The Scottish Labour Party under Jim Murphy can no longer represent its traditional working class base. Murphy is the personification of Labour’s new alliances: Tories during the referendum and overall, big business across the UK. The growing strain on the union link typifies the problems of political representation of working class interests. Scottish Labour under his leadership cannot deliver a left-wing agenda.
The astounding surge in SNP membership was undeniably bolstered by their positioning as the ‘social democratic’ party in Scotland, having easily wrestled the mantle from a shambolic Scottish Labour. The truth, as many will know, is that the SNP is hesitant to challenge inequality on a structural and systemic level.
The idea that the current Scottish Government presents a resolute challenge to neo-liberalism against the backdrop of the influence of corporate interests is a pure fallacy. The reality is that Scotland needs a plurality of political ideologies to make the challenge to neo-liberalism effective.
For the ‘yes’ voters in the Labour heartlands who were motivated by the left-wing narrative of the independence campaign, rather than by nationalism, this represents an ongoing and deepening crisis of political representation. Westminster’s legacy of failure in particular areas of Scotland and a general election promising no alternative were crucial factors to the traditional Labour base during the referendum campaign.
Rejecting the tiresome low-corporation tax promises of the SNP’s 2013 White Paper, the left-wing case for independence posed an alternative, radical and progressive programme for a newly independent Scotland. It was a vision which inspired thousands, and gave a home to trade unionists, traditional Labour voters and those who will be forever-reluctant to vote for the SNP. The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) brought together various left-wing groupings in a spirit of cooperation, trust and mutual respect, and from this it grew.
Hundreds of thousands of ‘yes’ votes then represented a challenge to austerity, a demand for democracy and an opportunity for change. As socialists, we must continue to defy the Westminster logic which pronounces neo-liberalism as common sense. And, if Scotland is to change forever after the campaign for independence, the vibrancy and spirit of the left-wing of the ‘yes’ movement needs the power to shape our political institutions.
As the left in Scotland, we need to develop a serious electoral challenge in this coming period. We have a responsibility to ensure that the future of Holyrood is not a Labour-versus-SNP battleground, with a gradual rightwards drift in the political narrative.
There has never been a greater need for political representation of the interests of ordinary people. We need a Left in Scotland that can stand up to the British establishment, the interests of big business and rebuild a strong labour movement. Working-class people in Scotland deserve a credible, coherent, genuine left-wing voice that represents their interests.
This process of forming this left requires debate and discussion, and that is why I am a signatory to the Scottish Left Project. This is not a party, nor do those involved presume to have all the answers; but we want to begin the conversation with other socialists, community activists, trade unions, and social justice campaigners about the best way to take left-wing and socialist principles forward into 2016. We want these conversations to be rooted in local communities.
The Scottish Left Project aims to present not just an effective socialist option on the ballot paper in 2016 but one that is broad, inclusive and accessible, as part of a project to democratise Scotland. As socialists, we desire a radical redistribution of wealth and power in society and we also need a strong voice in parliament for working-class people.
Once upon a time these could have been Labour’s core beliefs, but Murphy’s investiture has hollowed out that core for good. It is now our responsibility to give left-wing ideas a vehicle which can represent our desires and make the case for transforming Scotland in the interests of the many, not the few.
Our process for developing this work will be people led, rooted in dialogue and action. We want to hear what people want from a new politics. We want to have the widest possible discussion about how we can work together to ensure parliament represents the millions and not the millionaires.
This is a project that will learn from communities, engage with unions and develop from the grassroots. In 2015, we want to embark on a tour across Scotland, where grassroots forums can be created to discuss how the Scottish left can present the best possible socialist challenge in the Holyrood elections in 2016.
Scotland is not too right wing for socialist ideas. The comparative polling for radical left parties in Europe puts us to shame and for comparable countries to our own, the radical Left polls around 10%.
If we are to accept that Scotland can be a fertile ground for socialist ideas, then we must question our current failings. The recent polling for 2016 presents a curious challenge for those radical views. The SNP is poised for victory. Scottish socialist parties sit on a combined less than 1% despite their positive impact on the referendum. The intended votes for the Greens and UKIP even outnumber declared Scottish socialists by significant margins. The party model and the vehicles we have are not working to get socialists into Holyrood.
Poor recent performances not only enforce the myth that socialism cannot flourish in Scotland – it lets down the very communities that we are supposed to represent. The portrayal of other socialists as scabs, or as traitors in the 2016 elections will cement our decay.
Throughout RIC, socialists have acted in the spirit of cooperation and trust and have built new relationships from the ashes of old rivalries based on mutual respect – long may this continue. The legacy of socialism in Scotland in years to come will count upon what we do in the coming year. Several socialist options on the ballot paper for 2016 will come to signify our failure.
Scotland needs a new citizens’ politics. The days of a professional political class running our lives are numbered. Hundreds of thousands of citizens in Scotland want radical change and their voices must be heard. Let’s continue to talk, act, and work together to ensure that in 2016 there is a co-ordinated socialist challenge engrained in the communities and campaigns that are at the forefront of changing Scotland.
As socialists, we share the same aims, the same goals and the same vision for transforming society. When we acted together under the banner of Radical Independence, we proved what can be achieved with unity – rather than division. The changing political landscape in Scotland has opened up many exciting possibilities for socialists in Scotland: we must reach out and grab these opportunities and do so together.
Cat Boyd is a trade union activist, co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign and signatory of the Scottish Left Project