Tuesday, 12 May 2015


Words fail to adequately convey the enormity of the political revolution witnessed in the General Election.

An unprecedented tsunami of support for the SNP swept all before it, winning 50% of all votes cast. Labour plunged to its worst election result in Scotland since 1918. The treacherous LibDems were wiped out, with the loss of 4 million votes, in punishment for their collaboration with the Tories the past 5 years.

But the results at UK level could not have been more profoundly different from those in Scotland - setting us on a collision course with the Westminster Tory dictatorship that will hasten the day when Scotland demands outright independence.


To judge what the people of Scotland need to do now, we first need to look at a few myths and fundamental features of the outright majority for Cameron's Tories, the cataclysmic downfall of Labour's 50-year domination over Scotland, and the sweeping parliamentary conquest by the SNP.

Some, including Tony Blair, David Miliband and competitors for Labour leader since Ed Miliband's resignation, have argued Labour was too left wing for England; that they need to woo 'the aspirational middle class' to compete with the Tories. Their underlying idea is that England has swung to the right. That is far too simplistic, and downright dangerous in its implications.


For starters, the Tories did not win some landslide mandate for their plan of brutality against the working class, benefits and basic rights; 63% of those who actually went to the polling stations voted against them.

They only got 24.4% of the total electorate. Their share of the vote crept up a minuscule 0.4%. They gained 26 of their seats from the spectacular, richly deserved collapse of the LibDems, especially in South West England.

There is a vast variation in voting patterns across the regions of England. In the richest South, with half the population and half the seats, the Tories gained from their relentless propaganda about their success with the economy, and critically the doubts of voters about the economic competence of Miliband and Labour. In areas of substantial opulence, this message fell on fertile ground. Significantly, in areas of multiple deprivation, like London itself, the Tories were rejected - but they won in rich suburban outskirts of the city.


The Tories abandoned all hope of winning Scotland, and stooped to unscrupulous anti-Scottish propaganda, with their scaremongering about a minority Labour government being in the pocket of the SNP, stirring up resentment amongst a minority in parts of England who already feel hard done by. But they only got away with this because of the abject failure of Labour to challenge the fundamental Tory narrative.

Labour more or less stood still in its share of the vote, creeping up by 1.4%, winning 10 seats off the Tories, but losing 8 to them elsewhere. After 5 years of savagery by Cameron's regime that is abject failure. And it's not because Labour was "too left wing for England"!


For decades - going back to the 1980s - Labour has abandoned its working class roots and origins, seeking to woo 'Middle England'. Even during the election campaign, including on TV debates, they emphasized their agreement with the Tories on the need for austerity cuts; hardly a message to inspire people to dump the Tories in favour of a Tory-lite Labour. They stumbled around, trying too little, too late, to win back workers' votes with half-hearted promises on 'tackling exploitative Zero Hours Contracts'; raising the minimum wage to an £8 level it would reach through inflation anyway by 2020; a mansion tax to fund NHS investment; a one-off tax on bankers' bonuses; a temporary freeze on energy prices. Significantly, it was when they highlighted these mild measures against bankers, rip-off energy companies and the obscenely rich that Miliband's and Labour's ratings temporarily improved in the polls.

But after their record in government, easily recalled at least by voters over 30, these belated whispers of reforms were drowned out by their noisy promises of austerity cuts, which meant large numbers in England who told the pollsters they'd vote Labour actually stayed at home and didn't vote at all. The overall turnout in England was 65%, compared to poll predictions of 74%.


In a sense Labour got the worst of both worlds: they enraged the very rich with their milk-and-water measures against bankers, mansion-dwellers and energy multinationals, but failed to inspire millions of working class people that they meant business, in terms of radical redistribution of wealth that would transform the lives of those suffering the savagery of Cameron. And when Miliband effectively said he'd rather let the Tories win than join forces with the SNP to lock out Cameron, that not only sealed Labour's fate in Scotland, but repelled many potential Labour voters in England too.


