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A Fate Worse than Brexit (Part 2)

[An earlier article, A Fate Worse than Brexit – The December Election, provides the author’s background analysis, here pursued in the first paragraphs.] 

A Fate Worse than Brexit – Where to now?

Gordon Gibson

In the fateful December General Election, the British Labour Party lost over 50 seats in its traditional heartlands. Three decades of unemployment, zero-hours contracts, benefits, no hope, loss of industry and manufacturing, replaced regular unionised work and self-organisation in communities that had virtually defined Labour.

Collective life was wrecked in favour of isolation, Sun and Sky journalism, gambling, football and pornography, much of it heralded in under Blair’s deal with Murdoch. No wonder people were disillusioned with bourgeois politics.

Alienation had begun in earnest after Thatcher’s defeat of the miners in the early-mid 1980s.   

Gains made under Blair’s early Labour were washed away by the Iraq war and neo-liberal economics. Older white workers in particular were left behind; communities became vulnerable to racism and English nationalism, blaming everyone but the rich for their loss of dignity. As far back as 2009, UKIP won 17% of the vote. The writing was on the wall.

Labour persisted with its decline. Blair had lost millions of votes, then came Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, with two brief stand-ins by Harriet Harman. That changed with a bang when Jeremy Corbyn sneaked on to the leadership ballot and shocked the still-Blairite, comfortable middle class ‘champagne socialists’, bon-viveurs, career politicians and that layer of young New Labour apparatchiks, fresh from university. Shocking the system, the establishment, Corbyn provided a huge boost to Labour with rocketing membership, a regeneration of party democracy, a campaigning base, and a policy break from austerity. There was a new enthusiasm with deep roots amongst young people.  

As the US turned right, followed by much of Europe and South America, Britain looked leftward. We would almost certainly have gone down that right-wing road sooner without Corbyn. He wasn’t helped by the Brexit referendum and the embodiment of Murdoch-style politics into the erstwhile discreet and stable British bourgeois democratic tradition. Corbyn may have failed but his framework was the antidote to the rightism and even fascism sweeping the world from Burma to Brazil, India to Israel, US to UK, and much of Europe.  

Here can be found the substance of resistance. Labour’s manifesto; the questioning, albeit insufficient, of the Brexit deal; the belated and forced recognition of the alienation of traditional Labour voters; the new active campaigning membership of Labour; indeed, the democracy of the Party – all matters currently being challenged in Labour’s leadership contest, and being resisted by most candidates. The stakes are high.

The media is complicit: no coverage of the French general strikes; continued play on Labour’s anti-Semitism as the US-Israeli deal tolls a terrible blow to Palestine; a real danger of capitalism using war, as it does, to alleviate economic crises. Ironically (a gentle word in this context), the media’s complicity gets it nowhere: the print media is in crisis, owned by a narrower spectrum of ruthlessness; the BBC for all its supposed bias is in serious danger of destruction in favour of a Fox type media that has so well served Trump. This is not a time for centrism, compromise and cosy negotiations. These people are very nasty.

Scottish workers have written their own script of opposition, workers in London and Liverpool have remained resolute. Wales continues to waver. Many north English losses are now new marginals, ripe for campaigning, action, and resistance to what promise to be tough times ahead. Extinction Rebellion and the environment movement are mobilising new layers to innovative forms of struggle. Community self-organisation takes on new forms, if often in defensive mode. And the anti-racist movement, perhaps not yet as strong as the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism of the 1980s, is nonetheless significant and certainly an organising base against the re-emergent right, it being nourished by the new Tories and their media.  

Our people have been much abused over the past three decades and more. The huge social gains of the post-war period, under both Labour and 50s Conservatives (yes really!), have been eaten away by privatisations and obscene profiteering, in favour of which current governments, not least the Tories, promise less regulation and controls, less social protections and a singular focus on economic growth and fast bucks.

Against this, ease away from the drive to the centre, for there lies disaster – aka the Liberal election dream and the Labour renegades. ‘In which direction to turn’ is a universal, not solely Labour problem. To be slightly parochial, the SNP, now clearly a social democratic party, will not find it easy against Tory populism, not that Scottish Labour is currently capable of stepping in. Similarly in Wales, unless Welsh Labour is seriously shaken up, the chances of survival as leaders of the Welsh Assembly are tenuous.

Only popular movements can resist rightist pressure. In the main, that will be through single issue campaigns. Politics has to be alive to that. For sure, if they are to survive, political parties must find policies that service popular campaigning. An orientation to the ‘green new deal’, more than planting trees, valuable as that is, towards establishing industries for renewables and energy is essential. Get in there first as the investment capitalists, short of homes for their ill-gotten gains, have an eye on that market and the Tories will be close behind them. In Scotland, there is valuable discussion in favour of a Green Investment Bank so that such policies as infrastructure investment are decided there, locally, rather than by the Tories in London. 

Turn towards our people for these campaigns. Focus there on needs and strengths. Base that, in the first instance, on youth, on the new generation of activism. Never forget that Corbyn was a significant catalyst for that generation. There is no going back to the old ways, no risking the alienation of youth.

If we fail, the vulnerability of the class to English nationalism, to fascism, or to ‘progressive patriotism’ is a fearful danger. The election gave us yet another reminder. Remember the referendum. If we are complacent, if we are led back to the old ways that have so betrayed our voters to the point that they are in social and political purgatory, then the price will be unbearable. Back 100 years ago in the 1920s, ‘socialism in one country’ left German workers isolated and vulnerable. That didn’t end well.

For now, resistance (for that is the reality of the day) will express itself in single issues – defence of jobs, the Health Service, social welfare, workers’ rights, pensions, heaven knows what arising from Brexit, anti-racism, Stop the War, Climate Change and the environment. An early challenge is to turn the fraudulent anti-Labour attacks towards the real anti-semites, spurred on by Brexit and already expressing themselves in physical attacks and graffiti in Britain and in organised fascism in the European mainland.

These issues are comprehensively covered in Labour’s 2019 manifesto, for all the weaknesses the right seek to dish it with.      

The future is always, first and foremost, to work with and for our own people. Never forget. All this talk of being electable is tosh; we are to cringe towards those that berate us. No! We have to be out there providing real answers to our real people.   

