Where now for the socialist left in Scotland?by Colin Fox, SSP national co-spokesperson “Jeremy Corbyn is a thoroughly decent man. Everyone who has met him would describe him this way,” said the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, interviewed on Channel Four News recently. Asked if he saw any similarities between the new Labour leader’s election and Syriza’s victory in January he said he saw the same elation but warned, “this exuberance has to be channelled into a strong political defence in the face of an establishment onslaught.”
There are also important warnings for Corbyn in Syriza’s collapse in the way Alexis Tsipras gave up confronting international capitalism and ended up managing it in Greece. Syriza, like Labour, is a coalition where the socialist left was very weak.
Whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s victory was cheered across Scotland, not least for the drubbing he handed out to his Blairite opponents, it was achieved with little support within the Scottish Labour Party.
Scotland’s sole Labour MP Ian Murray didn’t vote for him. Neither did Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale, nor did most constituency parties. And the weakness of his ‘Campaign for Socialism’ faction in the party was again demonstrated when he had to staff his Shadow Cabinet with MPs who don’t support his political views.
He has very few allies in the Parliamentary Labour Party, as was again demonstrated by the cool reception he received at his first meeting as leader. This does not augur well for Corbyn’s leadership. So despite the overwhelming scale of his victory the fact is he faces huge opposition within his own party.
And it remains to be seen how many of those non-members who spent £3 to vote for him will actually join the Labour Party to help strengthen his position in the teeth of considerable enmity from the party machine that did not want him to win.
Reports suggest he and his deputy Tom Watson intend to spend one day a month in Scotland to rebuild Labour’s support. He will have his work cut out for him since he does not support self-determination for Scotland or more powers for Holyrood. He is not therefore in touch with progressive opinion here far less the pro-indy left looking for a political home.
In trying to reposition his party to the left of the SNP ,as he must, he faces a nation with widespread disdain for Labour and equally wide illusions in Nicola Sturgeon.
And as if to illustrate how ridiculously irrational those illusions have become, a mural unveiled this week at the Edinburgh South Yes Café, depicted the First Minister as Che Guevara—together with black beret and a yellow SNP logo where his red star once sat.
It would appear some people have either been on the wacky-baccy or know nothing about the politics of the SNP leader or Cuba’s famous revolutionary socialist icon.
Fortunately not everyone in Scotland has taken such leave of their senses. The Scottish Socialist Party realises the challenges Corbynmania and Nicolamania pose but we also recognise that support for the SNP will not remain at this level as the contradictions within its neo-liberal economic programme and social democratic rhetoric are exposed.
That’s why we were instrumental in launching RISE – Scotland’s Left Alliance last month to present a more effective alternative to Labour and the SNP.
RISE is the most important left unity project in Scotland since the launch of the SSP’s predecessor the Scottish Socialist Alliance 20 years ago. Local branches, or ‘circles’, are now being established throughout Scotland. RISE (Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmental justice) aims to win seats in next years Holyrood elections and will present a bold socialist programme favouring a second referendum.
This issue features prominently in Jim Sillars’s new book In Place of Failure. The former MP and SNP Deputy Leader makes the case for a second referendum, a new electoral mandate in 2016 and for a ‘floating date’ chosen when the polls clearly indicate victory is likely.
With the anniversary of the 2014 referendum falling this week many seem to think victory in a second vote is a foregone conclusion. They are mistaken. The Independence movement cannot afford such complacency because the lessons of last year’s defeat have not yet been learned as Jim Sillars’s book makes clear.
Moreover David Cameron only agreed to the last referendum because he was confident he would win, as indeed he did, he will not be so amenable next time if the polls show independence is supported by a majority. The political stalemate in Catalonia illustrates the case. The Spanish government refuses to allow the Catalans an independence referendum because it knows it would lose.
Building a mass movement for an independent socialist Scotland, a modern, democratic republic remains the key task for the left. And the first part of that challenge involves winning seats at Holyrood next year.