Why ‘anyone but Labour’ sets back the Home Rule cause

er11 postbox

An old destructive impulse of Scottish nationalism spurred kilt-clad die-hards to blow up red pillar-boxes in the 1950s. Our radical independence generation has a new kind of pillar-box in its sights: between four and six foot tall, clad in Red, bearing the letters Rt Hon MP, with large operating costs and imperial designs, offering working people a declining service.

Since the Yes campaign’s defeat last week, lots of people have channelled their wrath with Westminster and the No campaign towards Labour and its Scottish MPs. A Facebook group aiming to ‘get Labour out of Scotland’ in the General Election has accrued 19,000 likes in a matter of days. There’s growing determination to eject long-standing Labour members from Yes-voting Glasgow. Tens of thousands of former Labour members and supporters have joined the SNP. The spinners at SNP HQ are quietly fuelling the flames with press releases about Labour’s hypocrisy.

In its response, Labour’s conduct at its conference has hardly been deserving of acclaim or new respect. Margaret Curran’s idea to hold surgeries for Yes-voting Labour supporters gave the impression she thinks voting Yes is a nasty problem she can cure, a symptom of the nationalist virus Johann Lamont described a year ago. The tone of Johann Lamont’s speech was ridiculous; she insisted that Labour is the party to ‘change the world’. Meanwhile, having said the NHS is safe with a No vote, Labour are now claiming the NHS is still in peril.  These notes all strike a dissonant chord with thousands who believed a Yes vote would have brought real change, and they do nothing to suggest the Labour party will learn much from the referendum.

Only Len McCluskey’s speech sought to draw lessons from the vote. “Let the Scottish referendum be the tombstone on twenty years of our party’s indifference to the interest of the working class”, he said. “For a generation there have been pundits including people in our own party saying we can forget about class. they’ve said the working class aren’t interested in politics. Well go up to Scotland and see.” Alas, Len is not in charge of Labour and is unlikely to sway many Scottish people to return to the Labour party.

But whatever you think of Labour, the left should stem the tide of hate towards the party, not fuel it as some activists have done. For while Labour-bashing is compulsive, this narrow-minded, juvenile reaction breeds the wrong kind of sentiment – it is part of the ‘45’ craze which is concerned with building a bitter identity among frustrated Yes-voters, and it only bolsters a wave of anti-establishment fury which is not a helpful feeling for a wounded left to nurture.

Last night I attended a meeting called by Glasgow West Radical Independence to discuss where the organisation should go. Many of the speeches focussed on opposing Labour, instead of talking about renewed demands for power or policies that would bring us closer to the aspirations we had for independence. Some are reluctant to work with trade unions and trades unionists which are affiliated to Labour, whereas they should be looking to the likes of Unite and Unison, as well as the STUC, to lead a demand for meaningful economic power. They are gleeful about the SNP’s surging membership, when they should be making plans to unseat its members in 2016.

When it comes to the General Election, the campaign against Labour is not progressive. Its priority rejects the realities of a No-vote: the Yes campaign lost, so crucial powers remain controlled by Westminster. The campaign for further powers in Scotland is going to have to stretch beyond bitterness towards Labour to be decisive and effective. The desire for more powers may be fierce, but the actual power to determine further devolution lies at Westminster – where there’s a choice of a Tory and a Labour government. Only the latter could conceivably deliver deep economic power to Scotland.

A Labour majority at Westminster will be the best result for Scotland because it is the only feasible way for Scottish working class interests to be reflected in a Westminster government. A cross-society Home Rule campaign can work with MSPs and trade unions, building pressure on Scottish Labour MPs to transfer powers to Scotland and to those areas like Glasgow, Lanarkshire and other urban areas which have voted to take economic and social power into the people’s control. If the left is right that working class votes are crucial for Labour MPs to hold their seats, then Labour will have to address their demands. On the other hand, if you replace Scottish Labour MPs with SNP members, what route do you see for the delivery of Home Rule?

The ‘radical’ alternative for 2015 is to replace Labour MPs with SNP MPs and hope they hold the balance of power – making the transfer of significant powers to Scotland one of their central demands. A Parliament with no overall majority, where the SNP holds some of the balance of power, seems attractive to the people that believe Westminster does not function and cannot be made to work for the people of Scotland. But given last week’s vote, this tactic really is old-style nationalism: defy Westminster, play no part in its affairs except when they bear directly on Scotland and the Scottish people, and stand up for the interests of Scotland whatever it takes. So much for solidarity or the interests of workers in England. So much for rebalancing Britain’s economy. Power will be jealously guarded by the Tories, and our movement will be effectively ignored.

There is another peril in working for a hung parliament. The last time it happened, SNP votes were decisive in bringing down Labour in 1979 and ushering in a long, long term of Tory government. The same could happen again: Scottish votes could help Cameron to form the government or leave Labour short of a majority. So if you’re tempted to join this bandwagon, ask yourself the question this way: if you thought that more SNP MPs would make a Tory government more likely, would you still vote SNP? Some nationalists would, no doubt, on the grounds that the SNP could represent Scotland’s interests, that Labour and the Tories are pretty much the same, and even because bringing about another ‘Tory government we didn’t vote for’ would accelerate a new call for independence – and another referendum in 5 years.