Gordon Gibson

February 2020

A Fate Worse than Brexit

A three-parter: 1. The December Election; 2. Where we are Now; 3. What Next.

A Fate Worse than Brexit – The December Election

Everyone – nearly everyone – got it wrong.

The opinion polls got it wrong. Their much-publicised glee at getting the exit poll right – not the most difficult exercise, papered over the lies and fraud of the whole election. They had told us it was increasingly a close-run thing, probably a Tory win but perhaps a hung parliament. Much of the left, including myself and Rebecca Long-Bailey tended towards this outcome.

The right of the LP got it more wrong and now disguise their own role by further denunciation of Corbyn. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and their allies in the media were the worst offenders. They hounded Corbyn; they force-fed the anti-Semitism filth; they called for a second referendum; they assumed that ‘Remain’ would be the winner; some of the worst of them resigned. They remain horribly wrong on all counts.

The ‘leftist’ post-election pundits are getting it wrong, mostly baying for some movement towards the mythical centre, despite that that centre also got wiped out or barely registered in the election. Paul Mason and Owen Jones, who both swung like a pendulum over the Corbyn years, now construct rightward critiques: Mason completely loses the plot with some fanciful call for a new centrist unity; Jones claims that we should have campaigned on a Norway-style Brexit and that we don’t have enough bureaucrats and organisers, negating the fantastic shift that young activists have brought towards social media and new campaigning. ‘Few experienced bureaucrats and organisers’ indeed! Jones should look again to Wales where the same bureaucrats have maintained a strangle-hold over the party, distanced themselves from Corbyn with their ‘Welsh Labour’ wrappings and are likely, as a result, to lead us to losing the leadership of the Welsh Assembly. John Harris was never on the side of the left despite the language he uses.  

The leave side was dismayed with the conference’s change of position on the second referendum – we should have accepted the result. They were right but, unfortunately, not in such simple terms. Nothing has been simple about the EU.

A Brexit Election    

Starmer’s six tests had provided a framework to manage the post-referendum rift: an ongoing relationship with the EU; the ‘exact same benefits’ from the Single Market and Customs Union as now; fair management of migration; defend rights and protections; protect national security; deliver for a regions and nations of the UK.

These conditions could never be met. The rabid Brexiteers leading negotiations on behalf of the May government got nowhere near, hardly leaving the starting line. They achieved virtually nothing in three years and, one after the other, resigned from their task.

Corbyn was more sceptical. He branded the EU as worth 7/10. Starmer’s six tests provided a useful foundation; Corbyn was more explicit – workers’ rights, protection of the NHS, defence of the public sector against EU privatisation options, the addition of the green agenda. This was a sound basis for the resistance to Brexit or, alternatively, to set an agenda for a leave deal.

From day one after the referendum, whilst respecting the result, it was the deal, the shocking implications of Leave, that both sides (of Labour) should have concentrated on. That was the mistake. The pro-EUer’s made it during the referendum and since, including in the December election. First there was complacency, led by Tory Cameron’s call for the referendum on the assumption that he would sort out his anti-EU right wing. Then a total lack of effort (on all sides) to counter the years of media propaganda – the square tomatoes and straight bananas, the ‘political correctness’, the bureaucrats, the ‘frogs’, the Germans and the war. It had been relentless.

The referendum campaign itself was vile, not least with Farage being forced on us from all directions. Yet it was assumed ‘remain’ would win. The shock was that towns like Ebbw Vale voted Leave, despite that their precarious survival before and after steel had been solely down to huge EU financial support. That’s alienation for you.

No-one saw it coming; not Cameron, not Labour (torn both ways already), not British capitalism, and certainly not the Remainers; all were devastated by the result. Many were devastated, disbelieving even more, by the December election result. How could it happen? How could working people, low income families, disabled, the working class of the mining communities, of the north, of north Wales; how could they desert Labour and vote Tory?

We should look at our disbelief for explanations, not ‘turkeys voting for xmas’, not our class inflicting untold damage on themselves. They will need us to stand by them in the weeks, months and years to come.     

In short, disbelief is rooted in the complacency of the Remainers. If we shout loud for ‘Remain’ and have a second referendum all will be resolved. History passed its verdict on that theory in December. That pressure, largely from within the PLP, did for Corbyn and for Labour’s election hopes.

Of course there were other factors – the sustained media hostility, the fraudulent anti-Semitism, weaknesses in Labour’s campaign strategy, etc., but the main factor was that Corbyn was the only one that was cautious on Europe; virtually everyone else knew better. Corbyn gave ground under that terrible pressure, and we will all pay the price.

Labour’s campaign assumed that if we presented a comprehensive socialist programme it would swamp what was and is the empty Brexit barrel – a slogan with no substantive content since day one.

Brexit alienation.

This analysis is relatively easy in hindsight.

The full impact of Brexit alienation is visible: how we failed to address it back then and continued to get it wrong into the election. Labour’s ‘muddled’ position: ‘Are you Leave or Remain?’. The party, influenced largely by the PLP and the anti-Corbyn Progress faction, wanted more and more ‘Remain’, a second referendum. Only Corbyn was concerned with our Leave voters. But by then, he and we were making the best of a bad job, a lost cause. On the other hand, the new Tories, the populist nationalist Tories, played on alienation – a very dangerous rebranding indeed.

Back in 2016 and the heady days of 2017, we had a chance. Tens of thousands, inspired by Corbyn, were joining the Labour Party. The 2017 manifesto began to address the real concerns of the class. That programme was developed further, with more thought, care and underpinning, in the run-in to the December election. In amongst that were the reasons to remain in Europe, or to protect if we leave: the defence of rights and regulations, of holidays and leave, of unions, of free-movement, of the environment, of investment in our post-industrial communities, of welfare. It all got lost in the Remain muddle. The Johnson-Cummings single issue campaign rode over the disarray, a disarray that had emerged in 2016. Alienation of the class is rooted decades before.

A second referendum could even have been defended. Accept the result; now it is about the deal.

Could we accept a deal? In truth, whatever the Tories put before us, or not put before us, will be thoroughly unacceptable. Had we argued the case from 2016 we might, only might, have had a chance. But we were served by a hungry media, dining on our Remain hotpot, the side dishes being provided by our own party.  

