The fallout from the referendum continues to confound established political wisdom. ‘To the victor, the spoils’ does not sit very well with the situation Scottish Labour finds itself it. Johann Lamont’s reasons for resigning as party leader revealed the depth of what was suspected for a long time over the Falkirk inquiry, the bedroom tax, the sacking of Ian Price, policy on the devolution of income tax and so on, namely, that Scottish Labour despite its recent enhanced autonomy remains a ‘branch plant’ of British Labour. All this makes it seem that the notion – ‘a week is a long time in politics’ – does not nearly go far enough in capturing how quickly deep seated change can take place before our very eyes. That said, we’re not quite in the realms yet – to quote Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto – of ‘all that is solid melts into air’.
Whether we get any closer to that outcome will depend upon a number of critical events, most obviously the results of the elections of May 2015 and May 2016 and whether an effective extra-parliamentary anti-austerity alliance ever really gets off the ground. There have now been 14,000 submissions to the Smith Commission on enhanced devolution so the question becomes what impact will these have, if any (especially as they may be usurped by the horse-trading by the three main UK parties before and after the May 2015 election).
Another crucial ingredient here will be the future of the Scottish Labour under its new leader. Scottish Left Review very much welcomes the decision by Neil Findlay MSP to contest the election (and all the more so given that Jim Murphy is said by the media to be the front runner). Merely by standing, Neil Findlay can assert what traditional Labour values and policy are in a way that it credible. Siren calls by the likes of Margaret Curran to do the same are just not believable. Neil has shown through his campaigning work on blacklisting and justice for victimised miners that not only is he connected to the union movement (and wider left) in a way that is not true of most other Labour MSPs but he is also one of its most effective advocates. And he comes from a non-apparatchik background (once being a bricklayer, housing officer and teacher). Of course, if Neil was to win or do well enough to clip the wings of the winner, the cause of the progressive left polices would be much advanced in Scotland. The affiliated unions could make sure of this (as Aslef and Unison have just done). The same is true of Katy Clark’s candidacy for deputy leader. We wish her well too.
This brings to mind an interesting recent comment by George Kerevan. Writing in the Scotsman (22 October), he pronounced that ‘Scottish politics is now dominated by two social democratic parties’. By this, he meant Labour and the SNP. Would that it were that simple and that good! If Neil is elected as Scottish Labour leader this could begin to come true. But what of the SNP? Under Nicola Sturgeon, it will move to the left but does that mean it will become a social democratic party?
The definitive meaning of social democracy in modern times is that the state (directed by a social democratic party) intervenes in the processes and outcomes of the market in order to ameliorate them – in other words, regulate capitalism for the betterment of the masses.
The political pitch of the SNP will still be based under Nicola on stopping things (inequality, poverty etc) from getting worse (obviously under enhanced devolution as well as under some future independence). This is not the same as making things better – and that is because the SNP is politically not prepared to advocate or implement political actions that regulate capital and capitalism. Worryingly Sturgeon has adopted the slogan ‘One Scotland’ which echoes Miliband’s ‘One Nation Britain’ – neither is prepared to deal with the rampant class inequalities that exist and assume that social partnership is possible and desirable. But the SNP will bask in the warmth of not being the Labour Party (especially if Murphy is elected) in a way that used to be true of Labour not being the Tories
Outside of Labour, the Scottish Left Project has been established to try to create some unity amongst the fractious left for the forthcoming elections. But can unity translate into effectiveness and credibility? We await the results. Meantime, it seems the Radical Independence Campaign will not become a membership organisation any time soon and nor will a new political party emerge from it. It faces a considerable challenge in maintaining its momentum after its November 2014 conference.
The aforementioned contours of politics in Scotland continue to provide the compass and bearings for this edition of the Scottish Left Review. The contributors carry on the discussion begun in the September issue (see http://www.scottishleftreview.scot/). We now revert back to our tradition of having on-theme and off-theme articles. The latter deals with a number of other important subjects.