlled the Scottish Parliament too, albeit in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. There were moments of hope during this period. The Scottish Socialist Party won 6 MSPs and things looked on the up.

However, this was not to last and the reign of the right continued. The growth of the SNP has been a positive although for many socialists it has been far from the answer and we are now facing another 5 years of Tory rule on top of the 5 already faced.

However the future is far from gloomy. The referendum put a lifeblood back into politics and there have been renewed calls, particularly in Scotland for a move away from the neoliberal agenda passed down by Westminster. The SNP are looking to have a more social democratic model, which although not my own personal choice, is an improvement on the current situation. There has been a rise in those who are members of socialist parties, with the SSP membership increasing and of course we have the Greens - who are currently hold the middle ground between the SNP and SSP - whose numbers have also swelled. Up until now there has been one problem though, all of these increases in support for parties against the neoliberal agenda originate in Scotland. England on the other hand voted overwhelmingly in favour of not only an Establishment, neoliberal party, but the worst one out of the lot.

So we come to the Labour leadership contest and what a contest it has been. We have seen 3 candidates reeling off the same nonsense that lost Labour their support in the first place. People are bored of them trying to out Tory the Tories. It would make anyone become uninterested when both major parties agree along almost every line.

Then there is Jeremy Corbyn. A man who has sat on the back benches for 3 decades, spanning such events as the miners strike, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Iraq war and the referendum. The public knew little about this man when his name came up as a contender however the imaginations were captured once they heard what it was he actually stood for. He was against austerity, against Trident, against the Iraq and subsequent wars. He is for equality, for taxing the rich, for building social housing, for economic growth by funding the people. But what has separated Corbyn from the rest more than anything is the fact that he is a real person that the public can relate too. He travels the bus and tube, he claims little to no expenses and he speaks to people, he doesn't speak as if he were above them.

But on to my main point; Corbyn and the Scottish left. The majority of the socialists in Scotland are very much on the side of Independence and Corbyn's stance on Independence could (some would suggest) prove a sticky wicket when talking of supporting him. However this should not be the case. We will not get independence for minimum another 5 years while austerity is shattering lives now. We must act in order to end austerity as soon as possible as it is not possible to just wait until we gain independence. There have been some who have suggested that Corbyn should not be given support due to his allegiances to the United Kingdom but I would put this to you, Corbyn's real allegiances are to the people of Britain, not the Kingdom.

I will not suggest for one minute that I believe Corbyn to be the saviour of the British working class. Should he be elected as leader and then PM, I am highly doubtful he be able follow a socialist agenda whereby he collectivises businesses and corporations to be run by the people for the people etc. What he will do though is give the working class a shot at the best socialist agenda we could have in Britain. His plans for a National Investment Bank are very much welcome along with plans to nationalise utilities and the railway. To invest in people rather than banks is something that we as socialists have longed to hear from a Westminster politician and for these reasons we must give Corbyn our support.

Many forget that between now and the time of Scotland gaining its independence, there is a country to run. Some would like things to get even worse to further the cause of independence but if the cost of independence is the suffering of the workers, it is surely not worth it? I would argue that as Internationalists we would work with many people across the world in order to further the cause of the working class, we would work with many who may not have the same list of priorities as us and I'm positive Scotland would not feature as highly on their list of priorities as it does on ours. We must put this same reasoning behind our decision to support Corbyn. Yes, Scottish Home Rule may not be high up on his list of priorities but there's something even more important that is, improving the lives of the people. I do not call for a mass vote for Labour however I think it is important that we should be publicly backing Corbyn at this point and take it from there as we are at a vital point, a point in British politics that has not been seen for a long time, where the left is actually making some inroads.

Corbyn gives the left someone to rally behind, however I think the most important aspect of his success so far is to bring socialist politics back into the mainstream. While the other candidates bitch and moan about how much of a disaster he would be, Corbyn continues to advocate the policies he believes in. One of the reasons left wing politics have suffered for so long is because they have not been in the mainstream. They have been shoved away in a corner and left to rot with only we activists trying to keep them alive. But, with Corbyn there is a real chance to keep left wing politics in the spotlight and that will help the cause of Scottish socialism no end. It is for this reason alone that I am advocating and calling on the Scottish left to support Corbyn.

Look past the Unionist party he is a member of, look to the future where there is a possibility he could help make a real impact.

A Red and Green 2016

It's almost clichéd to say that we're living in exciting times, a political landscape rapidly shifting beneath our feet and unpredictable in its destination. No sooner is one historic election out of the way but another beckons and next year's Holyrood election could certainly be that. But while we live in exciting times we also live in dark times for ordinary working people bearing the brunt of the Tories form of class war they call 'Austerity'. However next year's Holyrood election gives us the opportunity to wipe out Unionism, and by extension the pro-austerity parties, as a political force in Scotland at this time, and also build an effective opposition to the SNP from the radical Green Left.

Before I get started I realise that much of what I say may sit uncomfortably with some in the various left groups, greens and others who understandably have their own particular interests to look out for. Believe me it is way out of my own comfort zone. As a Republican I don't have any rose-tinted view of the Holyrood Assembly, given it can be abolished by Westminster at any time and has no legal right to launch another Indy referendum without Westminster approval it is little more than a Unionist institution set up to preserve the Union rather than further democracy, power devolved is power retained and all that. Furthermore as a socialist with syndicalist sympathies when it comes to fighting elections for "bourgeois parliaments" getting too het up over elections to a wee pretendy parliament, or parish council as Tony Blair described it, seems a distraction from the real job of establishing an independent workers' republic.

But... now, here, Scotland 2015-16 is not 'normal' political times. We're still riding the wave of activity and enthusiasm unleashed by the referendum and given momentum by the myriad of groups that sprung up as self-organising collectives, organisations such as Women for Indy, National Collective and RIC, where grass roots campaigners could come together and get their voices heard independent of the party machines.

RIC in particular brought together all manner of radical forces from the socialist left, from the environmental movement as well as the left of the SNP and it seems to me self-evident that we were able to achieve far more working together (and working together consensually and harmoniously for a greater good) than would have been the case otherwise.

And that offers an interesting vision for the situation some nine months later. While those involved with the nascent Scottish Left Project (SLP) have done admirable work, building on the positivity of RIC, by actually getting elements of the Left talking to each other getting past the divisions which have scarred us and set back the cause of Socialism by a political generation or more, it is clear that the distrust that still exists means this won't be achieved overnight and indeed with their own eyes set on the 2020 Holyrood elections rather than 2016 I fear they are in danger of not just selling themselves short but the needs and aspirations of the working-class in Scotland in the face of an unrestricted Tory government pursuing an increasingly aggressive domestic policy. So while the left still struggles to negotiate the legacy of the well bronzed buffer in its tracks the Greens have capitalised more on their role in the wider Yes campaign, yet their target of "at least 8 seats", while easily achievable, still falls well short of the potential for a unified radical force.

As things currently stand even if the most ambitious projections of the left and greens were achieved it would still leave them around the same total achieved in 2003 when 13 were returned from this bloc. But... a unified Red/ Green or Green/ Red or Anti-Austerity or Radical Indy (call it what you want) Alliance that was able to tap into the positivity and momentum of the Yes campaign, which we played a large role in creating, could realistically aim to take 20-30 MSPs.

This isn't based on the overly optimistic predictions of some party loyalist but simply through an understanding of the way the regional list system works in the Scottish parliament. It has an inbuilt mechanism designed to prevent any one party gaining outright control, a Unionist mechanism to prevent an SNP victory and the prospects of Independence, that worked well eh! If a party does well in the first past the post constituency section this will be balanced out by distributing seats on the list to other parties based on their support in the regional list vote. Put simply it means that if the SNP maintains its current level of constituency support they will need to poll well in excess of 50% to be in with a chance of winning any seats on the list.

Take as an example the recent TNS poll (1) which puts the SNP on course to win 70 out of 73 constituency seats. It also has the SNP at 50% on the list which they predict would give it only 3 out of 56 list seats across all Scotland, presumably in the 3 regions where they did not win every constituency seat.

Whilst obviously a lot of caveats apply and it takes no account of regional variations which always exist, if the results from this poll were applied across all 8 regions the returns would break down as follows for the 7 seats on each regional list, Labour 3 seats, Tories 2, Greens 1 and the last place going to a 3-way tie between the Lib-Dems, Greens and SNP. TNS predicts this being allocated as 3 SNP, 3 Lib Dem and 2 Green from the eight regions. So despite pro-Indy parties taking 60% of the regional vote the Unionist parties would take a 5-2 majority of seats in 4 lists, and 6-1 in the other 4.

But, in the hypothetical situation where a unified list of the pro-Indy Green/ Left was able to garner support primarily, though not exclusively, from that broad base of the Yes support who want radical change, this situation could be near reversed.

Let me explain. It's been well documented that since devolution the Scottish electorate has developed relatively sophisticated voting patterns, voting in different way in different elections to achieve different, progressive, outcomes. This situation has certainly not been diminished by the IndyRef and many Yes supporters, and others, will be only too aware that voting SNP on the list may well be a wasted vote that will paradoxically only increase the chances of a Unionist candidate being elected.

If however a unified candidate of the Green Left radical forces was standing as a realistic, credible alternative then they would be well placed to capitalise on this situation.

So using some basic maths if one third of the SNP support on the list could be persuaded to vote Red/Green (based on the TNS poll with all the caveats etc.) and coupled with the already existing Green support this could lead to regional voting figures of SNP 33%, Red/ Green 27%, Labour 19%, Tory 14%, LD 5% leading to the election of 3 Red/ Greens, 2 Labour and 2 Tories on each list. This would mean 24 Red/Greens in total making them the 2nd largest grouping at Holyrood behind the SNP, who would have already won the election based on their support at constituency level (it's probably worth noting that it would be in the interests of such a grouping for the SNP to win every constituency seat in Scotland.)

Again if one half of SNP voters supported this new grouping the corresponding figures would be Red Green 35%, SNP 25%, Labour 19%, Tory 14%, LD 5%. This could result in 4 Red/Greens being elected in each region giving 32 seats across Scotland outnumbering the combined total of all the Unionist parties at Holyrood.

Obviously there is no data to support the claim that SNP voters would support a Red/Green alliance but given the positive and committed role that socialists and Greens played in RIC and the wider Yes campaign and, as has been stated, the 'sophisticated' nature of voting in Scotland and increased levels of political activity since the referendum, I believe that this could be achievable, but only though a unified force that wasn't going to be fighting each other for the same votes.

Now basing politics on opinion polls is not generally the sort of politics that I would touch with the proverbial bargepole, it reeks of new Labour focus groups and the selling of your soul for the sake of a handful of votes in a few marginal constituencies, but this is a different situation altogether, and while compromise is inevitable it need not be at the expense of political principle.

We wouldn't need a huge unified political programme, just agreement around a set of core demands where unity already exists, opposing austerity, stopping fracking, more green energy projects, real radical land reform, ending zero hour contracts, fighting for better workers' rights, No to NATO, a £10 minimum wage, more social housing built to higher environmental standards as well as support for an independent Republic. There is plenty we have in common as we showed throughout the referendum campaign.

Realistically the left would have to accept its weakened position at this time and probably offer the Greens at least the top spot on every list, even in its Glasgow heartlands, though Patrick Harvie top of the list, a problem? I don't think so. Given the potential to elect 2/3/4 MSPs from each list perhaps the rest could be decided by some form of regional aggregates, but I digress.
Here in the Highlands the thought of standing in opposition to someone like John Finnie who played such an active role in the RIC campaign and is top of the regional list for the Greens next year is not something which appeals to me and I'm sure that similar situations would be replicated elsewhere.

Is it too late for this to happen? Certainly not. But whether narrow party political advantage will win out over the NEEDS of the marginalised and disadvantaged bearing the brunt of Tory 'Austerity' is another matter altogether.
Socialists and Greens managed to put our differences aside, in RIC and elsewhere, to work collectively for a greater good last year, surely the radical forces of Scotland can do the same for the next? Talks did take place between the Greens and the SSP before the 2014 European elections which indicate that there must be willingness, in some quarters at least, to contemplate this scenario.

But this time round the opportunity for such a bloc wouldn't just mean the election of one MEP, not even replacing the Lib-Dems as the 4th largest party, but on becoming the main opposition to the SNP at Holyrood, pushing them in a more radical direction and making sure they live up to their anti-austerity promises, the prize is potentially that big. Surely that's something worth aiming for?

(1) TNS Poll, 9 June 2015 – Regional list voting intentions for Holyrood: SNP 50%, Labour (19%), the Conservatives (14%), the Greens (10%), Liberal Democrats (5%), UKIP (2%) and others (2%)

The Media, Creators of Social Inequality

Millions of us read the newspapers every single day; The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Mirror - All popular choices, just to name a few. It is well known that newspapers have long held sway over what many of us hold true. From the war in Iraq to the hounding of immigrants, the newspapers almost decide what we are going to believe and when. They hold a very high and lofty position in our society. But while we read and get suckered in by headlines and columns it is always important to keep in mind that these so called "beacons of democracy" have their own hidden (or maybe not so, as is often the case) agenda.

The papers play a huge roll in exploiting and creating inequalities within our society. Within the last few years we have seen papers such as The Sun target the working class and immigrants like lepers. What is fairly ironic about The Sun and its ilk is that while they single out the working classes for condemnation and their readers nod their heads in agreement, it is the working class that overwhelmingly buy their paper and so it is the working class who overwhelmingly nod their heads in agreement with the lies the paper spouts. Rather ironic, is it not?

While The Sun targets working class readership, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail are very much "Middle Class". But all have a devastating effect in which they have channelled campaigns similar to that of political parties where sections are attacked at different times.

In a recent edition of The Sun, it singles out the poorest in our society with a piece called "The Welfies". In this, the Sun gives awards to those who have (according to them) have been most outrageous at claiming welfare benefit. This whole charade is nothing more than a blatant attack on the working class and the poorest in society. We have seen time and time again the results of such attacks. While David Cameron, "Red" Ed and their City of London cronies continue to bask in the delights of such phenomenal wealth, it is the poor who get the boot stuck in. For every headline the rags have had about bankers who have screwed the economy, they have had 20 for those who are on benefits. Yet, this is allowed to continue. Why? Because the reader of these papers wishes to feel that he/she is a class above those at the bottom. That he/she is – rather than working class – aspiring middle class and guess what, they do feel like that thanks to such drivel. Ach, we are all middle class now anyway, right?

In another recent article, the ever so wonderful - and in no way at all bias - Daily Mail had a headline on its website which claimed that Scots were "Robbing" millions from the Queen by taking land that belongs to her. Here we have a newspaper that has the second largest readership in Britain, telling its readers that Scotland is stealing from the Queen. Forget the nationalistic issue here as that plays second fiddle in this scenario. The real issue is that this outlet is of the belief that taking land for the benefit of the majority, out of the hands of one wealthy individual is outrageous. Yet again, people will read this and agree that such a thing is not right.

