Eric Chester (RCN) gives his perspective on Scotland after the Westminster election.
The Scottish National Party has become the dominant force in Scottish politics. Already a majority in the Scottish parliament, SNP candidates crushed the Labour Party in the recent elections to Westminster. Yet SNP dominance extends well beyond the electoral arena. Within the trade unions and in the social movements, the SNP has become a major factor determining the policies followed by activists in those arenas.
In part, the SNP’s success is due to its astute projection of itself as a populist party ready to stand up to the English establishment. More importantly, the drive toward Scottish independence has become totally identified with the SNP. Understandably, Scots are convinced that they have been ruled for centuries by a clique of toffs who control the London financial district. The SNP exploits this anger and yet its leaders have no intention of building a genuinely independent Scotland. Their strategy is to shift Scottish dependence from England, a declining world power, to Germany and the European Union.
Confronted with the surging popularity of the SNP, most of the Left has opted to tail after it. For the Green Party, this has meant joining in a “progressive alliance” on a UK-wide basis in order to act as a pressure group on the Labour Party. At the same time, several smaller organisations have sought to create an electoral coalition that would bring together socialist groups on a minimum programme that supports independence and is a few steps to the left of the SNP.
Both the Green Party and the incipient broad Left party hope to elect candidates from their slates in the 2016 election to Holyrood. This parliamentary group would then act as a leftward pressure group on the SNP majority. As of now, the SNP is hegemonic, but in the future a coalition encompassing both the SNP and the Green Party could come together to form the Scottish government.
Certainly the mixed proportional representation system being used in Scotland makes it possible to elect candidates to the Scottish parliament who represent a more progressive politics than that of the SNP. Nevertheless, the system makes it necessary for an alternative party to gain more than five per cent of the total vote as a prerequisite to electing any of its candidates. It seems highly unlikely that in the foreseeable future a broad Left party can overcome this barrier with the Green Party in place, already having an electoral base sufficient to gain representation. Thus, even on pragmatic and tactical grounds the effort to create a political party by bringing together several socialist organisations on the basis of a minimum programme is likely to fail.
Still, the issues raised by such a project run far deeper than the tactical. For revolutionary socialists, elections should not be about winning votes and getting candidates elected to office, but rather should be viewed as an opportunity to reach out to a broader audience with a socialist politics. This means articulating a description of a future society that breaks with the social democratic model and presents a vision of working class rule that leads toward a society without social classes and without rigid hierarchies. In this context, specific demands raised by candidates should be put forward as first steps to an immediate revolutionary transformation of the existing system.
Elections can be useful in certain times and places, but the focus of our efforts should remain on building militant movements and unions that can confront the capitalist class at the workplace, in the streets and in the communities. Of course, such movements will constantly come into conflict with the SNP. As radicals within broader movements and establishment unions, we need to raise the issue of electoral independence from all capitalist parties, including both the SNP and the Labour Party. We also need to be pushing within these movements for demands that directly contradict the establishment politics of the SNP. For instance, within the anti-militarist movement we need to stand for the UK’s withdrawal from NATO and the creation of a nuclear free zone, rather than limiting demands to a rejection of the decision to renew the Trident missile system.
Those who support the call for a broad Left party look to Syriza as a model. Obviously, Scotland is in a different situation from that in Greece. Although Scotland remains mired in a slump, it has not experienced a free fall in its economy that Greece has. The crisis in Greece has propelled Syriza into power, but its rapid rise has only served to highlight the bankruptcy of its policies. Syriza continues to flounder and splinter as it seeks to mollify its creditors while hoping to pacify its populace. This is not the kind of politics we as socialists in Scotland should be emulating.
For other articles on political situation in Scotland by Eric Chester, see
http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/12/14/the-curse-of-nationalism/ Eric Chester, The curse of nationalism, 14,12, 14
http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/08/05/for-an-independent-scottish-socialist-republic/ RCN – For An Independent Scottish Socialist Republic (with comment by Allan Armstrong, 10.11.12) 5.8.12
http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/10/31/scottish-independence-sham-or-genuine/ Eric Chester, Scottish independence – Sham or Genuine, 31.10.12
http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/ – Eric Chester – The Scottish Independence Referendum; Allan Armstrong – Reply, 17.4.12
http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/03/26/scottish-independence-referendum/ Allan Armstrong – A Socialist Strategy for the Scottish Democratic Movement; Eric Chester – Outline of a Policy on Scottish Independence Referendum; Allan Armstrong – Some Proposals for Working in the Scottish Democratic Movement, 26.3.12
http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/05/11/after-may-7th/ Murdo Ritchie (RCN), Moving with the Flow and Why We Must break Through to Real Democracy (World to Win), 11.5.15
http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/01/21/the-rcn-and-the-campaign-for-scottish-self-determination/ Allan Armstrong, The RCN and the campaign for Scottish self-determination, section F, Debates and differences within the RCN, 21.1.15