Without doubt, Labour paid a heavy price for their part in the two year ‘Project Fear’ No campaign which, though it won, enduringly linked them as partners to the widely detested Tories and totally discredited Lib Dems. But it is also clear that much deeper forces are also at work.
The cowing of Labour during the Thatcher years turned into a decisive break with socialist policies by Blair and ultimately ending in the morass of war, the bankers’ bale out and unashamed pro-business priorities is not of itself unique.
Confronted with a confident aggressive global capitalism, like Labour, social democrats across Europe moved to the right in a vain bid to placate the bosses and in the process attacked their own supporters with anti-union laws and spending cuts.
However while this no doubt eroded Labour support there can be no question that, in Scotland, the merging of the break with working class policies and the rise of the national question proved decisive in the defeat of 7 May.
The experience of the brutality of the Thatcher years which saw mass unemployment, large scale industrial closures and the Poll Tax imposed on a Scotland which rejected them by Westminster transformed the national question into a key demand with both a democratic and class content.
This basic truth was dramatically confirmed in the two year indyref campaign which saw the debate moved, through mass action from simply a constitutional argument to one which spotlighted a competing vision of Scotland’s future anchored in the politics of an essentially red/green Scotland and informed by a range of ideas including feminism, anti-militarism and a rejection of consumerist greed.
Labour was on the winning side last September but in the process aligned itself with austerity, nuclear weapons and an essentially Westminster elite contempt for Scottish democracy trumpeted by the same media that is now busily running a quasi-racist anti-Scottish campaign.
Labour simply chose the wrong side with the wrong arguments and, on 7 May, paid the price. At the heart of the unprecedented SNP victory was their stance as an anti-austerity party which contrasted sharply—Jim Murphy rhetoric notwithstanding—with the pro-austerity policies of all three unionist parties.
As the Voice has pointed out before the SNP claim to ownership of the progressive ground of Scottish politics is challenged by a range of realities from council cuts through rail and ferry privatisation and policies of cuts which have led to attacks on workers wages and conditions.
However there can be no question that in spotlighting boldly a rejection of austerity to mass audiences in TV debates and in a high profile campaign the SNP have decisively raised the question not just of the wisdom of austerity but the fact that there can be an alternative to it.
The reality is that, as argued by forces including the Scottish Socialist Party, many trade unions and a range of campaigners, the austerity programme far from a necessary evil is in fact a cover for a fundamental and final marketisation of the UK and massive destruction of the remaining welfare state.
The huge vote given to the SNP is both an endorsement of anti-austerity and a mandate for resistance to it both in Westminster and Holyrood and equally importantly in workplaces, communities and within Scottish society at large.
Building such a resistance must now be a key task for the period ahead. Already there are signs from the trade unions that the reality that the Tory manifesto plans even worse anti-union laws will produce a response with figures such as UNITE’s Len McLuskey and the STUC’s Graeme Smith posing the need to break such laws.
For the socialist left which played such a key role in the referendum campaign to give it a left and progressive content working together to fashion a coherent anti-austerity campaign which both keeps the momentum against Tory brutality which 7 May represented and build a movement expressing it must be a central task.
And, as the full horror of the Tory assault bites, opposition will be unlikely to be confined either to Westminster and Holyrood or simply to the brutal cuts signalled by Cameron but seems sure to see growing pressure for a fresh independence referendum.
In the light of the spectacular defeats in Scotland for the unionist parties—and £12billion of savage cuts to be inflicted by a government with one Scottish MP—the demand for a second referendum can only grow.