As part of their indescribable surge in Scotland, the SNP also attracted the support of substantial numbers of English voters, precisely because in the TV debates Nicola Sturgeon spoke of being 'anti-austerity'. In fact, not only did I hear people in England ask on radio phone-ins whether they could vote SNP or join the SNP, but in some polls the SNP won 9% - in England and Wales!!

The anti-austerity message also chimed with the 1.1 million in England who voted for the Greens.


It was this anti-austerity message that was key to the SNP's historically incomparable landslide here in Scotland. They battered Labour mercilessly, with swings from 20% to 40%. In large part, the 1.4 million votes for the SNP was a continuation of the 1.6 million who voted Yes in the referendum, with the SNP seizing a near-monopoly of the Yes vote, because those thwarted last September saw the SNP as the main vehicle to get the self-government they voted for. So despite Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly saying this was not a vote about independence - both during and since the election - in part it indisputably was. But only in part.


The SNP won over ex-Labour voters who had voted Yes, but also many who had voted No. Partly by denying this was about independence; partly by reflecting the desire for more devolution with their slogan of a 'Stronger Voice for Scotland'; partly as an anti-Tory vote as Cameron whipped up xenophobic anti-Scottish scaremongering; but above all due to their anti-austerity theme. And the SNP were the overwhelming beneficiaries of a revolution in consciousness against a Scottish Labour machine that was rightly seen as remote, corrupt, and having inexcusably spent two years in bed with the Tories in the Referendum campaign.

The SNP's was both an anti-Tory and anti-Labour vote, but especially a vote for change, for an end to austerity.


After the euphoria of crushing Labour comes the reality check for all those who've invested their hopes of change in the SNP and 'Nicola'. What issues loom, and what will the 56 'Strong Voices for Scotland' do about it?

Despite the hard facts about 63% voting against them, Cameron's Tories feel immensely emboldened in their mission to destroy the remnants of the welfare state, which they ideologically detest. They imagine they have a popular mandate to carry out crucifying austerity cuts, which within days of being elected they've said will be fast-tracked, with the £30billion public spending cuts carried through in two years rather than three. Cameron has hopes of an immediate 100-day blitz. Before the election the Tories feared their plans would need to be watered down under a Coalition deal. But now they can let the dogs of class war off their leashes.


Within that overall butchery is the £12billion cuts to welfare benefits, clobbering some for the poorest to satiate the appetites of the new influx of Tory MPs. Plans leaked or announced include means testing unemployment benefits; limiting Child Benefit to the first two children; taxing Disability Living Allowance and Personal Indpendence Payments; removal of housing benefit for young people; reduction of the benefit cap for any household from £26,000 to £23,000. They hope to slash the numbers getting Carers' Allowance by 40 per cent. And if anyone falsely imagines it's only those unfortunate enough to fall sick, be disabled or simply unemployed that are in the Tories' gunsights, think again; the reactionary outfit that Cameron had the gall to label 'the party of working people' plans to rob £3.8billion off Tax Credits, which low-paid workers rely on to survive.


Vicious measures like the Bedroom Tax will be implemented in full.

In brutal contrast to this systematic robbery off millions, with the claim it's 'necessary to wipe out the deficit by 2018', Trident will be renewed next March, at a cost of £100billion.

Savage cuts to departmental spending on jobs and services include councils and fire brigades, and NHS privatisation is set to rocket.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that the Tories' plans will wipe out 1.3 million public sector jobs by 2019. The same IFS reckon self-employed jobs (average earnings currently £10,000 a year!) will exceed public sector jobs by 2018. Zero Hours Contracts and insecure temporary jobs will let rip even more than before 7 May.


And as an integral part of this plan to rob millions on behalf of the millionaires, the Tories have already made clear their determination to effectively wipe out trade union rights. They've already priced workers out of any semblance of justice with their 2013 introduction of fees for Employment Tribunals, starting with a minimum of £1,200. Now the new Tory Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced that the Queens Speech on 27 May will include plans to make it virtually impossible to take strike action on jobs, wages or workplace victimization. They will pass laws that require a 50% turnout in any union ballot for action, plus a threshold of at least 40% of those eligible to vote - not 40% of those voting, but of all members.