What we have is the media creating and enhancing inequality. From taking obscene cases of welfare cheats and painting them as your general benefit claimant, to robbing the rich to feed the poor as shocking. Of course, I could give you many more examples but these two do just fine. The working class is portrayed as something we must escape from. That being rich isn't a privilege but a right to those who have the wealth. We on the left denounce the Tories as being a "Divide and Rule" party. They have attempted and very much succeeded in dividing the working class, however that accomplishment could never have happened without the help of the papers. The workers are turning on each other thanks to the bile that is spewed out from the pages of rags. The use of language is a very powerful thing, after all "The pen is mightier that the sword". We are told to believe that someone is below us due to the fact they claim welfare or have 8 children. Mick and Mairead Philpott were found guilty of burning down their own home in an incident that 6 of their children died in. Following the pair being found guilty the press couldn't wait to pounce upon it, claiming that they did it for a bigger council home etc. The papers also couldn't resist using this as an excuse to attack large families as a whole, even in one case where both parents had previously worked but were out of work at that time due to being made redundant. The press twist and turn events at every corner in order. It's nothing short of b*llocks.

Thanks to headlines such as these, we now have a culture not of benefit claimants but working class hatred. Being poor no longer means that you need help, being poor means that you are a scumbag and would do better to die underneath a bridge somewhere. All this is largely down to the newspapers.

Aside from the British working class, they attack the immigrants of all class. Nearly everyday we see headlines which attack immigration and the effects it has without any real facts or figures to back up claims. It is said that immigration is having an over-bearing effect on the NHS yet NHS staff is made up of more than 40% immigrants which means without these people, the NHS would not operate. Immigration is pushed to number 1 talking point constantly even though it is something that isn't negatively impacting on our economy.

Another point that should be made is how the newspapers portray Muslims. Last year, 91% of newspaper pieces on Muslims were negative yet 91% of Muslims are not bad people, very similar to how they twist things to attack welfare claimants. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks it was stated on BBC News that it was the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the London Bombings. Excuse me for being cynical but I don't think its a poor memory that made them fail to mention Anders Breviks attack in Norway. But of course, it is not terrorism if it is committed by a white-man/Christian. It is important in these situation to look at the words used by the media as they are vital when people form their opinions on an event. The men who beheaded Lee Rigby were condemned as terrorists yet the man who killed a Muslim family in America a few months ago was portrayed immediately as "mentally unstable". There is clear inconsistencies with how the press report stories depending on who was involved. This whole concept is even more prevalent and we can spot it even easier now following the Charleston massacre. The media refused to speculate whether or not the killings of 9 black people were a hate crime when the event took place. Even when the fact became known that the murderer was in fact a racist who wished to start another "Civil War", they still did "speculate" the reasoning behind the attack. Once again, rather than terrorist the man has been labelled a "Loner" with "Mental Problems". It is refreshing though how many people are beginning to realise the sheer hypocrisy shown by the media. It has been reported as a hate crime yet should the act have been committed by someone from a minority background there can be no doubt that it would have been labelled an act of terrorism.

Of course, while looking at mainly newspapers in this article, TV news stations such as Sky and BBC are equally to blame. Just because something appears on "balanced" TV channels does not make it any less bias. In order to combat these false inequalities that the press create, we must first remember not to be suckered in ourselves as it is easy to happen. Then it is imperative that we harness the power of social media and get the message across that the papers cannot be trusted. They have too much power and they are wielding it for their own gains, no one else's. The press will never stop in the campaigns against the working class and the minorities as they are easy targets in today's society. We must stand up against it and combat it ourselves.

Rekindling the Roots of Radicalism

Since the referendum all eyes have been on Scotland. Anti-austerity and anti-Trident rhetoric has won over Project Fear because pro-independence social movements and political parties managed to create a successful counter-narrative to the neo-liberal Westminster consensus. This was evidenced not only in the incredible voter registration and turnout of the referendum, but also in the results of the election.

The next five years are going to be defining for Scottish politics. In order to ensure a left-wing agenda, the vehicles we need are: a social movement, a strong union movement, and an electoral alternative that can challenge the SNP from the left.

After the ConDem government seized power in 2010, there was a rise in anti-austerity, anti-cuts campaigning but, for various reasons, this waned. In 2012, the pro-independence framework was created in Scotland which became the most successful anti-austerity social movement in Britain. Along with the official 'Yes' campaign, groups like the Radical Independence Campaign, Women for Independence, and Common Weal generated a politicisation of Scottish society and historic levels of political engagement, pushing the SNP to formulate a generally anti-austerity, anti-Trident narrative.

We are now facing a Tory government which will strengthen the anti-union laws; yet the TUC and affiliated British unions have not made a coherent plan of counter-attack. On the other hand, the STUC, which has a much more open relationship with the Scottish Government than the TUC has with Westminster, has advocated breaking Tory anti-union laws.

The union movement in Scotland has the potential to call upon the support of a pre-existing, and growing in confidence, social movement which the TUC does not have. This has borne out in the organising of the 20 June anti-austerity demonstration. In England, this is organised by the anti-cuts campaign group, Peoples Assembly. In Scotland, it is being organised by the STUC with the support, resources, and people coming from the social movements, including Peoples Assembly and the Radical Independence Campaign.

In the next five years, we need to link action and strategy in order to ensure that the labour movement has a future. Everything from direct action and strikes, to breaking anti-strike laws, to preparing a consistent strategy focussed on young workers, women and migrant workers needs to be done by the union leadership in conjunction with the social movement.

In the months between the referendum and the election, Scottish Labour simply failed to recognise any errors it had made in the past – particularly throughout the referendum campaign. That is why it returned only one MP and its vote was down by almost 18% on the previous five years. That is why there wasn't a social movement to save Labour. That is why it was predicted that up to 70% of all young voters in Scotland would be voting SNP on 7 May.

The terminal decline of Scottish Labour brings with it huge challenges for the unions. The labour movement's resources (including people, money, and values) need somewhere to go in terms of electoral representation. It is up to the labour movement to ensure that those resources are properly directed, through open, honest, democratic debate and decision-making, but that does not mean Labour is the entitled keepers of these resources. That sense of entitlement was the single biggest error Scottish Labour made in the past few years.

Neither the SNP nor the Greens can fully articulate and represent the workers' movement. Neither have roots in the labour movement in terms of labour/working class history. Despite the SNP trade union group having more members than Scottish Labour, the unions cannot disaffiliate from Labour simply to jump into affiliation with the SNP. Scotland needs a 'third estate' that can form a permanent political force representing working people and socialism.

We know the socialist left polls extremely poorly in general elections and partly that results from the first-past-the-post. However, across Europe 'the left' polls an average of 15% – even in social democratic countries. It's not that left-wing, socialist politics don't resonate with people in Scotland, but we need a combined and long-term approach and strategy to articulate that sentiment successfully in elections. It is possible that, despite a real squeeze from the SNP, socialists can mount a big electoral challenge and become a part of the political mainstream.

In Scotland, the independence movement has changed the context we are operating in and there is only one direction of travel: independence. It is likely that the Holyrood elections next year will reflect this. The stakes could not be higher, and there is an urgent need to keep driving politics in Scotland leftwards. Not only because the SNP is currently in a hegemonic position, but also as a leftwards pull to the movement in the rest of Britain.

The Scottish Left Project is meeting with activists, campaigners and political organisations with the aim of making the space for this to happen. We want to become a hub of ideas and debate for taking the left forward, and play a role in developing a big radical left challenge in 2016. If you want to ensure that the labour movement is not left without political representation; or if you want play a part in developing a vibrant and diverse left in Scotland, then please get involved and stay tuned for further developments.


This article initially appeared in Scottish Left Review.

No Easy Answers: Reflections on the Left and Scottish Politics in 2015

The paradox in modern Scottish politics might well turn out to be the curious fact that Scotland is a more left wing country than at any time in its recent history, yet in the same period, Scotland's radical left has failed to make any significant electoral breakthrough either at local or national level. Next year's Holyrood elections present a chance for Scotland' radicals to change that story. Are they up to the challenge? The decision in the recent election to field overtly socialist candidates who consistently polled around 0.5% of the vote, once again raises serious credibility problems regarding the Scottish left, and whilst these embarrassing results can be explained away by the SNP 'squeeze', we should not forget the fact that the radical left's share of the vote has been in freefall in Scotland for more than a decade. For those, like myself, who believe that radical politics in Scotland requires an electoral face, the radical left has less than one year to get its act together. The electoral clock is already ticking. I shall come to 2016 in a moment, but first a word on the election that has just past.

I didn't stay up for the result. Disappointed by the BBC's exit poll, which set the tone for the rest of the evening, I called it a night around 1am. I awoke the following morning and my wife said there was good news and bad news (the look on her face intimated that the bad news was worse than the good news); good news - SNP landslide in Scotland, bad news - the Tories back in power. The latter felt like a sucker punch in the stomach from Mike Tyson. 'Tories back in'. It was one of those moments where you temporarily hope that what you are hearing is not true, or somehow mistaken.

It's a hard world and with the Tories back in power it's about to get even harder. I genuinely wanted Ed Miliband to be the Prime Minister; his father Ralph Miliband helped formulate some of my early political understandings, and I do believe that Ed Miliband genuinely attempted to reclaim some, and I emphasise some, social democratic territory for the Labour Party. There is an old saying that there is 1 inch of a difference between Labour and the Tories, but it is within that inch that we live our lives. I also understand the severe limitations which are imposed upon the leader of the Labour Party in Britain – in fact, there were few theoreticians better than Miliband senior in outlining the structural nature of power within the modern capitalist state.

But we are where we are. The only positive story of the night was Scotland. Something significant is happening here and I quite like the fact that I don't always understand what it is. John Lennon once sang that the older he got the less he knew for sure. I can relate to that. When I was 20, the world appeared straight forward; right and wrong or should that be right and left; capitalism versus socialism, the workers versus the bosses; in short, the politics of binary opposites. Now that I am closer to 40 than 30, the world appears slightly more complicated, as it should. I still get upset by inequality, poverty, even capitalism, although the latter can sound abstract, but I'm conscious of the fact that today's left defines itself more by what it is against than what it stands for. In light of the experience of 'actually existing socialism' in the 20th century, this is understandable, but it also points to an intellectual uncertainty regarding the essence of socialism. Again, this is perhaps not a bad thing. Recently, a young activist I know argued passionately (and convincingly) that any future 'socialist' organisation ought not to have the word socialist in the title. When I was 20, the very thought of this suggestion would have been heretical for me, yet today, battle weary from organised politics and slightly cynical about certain sections of the left, I am open to considering any strategy which genuinely attempts to navigate a way out of the neo-liberal quagmire we currently find ourselves in.

We live in an age of uncertainties, an age where people crave security as much as they do freedom. Yet, as I argued at the start of this piece, Scotland is a more left wing country than it was even 10 years ago. And whilst comparisons with Greece are best avoided, five years of neo-liberal austerity have nudged Scotland leftwards. Are we witnessing the return of ideological politics?

The SNP won its historical landslide not by talking up another referendum, but by shifting the narrative onto the politics of austerity. This narrative successfully unites three important sections of Scottish society; the worried middle classes, many of whom work in the public sector and have seen their standard of living fall in recent years; the traditional working class who feel angry and betrayed by Labour, and the poor, many of whom were given a sense of hope via the yes campaign that politics can make a difference. In fact, this latter constituency, largely absent from electoral politics in recent years, has fundamentally changed political discourse in Scotland. The challenge the SNP face is keeping that alliance together.

The SNP under Nicola Sturgeon's leadership has pitched its tent firmly on left ground and with Sturgeon at the helm they have yet to put a foot wrong. Sturgeon was right to ignore calls for a yes alliance, which would have resulted in a big bang politics that could have spectacularly backfired. I suspect that many of the new SNP members intuitively understand what I am getting at; 'we are all gradualists now', as one SNP insider framed it. From this perspective, the SNP were right to rule out any calls for a second referendum, now or in the near future, and instead of any backlash from the membership, the genuine admiration for 'Nicola' grows in abundance.

In regards to the 56 MPs, what they do next will be interesting; no doubt there will be some grandstanding and a few emerging stars (Mhari Black?); yet from where I am sitting the highly centralised SNP machine ought to ensure that few of the new MPs deviate from the constitutional game. The constitutional game, perhaps the only credible game in town as far as independence is concerned, is to gradually win enough powers for Scotland until we reach a point where Scotland eventually 'feels' independent enough to vote for independence. In fact, there are some in the SNP ranks, who would probably settle for that constitutional half-way house otherwise known as federalism.

And now onto Scottish Labour. Every now and again I have to remind myself of the fact that Labour has been wiped off the face of the electoral map of Scotland. Perceived by the political classes as too left wing to win in England (this is problematic), it is also the case that Labour are regarded as too right wing to win in Scotland (again this is problematic), creating a perfect muddle with no obvious way out. The backlash against Scottish Labour has been brewing for some time. It goes back to Blair and Iraq and the thirteen wasted years in office, whilst their participation in a formal alliance with the Tories, via Better Together, now looks like a monumental strategic mistake. But there is also something more fundamental at play here. Scottish Labour is out of touch with modern Scotland. For further reading I recommend Gerry Hassan's excellent Strange Death of Labour Scotland; note that it's the death of Labour Scotland, not Scottish Labour. The decline of heavy industry brought with it a decline in the industrial clout of the unions; the fragmentation of the working class is a part of this story, as is the break-up of strong regional government, whilst the rise of home ownership and decline in council housing changed the political demographics considerably. The material conditions which made Scottish Labour such a formidable power in the land were gradually hollowed out. Today, Scottish Labour is an empty shell, heavy reliant on its councillor base and their families, who provide what constitutes Scottish Labour's activist base. The ageing Scottish Labour Party didn't quite get the yes campaign, dismissing it as nationalism, they clung to the politics of the past, and failing all the while to recognise the mass social movement which was bubbling away under the surface. In fact, Labour's obsessional hatred of the SNP, nurtured over decades, has now been brutally exposed as a strategy of serious electoral self-harm. To hear senior figures in Scottish Labour state that Scotland is now 'post-rational', reveals the fact that many still don't get it. Perhaps, it's time for a new opposition?

And finally, where now for Scotland's radicals? There are no easy answers. I am no longer 'active' as they say, something which can bring a sense of perspective. The far left or hard left, call it what you may, is an unusual beast. For example, left parties can score consistently less than 1% of the vote, yet their leaderships never resign. Some, like the TUSC group, do not even appear to have leaders, something which may be fashionable in certain circles, but always makes me think that behind the scenes, committees of vanguardist apparatchiks are running the show. In terms of elections, certain sections of the left are akin to a football team which loses 5-0 every week but keeps on playing the same tactics regardless. Failure, it seems never matters.

