On Labour for Independence

boat-sinking

Labour for Independence is a sinking dinghy caught in the stormy relationship between the Labour party and the independence campaign. The reason it was such a flimsy vessel is because it set out unsure of the nature of the storm. As yet, Labour members have no reason to be convinced that there is a clear and strong future for the Labour Party and movement following independence.

The independence campaign as it stands fails to address the potential for labour change in Scotland. The SNP, who control the independence agenda, promote it as a move towards an egalitarian social state. The Common Weal is an extension of this democratic egalitarianism, welcomed by the SNP. LfI’s approach has stuck within the boundaries of this SNP-dominated independence campaign. The particular policies they fed to the BBC were Trident, and an endorsement of the welfare capitalism and tripartite corporatist business pathway to a more equal society. This focus bypassed the real influence that a Labour campaign for independence should bring to the debate.

The present case for independence does not appeal to a movement that wishes to change people’s economic conditions rather than simply their access to public goods and services. To be Labour is not to embrace but to deny that tug of bourgeois egalitarianism evoked by nationalists. Scotland’s working people have precious few heroes, and the wizards of the Common Weal are not among them; the social rights they wish to conjure out of independence extend only to public goods and services, but Labour sees a greater role for state and government than as a glorified service provider.

Johann Lamont is sincere and true to her party when she challenges a universalism that is concerned with equal distribution of certain social rights. Equality for her is not the equal distribution of rights, it is the distribution of rights in a way that tends towards a more equal society, related to people’s poverty, exploitation, and need. She wants not a universal fifteen minutes’ free personal attendance for elderly people, but a high expectation of social care for all, with costs covered by the state where people cannot afford it.

Labour is right to be wary of the call for social rights when they know that ordinary people are generally unfulfilled in their labour, working too hard, for too little pay, and always looking forward to their evenings or weekends. One solution is that people’s daily struggle through capitalist exploitation can find an outlet in a political struggle for better conditions, wages, holidays and work. They used to call this the class struggle. Labour also know that women are a disproportionate part of this class who are unfulfilled and underpaid in work.

Bringing powers like workers’ rights and tax to Scotland could be used to improve the conditions of work in Scotland, and few Labour supporters would deny this, but it is useless for the nationalists to deny that the current political spectrum of Scotland sets limits on Labour’s ability to pursue change for working people. From Alan Grogan to Stephen Noon, it has been suggested that Scotland could be Labour’s Hame, but Labour recognise that the SNP’s bourgeois politics, such as the politics of universalism and pro-business development, would be hard, if not impossible, to back away from if they became the populist politics of an independent Scotland.

As the egalitarianism of the SNP dominates the independence agenda at present, and as the SNP are the party of independence, and surging in the polls, the realistic fear from Labour supporters is that in an independent Scotland, the labour movement would play a nominal role. They expect that labour-values would be ignored, deleted from the political agenda of an independent Scotland for the foreseeable future. Unless an expectation of anything different is created in Scotland, or unless Labour can find some way to change the Scottish political stagnation, they are probably right.

So as it is, very few of us in Scottish Labour are willing to mount a public siege on the Castle of Scottish politics, to win not just control of Scottish Parliament, but powers for the Scottish Parliament which would be powers for the Scottish working class. But some are preparing for this fight, in order to use economic powers in Scotland to create better conditions and wages, to win real control by working women and men over the future of the people who live here. We should be allowed that voice in the Labour party; but Labour for Independence were not that voice.

Those in Labour who support independence need to emphasise that the most important economic powers which will be extended to the Parliament post-independence are not those of tax and benefits, but are concerned with power over the sphere of work, and economic conditions. These powers are the tools to create a strengthened labour movement and Party in Scotland.

For Labour to use the constitutional question to force class and gender into Scottish politics would be for Labour to embrace the extended powers of the Scottish sovereign to the distribution of wealth, the control of elements of production, the rights of people at work, and the economy itself. This is the only way working people can find a voice in Scottish politics.

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9 thoughts on “On Labour for Independence

  1. Scuttle the dinghy and swim hard for the Mary Celeste?

    To pick up a theme of this (excellent) blog, let’s recall the actual historical trajectory at issue, not some shining alternative we’d all prefer.