But here’s the thing: it’s the height of hypocrisy to be content with a Tory government in the next election. If you campaigned with Yes Scotland this was one of your key arguments – we must end Tory rule, so we should vote Yes. If now you say that is anything other than your priority, it betrays your real politics: you want revenge on the No-backing traitors, and you will say anything to get people to back independence, including burdening them with more Tory rule.

The biggest losers are those who can’t accept defeat. Going in a huff will turn off thousands of people who are not yet sure about the left’s maturity and who doubt its credibility in mainstream politics, let alone government. The reaction smacks of myopia and obsession. If you are intent on smashing Labour because they betrayed the working class by backing No, your destructive impulse is the sign of your great weakness – which you share with nationalists. You say you want social justice, but when it comes to action, you fight your former opponents above all else. Your ends are determined more by your reaction and emotion than by concrete aims. Your ambitions are unclear and you seek votes on the basis of a vague promise of a better nation. The demand for Anyone but Labour comes from a motivation to sustain a losing independence campaign, and the refocused socialist programme that should follow defeat is blurred, because radical activists can see nothing but red.

Cailean Gallagher


If we share the currency, we cannot share the wealth


Here is the present state of the argument for independence:

Salmond: We are appealing to the greatest authority of all, the sovereign will of the people of Scotland. It’s Scotland’s pound and we’re keeping it.
First Minister’s Questions, Thursday 7th August)

It has been a frustrating couple of weeks. Salmond has resurfaced, citing the ‘national will’ to defend his case on currency. For people worried about their mortgages and pensions, nationalist arguments on the pound make even less sense than economic ones. And where are all the socialists, to point out keeping the pound is not the best of various options in the long term?

To shift the focus back to our ground, Yes Scotland is describing a Yes vote as the one opportunity to ‘make Scotland’s wealth work better for all those who live here’. But is this credible enough? While chronic inequality of wealth and income is constantly emphasized, the SNP has no serious plans to make Scotland more equal. With monetary policy out of national control, economic power is limited. Money supply and interest rates are two crucial ways to control the money flow, wealth accumulation, and capital investment. To build the wealth of working families without monetary control is like building sandcastles below the high-tide line: they stand for a while, but when the tide comes in they crumble down.

To redistribute wealth in favour of the people you need monetary, wage, and fiscal powers. In effect, you need to destabilize and appropriate the private wealth and assets of the richest. But the SNP is busy pre-negotiating away authority over these areas, and insisting that the only threat to market stability is coming from the unionists (for we radicals have hardly caused a stir).

So the Scottish Government will not acknowledge that independence comes with any risk, and will propose no policies that may disturb the markets. The Radical Independence campaigners talk about a better future without any audit of the transition costs and without the slightest inclination to discuss who pays. Some radicals even despair that the currency issue has returned, as if the question of who controls our money is neither here nor there in the struggle for a more equal society! There is a better, honest case to be made, between the cautious commitments of the Scottish Government and the utopian claims of the left-wing independence groups, which will accord with what the public wants to hear.

It starts by admitting the SNP does not have what it takes to tackle inequality or end austerity in an independent Scotland – both No campaigners in Labour and socialists in the Yes campaign agree about that. Our alternative has to be clear: our party, in an independent Scotland, would support workers, put the burden onto the shoulders of the richest, and start to reduce inequality by force. It falls to a minority in the wider Yes movement to make the more challenging case for independence in spite of the SNP’s timidity, and also to be clear that a period of transformation, far from effortless, will depend on compromises and struggles.

We have to challenge the nationalist belief that life in an independent Scotland will improve at little or no cost to anyone. Advocates of the official, reassuring case fail to understand that claiming there is nothing to lose does not sound credible to many voters, especially Labour voters. Throughout this rest of the campaign the Yes case should be tempered by honest acceptance of challenges that will face a post-Yes Scotland. This will enable the campaign to both inspire the ambitions of the public, and address their doubts about what Yes could mean. How could we make Scotland’s economy work for the many within the first few years of independence? How can we be sure independence would not harm those with least to lose, like Scottish Labour has constantly asserted?

To be credible on inequality, parts of the Yes campaign must draw red lines: that currency powers and tax powers will have to be under our control; and that challenging privilege and wealth will cause necessary instability. So long as there are also guarantees – to protect the work, wages, pensions, savings and welfare of the many – then such an honest case will benefit the Yes campaign.

One solution is for the pro-Yes left to present a credible set of demands and goals: a programme of radical realism that looks to challenge the structural inequality of distribution, and to welcome the consequences. What would the starting principles be? We could argue that:

An independent currency is the eventual goal

To seriously tackle inequality in the long run, we need currency under the control of an independent Scotland. Even admitting this would have costs in the short-term. Although we would keep the pound for some time, this ambition may result in the leakage or flight of capital and investment, a higher rate of interest on the money that governments and individuals borrow, a smaller return on savings and investment like pensions. Building up reserves would require a bout of austerity. But this austerity, if it was fairly arranged, and if the burden was placed on capital not labour and if the wealth of the many was protected, would itself help to reduce inequality. The savings and investments that would suffer most would be those of the richest – the vast majority do not have substantial savings, and those savings and pensions we do have could be underwritten by a tax on those who can afford to pay. The prize is meaningful independence.

Taxing the rich is just

Taxation is for social good. There is a myth that placing higher taxes on the rich will be counterproductive because it will drive out rich people. If this happens, it will be a cost we have to pay, and one that will itself reduce inequality. But flight is unusual. They talk about an oil bonus, but the real short-term bonus for an independent Scotland is a tax on the wealth of the richest. Taxing the rich until the pips squeak may ruin the comforts of a few, but it will not ruin Scotland.

