Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Scottish Labour's SNP/Tory Big Lie

The Third Parliament was an exercise in democracy which had never before been tried in Scotland, and only very rarely in any other western democracy. Minority governments are inherently unstable in a Westminster-style system: the last time it was tried in the United Kingdom, four decades ago, it lasted a mere seven months before the prime minister went back to the country to seek an extended mandate, which he achieved - a majority of three - before that, too, was whittled away as a result of deaths, resignations, and the failure of the confidence and supply agreement between the Liberal Party and Labour known as the Lib/Lab Pact.

John Major ran a similar minority government between 1996 and 1997: when he went back to the country to seek a renewed mandate, the electorate's answer to the old Tory question who governs Britain? was 'not you, matey'. 

The failure of the Lib/Lab Pact led directly to Liberal MPs voting en bloc in favour of a No Confidence motion, brought by the Opposition leader, Margaret Thatcher. The SNP MPs voted against the government that night, which fell by a single vote. Had Labour MP Alfred Broughton voted with the Labour government, Jim Callaghan would have been saved by the Speaker's casting vote. 

The fall of Callaghan's minority government was followed by a mandatory General Election in May 1979 instead of the scheduled election, which had to be called an absolute maximum of 160 days later. 

In the schizophrenic and often borderline-psychotic world of Scottish Labour, the SNP voting against Callaghan's minority government has been transformed into 'the SNP voted to bring in Thatcher'. 

Of course, it did nothing of the sort. Not only the SNP, but Parliament as a whole had no confidence in Callaghan's government, which had taken over halfway through Harold Wilson's term without asking the permission of the country. Indeed, Callaghan barely had any confidence in his own premiership, telling his Cabinet 'if I was a young man, I should emigrate'. Even the Labour Party had no confidence in Callaghan as prime minister: he was elected leader despite coming second in the first ballot, with only 26,8% of Labour MPs voting for him to be prime minister.

Callaghan had lost the support of the left some time before, massively cutting public spending and laying the groundwork for Thatcher's monetarist policies and, of course, the trade unions also lost confidence in his premiership as he forced them into the Winter of Discontent, frankly admitting in later years 'I let the country down'. Callaghan himself admitted that he himself had caused his downfall by shying away from calling an election in 1978, which was to have echoes three decades later when Gordon Brown - a similarly unelected prime minister - also shat it before losing in spectacular fashion the next year. 

However, in the tortured, crazed weirdness of the Scottish Labour Party, none of this matters. In their fevered minds, the complex web of events which led to the collapse of the government was down to one single thing: the SNP brought down a Labour government and gave us Thatcher.

Certainly, if the SNP had voted with the government - a government, incidentally, which had just overturned the result of a Yes vote in the devolution referendum months earlier in favour of retaining direct rule from London - Callaghan would have survived for another few weeks. That's not in doubt. But Labour mythologise this into a lunatic dolchstoßlegende in which Alex Salmond, cackling maniacally as he stroked a white cat on his lap, personally defenestrated a Labour prime minister and equally personally installed Margaret Thatcher in Number 10.

This is nonsense, of course. As I show above, at the very most, the SNP voting alongside the government would have caused the election to have been delayed for 160 days at the latest, giving another 130 days of a Labour government. It is almost certain that it would not have lasted that long. 

But Labour want the SNP to be the Tories' little helpers. In a way, they need them to be the Tories' little helpers. Perhaps it helps them to black out the taint to their party of their lengthy partnership with the Tories and their three-year campaign for the principle that the Conservative Party has the right to rule Scotland even if Scotland elects no Tory MPs.

Labour then use the second part of their fantasy - a very recently invented tale that the SNP was in coalition with the Tories during the Third Parliament. 

This would be news to the Tories, who in fact voted more often with Labour in the Third Parliament than they did with the government, including when the Unionist parties united to force the disastrous Edinburgh Trams project through despite the opposition of the government. How many nurses and teachers could have been funded for the money Labour and the Tories coalesced to waste?

It is the stench of their collaboration with the Tories which force Labour to do this: put simply, they are rightly ashamed of what they did. They are ashamed that Scottish Labour councils were the most enthusiastic of all when it came to implementing Thatcher's hated Poll Tax, and that Scottish Labour councils were the most enthusiastic of all when it came to implementing Cameron's hated Bedroom Tax. It was Labour councils who got their thugs to kick down the doors of those who refused to pay the Poll Tax and sold families' property on the street. It was Labour councils who evicted Bedroom Tax victims with sheer glee. 

It is the Labour Party who are in coalition with their Tory friends in a quarter of all Scottish councils. It is the Labour Party who have spent 13% of their entire time in government in Westminster in coalition with their Tory friends. 

