Support for Labour in Scotland can be built only by winning back Labour voters who switched to the SNP

May 2, 2017 at 4:54 pm (campaigning, elections, labour party, nationalism, reformism, scotland, socialism)

Image result for picture Blair McDougall campaign leaflet East Renfrewshire

Alternatively, he could campaign to win back ex-Labour voters from the SNP …

By Dale Street

Scottish Labour candidates need to fight the forthcoming general election on the basis of policies which challenge the inequalities of wealth and power inherent in capitalism, and which will mobilise the labour movement not just to vote Labour but to fight for those policies whatever the outcome of the election.

All Labour candidates throughout the UK should be campaigning on that basis. But the importance of such an election campaign is all the greater where specifically labour-movement and class-based politics have been squeezed out by competing nationalisms.

And that is the case in Scotland, where opinion polls currently show the SNP on 41% (50% in 2015), the Tories on 28% (13% in 2015), and Labour on 18% (24% in 2015 – and 42% in 2010).

Based on a now largely discredited and disowned White Paper, the SNP’s pro-independence campaign in 2014 polarised the Scottish electorate around national identities and attitudes to independence.

The momentum from that initial polarisation carried over into the 2015 general election. The SNP ran a straightforward nationalist campaign, promising to “stand up for Scotland”, give Scotland “a stronger voice” and “make Scotland stronger” in Westminster.

Despite having lost the 2014 referendum, the SNP consolidated the bulk of “Yes” voters into its electoral base. Aided by the first-past-the-post system, it won 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies.

The same momentum and the same polarisation also helped the SNP win the Holyrood elections of 2016, even if it lost its previous absolute majority at Holyrood.

At the same time, British nationalism began to consolidate its own political base, in the form of a boost in electoral support for the Tories. Pitching themselves as the foremost champions of the Union, the Tories increased their representation at Holyrood in 2016 from 15 to 31.

As the nationalist polarisation of politics in Scotland intensified and day-to-day politics increasingly degenerated into a permanent referendum campaign, Labour was squeezed remorselessly between the two competing nationalisms.

Despite standing on an election manifesto with a clear focus on social and economic issues, and one which advocated policies well to the left of the SNP, the 2016 Holyrood election saw the number of Labour MSPs collapse 37 to 24, leaving the Tories as the official opposition.

Sturgeon’s announcement in March that she wanted to secure a Westminster section 30 Order, to allow a second referendum to be held on Scottish independence, added a further boost to what was already a solidly entrenched political polarisation around national identities.

Scottish nationalists, whose sole political purpose in life is to secure Scottish independence, were given a fresh lease of life. Only too happy to ignore the SNP’s actual record during its ten years of power at Holyrood, they were able to wrap themselves in a Saltire again.

Inevitably, the SNP’s demand for another referendum, backed in breach of their manifesto commitments by Green MSPs, triggered a fresh surge of support for the Tories. Winning between eight and ten seats in the forthcoming general election is now a real possibility for the Tories.

It suits both the SNP and the Tories to transform the general election in Scotland into a referendum on a second referendum.

Whereas Scottish Labour backs federalism and Corbyn would not oppose a second referendum, the Tories are standing as the most reliable opponents of independence and another referendum: “We Said NO in 2014. We Meant It.”

This conveniently diverts attention away from the Tories’ actual record in power in Westminster since 2010, and also away from the policies which the Tories are fighting this general election on at a national level.

The SNP initially wobbled on how to present the general election, adopting three different positions between 18th April and 27th April, before falling in line behind Alex Salmond and treating the election as a referendum on a second referendum.

This likewise conveniently diverts attention away from the SNP’s record as a party of government in Holyrood over the past ten years:

Literacy and numeracy standards have declined, child poverty has increased, FE teacher and student places have been decimated, relative poverty has increased, inequalities in access to HE have increased, the NHS has suffered from shortages of doctors, nurses and GPs, the gap between rich and poor has increased, and Scotland’s economy now teeters on the brink of recession.

Insofar as the general election in Scotland remains a clash between two flags, two national identities and two nationalist ideologies, the chances for the Labour Party to win support for a specific labour movement response to the failures of ten years of SNP rule and seven years of Tory rule are correspondingly reduced.

Scottish Labour candidates need to transform the terrain on which the general election is fought. But some candidates – all of whom were selected by a sub-committee of the Scottish Labour Executive Committee – seem to want to out-Tory the Tories.