The Scottish Left Project is interesting and offers a glimmer of hope. Yet for me, it requires a lot more than bringing together all of the groupiscules under the one banner – besides, the left wing humpty dumpty won't be easily put back together again, and even if it was, it requires a leap of faith to assume that 'left unity' automatically guarantees an electoral breakthrough. Furthermore, and I am going to be blunt here, there are some left groups who are better avoided and who thrive only on what Freud once called the 'narcissism of the difference'.

The SNP shift to the left and the increasing credibility of the Greens makes the terrain even more difficult for those who want to create an overtly socialistic discourse in Scotland. How big the space is for socialist politics should also be a matter for discussion. There has always been a strong whiff of romanticism (and arrogance) in those arguments which posit the Scots as a socialistic people who are just waiting on the right vehicle to awaken their class consciousness. Moreover, modern Scotland, even after the crash and five years of austerity, is a more middle class country than many of today's radicals acknowledge. And yet, there is undoubtedly a space for a new type of radical politics in Scotland.

A decent and identifiable brand needs to be established (and who knows maybe it is time to pose the young activist's question, is it time to ditch the term socialism?); the message needs to be framed in an accessible language, something which more and more people are latching onto.

In addition to this, a new generation of presentable leaders who modern Scots can relate too need to be nurtured. Moreover, the new leaders need to reach out not only to the 'general public' but also to the many socialists who are not members of any party. Some are already there; and leaders do matter – for anyone who thinks otherwise, just ask yourself this – would the SNP be making the same impact if they were led by anyone in the party other than Nicola Sturgeon?

Avoiding the shouty politics of masculine confrontation and anger would also be a good start. For example, whilst class is important, other factors are equally at play in modern Scotland, notably, age, gender, and increasingly the politics of national identity. A new left, also requires a careful rethinking of how it relates to the SNP. Sectarianism and critical opposition are two very different things. Example; I attended a left wing meeting during the election where one left candidate described the SNP as 'anti-working class', a statement which no doubt appeared absurd to a party whose Trades Union Group so I am told is bigger than the Labour Party. Furthermore, hurling insults at the SNP runs the serious risk of offending not only the many progressives who have joined, but equally one half of Scotland's electorate. This of course does not mean that we suspend our critical faculties, only that we learn to frame our criticisms in a way which is constructive and seeks to build alliances across progressive opinion. For me, there are no longer any ideological certainties in these fundamentally uncertain times. But nonetheless we do require a way out of neo-liberalism and Scotland requires an opposition. The contradictions inherent within the SNP will eventually come to the fore creating the space for an opposition to emerge. Whether that opposition comes from the right or the left remains to be seen but if the latter is to be successful, then a fundamental rethink of how we do politics is required.


This article was first published on

The Peoples Railway - The Case for Nationalisation

Everyone looks to political parties to serve their interests. Likewise, corporations lobby policy-makers to give priority to their interest, for them the exclusive pursuit of profit.

The debate about the role of the state in all our lives is fundamental raw politics; the competing tensions about the extent to which the state 'interferes' in citizen's lives versus the view that a state should provide for its people.

The Scottish Green Party's mantra of 'people, planet and peace' incorporates the view that there is a 'such a thing as society' with recognition that public services, run exclusively in the public interests, are an important foundation stone of any socially just country.

The National Health Service (NHS) attracts wide support and strident defence from an appreciative public, an ever reducing number of whom have no memory of the time when access to free health care for all was a pipe dream. The return of a Conservative government means more of the neo-liberal agenda - not that involvement of the other two unionist parties would have slowed that particular direction of travel. Indeed, the result was no sooner announced than the promotion of 'private health insurance', was being trailed in one of the right's pernicious journals.

So what of our other public services? Greens value individuals, their community, and the country and wish to see public services serving the public not corporations and their shareholders.

Many whose political ideology causes them to mock the former British Rail conveniently forget the level of public subsidy that the private companies who were given our rail network by the Thatcher government, receive.

Rail franchising in Great Britain was created by the Railways Act 1993, with which any Scottish Government must comply. Franchising is the mechanism by which Scottish Ministers secure rail passenger services and by which a private operator provides rail services on the Scottish rail network on behalf of the Scottish Government. I know all this because I have been lobbying for publicly run rail in Scotland since my election in 2011 and, whilst I was never met with hostility, the proof is there was, and remains great caution to pushing the issue. I was advised that for a public sector bid to succeed the applicant would have to have a proven record of having run rail services, something which wouldn't rule out for instance a bid from the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive.

Cross-border rail services should have an input from the Scottish Government. The East Coast main line from London to Inverness and Aberdeen, long the jewel in the crown of the UK's rail services, failed twice whilst being operated under a private franchise. So, in stepped the UK Government with a publicly-run East Coast service returning £1billion over five years to the public purse, public profit for public benefit. Now many, myself included, might consider that highly successful state operated model was ripe to be replicated across the network, however, the UK Government, no matter its persuasion, will never place its citizens ahead of corporations and the franchise, and the consequential profits, and was awarded to 'Virgin East Coast.' The change wasn't even discussed with the Scottish Government.

Within Scotland the franchise operates over 2,270 train services each day, and has 86 million passenger journeys per year. The rail franchise is the single biggest contract let by Scottish Ministers, worth a total value of over £7 billion over 10 years. The contract was recently awarded to Dutch state railway firm, Abellio who, along with German and French state railways, have also been shortlisted for the Northern Rail franchise in England.

The irony that state-run bids from foreign countries are permitted surely can't be lost on anyone and the profits Abellio make will be invested on Dutch rather than Scottish public services. The Scotrail franchise returned a profit to previous franchise holders, First Group, and the notion that profit comes without public investment is errant nonsense as 64% of that franchisee's income comes from the taxpayer.

Another intriguing aspect of the present contract is a guarantee of income for the franchisee in the event of industrial action affecting their profitability. That absurd clause is a significant disincentive to ensuring good industrial relations and clearly avoids the need for willingness to ensure early resolution of disputes.

In the last Westminster session, Green MP Caroline Lucas introduced a Bill at Westminster to return the railways to public ownership, something a clear majority of Scots want.

As with many government contracts, the rail franchises have 'break clauses' meaning that 5 years into the Scotrail franchise the Scottish Government could make alternative arrangements.

We must be vigilant about the East Coast reprivatisation as the potential exists that railways are just the start of the privatisation bonanza we can expect if corporate lobbyists get their way. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the trade deal being negotiated between the European Union and the US, which would give corporations the power to dismantle public services. TTIP also poses a significant threat to workers' rights and environmental protections as will anything else that get in the way of the corporations' profits.

So where do we go from here? The Green parties across the UK ran a very successful campaign to renationalise rail and enjoy the full support of the rail unions. We must broaden the coalition of support to once again run this vital public service exclusively in the public interest perhaps by building on the EU-wide coalition opposing TTIP. Scotland's left, including members of the SNP and Labour Parties, support a public rail network and I hope they can join together with the Green parties to ensure there's sufficient political will to make it happen, our communities and our planet deserve no less."

Help or Hindrance: The Left Surge to the SNP

For a while now, particularly following the referendum, there has been a huge increase in not only people joining the SNP but socialists and those very much on the Left joining. Another election has passed in which socialist parties across Britain have polled terribly. Despite this left wing politics in Scotland specifically have become ever more popular. I wonder, is this opening the door to socialism or is it not? The question I really want to ask though is this; Has the surge of those on the Left joining the SNP been a positive in general for socialism or has it been a negative?

I don't think anyone can really argue that the SNP have been a negative force in general when it comes to their time in government. As a socialist, there are many things that I would have liked to have been done differently and many things I staunchly disagree on but as far as capitalist governments go, they have done good things for the people; Free prescriptions, free tuition, ending the bedroom tax in Scotland. They have helped lead the charge for an independent Scotland and although I will always believe it was the people not the SNP that got us the referendum, I have to give credit where it is due for the role they played.

I do however believe that there is much criticism to be levied at them for policy choices they made such as the currency, monarchy, EU, NATO, corporation tax, Offensive behaviour at Football, lack of redistributive policy, the fact the "radical" land reform act is not so radical and much more. I don't think that it is unreasonable to imagine that there will be some (but very limited) movements on these issues now though that there are more socialists within the party.

The success of RIC throughout the Indy Ref campaign helped awaken many people (particularly the young) and made them realise that they are socialists. Social media in particular was a huge help in getting people not only involved in the debate but active. The problem was though that after the referendum these new socialists didn't really have a home. People can say what they like about the SSP, be it positive or negative but I think almost everyone will agree that the SSP was and is not strong enough. While some of these socialists joined socialist parties such as the SSP and Solidarity, most of them did not. Vast majority of these new and many of the old socialists joined the SNP as they are being seen as a strong, "leftist" party. Something none of the socialist parties are being seen as.

Upon asking this question on Facebook, I got a few responses and to my surprise most the socialists who answered believed that the socialist surge to the SNP was a negative for socialism overall. I had truly believed most of those who would reply would argue it is a positive. I think one of the best replies was certainly this from David Jameson -

"This is, however, as leftwing as the SNP will ever get. As the living memory of the social movement begins to fade, so will much of the leftist rhetoric and especially policy. Most importantly for your question Conor - not really that good or that bad. More irrelevant. If socialists try and organise internally for influence within the SNP they will get booted out, and there is little internal democratic life to speak of. Apart from anything else, I've heard nothing of any plans for a leftist grouping within the SNP or any attempts to challenge the leadership on anything (both would basically be expulsion level offences). The SNP is the most hierarchical and centralised political party I have ever come across on these islands. That's one of the things that makes it so devastatingly effective"

I feel I must make note that this is not all that David touched on however for the purposes of the article this is the paragraph that I thought best used. The points he made were not only valid but very much correct. The SNP are a single issue party which has moved to the Left for the simple reason that Scotland itself is on the Left. Should the ideals across Scotland change, so would the SNP.

As the SNP gain more control in Scotland, it is vital that socialists who are members continue to support socialism and do not get carried away on the nationalist bandwagon. If they do, then socialism here has taken a massive blow and no matter what the future holds, the Left will struggle. We must give socialists a chance to have a home. The Scottish Left Project could be that home but only time will tell if those within the SNP will take the chance to have that as a home, a real home that they would truly be welcome.

Of course, there are those who believe there are positives from all of this. Socialists within the SNP can help to keep the party on the Left as best as they can particularly in a time when the other major parties are so far to the Right. The SNP can act as a gateway to those newly involved in politics by opening their eyes then as their political ideology develops they could become more and more left-wing. Without the SNP, we may ask ourselves would Left politics be so prevalent today? Would we be closer to England in terms of political thought? Victoria Heaney for example posted this in reply to my Facebook question -

"Positive its a vehicle capable of generating more social progress than any actual socialist parties kicking about at present ( going by the vote count). When it comes to health, social care, social work and penal policy we are fairing better than the south. As long as those with socialist principles hold the snp's feet to the fire over the next few years then hopefully there will be more progress"

The question I have asked is one that socialists in Scotland will have to ask themselves for a long time along with many other questions. In order to make the most of the current situation we need to analyse where the SNP have been so successful, where we have not and what we can do to change it. This is not a case of going into hiding, reflecting on what has gone wrong. No, this is a case of trying to build a stronger socialist force than Scotland has ever seen before. Learning from the mistakes of the past and the successes of others will help us do that. There are some socialists who do not want criticisms of the SNP spoken aloud. I'm afraid that is too bad. Only by criticising them can we move forward and only by moving forward can we realise our socialist goals.

Personally, I feel that the SNP have in fact been a hindrance. Though this stance will result in much criticism, I believe that the they have drawn people away from socialism. Though many socialists are part of the SNP, it seems that more and more of these "committed" socialists are going along with nationalist policy rather than criticising when they should be. Only by criticism from all angles, outwith and within, will the SNP move further left. Many seem to have forgotten this. For instance, there have been some who have praised Swinney supporting the lowering of tax for oil companies to drill in the North Sea. I also think that socialism in Scotland itself cannot move forward with so many of its "own" supporting a capitalist party. Yes, the Left in Scotland is splintered however it won't always be. But, will these socialists in the SNP decide to re-join the socialist ranks? It is yet to be seen however the more they pander to the nationalists the more they become them.


The aim of this piece is to get debate going within the socialist circles. Not needless debate like we have had so often in the past but constructive debate that we need to have. I hope we have many more like it.

Seismic Shift or The Feeble 56?

It is perhaps fitting that in the week following the return of a majority Conservative Government Channel 4 screened a documentary entitled "The World's Most Expensive Food". Set in London, home to more billionaires than any other city on the planet, the programme presented viewers images of the super-rich consuming cups of coffee costing £300 ("It's worth it" says the supplier), alcohol from dusty bottles at £5,000 a shot and tales of a wedding where the guests consumed over 200 "gold" hot dogs. Perhaps its most surreal moment, even more so than the focus on salmon that is smoked whilst a man entertains the hanging dead fish by playing jazz music on a piano, is an unintentional modern take on the fable of The Emperor's New Clothes. Some wealthy men are shown consuming edible gold and silver whilst one remarks that the fare, obscenely expensive, has unsurprisingly, "no flavour whatsoever." Meanwhile, back in the real world, food-bank usage soars. Let them eat cake, or perhaps smoked salmon infused with improvised swing.

All of these billionaires would no doubt have been raising and expensive glass in celebrating the return of Cameron to Downing Street. So too those investors and speculators in the city of London, those whose greed and avarice led the economy into meltdown, the price of which is still being paid by those who can afford it least. In the hours following the Tory victory, shares in Sports Direct rose by 5% as the city breathed a sigh of relief once they realised Ed Miliband's more than modest proposals to slightly increase the minimum wage and abolish "exploitative" (are there any other kinds?) zero hours contracts would not be taking place after all. Even in the earliest days of this new regime we can get a flavour of what awaits us all. Attacks on human rights, on trade-unionists right to strike and a headlong rush towards more failed policies of uber-austerity. The Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman's warnings that austerity policies had been discredited and damaging to economies trying to recover from the banking crash has been drowned out by the sound of champagne corks as the economic experts of the Bullington Club prepare to wage war on public services and the very idea of a welfare state.

In Scotland the political tectonic plates moved in the most incredible General Election of modern times. Yet even with this remarkable outcome the cold hard fact remains that the United Kingdom now has a majority Conservative Government. Labour's failure total, the return of Cameron a disaster. Labour may have abandoned any pretence of being a socialist party a long time ago, they may have continued with the failed policies of austerity, but given the ferociousness of an unchecked Tory majority Government, Ed Miliband, supported by a progressive alliance of SNP and others looked a much more palatable alternative.

There are those on the left in Scotland who argue that there is no discernible difference between the two parties. It may be a catchy campaign slogan to refer to Labour as the Red Tories, but there are significant differences between what the Government of Ed Miliband would have looked like and the one we have to deal with for the foreseeable future. Nicola Sturgeon understood this when she offered to work with Miliband and categorically ruled out any deal with Cameron and the Tories.

