How should leftwingers in Scotland vote in the UK general election?
April 14, 2015 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The following articles were published in the April issue #86 of the Scottish Left Review, as part of a round-up of the various positions being proposed by sections of the Scottish left to advance a left agenda during and after the British general election to be held on May 7, 2015.
Scottish Socialist Party: Aiming 2 B Scotland's socialist Party
By Sandra Webster
After the referendum, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) –- like other parties of the "yes" [to Scottish independence] campaign -– had a huge surge in applications for membership. We can now begin to rebuild our party and offer an alternative socialist agenda to that of other parties.
Scotland has changed and demands a different kind of politics. We in the SSP can offer this and continue to support the radical left in gaining credence with the electorate again. The radical left is changing too and we must be a part of that.
During the referendum, the SSP was the party that campaigned for a different Scotland. For us, independence is the initial step by which to create a socialist society. Alongside other groups like the Radical Independence Campaign and Women for Independence, we took the message into the communities we live in. The referendum changed our party – many of our activists got involved in public speaking and campaigning, growing with confidence.
We worked alongside other political parties, especially the Scottish National Party (SNP). We shared the goal of independence but our vision of that independence was different. Post- referendum, we called for a "yes" alliance for the general election but it was evident that the SNP's construct of an alliance differed from ours. For the confident, vastly enlarged SNP, this meant no other candidates standing against them. It might offer some non-SNP members seats but they must then accept the party whip.
This was a lost opportunity to transform the face of Scottish politics from the current "two tribes" model to one with more plurality and consensus. At a local level, many SNP branches had already announced they were seeking candidates.
Our decision to stand was, therefore, not an easy one. We knew we could be accused of splitting the "yes" vote. However, we decided to stand four candidates in traditional Labour seats. In two of these seats, Glasgow North East and Paisley and Renfrewshire South (the others being Glasgow South West and Edinburgh South), Labour had actually increased its majorities at the last general election. All of the seats are in working-class areas, where austerity is biting hard.
All the MPs in those areas voted with the [Westminster] government to continue austerity. Some of these MPs, like many in the Scottish Labour Party, are out of touch with their constituents. These are generational safe Labour Party seats where you vote for Labour because your parents and grandparents did. For many including myself, with some sadness, Labour is no longer the party of the working class, but we as the SSP with our vision can remind them of the party they used to be.
This election is being seen as a two-horse race. One message is "Vote Labour as a vote for anyone else is a vote for David Cameron". Another is "Vote SNP because we alone can support Scotland’s interests in Westminster". We in the SSP say vote for us and other radical left parties who dare to be different if you want a different society.
The blitzkrieg attack on the poor and most vulnerable has had a huge impact on many in our communities. SSP members are not poverty tourists and many of us know hardship from personal experience. Our policy pledges will be ones that tackle inequality. The SNP, some Greens and, indeed, some Labour activists do not use the word "socialism" instead using "social justice".
We are not ashamed of being socialists or of our socialist vision. Our main policies centre round the eradication of poverty. We want a living wage of £10 an hour now. We condemn the use of benefit sanctions, which cause absolute poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. We will end the misuse of zero-hour contracts, which lead to uncertainty for many workers. We will end the care tax, which means many people with disabilities have to pay from their disability payments to allow them to receive self-directed support.
We also believe that that the Trident [nuclear submarine] and its replacement should be scrapped. The billions being spent could be used on our people. Our full manifesto will be published soon, with our full range of policies all designed to create a more equal society. These are pledges that can change individual lives and society for the better.
The first-past-the-post system does not suit a smaller party like us. The SNP claims to be left of Labour and it is likely that many voters will vote tactically. It is a Westminster-centric election with voters fearing the impact of another five years of Tory rule. It is important to note though that neither Labour nor Tory rule have ever ended child poverty.
These elections are important for us as we continue to grow and regain a foothold in Scottish politics. For the past years, we have been active in our communities. That will be our strategy in the election showing we are neighbours in the constituencies we stand in. All of our candidates are local people and know the people whose vote they will be asking for. Our strategy will be to continue to build relationships and show we are still here after the election.
