According to the London-based media, August and September are routinely denoted as the ‘silly season’ because, with Parliament in recess from late July to early October, there are seemingly few serious political developments to cover. Consequently, stories of a far lesser stature make and dominate the headlines. But, equally routinely, manifest politics – and the importance of these to everyday lives – does not stop. Thus, it should be noted that Jeremy Corbyn has made a very timely tour of Labour marginals (some 90-100 seats) throughout the summer. This is to be welcomed because of the prospect of another general election given the Tory weakness in Parliament and because of Corbyn’s strength as a speaker at popular rallies. Moreover recent research from the London School of Economics and Political Science highlighted that in the constituencies where Corbyn conducted these rallies, the Labour vote was up much more than in constituencies where didn’t do such rallies.
Yet this is still not the kind of mobilization that is required of these times. Sure, we need and want the end of the Theresa May Tory government at Westminster – or one led by any other Tory like Philip Hammond or David Davies. And, we want their replacement by a Corbyn-led Labour government because Labour is by far the most politically progressive of all the major political parties – and that includes the SNP. Yet, Labour is unfortunately playing a waiting game of a parliamentary nature. While it may try to defeat the Tories in parliament with this vote and that, and John McDonnell says the government could collapse at any point, it would be much better if Labour also sought to mobilise all its voters and supporters in campaigns and other collective actions (like demonstrations) against the effects of Tory government policy outside the parliamentary orbit. So the People’s Assembly demonstration on 1 July could have been that much bigger – maybe one million strong – if Labour as an organisation had put a call to all its members to attend. There is also more to be done. As Scottish Left Review called for in its last editorial, Dugdale needs to be removed by a leadership challenge. The Labour left in Scotland must quickly find a candidate to do this.
Then Ian McNicol, current general secretary of British Labour, needs to be removed as does Brian Roy, current general secretary of Scottish Labour. Control of Labour organization through these general secretaries prevents the Corbyn current washing through the rest of the Labour Party. We only need to recall the 1983 People’s March for Jobs to remember that Labour itself did – and could again – organize mass demonstrations. Only with control of the party machine can such initiatives be taken and be successful. And then there is the issue of mandatory re-selection of sitting MPs in order that the right is removed from the Parliamentary Labour Party so that parliamentary candidates and elected MPs reflect the new will of the mass of Labour Party members. Therefore, the issue of de-selection cannot be ducked. If it is, the Blairites will use Venezuela or any other forthcoming issue to keep trying to undermine Corbyn. To not act in these ways would be a tragedy because what Corbyn and Corbynism represent is not just the articulation of a deeply and long held revulsion at the market and neo-liberalisation but also giving that revulsion of a new found sense of credibility and vigour which can create an upward, virtuous spiral.
Moving out from this, the radical left in Scotland is now at another historic fork in its road. Wanting a major and radical reform of society ranging from social democracy (where the state ameliorates market outcomes) to socialism (where significant restrictions in the operation of the market exist), it faces a situation where the balance of political forces has tipped away from independence. For ideologues of either the pro- or anti-independence left in Scotland, this is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
For those supporting independence, the forward momentum has clearly ebbed away in the last eighteen months. This was evident from the Brexit vote and solidified by the 2017 general election result. In the former, the SNP over-estimated how Brexit would reinforce the demand for independence, and in the latter it lost considerable ground to the Tories. Indeed, the fortunes of the SNP, not a social democratic party as it claims, has been further dented as it becomes more evident that it has started running out of steam. Its recent re-launch of both the Scottish Government and the case for independence gives a stronger sense of political paralysis than renewed vigour and resilience. Typical of the SNP, the re-launches have been devoid of significant policy developments and more about influencing and managing perceptions. No one in the leadership of the SNP seem to appreciate that its ‘don’t scare the horses’ approach to the referendum in 2014 was what prevented the adoption of a programme that would have appealed to working class voters – the majority in any capitalist society. And, there seems to be a strong possibility of that farce turning into tragedy if there is another referendum. The SNP continues to play the ‘big boy did it and ran away’ game over Brexit without taking any significant steps to start building a new society in Scotland. And, that’s fundamentally because it eschews using state intervention to ameliorate and overturn market outcomes which is the sine qua non of social democracy. It has not used its existing powers and fetes business so that argument that it would show its social democratic colours after independence is not a very credible one. Indeed, the SNP response of the recent Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures showing a £13.5bn deficit in Scottish state finances underlies this point.
