With Labour a political corpse, Scotland needs a new left
The Labour Party of Hardie, Lansbury, Attlee, Bevin, Bevan, Crosland, Crossman, Callaghan, Healey, Benn, John Smith, is no more. However much that party oscillated between left and right, it remained able to command wide working class support, because its instincts were still sound. Blair poisoned it.
That has left a huge void in the political world, which makes working class people powerless, and open to the ‘mercies’ of a right wing determined to reduce the size of the state to its 1930s shape, where welfare barely existed, and when it did it came in punitive form. For working class people with nothing but their labour to sell to live, the demolition of the welfare state will be a catastrophe.
To where, with its traditional Labour Party now defunct, can the working class turn? Where now will it find a coherent, principled, ideologically clad organisation capable of not only defending it, but advancing its interest for a secure, decent life? Where now will it find a socialist voice in action, working on its behalf?
That void cannot be filled by the Greens, who may have socialists in it, but is not as left wing a party as it pretends to itself. It is a similar case with the SNP. Among its elected members at Holyrood and Westminster there are socialists, but the party itself is not one.
It has never as a party attacked the capitalist system, never as a party submitted that system to any searching analysis, preferring to avoid ideological exploration by opting for the label of Social Democratic, although I doubt if you could get any of its leaders to provide a definition of what that is. To my mind such a label is there to hide a vacuum, not to shed light on what its guidance system is.
So, we need a new left. One that has grasped the ideological thistle, willing to challenge the prevailing capitalist wind that we are constantly told (the wish being father to the thought), has blown away all belief in the idea that socialism.
A new left whose ideological inspiration is balanced but not blunted, by what is concretely achievable policy in a Scotland that is five million people with an open economy in a global world of seven billion.
Matching socialist inspiration with achievable goals, ones that the electorate will believe are possible, will be a difficult task for those who have formed RISE, which we all hope will be the organisation to fill the void left by the Labour Party. Carrying a torch for socialism is not enough.
Any ideological impulse that carries the holders to a point of purity will avail them nothing if they ignore need as defined by the electors. There is a lot of need in Scotland, which is not difficult to find. Thousands of homeless, one in five in poverty, the labour market noted for its low paid jobs, an NHS that needs to stave off those who claim it cannot be left in the public sector.
Then there is education. We are far from giving our children and young people the best education system in the world. Year by year, Scotland has slipped down the international league table.
In some universities first year students need remedial work to bring them up to standard in reading and writing. Among the best in the world? The challenge that faces RISE is formidable. It will be tested in the electoral arena for the first time.
Many will discover that an election, on policies, is different from a referendum; and that in field alongside it looking for the same votes will be parties long in the tooth in these matters.
The key will be the policies which emerge from RISE. If they are believable, that is if working class people believe they can actually be achieved, and can make a concrete difference to their lives, the foundation for progress will be there.
The electorate is the most testing examiners of policies, and in Scotland, with the emergence of a politically educated and astute people as a result of the referendum, that will be particularly true.
The one thing lacking in policymaking in all political parties in recent years has been the lack of intellectual rigour: a quality that is not regarded as important by the merchants of spin who now occupy our political space.
I hope RISE will end the dumbing down that is now a curse upon us.
• This article also appears in today’s edition of The National
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