In the build up to the poll it looked likely that no one party would emerge victorious and instead a series of deals and agreements would have to be pursued in order for one party to form a government. In the end all the speculation came to nought. Miliband's failure was complete and within hours he had joined Nick Clegg in resigning. Labour's attempt to imply a vote for the SNP in Scotland would let the Tories in was exposed as a myth. It was their failure to win a majority of seats in England that was their undoing. Even if every single seat in Scotland had gone to Labour it would not have been enough.

Cameron's triumph may yet prove to be a pyric victory for unionism. In order to make short-term electoral gains he has opened a Pandora's Box by appealing to base English nationalism in calling into question the legitimacy of the choice of the Scottish people. In September Scots voters were asked to stay in the union and "lead." What that meant of course was stay and do what you've always done. Shut up and don't rock the boat. During the final few days of the campaign I could not help but feel that the cause of Scottish independence had been advanced more by David Cameron, Boris Johnston and the Daily Mail than Sturgeon, Salmond and the entire Yes Campaign put together.

Here in Scotland it was clear for weeks prior to the election that something seismic was going to happen. Whilst debate rages over the accuracy or otherwise of the opinion polls in predicting the outcome across the UK as a whole it was only the magnitude of Labour's failure that was in doubt. Allied to the Tories portrayal of the SNP as potential puppet masters, pickpockets and lacking legitimacy, Miliband's dismissal of the idea of any deal or coalition with a party the majority of Scots were clearly going to vote for exacerbated the Labour Party's already damaged credibility north of the border. This dismissal can be added to the long list of reasons that Labour's vote vaporised in Scotland...Iraq, PFI, siding with the Tories in Better Together, de-regulation of the banking industry and many more besides.

Labour is a hollowed out shell of a party. The result last week was an accident waiting to happen. Its leadership has progressively distanced itself from the trade unions who founded it whilst its activist base has been in decline for decades, replaced instead by an apparatchik class of councillors and parliamentary staffers. What used to be an organisation built on solid foundations of working class collectivism and participation is now a house built on sand. The antipathy and tribal hatred that exists towards the SNP is not so much based on ideology and politics but on a rivalry for careers and paid positions. Having been almost wiped out at Westminster the fear for many will be that their MSP's and councillors will be next. Can Labour honestly, with any confidence, predict a single first past the post seat it can hold in Scotland next May? Likewise across local government, a cull of Labour councillors looks increasingly inevitable. The unprecedented influx of new members and activists give the SNP a huge advantage for all future electoral campaigns. A sense of entitlement that Labour has enjoyed for decades is coming to an end as Scotland looks likely to enter a new political epoch. The first of these was dominated by the Liberals who took the vast majority of seats in Scottish elections between 1859 and the rise of the Labour Party after the First World War. A second, shorter period was dominated by the Unionist Party that preceded the current Scottish Conservatives and then finally, a period of unbroken electoral domination of Scottish Labour that began in the late 1950's and ended last Thursday. Had it not been for the combination of Ian Murray's high profile in helping to revitalise Hearts FC and the idiotic and insulting twitter ramblings of the SNP's candidate Neil Hay in Edinburgh South, there was the very real possibility of a Labour wipe-out, a situation that seems barely credible considering the dominance the party enjoyed until recently.

The predictable Blairite reaction has started already. Labour was too far to the left they cry and argue for a shift to the centre right. Yet the result in Scotland is proof positive their conclusions are wrong. In first of all electing arch-Blairite Murphy and then in allowing him to stay as leader, Scottish Labour appears to have indulged in nothing short of masochism. SNP strategists must also be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of a UK Labour Party led by the likes of Chuka Umunna or Liz Kendall. Labour were routed not because they were too left but because hundreds of thousands of their core voters finally ran out of patience with a party they have perceived as abandoning its values and founding principles. The resignation of Johann Lamont offered a temporary break in the clouds and a chance for a reinvigorated Labour attack on the SNP from the left. They chose instead probably the worst option they could and paid the price. It was beyond defeat, it was annihilation. Amongst the bewildered throng of vanquished Labour figures in Glasgow was former MP Ian Davidson. Just a few short months ago Davidson was predicting a resurgent Labour showing following on from their referendum "success". His, "all that's left to do is bayonet the wounded" statement in relation to the defeated Yes campaign must have come back to haunt him as he stood ashen faced in the teeth of a political storm that wiped his party from their previous fortress of Glasgow.

The Blairite strategy of winning elections by placing yourself in the centre and focusing on key demographics and marginal constituencies proved to be a successful formula for a while at least. Yet it was based on an assumption that in winning over floating voters in key strategic areas you would also maintain your core vote in areas of traditional strength. It was the unshakable belief that it didn't matter if you took your traditional voters for granted or treated them with contempt they would remain loyal. In Scotland, where there is a viable and credible left of centre alternative, that plan has unravelled completely. In England and Wales the fixation of focusing on marginal seats whilst neglecting the base manifests itself in ever increasing disengagement and abstentions by what should be Labour's core vote and dalliances with the right in the shape of UKIP in recent years and previously the BNP (now an increasing irrelevance thankfully) . There are constituencies across England and Wales were turnout barely exceeds 50% and it in engaging those abstainers that the future success or failure of Labour lies rather than fixating on winning over tiny demographics. The SNP showed that by eschewing the language of the right and talking positively about immigration, wanting to get rid of Trident and anti-austerity rhetoric could be popular. If it is to learn valuable lessons Labour needs understand that the popularity of the SNP is not driven by nationalist fervour or by a suspension of the electorate critical facilities but in being seen to be different from the toxic Tories. (The 14.9% vote share Ruth Davidson's party received made it their worst result since 1965.) Instead it is likely Labour will not learn from past mistakes and take a rightwards turn. The need for a new party to represent working class people has never been more apparent.


The SNP strong showing had not just come at the expense of Labour however. Hopes that the individual reputations of high profile MP's and the targeting of resources could save the Liberal Democrats proved unfounded as they, like the other main parties were reduced to a single seat. Even when Alistair Carmichael held on in Orkney it was with a much reduced majority. The Faustian pact with the Tories that brought power and seats at the table of Government has proved to be fatal. There is now the very real possibility that the Liberal Democrats will become an even more marginalised and irrelevant rump in next year's Scottish Elections.

Electoral records were being broken at 10 minute intervals as news was broadcast from counts across Scotland. Commentators and psephologists struggled to keep up with swings that kept obliterating previous records. It was as if a long jumper at the Olympics became the first athlete to break a 100 year old world record, only for them to find by the time they'd completed a lap of honour of the stadium the next 5 jumpers had each gone on to improve on the distance. Given the magnitude of some of the results, (Anne McLaughlin achieved a swing of 39% in Glasgow North East) it was understandable that the significance of some others was lost.

My own constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk has been either Tory or Liberal since elections began. In 1868 it was won by Sir Graham Graham-Montgomery, 3rd Baronet Stanhope who I presume was not a local mill worker and has see-sawed between various shades of Tory Unionist and Liberal candidates ever since. Following the "boy" David Steel's triumph during a by-election in 1965 it seemed that the constituency was sealed as Liberal (Democrat) for ever. In the early hours of last Friday morning, and after a re-count, I watched as the final result of the night in Scotland confirmed that we really were living through historic times. The SNP won. Michael Moore's strong personal profile was not enough to stop his vote collapsing and the majority of those, who have often voted tactically for the LibDems in the past to keep the Tories out switched to Calum Kerr of the SNP along with around 5% of Labour voters. The SNP vote increased by a staggering 27.5%. In its own way, this single result was every bit as significant as those from across Central Scotland which hogged the majority of the headlines.

Images of shell-shocked Tories, upset Lib/Dems and euphoric SNP were beamed around the country from Springwood Hall in Kelso. In the early hours of September 19th 2014 I sat in that same hall with Calum Kerr and other activists from Yes Scottish Borders as we watched results of the Independence Referendum coming in from across the country. We had the dubious pleasure of attending the count that would deliver the second worst Yes vote in the country. Only in Orkney was the percentage of No voters higher. We were surrounded by the local No campaign, predominantly Tories of the most unpleasant and boorish kind. However, joining the posh country set were also local Liberal Democrats and Labour campaigners in their "United with Labour" badges. As each local authority area across Scotland declared, the majority for No, we watched as Tory, Lib/Dem and Labour alike high-fived each other and smirked in our direction. Wealthy farmers, land owners and local businessmen cheered as traditional Labour heartlands delivered No vote after No vote. Only when results in Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire and West Dumbartonshire were announced did we have cause to raise a smile, but we knew it was not going to be enough.

We left Kelso and returned to a hall in Galashiels where Yes campaigners had gathered to watch the referendum results coverage. Minutes after I arrived a No vote was confirmed. In an attempt to console a tearful fellow activist I told her of how it felt to be surrounded by those from the parties of No. Those parties who represented greed and avarice and who had campaigned throughout the referendum with a message of disingenuous fear. In comparison our campaign had been positive, anti-austerity and fundamentally anti-Tory. Despite the disappointment of losing the vote I explained it felt better not to have been associated with those on the other side of the room that morning. Watching those same Tory faces back in Springwood Hall on TV as Calum Kerr defeated them by just over 300 votes was satisfying indeed.

Yet unlike the majority of the friends I made in the Yes campaign I did not share their sense of joy and triumph that the SNP did so well, only a despondency that the Tories had a majority. It remains to be seen if the SNP can offer a solution to the problems faced by ordinary people day and daily or if they will be an effective barrier to the worst ravages of the Tories. Whilst the rhetoric the party has employed during the campaign has encouraged this belief that the SNP offer a break from the cuts consensus of the big two at Westminster, their record in both Holyrood and in local Government does not provide proof that they can walk the walk on opposing austerity.

They have positioned themselves to the left of Labour on issues such as trident and immigration but it has only been since the election of Nicola Sturgeon that the SNP moved to drop the policy of cutting corporation tax and adopted other economic policies that brought them more in line with Miliband's Labour. Despite being in Government since 2007 and enjoying a comfortable majority at Holyrood since 2011 the party has failed to act on scrapping the unjust Council tax and replacing it, (as they had promised) with a fairer, income based alternative. This one redistributive measure alone could have made a huge and positive difference to the lives of the majority of Scots over the past 4 years. The council tax freeze is a poor alternative to scrapping an unfair and discredited policy and has put increasing pressure on local authority budgets which have in turn led to cuts in vital public services. College places have been cut whilst low paid striking hospital porters in Dundee show that the devolved NHS lacks fairness just as much as its maligned English and Welsh counterpart.

The Tories have no mandate in Scotland to implement the damaging and brutal austerity policies planned for the next 5 years. The SNP in comparison have an overwhelming mandate to resist such measures. If they choose simply to employ anti-austerity rhetoric but implement cuts in practice, then they run the risk of losing the incredible levels of support they currently enjoy. Lessons from the not too distant past show that a failure to resist unpopular Tory measures can be damaging to a party in Scotland. Despite enjoying huge popular support and returning the vast majority of MP's to Westminster, the Scottish Labour Party was roundly condemned for failing to stand up to the Thatcher and Major Governments. The "feeble 50 "as they were known played a large part in the disillusionment that haunts Labour to this day. The 56 SNP representatives currently moving into their new offices in Westminster should take heed. It won't be good enough to simply say that without Independence we cannot do anything to stop Cameron. Despite understanding the constraints imposed by the union it remains to be seen just how patient and tolerant the Scottish people will be.

Just as the SNP argued that a strong vote for them would hold Westminster's feet to the fire then there is a need for a strong showing by the left in Scotland to hold the SNP to account. The referendum campaign proved that the potential exists for socialists and other progressive forces to work together and successfully challenge neo-liberal orthodoxies and fight for a much more radical agenda. I disagreed with Tommy Sheridan and others in Solidarity and Hope Over Fear who argued we should lend our vote to the SNP everywhere in the election. My preference would have been to call for a vote instead for the candidates who were either the most left wing, openly socialist, anti-trident or against austerity. This may have meant in practice voting for SNP candidates in the majority of places anyway but not everywhere. In Tommy's own constituency the candidate Chris Stephens was a trade unionist with a reputation for being on the left. In other places, Kilmarnock and Louden for example, the candidate was a sitting councillor who has been implementing austerity as part of a SNP/Conservative coalition. It seems inconsistent to me to say you'll punish the "Red Tories" by calling for a vote for someone implementing cuts with the "actual Tories."

The Scottish Left did stand in a handful of seats last week but received the derisory results that were perhaps as predictable as they were depressing. It is telling that the left in Scotland is so weak electorally that there has been barely a commentator who has even mentioned them in the days following last week's results.

The Greens received the best results of the smaller progressive parties but they cannot lay claim to having created a significant social movement that looks likely to shake Holyrood to its foundations next year. Their best result came in Glasgow North where they scored 6.2% and they performed well in a couple of Edinburgh seats where they managed to save two deposits. Whilst it is not quite as simple to suggest that in the absence of a Green candidate voters may have instead switched to the SNP, it is nonetheless frustrating to see that in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale Constituency, Scotland's only Tory David Mundell managed to beat the SNP by the smallest margin of 798 votes. The Green vote in the constituency was 839. In retrospect it might have been a better result for Greens and environmentalists if Mundell had been removed and Scotland was a completely Tory-free zone. Patrick Harvie will be hoping that in 2016 a large number of those voting SNP in the constituency contests will switch to Green for the Regional List vote. It is unlikely that the Greens would agree to any kind of Yes Alliance or left re-groupment strategy prior to 2016.

The performance of the socialist parties was much poorer. The SSP's National Co-Spokesperson Colin Fox stood in Edinburgh South, the one seat where Labour held on in Scotland. The SSP have made much of their profile as members of the Yes Scotland Advisory Board and Fox has maintained a decent media profile since September last year. He received 197 votes or 0.4%. The SSP's best percentage result of the night was in Paisley and Renfrew South where Sandra Webster achieved 0.6% of the votes cast. In the four seats where they stood the cumulative total of all their votes did not exceed by much the number received by the Claymore wielding Independent candidate Jessie Rae in the Borders. The Socialist Equality Party accumulated 58 votes in Glasgow Central whilst in Glasgow North West the Communists managed to secure 136 votes.

The biggest left challenge in Scotland was mounted by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) who stood in 10 seats. Nowhere did the party achieve even 1% of the vote with their strongest showing 0.7% in Dundee West for trade unionist Jim McFarlane and their weakest 0.2% in neighbouring Dundee East. In Glasgow TUSC finished behind the Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol Party in 2 out of the 3 seats where they went head to head. One small crumb of comfort was in Aberdeen North where at least TUSC's Tyrinne Rutherford beat the National Front candidate by 20 votes. Across the UK TUSC did not perform much better. Its highest profile candidate the former Labour MP Dave Nellist scored a respectable 3.9% in Coventry North West but that was as good as it got for the coalition. Trade Unionist Nick Wrack received 0.6% in Camberwell and Peckham, Nancy Taafe scored 0.9% in Walthamstow whilst in Bethnal Green and Bow Glyn Robbins polled 1.8%. In Abervan, Captain Beany, curator of museum of beans received almost ten times the vote of Owen Herbert of TUSC who polled 134. Reports have emerged of one TUSC candidate, in Rainham North, who did not receive a single vote.