    ‘The realistic fear from Labour supporters is that in an independent Scotland, the labour movement would play a nominal role’. Er, what role does it play now (in Scotland/UK), or when Labour was in power? The ‘deletion’ you fear has already taken place, and was effected by Labour itself. This deserves a fuller (and fairer) response but as a vehicle for redistributionist politics Labour is a long-abandoned ship.

    Here’s their 2007 manifesto:

    http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/ass07/man/scot/Labour_Manifesto_Final.pdf

    Why, for Labour, is independence such a terrible idea? ‘The uncertainty and confusion caused by plans to wrench Scotland out of the United Kingdom would damage [business] confidence. Plans for higher taxes would threaten existing and new jobs and rising living standards’.

    That’s the party you’re asking to seize the constitutional moment and pursue — at a time of declining living standards — ‘distribution of wealth, the control of elements of production, the rights of people at work, and the economy itself’.

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  2. The important powers which Scotland would gain from independence are (from a communist perspective) the spheres of labour and economic relationships. Because of the structures of devolution, and because of the resulting agenda of the SNP, the reserved spheres are presented as being to do with tax, benefits, and corporations. We need a movement in Scotland to articulate the socialist perspective.

    The obvious Party to take this angle is the Labour Party. The Labour party is of course seen as a party which is moving to the right. We presented independence, or federalism of the party, as one of the solutions to Labour’s increasing deference to the bourgeoisie, in the first article on this site. It certainly isn’t a whole solution, but it is part of one. But one reason that the Labour Party is the party to take this position is that we still believe it holds to its principles, containing a membership of trade unionists and socialists, people who believe that work is important in some way. Another is Labour’s own political interests – the party has a nation to win if it can promote the new powers of independence as Labour powers, powers of working people.

    But perhaps most importantly, Labour is not one ship, but a fleet, flying under the same flag. In Scotland, there are various parts of the party – trade unionists, Marxists, co-operators, socialists, campaigners for a living wage, who all espouse a different politics, while believing that Labour must be the party of that change. Hardly any genuine expression of these positions happens outwith the Labour movement, yet those are the ideologies that would make an independent Scotland worth living in for ordinary people, they are more than a roch wind, so to speak! To go back to the historical trajectory you mention, Labour was formed as the party of workers, indeed, it is often still seen as such today. To argue that another party should be the party of the working class is on similarly shaky ground to arguing that Scotland should be the nation of Nordic social democracy.

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  3. “Johann Lamont is sincere and true to her party when she challenges a universalism that is concerned with equal distribution of certain social rights. Equality for her is not the equal distribution of rights, it is the distribution of rights in a way that tends towards a more equal society,”

    See, I take issue with that right from the get go. She is not being sincere nor is she being true labour party values. The language she adopted was the language of the tory party. It is the langauge of Thatcher who did not beleive in social equality at all. Universalism relies on the distrubution of wealth to ensure a more social equality. This is gathered through taxes. Ultimately it is the wealthier citizen that contributes the most for the betterment of those who not earn as much or those can no longer earn. To exclude a wealthy citizen from benefits they have paid into through their taxes is a dangerous step. So to is the casual dishonesty of implying that these people are getting something they don’t deserve or something they haven’t earned. As is the attempt to assert that these people who pay their taxes are using these services more often that the poor, thus denying them to the poor. The use of the phrase “something for nothing” culture was deeply troubling to me and made me feel very uneasy. Scottish labours silence on issues such as workfare, residential workfare, ATOS, and the very troubling developments of the UKBA harrasing people of colour in the streets of the UK. When you sit by and allow the corrosive effects of these policies to undermine the very framework of the UK. You cannot call yourself a party of change, nor a party interested in social Justice. Adopting tory policies then telling the Scots that only Labour can keep out the tories seems like a sick joke.

    There can only be three reasons for this thunderous silence. 1. is that you hope to ride back into power on a wave public anger and disgust at the policies. 2. Your rightward shift is more idelogical than tactical and you actuall agree with what is happening. 3. and this is the worst saved for last, its a combination of the first two.

    In closing. It seems to me that the labour party as it stands, cannot provide solutions to what is corroding away at the connective tissues of Union. Nor is it capable of providing a vision of Scotland post UK. It can’t do this, because it has become part of the problem. Politics like nature abhors a vacuum. And labour has left a gaping hole that will be filled by others parties or groups to address the issues labour won’t or can’t adress. The worst thing you can do is to sneer at LFI or the common weal project without putting something forward yourselves.

