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Last updated: 11 December 2017. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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Max the YES: tactical voting for Holyrood 2016 - yes or no?



As regular readers of The Point facebook page will know, we’re rather fond of posting the occasional piece from the excellent ‘Wings Over Scotland’. The Rev. Stu’s demolitions of unionist media silliness are often a delight. Recently though, the Rev and some others have been trying to rubbish the idea of mass tactical voting for the 2016 Holyrood elections: an idea put forward by some YESSER’s which can basically be summed up as 1st vote (constituency) SNP, 2nd vote (list) Greens, Solidarity or RISE.

This position, which has been vigorously promoted by Steve Arnott of The Point, and is referred to by the Wingsmeister as the ‘Yes Alliance’ position, has inevitably led to a bit of a reaction.

On the Wings site of Wednesday 25th August, a comprehensive ‘refutation’ of the very idea of tactical voting appeared, authored by the good Rev. himself. In the interests of democracy and discussion, The Point has invited Steve Arnott to reply to the piece, point by point. Consequently all of the Wings main points are below, with replies from the ‘YES Alliance’ position by Steve. In the interests of absolute fairness we also carry the original link to the Rev’s full article at the end.

We intend to circulate this as widely as possible amongst the YES networks and fb pages to encourage debate on this vital issue for Holyrood 2016.

In this version the Rev Stu’s points are in standard font, and Steve Arnott’s replies will be in italics



What our analysis yesterday and on Sunday concluded was that it’s extremely hard to “game” AMS by voting tactically – which is unsurprising because it was deliberately designed that way.

Actually, the Additional Member System was designed to make sure the terrible Nats never won a majority, and create permanent coalitions in a devolution settlement ‘that would kill independence stone dead’. The FACT that the intentions of the systems creators have now been superceded by the wishes of voters is plain to see in two SNP Governments, and an indy ref that was never meant to happen. The beauty of the AMS system is that voters can use their two votes how they wish. They can vote for one party down the line, or they can vote differently in the constituency and on the list, or even view their vote as a first and second preference if they so choose.

But advocates of a so-called “Yes Alliance” aimed at maximising pro-independence MSPs argue that there’s a “sweet spot” in which list votes for Yes parties other than the SNP can tilt the balance in the Holyrood chamber.

Yes, we do. And the same advocates of the YES Alliance – when it became clear there wasn’t going to be one for the Westminster General Election largely buckled down, worked and called for a vote for the SNP in the best interests of the YES movement and the weakening of the political forces of unionism. There was a sweet spot there too. And boy did we hit it.

The reasoning is that with current polls suggesting that the Nats will win 70 or more constituency seats, the AMS divisor mechanism will reduce their list vote so severely that it’ll be too low to have a chance of winning any list seats.

Actually, we have always qualified that much more carefully. We say that it becomes ‘very difficult’ for the SNP to win seats. Even if everyone who votes SNP in the constituency vote votes SNP in the list – which is highly unlikely – they can at best win a few seats, and, at worst, none.

Therefore, runs the theory, any list votes cast for the SNP will be wasted and should instead be “lent” to the Greens, RISE, Solidarity or other parties of the pro-Yes left in order to defeat Unionist parties.

Yes – and we also make the case that that is the best way to ensure that there are less unionist places won on the list and that both the Scottish Government and a significant chunk of the opposition will be pro-independence. A strategic advantage that goes beyond narrow party interest

It seems an attractive case. It has the advantage of “truthiness”, which means that it’s easy to get over in a couple of sentences, it sounds logical, and it takes quite a lot of time and detail to explain the flaws.

It is an attractive case, and it has ‘truthiness’ because it is true. It sounds logical because it is logical. Yes, our case for a specific appeal to SNP voters to lend their list vote to Solidarity, the Greens or RISE on this one occasion does depend on the polls for the SNP in the constituencies staying high and SNP voters having the confidence when they go the polls that the SNP will have an outright majority to form a Government on the constituency vote alone. That is why many of us who are not SNP party members are calling for a vote for the SNP in the constituency from the smaller pro-indy parties and the non-aligned YES voters.

It’s not simply a one-sided ‘lending of votes’ being proposed. It is a political act of reciprocity to continue the process of weakening the forces of unionism and strengthening the forces of independence in the run up to the next referendum – whenever that may be.)

