After the referendum: Scottish left falls in behind SNP

October 3, 2014 at 7:25 am (Cross-post, left, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", scotland, Sheridan, Socialist Party, SWP, unions)

bag piper in kilt with rippled Scottish flag Illustration Stock Photo - 3474908

By Dale Street
Cross-posted from Workers Liberty

The working class voted “yes”. The Labour Party is finished. And we need a new mass socialist party.

To one degree or another, and in one form or another, these have been the three main responses of the pro-independence left to the result of the 18 September referendum.

The first element has some degree of truth to it. Three of the four regions which had a “yes” majority (even if not a very large one) are traditional Labour strongholds. The fourth (Dundee) used to be a Labour stronghold, until New Labour decided the sitting Labour MP John McAllion was a liability.

But it is also true that large sections of the working class voted “no”. In any case nationalist separatism stands at odds with the basic labour movement principle of uniting people of different nationalities and national identities.

Any socialist welcoming “the working-class ‘yes’ vote” is welcoming the divisive poison of nationalism penetrating into working-class politics. To try to build on that basis — as the pro-independence left is now attempting — amounts to adding another dose of the same poison.

The demise of Labour? According to the Socialist Party (Scotland):

“13% of USDAW members in Scotland have resigned from the union in protest. Unite is receiving many requests from members looking to cancel their membership because it is affiliated to the Labour Party. Unison is also reporting a series of resignations as workers’ anger over Labour’s role escalates.”
Unlike the SPS, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) has pointed out that resigning from a trade union is not a good idea. The SSP Industrial Organiser proposes a different way to “punish” Labour:

“We should organise mass withdrawal from payment of members’ fees to Labour in those unions affiliated to Labour. Demand instead that the unions make the break from Labour and help build a mass, working-class socialist party.”

So members of the CWU — which polled its members in Scotland and then adopted policy in favour of a “no” vote at its national conference — should demand that their union disaffiliate from the Labour Party because Labour took the same position on the referendum as their union?

And so too should members of USDAW and GMB who took democratic decisions in favour of “no”?

Labour advocated a “no” vote. The majority of the electorate took the same position and voted against independence. The usual name for something being decided and implemented on the basis of a majority vote is “democracy”.

The call for unions to disaffiliate from Labour because of Labour’s support for a ‘no’ vote amounts to a divisive nationalist attack on the workers’ movement.

No “no” supporter would support disaffiliation on that basis. And it elevates the nationalist demand for an independent Scotland over and above the right of trade unions to base their policy on internal decision-making processes.

The SWP boasts that “we have sold thousands of copies of Socialist Worker and recruited dozens of people.” The SPS makes similar claims. The SSP boasts that “2,200 (at the time of writing, over a mere five days) have applied to join the SSP”!

That’s nothing compared to the 18,000 new members claimed by the SNP. Not to worry about that. An article on the SPS website explains: They join the SNP. They discover that it does not have a Marxist programme. They quit in disgust. They join the mass socialist party which the SPS is building.

In terms of building something broader than their own organisations, the SPS advocates building its Trade Union and Socialist Coalition:

“TUSC represents the best opportunity to ensure that anti-cuts, pro-trade-union and socialist candidates stand in the elections in Scotland next May.”

The SWP calls for a new, broader party to bring together “yes” supporters: “It can agree on a basic set of anti-capitalist policies, be democratic, grass-roots-based and centred on activity. It would stand in elections but not be obsessed about them.”

Generously, the SWP would allow “no” supporters into such a party. That people voted ‘no’ “doesn’t mean they are scabs.”

But the last attempt to build a united left party in Scotland collapsed when the SWP and SPS split the SSP by backing Sheridan after he walked out of the SSP. And the political fallout from that split continues today.

The SWP gets round this issue by simply declaring: “This party (i.e. the new party) cannot be defined by the splits in the Scottish Socialist Party a decade ago or about splits in the left at some point.”

The SSP has not put forward any proposals for a broad party of the left. This is because they think that they already are that party, presumably because they are hoping for many more recruits.

The “yes” campaign provided a natural home, playing a leading role in the new mass workers party. Both the SWP and the SPS look forward to Tommy Sheridan for Sheridan’s bandstanding demagogy.

According to the SPS: “If a political figure with a mass base of support among the working class like Tommy Sheridan made such a call, backed by leading trade unionists, socialists, etc., a new working-class party would become a force of thousands within a couple of weeks.”

The problem for the SWP and SPS scenario is that Sheridan has come out in favour of a vote for the SNP in next year’s general election:

“I suggest that we in the Yes movement promote continued unity by backing the most likely independence-supporting candidate at next May’s election. In concrete terms, that means advocating an SNP vote to try and unseat as many pro-No supporters as possible.”