Many of our activists are amazing, vibrant young people who will definitely play a part in the future of Scottish politics. This election campaign will give them the much-needed experience they will require in the future.
Most importantly, we will demonstrate that we are not the type of party who drops in at election time and is never to be seen again. We will continue to reach out to people in their communities demonstrating the radical left has something to offer them.
These elections are only the beginning. With the Holyrood elections in 2016 and the local elections in 2017, we feel a responsibility to the left to begin the spadework for gaining left representation and to share with the electorate that socialist policies are not unachievable but an alternative to austerity.
The SSP feels the burden of standing. We feel the responsibility in ensuring that radical left parties will be elected in the 2016 and 2017 elections. It is our responsibility to make those policies understandable and tangible for our electorate. We also need to stand to show an alternative to austerity and offer a program that can transform society.
We believe in independence but this is just the beginning for us. We offer a manifesto that is left of the Scottish Greens, the SNP and Labour Party. That is why we need to stand to demonstrate what socialism means. Our vision of an independent Scotland is not a mind dream but a realistic vision.
We look forward to knocking on doors and speaking at hustings, challenging other parties’ ideologies. We also look forward to the challenges of the political landscape post-election, ensuring SSP candidates are prepared and experienced for the elections that follow.
The emerging picture looks like that of an SNP victory. The "45" [45% voted Yes in the referendum] may have now become the majority. If the SNP win as many seats as is predicted there may be the potential for a sooner rather than later call for another referendum. How the SNP as such a broad church performs in Westminster will be closely monitored.
We on the left know that there are many other parties that should make up a vibrant left in Scotland. It is important we all do and that all our voices are heard. In two years, with the Smith Commission proposals being implemented, we need to be there to shape policy and challenge the opinion of the party that holds power. Only we on the left can stand up for ordinary people and not the interests of big business. The spirit of the "yes" campaign meant many of us worked together towards a common goal. We need to remind ourselves of this in the months and years ahead.
[Sandra Webster is the SSP candidate for Paisley and Renfrewshire South. She is also the co-national spokesperson for the SSP.]
Scottish Greens: Adding red to the Green
By Patrick Harvie
Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s new finance minister and a leading figure in SYRIZA, showed his cultural chops during a Today interview by quoting the poet, Dylan Thomas.
He said Greece would not go gentle into the night and would instead rage against the dying of the light. That sort of feisty, principled attitude will be crucial in the coming weeks as those of us on the left advance our arguments for ending austerity and attempt to expose a political system designed to ensure politicians kowtow to big business and wealthy individuals.
I’m reminded of Edwin Morgan’s poem for the opening of the Holyrood parliament: "A nest of fearties is what they do not want", he said of voters. There’s no doubt the electorate across Britain is tired of the bland Westminster consensus, and parties such as the Greens are in a better position than ever to take it on.
There’s a big chance for progressives not just to rage but to exercise substantial influence. My party will stand in the majority of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies – more than ever before – with a high proportion of women and young people among our candidates. With our biggest slate of candidates, Scots will have an unrivalled opportunity to vote for the bold and positive politics that only the Greens represent. We’re a decentralised party so the decision to stand has been down to individual branches and members. By contrast, we see Labour continuing to use a top-down committee structure to draw up shortlists.
Our membership has surged to almost 9000 with one in 10 of them ex-Labour Party members. We’ve seen a steady rise in the polls; we’re regularly ahead of the Lib Dems across Britain, and when we consider the variations within local constituencies we know that there are some seats, such as Bristol West and Norwich South, where the bookies are increasingly expecting Greens wins. In others, such as Glasgow North and Edinburgh East, we can break old party traditions and create genuinely exciting marginals.
We also know we poll well among young voters. Almost of a quarter of 18-34 year olds intend to vote for the Scottish Greens. And, while other parties are tying themselves in knots with messages about the sort of tactical voting that represents the politics of old, our candidates are out and about engaging with voters on our ideas for protecting public services, reforming democracy and tackling inequality.
