Scotland: Labour Party leadership vote confirms entrenched right-wing politics, opens way for left

Jim Murphy campaigns against independence for Scotland.

For more on Scotland and independence, click HERE.

By Ken Ferguson

December 13, 2014 -- Scottish Left Project, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The election of arch Blairite Jim Murphy – by a 20% margin – as Scottish Labour Party leader is surely final confirmation that the former working-class party is now a wholly owned tool of the Westminster establishment and its role as servants of the neoliberal speculation policies of the City of London.

That Labour Party members elected Murphy in the belief that he is the new Messiah tells us just how out of touch with Scottish opinion both they and their party have become.

Faced with the mass radicalisation and ferment of progressive ideas developed by the Yes campaign, which has gone way beyond the independence issue into areas as diverse as land reform, poverty pay and building a just sustainable Scotland they repeated their September reaction and said No thanks.

Labour will now continue on its path of catchy sound bites about “cost of living crisis” and “hard working families” fed to the people via gullible journalists while sticking with the agenda of cuts, sackings, demonisation of claimants and Trident [nuclear submarine] renewal.

It has already started with Murphy’s windbag pledge to make Scotland "the fairest country in the world" in the all too familiar “talk left, walk right” dance.

For the left in Scotland this is indeed a key moment. The Neil Findlay candidacy was in many ways the last hurrah of that dwindling band of left wingers grouped around the often pompous pronouncements of the Red Paper collective who still cling to the increasingly forlorn hope of a British road to socialism.

This grouping was one of the most strident backers of a No vote on the fanciful basis that the British state could be won for socialist politics.

This was a view put forward by some in the trade unions and while at the time of writing detailed figures are not available, it seems likely that the trade union section of the Labour electoral college will have backed Findlay.

The rank and file and parliamentarians did not.

Before the election there were dark tales about trade union disaffiliation from Labour if Murphy won but this needs to be treated with caution as evidenced by the early reaction with Pat Rafferty of UNITE reported as giving Murphy’s victory a cautious welcome.

For the Scottish left and progressive movement this a situation that presents both considerable opportunities to present and win support for a broadly people before profit politics and also grave responsibility to deliver the prize.

To progress such an agenda requires all of us to be both open and respectful to the many strands and groups which go to form what is becoming in Gramci’s phrase the “common sense” of Scotland’s left consensus and to realistically assess these forces and how they can attain the maximum unity around there aims.

Since September 18 numbers of comrades on the left have concluded that the simple answer is to join the mushrooming Scottish National Party (SNP) and take care of the wider socialist agenda after it has wiped out Labour.

These comrades point to the current massive SNP poll lead and status as a mass party capable of delivering independence , and the other aims of the Yes campaign as the most fruitful way forward.

With due respect to these comrades this is a proposition that needs some examination. The SNP is not a socialist party and indeed still embraces many aspects of neoliberal thinking on business tax and so forth.

Indeed its failure to implement a socialist measure was the recent awarding of the Scottish rail franchise to the Dutch firm Abellio rather than a publicly owned Scottish bid.

We can also note in passing their pro NATO stance and support for the monarchy.

However rather than tackling the way ahead from the viewpoint of which party or group can do the job perhaps the progressive movement needs to first ask the quetion – if we can lean on Lenin – “What is to be done?”

There now exists in Scotland a broad movement favouring policies that challenge the 30-year-old grip of neoliberalism and take the country on a path that meets both the needs of people and plays its part in tackling the global environmental crisis.

Of course the problem that this presents is how to achieve this objective and challenge for power on behalf of a movement that encompasses people of several parties and none?

The starting point must be that existing organistions and parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party, Scottish Greens and myriad campaigns, and indeed organistions that may yet emerge, are unlikely to abandon their identity as part of this process.

However despite the old hoary jokes about the Peoples Front of Judea tendency on the left the mass movement mobilised around the independence referendum remains in being and has wide areas of agreement.

At its annual conference last year the Scottish Socialist Party adopted, in an attempt to find a way of unifying the progressive movement, the idea of exploring the creation of a common program of demands capable of being endorsed by both existing organistions and individuals.

Fashioning such a program would be both difficult and challenging but given goodwill, not impossible.

If successful such a program, endorsed by a range of parties, could lay the basis for a left challenge at the 2016 Holyrood polls.

At this point this remains simply an idea but it is surely one that needs to be explored if we are to maximise the support for an alternative politics that avoids replacing a reliance on the Labour Party with a reliance on the SNP.

As a long-term member of the Scottish Socialist Party I know that our party was formed as a left unity project and maximising unity in our DNA.

I also know that as a growing organised and key part of the Scottish left publishing the only socialist paper written and edited here, our party is and will remain a key component in any process aimed at winning left advance.

This will include involvement in constructive dialogue with other comrades such as the Scottish Left Project and socialists in parties such as the Greens alongside our growing campaigning work for a £10 minimum wage and against austerity and war.

As the Labour Party takes a further major step away from its trade union and working-class roots the ground vacated needs to be occupied by a coherent left alternative.

We all have much work to do.

[Ken Ferguson is the editor of Scottish Socialist Voice, newspaper of the Scottish Socialist Party.]