We need better wages

Wages have been frozen or falling for a long time. Capitalists passed the burden of austerity onto workers, and the UK government did nothing to strengthen wages or keep them higher. Intentions to raise the minimum wage are important but irrelevant to the majority of earners who still do not get a proper share in the wealth we all produce. People must have higher incomes, and wages are the starting point. Many companies can afford this, but it will put pressure on other companies, which will sometimes lead to job-losses in the short-term unless the wage rises are subsidized by the government. One short-term corrective is to create jobs where higher-wages are guaranteed; another, to support companies that invest in Scotland to use skills and pay a better wage. And for those parts of the economy where mandating higher wages would ruin the work and jobs, tax credits should be used to ensure the lowest paid have a decent income.

Arguments from these principles could capture and inspire the interest of voters who do not trust Alex Salmond or the SNP. But in the wake of spats and splits that have turned solidarity into disunity, the pro-independence left is looking deflated. Anything its individual members say will carry little weight.

We do need to recognize that in the minds of most people in Scotland there is only one credible party other than the SNP. That party is the Labour party. We need an independent Labour programme for an independent Scotland. There are areas on which Labour, in an independent Scotland, might credibly take a more socialist line than the SNP. Johann Lamont said at STUC Congress that an independent currency would be the only ‘logical’ option for an independent country. It is Scottish Labour policy to raise taxes on the richest. Scottish Labour has pushed hard to ensure that the living wage is paid as far as possible across the economy. Describing an Independent Labour programme for an independent Scotland is the strongest card we have to play.

The ideal scenario would be for the pro-independence left – all of it that believes in the importance of a party connected with the labour movement – to consider what a new Independent Labour party should do after the referendum. In private conversation, this suggestion is met with hoots of laughter or howls of anguish.

But offering a vision of an Independent Labour Scotland would capture the attention of the public – because the Labour case is still the missing link. Working out a plan for a socialist Labour party would not be an endorsement of the current Labour party – it would simply acknowledge the values that underpin the ambitions of the working people in Scotland who we need to persuade to vote Yes in September. Such unity, for the final weeks of this campaign, would make the kind of impact neither RIC nor Labour figures could alone – and it would lay the ground for the socialist revival the country needs to shake itself from nationalism and put socialism at the centre of our politics.

Scottish Labour’s Second Coming

John Knox

Why are Scottish Labour intellectuals such chronic pessimists? Last week former Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed independence would start a ‘race to the bottom, a dog-eat-dog competition’ and the result would be that ‘all the benefits that have been built up over time will be lost’.

Brown envisions an SNP government willing to roll an independent Scotland on its back – he sees the hawks that watch from commanding economic heights, ready to dive and drag the people down when Scotland becomes fair game for global business. The SNP might intend to raise the minimum wage, but it will only be a matter of time before businesses force the hand of Europe’s newest state to push down low-income thresholds once again, he asserts.

But what if Labour wins in an independent Scotland, and begins instead a race to the top built on progressive taxation, regenerated public industry, and wealth redistribution? No chance of that, says Scottish Labour Pessimist the Second, Brian Wilson, who sees little prospect of a Labour government after independence. In last week’s Scotsman he predicted a ‘centre-right Scotland, united behind Nationalist rhetoric and highly dependent on its permanently right-wing neighbour, is the much more likely outcome’.

According to this bleak plot, an independent Scotland’s working people would not look to the Labour party for political guidance, but huddle in around an SNP whose own mock-Napoleon lacks real experience of bitter global forces. And, to top off this impending doom, another Labour stalwart, Lord George Robertson, warns the very integrity of nations will erode if we go our own way –  ‘the global balance would be substantially upset’ with the ‘re-balkanisation of Europe’.

Scottish Labour’s dreary narrative, which sees helpless people thwarted by the rotten aims of corporations and Tories at every turn, is writ large by Brown, Wilson and Robertson who claim insight into the economics, politics and international affairs that govern the world. These men have seen devilish forces seep into every unguarded economic nook, demanding dogged obedience and toil. If British Labour cannot defeat these vampires and lead the people to security, then what chance has a tiny nation-state with its tired, downtrodden folk, and a political class that thinks it can govern by ‘consensus’?

Like Calvinist preachers who divined little hope short of the second coming, these statesmen’s worldly inspiration gives them no confidence in people’s self-reformation. Gordon Brown, who as Prime Minister penned a book called Courage – full of odes to against-all-odds heroes – has lost his faith that working folk can demand collective power to change their lives. And today’s Scotland has no gods and precious few heroes, while the rest are small, divided, and helpless.

So he speaks from Labour’s script when he told the people of Cowdenbeath they should vote No ‘because they know the importance to Rosyth of jobs for defence contracts throughout the whole of the UK’. He told his Fife constituents that after decades of deprivation and industrial decline, they should be glad work in customer services. And he is determined to remind them that their social rights and social security depend on the pooling and sharing of resources by a Westminster system that feeds the fruits of labour to a rich elite, and pulls support from under working families.

