General election results: the Scottish context

The faith of the Scottish workers in the SNP will inevitably be dashed.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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In the Scottish context, the election result was a mixed bag consisting of a combination of 1) the near wiping out of the imperialist Labour Party and 2) the near clean sweep of the imperialist SNP. Of Scotland’s 59 seats, 56 were taken by the SNP, with one each for the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

The death of Scottish Labour?

For Scottish Labour the results were a disaster, with the loss of 40 seats in stark contrast to the SNP’s 50 seats gained. Unable to hang on even in the central-belt Labour heartlands, this may well prove to be a watershed moment in the relationship between Labour and Scotland.

While Labour’s domination of Scottish politics has been presented as eternal, however, it was not so long ago that the Conservatives also had significant support in Scotland. Indeed, it was only in the 1997 general election that the Tories’ fortunes reversed, likely forever, and they were effectively wiped out in Scotland.

Only five years earlier (ie, in 1992), they received over a quarter of a million votes in Scotland, returning 11 MPs. In 1979, the Tories took 22 seats and 916,000 votes. Even after four years of Thatcher the Tory vote stood strong with 21 seats and over 800,000 votes. Going further back, it is worth noting that between 1950 and 1970 the lowest Tory vote was 960,000 and that the apex was 1.35 million. Evidently, Labour’s dominance of Scottish politics, and Scottish anti-Toryism, are fairly recent phenomena.

These figures throw aside the present-day nationalist assertions that the Scottish are inherently to the left of the English. Whilst modern Scotland sees itself as ‘anti-Tory’, post the 1997 Tory electoral annihilation, a similar fate may now await the Labour party.

Labour’s annihilation can be seen at the same time as 1) an awakening of Scottish workers to the political bankruptcy of the Labour party, and 2) an explosion of nationalism. These represent two antagonistic strains within the one body. As we move forward, we will find out the extent of each force.

The Labour campaign was fought (and fraught) with the usual lies and half-truths. For instance, the pledge to “ban exploitative zero-hour contracts” was soon revealed not to mean ‘ban zero-hour contracts as they are exploitative’. Instead, it meant ‘ban those particular examples of zero-hour contracts that Labour has deemed exploitative’.

The party also claimed that if elected its government would raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour. But closer inspection of the policy revealed that there was no plan to implement it until 2020 – even assuming that the promise was honoured at all. (Labour’s election promises have, after all, repeatedly been shown to be worthless.) Even if they had been elected and had stuck to their pledge, that would have done nothing to help struggling workers now, when they need it. Moreover, by 2020, inflation would very likely mean that the promised £8 would be worth little, if anything, more than the current minimum wage.

The campaign north of the border was led by the hapless Jim Murphy, with his patronising knack of addressing the masses in the manner of a playgroup assistant to a toddler – only with none of the honesty or sincerity. The Labour and revisionist ‘left’ are in the process of explaining the results in terms of this inept Blairite’s performance.

But this is to entirely miss the point that Labour’s betrayal of the cause of the workers is historic, and workers’ realisation is gradual. The process did not begin with Blair’s election in 1997 and will not pass by ‘reclaiming the Labour party’, as the revisionist mummies’ mantra goes.

Conversations on the ground regularly confirm that workers believe that by switching their allegiance to the SNP, they have moved to a party to the left of Labour. Whether in fact the SNP is slightly to the left or slightly to the right of Labour, it is still a right-wing capitalist (indeed, an imperialist) party. It is the job of communists to bring our class to the real, anti-capitalist left, as opposed to leaving workers to follow the bourgeois propaganda and end up where they have been told is ‘left’.

The essence of the SNP

The SNP is a typical party of bourgeois nationalism, displaying the peculiarity of espousing the ‘national interest’ at the same time as selling off the whichever bits of the ‘nation’ it can get its hands on to foreign investors. This is easily explicable by the subservience of the ‘national’ (although in the Scottish case, such a ‘nation’ is a pure figment of the nationalists’ imagination) to the bourgeois within the ideology of bourgeois nationalism. “No party can serve two masters,” (see end) for political parties are nothing if not the organised expression of class interests.