Everything should have been about the headlines and detail of the deal. That could appeal to both leave and remain and focus minds on the substance rather than the propaganda. What, in practical terms, is leaving the EU going to mean to most of us? Just to scratch that surface is a horror story.

Most of all, ‘What’s in the deal?’ could talk to the alienated class in the north and in Wales, those that have fallen victim to Labour’s woes. It may even have had some resonance in Scotland, but that is another kettle of cauliflowers.

For all the efforts to blame Corbyn and the campaign, there is no getting away from the fact that of 54 Labour seats lost, 52 were in Leave constituencies. Back in 2017, Labour had gained its biggest increase in vote share since 1945, and its biggest share since Blair in 1997.  Corbyn transformed the party, its politics, its support and its active base. That didn’t just disappear in two years. Yes, it was eroded and the long-discredited ‘first past the post’ electoral system didn’t help.

Back in the Blair years, we should have ditched the Tories for good and revealed the LibDems as their clones, the combined opposition. Heaven knows Clegg and Cable gave us every chance.

Now, after the Scottish debacle, it is Labour that is in danger, having learned little. A leftish social-democratic SNP, if tinged with nationalism, has wiped Labour off the page.

The Scots are fortunate. The danger south of the border is that Tory populism, variants on ‘progressive patriotism’, English nationalism, xenophobia, racism or even fascism will do the job for capitalism. The Labour leadership contest has much responsibility if it is to serve our people.     

To be continued…

Gordon Gibson is a Scot, a long-time resident in Wales. He is a Labour member and currently Chair of his local Constituency Party in South Wales.

January 2020

The leader, the party, the country.

The future of the country, perhaps much more, is at stake. Much hangs on the retention of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. The future is in anti-austerity, anti-war unity.

Read more

The Scottish Referendum: My kingdom for a house.

The Scots may have voted ‘No’ but the real loser is Labour in Scotland.

Introduction.

With the last few days of the referendum debates came an awareness that Scotland is awash with social and political enthusiasm, inclusion, participation, in pubs and clubs, community centres and front rooms, in literally hundreds of emergent groupings – Women for, Asians for, Labour for, allsorts for Independence.

As important, probably more so, Scottish cultural life is in bloom. You can’t miss it when you are there: comedy, film, music, literature, theatre, festivals; even the Commonwealth Games set Glasgow alight. In contrast to the prevailing misery and despair in our communities, battered with cuts, abuses, apparent isolation, absence of leadership, the Scots are getting on with it, doing their thing, making the best of life, fighting back. Do not underestimate this. The author, literary figure, Yes campaigner, and self-proclaimed lesbian, Val McDermid, has her name emblazoned across the front of the football strips of Raith Rovers, the Scottish Championship team, this year playing Glasgow Rangers and both Edinburgh sides. If that doesn’t convince you that something rich is going on in Scotland, nothing will.

If you didn’t get it, it is because you didn’t feel it, you haven’t smelt the coffee! Down south, our sensors pick up the rancid odour from London, perhaps tempered by a sniff of fresh air from Syriza, the Indignacios, the Occupy movement, Left Unity or the People’s Assembly. None of this compares with what has happened in Scotland -under  the radar, serviced in no small part by social media.

South of the border, the consensus was that we are internationalists, against nationalism and independence, for a united working class against the Tory offensive, although it is fair to say left leaning commentators began to peel off in significant numbers – John Harris, Billy Bragg, Russell Brand, Suzanne Moore, even Owen Jones all but converts from his hitherto ‘principled’ stance.

There is little point in running through the arguments again. Most formed their opinions after a long debate, impossible to miss north of the border, even if much ignored until the last minute, south.

A 45% vote for independence, with no blood on the streets, no riots or strikes, just popular engagement, is a truly extraordinary political event. The impact on Scottish politics, and very nearly on British politics over the past two years has been immense so, here, we will consider three aspects.

  1. Labour in Scotland, and probably in Britain as a whole, is in very serious trouble.
  2. ‘Tribalism’, a term reserved exclusively, it seems, not for our relations with the Tories, but for ‘the nationalists’, has allowed us to completely lose the plot. Get over it! Concentrate on the real enemy. The Yes campaign, like it or not, was based on a programme the broad left supports.
  3. The media’s, Westminster’s and particularly Labour’s inability to even recognise what was happening in Scotland, let alone consider how it might apply in the rest of Britain, is our best indicator yet that the British political system is at a very low ebb. Something has to change. How to do it is another matter; a question more easily answered in Scotland. Listen to the people, not the Westminster bubble and its media.

Yes! Labour is in Trouble

Members are asking, ‘Why still be in the Labour Party?’. In Scotland there are mass defections. Here in Wales the answer is probably

  1. There is nowhere else to go. Plaid at best has got a socialist current within but that would be even more of a struggle with its mishmash of politics than is Labour, where at least you know where you stand. Their leader, Leanne Wood, still one of the best, is clearly torn by disparate pressures on her;
  2. There are local reasons for being in Labour and perhaps many feel that the essential principles of Labour, at the roots of the Party, are still achievable; and
  3. Welsh Labour Grassroots is probably the most organised and coherent left current in Wales, still a tiny force.

In Wales, there is little alternative and perhaps still some hopes for ‘clear red water’; although less and less so it seems. All this may be in Wales. Now apply to Scotland.

There are certainly other places to go. The Yes campaign was a broad front with the SNP, Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party at its core and with former Labour MP Dennis Canavan as its chair. The SNP itself is no longer the bourgeois nationalist party we identified as being to the right of Plaid, even 10 years ago. For reasons we will no doubt discuss, the SNP is now in the mould of a social democratic party, a left social democratic party. The Scottish Greens have leapt to prominence with an excellent rounded programme fronted by their MSP Patrick Harvie, who, like Caroline Lucas in Westminster, has proved to be considerably better with socialist aspirations than most Labour MPs. Then there is the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) that, with the Reid Foundation’s ‘Common Weal’, brought together virtually the whole of the Scottish left from anarchists and the SWP through to Labour for Independence, and now surely bound to establish a united green/left party to succeed and embrace the Scottish Socialists, strangled in infancy. The RIC mobilised an impressive campaign, reaching into increasingly disenfranchised estates, bringing in unregistered, disaffected Labour voters, a whole new layer of young activists, and many not so young, for door to door canvassing and public meetings to fantastic effect. They helped raise the voter turnout to over 84% and engaged with the new layer of young voters. Their first conference two years ago assembled over 800 delegates, last year over 1200. This year, over 7000 have indicated they are going! Sheridan, with his Solidarity grouping, by the way, is now urging an independence vote for the SNP at the next election. There are clearly places for socialists to go.