And to establish even harsher dictatorship of big business over workers, they will also lift the current ban on the use of Agency workers to scab on strikes, so they can dragoon workers suffering terrible job insecurity to help undermine other workers' wages and conditions. This Scabs' Charter runs alongside the Snoopers' Charter planned, giving frightening powers to the police and secret services to spy on people's emails, texts and social media.


So what will the 56 SNP MPs need to do in the face of such wholesale butchery, which flies in the teeth of everything Scottish voters gave the SNP a mandate to pursue?

As the third-largest party at Westminster, the SNP carry the hopes of millions of Scots on their shoulders for stiff resistance to the Tory austerity which the SNP spoke out against during the election.

They've spoken about how they are there to be constructive, not to destroy. Of course they should use every parliamentary committee, every Westminster debate, every Prime Minister's Question Time to expose and oppose the scorched earth policies of the Tories towards benefits, jobs, public services, workers' rights, civil liberties, and against Trident renewal.

But they face a stark, simple choice: even if they convince some or all of the other opposition MPs to vote with them against Tory measures, they will still lose the parliamentary vote, and then either mobilize 'extra-parliamentary' mass movements, or end up impotent as a minority at Westminster.

When Labour had 50 Scottish MPs in the late-1980s/90s, they were dubbed the 'Feeble 50' for their refusal to lead a movement of mass non-payment of the Tory poll tax, imposed by Thatcher's parliamentary majority. The same fate awaits the SNP 56 if they were to repeat that failure to use their elected authority to spearhead mass movements on the streets, in workplaces and communities against what is probably an even more savage package of attacks than those of Thatcher.


The SNP have made the welcome demand for far more powers to be devolved to Scotland, including welfare, income tax, the minimum wage, employment law, business tax.

Cameron is likely to make at least some concessions on powers in the face of the SNP tidal wave, in the hope of not becoming 'the last Prime Minister of the UK'. It's not the most likely scenario, but you couldn't even rule out some version of 'Full Fiscal Automony' being granted by the Tories, as a device to let the SNP government carry out its own cuts, thereby undermining the attraction of independence!


But serious questions need to be pondered by the 1.4 million who entrusted the SNP to oppose austerity - and especially the 80,000 new members who stampeded into the SNP to fight austerity and win full independence: are the SNP leadership going to lead a mass movement to defy and defeat the Tory butchery, or just make fine speeches in parliament and then pass on the cuts whilst blaming the Tories?

Will the SNP government at Holyrood refuse to pass down cuts to the Scottish budget from Westminster, and mobilize the newly awakened masses in a huge movement to win back our stolen £billions in defence of every job, service and pay packet? Or will they continue what they've done for the last four years, devolving about £4billion of Tory/LibDem Coalition cuts to colleges, councils, and public sector workers?

Will the SNP demand powers over employment law so as to repeal every single anti-union law on the statute books? And to replace them with a Charter of Workers' Rights, including the right to strike, and to take solidarity action with fellow-workers, even when the strike is deemed 'political'? Certainly they've never promised to do so up until now. Yet that is the minimum required in the face of Cameron's onslaught.

When they call for control over business taxes to be devolved, all their past policies suggest this would be in order to cut even further the taxes on profits paid by big business, rather than restore Corporation Tax to its pre-Thatcher 50 per cent level, as demanded by the SSP.


The SNP is at best a party that fuses civic nationalism, neo-liberal capitalist economic policies and social democratic reforms. It was the latter that mostly won them the landslide; they were better at being the old-style Labour than Miliband and Murphy's Labour Party ever could be. They are not, and never have been, a socialist party - contrary to the thousands of self-declared socialists who recently joined them.