Brown says nothing about control of resources by the people who make them, or creating a welfare system where dignity and worth determine funding levels. He sees no way for productive and profitable work to be created by communities and for society – because these are not the visions of a pessimist. And many Labour colleagues share this pessimism. They doubt the capacity of a small nation-state in the world, and suspect the interests of a privileged few would take the reins of Scotland’s government. They see little change inherent in nationalism that would meet the needs of working families. Instead Scottish Labour set smaller tasks they think they can achieve: to make decisions about the issues that affect people’s day-to-day lives, protect the achievements of devolution, and leave economics and social security to Westminster.

It wasn’t always like this. Gordon Brown used to follow the guiding lights of old Labour in calling for power to be taken from above and shared among the masses. When he wrote the original Red Paper, he sought social and political structures that would ‘guarantee to people the maximum control and self-management over the decisions which affect their lives, allowing the planned coordination of the use and distribution of resources, in a cooperative community of equals’, with ‘free universal welfare services controlled by the people who use them’.

Here is an intellectual tradition we can follow. It leads to a solution for our party’s current pessimism, and the helplessness it entails, through meaningful independence for ordinary working people.

For many Labour supporters who support a Yes vote, the aim of independence is not to distribute wealth to individuals through the state, but to distribute the power of the state – not by devolving power to community groups or citadels of local government, but by combining people’s power in a Scottish state to challenge the fortresses of business and economic elites Brown knows so well.

This week Labour members past and present will meet in the STUC to discuss the future for Scottish Labour, to articulate a vision for an independent Scotland with a strong Labour government. After the referendum the energies of the Labour party will turn to winning the elections to a Scottish Parliament with powers over budget-setting, taxation, pay, as well as skills and investment. These are the levers with which to change the economic, and social, prospects of a nation.

We seek independence that gives the people strength and skills to resist the capitalist forces ranged against us, and demand the good work, high wages, decent welfare, universal public services, and other elements of independent social life that all deserve.

These are different ambitions from those of the Scottish Labour leadership we see at the moment, a leadership too willing to get hung up on the priorities of budget distribution. We attribute this distraction to the task the Party has set itself at a British level, to govern at Westminster through parliamentary means rather than to win power for working people. In this, it has abandoned the best traditions of the labour movement and indeed of the Labour party. It is these traditions that we seek to revive, and we think they can be decisive in the months to come.

Our movement, the Labour movement, used to call for Home Rule, and used to try and show the people who live and work in Scotland that the powers of a state can be their powers, the economic gains and abilities of government can be their gains, and the interests and concerns of political leaders can be their own interests and concerns. We call this democracy, Labour-style,  and it inspires us to campaign for a Yes vote.

There is no easy place in the Labour Party to make this case, to articulate the interests that ordinary people have in using the powers of independence. There is no aspiration to make Labour a movement for people who refuse to succumb to a dog-eat-dog fight, who will not to embark on a race to the bottom or fight some Hunger Games with weaker or less wily states of Europe, but who aspire to use the power of one peripheral state to secure the lives of working people here. Our party should support a legal living wage, fully funded services that benefit all with the tax-system to afford it, and full employment in meaningful work. We want Labour to build upon the plain of Scottish politics, stand for those elsewhere oppressed by first-world extortion, and supports working people in the rest of a United Kingdom tending to disunity.

Like those senior stalwarts who see so little hope for Scottish Labour, we too think intellectually, and speak with comrades about the economic threats, technical difficulties, and political obstacles that impede the progress we seek. We respect all those in Labour who insist that independence is a dead end, but seek to build a better society where we are, in Scotland.

Ours is no small hope amidst the pessimism of a Unionist Labour Party, but in taking a stance within our Labour Party, we are proud to call ourselves the wilful optimists.

Cailean Gallagher

Editorial: Their thoughts fly up, our work remains below


When Henry McLeish preaches that we should ask “big questions like what kind of Scotland do we want to live in”, he sets himself apart from a Labour tradition that starts from everyday questions of work and life. When Patrick Harvie laments the discord between parties at Holyrood, his interludes drift through political divides leaving partisans unruffled. When Pat Kane insists Green-Left social planners will reform Scotland by creating high-skilled engineering work to solve global energy problems, many will be curious how the planners intend to access the economy’s commanding heights and guide this high-level reform, even once a Yes vote brings certain powers to Scotland’s government.

Are we surprised that demands find no echo when they are made outside the material world of people and parties and movements? Is it any wonder that ideas fail to grip the masses when our language is of justice and nations, consensus and neoliberalism?

Odes to prosperity and fairness, and theories of conflict resolution based on reaching common ground, are the political pastimes of a class with nice lives and accumulated resources, people who use their education or creativity to teach or plan or develop the prospects of others, people once interested in left ideas who found a place to settle and a public-serving job to satisfy their conscience. Members of this elite are not oppressed but like the gentry of old Scotland they skip around the world and delve inside the their own minds and others’ to try and cure their boredom and frustration. Fuelled by mindfulness and trips to the country, they believe in consensual solutions to everything. When they come together in their Hegelian huddle to proclaim a Common Weal, the masses just see an incredible muddle.

The point of these remarks is to suggest that the pro-independent Scottish Left is too idealistic, too set on consensus, determined that employers and employees can work in harmony. It’s an unrealistic vision for ordinary people who see an economy ruled by a rich elite that shirks taxes and places blame on the backs of the poor. Leftist mapmakers need to remember that workers see how much power the employer holds – enough to ignore the interests of employees, enough to sack you or reduce your hours at the drop of a hands-free telephone device. The bosses will not give up power without a fight, which is precisely what the merry bands of social consensualists are so determined to avoid.