Policy wise, Labour has lost its core electorate. The Yes vote took the industrial heartlands from Glasgow to Dundee. All 8 Glasgow constituencies voted Yes, to the tune of 53.5% to 46.5%. The politicos left in their droves; the Scottish working class has long since seen through Labour. The traditional party of the workers’ movement was further undermined , tragically, by fronting a campaign, a ‘popular front’, with the utterly discredited Tories and Liberals before a Scottish electorate that has ditched them for over 40 years now.

The No vote was clearly founded on that older, conservative 30% or so that will never vote Labour. One analysis claims that the 16-54 year olds voted YES 54%, NO 46%; aged 55+, YES 34%, NO 66%. (See Murray.) Any suggestion that the No campaign might in some way be deemed  progressive is further evidence that Labour is deluding itself. Or us.  Better Together campaigned with a neo-liberal economic attack on all fronts, led by Alistair Darling, arch neo-liberal, with CV to prove it, then by belated appearances from Gordon Brown, whose appeal is, at best, seriously tarnished in the public eye other than with die-hard Labour supporters.

BT wound up its campaign by falling over themselves with offers of devo-max, having refused it two years earlier in anticipation of a rout. The campaign and all its publicity was entirely neo-liberal. Even George Galloway, wheeled out to face 7000 Scottish school students at the BBC event in Glasgow’s Hydro as Labour, incredibly, appeared to bottle out; even Galloway drew on the neo liberal claptrap. That was all they had: the currency, pensions, the NHS, oil, even the utterly disingenuous attack on the SNP’s Corporation Tax, were all rooted in a neo-liberal financial back-cloth. Ed Miliband took the same approach at Labour’s September conference, promising a £2.5bn pledge for the NHS, only to be rebuffed by Tory claims that they have increased spending by more than that. Labour started their conference week by promising to cut Child Benefit and ended it by offering uncritical support for more middle east war.

The neo-liberal austerity debate cannot be won against the Tories’ well-honed propaganda machine. It is their game. It may well win the election for them, like scare-mongering and fear probably won them the referendum. The propaganda was fronted for them by Labour. The Scottish working class rejected these politics decades ago and are sick of Labour regurgitating it.

Labour had nothing to say about austerity, only pious words about ‘our NHS’, ‘our welfare state’, ‘we are the party for change’ as if the Blair years never happened. The attack was on the nationalists, nary a word about the common enemy, the Tories and their financial mentors.

The successes of the Yes campaign

The SNP took on the mantle of social democracy. A while ago, they were ‘bourgeois nationalists’, then centrists, wavering left and right, populists, nourished by the abject betrayals of Labour in Scotland and Britain, betrayals spotted early by the Scots, thanks to the Poll Tax campaign. They turned to alternatives – the Scottish Socialists with 6 MSPs before Sheridan and now The Greens, whose role in Yes Scotland, along with the SNP and SSP, has been exemplary.  This social movement has had a huge impact on the SNP, now overwhelmingly social democratic in nature and probably more so with its more than doubling in membership in the weeks since the poll. So how did they respond to neo-liberal charges?

I refer you to Alex Salmond’s  Arbroath speech 18th August 2014, which takes a wee while to get going but is well worth a listen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jAWgC6qgXs). Salmond nails the NHS line. An SNP proposal to a constitutional convention in Scotland will be a clause for ‘A public free health service at the point of need’,  ‘A right to a National Health Service will be enshrined in the constitution of Scotland’. That’s convincing. Discussing the role of Scotland in the world, Salmond argues for the removal of Trident as a fundamental policy of an independent Scotland. He then presents as sophisticated a line on pro-immigration as you are likely to hear from a mainstream politician. Their first focus for the anti-nuclear money is child-care and social care. This is not the left, this is ‘the nationalists’; better than anything ever heard from Labour.  Had Labour taken such stances since the Tories came to power, would the Yes campaign have had the traction it did?

They grapple with the economy but, truth be known, there is much flexibility in economics. What people want to hear is the answer to ‘where do you propose to go with our lives?’. Labour offers a continuation of Tory austerity for the foreseeable future. The Scots are on to them and their future, our future is in jeopardy.

In the course of the referendum campaign, Scots have considered, imagined both individually and in their collectives, a democratic government, a constitution, a set of values based, not least on their experience of Holyrood and decades of Westminster policies and governments they never voted for. That imagination, that culture, is not a million miles away from ours in Wales, once separated from Westminster by ‘clear red water’. In Scotland, imagination converted into an anti-austerity, anti-Tory enthusiasm that not even Plaid, being as tribal as Welsh Labour is, has sought to achieve. The Scottish Yes vote was overwhelmingly anti-austerity and a serious challenge to the ‘Wastemonster’ ways. They may have lost the battle but the war is being won. For a start, about one-third of Labour voters voted Yes. (See Welsh.) These are reasons why Scotland became ready for an independence vote (and why Wales isn’t ready).

Labour’s late entry into the campaign, via Gordon Brown, a hero only to die-hard Labour members, cited our national pride, appealing to history, Labour’s and Scotland’s great role in it – history, empire, sacrifice, the welfare state, the NHS. But just ask Scottish former shipworkers, miners, car-workers. British interest, pride, commitment has long since evaporated. Jobs and a good living in industry, shipbuilding, manufacturing, coal, steel, the industrial revolution, imperialism and the empire, from which we all once benefited, albeit at the expense of others, have all been lost or sacrificed. We don’t even build houses any more. The Welfare State, Pensions, Mail, Telephones, Water and the NHS s are sold, often at knock down prices, to global capitalism. British workers no longer have any practical or emotional ties to our social and economic foundations, many of which Scots gave to the world. What commitment do the Scots, indeed any workers, have to the British state any more?

