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.