These results in no way reflect either the quality of the campaigns or indeed the candidates themselves. Across the UK TUSC stood some of the best left-wing and trade union activists there are. In the Liverpool Riverside constituency TUSC stood Tony Mulhearn, one of the key figures in Liverpool City Council's resistance to Thatcher in the early 1980's. Tony polled 1.3% of the vote. In Glasgow North the candidate was Angela McCormick, an active trade unionist, community activist and anti-war campaigner. You could not get a more suitable socialist candidate standing for election. Angela's vote was 0.4%. In Glasgow South TUSC selected Brian Smith, the Secretary of the Glasgow City UNISON branch. A high profile trade unionist with a record second to none in fighting for his members and his class Brian received 0.6% of the votes cast.

Neither is it the case that the message being put forward by socialist candidates was not well received or popular. Calling for the rich to be made to pay their fair share of taxation, an end to cuts and privatisation, for public ownership and stronger trade union rights in the workplace are ideas that resonate with the public. TUSC and the other socialist organisations who stood will say they were simply laying down a marker and preparing for the potentially more rewarding proportional representative Scottish Elections next year. Thousands of leaflets were distributed, papers were sold and the message was received warmly. Results were "modest" and the left was "squeezed" in the battle between the SNP and Labour. If the left is to be treated as a seriously at future elections however, different conclusions need to be drawn.

The problem for socialist candidates under whichever banner they stand is that they lack electoral credibility. This is compounded every time they put up candidates and receive miserly and derogatory votes. The comrades in TUSC will point out that they are at least raising the standard of socialism in elections and are 100% anti-austerity. They would also quite rightly point to the fact that the coalition is supported by one major trade union, the RMT, giving them an authority no other left grouping can claim. The dilemma is however, that the more times the coalition is defeated by Captain Beany or by candidates under the moniker of "Elvis Loves Pets", (as happened in Eastleigh in 2013) the harder it is to maintain credibility, to persuade the RMT to continue backing TUSC or indeed managing to convince other unions to make the break from Labour. Whilst the majority of socialist cadres from the organisations that make up TUSC, primarily the Socialist Party and The SWP are not dispirited by such meagre results, it is harder to encourage fresh layers of new activists to either join or to stay involved when results are so poor. Modest results could be acceptable if during the campaign significant social movements were being constructed in their wake, but this is not the case.

The results last Thursday, and those in the preceding elections can lead to only one conclusion - that the left cannot go on repeating the mistakes of the past in the hope that something will change. A new strategy is urgently required.

I attended all the meetings at the RMT Headquarters in London where the TUSC and NO2EU – Yes to Democracy coalitions were formed. I represented Solidarity in negotiations with the late Bob Crow, the RMT and the other socialist organisations that came together in a bid to offer a left alternative to the Labour Party. These coalitions were created in the wake of a conference entitled the "Crisis in Working Class Representation" that the RMT organised in London in the winter of 2009. Speaking on the eve of the conference Bob made a statement that is as applicable now as it was then,

"(this) conference comes at a crucial time for working people in this country. The gap between rich and poor has never been greater... the three main parties are all spouting the same pro-bosses mantra of public spending cuts and privatisation. People up and down the country are angry that they are being told to pay the price for the recession while the speculators who created it are bailed out to the tune of tens of billions and are gearing up for a bumper round of bonuses at our expense. Millions of working class people have been disenfranchised by the political establishment. Our aim is to give them a voice."

In Scotland hundreds of thousands of working class people concluded in a first past the post contest that the SNP gave them that voice. Yet many of those, especially a younger generation engaged during the referendum campaign, will be prepared to back a more radical alternative in the list vote in next year's Scottish Elections. Unfortunately neither TUSC nor any of the current left organisations are they are constituted looks capable of making the significant breakthroughs that are potentially on offer in 2016. The various socialist organisations instead have to acknowledge their shortcomings and amend the tactics that have been employed for the last ten years or so. This requires meaningful dialogue and discussion between the various parties and movements of the left in a bid to achieve some kind of unity of purpose that avoids a myriad of different options appearing on the ballot paper. As it stands, especially in Glasgow, there could be a large number of socialist options competing on the regional list including TUSC, Solidarity, The SSP, The Socialist Labour Party, The Communist Party and The Left Project. Each one claiming that it is the authentic voice of socialism. This bewildering array of options needs to be avoided or at least a serious attempt made to reach agreements and accommodation no matter how fraught the process may be. Left unity cannot just be proclaimed by one or other of these groups. Any serious attempt cannot start with any groups being excluded or marginalised. The renewed attacks facing the poorest and most vulnerable in society deserve a co-ordinated response and fightback. To not exhaust the possibilities of re-groupment would be abdicating responsibility.

Simply re-aligning the miniscule and disparate left groups will not be enough of itself but it is a necessary starting point. Any new formation needs to capture the momentum, the energy and the drive of the referendum campaign. It must become a living, breathing social movement driven by bottom up activity and engaging meaningfully in communities rather than handfuls of cadre distributing leaflets and newspapers. The challenge for the left in the months before the 2016 election is seeing if it can set aside differences and egos and mount a unified and credible challenge offering an alternative to either the full austerity or austerity lite policies of all the main parties, including the SNP.




Other articles by Graeme McIver in The Point (click on the articles)


 Get up off our Knees - An interview with Paul Heaton


An Interview with John Cooper Clarke


Too Nice to Talk Too – An Interview with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat


Hillsborough – The Politics Behind the Smears


The Scandal of Low Pay in the Home Care Sector


The Dawning of a New Era – The History of 2 Tone


Thomas Muir of Hunterhill


 Tony Benn – An Obituary


What the World is Waiting For - The Stone Roses Live at Glasgow Green


Film Review - Sunshine on Leith


Alex Salmond and the Great Flag Stooshie


 So Long – The Musical Legacy of Margaret Thatcher


Life’s on the Line: How the Gambling Industry Targets the Poor


Why the Fit Can Die Young


Do You Hear the People Sing - A Review of Les Misérables


Passing on the Torch – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Downsized




Why I am voting SNP


Socialist and anti-cuts campaigner Gary Fraser explains why he is voting SNP on Thursday for just the second time in his life


For more and more socialistic Scots voting SNP on May 7th is probably a no brainer yet for someone like me who is both a socialist and a public sector worker the decision to vote SNP is something I had to think long and hard about. I have voted SNP before back in 1997, the first time I ever cast a vote in a General Election. My instinct then was to vote Labour, but I remember my Dad saying that 'Blair was a sheep in wolf's clothing', a prescient insight which stayed with me right through until polling day. Fast forward 18 years later (gosh is it really 18 years!) and I shall be voting SNP for the second time in my lifetime. I will come to the reasons why in a moment. But first, some thoughts on why it's been a difficult decision.

A good friend of mine, who works in local government and calls himself a socialist (of sorts, he always adds), was astonished when I announced my intention to vote SNP. Seriously, he said, in all honesty, how can you as a socialist vote for the SNP? His argument went like this; SNP councillors voted through millions of pounds worth of cuts to local government budgets across the country, cuts passed down from the SNP Scottish Government. In addition to this, he told me that SNP councillors had supported draconian cuts to the voluntary sector, a sector often hit disproportionately because it's an easy target. Youth groups and pensioners groups have all been hammered he added. He then pointed out that across Scotland over 50 thousand local government jobs had been lost according to UNISON figures, (and he stated for good measure that putting someone into 'Switch' as it's called in local government, still means that the original job is lost!). My good friend then reminded me that in the area where he lived SNP councillors had voting records which included voting to close community centres whilst at one point considering closing libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres. I could go on, but you get the point.

These are all valid reasons as to why socialists like myself should not vote SNP. SNP Councillors have trotted into Council chambers across the land and voted through austerity measures, often touting the managerial line that there is no alternative. I even heard one SNP Councillor argue that cuts are not really cuts but 'efficiency savings'. I was reminded of that saying that when language is murdered, people or in this case public services, usually follow. The contradiction of SNP councillors voting through austerity measures whilst nationally opposing austerity is a contradiction which should not be easily ignored.

And yet, despite my friends best efforts to persuade me otherwise my mind is made up, I am going to vote SNP. There are a number of factors at play here. Firstly, and there is no point in denying this, there is the Sturgeon factor. Nicola Sturgeon is fast emerging as one of the most inspiring progressive politicians Scotland has seen for a long time. I no longer call myself a Marxist but to paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens I still think like one and I hate to admit this; individuals do matter and Nicola Sturgeon has probably done more than any politician in recent years to help popularise left wing politics. Moreover, as others have noted, she appears sincere, a rare quality in politics these days. And yet there are always dangers; a one woman band may be fine for now, but longer term it will inevitably become a weakness. Big politics are at play here and it's clear that under Nicola Sturgeon's leadership the SNP has moved to the left. After years of neo-liberal managerialism, are we witnessing the return of ideology?

For the last five years David Cameron and the odious Nick Clegg, (and how I would love to see him lose his seat), have subjected Britain to a brutal austerity experiment, which Labour have consistently failed to challenge. Labour's persistent failure to provide a consistent and principled opposition has resulted in many people unwittingly buying into the narrative that there is no alternative. This is dangerous. The result is either de-politicisation on a mass scale or as we see with UKIP in England, the scapegoating of immigrants. And yet, Sturgeon has shown that there is another way, and this alone gives people confidence. The value of this cannot be measured. It's not true, as some argue, that neo-liberalism depends on a passive citizenry. In fact, many neo-liberal ideas involved constructing citizens as active agents; think of the shifting narratives of turning the unemployed into job seekers, or community groups working in partnership in participatory budgeting to identify where cuts should be made (bureaucrats in local government refer to this as co-production), or communities being constructed not as geographical places where people live, but rather as potential players in the public services delivery market; witness the cultural takeover of the voluntary and community sector by business values and practices whereby neo-liberal narratives encourage people to run services once funded out of general taxation. The point I making is this; when the state withdraws a neo-liberal informed active citizenry emerges, which actually enables austerity measures to be implemented.

Furthermore, austerity these last five years has been presented as something inevitable, something like bad weather, disappointing when it happens, yet unavoidable. The Tories, the Lib Dems, many in Labour, and most of the mainstream media promote this narrative daily; the anti-cuts groups which do exist have failed to permeate the public consciousness in challenging this discourse and let's be honest neither have the Trades Unions had much success either. But the SNP has punched a hole in the austerity bubble and the ruling class, if such a term still applies, are in a collective pickle, witness the attempts to portray Sturgeon as the 'most dangerous woman in Britain'. The other day in East Lothian I spoke to a well-meaning elderly Tory lady, (yes they do exist), who was out canvassing, and said to me that in her view the SNP are an 'extreme socialist party'. If only, I thought. But if Tories think this, then for my money the SNP must be doing something right.

There are of course valid criticisms on how credible the SNP's anti-austerity measures actually are; afterall they plan to increase public spending by a meagre 0.5% and they are still wedded to a an economic model which redistributes wealth between the middle and working classes, allowing the super-rich to get off Scot free. Yes, the detail is important, but sometimes what is more is more important in age of surfaces to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, is the mood music, and in this election the SNP under Sturgeon's leadership is playing an anti-austerity tune. In addition to this, they are committed to ending Trident renewal, a policy which puts clear red water between the SNP and Labour.

My other reason for voting SNP is this; Scotland's political institutions (I typed the word democratic and then deleted it), lack the powers to challenge the neo-liberal juggernaut. Tony Benn once said that the only thing worse than the corruption of power was the corruption of powerlessness and Scotland's institutional powerlessness has for too long infected our national political discourse and embroiled many a good person into delivering the austerity agenda, from social democratic politicians, to public sector managers who have ended up as reluctant administrators of austerity.

Those, like my good friend, who bemoan the SNP's record in local government also need to acknowledge, in fact they must acknowledge, the harsh political realities of trying to run Councils in a neo-liberal world. Shouting at the dupes of various party colours who vote through cuts, even though they may deserve it, runs the risk of buying into the Tory divide and rule narrative; for evidence of this, witness the bizarre bun fights and petty jibes on display in the letters pages of most Scottish local newspapers every week between SNP and Labour councillors.

I don't buy into the historically determinist argument that Scottish independence is inevitable. It's not. Yet, Britain post September the 18th is a different land. The days of the working classes blindly voting Labour are coming to an end. This doesn't mean that they will blindly vote SNP either. We are entering into a new political milieu, a milieu based on strategic thinking and temporal alliances. Of course, class is at play here but there are other factors too; age, gender, and significantly nationality which is fast becoming one of the defining features of British politics. In these post-modern times the era of mass loyalties to political parties is over and increasingly elections will be about tactics and coalitions. The right learned this lesson in 2010 and the progressive left must wake up to this social fact and turn it to our advantage. Labour are of course the biggest stumbling block to a progressive strategy and Miliband's announcement that he will do no 'deals' with the SNP is a blow to this strategy. Two things could happen; working class Scots will be frightened into voting Labour or Labour lose Scotland.

One final point. I do find it disappointing that some socialist groups have decided to field candidates against the SNP, as is there right. But this can only help Labour and now that Sturgeon has pitched her tent on solid left ground the only political space left available for socialists contesting this election is the political cul-de-sac of ultra-leftism. What is needed is not a myriad of socialist groups competing against one another for a risible vote but rather a strategic discussion about how to elect socialist MSPs in 2016. Time is fast running out. In regards to Thursday I end with this; coming on the back of the historical referendum, the 2015 British General Election is unlike any other in recent history and Labour's hegemony over Scottish politics is perhaps drawing to an end.

With that thought in mind I shall vote SNP on May 7th.

The Party's Over - An Obituary for 'Scottish' Labour


An Open Letter to the People of Clydebank and all Scotland (featuring. The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the General Election for Scottish Voters)


Hi. Can we talk?

There are a few things I need to get off my chest. Important things. Last year I undertook a journey. In a way it was a journey through time as well as space. A journey that crossed 13,000 miles and three decades. I came home. Home to the town where I grew up. It’s not a great metropolis. It’s not glamorous. It’s not particularly famous, in fact when I tell people where I come from I usually have to add some additional information. ‘Just west of Glasgow’ for instance. Nonetheless I’ve always been proud of my wee town. Sometimes, when I’m feeling that pride, and the person I’m talking to gives me a blank look, I have been known to say, “Have you heard of the Queen Mary? The Queen Elizabeth? The QE2? Yeh? Well, we built those!”

Of course, I didn’t personally build any of them. I am (and I don’t often get to say this these days) too young. In fact one of my earliest memories is that of sitting on my Dad’s shoulders in the middle of a jam packed main street when the entire town turned out for the launch of the QE2 in 1967. I was barely two years old. Even so, I grew up feeling a sense of pride, the collective pride of the town, in the achievements of its workers. In the fact that, on our little stretch of the Clyde, we had built the greatest shipyard in the world. And in that yard, the workers of the town had built the biggest, fastest, most luxurious ocean liners the world had ever seen. And those workers were union, hardcore and proud. From the rent strikes of the Teens and 20s, to the UCS work-in in the 70s they were at the forefront of the European labour movement. 

