Neil Davidson continues analysis from last night’s debate and argues that the coming election is a question of whether Labour are going to be either totally annihilated or just completely crushed in Scotland.
I agree with Jonas about the weaknesses in Sturgeon’s presentation over defence and the “economic” argument for migration, where she went into “stateswomen” mode. Other than that I think there were four notable things about last night.
1) It was interesting just how badly Farage went down with members of the audience, and how rattled he was when they responded positively to pro-migrant positions, even to the point of attacking them for left-wing bias! He got applauded at the very beginning, but after that, virtually nothing, In part his outburst reflects the way in which he has largely been spared exposure to criticism and to audiences who don’t agree with him. So apart from maybe consolidating its existing support, I don’t think this helped UKIP at all.
2) Miliband was useless. He sounds like he’s playing a part even when he’s saying what he actually thinks. That the conventional media apparently think he came out best in this encounter is only another indication of how these judgements are based on the ability of politicians to “professionally” present a case within the accepted parameters of neoliberal thought, rather than connect with an audience. The key moment, for me, was when the discussion turned to the Tories’ plan to sell of Housing Association stock. Bennett, Sturgeon and Wood all attacked the plan from a position of principle, but Miliband… wanted to know where the money was going to come from. (No problem with the money for Trident, apparently.) His reasons for refusing to ally with the SNP (because the Scottish National Party is, er…a nationalist party) allowed Sturgeon to make two a devastating points about a) how their differences were surely as nothing compared to the differences they both have with the Tories, and b) was he seriously going to allow the Tories back in by refusing to work with the SNP? No answer – except to vote a majority Labour Government, which no-one (including him) thinks is going to happen.
3) One effect of these debates is that the minority parties have pushed the idea of what is politically possible to the left. We know, of course, that 40 years ago, with the exception of the environment, their positions – including Wood’s very welcome argument for stronger trade unions – would have been mainstream within the centre left of Social Democracy. Its an indication of just how far neoliberalism has pushed politics to the right that these do not just seem radical: they are. Context is all. It was obvious from audience responses, but also from speaking to people at work after earlier debates, that there is a widespread sense of relief that its OK to publicly say this stuff – about Trident, about trade unions, about council housing – and not be treated as insane. This provides an opening for the more consistently left-wing arguments that revolutionaries are making.
4) Finally, back to the SNP. I’m not sure if comrades in England and Wales are aware of precisely what an earthquake is about to happen in Scotland. Labour became hegemonic in Scotland as a whole later than is often supposed (between the late 1950s and early 1980s of the last century), although in some areas in the West it goes back to the 1920s. That is now coming to an end: the SNP currently have 6 seats at Westminster; the smallest number of seats they are likely to have on 8 May is 42, the largest, 54. It’s a question of whether Labour are going to be either totally annihilated or just completely crushed in electoral terms. This is important enough for comrades in Scotland, but it is also going to impact on the rest of the UK. The SNP has over 110,000 members, 85,000 of whom joined since last September. It is the third biggest party in the UK and in terms of membership relative to the size of the population, it is the second-biggest party in the world, after the Chinese Communist Party. This is one reason why Sturgeon appears confident – she actually has a base. Furthermore, unlike the other major parties, the SNP actually “do” politics in a way that the other haven’t had to for decades. It is no accident, as we say, that the two most assured, most tactically astute bourgeois politicians of social neoliberal era in the UK – i.e. from the early 1990s – have been its last two leaders. Forget this “minority” party schtick, the SNP will almost certainly be the third-biggest party in the House of Commons. As Dan Swain rightly argued in a recent post, the ruling class will attempt to reimpose another Tory-dominated coalition, if they can possibly get away with it. If these circumstances, the immediate demand of the left across the UK as a whole would have to be for labour to form the government in alliance with the SNP, Plaid and the Greens – and that this is based on an acceptance of key elements of these parties programmes, above an end to austerity and the removal of Trident.