All one needs to do is look at the parties. Any of you who have ever been to a referendum or election count will know that the shiny, suited and booted, middle-class Labour and Tory activists are distinguishable from each other only by the colours of their rosettes. Nobody who attended a referendum count will forget the sight of those suited, well-fed, rosy-cheeked, exclusively middle-class Labour and Tory activists hugging each other with delight. They fit in well together. They campaigned together. They have been hand-in-glove for so long, with Labour doing the bidding of the Tories, that they have become mirror images of each other. 

Scottish Labour needs to tell their Big Lie because they simply can't face up to the truth: that since Thatcher took over as prime minister, Labour councils did her bidding, Labour MSPs vote with Tory MSPs 90% of the time, and Labour activists happily collected data during the referendum to be handed over to the Tories for the purposes of winning Tory councillors, MPs and MSPs at election time. 

Labour need to accuse the SNP of being Tartan Tories because they just can't face up to the truth: it's Labour who are the Tartan Tories. 

There are 127 days until the next General Election. Three days less than the maximum lifetime of Jim Callaghan's government if it hadn't collapsed. It's not a long time, is it?

Yet Jim Murphy, the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, has consistently refused to rule out Scottish Labour MPs going into a Grand Coalition with the Tories again. The SNP has explicitly ruled out a deal with the Tories. That Labour refuses to signals that the real Tartan Tories - the Labour Party - are preparing to be the same Tory lapdogs they've always been.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

We're not the Socialist wing of the SNP - stop asking us to be

One of the more disturbing factors about the astonishing rise of the Scottish National Party since the independence referendum has been the tangible intolerance of a minority of their more zealous recruits. 

This has been manifested mainly in the apparent belief of some of them that the Scottish Socialist Party is a plaything of the SNP, and should behave accordingly. 

Part of my duties within the SSP is to help operate the Party's social media accounts, and we have experienced a barrage of tweets from some SNP supporters demanding that we withdraw from the general election in favour of a party with which we share almost no common ground on the basis that we share some of their views on the constitution.

One such tweet, received on St Stephen's night, read thusly:

will u ask ur members to vote in GE for the good of Scotland

Naturally, I replied in the negative. Actually, we are rather hoping that members of the Scottish Socialist Party will vote for the Scottish Socialist Party in the General Election.

When the SSP said we would stand in the General Election, as we have in every General Election and Holyrood Election since our foundation, there were shrieks of outrage from a minority of SNP supporters. Dark threats were made of withdrawal of support, with one particular genius saying ''I never vote SSP anyway and will not be giving you my second vote in 2016 if you don't step down from the General Election''. I'm unsure about how to go about rebuilding the party from this shattering electoral blow.

At this stage, I ought to point out that this is not coming from any SNP candidates, leadership, hierarchy or even activists, at least the latter not to any great extent. It seems to be coming from some of those who have barely chapped a door or done a street stall for the SNP, but seem to have lost the run of themselves during the referendum and now see themselves as a sort of tartan Che Guevara.

And I must say that it's interesting that those who accuse us of ''splitting the Yes vote'' always seem to direct their ire at the SSP - they never seem to be outraged at the SNP for standing in every constituency, nor at the Greens for standing. 

These people fundamentally misunderstand politics. 

The Independence Referendum was - and there's a clue in the name - a referendum. The General Election is - and there's again a handy hint in the name - an election. There is no Yes vote in the General Election. 

During the referendum, we worked very closely with our SNP and Green partners. During the referendum. But we don't agree with each other on day-to-day politics, certainly not to the extent that Labour and the Conservatives have, almost morphing into mirror images of one another. And even at that: when the SSP put the best interests of our party to the side and called for a Yes slate of candidates for the General Election, the SNP and Greens both refused!

I don't criticise the SNP for refusing - with 90.000 new members and looking likely to win most constituencies, they're sensible to be selfish. But their zealous new fans should consider this, and look closer to home when whining about Yes unity. 

Secondly, why should we support SNP candidates in the General Election? We're not the SNP. If we agreed with the SNP's manifesto, we'd all go and join them. We are the SSP. We believe in the full, immediate implementation of socialism in Scotland. 

We believe in a republic, where the SNP is monarchist. We believe in a Scottish currency, the SNP believe in using the Pound Sterling. We wish to withdraw from Nato, the SNP is pro-Nato. We don't believe in criminalising working-class soccer fans; the SNP think that's a jolly good wheeze. We support free public transport, the SNP don't. On a multitude of issues, we disagree with the SNP. That is the point of political parties. And that is why we have elections. 

Our aim is socialism, not independence for the sake of it. If we believed in independence for the sake of it, we'd be nationalists, not socialists. We believe in independence because it is the only way to build real socialist policies in Scotland. 