Hot on the heels of the referendum, this election has clear implications for devolution. The Scottish Greens engaged as positively and constructively as we could with the Smith Commission. The pace of agreement was frankly daft, and anyone who thinks we got a robust or durable settlement is kidding themselves. We’ve now seen the draft clauses, which are basically the main points of the Smith agreement converted into potential chunks of legislation.
Whoever ends up in government after May 7 will be playing with fire if they try to water down the legislation, but it will have to be made workable. Labour has made itself something of a laughing stock with its varying offers on devolution. First it was "Devo Max", then the "Vow", then Home Rule, and finally (I say finally but I’m not optimistic) the "Vow Plus".
Given that Labour’s heels were dug in deeper than anyone else’s, it’s pretty astonishing to see it try to take credit for devolution in areas like employment and welfare. These were exactly the areas where it had to be dragged kicking and screaming. Indeed, the trade union movement seemed dismayed at this position. Greens would give exploited employees the legal right to buy out their companies and turn them into workers’ co-operatives and we’d encourage employee involvement in management, product development and innovation.
We would also introduce laws to limit the size of CEO pay relative to the lowest-paid workers in the company. Voters who see workplace democracy as a priority should aim for more Green voices at Westminster to drive home the importance of these issues.
As for the assertion that more SNP MPs guarantees the best deal – it’s a neat bumper sticker but let’s not forget the baggage that comes with that party like a tendency toward Laffer curve tax policies, willingness to work with tax exiles, further tax breaks for the highly profitable aviation sector, support for the NATO nuclear alliance, support in principle for the TTIP corporate trade deal, support for maximum fossil fuel extraction and the door left ajar to fracking.
Let’s not forget that the strength of the Yes campaign was the range of voices that could be heard. Those now urging tactical voting are retreating to the politics of old, the kind of politics we worked so hard to challenge. Huge numbers of people who voted [in the independence referendum] last September have been ignoring elections for many years and it’s essential that we continue to encourage them to stay involved.
Telling people to vote X to keep out Y or vote Z to avoid "splitting the vote" simply risks making many retreat, seeing politics as an unchanged, negative business. Instead, the principles and ideas a political party stands for should come first. My fellow Green parliamentarian, Caroline Lucas, has shown that even a small party can make the breakthrough when it is clear, committed and hardworking. Her track record as an MP, promoting public services and standing up against fracking, has proved the only wasted vote is a vote for something you don’t really believe in. Voters clearly want to hear a range of voices. Just look at how broadcasters changed their tune in recognition of that demand.
We can also see with the mobilisation of public protests against fracking and growing concern at deals such as TTIP, there’s a desire for social, economic and environmental progress in Scotland. We can build on that desire by focusing on the possibilities rather than engaging in the divisive language of Westminster, pitting "hardworking families" against "scroungers".
The battle in our society is inequality. Greens address this by a £10 minimum wage to reduce in-work poverty, a citizen’s income, public ownership of rail to provide good quality transport for all, and taxes on land and wealth to ensure those who can afford to pay a fairer share do so.
By emphasising that unique stance, we have a chance to harness the enthusiasm built up during the referendum. So much of British politics is mimicry, with two big parties being as bland as possible to appeal to the middle ground. It seems that whenever the Tories criticise Labour’s alleged spending commitments, Labour spinners go into overdrive issuing denials and proud boasts of their own plans to cut public services.
On austerity, the Lib Dems have been cheerleaders for the Tories’ determination to punish the most vulnerable people in society for the failures of banking and big business. All the while the Labour Party has proved an ineffective opposition and signed up to Osborne’s ridiculous budget charter, which commits to public spending cuts.
Greens would introduce a wealth tax on the richest 1%, raising billions, and crack down on tax evasion and avoidance to bring in further revenues to invest in new jobs, good wages and public services. We’d prioritise equal pay for women, a fundamental issue that successive Westminster governments have failed to tackle.
By offering a £10 an hour minimum wage by 2020, we show how Labour’s current offer – of £8 an hour – would still leave millions working in poverty, with the public purse continuing to subsidise low pay.