So the ball of the radical left now seems to be returning to the court of the British road to socialism after many barren years under ‘new’ Labour and then the independence insurgency. The elation felt on 9 June could have been mistaken for an actual election victory. But not all is happy in this house of (British) Labour. It is not a case of whether Corbyn can last or is deficient in some personal respects (see previous Scottish Left Review editorials). Here, it is a matter of strategy and political perspective. Labour will not be in another ‘Better Together’ if there is another independence referendum and both Corbyn and McDonnell have shown the SNP what bona fide radicalism looks like (in words, if not yet deeds). But what matters is that Corbynism has yet to be defined as anything more that social democracy rebooted or a version 2.0 of it. The term ‘socialism’ is used – though not often enough. But it has to be laid out and explained. Is Corbyn’s yet unstated vision of socialism one of the parliamentary road to socialism as per the varieties of the Communist Party of Britain or the Socialist Party (formerly Militant)? And what is the strategy to get from where we are to where we want to be? All this is critical because any attempts to introduce radical reform will come up against the might of the British state and the massed forces of the right. We only need to recall what has been happening in Venezuela to see how the right can mobilise to kill off what it sees as a threat.
But matters are never that simple as the singularity of a step forward for the British road to socialism and a simultaneous step back for the Scottish road to socialism. This is because some support for independence was as conditional as it was instrumental. According to this perspective, the means to the ends are not as important as the ends itself. By way of illustration, support for independence is for some unconditional and even an article of dogmatic faith. Support which is conditional and instrumental reassesses what strategy is believed to be most appropriate and effective in the light of the current balance of forces. This means ebbs and flows in the support for British and Scottish roads to socialism. So for these people in Scotland, it does not terribly matter whether the gaining of a radically better society does is on a Scottish or British basis.
The fissures of this on-going realignment are evident in the spats that have broken out in recent months. Attacks on RIC co-founder, Cat Boyd, as a ‘red Tory’ (for voting for Corbyn by voting Labour) and Ross Greer, Green MSP (by questioning whether The National newspaper is now become something of a liability for the independence movement) indicate that there is a preponderance of unthinking dogmatic support for independence and the SNP amongst some on the left. They too have been none too chuffed with the likes of former SSP MSP, Carolyn Leckie, and former Group of ’79 member, Kenny MacAskill, recognising the malaise in the SNP and proposing something should be down about it. In the case of Carolyn Leckie, this means separating the campaign for independence from SNP and moving to the left.
But there is also another reason why matters are not so simple. If the Tories continue to survive and Labour is seen as an ineffectual opposition (inside and outside Westminster), the demand for independence may well rise up again to the top of the political agenda. What opposition the Scottish Labour Party provides will be a key part of this equation, and this then relates to whether the SNP decides to move to the left or the right – or stay where it is – depending on its assessment of the Corbyn effect in Scotland and what it needs to do to regain ground from the Tories in the north east of Scotland. Consequently, the SNP will have to decide whether it can ride two differing horses – simply put, these are the workers in the Central Belt or the farming and fishing communities in the north-east.
Scottish Left Review has always tried to be constructive in its criticism. Therefore, Stuart MacLeod’s article on renationalizing Scotrail is offered to help flesh out what often remains as just a demand or slogan. In this regard, we can recall the SSP’s pamphlet of 2004 called Reclaiming Our Railways which advocated a third each split between the workforce, users and government for running the railways. The same is true of the articles on new forms of economic ownership by Richard Leonard MSP, how unions can respond to the Tory Trade Union Act by Stephen Smellie, and by what a modern republic could look like by Graham Smith. In the run up to Christmas, the traditional time for buying and then reading books, we have a bumper book review section for your delectation. In this regard and in light of the content of this editorial, copies of the second and third editions of Is there a Scottish road to socialism? are still available for purchase from our website – see http://www.scottishleftrevie.scot/shop/
• The editorial comment is the responsibility of the editor, in conjunction with the chair and vice chair of the editorial board.
STOP PRESS – Scottish Left Review was going to press as the news of Dugdale’s resignation broke. Her resignation is, of course, welcome and now the challenge the Labour left faces can no longer be ducked – it has to put forward a credible candidate that can win the leadership. We wish the Labour left ‘luck’ here and we shall return to this issue in the next editorial.
Fifth Annual Jimmy Reid Memorial lecture
The lecture will be delivered by Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union.
The lecture is entitled: ‘Pay, people and power: the progressive case for public services’.
The lecture will take place on Thursday 5th October at 7pm at the Govan Old Parish Church 866 Govan Road, Glasgow G51 3UU.
Tickets are available for purchase by visiting http://reidfoundation.org/2017/08/fifth-annual-jimmy-reid-memorial-lecture/http://reidfoundation.org/2017/08/fifth-annual-jimmy-reid-memorial-lecture/