Scotland, electoral politics and class struggle

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Scottish politics is not irreversibly dominated by a Conservative-voting English electorate.Voting SNP in Scotland is no route to a Socialist Scotland.
The Communist Party conducts its campaigning politics both on the electoral front and in workplaces, communities, colleges and universities, and in the broader trade union, labour and progressive movement.

As our programme, Britain’s Road to Socialism, makes clear, the mass movement outside Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff is critical to pushing any administration to adopt and stay with a Left programme.That mass movement will also be critical for defending any Socialist developments in Britain. Nevertheless, electoral calculation plays a material role in the political consciousness of millions of people.
British capitalism has been failing for a long time. It has swung further and further against the class interests of working people and their dependants—the proportion of national income going to wages has been falling since 1975. Different categories of voters have been reacting against this status quo in different ways over many years.
Many have become disillusioned—“They’re all the same!” – turn-out in General Elections has fallen over the last seven decades.
Many in Labour Party heartlands have lost their class-based allegiance to Labour over the generations, following deindustrialization, the selling off of council estates, and changing demographics.‘RedWall’ seats have become electorally volatile.
Many liberal-left voters have turned to single-issue and identity politics or to the Greens.

Many turned against established parties in the 2016 referendum on EU membership. EU membership was favoured by the Conservative government, by the official positions of all the major traditional parties, and overwhelmingly supported by the British Establishment, by the US and European governments. But a majority of electors supported an insurgent Leave vote. Communists campaigned against EU membership on Left and democratic grounds, but some Leave voters saw the vote through a nationalist and/or xenophobic lens. Labour’s later anti-democratic ambivalence on the Brexit outcome put off many Labour voters.
Many Scottish voters have reacted against the status quo by turning to nationalism, replacing Scottish Labour with the Scottish National Party (SNP) as the single largest party for the last decade. Scottish Labour’s historic complacency undermined its vote, as did its collaboration with the Conservatives in the ‘Better Together’ campaign in the 2014 independence referendum, and specific compromises with Conservatives and with unionists at council level. Scottish Labour now has a single Westminster MP and 22 out of 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament.

So, both north and south of the Scottish border, the reaction against the status quo over the years has been to the detriment of left class-based politics. South, it saw UKIP’s politics to the fore, followed by Johnson’s implementation of Brexit. North, nationalism has partially eclipsed class. In both cases, Communists campaigned on class-based policies. South, the argument was against the neoliberalism of the EU. North, the argument was against fragmenting the organized working class and exposing working people even more chaotically to the neoliberalism of the EU and the US.
A section of the liberal left south of the Scottish border wrongly see the SNP as a left or progressive social democratic party.The liberal left is attracted to the majority vote (62%) in Scotland for remaining in the EU, to ideas of cultural diversity, to one or two window-dressing progressive policies, and sometimes to the ultra-left fantasy that Scottish independence is a way to “break the British state”. One in five English voters support Scottish independence. Many SNP activists, members and voters have left views on many issues and can be allies in left campaigning, but the SNP’s leadership and the SNP as a party are committed to the neoliberal principles of the EU (they would rejoin) and to NATO.They have had the largest share of seats at Holyrood for nearly a generation and have shown themselves to be centralizers, committed to austerity economics (in or out of the EU), and to be unwilling to use even the powers and resources that they do have.The SNP has no organic, constitutional connection to the organized labour movement, compared with Labour’s affiliated trade unions. In the absence of any credible left electoral challenge, the SNP has been drifting further rightwards. Scottish nationalism has recently sprouted a more socially conservative party,Alba, which is failing to make an electoral mark. Polling on “Should Scotland be an independent country?” over the last year still resembles the result of the 2014 referendum: 17 polls showing No, 3 Yes and 2 draws ( Opinion_polling_on_Scottish_independence#Two-way_polling).

The independence issue continues to divide and distract from class issues.The Conservative government in Westminster remains the best recruiting sergeant for Scottish nationalism. On October 11/12th 2022 the Supreme Court will consider the status of the SNP+Greens Scottish government’s proposed second independence referendum next year; a clear majority in Scotland oppose a second referendum.The independence movement on the ground currently has none of its previous steam and there is a recognition by some Yes supporters that the moment has passed.

There are 45 Scottish nationalist MPs at Westminster; before 2015 they would mostly have been Scottish Labour MPs. Corbynism had less impact in Scotland, although it did correspond with an (unstable) increase in Scottish Labour Party paper membership and with a temporary increase in Scottish Labour Westminster MPs (from 1 in 2015, to 7 in 2017, and back to 1 in 2019). Scottish Labour’s leader from 2021, Anas Sarwar, has spoken of how “hollowed out” Scottish Labour was before he became leader, revealing that the party raised just £250 in the year before he took over.

Since 2021, the Scottish Greens have had a cooperation agreement with the SNP at Holyrood, reflecting the 8% Green vote in the list-based regional seats and providing ‘greenwash’ for the Scottish Government.These Green votes do not translate into first-past-the-post votes.
Starmer has purged the Labour left, bent the knee internationally and is continuing with Blair’s anti- trade-unionism. Real political opposition to the government’s fierce class politics currently comes from outside Parliament.The capitalist class no doubt increasingly sees its Starmer-led ‘second 11’ as a safe pair of hands and many Conservatives must be sensing they have at most only two years of government left. However, there are no guarantees, except that there will be “events”. (One of those events will be electoral boundary changes, with only about 15% of constituencies being substantially unchanged.)

Where does all of this leave General Election calculus in Scotland? The latest polling (from 23rd June 2022 to 19th August 2022—i.e. pre-Truss and Kwarteng) shows the Scottish nationalist vote holding steady, despite the SNP’s Holyrood tenure looking increasingly threadbare and rightwing. The SNP remains a deadweight with respect to class politics in Britain. Nevertheless, current predictions do disprove the claim that Scotland’s fate within Britain is tied to a permanent Conservative majority south of the border; current predictions make a Labour majority government the likeliest outcome ( Conservative and Labour governments are not the same, despite Starmer’s efforts.These calculations are a material force but, as ever, they shouldn’t distract from the struggle on the picket lines, in the trade union negotiations, and on the streets.