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  4. I am consumed with anger and sadness in equal amounts at the fact that the Labour Party has turned its back on those who created it and for whom it was created. I am no mathematician but it would take a massive swing from Conservative to Labour to replace all the disenfranchised and disregarded Labour voters at a general election and from what I can see this happens to be just about the vast majority of Labour voters. Perhaps the Labour Party assumes that they will still be able to count on all those traditional Labour supporters despite the fact that the Labour Party in Opposition seems desperate to convince all the Conservative voters that they want nothing to do with that traditional support.

    Whilst browsing facebook I happened upon the Labour Party Forum and decided to have a look for myself to see what was being said. Given the fact that the country was on the eve of industrial strikes in protest at the Con/Dem coalition spending cuts I expected this to be one of the subjects for discussion. I was not disappointed on that score as many ordinary members of the public and Labour supporters wanted to express their concerns. What did disappoint me was the arrogant and aggressive reaction to most of those comments by a select few who seem to have taken on the role of forum ‘Bouncers’ for the want of a better description. As with many ‘Bouncers’ or ‘Doormen’ that I have encountered, articulation and diplomacy is not the first thing that springs to mind. Another equally alarmed individual labelled them “self appointed Attack Dogs”. It was not the type of reaction I was expecting from the Labour Party. More so after the Party Leader Ed Miliband and the Labour Movement have promised to listen to the people following the disastrous Election Results in 2010 and the equally disastrous Election Results on the 5th of May 2011 north of the border in the once impenetrable Scottish heartlands. The moment anyone expressed an opinion that could be seen as criticism they were set upon by a very small but aggressive group of individuals and subjected to insults and name calling. Because I had actually taken the time to read many of the comments I could see clearly that this was not ‘Ranting Tory Propaganda’ from ranting Tories or ranting ‘Trolls’ but genuine concerns from real Labour supporters. The general consensus from people making comments was the view that the Labour Party has abandoned the very people who created the Party and the very people for whom the Party was created to protect and represent. One particular example of this concern that came up on a regular basis was the fact that the Party Leader and the Labour Movement are ‘Not’ supporting ‘Industrial Action’. The people who are involved in this ‘Industrial Action’ are protesting at the severe spending cuts being imposed on the people of the United Kingdom by a minority Conservative government propped up by a treacherous and cowardly Liberal Party. Many people are expressing genuine dismay at the fact a Labour Party created by the ‘Workers’ and the ‘Unions’ is desperate to put as much distance between Labour and those institutions as possible. The half hearted response from the Labour Party seems to suggest that supporting the ‘Workers’ and the ‘Unions’ will severely affect their chances of regaining power. I disagree strongly with this assertion along with many other people who bothered to post on the site so I decided to express that disagreement. Sure enough the site henchmen pounced straight away and proceeded to throw insults. I am assuming those insults were designed to intimidate me and persuade me to “Naff Off”. As part of this consistent barrage of insults and childish name calling I was accused of being a ‘Tory’ and a ‘Troll’, whatever that is supposed to mean? I am well aware of what a ‘Tory’ is because I am Scottish and the majority of Scots despise the Conservatives with a passion and have done consistently when others south of the border kept re electing the buggers. I have been called many things in my time and I suppose in fairness I have earned those labels but I have never been called a ‘Tory’. The people of Scotland voted for a Scottish Parliament in 1997 and when we got one after three hundred years in the waiting we elected a ‘Scottish Labour Government’. The fact that the Scottish electorate are now turning their backs on the Labour Party when we have remained so loyal for so long must be of concern to the Labour Movement. If you disregard the fact that Scotland is turning its back on Labour and you also disregard the fact that the voters south of the border are expressing genuine concern about Labour Policy then you will do so at your peril. Any Conservative or Liberal vote you manage to obtain will be more than cancelled out by the Labour votes you will be losing.

