Scottish elections: no advance for the working class

The elections to the Scottish Parliament on 3 May saw the Labour Party defeated in Scotland for the first time since 1955. Amid electoral incompetence and confusion, which saw the largest number of rejected ballots – 142,000 – in British electoral history, the Scottish National Party (SNP) emerged as the biggest party, winning 47 seats to Labour’s 46. SNP leader Alex Salmond was appointed as First Minister to lead a minority government in coalition with the Greens.

While the defeat of this imperialist, racist Labour Party is to be welcomed, an SNP government will see no real change for the working class in Scotland or for those oppressed by Scottish-owned businesses abroad. The nationalists have received political and financial backing from millionaire capitalists such as RBS chief Sir John Matthewson and Stagecoach owner Brian Souter. The heads of some of Britain’s biggest monopolies only support the SNP because they see an independent Scotland providing better conditions for exploitation and profit-making. The SNP’s manifesto promises to cut corporation tax to just 20% and says it wishes to join the ‘Arc of Prosperity’ which includes Ireland.

The most notable result for the left in this election was the complete eclipse of Scotland’s two social democratic parties – the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity. In 2003 when the SSP got six MSPs, it polled 117,709 votes (6.2%) in the constituency vote and 128,026 (6.7%) in the regional votes.

In 2007 the SSP received just 525 votes in the constituencies and 12,731 (0.6%) in the regionals. None of their MSPs will be returning to parliament. SSP policy co-ordinator Alan McCombes exposed the SSP’s political bankruptcy when he complained that ‘we also fought a highly political campaign, with a 450-point manifesto, including the boldest and most radical policy of any party in this election – free public transport’, and acknowledged that ‘most of those who voted SSP in 2003 swung behind the SNP in this election’.

More significant than the SSP’s collapse was Tommy Sheridan’s failure to get re-elected as MSP for his new Solidarity party. At Solidarity’s founding conference in September 2006, Sheridan claimed that: ‘[The SSP] can fight over the 3% of voters if they want, Solidarity will be chasing 53% to join Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the People’s Republic of Cuba in a new international socialist alliance’. The result exposed this for the hollow bombast that it was: Solidarity got 31,066 votes, 1.5% of the vote.

Despite laying claim to the title ‘Scotland’s anti-war party’, Solidarity’s entire existence was geared towards Sheridan remaining an MSP, and thus towards respectable electoral campaigning. In recent months Sheridan’s focus has been a parliamentary campaign for a ban on airguns – rather than the imperialist guns blazing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the SSP’s six MSPs were elected in 2003, we wrote in FRFI that: ‘New Labour in Scotland will have its own Old Labour opponent: an SSP for whom anti-imperialist principles are to be sloughed off whenever it is an electoral necessity.’ This is what has happened for the last four years. SSP and Sheridan failed to effectively attack and expose the Labour Party’s brutal wars, and increasingly abandoned any talk of socialism in favour of Scottish ‘independence’. The result is that we have not seen any advance in the building of a working-class anti-imperialist movement.
Joseph Eskovitchl

FRFI 197 June / July 2007


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