Westminster not a motorway to change

J.C. – NEITHER A MESSIAH NOR A NAUGHTY BOY: even a Corbyn government would keep large swathes of Tory austerity and, of course, Trident on the Clyde. (Photo: Craig Maclean)

by Ken Ferguson • After a summer smearing Corbyn as an anti-semite, in time honoured fashion, the millionaire-dominated media changed tack at Liverpool.

The tale now is of a dangerously left wing Labour challenge for power, based on workers’ control, social policies which will bankrupt the economy and cause investors (moneylenders) to flee the country.

Of course, neither the press campaign against them or the policies showcased at Liverpool are really new.

Way back in the ’70s, Labour—then led by Harold Wilson—promised voters “a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families”

The Wilson and Callaghan governments between 1974 and ’79 set up a National Enterprise Board to intervene in industry and, backed by Tony Benn, supported workers co-ops such as Triumph motorcycles.

Labour also commissioned the Bullock Report into industrial democracy which had proposals more radical than those floated in Liverpool by John McDonnell.

All this was destroyed by the Thatcher victory, the right/left tensions in Labour erupted and the SDP split helped keep the Tories in power for 18 years.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the Thatcher years however, alongside historic event such as the fall of the Berlin Wall was a discrediting of socialist ideas, the rise of “New” Labour and all that flowed from it.

Twenty years on and a ruinous crash later, at UK level we are now told that we stand on the threshold of radical socialist change.

However, while the proposals for extending public ownership, workers rights and so forth would be welcomed by any serious socialist, the unavoidable question, particularly for socialists in Scotland, is how is this to be achieved?

Specifically unlike ’70s Labour, after its Better Together love-in with the Tories, today’s Labour is a much marginalised force, miles behind the SNP.

Unlike in England and Wales, in last year’s UK election, where Labour saw double digit increases in their share of the vote to 41.9 per cent and 48.9 per cent respectively, Labour’s share of the Scottish vote went up by 2.8 per cent to just 27.1 per cent.

That modest increase in vote share was a fraction of the 13.7 increase achieved by the Scottish Tories. It left Scottish Labour as the third party in Scotland, trailing the Tories by 6 seats and the SNP by 28 seats, and 9 percentage points in vote share. Indeed, of the 24 UK seats where there was no increase in Labour’s share of the vote at all, 21 of them were in Scotland.

Yet new ‘left’ Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is apparently intent on ignoring recent history and has dug in beside the Tories in the “No indyref 2” trench, pledging Scots Labour to oppose such a poll in all circumstances.

In the complex world of Scottish politics, such a position has two immediate consequences. Firstly, it spits in the face of the thousands of Labour Yes voters in centres like Glasgow and Dundee who might be won back by a more progressive policy offer, and secondly, it makes any increase in Westminster Labour MPs more difficult.

This in turn reduces the prospects on a Corbyn victory in a tight UK poll, and in turn, the case to go back them as the best option for progressive change in Scotland.

Given that Labour—even amidst the Tory Brexit chaos and after a week of conference publicity—is still behind in UK polls, the choice before progressive voters in Scotland is between a gamble on the outcome of a Westminster poll or seeking a democratic Scottish solution. This dilemma has been around for decades but post the 2014 referendum, it is sharply posed.

If voters gamble on UK Labour and lose, we face a Tory government—maybe Premier Johnston?—using Brexit to impose a bargain basement deregulated economy, which makes today’s look humane.

Even a Corbyn government would keep large swathes of Tory austerity and, of course, Trident on the Clyde.

Based on the energy and movement built in 2014, the alternative of a renewed drive for independence allied to a deliverable progressive social vision will look attractive to a growing number of voters.

However, if this is to form a credible alternative, the broad based Yes movement will need to sharply raise the need for an independence offer which bins the current neoliberal growth commission and addresses the big issues facing working class Scotland.

The hard reality is that solving Scotland’s democratic demands can only be achieved if independence offers answers to our myriad of social issues.

Rather than gambling on the outcome of a corrupt first-past-the-post Westminster poll, better to recognise the need to break with the warmongering neo-racist UK state and take the road to independence and a democratic republic.

This way lies the road to a reconstructed Scotland, putting the needs of people and planet before those of bankers, speculators and landowners.

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