Despite the entrenched hostility between the SSP and Sheridan, the SSP Industrial Organiser, who carries some weight within the SSP, has come out with a similar position:

“In the 2015 Westminster elections, I personally would support the idea of a Yes Alliance, a pro-independence slate of candidates (whatever the exact name) embracing the three parties that were in Yes Scotland – SNP, SSP and Greens – and others who were part of that coalition.”

That’s one of the things about abandoning class-based politics and selling out to nationalism: it develops a dynamic of its own.

The SSP Industrial Organiser is equally enthusiastic about the prospects for the 2016 Holyrood elections:

“All those tens of thousands who fought for a Yes vote could fix their sights on winning an absolute majority of pro-independence MSPs in 2016.

“Referenda are but one means of winning independence. The democratic election of a majority of MSPs who favour independence in 2016 would surely be equally a mandate for Scottish independence?”

Despite its aversion to an electoral alliance with the SNP, the SPS shares the SSP’s perspectives for 2016:

“If the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for parties that back independence, it could also be a trigger for a mandate for independence… Or it could lead to an immediate referendum in 2016 or 2017.”

Despite the 55%/45% vote against independence in the referendum a fortnight ago, the pro-independence left wants to keep the issue of independence centre-stage, seeks to win trade union disaffiliation from the Labour Party on that basis, and proposes an electoral alliance with the SNP.

And while denouncing the Labour Party for supposedly “denying the Scottish people democracy”, it also looks forward to, and advocates, independence for Scotland in the absence of any further referendum.

Is the pro-independence left now politically dead and beyond resuscitation?


  1. Joe Baxter said,

    should that read “Scottish left”?

    • Jim Denham said,

      Yes: I’ve just noticed and corrected. Thanks anyway, Joe.

  2. Rosie said,

    The SNP is getting a mass of recruits. I’d guess a lot aren’t in the habit of joining political parties but were so furious/energised at the result of the referendum that they headed there. I imagine quite a few will drop out when they find party political campaigning doesn’t have the razz-ma-tazz of the referendum campaigning. A lot of those recruits will be from the soft left i.e. not belonging to parties like the SSP but turning up at demos, signing petitions and the like. A left turning SNP will lose it votes from the tartan Tory lot. In fact a surprising percentage (can’t find the figures) of SNP supporters did not vote Yes. So they may embrace SNPism as some people vote Green – as a kind of protest vote or pressure group vote but would distrust the party with more substantial power.

    However there are now a host of slavish worshippers of Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond and they are perceived as the Opposition rather than the official opposition.

    The No parties united on the referendum but will go back to politics as usual. The No voters would like to retreat into their normal political apathy but the independence movement may get them voting tactically against a party that gives the likelihood of another referendum.

  3. Josiah Mortimer said,

    “The pro-independence left wants to keep the issue of independence centre-stage, seeks to win trade union disaffiliation from the Labour Party on that basis, and proposes an electoral alliance with the SNP”

    Erm, sounds good to me.

    • Jim Denham said,

      You’re not a socialist, then, Josiah?

      • Josiah Mortimer said,

        Of course I’m a socialist. One who doesn’t support Labour (like many/most, I imagine). I don’t support the SNP either but it’s hard to argue they’re not distinctly to the left of Labour.

        On the issue of independence, it’s not divisive – in fact it could inspire working-classes across the world that progressive self-determination is possible – a notion of leftist democratic localism we could all rally to. Also, as has been said many a time, internationalism is a thing, and theoretical borders (which would be far more open than the UK’s under independence) don’t have to mean much….

  4. februarycallendar said,

    I’ve got more sympathies than some here with the idea of Scottish independence (if I thought it could practically be achieved without further isolating people in my own position – i.e. socialists and broad internationalists in non-metropolitan southern England – my attitude to its possibility would have been and in fact would still be very different), and I have a great deal of sympathy with open borders as a principle, but assuming that Scottish independence at some future date would strengthen the “close the border” lobby at Westminster, it would in practice be very hard – in terms of the checks, balances and vulnerabilities of newly-international politics – for an independent Scotland to have such open borders without being under great pressure to have far more tightly-enforced border controls with England than I suspect it would want, or than would ever be practical. Even joining Schengen would be fraught with difficulty in these circumstances.

    I don’t like that any more than Josiah does – I’d love the whole UK to be in Schengen and I hate the border protection fetish in this country – but it would be a serious practical difficulty I’m afraid. The Republic of Ireland has always had ambitions to join Schengen, but has effectively had to stay out for the price of fortifying and guarding the Irish border to a far greater extent than anyone on either side of it wants, especially after what they went through in recent history. All I can say re. these difficulties is that, unlike large numbers of other people in places such as I live in, it’s not me, guv.

    (I also think 1968 is key, as I’ve argued before, and I would also say that had Scotland experienced the same levels of immigration as England, there might not be the same levels of comparative support among the mass of the population – as opposed to the more fervently Left-wing – for open borders. I wouldn’t like that any more than Josiah would, but I fear that would be the case.)

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