I’ve already written about the reasons and circumstances that led to my leaving in the first place in a blog called The Moment When You Know. The reason for my return at this time was the referendum. I’ve always had an interest in politics. In my day that was not particularly unusual in Clydebank, but in my case it led me to the conclusion, something like thirty years ago, that independence was the only way forward for Scotland. I have held that view, and argued for it, ever since, but I did not know if there would be an opportunity for it to happen in my lifetime. But, as we all know, it did happen. The unprecedented electoral collapse, in the 2011 Holyrood elections, of the Labour Party gave the SNP an overall majority, something that the electoral system with its proportional representation component had been designed never to produce. That overall majority triggered a manifesto commitment to hold such a referendum.

Like most of us I didn’t really know if it had a chance of succeeding. The polls, the pundits and the odds were against us. David Cameron and the Tories were convinced it was doomed to failure which, it must be assumed, was why they agreed to it as readily as they did. They hoped for a crushing victory that would kill the issue for at least a generation. I, however, would never have been able to forgive myself if I had not played my part in the effort. Win, lose or draw, I had to try. I began by starting this blog and campaigning online, but it was clear to me that in order to feel I had done everything I could, and in order to be taken seriously, I had to come home. Also, on a personal level, I just really, really wanted to stand in that polling booth and put my mark in that ‘Yes’ box (which, by the way, was every bit as satisfying in reality as it was in my imagination).

Now when I first decided to come home part of my reasoning was that Clydebank was exactly the sort of place that the ‘Yes’ movement would have to be able to win in order to carry the day. That’s because Clydebank, largely as a result of that proud trade union history, is what the pundits would call ‘Labour heartland.’ For generations it has been one of the safest Labour seats in Scotland. Until 2011 that is. Alex Salmond is reported to have exclaimed, “Fuck me!” when it was announced that Gil Patterson had won Clydebank and Milngavie for the SNP. So the clue was there, and when I arrived I was immediately struck by the number of Yes posters in windows and Saltires flying from wherever folk could string them up. Now we know that Clydebank voted Yes by a margin of at least 2:1, quite possibly the widest in Scotland. Despite the pain of losing the national vote, I’ve never been so proud of my wee town. So what happened? How did it come to this?

Well, I think this picture I took on the eve of the referendum might tell a part of the story at least:

It was taken from near the bottom of Alexander Street. The Lucky Break (formerly Woolworths) is just out of shot to the right. What’s notable about the picture is what isn’t in it. The shipyard. The main street. The place where I’m standing used to be slap bang in the centre of town. I couldn’t have taken the picture when I was growing up because there would have been a building in the way. This is a town which has quite literally had the heart torn out of it. The shipyard, around which the town grew up, Singer’s, which at it’s peak during WWII when it was a munitions factory, employed 17,500 people, gone. Even the main street, composed of the tenements where the early shipyard workers, the first true Bankies, once lived and with all of the ground floor flats converted into the shops, tea rooms, pubs, doctors’ surgeries and all the other things you’d expect of a busy, bustling, thriving high street. To be replaced by a bland, generic shopping mall, in a different place (although seen from inside it could be anywhere in the Western world), that gets locked up in the evenings. How are people supposed to see it as the town centre when it’s only accessible to them about half of the time? What effect does that have on the psyche of a community?

Anyway, with all of that went all the jobs which powered the local economy, and of course generated that sense of pride and worth I was talking about in the first couple of paragraphs. The town became a place of unemployment and deprivation. The population dropped precipitately. Of course much of this happened in the Thatcher years, and of course I know that plenty of other working class towns suffered similarly. But this one was mine. So what of the people? Well, a few weeks after the referendum I wrote this:

“However, despite all of that, what I found on returning to my home town was not despair, not a community crushed by the weight of its sadness and its loss. I found a people bloodied but unbowed, a spirit undaunted, and the flame of hope and optimism kindled anew. A sense of unity and common purpose, unknown since the UCS days, was abroad once again. It was the ‘Yes’ campaign that had united people and given them that hope.”

When you’re away you can easily fall victim to the nostalgia disease. It’s a human trait. We all tend to remember the good stuff, maybe exaggerate it even, and play down the bad. But growing up in Clydebank definitely gave me something – everywhere I’ve gone in the world (and I travelled quite a lot when I was younger) I’ve stepped out with confidence. How hard could it be? I was a Bankie, I’d cope. And I always did. Then there’s Melbourne, where I’d been living for quite a while. It’s not much like Clydebank. It’s a big city, almost 4 million people, which to me is not on a human scale. You don’t know your neighbours. It’s big, it’s alienating and at times, like the last couple of days for instance, it’s stupidly hot. I sound like I’m kind of over it, don’t I? Could it be that these things were colouring my view? Was I just looking at my past through rose-tinted glasses? But no, Clydebank people were all I remembered them to be, and more. Which brings me in, I admit, an extremely roundabout way, to the first really important thing I want to say.

Thank You Clydebank!

The town itself and all of its people. They made me, shaped my politics and taught me about resistance. I want to thank the old friends, the new, and all great the people of the ‘Yes’ campaign, who welcomed me back with open arms and open hearts, didn’t judge me for having to leave in the first place, and proved to me that Clydebank was still, and will always be, my home. And a special thank you to the people who turned out to the Lucky Break a few weeks ago, at 10 o’clock on a cold Wednesday night, and a Wednesday night on which there was a Scotland match at that, to wish me a happy birthday. It meant a lot to me, I was deeply moved and I miss you all. And I will be back. Soon. You can depend on it. Best of luck with the May Day fundraiser tonight, have a great time, I only wish I could be there and sing you a few songs, but in the meantime, for those who weren’t able to be there at the time, I was able to stay just long enough to perform at the Clydebank Yes Alliance fundraiser at the Lucky Break in late October, and by the way, thanks to the LB as well. It was/is the unofficial HQ of the Yes campaign and the guys there have been brilliant. So thanks to them and their friends at Titan Cams.

But Clydebank, we need to have that conversation. We need to talk about the elephant in the room. The big, red and yellow stripy one. This time next week we’ll be waking up to the results of the General Election. We need to discuss the Labour Party.

The Ghost of the Labour Party

As I mentioned earlier, Clydebank, or at least the various constituencies based on it (currently West Dunbartonshire) has long been one of the safest Labour seats in Scotland. Even today they hold it with a majority of over 17,000. So quite a lot of us must have been voting for them over the years. It’s okay. This is a safe space. You can admit it. Look, I’ll start the ball rolling. Hello. My name’s Derek and I’ve been a Labour voter. But that’s not all. I was once a member of the Clydebank Labour Party. For a couple of years. Hey, it was the 80s. I was a teenager, a student, lots of us were experimenting with politics back then.

I know, I’ve always said that I’m not aligned with, or a member of, any political party. And that’s true. Since then I never have been. Of course I’ve never ceased to be interested in politics, or to have strong political opinions, but I’ve never again joined a party. Now I’m not blaming that solely on my experiences with the Clydebank CLP. The fact is I realised that I was far too opinionated to ever say something I didn’t believe because someone else told me to say it, because it was the party line. Actually, being in the Labour Party in, I think, 82 and 83 wasn’t a totally alienating experience. There were some pretty good people in it back then. There were even some socialists. So it gives me no pleasure to say this, but Clydebank, you have to know, that party doesn’t exist any longer. Most of the good people and the socialists left years ago. Some were kicked out, some just drifted away of their own accord. The mass exodus started when Tony Blair drove a symbolic stake through the heart of Keir Hardie’s party by abolishing the old ‘Clause 4.’ of the Labour constitution. For quite a while now we’ve been voting for the ghost of a party that turned up its toes long ago. It is not merely pining for the fjords. It is an ex-party. It has ceased to be.

So let’s examine our relationship with the party formerly known as Labour. We’ve already talked about it’s working class roots in the local labour movement. So, given that we have been such a ‘stronghold,’ such a bastion of support, you might well think we’d have been rewarded by now with a big name candidate. An important figure in the party needing a safe seat perhaps. Or maybe a high-flyer, an up and coming younger candidate destined for future high office. Or even a strong local figure of some intellectual calibre. But you would be dead wrong. Our loyalty has been rewarded with a string of mediocrities and intellectual lightweights as our parliamentary representatives. MPs who don’t know their own opinion until somebody gives it to them.

Gemma Doyle

Last time around I suspect quite a few people must have thought this was finally about to change. The new Labour candidate was young, female and well-connected. Could this finally be our high-flyer? But the optimism was short-lived. She was quickly revealed to be just the latest in a line of deeply unimpressive time-servers and careerists, with very little to say for herself when given the opportunity. She infamously said virtually nothing, leaving all the talking to the appalling Jackie Baillie, on the one and only occasion she deigned to turn up to an indyref debate in her own constituency (in Whitecrook). Now sadly, as I’ve hinted, there’s nothing particularly unusual about that. In my day Hugh McCartney was known for having little if anything to say in parliament, and for sitting on his hands in important Commons votes. Even at constituency meetings he tended to say as little as possible, and when directly questioned was stumbling and inarticulate. But the current crop of Labour Party seat warmers, of whom Gemma is entirely typical, are far worse. They actually vote for Tory policies!

Now, that’s just one example. If you were to examine her voting record you would find dozens of such examples, but let’s just take a closer look at this one. Now I know she’s no intellectual giant, but you would have to be spectacularly stupid not to know that voting for the welfare cap is categorically and overwhelmingly not how the people of this constituency would want you to vote. So either she really is that spectacularly stupid (surely not?), or the term ‘traitor’ in the above meme is entirely appropriate. This is not about patriotism or nationality. This is good, old-fashioned class treason. And an abject failure to represent the views of her constituents. Now, she might well make the excuse that she had no choice. That it was the party line. But if your party line conflicts so radically with the legitimate wishes of your constituents, then you have to at the very least recognise that you have a conflict of interest, and abstain, or even have a ‘diplomatic illness.’ That’s why only thirty of them voted for it, the rest couldn’t bring themselves to (or at least didn’t want their names on it), but Gemma apparently suffered no such pangs of conscience (or good sense). Clydebank, you deserve better than Gemma Doyle. Much better.

So much for the local member. But what about the national leadership? Well, if you live in Scotland you could be forgiven for thinking the Jim Murphy is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, but there are a few problems with that.

Jim Murphy

Perhaps the greatest problem is that there’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist. The Electoral Commission has no registration for any party known as the Scottish Labour Party (unless Jim Sillars’ old one is still on the books). It has no constitution, no rules, and no membership separate from the British Labour Party. There is a Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party, comprised of the Labour Holyrood MSPs. So what exactly is it that Jim’s leader of? Well it would appear that someone in the party, probably the NEC (the National Executive Committee is the highest elected body of the Labour Party, there is no SNEC), have changed the rules to allow a Westminster MP to be the leader of a parliamentary party that he’s not a member of! And he’s been going around saying things like, “If I’m elected First Minister…” despite the facts that this is not a Scottish election, he is not currently a candidate for that position, he is standing for a Westminster seat again, refusing to admit to his constituents he’s not intending to serve out his term if elected, because in order to be a candidate for FM he’d have to resign that seat and stand for Holyrood next year. He’s either very confused, or he’s trying to confuse us.

He continually confuses Westminster and Holyrood issues. He blusters and obfuscates. He directly contradicts policy statements and positions of his leader, Ed Milliband, and his shadow ministers. Despite his strident support for the Union just a few short months ago, he now seeks to distance himself, and the imaginary Scottish Labour Party, from UK Labour. Now, in their wisdom the London parties have this time around decided that voters are too stupid to concentrate on more than one policy, so they are only having one each. Not so much a policy even as a vague feeling. Whatever they rated highest on in the focus groups basically. So the Tories are running on ‘We’ll be better at managing the economy,’ Labour are going with ‘We’ll be better at safeguarding the NHS’ and the Lib Dems, well they’re sticking with the one they’ve always had, as long as I can remember, ‘We’re not Labour or the Tories.’

Now, this is a bit of a problem for Jim. He owes his position to two things: he was perceived to have had a ‘good referendum,’ and even the London Labour leadership realising they were fighting an entirely different campaign in Scotland, against a different opponent. Now, if you’ll forgive a little bit of Babel Fish editorialising, what’s happened with this reductionism of political debate to the vague feelings of focus groups is that parties have been forced to choose between appealing to the centre or to their core voters. Both Labour and Tories have gone to their traditional support. When Labour are campaigning against the Tories they traditionally invoke the NHS. When they’re campaigning against the SNP they traditionally say, “Vote SNP, get the Tories.’ Even though that is a complete fiction. And Jim consequently has to promulgate both of these things.

It occurs to me that I should explain exactly why the ‘Vote SNP, get the Tories’ thing is nonsense. Now I know many readers will have worked this out for themselves, so I won’t be offended if you skip to the next paragraph, otherwise read on. A government can only be formed if it can command the confidence of the Commons. For which it would need a majority. If the Tories can’t win a majority (and it looks like they can’t) they would need the support of enough other MPs to make up one. Since the SNP have already committed themselves not to support a Tory administration under any circumstances, any seats won by them cannot, by definition, assist the Tories in forming a government, whether they are won from the one Tory MP left in Scotland, from the Lib Dems or from Labour.

The interesting thing about this, I think, is that Labour has declined to make the same commitment. In debates Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly invited first Ed Milliband, then Jim Murphy, to rule out propping up a minority Tory administration, or even joining a ‘Grand’ Labour/Tory coalition. Neither would do so. Now, most Labour voters, and probably most members for that matter, would think such a thing an impossibility, but don’t dismiss it so easily. I’ll come to that later, when I deal with the electoral calculus. For now, it’s back to Creepy Jim.

Sorry, Jim Murphy. Couldn’t resist. But he is, isn’t he? Anyway, I said he owed his position to two things. The first was that he was perceived to have had a ‘good referendum.’ But did he really?

Jim’s major contribution to the campaign was his notorious 100 day tour. But what did he actually achieve? Well, he alienated a lot of people, particularly Labour voters, by going to working class towns, towns like Clydebank, and doing the most inflammatory thing he could do in such places, sharing a platform (or at least a couple of Irn Bru crates) with Tories! That created a lot of ill feeling, and must have contributed to his party’s current woes. And what did he say at those events? Well, not a lot really. I heard several eyewitness accounts from Clydebank, and slogged my way through several accounts of other meetings in other towns. It was hard going, though not I suspect as hard as it was for the poor souls who endured the reality of them in order to report the proceedings, so I salute them for it. The pattern seemed to be Jim mouthing slogans and platitudes, hanging onto the microphone and again blustering, obfuscating and generally confusing the issues. If a questioner proved persistent he simply used the mic to talk over them. He showed no discernible actual debating ability, something which has been confirmed this year when he has been obliged to participate in actual debates, where he has been badly found out. In the first, held at Glasgow Uni, he was even obliged to issue a clarification afterwards that he had not sniffed glue as a teenager. The great debater? No, debating is not a part of his skill set.

