Disunited kingdom

MOVEMENT: the pro-market, pro-capital Scottish National Party can’t secure ‘self-determination’ for Scotland on its own. (Photo: Craig Maclean)

by Colin Fox, SSP national co-spokesperson The Tories’ General Election victory has revealed a starkly divided ‘Kingdom’. The distribution of the 650 seats in the House of Commons shows they are numerically dominant only in the South of England. Labour has a majority in the North of England [and Wales] and the SNP possess virtually all the Scottish seats. The result highlights the fractured state of British politics and casts a long shadow over the national question in Scotland.

So, what we can expect the Tories to do now? They plan to cut another £12billion from Government spending, promote further casualisation of the workforce, oversee wider inequality and curtail what’s left of public services and trade union rights in Britain. We have been warned.

That threat was reinforced in the small print of an article squirreled away on page 43 of Scotland on Sunday’s business section where employment analyst Tony Shiret of Besi Research concluded Sports Direct ‘which has come under fire for extensive use of zero-hours contracts’ are a big winner [from this General Election] because ‘employment laws will not be changed’. In other words, Cameron’s victory is a triumph for sweatshop employers paying poverty wages.

They will now face no restraints on their exploitative behaviour. Working people on the other hand particularly those in sectors where poverty pay and casualisation are rife in retail, the care sector, agency jobs, hospitality and catering will suffer further falls in their living standards.

This election will solve nothing’ insisted Will Hutton in The Observer at the weekend ‘Inequality will grow. Low wages and insecure jobs will proliferate. The housing crisis will deepen. Public services will become even more threadbare.’

Britain’s labour force certainly lost this election and so did the Labour Party. One week before Thursday’s poll, the bookies had Ed Miliband favourite to become the next Prime Minister albeit in coalition with the Lib Dems. But they were wrong. A week later ‘Red Ed’ was gone.

He failed to turn the enormous contempt for Cameron and Clegg to his advantage because he offered a pale imitation of the Tories. Labour’s decision to support 90 per cent of Tory cuts was suicidal. They failed to persuade voters they were any more capable of growing the economy today than they were back in 2010.

Labour also supported the Coalitions continual victimisation of claimants and immigrants. Who can forget the remarks of Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Rachel Reeves MP who boasted ‘Labour are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be and we’re not the party to represent those who are out of work’.

Labour lost the progressive electorate right there. So when former Prime Minister Tony Blair says ‘Labour lost because it was too far left’ it shows how out of touch he is with the former Labour voters who now detest him.

For a long time the polls suggested this election was stuck in a stalemate between a Coalition Government that did not deserve to be re-elected governing as it did for a rich corporate elite drunk on its own greed and believing itself untouchable and an opposition so bereft of ideas that all it could do was ape the reactionary policies of the Government on poverty and inequality, on privatisation, on warmongering and blaming claimants and immigrants for an economic crisis they did not cause.

If the result for Labour in England was bad it was off the Richter scale in Scotland. The Scottish Labour Party was swept away. It has never suffered a blow like this one. Working class Scots who had dismissed the party in unprecedented numbers in September’s referendum stayed away and took their friends with them.

And there is no guarantee Labour will survive the blow of this ‘political revolution’. It is a party that does not stand for anything anymore. When former leader Johan Lamont described universal benefits as epitomising ‘the something for nothing culture’ the party was lost at sea.

The scale of Labour’s defeat was breathtaking. It is the end of an era. The end of the one party state Scotland has endured for half a century. Such a rout was unimaginable back in 2010 when Labour won most seats by promising to ‘Keep out the Tories’.

But that was before they got into bed with them. And yet in many ways the key question in Scotland now is, what has the SNP actually won?

Fifty-six seats yes. But independence? No. Or vital influence at Westminster? No. They face five years of opposition. And on past experience the SNP leadership will not condone or conduct extra-parliamentary action of any kind to defend Scotland from Tory attacks. They will encourage us to be passive and leave it to them just as Labour did.

The Tories are preparing traps for the independence movement. They plan to devolve the limited extra powers included in the Smith Commission Report as a way to temper the SNP’s momentum.

They have also offered full Fiscal Autonomy [FFA] which they believe is another way to trap advocates of independence. Full Fiscal Autonomy came up regularly during the General Election campaign. The Unionist parties were eager to see the SNP accept it and the SNP were understandably reluctant.

For the SSP I suggested the ‘devil was in the detail’ here. FFA is said to give Scotland ‘full tax raising powers’ when in fact it proposes nothing of the kind. VAT, fuel, alcohol and tobacco duties are to remain with London as payment for Scotland’s contribution towards Defence, Foreign Affairs and European Union Bills as well as a share of the UK National Debt.

All these figures are easily manipulated to Scotland’s detriment and Westminster has every incentive to fiddle the FFA negotiations.

At the same time Westminster will, as John McAllion explained recently in this newspaper, lay many traps for the SNP and their plans for change. With his House of Commons majority David Cameron has ruled out a second referendum for example. And since the matter is reserved there is little prospect of this path to independence opening up again any time soon.

For all their bluster about ‘the people of Scotland deciding when the next referendum will be’ [presumably based on opinion poll evidence] the SNP suggest that meantime ‘Swinnerian competence’ is the way to galvanise the independence movement! That will not work because fact is the SNP’s record at Holyrood leaves a great deal to be desired.

The independence movement is an energised working class force and we must remind the SNP that it cannot secure ‘self-determination’ for Scotland on its own, even with 100,000 members. The SNP is a pro-market, pro-capital, neoliberal party. Many others in the independence movement are not.

The SSP for example, remains a vital part of the movement, we are not pro-market, and we are anti-capitalist. We are not social democrats, we are socialists, there is a huge difference. And before our opponents seek to dismiss our role in the independence revolution, the way Andrew Neil tried on The Daily Politics recently, we would point out the tens of thousands of voters who told us:

‘This [Westminster General Election] is not your turn. We need to get rid of Labour and under first past the post only the SNP can do that. Your turn comes next year with Holyrood when we have two votes and we need to get socialists [and Greens] elected there to hold the SNP to account.’

The Scottish Socialist Party was, and remains, an important part of the independence movement, for it is a movement and not a single party. It has its political wing but it must also have its industrial wing, its cultural wing and its wide breadth of support.

We knew our vote in 2015 would be tiny. Our job now in the SSP is to work with others to ‘hold the SNP’s feet to the fire’ as it were, to insist they keep the promises they made to the Scottish working class to defend them from Tory and bosses attacks.

The timing and tone of our criticism of the SNP will therefore bear that role in mind. Will the SNP deliver? No they will not, in our view. That is why our 2015 manifesto in contrast to theirs was entitled ‘Standing up for Scotland’s working class majority’.

In 1997 New Labour was as popular as the SNP are today and the SSP [or Scottish Socialist Alliance as it was then] was the only left party to stand against them and the tide of illusions in them too. We were vindicated by subsequent events.

The Scottish Socialist Party will continue to work with others to expose the illusions in capitalism and its true character and present the socialist case afresh.

‘I am a great believer in what you say before an election should be what you say after,’ said Nicola Sturgeon. So are we, Nicola.

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