On jobs, we urgently need more Green voices in parliament to make an economy that respects the environment. By expanding industries such as food and drink, chemical sciences, digital technology, construction and engineering, we can ensure a successful and sustainable jobs market. And, by refocusing our oil and gas sector towards decommissioning and investing in skills transfers towards renewables, we can capture the clear opportunity that exists to excel in the clean technology that can bring us lasting prosperity.
By renationalising the railways, we’d show market failure won’t be tolerated and public services – for that is what mass transport is – must be cherished rather than "marketised". Despite this policy’s huge popularity, the Labour Party simply can’t bring itself to adopt it. And as for popular policies, we know that when people are asked to say how they would vote on policies only, like at the voteforpolicies.org.uk website, it’s the Green agenda which ends up on top.
On democratic reform, thanks to the Lib Dems’ botched AV referendum, it may take some persuading to get people to back a move to proportional representation in elections but, of course, we’ve lived with a couple of PR systems in Scotland for some time. If we see a surge in votes for the Greens but that then not translating into new MPs we can build the case for PR at Westminster.
It’s telling that neither of the two big parties is interested. They’re clearly happy to take it in turn to undo the other’s work. It’s a cosy arrangement and the best way we can break it wide open is to vote for what we believe in.
[Patrick Harvie MSP is the co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party.]
Scottish National Party: Ending Tweedledum and Tweedledee
By Tommy Sheppard
Labour might do okay in some wealthier areas of Scotland as it picks up some who voted LibDem or Tory last time. But its vote in working-class areas is plummeting and among the definition of social classes C2, D and E, it’s toast. The move is more than a swing – it’s a structural shift of political allegiance. As a result supporting Labour is fast becoming a pastime for the liberal middle classes.
Why is this happening and is it a development socialists should welcome? Views are changing as disenchantment with the current political set-up combines with a realisation that they can do something to change it. This is what happens when alienation and self-confidence collide. Of course, just because political developments are supported by the working class doesn’t of itself make them a good thing. So let’s look at whether this is a progressive force in society – one likely to enhance tolerance, fairness and equality.
Let’s begin with what it is not. It is not about identity. [Scottis Labour Party leader] Jim Murphy and his ilk spraffing on about patriotism – whatever that is – misses many points. Sure, people will take pride in their country, but the Yes campaign in last year’s referendum wasn’t about flags and anthems – it was about empowerment and opportunity. People sensed the chance to take control of their own lives and it tasted good. It’s been said before, but it’s so true – you cannot put that energy back in the bottle.
That ambition is not assuaged by waving the saltire or singing "Flower of Scotland". This is a deeper feeling, and the Labour Party’s failure to feel it, never mind understand it, is why it is floundering now. The Scottish National Party (SNP) itself is still coming to terms with the legacy of the referendum. You can’t quadruple your membership and not expect things to change. The change is coming slowly but already its character is clear – the move is towards a party which is younger, more female and very much more radical.
There are four main reasons why anyone who calls themselves a socialist should line up behind the SNP on May 7. For starters, the SNP is the only major party at this election offering an alternative to the austerity economics practiced by the [British Conserative Party-Liberal Democrat] coalition and promised – albeit in lesser measure – by the Labour Party. The main Westminster parties are determined to eliminate the deficit by curbing public spending. But deficits arise through not having enough income as much as spending too much. And service cuts lead to even less income and often more spending in other areas. In short, you cannot cut your way out of a recession.
The SNP proposes a real term increase in public spending of half a per cent a year. It doesn’t sound much but the effect over five years would be to deliver £180 billion more than the published spending plans of the Conservative Party and about £80 billion more than Labour. Not only would it provide the things we as a society need, but the spending will of itself generate growth leading to increased tax incomes. Keynesian thinking is alive and well at the heart of SNP policy – and yet it has been all but extinguished in Labour.
Second, the SNP retains a universalist approach to public services and welfare whereas the Tories and Labour regard them to varying degree as safety nets to mop up the worst effects of the market. I remember [left-wing Labour MP] Tony Benn saying that public services are the way in which people can buy collectively the things that they cannot afford individually – so everyone gets to own a bit of a hospital, a school, a bus. This underpins SNP thinking from school meals, to tuition fees, to personal care for the elderly.