A Democratic Upheaval and a Danger of Backlash

Without the significant devo-max concessions promised by the Westminster parties, it is inconceivable that independence will go away. Breaking of promises, failure to deliver anything or, worse, more budget cuts and other retribution, will ensure that independence is back on the agenda in very short shrift. Just one day after the referendum, the Tories lurched to the right with a focus on England’s needs, on their right wing, on the West Lothian question, on a democratic structure that can only further marginalise Scotland and Wales.

Coupled with this is seeming delight in offering more powers  to Scotland, Wales and the regions. Let them be responsible for ‘fully devolved powers’ over the crumbs the Bullingdon Boys deign to leave on our tables. Then we can be blamed for cuts, as was the charge laid on the SNP over the NHS, the same tactic as they seek to discredit our efforts in Wales. The real threat to we Celts is that the Westminster bubble does go right, and given Labour’s stances this is not an unrealistic possibility – another Tory government, perhaps with Ukip support, a vote to leave the EU and ditch the EU Convention on Human Rights. Where will that leave the Scots? And us?

The first signs of the very serious dangers of the English nationalist/ Ukip right wing trajectory were evident on the streets of Scotland’s two great cities on the last few referendum days. The No vote unleashed The Orange order, always a right wing force disguised with anti-catholic, anti-Irish rhetoric. For the first time in my experience, they took to the streets and revealed their truly fascist style, taking public space, burning the Saltire, attacking Yes voters, immigrants and women. A Yes vote would have stifled them; the No vote, coupled with Ukip and the English trend positively encouraged them.

Where do we go from here?

The spotlight is now on Labour, already being drawn into the Tory regional game and happy to commit to Tory austerity plans, when what is needed is a language of change, something different, a break from the political decadence of Westminster, increasingly mimicking the shameless, gun-toting, fundamentalist, undemocratic, exclusive, segregationist catastrophe that is US politics and media. Scots were seeking change – austerity, Trident, social care, childcare, NHS, democracy. These are the themes to be convincing about. Their instincts and mine are that nothing is going to change. If it doesn’t, Labour is finished in Scotland. The SNP offered change, much of it taken from Labour’s bottom drawer, yet Labour continues to be tribal against ‘the nationalists’, preferring uncritical deals with the Tories, LibDems and their neo-liberal economics. Recognition of this single fact is a first necessary step to Labour’s unlikely salvation.

Labour has been unable to handle the role of the ‘nationalists’ in Scotland or Wales. What chance have the English got? Paradoxically, in the present climate, a Yes vote was the best opportunity socialist voters in Scotland had of ever achieving a Labour Government they could believe in. These same voters now have the prospect of a Tory Ukip government seeking exit from Europe.

What have we learned? What should we be campaigning on? How’s this?

  1. A clear stance, with our allies, against Tory austerity, for alternatives.
  2. Stand up for our NHS, for National Insurance, for Social Security and a rights based welfare culture.
  3. Challenge the war-mongering culture, not least the ease with which vast funding is found for wars.
  4. Build Homes
  5. Promote a programme of child-care, social care and pensions.
  6. Make Wales a beacon of sustainability, a green investment bank, green energy and re-usables industries
  7. Rail and other public transport back into coordinated public ownership
  8. Instead of faffing about local government reorganisation and who goes where, first consider, with the people of Wales, the question, “How do we best deliver these policies?”
  9. Build, certainly with young people, our communications networks and social media.

The great success of the SNP is that they recognised the occasion for this great political cauldron, greater than they dreamed of. We hopefully now will engage with our true allies throughout Wales and beyond against austerity, and wars and … well, let us discuss that with others.  The difficulty is to recognise the occasion here in Wales, the event round which such unity can be formed. In the meantime, it will do no harm to promote an inclusive discussion on what sort of policies, a manifesto we aspire to in Wales.

Another Scotland, Another Wales, Another Britain, is Possible.

End

Gordon Gibson, September 2014

Here, a few references; the first two are bursting with lively debate.

Radical Independence Conference: http://radicalindependence.org/

Bella Caledonia: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/

Brett, Miriam. National Collective. Oh Scottish Labour What Have You Done? http://nationalcollective.com/2014/09/25/oh-scottish-labour-what-have-you-done/

Davies, Nick & Williams, Darren (2009). Clear Red Water: Welsh Devolution and Socialist Politics. Francis Boutle Publisher

Harris, John: Scotland has shown how the left can finally find its purpose http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/25/scotland-politics-left-purpose-snp-green-working-class-women

Jones, Owen. Whatever Scotland decides, the old order is dead and buried: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/07/scotland-decides-union-tories

Murray, Andy. FIFTY-FIVE per cent afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome. http://nicodemusscotticus.wordpress.com/

Welsh , Irvine. This glorious failure could yet be Scotland’s finest hour. 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/20/irvine-welsh-scottish-independence-glorious-failure

 

Labour reorganisation delayed in Wales. Time for autonomy?

By Jon Lansman.

Next week’s meeting of Labour’s executive is likely to agree to defer reorganising constituency Labour parties in Wales in what should be seen as an indication of the acceptance of greater autonomy for the Welsh party. Whereas all other constituency parties in Britain are to be reorganised from January 2013 in the light of proposals for new constituency boundaries, reorganisation in Wales is to be delayed until after a UK government consultation on changing the basis of constituencies for the National Assembly for Wales. This will also permit a subsequent decision on whether Welsh boundaries should be based on Westminster boundaries or Welsh Assembly boundaries (in line with what is to happen in Scotland) — should they end up being different. In Scotland the new CLPs will be based on the boundaries of the Scottish Parliament. This followed the decision to create the post of Leader of a largely autonomous Scottish Labour Party, a measure forced by the disastrous performance against the SNP in the Holyrood elections in 2011. Although Welsh Labour’s electoral performance was very different — a consequence of the political autonomy it had shown through the latter years of New Labour — many party members in Wales eagerly sought the same level of organisational autonomy.  Currently there are forty constituency seats in the National Assembly for Wales elected by first-past-the-post with a further twenty “top-up” seats elected in five regional groups under PR. The government is now consulting on whether that system should be changed, potentially to a new system based on 30 constituency seats and 30 “top-up” seats. If adopted, this would in all likelihood create coterminous assembly and Westminster boundaries. It would also make the assembly more proportionate (and, in consequence, make an overall majority more difficult for Labour to attain).  Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has already made clear his opposition to changing the electoral system:

We don’t want to see any change. Nobody has a mandate for change. Nobody thought we’d have a Green Paper such as this in this age of devolution, seeking to impose change on the people of Wales without their consent. We thought we were beyond those days and the Prime Minister has given me assurances there’d be no change. without the agreement of the Assembly.