The only thing which rescued the entire tour from becoming a complete non-event was that all-too-convenient egg-related incident. How? By again distracting us from the real issues of the campaign and beating up the non-story of the groups of non-existent SNP/Yes Scotland thugs Jim claimed were following him around (now in my day throwing an egg at a politician was only considered a violent act if it was hard boiled, but never mind, obviously times have changed). They were being organised, these imaginary thugs, online he claimed. Strange, because you might be surprised to know (or not) that I know a great number of people who were involved in the ‘Yes’ campaign, and was very actively involved on social media. I was even on Yes Scotland’s mailing list. Yet somehow, I never got any of those memos. Not one. Quite the reverse, I read a lot of appeals for ‘Yes’ supporters to stay away, as we’d only make it look like he was drawing a crowd.

Because at first he wasn’t. He would often turn up with a handful of people and talk to an empty street. But sooner or later, whether by luck or judgement, he managed to find some streets that actually had people in them, and some would stop to see what all the shouting was about. These were the people who heckled him (otherwise known as ‘asking difficult questions’). Not organised thugs, passers-by. Shoppers.

But Jim didn’t like it, so later on in his tour he took to bussing in his own supporters, in sufficient numbers to surround his Irn Bru crate stage, make it look in the photographs as though he had a supportive crowd (unless you were one of those annoyingly observant people who realised that they were the same faces every time), and prevented any dissenters from getting close enough to be heard. Apparently our political leaders have such a low opinion of our intelligence that this was seen as such a brilliant manoeuvre that they’re all doing it now. 

Anyway, his efforts were still failing to attract much attention until the egg. Strange how he appeared to duck the first egg, even though it came from directly behind him. Almost as if he was expecting it. And as for the guy who threw the egg, I couldn’t find anyone who knew him, even after he was identified. As I said, all a bit too convenient. We’ll probably never know, but what we have, I think, identified here is one of Jim Murphy’s skills – I will allege that he has two – his instinct for self-publicism. He’ll do anything to show what a man of the people he is, won’t he?

Only he’s not. He’s been in London too long. everything he does to demonstrate his Scottishness is so clichéd, from the bottle of Irn Bru he clutched daily on his tour, to the frankly embarrassing bag of groceries he sent out as a donation to a foodbank whilst attending a £200 a plate dinner in Glasgow (Porridge oats, oatcakes, shortbread, Tunnocks Tea Cakes, etc) tell of someone who has forgotten the real Scotland and succumbed to the ‘shortbread tin’ version so popular down South. My father coined a term for it. To him, descendent of real Highland warriors, it represented everything he despised about fake patriotism, reductive and just plain offensive. He called it ‘popscot.’ Jim Murphy is a shameless purveyor of popscot. I get the feeling he’s not fooling anyone though.

So that covers the first reason he got his (possibly non-existent) position, and reveals the first of his skills. The second reason is slightly more complex, and reveals his second skill. The Labour leadership in London was obliged, in the aftermath of the referendum, to realise a number of things in quick succession. The first was that, to borrow a military phrase which has sadly come into all to common usage in recent years, they had won the war and lost the peace. They had staked their party’s reputation, and their own careers, on winning that referendum, but they were horrified to discover that despite their win that reputation was left in tatters and their careers were under threat like never before. Johann Lamont was the first to go, at the hands of her colleagues, no doubt in an effort to insulate themselves, but it became increasingly evident that her sacrifice wasn’t going to save them once Scottish voters got their hands on them. They needed a messiah, but who should they turn to?

Alistair Darling? Well, he supposedly ran the successful campaign, but remember in the polls that campaign went from a huge lead to a last minute panic that I think was very real and a result far closer than they anticipated at the outset. Now I know this because I’ve been a campaign manager, but you wouldn’t be shocked if I told you that in campaigning terms that’s not a win. The leadership’s confidence in him was always in question, to be fair, and with good reason. He was a deeply unsympathetic character and worst of all he had a shocking ‘tell’ – he blinked furiously when he lied. Which during the course of that campaign was really quite a lot, so it became blindingly obvious. So no, he didn’t come out of the campaign at all well, and made it clear he wouldn’t be sticking around to hear the verdict of his electorate fairly early in the piece.

Lying Scotsman

So if not him, what about the ‘big beast’ himself, Gordon Brown? Parachuted into the campaign at the last minute, full of personal ‘guarantees’ of ‘home rule’ and ‘as close to federalism as possible’ on which he knew he couldn’t possibly deliver. Sure he was an ex-PM, but then, as today, he was a mere backbencher, and an opposition one at that, with no authority to commit his own party to anything whatsoever, let alone David Cameron’s government. As became apparent the minute Cameron stepped out of 10 Downing Street on the morning of the 19th of September.

GordonChecksGordon checks the timetable and waits for his new powers to arrive. And waits, and waits…                 With thanks to @ChrisBulow

No, not Gordon. He had performed the last service of his political career and surrendered the last remnants of his credibility to the establishment . Should be enough to fast track his seat in the House of Lords. And maybe a few lucrative directorships thrown in. So who was there left to turn to? Certainly not one of the dismal and dreary group of Labour MSPs. No, there was only one man for the job:

Legend in his own mind, wounded hero of the battle of the Irn Bru crates, manic self-publicist and pre-eminent expert (his second skill) at sucking up. No, seriously, it’s something he is undeniably extremely good at. Let’s look at his record. This is a man who was able to remain technically a student for nine years, extending his term with a career in student politics which culminated in his becoming President of the NUS, without ever actually obtaining a degree. Such selfless service to his student members! But don’t worry about Jim, he didn’t end up on the employment scrapheap. The Labour Party took him under its wing, and it wasn’t too long before he was given the opportunity to stand in a contestable seat. Now I wonder why that was. Could it be because while he was NUS President he agreed to the introduction of tuition fees, even though he’d stood on a platform of opposition to them, because the Blair government wanted it? Far be it from me to make such a scurrilous accusation. Makes you think though, doesn’t it?

On entering parliament he fairly quickly secured advancement by dint of some more judicious sucking up, becoming more of a Blairite than Tony Blair himself. He climbed the greasy pole enthusiastically. You can’t fault him for lack of ambition. He had, as my Australian friends would say, tickets on himself. Big time. Of course the problem with allying yourself too closely to the leader became apparent when Blair retired and Murphy’s star went into decline somewhat. Brown was wary of him. For the first time things weren’t simply falling into his lap. And then along came the referendum, a golden opportunity for a self-publicist. He probably thought he should have been leading the ‘No’ campaign, but he was passed over for ‘Blinky’ Darling. Undeterred, he started a rather silly campaign of his own, and hit the streets. It is highly unlikely that his tour had any significant impact on the outcome at all, but in the absence of Darling and Brown, or any other serious contenders for that matter, he would have to do.

Or at least, that’s what he managed to persuade his London masters of. They allowed him to stand for a position that didn’t technically exist, but now seems to be real enough for him to have staff, more of which in a moment. But what has he really done, this messiah? You’d have to conclude that behind all the hype, and let’s face it, his relentless quest for exposure has been ably assisted by the BBC et al, the evidence of any actual achievement is thin on the ground indeed. He failed to finish a degree, sold out his NUS members to gain preferment from the Labour Party, when he got a seat he attached himself like a limpet to the leadership and got promoted, then he stood on some Irn Bru crates and yelled at people. When obliged to participate in actual debates, ones where it wasn’t only him who had a microphone, he was just as those intrepid reporters I mentioned earlier had described him. He would waffle, he would bluster, he would obfuscate. He would leap with the ease of a mountain gazelle from one subject to another, but ultimately he was incapable of constructing a coherent argument about anything.

“And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth 5/5)


John McTernan

So who do you suppose a man with a record like that would choose to fill the role of his chief advisor and campaign strategist? Well, he turned to Blair favourite John McTernan. Lately returned from warmer climes, where he was disastrously Director of Communications from September 2011 to June 2013 for the Australian Labor (sic) government of Australia’s first female PM, Julia Gillard. I suppose I should tell you about that. I was there. For every excruciating day of it.

He presided over a trainwreck of epic proportions. Gillard was far from the worst PM Australia ever had, she showed promise. And despite governing with a minority, needing support from Greens and Independents, quite a lot actually got done, legislation wise. Some of it was even quite progressive. We were getting educational reform, a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a National Broadband Network with fibre to every home. There was a mining super profits tax and a carbon pricing mechanism. All gone now. Her communications strategy however, McTernan’s area, was a disaster from start to finish. Couldn’t take a trick. His leadership was chaotic and dysfunctional. Those who worked with him said he thought he was Malcolm Tucker. This was confirmed when thousands of e-mails from his office were leaked. He lost his job when Julia Gillard lost hers, removed by her colleagues who were terrified of the consistently catastrophic poll numbers McTernan’s communications strategy had produced. As a result of his ineptitude Australia has ended up with this guy:

Well, no actually this guy, but you must admit the resemblance is striking

And it’s not just the ears. If you could see him from behind when he’s walking you’d swear he was a chimp in a suit. The point is he should have been eminently beatable. As a political strategist I’d have relished the opportunity, the guy had so many negatives with the electorate it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel. With a rocket launcher. After failing to win over the cross-benchers he needed to form government in 2010, Abbott never accepted the result and indulged in what, at three whole years, is officially Australia’s longest ever political dummy-spit. But McTernan failed miserably to effectively counter Abbott’s crude populism, his three word slogans, his monosyllabic appeal to the lowest common denominator, with a hefty dollop of misogyny on top. I wrote about it at the time for anyone who’s interested. It was in no sense a great campaign, it was petty and nasty and ugly. But what does that tell you about the campaign that lost to it?

What McTernan should have learned was that you can’t out-nasty the Tories and it is folly to try. It just comes more naturally to them. The lesson he took however was that that stuff works. As The Australian reported,

“Other emails reveal him (McTernan) pointing his staff to Tony Abbott’s communications discipline as “a lesson for us” and praising the Coalition’s cohesion in sending out the same messages in key attacks against Labor.”

These are the sort of messages he’s talking about:

This is Tony in opposition. Bob Brown incidentally was the then leader of the Greens, whose support was needed to get anything through the Senate. The sign behind Tony’s head says ‘Ditch the Witch.’ This is the level of political sophistication we were dealing with. Gillard must have thought she was quids in, with her big time spin doctor, specially imported from London on a 457 visa, a category specifically designed to allow employers to fill skilled positions they cannot fill within Australia. Let’s just take a moment to consider that. By bringing McTernan in on a 457 visa, the ALP was in effect saying there was no-one available in Australia who could do what this guy could do. And what did he do? He lost. So badly his boss didn’t even make it to the election. To that. That ape. That evolutionary throwback.

Call me crazy, but I reckon there just might be a few people in Australia who could have handled the job of screwing up like that. Hey, I was here at the time and I could have wiped the floor with Abbott. So we know he’s no Babel Fish, but what else should we know about him? Well of course Scotland has seen him in action before. In 2007 Tony Blair sent him North to thwart the rise of the SNP. Well, obviously that was also abysmally successful. And then there was this:

“In January 2008, while he was employed as a special adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland, it emerged that in 2002 McTernan had branded Scotland as being “narrow” and “racist” during the period he worked for the Scottish Arts Council. In an email to the then Labour MSP Karen Gillon, who was about to make a trip to Sweden, McTernan wrote “If you’ve not been to Sweden before, I think you’ll really like it – it’s the country Scotland would be if it wasn’t narrow, Presbyterian, racist etc. etc. Social democracy in action.”[10] The email was obtained by the The Sunday Times under freedom of information legislation.” (from his own Wikipedia entry)

So we know he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, that he has a very low opinion of his fellow Scots, full of distortions and stereotypes, and that he is vicious, amoral, with no depths to which he will not stoop. I think I’m beginning to understand what Murphy sees in him! If by some chance he manages to survive the coming electoral disaster the polls have been predicting for a long time now, expect a brutally nasty, deeply misogynistic Holyrood campaign, personally directed at Nicola Sturgeon. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. That’s if he survives. As I said, the polls say he’s about to suffer yet another catastrophic failure, perhaps his greatest yet. And perhaps those extraordinary polls are not so surprising given that the Labour campaign is in the hands of a pair of losers like Murphy and McTernan.

And speaking of losers…

Ed Milliband

Yes, this guy is the real leader of the Labour Party. Now how can I describe him? Perhaps the nicest way would be to say he’s not a people person. He has trouble with eye contact and issues with personal space. Some have suggested he might be on the autistic spectrum, and I don’t find that inconceivable, so I’m inclined to tread carefully. Certainly we know it was a bit of a surprise to everyone including, you get the feeling, Ed himself when he was elected leader. We were all expecting his slicker, better-looking, more charismatic brother to get the nod. But Ed made his pitch on being just a teeny bit to the left of his brother and it seems that was enough to swing the union vote in his favour. Though given subsequent events, decisions and pronouncements, I mean seriously, how left wing can he be? Red Ed? Promising to continue all of the Tory austerity cuts, the ones that target the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and even to go further? Don’t make me laugh!

No, the fact is the Labour Party has been captured. Have a look at their front bench. Look at their names. Listen to their accents. They are all posh boys, members of the same narrow section of society as the Tories on the other side. If you didn’t know who they were they’d be indistinguishable. They represent the same arrogant, entitled, Eton/Harrow/Oxbridge elite. Labour is no longer a working class party, and it’s certainly not a left wing party. At best it’s centre right, and that’s being generous. The fact that Ed Milliband can be considered a leftie is merely a measure of how far to the right it has drifted. In August last year I wrote the following, also under the heading ‘The Ghost of the Labour Party,’ as part of a blog on the politics of independence:

“That’s what many Labour voters in Scotland are actually voting for, a pale shade of a once-proud party, which has over the years abandoned virtually every principle on which it was founded. It started out, back in the days of Keir Hardie, as an unashamedly socialist party. It morphed, on achieving government in the 20th Century, into a social democratic party.  In recent years, and it would be hard not to conclude that it was during the Blair/Brown years, the transformation has moved them all the way to the centre right. That is not the party Scottish Labour voters are voting for. They are voting in the main either for the Keir Hardie one, or the post-war Attlee one, which gave us the welfare state, the NHS and all that other progressive, social democratic stuff.”

