Reports of the “death” of the Scottish Labour Left are exaggerated

November 17, 2014 at 1:03 am (elections, labour party, scotland)

Neil Findlay MSP
Above: Neil Findlay

By Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective

The quote (actually a misquote) attributed to Mark Twain  that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated, could equally well apply to the Scottish Labour Left.  The vast majority of socialists in the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) campaigned for and voted “no” in the referendum  campaign. This in itself was enough for many in Left groups outside the SLP to consign it to the dustbin of history, rather  perversely given the long anti-nationalist history of the socialist movement.

Of course, and here I have some sympathy, this sat alongside  other accusations that the Scottish Labour Left had made little impact ideologically on the SLP, was numerically small,  and showed little sign of challenging for the political leadership of the party any time soon.

On Saturday 25 October, all of that changed.  It wasn’t just that the room booked for the Campaign for Socialism’s post-referendum analysis in the STUC in Glasgow  had standing room only; it was the renewed sense of purpose and commitment from so many of the speakers and participants.

First up among a high powered list of political, trade union  and local council speakers were Elaine Smith and Neil Findlay, both MSPs.

Elaine Smith argued that the reason for Scottish Labour’s  poor performance in its heartlands of Dundee, Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West Dumbarton was a lack of socialist analysis and socialist solutions.

“The root of the problem is class society; the root of the problem is inequality; the root of the problem is in-work poverty; the root of the problem is unemployment. The root of the problem is avaricious capitalism and our job and the job of the Labour Party, surely, is to root it out.” Neil Findlay spoke next, suggesting in some detail how Scottish Labour might go about the tasks that Elaine Smith had outlined arguing that Scottish Labour had to commit to:

• a policy of full employment;
• establish a national house-building programme to build
council houses and social housing on a grand scale;
• set up a living wage unit in the Scottish government that
would use grants, procurement and every lever of government
to raise the minimum wage to the living wage;
• re-democratise local government, financing services,
freeing councils to set their own taxes again and be held to account
for doing and so beginning to reverse the 40,000 job
losses across Scottish councils;
• end the social care scandal by making social care a rewarding,
fairly paid career and ending the indignity of shorttimed
care visits;
• create quality apprenticeships and new college places
that set young people up for life and develop an industrial
policy that promotes manufacturing and new sustainable
• undertake a wholesale review of the Scottish NHS — recruiting
enough staff and rewarding them to ensure an NHS
for the 21st century and ending the increasing spend on the
private sector;
• and, finally, build a charter of workers’ rights and new
legislation on equalities.

Neil Findlay’s contribution was all the more important given the announcement on the day before the conference that Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour Party had resigned, citing unacceptable interference from the UK Labour leadership, and ensuring a Scottish Labour leadership contest.

Neil Findlay has since announced his intention to stand for the vacant position, allowing the Scottish Labour Left to test the support for a Left agenda in the wider party. The anticipation of this challenge on 25 October generated considerable optimism. Since then, the respected left-wing MP Katy Clark has announced that she will stand for Deputy Leader alongside Findley.

This left programme is far from the Utopian promises of the Yes Left because it is actually deliverable and this Labour Left is far from a historical footnote. It may actually be on the verge of its most important hour.


  1. februarycallendar said,

    Keep at it, Vince and all your comrades.

    Many of us on the English Left are on your side, and see you as vital allies against ethnic nationalists and Europhobic pseudo-“patriots” here.

    And I completely agree with Elaine Smith about the Yes vote in those places; the SNP were able to win over so many historic Labour supporters because of deep, profound failings within Labour, specifically its Blairite tendency. The Yes vote captured much of the Scottish working class because Labour had largely abandoned them, not because the SNP itself was particularly in touch with them or particularly socialist. I tend to think it was more a default anti-Labour vote than an out-and-out endorsement of the SNP, which is in practice much more neoliberal than its reputation among much of the English Left would suggest.

    Anyway, keep on fighting. It is not just in Scotland that you have strong, fervent support.

  2. Aaron Aarons said,

    How can one discuss the general politics of any political party in an imperialist country, or a major semi-autonomous division of an imperialist country, without even mentioning that party’s attitude towards that country’s foreign and military policies?

  3. Juan P. Lewis said,

    “The Yes vote captured much of the Scottish working class”

    YES captured much of working class Glasgwegian and Dundee Labour vote, but it still lost in the rest of Scotland. In Glasgow the turn out was the lowest, so I wonder what would’ve happened if more people had voted. An important part of the Labour party campaigned FOR independence, so I don’t see why a lot of Labour voters wouldn’t have gone for it. Labour, for all its failings, it’s not a Stalinist party (at least not always), and disagreements within abound.

    YES was defeated in areas with a strong composition of working class votes like Inverclyde (50.1%), North Ayrshire (51%), Renfrewshire (52.8%) East Ayrshire (52.8%), etc.

    So, while it is true that more deprived areas tended to have a larger share of YES votes, the idea that YES carried the working classes has to be qualified.

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