According to the first election campaign leaflet from Blair McDougall, former Director of “Better Together” and now Labour candidate for East Renfrewshire, for example: “I ran the winning campaign against independence. Now I want your vote to say No to a second referendum. On 8th June Vote Labour and Say No to the SNP.”

This epitomises just about everything wrong with the approach to the election adopted by the right wing of Scottish Labour.

McDougall’s electoral strategy is to win over Tory voters to voting Labour. But if they were unwilling to switch to voting Labour under Blair, they are even less likely to switch to voting Labour under Corbyn.

Support for Labour in Scotland can be built only by winning back Labour voters who switched to the SNP. But the focus of what McDougall proposes in his leaflet is tactical voting by the Tories to defeat – as opposed to win over – SNP voters.

To win back ex-Labour voters who switched to the SNP, Scottish Labour needs to tear off the “Red Tories” label which the SNP stuck on it after the “Better Together” campaign. McDougall, on the other hand, boasts of his role as “Better Together” Director.

(Not that there is actually anything to boast about. At the start of the referendum campaign support for independence stood at around 20%. By the end of the campaign it had more than doubled to 45%.)

Above all, McDougall’s campaign focuses on the possibility, or likelihood, of another referendum. But defining another referendum as the key issue in the election can only push ex-Labour voters further into the arms of the SNP, and also help boost support for Tory Unionists.

Scottish Labour candidates contesting seats in the general election includes members of the Campaign for Socialism/Momentum Scotland.

They have the opportunity to campaign, and to seek to influence the election campaign at a Scottish level, in a way which places basic class issues and labour movement politics to the fore.

The ability of the labour movement in Scotland to continue to represent a political pole of attraction and an electoral force depends on how successful they will be in the coming weeks in advocating class politics as an alternative to SNP and Tory nationalisms.

The pro-independence left, on the other hand, could do far worse than spend the election campaign working out how they could have got things so wrong.

They campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote in 2014, pretending that they were putting forward a socialist case for independence as opposed to functioning as no more than an echo chamber for the SNP.

They welcomed the defeat of labour movement politics by nationalism in 2015, deluding themselves into believing that it created a mass opening for socialist politics, only to be brutally disabused of such illusions when they stood candidates in 2016.

And now, because one nationalism begets another, they would find that the space for advocating socialist politics has narrowed even further – if it were not for the fact that they have now adopted support for a second referendum as a surrogate for fighting for socialist politics.


  1. Mick said,

    A flurry of electoral kicks to the left’s balls keep the Red vision as blurry as ever.

    The SNP are already feeling the chill winds as the General Election may see 12 of their Parliamentary seats going to the Tories and the public mood for ‘independence’ colder than ever. Scotland just couldn’t afford to go it alone and the EU say they won’t let them in.

    Whinges about nationalism and capitalism fall on as many deaf ears already, as abstract concepts don’t interest the public – just being appreciated and served by politicians. Something which the divided boobies in Labour can’t understand even when they say they won’t halt a second referendum. Indeed, any incarnation of Labour would never have given us a referendum on Brexit. (They never even gave on on Lisbon.)

    The fact is that the noisy left are divisive, divided, internicine, denouncing, idiotic, illiberal and have no thought to debate when being overbearing will do. They don’t even enjoy each other, never mind the white van men and bigoted women who are supposed to enjoy their genius!

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Mick, strange thing is they are not left just pretend left and capitalists. When did you last hear a socialist saying they wanted to end capitalism!
      The problem is is that there is not enough parliamentary seats in the gravy train. The EU gravy train of wasters will be mentioned in dispatches. I do hope the British will have the bottle to kick this fascist beaurocracy into touch.

      • Mick said,

        Just today I spoke with a socialist wanting to end capitalism, at a Militant propaganda stall in Reading.

        Well, he was an odd anti-capitalist. Asking a few questions, I found he thought the unions too corrupt. And that he was fine with people getting rich, having tax breaks if they create jobs or buy their own council houses. He was just miffed at the austerity cutbacks and not enough new houses, both of which can be better settled under capitalism once the economy is back at full speed and a few people knowing what they’re doing.

        Militant are turning him into a useful idiot though. He gave me his paper and I saw he quoted his cliches directly, like anyone not Militant isn’t a real socialist. But my experience underlines the point that various captains of the left are absolutely bloody mad and corrupt decent people more than they help.

  2. John Rogan said,

    The word “Brexit” isn’t mentioned once in the article which is surprising as that is the defining issue not only of this General Election but the argument for a 2nd Scottish Referendum.