However, Andrew Davies, Leader of the Tory group of AMs also opposes change:

I am in favour of the status quo and in favour of de-coupling. I will be feeding this into the consultation process over the next few weeks. The current 40:20 model has serve the Assembly well.

Although the Lib Dems support a “fully proportionate system” and Plaid Cymru support STV, it seems quite likely that “de-coupling” (i.e. adopting different boundaries for Westminster and assembly seats) will happen. Labour members in Wales are advised to consider the implications.

This article first appeared on the blog Left Futures, here, where comments should be added. Celyn requests that such comments are also copied to our site. Thanks 

Spike! Budget hits short hours, minimum waged, disability and carers

By Mark Drakeford

Today’s budget remains a budget of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

On 1 April any couple currently working 16 hours will have to find work for 24 hours or lose the whole of their Working Tax Credit. Figures today show that 8 out of 10 families in that position are not able to obtain that extra work. They will each lose £3,870 a year.

A family where the adult [s] working are on the minimum wage will be better off on benefit – £14 each week better off – than staying in work. But if they do leave work, they will cost the state £2,675 more each year.

Despite attempts by Labour in the House of Lords and the House of Commons, families with disabled children and full-time carers will not be exempt from these changes. Families who manage now on as little as £17,000 a year will now have to manage on £14,000. In Cardiff 3230 children, in 1,475 families will be affected – 220 families in Cardiff North, 295 in Cardiff Central, 435 in Cardiff West and 525 in Cardiff South and Penarth.

And all this on a day when those earning over £150,000 have had their taxes cut!

Mark Drakeford is Labour Assembly Member for Cardiff West.

This article first appeared on Mark’s Facebook page

Labour implodes in Glasgow

By Jonathan Mackie

It’s a common – and often justified – complaint that Scotland’s mainstream media outlets focus disproportionately on Glasgow when deeming what’s worthy of ‘news’ status. This time, however, the goings-on over recent weeks at Hollywood’s favourite Kremlin substitute have been entirely worthy of the headline treatment. You’ll forgive me for treating the next sentence to a paragraph entirely to itself:

Labour is now a minority party on Glasgow City Council.

My first campaign as a bright-eyed newly paid-up SNP member was the 1995 Council Elections. That resulted in our having 1 councillor out of 79, versus a monolithic 71 for Labour (election anoraks may like to know it would likely have been 1 from 90, had the District/Region set-up been retained). The last time Labour were deprived of a majority in Glasgow, the Foreign Office were sending photos of dead bodies to Olympic athletes to dissuade them from competing in Moscow, and homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Other than a 3-year interregnum, Labour held total domination in the City Chambers for decades. Until 9th February 2012.

That night the late-night political discussion programmes were treated to the spectacle of Labour’s Stephen Curran protesting that the day’s Labour budget had went very well for the party – as a majority of Labour councillors had voted for it! You could almost hear Malcolm Tucker in the background, spontaneously adding to the Chambers Dictionary with a half-page of compound expletives. Speculation that council leader Gordon Matheson had requisitioned all the city’s supplies of smelling salts remained, alas, unconfirmed.

More serious were the images of a tearful Anne-Marie Millar, until Wednesday a Labour councillor, alleging that implied threats had been made against her son’s continued apprenticeship should she side with the Opposition. Given historical precedent (cf. Bob Gould’s almost accidental exposure of ‘Votes for Trips’), the incident was sadly all too believable. Millar’s leaving the party, taken with the resignations (de facto or deliberate) of five other councillors and Irfan Rabbani’s move to the SNP, leave what was once the citadel of Establishment dominance a hung council, Leader Matheson dependent on those outwith the Labour fold to maintain control between now and May’s elections. On a council that but five years ago contained 69 Labour councillors from the 79.

Such loss of control is the inevitable culmination of a culture where any notion of political innovation was buried long ago. A culture where what matters is the dynamic and powerplay within the group, not how best to move Glasgow forward. A brief example; Thursday’s combined Opposition budget contained a proposal to erect solar panels on city primary schools, taking advantage of the stay of execution on feed-in tariffs. The question then arises – why wasn’t this done years ago? A proliferation of municipal property, a generous scheme of (effective) subsidy, and a small role in reducing council expenditure and carbon emissions. A no-brainer, you may think; then think of the dead hand on the reins of power and reflect.

However the cards fall for myself and my fellow candidates of all parties on May 3rd, it seems desperately obvious that the things that have been contemptuously buried by decades of Labour rule – openness, accountability, a readiness to listen, an ability to consult, and the humility of power – are exactly those which should be celebrated as the way to start the process of harnessing the clout and talent within Glasgow City Council to make the case, rhetorically and practically, for progressive and inclusive politics alongside Glaswegians of all political colours and none.

The city deserves nothing less.

This article first appeared under the title ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’ in the Scottish blog Bella Caledonia.
Labour in Glasgow has suffered public humiliation this past week, struggling with enforced attendances and defections, to pass its budget by just two votes. These events are symptomatic of Labour’s plight in Scotland although the article is not clear that the defections are to the left and the beneficiaries are the SNP, increasingly likely to gain in the May elections. Not only will this be a shot in the arm for the independence movement but it may well be more than just a further nail in the coffin of ‘new’ Labour.

What David Miliband’s Intervention Really Means

by Owen Jones

Those of us who have suggested David Miliband’s latest political intervention may have – let’s say – ulterior motives have received a bit of flak. Must he stay silent just because any public pronouncement may be misconstrued by the media? Why can’t he contribute to the debate about the party’s future like anyone else?

The problem with this position is that there is the tricky issue of precedent. Back in 2008, David Miliband wrote a similarly ambiguous, cryptic article that was widely interpreted as making a pitch for Gordon Brown’s job. Oh no, it was claimed, he was just adding to the debate about the party’s future. We now know that wasn’t true; from Alistair Darling’s memoirs and other sources we know he was on manoeuvres, but never quite had the bottle to take the final step.

