It is difficult swimming against the tide – but swim we must…

by Colin Fox, lead RISE candidate, Lothians • The 2016 Holyrood elections remind me of 1997. I was the agent for the Scottish Socialist Alliance candidate in Edinburgh North and Leith. After 18 years of Conservative Government the overwhelming mood throughout Britain insisted ‘we need to get rid of the Tories’. Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ were deemed the only ones who could do it. The SSA (later the SSP) warned against developing illusions in Labour having watched them abandon Clause Four Part Four of their constitution—its commitment to socialism.

SNP and NATO: the SNP conserve Scotland’s warmongering NATO membership whilst marching for peace

Blair was the most right-wing leader the party had ever had. We advised voters not to expect much from this shiny new opportunist leader. It was difficult for the SSA to swim against the prevailing tide as people were swept away with the irrational belief that ‘things can only get better’. But it was the right thing to do.

Today, RISE issues similar warnings about foolish expectations in the SNP. Scrutiny of their record and manifesto would be wise. This time next week the country will doubtless pour over the election results and consider the implications for Scotland’s political future if as expected the SNP win another thumping majority.

The independence movement for example must honestly ask itself if our cause been advanced by the strategy the SNP adopted in winning this election?

For me the answer is plainly no. Their ‘don’t mention independence’ plan may be seen by future generations as an historic missed opportunity given the oppositions unpopularity. How can the independence case be advanced by disowning it?

Subordinated to the goal of sending 70-odd SNP MSPs to Holyrood, the independence ‘movement’ appears to have been similarly subsumed into one party. Terrified of being seen as ‘Tartan Tories’, the SNP nonetheless unveiled a conservative manifesto that proposes very little change. They fought this election defending their ‘managerial’ record in Government since 2007.

It is an uninspiring record to be sure, one that has done little with the powers available to them to eradicate poverty, inequality and injustice in Scotland. They present a conservative vision of Scotland which keeps the unfair Council Tax, conserves our low wages economy and cuts public services whilst blaming it on someone else (Westminster or the EU).

They promise to ‘protect our NHS from privatisation’ and yet sold off Edinburgh’s Sick Kids hospital under their Scottish Futures Trust. They want to keep the monarchy with its inherited privileges and medieval divine rights. They conserve Scotland’s warmongering NATO membership whilst marching for peace.

The SNP represent ‘capitalist continuity’ and ‘free market managerialism’ not change. And therein lies the rub for the independence movement.

The polls all show us we can only succeed by offering change and yet as the eminent economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert at Stirling University have repeatedly pointed out the SNP ultimately presents another safe pair of hands for the bosses in Scotland.

As the EU referendum looms the SNP insist Brexit will inevitably lead to another independence vote. Will it indeed?

Their scenario unconvincingly assumes Boris Johnston or David Cameron will grant one. Worse it assumes a majority can be won for independence over the issue of Scotland’s EU membership.

Their case is full of holes. It ignores ‘bread and butter’ issues and people’s belief they will be better off economically with independence. Few would be confident of a Yes vote in such circumstances. Moreover having lost in 2014 in part because of the SNP’s ludicrous position on currency, the nationalists now propose in effect to impose the euro on Scotland!

The SNP favour remaining in the EU and their manifesto guarantees poverty wages, exploitation and inequality in Scotland will remain too. Their adherence to neoliberal austerity and cuts in public service provision mean economic growth of any meaningful measure will continue to elude us.

Their resistance to the Tories will remain negligible too based as it is largely in Parliamentary manoeuvres. Yet as support for the SNP inevitably recedes the independence movement will rue the day it allowed itself to become in effect a single party.

As for Labour its existential crisis will deepen. Will they dump Kesia Dugdale their eighth leader since 1999? Their worst Holyrood result may precipitate it, even if it was widely anticipated. On the other hand Labour is running out of lemmings. Alex Rowley, her Deputy Leader, proffers the strongest arguments in favour of her remaining for obvious reasons.

For RISE these elections have provided invaluable lessons. Our ideas resonate widely with the electorate and yet the illusions in the SNP remain. Nevertheless socialists would be wise to remember as the political commentator David Torrance aptly put it ‘If the SNP were as radical as they claim there would be no need for RISE.’

The left is swimming against the prevalent tide at the moment, but swim we must. That tide will turn. We need to keep working on a coherent political programme capable of rallying people behind an effective fighting force if we want to achieve the independent socialist Scotland we seek.

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