    As the effects of Brexit hit hard after the General Election, then it will probably boost the SNP’s case. After all, they could argue, why should Scotland not take advantage of England’s difficulties? For example, they could make a strong case for various companies to move over the border if an independent Scotland were to stay in the EU.

    The numbers don’t look good for a winning Indy Ref at the moment but, as the Brexit economic pain starts to hit, it doesn’t take much imagination to see them rising. Especially as the Labour Party, left and right, are now pro-Brexit, only arguing against a “Tory Hard Brexit” (as if Labour would get a different deal). In reality, Labour are now arguing against what the Tories want to do after we leave rather than being against the idea.

    You know, I’ve always been anti-Independence but, if it ends up being a choice between living in Tory Poundland UK or an “indy” Scotland in the EU, I might be tempted if I lived in Scotland.

    • Mick said,

      The EU doesn’t want Scotland. The UK does and Scots saw the secure benefits.

      The EU demands we bestow full citizenship rights on its citizens here but refuses to do the same for our citizens there. They put our Brexit bill up to £85 billion and they say Theresa May lives on a different galaxy, just for wanting a deal which doesn’t humiliate us.

      Well you don’t have to stay, if you know who are the better masters. France and Ireland are happily close. Your suitcases are waiting and so are the transports.

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        Mick we owe them nothing. MSP’S and their flunkies should get the same payouts as British workers which is around 8k. Some of them will have to work for a living after brexit.

  3. Dale Street said,

    In response to the points raised by John Rogan:

    1) The article does not mention Brexit because its focus is the polarisation in Scottish society resulting from the rise of Scottish nationalism and the poisonous role which it plays in Scottish politics. Brexit is not irrelevant to that. But it is not of central importance. The polarisation dates from 2014. The issue of Brexit dates from 2016.

    2) As is always the case with the SNP, the SNP’s attitude to Brexit is purely opportunistic. In the EU referendum the SNP spent less money campaigning for a ‘Remain’ vote than it could spend, and has spent, in a Westminster by-election. In an article in the “Sunday Herald” just before the referendum Sturgeon wrote that the best way to secure a second referendum on Scottish independence was to vote ‘Remain’ – hardly an endorsement in principle of EU membership. And if it wasn’t Brexit, the SNP would latch on to some other pretext to demand a second referendum.

    3) A third of SNP voters voted ‘Leave’ in June of last year. The SNP cannot be overly pro-EU without alienating those SNP voters and potentially losing their support in a second referendum. In recent months/weeks Sturgeon and Salmond have therefore not been talking about an independent Scotland in the EU but about an independent Scotland “in a European context”. And although a majority of people in Scotland voted ‘Remain’, recent surveys show that their key concerns in Brexit in negotiations are pretty much the same as those of English voters.

    4) Support for Scottish independence has not increased since the EU referendum. It is still around 45% for, 55% against. Brexit negotiations may increase support – or they may decrease it. As the Brexit negotiations become increasingly ugly, it will bring home to people how much more ugly would be negotiations to take Scotland out of the UK, especially given that the Scottish and English economies and social structures are much more intertwined that those of the UK and the EU.

    5) Brexit does not weaken the economic arguments against Scottish independence. Scottish-UK trade far outstrips Scottish EU trade. And the EU will not step in with a £9 billions annual grant to Scotland per year to plug the gap left by scrapping the Barnett Formula. That’s not how the EU works. Although it was 100% correct to campaign for a ‘Remain’ vote last year, that should not mean pretending, or slipping into the illusion, that the EU is some kind of benevolent institution.

    6) Insofar as it would have been relevant to have raised the issue of Brexit in the article, the point to be made is: Like everything else, the SNP poses the issue in purely Scottish-nationalist terms. It argues that England voted ‘Leave’ (ignoring the 13 millions who voted ‘Remain’), that Scotland voted ‘Remain’ (ignoring the million who voted ‘Leave’), and that this equates to a mandate for a second referendum on Scottish referendum (thereby adding to the political polarisation, given that a layer of Scottish ‘Remain’ voters are justifiably angered by their vote in the EU referendum being abused as an excuse to demand a second referendum on Scottish independence). The SNP does not advocate a UK-wide campaign against Brexit (linking up with 13 million people in England). It does not advocate tactical voting (to return a majority of anti-Brexit MPs on June 8th). It simply advocates that Scotland should go its own way.

