Only by having constitutional choice can Scottish Labour’s radical reasoning be realised

Katrina Faccenda says the roadblock must be removed so socialist policies can become attractive again.

The fightback against the latest attacks on Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour leader, has energised the party’s left activists. The Campaign for Socialism (CfS) organised one of our biggest events in years to rally people behind Richard and more importantly to defend a left policy agenda for Scottish Labour as it looks towards the elections of May 2021. Online meetings have given us a chance to include activists from the Shetlands to the Scottish Borders in our meetings and discussions, and we have been using this time to promote political education. We will emerge from the pandemic with a stronger group of core activists.

But keeping that energy going when we are in lockdown is difficult considering the level of disillusionment with UK Labour. The recent abstention in Westminster on the ‘SpyCops’ Bill led more members gave up their party cards. For those of us active in the Labour left, we are fighting on two fronts: to hold on tightly to our activists and to defend our socialist agenda. For the CfS, our tasks are clear, we have to keep fighting the internal battles but we need to be more outwards looking. We need to encourage our members to organise and revitalise local party structures. This is hard work when many find their local party hostile to debate and any political activity outside of elections. Fundamentally, we must give people a reason to stay by building campaigns and leading the fightback against austerity. The degree of the recklessness of those trying to oust Leonard is astounding. Scottish Labour’s right-wing still push its ‘let’s make the party as right-wing as it used to be and people will vote for us’ rhetoric and is evidently prepared to burn the house down as long as it is control of the ashes.

As we unite behind Leonard, we cannot ignore the fact that he does not always represent the developing position of the Labour Left on constitutional issues and it is disappointing he does not share our position on the matter of Scottish sovereignty and a second referendum on Independence. We understand his position as socialists who put international solidarity at the top of our agenda butwe believe that only Scotland – and not Westminster – must decide upon a second independence referendum. His reasons may be radically different from those who want to wrap Scottish Labour in a union jack, but the outcome is the same. We will continue to be seen as a party which priorities defence of the union when the majority of people in Scotland no longer do.

With the shambolic, reactionary Tory government under Johnson, the only viable position is to recognise that power within the union needs redistributing and how much we need further devolution of power away from Westminster to the rest of the UK. Arguing for a nebulous version of federalism just is not enough. One of the successes of the Corbyn project was to revive the sense of pride in standing for radical, redistributive policies. That strength of emotion seems hard to replicate around a federalist agenda. By accepting the democratic argument around any future referendum, we can start to talk about why we know that the SNP version of independence will not bring manifest improvements to working people’s lives. When you are living in poverty or exploited on a zero-hours contract, and when the balance of power is in the hands of the bosses and big business, there is no freedom. It is up to us as socialists in Labour to articulate these ideas. It really should not be that difficult as we face up to the economic consequences of the pandemic.

In the same way that our electoral success in Scotland continued when we were losing in England, I don’t think that Starmer’s popularity or success nationally will make a significant difference to Scottish Labour at the ballot box in Scottish or Westminster elections. We saw that in 2017 when despite our gains nationally and an increase in the number of Labour MPs in Scotland, our vote increased by only 9,000. We saw it again in 2019 when on the doorsteps people told us how much they liked our manifesto but they were still voting SNP.

What could make a difference? Beyond a better constitutional position, we need a transformation of party structures. We need to increase the active membership; the unionist conservative rump holds too much power on local party structures. We need our local parties to be active campaigners not just electioneers and to select fighting socialist candidates.

We need to focus on issues where only our party which gives a vote and where a voice for organised labour will deliver. The crisis has shown the importance of unions and their strengths in organising workers for better, safer conditions. Although employment law is not devolved, we need to make the arguments for getting rid of all anti-union laws and expose the weaknesses in the Scottish Government’s business-orientated approach to industrial relations, where the power imbalance is never properly addressed. There needs to be more emphasis on how organisation empowers workers and how businesses exist to make a profit, not to serve the interests of workers. Basically, we need people to know that Labour in Scotland stands for the change that is much more radical than breaking away from the rest of the UK.

Katrina Faccenda is chair of the Campaign for Socialism, the left group within Scottish Labour, and Holyrood candidate for Labour Edinburgh Northern and Leith for the Scottish Parliaments elections in May 2021