Consensual politics are the preserve of a certain class, alien to those who struggle through work and everyday life, and they are an ineffective politics for the oppressed, who may nevertheless assume them to be acceptable and settle for passive consent. Meanwhile those who see through this Left, chiefly in the labour movement, and who understand that consensus is not a route to workers’ betterment, find themselves ignored because they lack the connections, eloquence, and other accumulated resources this class has in abundance.

Sometimes confidence in Left intellectuals on the part of the masses can lead to a kind of passive reform, but only if the Left is both seriously equipped and willing to challenge the enemies it is bound to face. This Left is neither, and even with power it could not help working people attain what they need. Its insistent consensualism is tantamount to deception – or, worse, it’s a sub-conscious method of bringing about the kind of harmony that would allow a privileged class to enjoy the moral contentment and stature of a progressive liberal elite. Like our political class, this elite would ask nothing of those it is meant to fight for, but will assure people that things will improve, with blithe and sickly optimism that is ultimately counterproductive; for the optimism of a political elite that delivers nothing will inspire in the masses more pessimism than hope, and perhaps even a kind of learned helplessness. Unless something is done, this risks being the legacy of the pro-independent Left.

So what is the alternative? The kind of dogged pessimism characteristic of parts of the labour movement does at least start from the attitudes of those it seeks to represent. Miliband is ready to admit his policy to equalise the wages of agency and regular workers is just a method to prevent the race to the bottom. Likewise Brown’s warnings about the instability of the minimum wage after independence strikes a sober chord for those who rely on New Labour’s main achievement. And while the Record is right that Labour’s vote against free school meals leaves a bad taste, some people do see honour in Lamont’s priority of policies that help the poor over those that benefit the whole population.

The Labour Party in Scotland has been battered by a flood of nationalistic optimism, and may remain submerged by the waves we expect this year. Lacking tough defences, our Party has also seemed too pessimistic about the prospects of effective social or economic change in Scotland, which is no way to stir support from those who seek a better life. But it may be that Labour’s stasis, its realistic pessimism, could pay off when the nationalist beacon starts to die, and people look around at the state they’re in.

When they do, Labour has the advantage that it starts from the work people do, the wages they earn, the decisions they make about their lives and their children’s lives, the condition of public services, access to jobs, level of education, ability to travel, and so on. Where the SNP starts with the wealth of Scotland and looks downwards – aspiring that all of our wealth trickles down and out and through the hands of Scotland’s people – Labour starts with the worth of the people and their challenges, and looks up to see what government can do. It fights against homelessness, hunger and hardship, knowing that in the face of all these, the dreams of the nationalists are no solution. It believes social justice means a better life for the mass of ordinary people in a world where work doesn’t pay, being female is a burden, and those in illness or want are neglected.

It should be no wonder that Labour, which has lost favour among the political class, retains a solid and growing support-base among ordinary working people. These supporters may be frustrated by the party’s pessimism but stick to Labour because of their realism and determination. As long as Scottish Labour is passive, they will wait; but they will be the activists if Labour grasps the full powers that a Yes vote could bring in the years to come. It is why we, who support independence from within the party, believe Labour not only has within it the instincts and politics to stir a people to change, but that, after we have won, our Party will be the one to achieve social justice in an independent Scotland.


Red Tidings: How independence can end the SNP


Investigations into referendum voting intentions show that Labour supporters, and people who traditionally vote Labour, remain firmly opposed to voting Yes. Unmoved by promises of great national wealth, and often hostile to the SNP and its leader, these voters will not succumb to nationalist takeover and are unconvinced by anything the SNP has to offer.

The SNP cannot win these votes itself – partly because as a bourgeois party it favours consensus and seeks to represent all classes, while Labour is a party of working people, whose interests are compromised by concession to business. The SNP’s hubristic habit of contempt for Labour makes them insensitive to their own weakness: that every criticism of Labour is self-defeating – it sets back the campaign for independence. On the other hand, were the SNP to solve this problem they would aid the construction of their own antithesis – a force that could defeat the SNP and claim an independent Scotland for Labour control.

As for the radical-popular cohorts, their lack of any awareness of their damage to the campaign when they attack Labour is evident at most town-hall meetings since summer, where Labour-bashing has been the default crowd-pleaser. The motley radical-bourgeois groups are unable/unwilling to target Labour voters (or, which shows even more naivety, they think they are already doing it). Instead, these groups have shown themselves to be more interested in gaining a position that fits within the SNP’s inadequate strategy – partly again because of political ineptitude, party through pursuit of future power, partly because they do not share (and may reject) the politics of Labour.

So the Scottish National Party, having led the campaign thus far, cannot secure what is required to win because the votes are attached to Labour values, and invested in the Labour Party’s success. The maverick, unruly radicals cannot be deployed to win these votes, nor has the SNP mustered any suitable replacements to carry out the required role. In order to keep their supporters on the No side, Labour, the most dogged and stubborn obstacle to a Yes vote, needs only to sit tight and lob the occasional grenade into the fray.

The main things Labour voters need to hear is that a Yes vote can be an anti-SNP vote, and that the Labour Party will win the 2016 election or one shortly after. No group on the pro-independence left realises that in order to win we have to strike against the SNP, stand for labour values, and commit to working for a Labour government after independence. While this is strategically important, it is also a crucial preparation for what will follow a Yes vote, because a strong Labour government after independence is the only way to be free of the SNP’s traditional party rule.