I see no reason to change that assessment. Apart perhaps to remove the ‘virtually’ from the phrase ‘…abandoned virtually every principle…’ I also suggested that the SNP had won an outright majority at Holyrood by being a better Social Democratic party than Labour. Since the referendum that trend has been amplified as the SNP has been pulled to the left by its new membership, and arguably the handover from Salmond to Sturgeon, while Labour has continued its inexorable drift to the right. It’s small wonder that the most googled question on the night of the 7-way UK debate was, “Can I vote for the SNP?” And this is for the UK, so presumably mainly from voters in England! And the reason why these English voters want to vote SNP?  No rocket surgery required. Left of centre English voters too shrewd to fall for UKIP’s nonsense don’t have a credible left of centre option to vote for. So it’s not that we in Scotland, and particularly in towns like Clydebank, the famed Labour ‘heartland,’ have abandoned the Labour Party. It’s that the Labour Party abandoned us. Years ago. They left us to rot while the good times rolled for their precious floating voters in the prosperous South East. Now they expect us to pay for the excesses of that boom, pay with our children’s health and futures. Nuh. Not doing it any more. For years they’ve taken us for granted. It has suited them to keep us poor, because in their minds that locked us into voting for them. Well you can only pull that con so many times. We have well and truly seen through it.

And so we have had the spectacle of Jim Murphy trying to fight two different campaigns at once. Attacking the SNP from the left, while at the same time supporting the right wing policies of their London HQ. Like more austerity and Trident replacement. This has at times led to direct policy contradictions. Jim unilaterally (a word he doesn’t like) declared, for instance, that Ed’s signature policy, the Mansion Tax, which will be collected mostly in London where property prices are the most inflated, would be used to fund a thousand extra nurses in Scotland. Ed had a bit of difficulty swallowing that one.

For the record, like most of the ‘policies’ that Jim’s been announcing, that is not Labour policy in this election. As the NHS is an area already devolved to the Scottish Government, it could presumably be claimed to be a Scottish Labour policy in next year’s Holyrood elections (not the election he’s currently fighting though), but in reality it was just a Murphy thought bubble. And he hadn’t thought it through. When it was announced to the media the conversations went something like this:

“We promise a thousand more nurses in the Scottish NHS.”

“A thousand more than what?”

“A thousand more than any number the SNP might come up with!”


“So there!”

This is playground stuff. The logical conclusion of such an auction is that the entire world population could end up working as nurses in the Scottish NHS. There’s only one response to that sort of wooly-minded nonsense, and I learned that in the playground too – make sure your brain is engaged before you put your mouth in gear! Anyway, what does it all mean, all this sound and fury? It’s time to examine the entrails. It’s time for…

The Electoral Calculus (note – contains no actual calculus)

Well, not very much it would appear. The polls have barely shifted in months. The have been small variations in the Labour and Tory figures, but all within a standard deviation (3%), so basically it’s a dead heat. The minor parties vary somewhat more, which is normal given their smaller sample size. Here is a seat count from a typical poll-of-polls prediction, this one from Sky News:

Some put one side ahead, some the other, but all are around there and have been for some time. Nothing in the campaign so far seems to be shifting them. The same is true in the Scottish polls. Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago, as a comment somewhere else, at the start of the official campaign. And kept, yes. I’m only human, I like to check on the progress of my predictions occasionally. It starts with a quote

“A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “As the General Election draws nearer it becomes clearer every day that only Labour or the Tories can form the next UK government.” (Herald, 21/3)

No, as the General Election draws nearer it becomes clearer every day that neither Labour nor the Tories can form the next UK government unless the SNP allow it. They have already vowed that they will not support the Tories forming a government under any circumstances. As they hold only the one seat in Scotland, the Tories cannot possibly form a government in their own right unless they are able to make considerable headway against Labour in England, something they haven’t been able to do in five years, so there is no reason to suspect they can do it in five weeks. The flip side of that is that Labour can’t make any headway either. The ‘poll of polls’ reported in the Herald article only confirms that all of the polls have been remarkably stable, and remarkably consistent. It looks very much as though voters have ‘stopped listening,’ that most made up their minds some time ago, and have no intention of changing them.

The difference for Labour however is that although the polls strongly suggest that they cannot form a majority government either (unless they are able to make considerable headway against the Tories in England, something…, etc), the SNP has not ruled out supporting a minority Labour government under certain conditions. If Labour finds itself unable to live with those conditions, they have two options. They can in effect tell voters, “No, wrong, do it again!” Or they can seek a ‘grand coalition’ with the Tories. Ramsay McMilliband, come on down! And, looking to those stubbornly consistent polls once more, the only way that the Tories could possibly form a government would be with Labour support. So for Jim Murphy and the Labour Party to continue to suggest that,

“As we have said repeatedly every seat taken from Labour, by the SNP or any other party, increases the likelihood that David Cameron’s Tories will be returned to government.”

is frankly laughable. They love to say a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories. They’ve been telling us that for decades. But right now it is the exact opposite of the truth. The SNP will almost certainly hold the balance of power and will block a Tory government. They are committed to it. The Labour Party is not. They have not ruled out a coalition with the Tories, and several of their MPs have actively proposed it as an option. In fact it is far more likely that a vote for Labour could turn out to be a vote for the Tories.”

Well, I think the odds on that are shortening by the day. And remember, I wrote that before I heard Ed Milliband and Jim Murphy repeatedly refuse to rule it out when challenged to do so. As for the rest of it, I see no reason to change a word. He’s another quote I picked up around the same time:

‘Speaking on a campaign visit in the SNP target seat of Edinburgh South earlier on Tuesday, Murphy said lots of voters were only beginning to think about the issues at stake: “The election is only 24 hours old; there are weeks to go,” he said. “When I was elected [Scottish leader] I said the polls will turn big and the polls will turn late, when people are confronted by the choice facing them.”’

Well, we’re still waiting. And I suspect that’s because people have understood the choice facing them. Only too well. And the problem is, with Labour and the Tories, there really isn’t much of a choice at all.

   “‘It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…’

   ‘You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?’

   ‘No,’ said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, ‘nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.’

   ‘Odd,’ said Arthur, ‘I thought you said it was a democracy.’

   ‘I did,’ said Ford, ‘It is.’

   ‘So,’ said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, ‘why don’t people get rid of the lizards?’

   ‘It honestly doesn’t occur to them,’ said Ford.  ‘They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.’

   ‘You mean they actually vote for the lizards?’

   ‘Oh yes,’ said Ford with a shrug, ‘of course.’

   ‘But,’ said Arthur, going for the big one again, ‘why?’

   ‘Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,’ said Ford, ‘the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?'”                                           

                                         (Douglas Adams – So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish)


That is pretty much the Labour Party’s pitch to Scottish voters in a nutshell. But we’ve discovered another option. You see, Murphy’s right, but only up to a point. He says the leader of the largest party forms the government. Well, usually. But not always. What actually happens is that the Queen (yeh, seriously) ‘invites’ the leader of the largest party to form a government. If that leader’s party doesn’t have a majority in its own right that’s when the negotiations start. They have to secure enough support from amongst other parties and independents. Now, assuming the Tories are the largest party (which is by no means certain, it’s really more like a 50/50 proposition), who is going to support them? UKIP? Well, although they have been polling a quite solid third at 10-15%, that support is pretty evenly spread, which is why none of the projections have them getting more than two or three seats. The Lib Dems? They are on course to be all but wiped out. There won’t be enough of them. On every single projection I’ve seen the SNP will have sufficient numbers to block a Tory administration. Provided Labour don’t support one of course. And if they were to do that then they would have conclusively proved my point – that they have truly become Red Tories, distinguishable from the actual Tories only by their branding.

So. if the leader of the largest party is unable to secure a Commons majority within a reasonable time, usually a couple of weeks, the leader of the second largest party is invited to try. What this means is that one way or another, whether they are the largest party or not, it is Labour who will have the opportunity to form a government. But only if they are prepared to deal with the SNP. And that wouldn’t require doiing anything treasonous or undemocratic, but would mean them adopting certain policies somewhat to the left of the ones they are currently espousing. Which, I think you’ll agree, most of their Scottish voters would like them to do anyway. The conclusion has to be, surprisingly, that if you’re a Scottish Labour voter, the best way to get the Labour government you want, the one you’d vote for if it still existed, is to vote SNP. And it would appear, looking at these recent polls, that they are about to do just that. This one from the Daily Record and this from Ipsos-MORI are if anything even more dramatic than earlier ones, suggesting that there has indeed been a late swing as Jim was expecting, only it has been away from him. Both show the SNP with over 50% and over 50 seats.

The Hitchhikers’ Guide

We are about to step into uncharted territory now. In its short life this blog has covered two elections, the 2013 Australian federal election and the 2014 European election. In both The Hitchhikers’ Guide To – The European Elections (v2.0) and Your ‘Why To Vote’ Card I offered advice on tactical voting to achieve certain aims, such as keeping UKIP out, and in the Australian case I also gave a handy guide to what I saw as the real issues in the election (as opposed to the concocted, fake issues the parties chose, as so often these days. to campaign on). But unlike in the referendum campaign where I took a strong position, I have so far refrained from endorsing any candidate or party in an election. This time it’s different however. I believe, when they come to write the history of the 21st Century struggle for Scottish independence, this election will be seen as a pivotal moment. Indeed, to paraphrase Churchill, I know that’s what history will say, because I shall write it. ;-) I’ll explain its importance in a moment. Now, you’ve read my obituary for the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party, so you know I won’t be supporting them. It’s time to bite the bullet and spit it out, or some similar mixed metaphor.

The Babel Fish Blog is endorsing Martin Docherty, the SNP candidate, for West Dunbartonshire. And the SNP for the rest of Scotland too. Not because they are my ideal party, they’re not. Because I believe it’s best for Scotland, and probably for the rest of the UK too. For very practical reasons. So this time, let’s examine both tactical and strategic voting and see why.

Tactical Voting

The Babel Fish guide for tactical voters has become a feature of the blog, so here we go, by which party you usually vote for, or voted for last time.

Tory Voters – there’s really not much you can do to assist your party’s prospects, but then you’re probably used to that by now.

LibDem voters – welcome to the Tories’ world. Of course unlike them you could always get off the fence and make up your mind what you really think, then you might find a party that will still exist on May the 8th to vote for.

UKIP voters – go back to where you came from (probably the 1930s).

Green voters – I sympathise, but you are not currently in with a chance in any constituency. Your time will come next year in Holyrood. This time your best tactical option is to assist in wiping out the Labour Party by voting SNP, as the quickest and most practical way to advance your policy agenda (for reasons I’ll come to in the ‘strategic’ section).

SSP voters – See ‘Green voters.’

Independent voters – See ‘Green voters.’

Labour voters – what, still? After reading this far? Well anyway, your best option is still to vote SNP (doubly so in non-Labour seats of course) as the most likely way to get a Labour government, only with a bit more spine than we’re used to, and with a genuine interest in Scotland for a change.

SNP voters – fill yer boots!

Overall the choice is clear. You can vote for the old order, or the new politics. You can vote for business as usual, or you can vote for a veto. That’s what the SNP is offering, a Scottish veto over governments, or policies, that we can’t live with. The other side of the tactical equation is what they might be able to extract by way of concessions in return for supporting a minority Labour government. They have articulated an anti-austerity, anti-nuclear agenda which has resonated strongly with Scottish voters, and with many English voters too. If they were a business I’d say they should franchise. ‘SNP North East,’ ‘SNP North West,’ ‘SNP Midlands’ and so on. They’d probably do well. Because there’s definitely a gap in the market. So it comes down to this: how much of their progressive wishlist (no more failed austerity policy, no Trident replacement, full fiscal autonomy, etc) can they get up? Who knows? How much of it would Labour do without their influence? None whatsoever.

Strategic Voting

So what is strategic voting? Let me just float the idea. I haven’t heard it mentioned yet in this campaign. We’ve all heard a lot about tactical voting, but nothing about strategic voting. Here’s the thing – we ‘Yes’ supporters all came to support an independent Scotland at different times, and from a variety of political backgrounds. In my case it was a left wing, socialist background. I have never been what you’d describe as a ‘natural’ SNP voter. I have never described myself as a nationalist either. However, as I mentioned earlier, I arrived at the conclusion that independence was the only way forward for Scotland roughly thirty years ago. Around the same time I left the Labour party. Obviously the reasons why are complex, but I’ll give you perhaps the most basic one.

It’s not a real country. The UK I mean. To blatantly plagiarise Salman Rushdie (speaking of Pakistan), it is a country insufficiently imagined. It didn’t grow organically as a nation state. It was cobbled together out of bits that did. So what, you might ask? It was cobbled together 300 years ago, there are plenty of countries younger than that, even in Europe. Which is true, although the successful ones tend to be based on a genuine sense of shared identity, which the UK just doesn’t have. Those that have lacked it have not always fared so well (think Yugoslavia). And then there are heaps of post-colonial ones that had their borders drawn with colonial rulers by their colonial rulers (if you’ll pardon the pun). Those ones aren’t doing spectacularly well either though, are they? Quite a few seem to be coming apart at the seems in fact.

Now, if I’m right, the Union shouldn’t have caught on. Oh, wait…it hasn’t. Three hundred years and we still don’t feel British. Which would mean Scotland is still a real country, and always has been. There are plenty of cultural arguments about whether or not the Union has caught on, I’ve been a part of them in the past, but for me there would be one defining question, one clincher, that would tell you the answer. Is it (the UK) one body politic? Is Scotland part of the same polity as England? I would submit that all the evidence says no. The Scottish centre is to the left of the English centre, and we have already seen one of the ruling parties at UK level rendered non-existent for a time, and irrelevant perhaps for ever, in Scotland. The Lib Dems will certainly go the same way this year. If we could see the end of the Labour Party as a serious force in Scotland too, well I’d say that would be conclusive proof. And what’s more, it couldn’t be denied. Everyone would see and understand – we are not one polity.

This is where the thirty years bit comes in. Thirty years ago it really didn’t look like there was any prospect of independence in sight. Having reached, however, what I by then felt was an inescapable conclusion, I was obliged to think long-term, strategically rather than tactically. I hear plenty of people talking about the tactical advantages of an SNP majority. What it might be parleyed into if they got the balance of power, that sort of thing. I don’t really care so much about that. Well, I care of course, but what interests me even more is what I see as the potential historic significance of ending all the major Westminster parties, with their pretendy Scottish branch offices, as serious forces in Scotland. That is the sort of seismic event which has the potential to clear the political decks. To allow that hope of a new type of politics, the hope that cheered all of us ahead of the referendum, to return and start to actually produce practical results.

If people could really get that we don’t need to accept any of the second hand damaged goods sent to us by Westminster in our Scottish political system, what kind of a parliament might we not produce, in all our myriad colours, at Holyrood in 2016? I don’t know, but I’d be fascinated to find out, wouldn’t you? And the feeling is there to do this now. To strike while the iron’s hot. I sense a hugely important symbolic and strategic turning point is within our grasp. I say we grab it, and worry about the tactics later. Labour will say we’ll have a one party state (conveniently forgetting all the decades when they enjoyed that situation), but we know that’s not what’s going to happen. Let May the 7th 2015 be remembered as the start of the great realignment of Scottish politics and the beginning of a new Scottish Enlightenment.

Saor Alba!

Derek Stewart MacPherson

May 1st 2015  

(published first and with more stuff and videos - though roughly contemparaneously in your standard Earth time - in the Babelfish blog

External links:

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