Do I want to see the Labour Party smashed to smithereens in Scotland? Yes - a thousand times yes. But it's not just the SNP hoping to win over disaffected Labour supporters to - we're hoping to sweep up some ex-Labour voters. And the discerning observer might recognise that in a marginal constituency, some Labour voters disgusted with the New Labour takeover of the party will be far more inclined to vote SSP than SNP. Indeed, our understanding is that our votes are likely to come disproportionately from Labour voters rather than SNP voters. 

We are a small party and we do not expect a great deal of success in a General Election where the system is stacked against us. But argue against us on the basis of our policies. Talk about our proposed ten pounds per hour minimum wage. Debate with us our policy of free school meals for all children. Discuss our plans for a publicly-owned Scottish Pharmaceutical Corporation to manufacture generic medicines for the NHS and to provide drugs to developing countries at cost price. Have a look at our manifesto. If you think it's pish, don't vote for us. If you think the SNP's is better, vote for them. If you think Labour's is better yet, vote for them. 

But don't tell us that we have no right to put our policies to the people at a General Election. Not the right, even: it's more than that. As Scotland's Socialist Movement, we have a duty to provide a socialist alternative to the austerity policies and cuts agenda proposed, to a greater or lesser extent, by all of the main capitalist parties, including our SNP colleagues. 

And I'll just end on this note: not only us, but the SNP, spent much of the referendum trying to drum it into voters that the Yes campaign, independence itself, wasn't just about the SNP. To then turn around less than a hundred days after the referendum and demand that we stand down from a General Election because independence is all about the SNP shows a breathtaking hypocrisy and a ludicrous sense of entitlement. 

The SNP leadership is sensible and pragmatic. I've met most of them over the years. They're nice - I've a lot of time for them. There have been no shrill demands from Jackson's Entry that we sign our party over to them - and even if we did, we don't own our voters and supporters; there's no guarantee that our act of electoral suicide would benefit the SNP in any way - and they appreciate that the Yes campaign is a multi-party effort and the next Yes campaign will also be a multi-party effort. They also appreciate, as we do, that whilst we share a desire for independence, it is over for the time being. We cannot have Scotland on pause, regardless of the shrieks coming from the zealots and extremists. 

The Scottish Socialist Party is the left wing of the Independence Movement, not the left wing of the SNP. Stop asking us to be the latter: it's never going to happen.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Why Labour Lose

I was going to write a piece comparing the outcome of the Independence Referendum and the resulting, spectacular, demise of the 'Scottish' Labour Party in its aftermath. 

My plan was to find constitutional referenda in the European Union which were close, and which resulted in the 'winning' side being obliterated at the subsequent election, and to perhaps assess, using these data, how long it might take the 'Scottish' Labour Party (Address: One Brewer's Green, London, S.W.1 - one does rather hope they don't go home for lunch) to recover from their disastrous coalition with the Conservative Party and UKIP.

The four criteria I set upon to reflect Scotland's referendum were simple: 

i) The referendum and subsequent election must take place within a democratic framework - so, for instance, I rejected the use of the Greek Constitutional Referendum of 1968 held by a military regime, which was ratified by a pragmatic, sensible and not-at-all scared 92,1% of the electorate.

ii) The referendum had to be close (are you a Scottish newspaper? Then, for 'close', read 'bitter and divisive, and continue for a thousand words about how political debate threatening the established order is evil and negative), ideally around the 10% gap produced by the Scottish electorate in September. Thus, e.g., I rejected the Icelandic referendum of 2010 which was rejected by 98,1% of the voters.

iii) The referendum had to occur in the modern era to reflect the particular circumstances in which modern Scotland finds its campaigning: the collapse of trust in newspapers and the broadcast media and the huge rise in importance of social media in modern campaigning meant, alas, that regardless of how fascinating the Norwegian Constitutional Referendum of 1905 was, it would not fall within my remit. 

iv) The referendum had to be called by the government of the day, and had to be defeated by either a single opposition party or a coalition of opposition parties - so Bulgaria's referendum last year on nuclear power, called by the opposition Socialist Party, didn't count in my calculations.

Thus armed with my frame of reference, I set out to find out when 'Scottish' Labour (Brewer's etc. etc.)  could possible expect to recover. 

And guess what - I couldn't. 

I actually had to switch the goalposts - not, perhaps, to the musteline extent which so distressed Owen Patterson - to produce a result.

There is a surprising lack of results even so: there was not a single constitutional referendum in modern Europe in which the main/nominal centre-left party supported a right-wing government in a closely-contested referendum campaign, won, and went on to form the government after the next election.