Critics who argue that these polices benefit the middle classes too and should be restricted through means testing to the poorest in society miss the point. Socialism isn’t about unequal shares; it’s about people contributing according to their ability to pay. The wealthy should pay more through higher taxation. But keeping services universal means everyone can see some benefit from their contributions. If everyone gets something back support for collective provision is higher. Residualising public services fuels resentment at their funding. It leads to a vicious downward spiral creating political support for tax cuts and privatisation.
Public services should be there for everyone. Not just in the field of health and education. Everyone should want to travel by public transport because it is cheaper, faster and more convenient than taking the car. We should strive to make rented public housing so good that it becomes the natural choice for young professional couples rather than the shelter of last resort.
Third, the SNP advance opens up the prospect of nuclear disarmament for the first time in all of our lives. Cancellation of the Trident replacement program and the switch of the 3-4 billion pounds a year it will cost to health and education would be a momentous victory for the left.
This is not a pipe dream. In a hung parliament, movement on Trident will be the price of SNP support for a minority Labour government. And with surveys showing that three quarters of Labour’s election candidates support the move, it will be very much on the cards. There are forces within the Ministry of Defence who will welcome the move as it will relieve the pressure on conventional armed forces and even the Americans are unlikely to too be alarmed at the eventual loss of a system which contributes just 2 per cent to NATO’s capability. This actually could happen. But it will absolutely not happen if either Tory or Labour parties form a majority government.
And finally, there’s home rule. This election is not about independence, although the results may advance the conditions in which that question can be asked again. But it is about how much power the Scottish government should have. The equation is blindingly simply – the more votes the SNP get, the more powers the Scottish government gets.
Crucially for socialists, we seek the power to intervene and manage the Scottish economy for the benefit of the people who live here. Powers that will allow us to increase minimum wages, scrap the bedroom tax, change tax allowances, clamp down on tax evasion, and borrow to invest in our infrastructure. We seek the competence to make these changes here even if they are not shared by the good people of the Home Counties.
There are, of course, a few Neanderthals who will argue that this is not progressive because we can somehow only operate within an 18th century polity that can never be altered. Most, though, would accept that such economic democracy would be a good thing. And, as with independence, our aim is not to set ourselves apart from the people of Britain, but to set them an example. Let England follow where Scotland leads.
By any measure, the SNP offers a social-democratic prospectus to the people of Scotland. Against this, the Labour Party has only one defence. It will cry that a vote for the SNP will increase the chances of a Tory government. This is beyond glib: not only facile and shallow, the argument is false.
The truth is this. It is not the largest party, but the one which can command a majority in the House of Commons that gets to form a government. When all the constitutional protocols are exhausted one of two things will happen. Either there will be a government looking rightwards built around the Tory party – or a government looking leftwards built around the Labour Party.
Despite what Lewis Moonie and Gisela Stuart may think, there really
is no other option. SNP MPs will never put a Tory government in power.
So, whether an SNP or a Labour member is elected in a particular Scottish
seat has no bearing on whether the Tories succeed in forming a
There is currently one Tory member of the Westminster parliament in Scotland. After the election there will be one or none. Scots voters have pretty much zero impact on the size of the Tory group in the UK parliament: we can only wipe them out once.
Voting SNP doesn’t get Tories elected. Here’s what it does do. It obliges the Labour Party to consult and agree a program for government with smaller parties like the SNP. This is actually good news for Labour voters. Why? Because by any conceivable outcome, the price of such support will drag Labour away from the neo-con orthodoxy in which it and the rest of the British establishment is steeped.
That’s why socialists should vote SNP at this election. The alternative is to give [British Labour Party leader] Ed Miliband carte blanche to spend five years playing at Tory-lite. And whilet he does that, we can watch Scotland and the concerns of its inhabitants slide towards the bottom of the UK agenda.
[Tommy Sheppard is SNP prospective parliamentary candidate for Edinburgh East. His website is http://www.tommysheppard.com/ He was a member of the Labour Party for 21 years (including eight as a councillor and three as assistant general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party), joining the SNP in late 2014. He is also a member of the Scottish Left Review editorial board.]