And that's where the ideology and principles of a political party are critical. Without a socialist vision and mission they are not driven by the aim of fundamentally ending the rule of big business and the economic policies that follow.

They claim to be anti-austerity, but their 'modest spending plan' of 0.5% per annum would leave intact at least 15% cuts to the public sector already imposed by Westminster. And try telling council workers in authorities they control, or FE college students, that the SNP is anti-austerity!


The looming Juggernaut of cuts by Cameron spells disaster unless a mass movement is mobilized to resist, defy and defeat the Tory Mission to Destroy.

As STUC general secretary Grahame Smith rightly wrote in the Sunday Herald, "Democracy is about more than politicians and parliaments...the unions are well placed to provide a legitimate and effective voice if the Tories' cruel plans are to be thwarted".

He also wrote: "New anti-union laws will be fiercely resisted and, if they remove our democratic right to organise, broken."

That's precisely the spirit that needs to become decisive action, and without prevarication.

Mass demos to garner public opposition to the cuts by a Tory government with absolutely no mandate in Scotland should be called the STUC, with or without the active support of the SNP 56.

These could build confidence for more decisive action, including coordinated strike days and civil disobedience, such as community occupations of threatened facilities.

Such mobilizations outside parliament should be used to pound the MPs, MSPs and councillors - whether SNP or what remains of Labour - to defy Westminster's cuts, set No Cuts Defiance budgets when the time comes at Scottish and local authority levels, and mount a struggle of the increasingly expectant Scottish working class to win back the funding off Westminster, rather than simply make parliamentary opposition speeches and then surrender to the inbuilt Tory majority.


Politically, the unions in Scotland need to stop propping up the bankrupt project that is Labour. We were told to reject independence last year and get 'social justice with a Labour government' in 2015. That's failed, utterly.

We've seen attempts by the biggest of all unions, UNITE, to drag Labour back to the left. That's proven utterly futile.

We now see a rising chorus of demands for Labour to return to undiluted Blairism, to appeal to 'the aspiring middle class'.

It's about time the union leaderships broke from these failed attempts to reclaim a party that is a shell, dominated by pro-capitalist place-seekers, with a Scottish Labour leader about as popular as herpes. They should instead combine with the SSP and all genuine socialists to build a mass, working class, socialist party to stand up for Scotland's working class majority population - not the ephemeral 'aspiring middle class'.


There's been an electoral mass uprising for change, sweeping change. But to tackle the underlying causes of austerity cuts, we need not only taxation powers, but the powers and political will to take the banks, energy giants, transport companies, construction and big business into democratic public ownership. That's why the socialist vision and socialist policies of the SSP are more indispensable than ever.

And rather than succumb to another five years of escalated class war from a Tory dictatorship at Westminster with absolutely no mandate in Scotland, we need to call for a mandate in the 2016 Scottish parliament elections for a second Referendum - and demand that the SNP leadership do likewise.


The political landscape has been transformed by an incredible movement through the ballot box. But to implement and achieve the aspirations of those who swept the SNP into the hallowed chambers of Westminster, we need a mass movement on the streets, in the workplaces and communities against Tory class-driven atrocities. It's mass movements that bring about real change; witness the downfall of the hated poll tax and its architect Maggie Thatcher, which founders of the SSP helped spearhead.

The unprecedented mass movement for change through the ballot box lays the foundations for a campaign of mass defiance on the streets against Tory dictatorship. The alternative is unthinkable.

1 comment:

  1. Finger on the pulse, as usual Richie. I really enjoyed reading your analysis. Well done. But while I'm with the crowd running in the race to Independence, you are nowhere to be seen, nor, more importantly, to be heard. I imagine you to be out in the hills somewhere, making your own way to Indy. You are needed in the mainstream, Richie. The country is short of leaders, of which you are one, but where are you to be found if people are to follow your directions to Independence. If you need to ditch some baggage for a short time, then get it done. And then get your backside into the mainstream and pick up an oar. You haven't been given this talent to talk to the hills. With very best wishes.


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