Realigning the left

Kenny MacAskill argues for a form of left cooperation and consensus as the new way forward.

This article was written before the announcement of the general election for Thursday 12 December but anticipated that one would be called.

Hatred between Labour and SNP has been visceral for generations, long predating the independence referendum. Ostensibly the constitution’s the divide but it’s also that the parties, whatever they may say, compete on the same political terrain with similar social democratic policies.

The dislike and disdain, in the main, is not shared by voters who tend to be fluid between the two parties. Just as Tory and LibDem voters are likewise the other set of Scotland’s two inter-connected political camps. This Labour-SNP antagonism has not served either well and certainly not the country. Instead, it’s been debilitating and sterile – a case of political sectarianism limiting new thinking and co-operative actions.

It has to stop as the only winners are the Tories. There’s much more that unites than divides and the price of failure to co-operate is paid by the most vulnerable, who both parties claim to have foremost in their minds. It doesn’t mean a pact or even an electoral truce. An election is coming and both will go head to head. Let the contest take place but thereafter let co-operation begin for the stakes are too high to do otherwise.

The electoral permutations will also likely facilitate or demand it. The easiest outcome for it would be the scenario of SNP support at Westminster for a Corbyn administration. Whilst it may put some Scottish Labour leadership noses out of joint it would be welcomed by many rank and file and also by both parties’ electorate. Getting this current Tory administration out is the earnest plea of both parties’ supporters.

Whilst hard for many in the leadership at the outset, it would be the basis for a political realignment, protecting the integrity of both parties and allowing for continued deviation on the final constitutional settlement. That debate on federalism or independence could continue and a resolution through a further referendum could be agreed.

An outright Labour victory seems inconceivable but an outright Tory majority on a low vote remains a distinct possibility. As in 1983, a rise in LibDem support at the expense of Labour simply sees the Tory’s returned. That’s the nightmare scenario for SNP and Labour voters, ground down by years of enforced austerity. Stopping them whether at the border or in Westminster has been the desire for both sets of supporters and it has seen voters stampede to one or other depending on who they see as best placed to defend them at that particular point in time.

But if another Tory victory comes about, then co-operation both in Westminster and Scotland becomes essential. People are entitled to no less as this will be the most right-wing administration in living memory, hell bent on rolling back the gains of social democracy enjoyed by generations.

Of course, it will require change by the parties themselves. Neither party is blameless, each have things to be both proud of or to regret. But it will not be the time for continued recriminations but for a realignment to protect Scottish working people’s interests.

Labour will require to cease being so irredentist on the constitution. Support for independence is not required but an end to unflinching and dogmatic unionism is a necessity. It has been an electoral disaster for them and will continue to be especially if a further Tory Government is returned. But there are signs that many grassroots members are less intransigent and much more open to new thinking. That has also been signalled by the London Labour leadership and will be forced upon the Scottish group if the first scenario comes to pass. Rather than being truculent, it would be better for them to mirror cooperation that will be taking place at Westminster, irrespective of the election’s outcome.

Change has also to be mirrored in the SNP. It has been remiss in its relationship with the wider labour movement. For sure good relations have been forged with the STUC but the SNP needs to go much beyond that. Organised labour needs a much bigger role within the SNP and given more respect too. Cooperation needs to take place there as in Parliament.

For the overarching issue here is not simply the defence of our people’s interests but also the promotion of the wider social democratic cause. Either independence or federalism might well come quickly from Johnson’s abandonment of unionism. Ensuring that the benefits in the new land, however its constituted, for working people is essential.

The ruling elite in Scotland who serve Tory interests will be the same as their counterparts in every other land that’s achieved sovereignty, in whatever shape or form. They’ll shamelessly jump up to preserve their interests and proclaim undying loyalty to the new regime as they had the old.

A ‘new’ Scotland must avoid simply mirroring the old ‘North Britain’ with a tartan ribbon put around vested interests. Progress has been made in Scottish public life with gender balanced boards but it’s been horizontal not vertical in class terms. That needs to change and cooperation is again required.

A century ago, the Glasgow May Day Rally in 1919 saw Constance Markievicz as the principal speaker, joining others including the great John McLean and his namesake Neil Mclean ILP MP for Govan. She had been appointed Minister for Labour in the newly established Dail Eireann just months before. Supporters of independence and of socialism came together then and must do so again. Let a realignment on the left begin.

Kenny MacAskill is a former SNP MSP and Justice Secretary. He is now a columnist (with the Scotsman) and writer (with books published on ‘Glasgow 1919: The Rise of Red Clydeside’ and ‘Jimmy Reid: A Scottish Political Journey’).