By rank carelessness, we seem to find ourselves in a position where (opposing the 'YES Alliance' position our job.

And our job to counter your argument, Rev

The argument’s great appeal is that in an abstract theoretical sense it’s true – there IS a statistical point where tactical votes could deliver more pro-Yes seats. The fatal weaknesses are that (a) that spot is incredibly narrow and to either side of it you do more harm than good, and (b) it’s absolutely impossible to predict it in advance and tailor your vote accordingly.

No evidence is offered for these objections. And with good reason. The proposition that it is easier to win list places for independence by dividing the independence vote between SNP in the constituencies and Greens, Solidarity, RISE on the list is mathematically irrefutable, given the pre-condition that the SNP will win all or the huge majority of constituency seats. To answer the argument on predictability – you can be abstract and say nothing is ever truly predictable – but in pragmatic reality SNP voters will have a good idea going into the polling both whether the polls have held up. And we know from the General Election experience that a second SNP Tsunami in the constituencies is likely.

To understand it, we need to start with first principles, namely the fact that under AMS, if you get 100% of the list vote you get all the list seats, even if you’ve already got all the constituency seats.

Aye, and that’s going to happen...

This tells us that it IS possible to get list seats even in a constituency landslide – to find out where that stops being the case, we just need to work out exactly where the cut-off point below 100% is.

Nobody has said it isn’t possible, simply that a vote for one of the smaller pro-indy parties has much greater weight in this instance because they won’t stand in – or more importantly win – any constituency seats.

Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no way of doing that, for several reasons.

1. You don’t know what percentage of the vote the landslide party will get.

Polling is a snapshot, not a prediction. Even in the last month before the 2007 Holyrood election, polls found SNP leads of anywhere from 12% to just 2%. In late August of 2006 – almost exactly the same distance we currently are from the 2016 election – a poll had Labour 8% in front.

Basing any sort of 2016 voting strategy on current polls, then, is idiotic. Even days away from the vote, let alone months, it simply won’t be possible to reliably say what any party’s list vote will be. (You’d think the mass failure to predict the Tory majority in May would be proof enough of that, but seemingly not.)

Talk about the advantage of ‘truthiness’, Rev Stu… spoilt by use of the pejorative idiotic this almost sounds like a coherent objection, but it’s not when you stand back and think about it. We have never said anything other than it will be up to the voters to decide which way they vote and they will undoubtedly take a number of factors into account. Our appeal is for voters to vote SNP in the constituency, ensuring an SNP Government and Greens, Solidarity or RISE in the list to ensure a majority of pro-independence opposition MSPs. And dragging in the vagaries of the English voter and the wholly different first past the post system does seem a bit desperate.

2. A constituency landslide doesn’t prevent list seats.

Even on current polling, though, SNP list seats look probable. The party got list seats in all but one Scottish region in 2011, even where they won most or all of the constituencies – they got one in North East Scotland on 52% of the vote despite winning EVERY constituency seat, and three list seats in Highlands & Islands on just 47% of the vote despite winning six out of eight constituencies.

Earlier this week the Electoral Reform Society projected, based on current polling figures, eight list seats for the SNP on a 54% vote share, even after sweeping up 71 of the 73 constituency seats.

If you get one list seat in a constituency landslide you’re also more likely to get more, because the ongoing effect of the divisor is much less dramatic.

First of all, 2016 is NOT 2011. You cannot wind the clock back in terms of the consciousness of the YES movement. In 2011 the SNP was the only serious game in town. In 2016 the Greens will pick up many more list places and RISE and Solidarity will mount well funded, energetic and coherent efforts.

And your statistics show that even if the SNP wins 54% on the list vote, it can ‘at best’ win one list seat in each region. That leaves six other potential seats that could go to the unionist parties on each regional list. If even half of those SNP votes were divided equally between the smaller pro-indy parties, however, every list would see at least 3 pro-indy places filled on the list and possibly four in Glasgow, leaving the unionist parties to scrabble for just 23 or 24 list seats for the whole of Scotland, and creating a real chance of a pro-indy opposition as well as a pro-indy Government. Is that not a vision worth fighting for?