Take, for instance, the sell-off of Scotland’s train services to Abellio. The SNP happily surrendered the regional interest. The party showed zero resistance to tendering out the sector to the Dutch state company. In effect, this means Scottish rail passengers are subsidising the Dutch capitalist state. This must also be taken as a tacit recognition of the superiority of capitalist nationalisation (nationalisation aimed at making capitalism work more efficiently) over the privateers. This has to be the case, otherwise the private bidders would have made the ‘best offer’.

However, the nationalists will not follow this through to its logical conclusion of demanding re-nationalisation of the railways in Scotland. Workers must ask themselves if ‘it’s Scotland’s oil’, is it not also ‘Scotland’s train service’? For the SNP, clearly only highly profitable industry is ‘ours’.

Further SNP sell-offs have occurred in the cases of the Orkney-Shetland ferry service and Dumfries and Galloway’s new general hospital. In both instances, valuable contracts were awarded to the notorious Serco. As their own website boasts, their job is to provide “outsourcing services”. They choose to describe their contracts in these terms:

“Our frontline delivery involves us in vital areas of public life, including providing safe transport, finding sustainable jobs for the long-term unemployed, helping patients recover more quickly, improving the local environment, rehabilitating offenders, protecting borders and supporting the armed forces.”(About us, Serco)

In the real world, the company has been behind the tagging of asylum seekers and running the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. At the latter, the sexual abuse of detainees happened on Serco’s watch. (See Yarl’s Wood £70m Serco contract renewal unacceptable, BBC News, 24 November 2014)

Regarding the Orkney-Shetland ferry service, Serco was awarded the contract, which was taken away from CalMac, the nationalised service overseen by the Scottish government. This was a £240m contract for lifeline services that remote workers’ livelihoods depend on. Not the ‘national’ (or regional) interest, but class interests are represented and protected by the SNP.

Like the sell-offs, the question of North Sea oil is also illuminating. On the one hand, the SNP claimsthat this oil belongs to Scotland. On the other, the party has absolutely zero plans to take the fields into public hands. Evidently, it has no interest in the oil belonging to the people of Scotland. The accurate slogan ought to be ‘It’s the bourgeoisie’s oil, but we want the tax revenue.’ Perhaps this would stir the passions a little less.

The oil question also highlights the very real chasm between the populist quasi-left phraseology of the party and the practicalities of their policies in action. Their slogan about the oil is about as genuine as Labour’s pledge on zero-hour contracts – it is a sham and a hoax perpetrated against the people.

The truth is, as far as the SNP is concerned, the various corporate monopolies and cartels do a fine job of running the economy. Their ownership and control is never to be challenged. All the SNP wants is a share in the spoils via tax revenues.

This provides clear evidence that governments do not hold power, classes hold power. And the SNP is transparently seen to represent the bourgeois class. While the nationalists will happily clash with the Westminster bogeyman, they stand still in awe at the feet of the bourgeoisie – whether local, national or international.

Bourgeois nationalism of the reactionary type represented by the SNP remains both unwilling and unable to do otherwise. It is unwilling because it is a servant of the imperialist bourgeoisie. It is unable because only the science of Marxism Leninism can provide the revolutionary theory capable of transforming the masses into a revolutionary movement capable of overthrowing capitalism.

Regardless of these factors, the nationalists have enjoyed rapid growth since losing the independence referendum last autumn. At the party’s 2013 conference, SNP membership stood at 25,000. By March of this year it stood at over 100,000. To put this in context, this is half of Labour’s entire national membership and two-thirds of the Tories’. And it is around 1 in 40 of Scotland’s adult population. (See SNP boost as membership soars past 100k mark, Herald Scotland, 22 March 2015)

In the first instance, this growth has to be understood in terms of the independence referendum – most importantly, the failure of the main British bourgeois parties to uphold their pledges, made in haste last September in a late desperate scurry to save the union.

As Mark Steel pointed out in the Independent: “Even by the standards of political leaders, the speed and scale of the broken promise about Scotland has been glorious. Two days after signing a ‘vow’ to hand over ‘extensive new powers’, David Cameron announced he would indeed act swiftly to ensure Scottish MPs had less power.” (With Scotland, Cameron’s taken broken promises to a whole new level, 16 October 2014)

This act of self-sabotage can only have Salmond and Sturgeon rubbing their hands with glee. Nothing could feed into the feeling of Westminster persecution more. For many workers, it has served to confirm the incorrect but often-touted view of Scotland as an ‘English colony’. The sense of outrage caused by this backtracking cannot be underestimated.