So we need a counter-movement to the SNP, and we need to demonstrate to a skeptical and sizable minority of Scottish people that a strong Labour party can win power in the 2016 election that will follow a Yes vote, and use its power for far-reaching social and economic change.

The case we make must answer the concerns articulated by the Labour Party, which resonates with voters. Many within Labour oppose independence because they fear that the National Party will, after independence, tighten its grip on the nation’s politics, leaving both the Labour party and ordinary people helpless to use the powers that would be won. Many fear that the kind of changes that would make independence worthwhile would not be achieved for many years; or else they believe the kind of bourgeois reform on offer does not represent a marked improvement on the present situation in the UK, at least not enough to risk years of governance by an economically impotent Nationalist Government, and to plunge British Labour into uncharted waters.

We need an answer to the fear that Labour cannot beat the SNP in the first elections after independence. This fear is based on the idea that the SNP is strong, and by being the ‘owners’ of independence a Yes vote will strengthen them further in the run-up to 2016, allowing them to set the agenda and tone for the election campaign. On the other hand, the Scottish Labour Party is weak and battered, and, being opposed to independence, a Yes vote will weaken them further; and, moreover, by not even being engaged in the positive independence debate, they will be set back even further if Yes wins.

We therefore need to make arguments to undermine the SNP – to argue that though the SNP are strong they have exposed their weakness in the campaign. The SNP’s need to appeal to a majority of people, many of whom do not vote, has strained them. They have been unable to pursue a party agenda to lead simply to a Holyrood majority, and have instead made promises to every interest group and section of society, promises that they will not be able to keep, or that will take a very long time to obtain. They have promised a fairer Scotland – but in an independent SNP Scotland zero-hour contracts will still be common. They promise shared prosperity – but corporation tax is to be lowered.

This brings us to the third problem: Scottish Labour are weak. Their talents still are deployed to Westminster, where they remain for much of the year, occasionally gracing Scottish political life. At an operational level, the speaking abilities of MSPs are dismal, sniping negativity gives supporters little to hope for, and First Ministers’ Questions has become a farce. Idealistically, what do Scottish Labour stand for? They have not managed to get across their argument for the prudent direction of scarce resources where they are most needed, having ended up tarred with the ‘something for nothing’ slogan.

So the strength of Scottish Labour, both operationally and idealistically, must come from other sources, especially younger members. At Glasgow University, under the banner of ‘serious about socialism’, its members have marched through the streets, stood on pickets, and suffered the throng of Blairites at British-wide conferences. At National Organisation of Labour Students conferences the Scottish delegation are generally among the most radical. Among younger members trade union links are strong, strengthening as activists have turned away from constitutional politics to engage with union struggles.

There is also potential for wider re-engagement of the labour movement. In general, Scottish Labour links with trade unions are stronger than down south, and the party could use these links and work with unions like Unite to build up membership and recognize the trade unions in a way that is not possible as long as they remain attached to Westminster.

Moreover, at a grassroots level Labour is still strong, and so too has the Labour vote been historically strong across communities, with a large number of voters who will vote Labour if and whenever they see something to vote for in it. In spite of the messenger, Labour has tradition and support that can take it far, especially once voters who moved to the SNP return to Labour.

Which takes us to the fourth, and most difficult, problem. For Labour is not even engaging in debate about possible and real policy prospects for a post-independent Scotland, and indeed is not even engaging in discussion at all, so how are we to believe it is one of the forces that will form an independent Scotland? It sometimes even gives the impression that it will shrug its shoulders and wander off after a Yes vote.

If we are to believe Labour can bring a new programme for an independent Scotland, we must look not so much to the party itself as to the Labour and socialist sentiment of its history and tradition, and we must believe not so much in its councillors and MSPs as those in the real labour and socialist movements, especially the industrial wing but also in socialist societies and the membership, for these are the people who can remake the party.

For this we will have to engender the belief that the reason Labour no longer runs Scotland is not because of its Scottish form but because of its Scottish leadership and public image – mostly due to two things: first, their move, probably dragged by New Labour, to the right; and second, the lack of public discussion by the Scottish Party of economics, work, and industrial relations, given the exclusion of these issues from the Scottish Parliament’s remit.

We will have to demonstrate that the Labour sentiment, remains, as every member knows, at the Party’s heart; and we must find a way of expressing this sentiment with the few resources we have, to show people that a proud tradition will carry on through the referendum, and that on the other side the Party will have a wealth of support and sentimental investment with which to renew itself. How to make this case credible without a large and active group is what I will explore next. It is enough for now that most Labour members, whether opposed to independence or ambivalent, know it to be true – even if they will never say it.

Of course most will stand with the Party in opposition to a No vote even if they intend to vote Yes. Though hard to accept, this is as it should be for a party that rests on solidarity and common endeavour. So the groundswell aspiring for a Labour government will start small. But when this source, already a trickle, becomes a stream, and when it flows into the growing mass of support for a Yes vote, it will grow and colour our movement into the reddening tide we need not just to achieve a Yes vote, but to erode the grip of bourgeois nationalism on a people who, betrayed for so long, have so much to build.

