During the election, instead of selling themselves as a vote for independence the SNP presented themselves as the leaders of Scotland’s opposition to austerity who would make the new Labour Government keep true to its word of opposing austerity. As I have and others have said, this was a lie. The SNP opposed a vote for Labour in England and Wales since they supported the Greens and Plaid Cymru. So where was this Labour Government to come from?
The SNP vote cannot therefore be characterised as any sort of left vote except in the sense I mentioned earlier: that workers often express their interests in very distorted form. In this case in the form of nationalism that put forward the idea that Scots are uniquely opposed to austerity and the English not. The SNP vote can also be said to be a nationalist one because a nationalist solution to austerity was proposed, even if it was supported by some who would not want to go as far as independence.
If the Scots were uniquely opposed to austerity they would also have demonstrated opposition to the cuts transmitted by their own Scottish parliament led by the SNP.
This party has slipped seamlessly from standing in order to put a backbone into a new Labour Government to the election being “a vote to make Scotland’s voice heard loudly” in Westminster. Those who think there isn’t really any difference should read the last sentence again. They should also consider if the SNP in any way contributed to getting the Tories out. As I have also said before the only Tories they wanted out was the ‘red’ variety.
The absence of Labour in Government, which they said would be reliant on them, now means their real reliance on those in power in London is exposed. Like the nationalists that they are the SNP demands privileges that they would not even consider for others. So the new Tory Government has to listen to the ‘voice of Scotland’ even though they are 50 per cent of Scottish voices with 1.45 million votes. UKIP on the other hand won 3.88 million votes, over two and half times the SNP vote. Should their voice not be louder?
However, now that the Conservatives are in Government the SNP will be seeking to cut a deal with them to increase devolved powers – so much for excoriating Labour and their promises not to do deals with the hated Tories. The Guardian on Saturday reported an SNP advisor saying that Sturgeon will now negotiate with the Tories and that all the repeated promises that the party would never work with the Tories were based on the Conservatives forming a minority coalition government – not an outright majority.
Perhaps this approach seems obvious to SNP supporters but it isn’t at all obvious to anyone else. If, as it claimed, it stood in this election against austerity why isn’t it trying to cut a deal on reducing austerity instead of more constitutional powers?
The election demonstrated that the SNP and Conservative Party were good for each other. The inherently anti-English message of independence produced an anti-Scottish response led by the Tories and UKIP who were able to argue that a Labour Government in hock to a party bent on destruction of their nation was a mortal danger. Both the Tories and SNP knew what they were doing in this mutual loathing.
Now, as the mutually beneficial conflict between the rival nationalisms continues to play itself out, it will become clear that English nationalism is bigger and uglier – because England is bigger and nationalism throwing its weight about is always ugly.
Boris Johnson has advocated giving the SNP greater devolved powers for the Scottish parliament – “some kind of federal offer”. This is not such a novel departure since the Tories were already more radical than Labour before the referendum in what they promised as devolution in place of separation.
An offer by the Tories of full fiscal autonomy would call the SNP’s bluff since they know full well that Scotland could not afford such an arrangement given the fall in oil prices. In effect it would be DIY austerity.
The SNP will argue that it wants any new arrangement to maintain current levels of financing. In other words a settlement that allows Scotland the benefit of higher oil prices should they return but no down side when they don’t. The English oppressors in the meantime will have to subsidise higher levels of public expenditure in Scotland.
When the Tories make mincemeat of these demands the SNP can then make the case that the dastardly anti-Scottish Tories are at it again and only independence will allow them to borrow more, make savings on Trident and make the independence sums add up again irrespective of the oil price. Something they haven’t been very convincing at doing so far.
In the meantime increased tax and spending powers may allow the SNP led Scottish parliament to cut corporation tax, as will the Stormont administration in Belfast with the new tax varying powers that the Tories have already promised. They can then unite with their Celtic cousins in the Irish State in a joint project of cutting each other’s throat.
The debate has begun on what the lessons are for Labour with the Blairites already dominating the media agenda that Ed Miliband was too left wing.
Such an argument hardly squares with the Labour rout in Scotland and nor with Labour gains in London. It was obvious when Miliband became leader that he had to distance himself from the Blair legacy of the Iraq war and the obsequious defence to the city of London and the financial interests behind the crash. We’re now asked to believe that a return to this politics is the way back.
Such a policy would have led the Labour Party into an even more confused message than it already had and would have left it with little or nothing to distinguish itself from a Tory Party promising deficit reduction, tax cuts and more money for the health service.
Even the rise of UKIP and the part of its vote that was taken from Labour cannot be seen as an endorsement of a move right. In this case just how far right would you have to move to rival the xenophobic policies of that lot?
I remember two weeks ago listening to a vox pop on radio 4 from a constituency in the North of England. A young man was saying he was voting UKIP as a protest against Labour even though he did not at all agree with UKIP policies because he wanted Labour to be more left wing! I’m not for a moment suggesting that the working class UKIP vote is a left wing protest but some of it is a working class vote that is Labour’s to win. These voters are not all irredeemably reactionary. It is rather another example of some workers expressing their class interests as they see them, in a very distorted and disfigured way.
They are demoralised workers who blame immigrants, foreigners or Europe, or simply the establishment understood in some vague way, for the precarious position they find themselves in.
These people did not vote Tory and they did not do so because demoralised or not they don’t confuse their interest with those of the Tory classes and their smarmy representatives. They just can’t identify their position with an uninhibited and robust defence of their class interests from a socialist perspective. Perhaps because they haven’t been presented with it or because they have grown cynical with promises of it in the past that haven’t been delivered on.
There is no Blairite answer to workers who blame immigrants for lack of affordable housing, low wages, unemployment and failing health and education services. There is a left wing answer and however weak it may be from a Marxist perspective it certainly makes more sense than voting UKIP.
The parliamentary arithmetic looks very bad for Labour, behind the Tories by almost 100 seats and suffering almost complete wipe-out in Scotland. But that is only half the story.
Their vote increased by more than the Tories, and that despite the losses in Scotland. They may trail by 99 seats but they lag only by 6.5 percentage points of the vote. The Tories are not in as strong a position as they appear.
First they have a small majority and second they are about to go through a debate about Europe that has the potential to split them extremely badly. This will take place most likely against the backdrop of gloomy economic news and growing unpopularity as the reality of their election promises come home to roost. Cameron may seek to provide raw meat to the most Thatcherite elements of his party in order to provide himself with some room to keep the UK inside the EU.
Right now the opportunity exists to have a debate in front of working people about the wide range of policies that they need to advance their interests. This arises from the debate on who will be the replacement leadership of the Labour Party. It will not of course be a debate pitting a pure revolutionary programme (however understood) against a cowardly watered down Keynesianism. But what could ever lead anyone to expect that? This is where the working class is at and no amount of wishful thinking will make it otherwise.
Will those organisations claiming to be Marxist be able to place themselves in the middle of this debate? Will they even want to? The debate will happen anyway and many will look to it for a new way forward beyond the despair that the new Tory regime will inevitably create.