Results which don't quite fit the criteria but are still notable in our context:
  • In Finland in 1994, a vote on membership of the EU was won by 56,9% to 43,1% by the Governing Centre Party, who were promptly reduced to less than 20% of the vote at the subsequent election, losing power to a Social Democratic Party achieving the best result of any political party in Finland. 

  • The French UMP (conservative) government held a referendum in 2005 on the European Constitution which was defeated by 55% to 45%. Notably, the opposition Socialist Party held an internal referendum to decide its stance on the referendum (the Oui side was fronted by a future President, the Non side by a former Prime Minister).It is for history to decide if such a process would have avoided the exodus of members from Labour in light of the campaign in Scotland, but my feeling is that the resentment felt against the leadership of the 'Scottish party' internally at what amounts to a constitutional coup without reference to the membership cannot do other than cause ill-feeling within Labour. While this sort-of fits the criteria as a the main opposition party supporting the sovereign government on a constitutional referendum, it rather falls down as the political-class coalition was defeated. There wasn't a situation where one party was seen to be grudgingly whipping its voters along to a result they didn't particularly want, as there is now in Scotland.

  • It is a great Irish tradition to hold a constitutional referendum every third Tuesday. For our purposes, the referendum on the 30th Amendment (on the Fiscal Pact), which was passed in 2012 by 60,4% against 39,6%, is the closest to ours, albeit not in importance. Despite the scale of the victory - which still doesn't come close to the 2:1 margin the No parties in Scotland often claim they won by - the party proponents of a No vote  - all of which may be described as the establishment parties (c.f. in Scotland, the Westminster Parties) - have seen their support dwindle in the opinion polls, whilst the left-wing parties which opposed it have enjoyed unprecedented rises in support. 

  • The Danish euro referendum in 2000 saw Yes (to EMU) defeated by 46,8% to 53,2%. The far-left supported and won a No vote. In the subsequent election, the Social Democrats were swept from power, having shared a referendum platform with the Conservatives and Liberals. 


In Scotland, the Labour Party is suffering because it is in a position unique in Europe. Politically, it was of major importance in Scotland, whilst constitutionally, it is now barely of any importance at all. Labour is neither in Government in Holyrood nor Westminster, whilst in the latter it does not even enjoy the position of the second most-important party, which is the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

News of Labour's poll ratings in Scotland
reaches Clive The Dug
There are no Labour ministers in the Cabinet, nor in the Westminster Government. Not even a European Commissioner to provide a modicum of relevance. It appears unlikely that Labour will ever be in government in Scotland after the 2016 elections, such is the Fianna Fáilisation of the party, and it is a near certainty that they will never be a single-party majority government, either in Holyrood or Westminster. The very best-case scenario for Labour in Scotland, therefore, is that they are out of power from 2007 to - at the very least - 2020, and much more likely 2025. A party which has no chance of power for the best part of 20 years is a party which has little chance of survival - and given that it looks increasingly likely that independence has been deferred, not defeated, Labour may only be nearing its cycle of irrelevance in 2025, in a Scotland which has become independent and in which Labour is seen as something of a national enemy, perhaps analogous to the Latvian Russian Union. 

It is a loud voice in Scottish politics, but one of no legislative relevance. Its most senior elected representative in Scotland is the leader of the Labour group on Glasgow City Council. It found itself campaigning on the side of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition government; on the side of the CBI, the BBC, the USA and the BNP. 

Where in the 2011 Scottish election and the 2010 election in Scotland they were fishing in a pool of a broadly centre-left electorate (i.e. the entire electorate minus the 10-20% of Conservatives), there are now 45% of the Scottish electorate which will not countenance - ever - voting for the Labour Party under any circumstances, the vast majority of whom are in what used to be Labour heartlands in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Dundee. They now have a pool of voters of only 55% - but still excluding that 10-20% of voters who are committed Conservatives who would not under any circumstances vote Labour. 

Thus, within four years they have gone from knowing if they got a majority of the 80% of the Scottish electorate who might consider voting for them that they would probably be in power to realising suddenly that they have to win almost all of a vastly-shrunken pool of between 35-45% of the electorate to have any chance of being in government.

It's no surprise that the charmless Jim Murphy is writing in the Daily Mail - a pro-Apartheid, Tory newspaper - demanding that the Scottish electorate puts all this nonsense about the referendum behind us and gets back to voting Labour. 

Make no mistake about it - the referendum and its aftermath has rattled the British political class to an extent to which they have never been rattled before. They are out of their comfort zone and they don't know how to react. That's why Gordon Brown wants to 'reset Scottish politics' to a time before Labour became anathema to half the population; why Murphy wants us all to forget Labour's three-year campaign for the right of the Conservative Party to govern Scotland regardless of the fact we consistently reject the Tories.