Cailean Gallagher

The March Left at Noon

march and rally

Saturday’s march and rally for independence was a notably left-wing affair. Under a stereotypically nationalist forest of placards and saltire flags, the crowd cheered and applauded enthusiastically as speaker after speaker imagined an independent Scotland of public ownership and wealth redistribution. The rapturous response to Alan Bissett’s description of so-called “wealth creators” as “greedy selfish bastards” must have made the lonely souls at the Business For Scotland stall feel rather queasy. Indeed, the general tone of the rally and march was considerably to the left of the official Yes Scotland campaign, whose videos and leaflets seemed tame in comparison to the rabble-rousing speeches and slogans.

So why the contrast? It’s very unlikely that Yes Scotland are to the right of popular opinion in general; calls for them to adopt a more ‘radical’ position are going unheeded because shouting about your radicalism is a very good way to lose votes in a small-c conservative country like Scotland. Most people don’t want ‘radical’ change. They want, broadly speaking, the ‘fairness’ and ‘prosperity’ that the Yes campaign are working to emphasise. Yes’s political base, on the other hand, comes from what can be loosely described as a nationalism of progressive reaction – against the disintegration of a British welfare state that tied the union together, and against the cut-throat unpleasantness of the society that followed it.

It might not be quite this simple. There is, perhaps, also something in Gerry Hassan’s notion of a “third Scotland”, a vague green-red spectrum focusing on communitarian localism and human wellbeing rather than the old centralising and managerial tendencies of Labour Scotland or the nationalist universalism of SNP Scotland. But this vision, while certainly popular amongst the commentariat and twitterati, remains too vague and cerebral to have a powerful impact on people’s sense of how their lives will be immediately changed by independence. Yes Scotland are trying to find a middle ground between this rather lofty vision for a “better nation”, and a broader appeal to the public with the basic idea that we’ll all be richer, safer, happier – and so on – with independence.

In this sense, much of the Yes campaign is stiflingly bourgeois. Offended by the open assaults being waged on the poor by the British ruling class, the well-meaning Scottish middling sort has decided that such an open demonstration of class war (and the insinuation of their own murky involvement in such an uneven struggle) just won’t wash. Measures must be taken, it seems, to counteract this vulgar disregard for common decency, and these have taken the tokenistic form of vague demands: equality, fairness, democracy, etc. When politics reaches this level of abstraction, it resorts back to the basic micro-managerial approach of technocratic liberalism. Influential books like Wilkinson & Pickett’s The Spirit Level identify various social ills – poor health, violence, crime and so on – before identifying a simple, catch-all cause (economic inequality, in this case) and proposing policy-level solutions. They point to certain levers within the existing political and economic system, and suggest that we pull them. It all seems very simple, and that’s why policy wonks and left-liberal politicians love them so much – Ed Miliband made The Spirit Level required reading for his staff after becoming Labour leader.

The trouble is, not everyone is a policy wonk. If the best argument for independence is that Scotland can be a fairer and more prosperous society with independence, we need a better way of getting that argument across than lofty claims about our “social-democratic consensus” or “breaking with the neoliberal model”, which don’t relate to the the material realities of people’s lives. Yes Scotland, in trying to make the idealistic message of their centre-left base more accessible and palatable to those outside the policy bubble, end up tying themselves in rhetorical knots and tossing out bland catchphrases. Most Scots don’t see a difference between ‘fairness’ and ‘prosperity’. In our everyday lives, we experience low wages, long hours, demanding bosses and rude customers; a society with less of those things would be both fairer and more prosperous. Higher wages would give greater personal comfort and security, as well as higher tax revenue and better public services; shorter working weeks would give us more time to pursue opportunities outside of rigid work structures and spend time with families; and more control, security and respect in our working lives would give us a better experience of life in general. Fairness and prosperity are two sides of the same coin – and it is only in a politics that recognises the deeply political nature of work that they can be seen and expressed as such, with real relevance to people’s lives.

Here it becomes clear – as it was on Saturday – that there is a gaping hole in the Yes campaign where the labour movement and the Labour Party should be. There is something about labour politics that is both quietly radical and yet profoundly popular: it doesn’t shout about its radicalism from the rooftops, because it doesn’t need to. The political nature of labour – of work – is experienced by the vast majority of the population every day, and a politics which recognises this cannot help but be radical in its implications (though rarely in its manifestations): to put the power of workers above the power of corporations and their owners, a fundamental transformation in the structure of society is necessary. In mainstream British politics it has consistently been the labour movement and the Labour Party that have understood the political nature of work, and that have sought to intervene in this realm. Even at its lowest point, after the “radical implications” embodied in Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution were jettisoned by Tony Blair, Labour remained uniquely aware of the workplace as a place of politics. This is why they remained popular, and it is why the trade unions continued – and continue still – to support them.

As Ed Miliband begins a Labour conference that will focus on zero hours contracts and the minimum wage as well as ending the bedroom tax, Yes Scotland and the SNP risk being outflanked on the left in a way that is both radical and popular. The march and rally was certainly dressed in the flowing, colourful robes of radicalism, but it would be a mistake to think that the politics on offer reflected the priorities of the wider population. There was little mention of work, outside of that confusing old slogan “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation” (with the obvious, cheap retort: will the “better nation” pay me a living wage to do so?). A Yes campaign without labour politics is a Yes campaign that cannot help but be condemned to the sterile no man’s land between radicalism and populism. It need not advertise political and economic upheaval to be radical, and it need not tack to the centre to be popular. Rather than banging on about abstract notions of democracy, neoliberalism and the “good society”, Yes needs to talk about the thing that dominates our daily lives more than anything else: work. Not just quantity, but quality. That’s the only way to win the essential votes of Labour members and voters and to convince the general public that independence will have a direct and emancipatory impact on the structure and substance of their lives.