The nationalists’ ‘left’ phraseology has given weak political expression to the working class’s sense of betrayal. Most British workers today are not raised to a level of class consciousness that enables them to direct their anger at the real root of their problems – the economic system of capitalism. Neither have they been raised to a level that enables them to turn their anger at social democracy in general – only at Labour in particular. Disgust at Labour’s lies and Labour’s pro-business policies has been expressed, but in a politically incoherent fashion – through the SNP.

A related factor has been the SNP’s ability to fight an Obama-esque campaign – both during the independence referendum and after. The party has managed to fight campaigns with sufficient vagueness as to allow people to attach their own meaning to its populist phraseology.

Sticking to simple words like ‘yes’ and ‘change’ may be good advertising, enabling the party to mean all things to all people, but it offers no concrete analysis. With slogans at the front and policy in the rear, there is a gargantuan chasm between the objective essence of the party and the subjective meaning attached to it by its new followers.

The swathes of new SNP members will be both a source of strength and of vulnerability to the party, however. While a political party naturally wishes to grow, a bourgeois party attracting large numbers of disillusioned workers on the basis of misleading ‘left’ phraseology is ultimately digging its own grave. Whilst many workers are supportive of the party now, the chasm between its ‘left’ presentation and its really reactionary essence represents an inherent contradiction, simply waiting to be activated. The explosion from this is inevitable, and will be catastrophic for nationalism.

This process may be about to move into the fast lane, with an unusually astute Tory plan to grant full fiscal autonomy (FFA) to Holyrood. In such an environment, it is difficult to see how the blanket ‘It’s Westminster’s fault’ defence will continue to hold its ground.

The SNP’s neoliberal economics will bring problems in themselves. Added to this, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published a report in March that suggested FFA would bring with it a £7.6bn annual hole in the Scottish budget. The SNP will have to be exposed as another party of cuts and austerity – phraseology will do little to conceal the inevitable bleak material existence of the workers.

With these massive cuts on top of those already experienced, the SNP’s self-projected image: caring and social, but not quite socialist, will disintegrate rapidly, and members could melt away as fast as they came. With FFA, the nationalists will de facto have the powers that were on offer in the referendum – aside from the symbolic issuing of Scottish passports or the ability to shift Trident a few miles down the road.

But whilst foreign policy and defence may be missing, it must be stressed that the referendum never really offered these, since the nationalists always planned to remain in both the imperialist EU and the warmongering neo-nazi Nato alliance. The retention of these decisions was already clearly promised to imperialism.

In this way, the ‘independence’ referendum was in fact never about independence. It was a cunning ruse of the British bourgeoisie to set Scottish worker and English worker as foes in the midst of the capitalist crisis of overproduction. Thus distracted by a false identification of the source of their problems, what chance would they have of realising the true source of economic hurt – and, moreover, of uniting against it?

So runs the reasoning of our class enemy, the British ruling class. In such a way, our exploiters and rulers hope to keep workers in Britain divided and to stop us from organising effectively to resist their plan to save their dying system at our expense. They want to pass the burden of the financial crisis onto our backs through cuts, privatisations and the decimation of pay and pensions. And they want to use our children and those of our fellow workers abroad as cannon fodder in their wars for plunder and domination.

Only this explains why the rise of nationalism all over Britain (whether of the ‘left’-sounding SNP or the openly right-wing EDL/Ukip type) has gone hand-in-hand with the emergence of the global capitalist financial crisis and the consequent ever-accelerating destruction of all our post-war social provision.

Without giving credence to the SNP’s assertion that Scotland is a separate nation from the rest of Britain (much less an oppressed and superexploited one), it is nevertheless worth recalling the words of the old, revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain, taken from their seminal party programme of the 1930s, as it applies to the situation in Britain as a whole:

“No party can serve two masters. No party can serve the ‘nation’ so long as the nation is divided into two warring classes – one which owns the wealth and one which produces the wealth and does not own it. No party can serve the robbers and the robbed at the same time. To speak of the ‘nation’ when it is thus divided is camouflage to hide their support of the robbers because the great majority of the nation belongs to the class which is robbed. The Communist Party is thus the only party of the workers, the oppressed.” (Class Against Class, 1929)