    If the Opposition Labour Party was sitting on the eve of a general election and was facing a strong Conservative government which commanded massive support from the British Electorate then I would understand their stance on ‘Industrial Action’. I would still disagree with it but I would appreciate the need for Unity at such a crucial moment. However, a general election is likely to be a very long time away and this Labour Party is not facing a strong Conservative government with massive support from the British electorate. The Opposition Labour Party is facing a minority self serving elitist Conservative government that is being propped up by a dithering and meek Liberal Party that has just been severely hammered at the ballet box. That Conservative government is determined to impose brutal spending cuts on an electorate that overwhelmingly rejected its politics. We can assume a certain type of electorate will be singled out for special attention, namely anyone who did not vote Conservative. The British public grudgingly accept that as a result of a financial crisis they did not create they will have to accept severe spending cuts they do not need or want. We all know that it was the International Banking Institutions who brought the International Economy to its knees with their outrageous speculation with savers and investors capital. We also know that the extraordinary greed and corruption displayed by the ‘British Banking Institutions’ was not regulated properly by our own ‘Labour Government’ that was in power for the last fourteen years. We expect that any spending cuts imposed on us by this minority Conservative led coalition government will not be shared equally across the board but will instead be directed at the vast majority on modest incomes and benefits. There is going to be a lot of suffering between now and the next general election and the Labour Party cannot just shrug it shoulders and say ‘Nothing to do with us’. You cannot turn your back on the ‘Workers’ and the ‘Unions’ who are the very foundation of the Labour Party in their greatest hour of need then expect them to emerge from the ashes just before a general election and file in behind the ‘Labour Cause’

    As a matter of curiosity I decided to have a look at the facebook forums of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party to see if they had similar self appointed henchmen dedicated to attacking anyone who does not tow the ‘Party Line’. Funnily enough they do but those henchmen are not as offensive and insulting as the ones on the Labour Party Forum and seem a tad more articulated in their retorts. The Conservative and Liberal Forums also seem to be oblivious to the fact that a large proportion of the British electorate do not support their policies or the apparent unfairness of the intended spending cuts. The noticeable difference between the other two Political Forums and the Labour Party Forum is that they are prepared to engage in some sort of debate about the issues and are nowhere near as ferocious in attacking those who do not agree with them. The Conservatives try to give the impression that any discontent is minimal and any negative comments are the work of the ‘Lazy Lefties’ who are selfish and greedy. Yes I know, coming from the Conservatives it is a bit ‘Rich’ calling anybody selfish and greedy but what else would you expect? The Liberals on the other hand seem totally oblivious to the sheer fury directed towards them by the electorate that they are propping up a Minority Conservative government despite the fact they have just been slaughtered during recent elections. Far from being ’Open Forums’ created by the respective Political Organisations to engage with their supporters in ‘Mature and ‘Serious Debate’ these sites come across as no more than an opportunity to extend the ‘Propaganda Machine’. The worst of the three being the Labour Party Forum and to my amazement I have observed so called Labour activists accusing ordinary decent people of being ‘Lefties’ and ‘Socialists’ as if this was the worst possible insult anyone could bestow on you. A Labour Movement that views the word Socialism as the ultimate swear word has lost touch with its own ‘Socialist Roots’ and is in serious denial. If a political Party is in denial about where it came from then it has lost touch with the people it was created by and created for and may well be confused as to where it is heading. There seems to be an arrogant assumption that the Labour Party can just sit back and let the Con/Dem coalition government get all those nasty spending cuts and job losses out the way before the next general election then exploit the expected discontent. The Labour Party also seems to assume that they can just look the other way when the workers of this country and those least able to protect themselves are being savaged by a Conservative led coalition then pretend to be their saviours when the Labour Party needs their vote. Does the Labour Party really expect the ’Workers’ and the ‘Unions’ or the ‘Traditional Labour Supporters’ to be that forgetful and that ‘Naive’?

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  5. Bourgois universalism and proletariat cuts to society, I think you’ve got these two mixed up somehow… I don’t think its our role to debate about where cuts should land, we should be arguing against the false argument that we need to make cuts to public services in the first place.

    Those with the broadest shoulders should pay most through fair taxation, doing a ‘tax-lite’ approach which charges for some services isn’t really a good substitute for that, but what it will do is create a beuracracy of means-testing which will be a burden on an already shrinking Scottish budget and would weaken the position of social provision leaving it open to yet further attacks not only from politicians but the disgruntled public locked out of the services.