Rory Scothorne

Reflections on the Question, What is Labour?


Reflections on the Question, What is Labour?

Being the subject of the inaugural Glasgow University Labour Club meeting as it enters what we hope will be a radical and inclusive term.

“Scottish socialists can not support a strategy for independence which postpones the question of meeting urgent and social needs until the day after independence – but nor can they give unconditional support to maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom – and all that that entails – without any guarantee of radical social change; the question is not one of structures nor of territorial influence, but of democracy – how working people in Scotland can increase the control they have over the decisions which shape their lives and the wealth they alone produce – and in doing so aid the struggle for a shift of power to working people elsewhere.”

– Gordon Brown, The Red Paper on Scotland, 1974

When I was an undergraduate my lecturer in Marxism, the theorist and activist Stuart White, explained to me the misdirection of our Labour Party. Labour was born as a party dedicated to far-reaching reform. However, having shoved the Liberals aside it became attached to the established institutions of the British state. A distinctive ‘Labourist’ philosophy of politics and the state emerged which is still with us today. It became the aim of progressive politics to get Labour into control of the Parliament, through conservative parliamentarianism – embracing the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty and the first-past-the-post system – for only this system could credibly hope to deliver Labour, and Labour alone, control of the all-important central state.

Ever since, Labour has had to win votes in a relatively small number of constituencies, which has tended to make it veer to the centre-right, and to dilute its original connection with working people across the UK. Labour’s dominance demands a policy platform that tacks to the right and sets it against those for whom it is meant to work – thus Labour has lost touch with its original dedication and purpose.

This misdirection explains the approach of those like Brown with instincts on the left but a political nose for the right, of engaging in the kind of inequality-reducing, poverty-fighting governance that conscience demands, while presenting little of it to the public. This is weakness, it is cowardice – and it is the great irony of a Labour prime minister who wrote books about courage, that he could never in his short time in office confront those who insisted on minimal distribution and maximal exploitation, to tell them their politics were wrong and immoral.

The kernel of Brown’s weakness, and the weakness of many comrades who suddenly find themselves playing the Westminster game, was planted when Labour turned from its original radical demands to a focus on winning power in Westminster. The inward turn to Westminster was a turn against the belief in the power of working people to force change and decide for themselves. The inward turn of Labour activists’ to their own pursuits fuelled their tactic of policy by stealth rather than publicly waging war on the morality of the rich. Both inward turns are results of the initial disconnect of Labour from its original goals to shift power to working people.

If anything is exciting about Labour now, it is the chance – both because of the reconstruction of the Party following the recession in the context of falling living standards and declining work conditions, and because of the question of Scottish independence – to restore its demand and purpose from being ‘pooling and sharing resources’ in the manner described by Brown as the most important ‘modern argument for the Union’, to being about how to empower working people. People do not want compensation, they want empowerment, and Labour is the only party to meet their demand.

This takes us back to Gordon Brown:

“Labour must respond to the ‘demand for more control over our affairs’ not by asking how ‘minimalist’ or ‘maximalist’ Assembly powers can avoid separatism nor by becoming masters of the last ditch – resisting change until it becomes inevitable – but by deploying every available level of government to increase the control working people have over their own lives.”

Then, as now, Gordon Brown was cautious about constitutional change. He wrote to defend the system he knows so well, the Westminster political system by which he, like the Labour Party itself, was overwhelmed. He opposed those of us who said we could achieve more by bringing economic power to Scotland for working people to claim.

But unlike many comrades, I think Brown has always understood the significance of what those of us in Labour who favour independence are working to achieve. His Red Paper introduction addressed our ambitions head-on, with an appeal to Labour not to defend devolution or resist change, but to address the kinds of popular demands that raised the question of independence in the first place. The thesis that devolution arose through the demands of working people whereas independence is a vanity project or nationalist distraction does not do history justice, yet it is preached as orthodoxy in the Party. In hearing this tonight, comrades should at least be sceptical.

Those of us who favour independence, on the other hand, still think that devolution and then independence both are the demand of working people in the face of powerlessness, and that by bringing economic powers to Scotland we open the world of labour to more direct political and economic control by working people. It is the ability of our Labour Party, granted access to a new plane of powers, to facilitate or aid the extension of those power to those who work in Scotland that will be put to the test after independence. When comrades in Labour realise that this is our aspiration, they will, I hope, understand what drives us to work for independence.

Of course I have my days of doubting whether we can do what we think we can after independence. I also have my fears that our political and organisational strength will not be enough to withstand the inevitable force of private and corporate interests that will try to invade the newest European sovereignty. But I do know that Scottish Labour will retain its resolve and will be strengthened as, after a Yes vote next year, it works out how to ensure working people’s voices and interests are at the heart of our aims. The Labour Party and labour values can flourish with independence.

Given that these issues will continue to face the Labour Party over the coming year, it is a good time to be inquiring into the meaning and purpose of Labour – and the discussion tonight could be the start of a quite interesting term as together we prepare to advance under the banner of the Glasgow University Labour Club.

Cailean Gallagher, Friday 20th September 2013