    7) Brexit is not an issue on the doorsteps. That fact that Labour (wrongly) voted for the Brexit Bill is not an issue either. What is an issue for the true SNP supporters and activists is that Labour are ‘Red Tories’. In 2017, the Labour Party of which Jeremy Corbyn is the elected leader, the Labour Party which in 2015 (general election), in 2016 (Holyrood elections) and now in 2017 (general election) had/has manifestoes well to the left of those of the SNP are … Red Tories! That’s how Scottish nationalism, like any other nationalism, completely f****s up your head.

    8) The fault-line in Scottish politics is now not one of class but one of national identity. And as anyone who has seen the front page of today’s issue of “The National” will know, the Scottish nationalists think that that constitutes a real victory. From their point of view, of course, it is. But from any labour-movement point of view, even a not overly left-wing one, it is a defeat for class politics. Brexit may or may not lead to an increase in support for Scottish independence. But like everything else in contemporary Scotland, attempts to pose the issue in class terms are overwhelmed by two reactionary nationalisms.

    • Mick said,

      Interesting. Though Labour rightly voted for the Brexit bill to validate the referendum result further.

    • John Rogan said,

      Thank you for writing such an extensive reply.

      However, while I wouldn’t describe the EU as a “benevolent organisation”, I have more faith in them at the moment to protect and defend the interests of EU citizens in this country than any of the “three-line whip to support Article 50” Labour MPs.

      It is incredible that Labour has its “most left-wing Leader ever” yet is now backing Brexit fully. Of course, there are weasel words about how nice the UK has to be to EU citizens here but, you know, it’s what you do that matters (three-line whip to back Article 50) rather than what you say.

      As for Scotland and “reactionary nationalisms”, well, many would just try to take the pragmatic option when they’re faced with difficult choices. For example, many would think if it was the choice between an anti-Brexit, pro-EU citizens’ rights (e.g. residency, pensions) SNP candidate and a pro-Brexit, pro-“Bargaining Chip” Tory, then they’d vote for the SNP candidate as the least worst option. Indyref can be discussed another day. This assumes Labour putting up a no-chance candidature (which it will be in many seats).

      As for Labour elsewhere, well, in Vauxhall, who would you vote for? The “Vote Labour, Get Ukip” Kate Hoey or the Lib Dem. The only way here many would think to support and defend EU citizens and, indeed all migrants, is firmly against Hoey and for the Lib Dem. Pragmatism, yet again.

      I’m still (just about) in Labour but I doubt I’ll be for long. It is now a fully pledged Brexit, anti-immigrant party because, you know, “immigrants cut wages” is now the mantra of many prominent Labour figures (Andy Burnham) and repeated by the TrotKippers of the Socialist Party.

      Within the upper echelons of Labour, my German wife and our children are now considered part of the “immigration problem we need to discuss” by the likes of Yvette Cooper. After the coming rout on June 8th, there will most likely be a Labour leadership contest where all the main candidates will be Brexit backers (including Corbyn) where their only concern will be for control of the Party and making up fantasy Brexit deals that they say they could make if they were in charge.

      And, that’s the sickest joke of all in this election, when Labour MPs and the Shadow Cabinet make out that there is a “Labour Brexit” compared to a “Tory Brexit”. The underlying logic of opposing a “Hard Tory Brexit” is an acceptance that a) Brexit is a done-deal and b) there’s an argument about the policies a Government should do afterwards.

      “Brexit means Brexit” and it means jobs migrating as we leave the Single Market (backed by Labour), tax revenues going down and the NHS and other public services suffering as a result. Many Labour MPs voted for Article 50 knowing the economic chaos that would result but, in the hope of attracting enough Kippers in their seats to hold on. Now, ha ha, we can see that Ukip is indeed a gateway drug to voting Tory as that’s what many are doing.

      Always remember this, it is the EU27 (and regional Parliaments) who will decide the terms of Brexit. They will do so in a unified manner to cause the least amount of disruption to themselves. It will, therefore, be a Hard Brexit. Read everything the EU heads have said since last June as it appears that neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn have done so.

  4. kb72 said,

    Politics here in North Britain are unutterably depressing, stuck in the Nationalist vs Unionist groove.

    Local elections today. The SNP candidate for my ward is a good guy & I’d be happy to vote for him. But stuffed if I’m going to vote for him & the Green and give the slightest encouragement for another (unwanted) indyref.

    Meanwhile Sturgeon pretended that the General Election was not about indyref2 (she has since changed tack) whereas anyone with half a brain knows that it’s the only subject.

  5. Political Tourist said,

    Going at the rate at what’s left of the SLAB vote are pissing off to the Tories, there might not be SLAB party by the Glasgow Fair Fortnight in July.
    Neither London or Edinburgh but International Socialism.
    hee hee.

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