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  6. James, I agree Johann Lamont is neither sincere nor true to her party when she attacks a ‘something for nothing culture’ Her language is Thatcher’s language and Osborne’s language, and was a grave mistake. Likewise, Scottish Labour’s silence on workfare, ATOS, and UKBA are not signs of a party acting from principles of social justice, but are Tory inclinations . One reason British labour are willing to adopt them is because of their Westminster focus, and Scottish Labour sits very uneasily with them – but this is no excuse.

    For Scottish Labour to be an important force on the left after independence its tone and approach will have to change; this possibility is what we are exploring. I think you are also right that Labour, as it stands, cannot provide solutions to what is corroding the Union, or providing a vision of Scotland post-UK, because it has become part of the problem. But there is a programme for independence that is not being articulated, by Scottish Labour, LFI, or any other group, that starts from the principles of Labour in contrast to those of the SNP and others. It is the expression of this stance that we are working to develop – we will indeed put things forward ourselves.

    But as we do so, I am keen not to ignore the current muddled positions of Scottish Labour. What I say is that I am interested in why she challenges a certain kind of universalism – she has a different kind of universalism at heart, about the distribution of wealth and rights as a means towards a fairer society. I agree that universalism relies on the distribution of wealth, redistributed to all including the richest – and I think Lamont might have been gesturing blindly at a kind of universalism that goes beyond the equal distribution of certain social services and provisions, towards distribution for a more equal society and economy – truer, if you like, to the old Clause Four principle: the most equitable distribution of the fruits of economic production. So with the transfer of economic powers to Scotland there is a potentially interesting debate not on whether universalism is good but what universalism means in terms of what is distributed in Scotland, and how. Labour focuses more on wealth; the SNP more on services. It would make for a much healthier political spectrum, and a much more progressive Labour party, than we have at the moment.

    Gary, I agree that we should not be cutting services. We want to get into a situation where public services need not be cut, with the rich paying more tax. In this sense universalism is a good policy where the state has control over production and redistribution of wealth, but where the Scottish state doesn’t control these universalism is not a sound policy by itself, because tax set by Westminster isn’t high enough for universal devolved services to meet people’s real needs.

    Similarly, means testing is not a good principle of public or social goods, for both practical, social, and attitudinal reasons. But nor is prioritising a budget that fails to distribute what is really essential to helping working people: wealth, income, and the fruits of industry and economics. If we can get a political spectrum where the SNP emphasise services and Labour wealth, then we have the basis for a healthy left debate post-independence.

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    1. To be honest here, I don’t think Lamont put much thought into her attack on Universalism. Or for that matter did Sarwar with his ill judged opinion that old people should have benefits removed because and i quote “There are many who do not live long enough to get them”. The implication is plain. Some people are getting something they do not deserve. They are getting something for nothing. Lamont went further with her attacks on people earning a certain amount of money who could claim “free prescriptions” – It was an attempt to create envy of the wealthy but the targets of the cuts would not be the wealthy, it would be those who rely on the system more: The poor, the elderly, the unemployed. When Lamont argues for an increase in council tax and says the cut harms the poor, then you are dealing with a hoary old tory lie that Lloyd George completely demolished when arguing for the introduction of a state pension.

      Means testing has been proven not to work. It costs more to implement, generates a whole new level of bureaucracy to maintain it. And ultimately its design to harass and embarrass people into not claiming.

      The problem for Scottish Labour is that has degenerated into self licking lollipop. Its strategic insight & direction has atrophied to the point were it believes effective opposition to the SNP is to hurl insults at Alex Salmond. It can’t see the SNP straight anymore and is playing the man, not the ball. Subsequently they can no longer adapt or react properly to changing events.

      I did think a period in opposition would shake them up and make them take a long hard look in the mirror. What we got instead was denial, surreal claims that Holyrood was not a democracy in the “strictest sense of the word” and that Salmond was infact a demagogic dictator. One can simply look around them and see this is not true. One can see that he does subscribe to the insane austerity politics of the Con-dems. He speaks out against it, and what does labour. Points shrilly and says “Look! a Squirrel” or “I wouldna buy a 3nd hand mince pie from Salmond”

      This is what labour has become in the 21st century. A second rate party who aspires to the new “Boss Tweed” of tammany hall. Recently I met a labour councillor who honestly did not know who Keir Hardie was…I mean seriously

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