I struggle to see why, therefore, it is so extraordinary to imagine his latest piece should not be seen in a similar light. David Miliband is an exceptionally bright and capable politician with years of front-line experience: he is certainly aware of how this piece would have been received in what was otherwise his brother’s most successful week as Labour leader.

Superficially, the piece is a polemical response to Roy Hattersley. Is David Miliband really re-emerging from the shadows with his biggest political statement since the leadership contest – to take on someone who stepped down as deputy leader of the Labour party two decades ago? Does anyone seriously believe this?

The piece is written in David Miliband’s trademark wonkish style which should give pause to those who believe he would have made a more effective communicator. But in it, he makes a factionalist attack on a constructed grouping he calls ‘Reassurance Labour’. Again, would he really bother aiming fire at this alleged tendency if he didn’t believe it was exerting a powerful influence over the party’s direction?

Essentially, it is a catch-all term embracing those believed to be committed to old-style statist social democracy, or what he calls the “political dead-end of the ‘Big State’”.

Given he’s brought it up again, it’s interesting to note how criticism of supposed statism emerged in Britain. It was barely heard of before the financial crisis, when unions and activists were angrily attacking the creeping privatisation and marketisation of public services under New Labour.

What happened was after Lehman Brothers went under is that the Tories turned a crisis of the market into a crisis of public services. The deficit soared here – as elsewhere – above all because of bank bailouts, tax revenues collapsing in the aftermath of financial meltdown, and soaring spending on welfare because of rising unemployment. The Tories – who had backed Labour’s spending plans pound for pound until the end of 2008 – cynically spun the deficit as the consequence of Labour “overspending”, or big government if you will. Labour failed to effectively challenged this myth and, with the help of allies in the media, the Tories constructed a consensus.

Debates have since raged about how to effectively reduce the state, to move on from a fictional New Labour “statist” approach, and to focus on concepts of community instead; Blue Labour is one prominent example. Would David Miliband and others be making these points about the dangers of statism if it wasn’t for how the Tories had framed the terms of debate? I doubt it.

He argues that, with social democracy, “Growing the pie and distributing it more fairly should be mutually reinforcing.” Agreed – which is why Labour needs a coherent alternative to Tory cuts which, after all, has sucked growth out of the economy. That’s why a strategy for growth – not cuts – should be our priority. Miliband argues the party has been united over “arguing that the Tories’ austerity plan is economically dangerous”, so it would be interesting to know how far he feels a softer austerity should go under Labour.

He argues “we need to continue to modernise the party itself”. He doesn’t mention the unions here (or anywhere in the article – which itself speaks volumes), but this is often New Labour code for breaking the union link. He certainly wants to bring in primaries, opening the door to a US system with expensive contests manipulated by wealthy donors; and undermining a democratic membership party in favour of an amorphous mass of largely passive supporters. In the US, voters in primaries are even more socially unrepresentative than those in normal election contests.

He talks of needing to “establish far more clearly what needs to be defended about Labour’s record in government, not just join the blanket Tory denigration”. Perhaps he shares the bemusement of those who – like myself – were staunch critics of New Labour, and now find ourselves fighting a lonely battle about the myth of Labour’s “overspending” causing the deficit. It is a battle that all too many senior Labour figures are unwilling to fight. But he really appears to be echoing the Blairite mantra that Ed Miliband has rubbished too much of New Labour’s record – “we should also insist that the list of gains far outstripped the mistakes”.

He quite rightly refers to the 2010 defeat as “disastrous, Labour’s second-worst in 70 years”. And it is – I’m sure we all agree – important to properly understand why Labour lost, and which supporters abandoned it. Labour lost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010, but the Tories only gained a million in the same time. Over 80% of those voters disappeared under Tony Blair’s leadership – that is, by 2005, when Labour formed a government with just 35% of the vote, the lowest share of any successful party in the history of British democracy. The old New Labour triangulation strategy was that the so-called “core vote” had nowhere else to go, but relatively affluent swing voters were key to electoral success. But while Labour lost just 5 points of support from the ABs – the professional middle-classes – between 1997 and 2010, it haemorrhaged 21 points from its C2s (skilled and semi-skilled workers), and 19 points from the DEs at the bottom.

In other words, the old New Labour formula lost the party millions of working-class votes. “The core vote became the swing vote”, as Ed Miliband put it during the Labour leadership contest. It is not a point that David Miliband addresses.

He ends the article by attacking what he calls the “Reassurance Labour tendency”, not just for minimising the chances of electoral success, but because “its vision is too narrow, its mechanisms too one-dimensional, and its effectiveness too limited.”

But who – other than some bloke sitting in the House of Lords who left front-line Labour politics two decades ago – does he mean by this “Reassurance Labour tendency”? Who are its leading figures? Because – again – why would David Miliband break his silence with his most high-profile political intervention yet to aim fire at it if it was not a pretty powerful bunch?

This is – in reality – a proxy attack, not a serious polemical response to Roy Hattersley. It would take impressive powers of self-delusion or naivety to believe otherwise.

David Miliband identifies the division in the party as between modernisers like himself, and the ‘Reassurance Tendency’. But I see the division as a bit different: between those who want a coherent alternative to the Tory cuts agenda, and those who accept the essentials of what the Tories are doing and only quibble with the details. I call the latter the “Surrender Tendency”.

And before I’m accused of factionalism, I’m only talking in the same terms as David Miliband.

Owen Jones is a political writer, columnist,  and author of “Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class

This article first appeared in LabourList

Related posts from LabourList:

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  2. Milibands at war: 8 in the morning – September 16th
  3. Alastair Campbell on Abbott, Balls and the Milibands
  4. If the Milibands work together, we can win the next election
  5. David, “Ed” and a media narrative

Positively Independent

By Mike Small

Pundits seem to be coalescing around the idea that a ‘positive message’ is an essential part of political campaigning. Whether it’s Obama’s upbeat derivative (but ultimately empty) Yes We Can, or, as critics had it, Salmond’s indy question (characterised by some as some sort of Derren Brown-style mass hypnosis), the idea of positivity is the key, or so we’re told. It’s simple: people who whinge and moan all day become a bit of a drain to be around. We naturally gravitate towards those who bring a bit of sunshine and light into our life.

