Focus on personality a diversion from urgent action needed now

CLIMATE ACTION: be reasonable, demand the impossible. Graphic: Jamie Reid / Photo: Simon Whittle

by Ken Ferguson

· The long slow decomposition of recently all powerful Scottish Labour reached its latest stage with the failed “chicken coup” against erstwhile leader Richard Leonard at the recent meeting of the party’s executive.

It now seems virtually certain that Leonard will lead the dwindling forces of Scottish Labour into next year’s Holyrood election and certain defeat.

Indeed despite the spin there is no doubt that Scottish Labour would consider it a significant advance if they were able to regain second place behind the SNP and relegate the widely detested Tories to third place.

That this is considered a difficult target to hit has little to do with the supposed leadership skills (or lack of them) of Richard Leonard and much more to a conjunction of factors both international and domestic.

Across the western world parties such as PASOK in Greece, the Clinton Democrats, French Socialists, the German Social Democrats and of course, most significant for Voice readers the shallow spin merchants of “New” Labour paved the way to today’s world.

What all these trends and forces shared in common was that, as former working class parties, they not only abandoned their mission but went over to the side of market led neoliberal economics embracing a swathe of anti-working class politics.

Gordon Brown and the rich
Here in Britain this took the form of son of the manse Gordon Brown worshipping the wonders of a wise market, boosting the money changers of the City and proclaiming the once workers’ party as “relaxed” at the greed of the super rich.

Alongside this the majority Labour governments of 1997, 2001 and 2005 took millions of pounds from affiliated trade unions but left the Thatcher anti union laws intact severely limiting their ability to recruit, retain and defend members—a key gain for employers.

This reached its nadir with New Labour backing the transformation of plain Mr Fred Goodwin of RBS to Sir Fred who symbolised the worship of a financial house of cards which collapsed in 2008 ushering in a decade of austerity—taking Fred’s knighthood with it.

The outcome of similar politics saw US Democrats abandonment of their working class base result in today’s Trump horrors, the disappearance of PASOK and the loss of some 10 million voters by the German SPD.

Scottish Labour’s decline is part of that historic trend which has seen a 30 year dominance of market driven politics which is only now cracking under the sledgehammer of Covid-19 but it also has its own home grown flashpoint—the National Question.

Voice readers with a long memory will know that the fairy story that tells of a wise Labour leader Donald Dewar (even described by some as ‘father of the nation Mandela style) ushering in a Scottish Parliament is just moonshine.

Never mind the disaster of Better Together for decades devolution was opposed by Labour from the rigged referendum of 1978 to when they were forced by the bitter events of the Thatcher years to concede it.

Indeed you can still find anti devolution Labour voices wailing away in the odd dusty corner of Scotsman today.

Labour’s alliance with the Tories
However the famous prediction by Labour grandee and NATO top dog Lord Robertson that devolution would “kill independence stone dead” proved wide of the mark and finally in 2007 the SNP won power in Holyrood where they remain until this day.

Initially practising a type of social democratic politics familiar to Labour voters they went on to in majority government in 2011 and Indyref #1 in 2014 in which Labour’s alliance with the Tories proved a cyanide capsule for the people’s party.

These events have led us to today’s political landscape in which the SNP is dominant, a dominance heavily reinforced by the favourable contrast between Nicola and Boris’s handling of Covid, and looks a certainty for top spot in next year’s Holyrood elections.

Yet it is a paradox that the chosen option of thousands of former Labour voters, the SNP has actually presided over much which hits working people hardest with soaring poverty, growing food banks, insecure work and relentless service cuts.

Dominant parties have, in their favour ‘not being the other lot’ a factor which, along with growing support for independence and revulsion with Johnson will see them win in May.

The question then however will be how and in whose interest will the new government set about tackling the triple crisis of jobs, Covid and Climate daily gathering pace and likely to be raging by May.

Woeful SNP govt offerings
To date the offerings by the SNP government in both the so called Growth Commission and the tentative banker designed recovery plan are woefully inadequate and entirely trapped within the confines of conventional market economics.

The scale and dimensions of the crisis we face demands an approach taken from the French May uprising of 1968—’be realistic, demand the impossible’—and only a decisive break with the failed system of today can meet the needs of people and planet.

What is desperately needed is the fashioning of a mass 2014 style democratic movement which both supports independence to break with the failed UK but also puts a range of demands on jobs, climate and Covid recovery which can provide the tools and policies essential to meet the colossal challenges we face.

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