3. You can’t predict local factors.

Even amid this year’s overwhelming SNP victory at Westminster, one MP from each Unionist party resisted the Nat tsunami – Ian Murray in Edinburgh, David Mundell in the Borders and Alistair Carmichael in the Northern Isles.

As we discovered on Sunday, any single constituency seat can affect the list outcome in unpredictable ways. In a hypothetical example using totally random figures, we saw how a Conservative constituency win brought the Tories no overall gains, but gave Labour an extra seat at the expense of the SNP.

So the SNP may not win EVERY constituency seat, but it’s on course to win the vast majority. The ‘Yes Alliance’/Steve Arnott’ position is one of organised reciprocity in the YES movement. If you are a YESSER but aren’t naturally SNP strengthen their hand in the constituencies by voting SNP. If you are a YESSER and an SNP voter and you are confident the SNP are going to win an outright majority, vote for one of the smaller indy parties on the list, for all the reasons outlined above

4. People don’t actually like voting tactically.

(Evidence shows that people can and will vote tactically when they believe it can achieve positive outcomes)

The “SNPout” campaign in May’s UK general election was highly motivated, organised and funded, and was also relentlessly publicised and supported by a sympathetic media. Yet its effect was almost zero, despite the fact that in most Scottish constituencies it was incredibly easy to tell which party was best placed to defeat the SNP.

The unionists are disunited and split so we should be too…what kind of argument is that?

At the end of the day, people are simply reluctant to vote for any party other than the one they really support. You’ll be lucky to get as many as 5% to do it, and for tactical list voting to start to work you need figures closer to 40%.

Again – you are conceptually returning to politics as normal. But if we had politics as normal the SNP would not have won 56 seats in the General Election. Loads of voters – who did not previously support the SNP voted SNP. The referendum and the YES movement changed everything. For a huge section of the electorate independence is the number one issue and ending austerity a very close and inttertwined second. For the prize of decisively weakening unionism, having a more diverse indy voice in the parliament and possibly having a pro-indy opposition, our appeal can and will have relevance. Simply stating that it will never happen because…er, it never happened before no longer washes in these post referendum times.

Tactical voting is hugely more effective in FPTP elections than AMS ones like Holyrood, but even with every possible advantage the Pouters failed dismally. A tactical Yes vote at Holyrood would be orders of magnitude more difficult.

Eh? Scrabbling about a bit for an argument now, surely…the only thing that appears to be making this difficult appears died in the wool SNP party interests that want to put the wider YES movement back in its box.

5. The tactical vote itself is split.

And of course, none of those advantages will apply next year. The pro-Yes but non-SNP vote will be divided among several parties. The small number of voters prepared to vote tactically in the first place will have to decide whether their list vote goes to the Greens, Solidarity, the unknown factor of newcomer RISE, or someone else.

We already know from Monday’s article what happens when an “anti-X” vote can’t agree which direction to attack from – as well as the hilarious slapstick farce of the Pouters, we also saw how SNP and Green votes cannibalised each other at the 2014 European elections and let UKIP steal a Scottish seat.

UKIP won a Scottish seat because of the UK media’s constant hyping of them as a main party and the incessant coverage they received, not because the SNP and Greens cannibalised each other.

And diversity is a strength for us, not a weakness. The smaller indy parties are looking for a much smaller level of pro-indy success than the SNP, and its deliverable. 10 list seats for the Greens and 5 apiece for Solidarity and RISE would be regarded as a great success and might be enough to ensure they out-populated Labour in the Scottish Parliament.

We apologise if we’re repeating ourselves. And once again, we’re not telling anyone how to vote – if you want a RISE or Green or Solidarity MSP, vote for them.

But “the sweet spot” is a fantasy. It can only be identified in retrospect – standing in the polling booth you have no way of knowing what your vote will do. You may as well lob a brick into a bouncy castle blindfolded and hope it hits a child molester.

Lovely metaphor, but it doesn’t even pass your own test of ‘truthiness’. The sweet spot as you call it exists, but the better metaphor is that of an open goal for the YES movement to stroke one in - to put YES in the political Champion's League and leave the unionists struggling in second tier competition. All that it requires is for the polls to stay good for the SNP, a non-party visionary approach to what can be achieved in 2016, and for sufficient numbers of YES voters to grasp the historic possibilities when they go to the polls.

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.

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left


The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books