Scotland and #GE2019

The #GE2019 provides an opportunity to make Tory fears of a Corbyn-led government come true, but it does so within the context of a wider crisis of the British state. rs21 members in Scotland discuss the distinct electoral dynamics in Scotland.

Edinburgh AUOB
Edinburgh All Under One Banner march for independence, 5 October 2019. Photo: Pete Cannell

The forthcoming general election on 12 December has primarily been called as a result of the Brexit crisis. Not least this has caused deep and furious division within the Tory Party; that they have lasted this long in government has been due to their fears of the threat that a Corbyn-led government could pose to ruling class interests. We now have the chance to make those Tory fears come true.

However, underlying Brexit is a crisis that goes beyond the Tory Party and parliament. We are witnessing the unfolding crisis of the British state, with the weaknesses of Britain’s economy, its diminished standing on the world stage and its democratic deficit becoming increasingly evident. Moreover, it’s a crisis that coincides with the overwhelming urgency of the climate emergency.

The independence referendum of 2014 and its aftermath have meant that electoral politics in Scotland has had a distinct dynamic compared with the rest of the UK. In autumn 2014 there was a huge influx of new members to the SNP. The Greens also benefited. When the Corbyn surge came it was smaller and weaker than in England.

As recently as 2010, Labour took 41 of the Scottish seats at Westminster. Five years later in the wake of the independence referendum this was reduced to just a single seat. A small decline in the SNP vote in 2017 benefited the Tories more than Labour. Currently, despite the welcome revival of a serious Labour left the party is running at around 12% in the polls.

There has been little sign from Scottish Labour that the party has learnt from the past five years. Whereas we are hopeful that Labour’s radical manifesto will give a real boost to results in England, the impact is likely to be much less in Scotland. This is not because somehow Scottish workers are more backward, but simply that Labour are deeply discredited by lining up with the Tories in 2014, being more ant-SNP than anti-Tory subsequently and failing to support another referendum. There is unlikely to be a major shift unless the SNP completely lose touch with their mass base or Labour recognises the hole that they have dug for themselves and rethinks its stance on the British state.

So we find ourselves in Scotland with Sturgeon arguing for constitutional change plus business as usual and Corbyn downplaying the crisis of the state despite having a more radical programme.

There is a grassroots Independence movement that continues to pull huge numbers of working class people out into the streets. However, the SNP is not attempting to relate to these people in any meaningful way and Labour in most part is unable to, dismissing the demonstrations as crude nationalism.

Moreover, the climate emergency should be the wake-up call that business ‘as it used to be’ or ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option. If, as we hope, there is a Corbyn government, its ability to act will only be possible on the back of mass mobilisation and democratic participation.  It’s almost certain that such a government will need the votes of the SNP bloc.  This poses a challenge to the left in the Labour Party and the left in the SNP. The Labour left could make common cause with the significant layer of socialists who argue a radical, internationalist case for independence.  At the same time socialists in the SNP need to think through how the mass campaigning for Labour’s radical social programme a impacts on achieving the kind of Scotland that they want.

Climate demonstration
Climate strike, Edinburgh, 24 May 2019. Photo: Pete Cannell

A Corbyn government at Westminster is our best hope of an end to austerity and to achieve real action on a Green New Deal. Socialists need to do everything they can to achieve this outcome. In England with essentially a binary choice this must mean voting Labour.

Scotland is more complicated. We can view elections in two (albeit interconnected) ways.  First the parliamentary arithmetic – how do we get a majority for the outcome we want – a Labour government at Westminster?  In many Scottish seats small swings away from the SNP could let Tories in – this is what happened in 2017.  On this basis Keep the Tories out seems like a useful principle.  But secondly, we know that while electoral results are important, outcomes are also determined more fundamentally by extra-parliamentary class power.

A resolution to the current crisis in the interests of working people will not lie within the Westminster parliament but with the forces outside it. Although we must push for a Corbyn victory, we know that if Corbyn wins, he will come under constant pressure from within and outside the party. Also we know that Labour in power ultimately never lives up to its expectations.

There is an encouraging conjunction at this point between three things: first, a recognition by many people across Britain that the Westminster parliament is broken beyond repair (a lot of them will vote Tory in this election, but only because they don’t know what else to do); second, the understanding which persists in those on the socialist left, based on historical evidence, that rapid and systematic change, now needed to avoid catastrophe, can only be achieved by a mass movement; and third, a global mass movement which is already growing rapidly.

Whatever the election result a mass movement is needed, focussed around deepening democratic representation, action on the climate crisis, workers rights, resistance to all borders and discrimination, and immediate changes which address the urgent needs of the many people who struggle on a daily basis to house and feed themselves and their families.

Some of us in Scotland are lucky enough to have candidates standing in our local constituency who are socialists.  Some in Labour a few in the SNP and the Greens – maximising the socialist presence at Westminster is important to a future Corbyn government.  So we should vote socialist where we can. Elsewhere it will be necessary to think tactically about whether a Labour, SNP or Green vote is best placed to ensure that Tories don’t get elected.

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