This presents the Unionists with a challenge. How to oppose the Yes Campaign with a positive. What is the positive case for the Union? Well it’s about security, continuity and stability. All good things, but in stressing these you have to also sort of pretend it’s all okay as is, and that’s where they get unstuck. The nationalists have to say things will be okay, the unionists have to pretend things are okay. It’s not jam tomorrow but it’s a set of ideas – a vision – based on hope. Now we know that this might not work out but we have aspiration whereas in the HERE and NOW we kind of know what things aren’t working. UK Plc has nationalised the banks and given our money away to the super rich. People can’t get the homes they need, and there’s an outbreak of mass unemployment, fuel poverty and a generalised economic insecurity that strikes into the heart of peoples well-being by the residual stress it creates.

In this context stressing continuity has a hollow ring.

This vision-failure isn’t just a problem for the parties political future. As Joyce McMillan writes:

‘And even if their campaign of fear and negativity is successful in achieving the “no” vote they crave, it will leave Scotland – the day after the referendum – with no prospect of a better future, and no idea at all of how it should move forward.’

This is a problem for the emerging Devo-Max contenders. The likes of Kenyon Wright have no political vehicle to hitch onto. The paradox opens like a chasm. McMillan again:

‘In the 1990’s, the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties formed a powerful alliance with Scottish civil society to campaign for what was seen, at the time, as a huge and radical constitutional change in the British state; today, the Liberal Democrats are silenced by their Westminster coalition with the Conservatives, while Labour literally no longer knows where it stands, in the battle for democracy between ordinary citizens and overweening financial power.’

This is the reality behind the sort of paranoia fostered by Tom Peterkin in The Scotsman:  ‘Fears over pressure on ‘civic Scotland’ to back devo-max’.

Scare stories about ‘rigged polls’ have been slain with the setting out of a clear simple question, a transparent consultation process and the concession about the role of the Electoral Reform Society. You’d also have to hope that the ‘civic leaders’ have consulted their membership before committing themselves to a political intervention?

Whatever the outcome – a more positive debate would be welcome. As Gerry Hassan wrote this week:

These are momentous, challenging times, filled with a mixture of excitement and bewilderment, hope and fear, depending on your political opinions. It is up to those of us who want a serious, mature debate appropriate for the occasion to challenge and demand from all Scotland’s and the UK political parties, media and political communities, that they act respectively and reach out and understand perspectives different from their own.’

So we’re inviting people who’s views we don’t agree with to come and argue the point, make the case and have the debate on these pages. But we’re also going to be working beyond politics on showcasing a series of inspirational projects and people working now (today). If you want to suggest someone or some project get in touch with us – it could be an arts project, a band, a community group, a campaign or some social innovation.

Come All Ye.

This article first appeared in Bella Caledonia under the title ‘Positivity‘.

Celyn leans heavily on sororal publications in Scotland to inform, inspire, and stimulate debate here in Wales, not least around the campaign of socialist and republican, Leanne Wood, for leadership of Plaid Cymru. Win or lose, the tremors shake the very roots of British capitalism and its Unionist foundations. We enjoy the reflection of Scottish and Welsh social, political and cultural life in the pages of Bella Caledonia and others and endorse their call for you to join in. Write to us, for us, and to them.

Scottish Labour – A prisoner of Unionism.

John McAllion

Devolution simply isn’t working for Unionism’s largest Scottish Party. It is now up to the socialist and nationalist Left in Scotland to exploit that weakness.

A prisoner of Unionism

Johann Lamont. Scottish Labour’s sixth leader since 1999. Photo by Scottish Labour

Johann Lamont is Scottish Labour’s sixth leader since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Unlike her predecessors, she leads all of her Party in Scotland – MPs, MSPs, councillors and party activists alike. She heads a Party that is now more fully devolved from UK rule than at any time since 1999.

UK Labour leader Ed Miliband, describes her as having inherited a leadership position that carries with it the “weight and authority of the whole Party in Scotland”. According to him, this new and powerful position equips her to revive Scottish Labour’s fortunes and to challenge the SNP’.

She herself has promised to initiate a process of internal renewal that will reach out to include those who have never before thought of themselves as being Labour as well as reaching back into lost Labour communities. She promises to make Labour Scotland’s Party again.

Of course, any political party recovering from an historic electoral defeat believes it must talk up its prospects of recovery. However, coming from an as yet untested Party leadership these are brave words that border on the foolhardy.

Since the dawn of devolution, Labour in Scotland has been in persistent political and electoral decline. With each successive election to the Scottish Parliament, the Party has lost seats, constituency and list votes.

Overall since 1999, they have lost a third of the parliamentary seats they originally held, more than 100,000 list voters and more than 40,000 constituency voters. The 2011 election marked the worst defeat in Scottish Labour’s history. An already parlous electoral position is made more difficult for Scottish Labour by the looming independence referendum that for now remains under the control of a buoyant and majority SNP Government.

Labour, as the largest unionist party in Scotland, will be expected to lead the campaign for a No vote. This is where the complications begin.

Will it form a broad campaign with the other unionist parties or will it stay politically well clear of the Tories and LibDems? If it is to be the former, Scottish Labour runs the risk of being contaminated by association with the parties of the hated Coalition Government in Westminster. If it is to be the latter, it runs the risk of splitting the NO campaign.

Already the Party’s spokespeople find themselves trying to dodge questions about sharing platforms with the Tories while effectively supporting the Coalition’s line on an early referendum with a single question.

Without wishing it, they are forced onto the same political ground as some of the most reactionary hate figures in Scotland today,.

Political predicaments of this kind can only increase as the referendum campaign gathers pace. Yet, even more potentially dangerous political pitfalls lie ahead for Scottish Labour. In a rare display of unity at the end of December, Labour MSPs joined with their SNP counterparts to refuse the necessary legislative consent to Westminster’s current proposals for welfare reform.

While this opposition was largely token (the reforms will go ahead in Scotland as elsewhere in the UK), it afforded Labour MSPs the opportunity to claim that they were on the side of the angels and opposed to the Coalition’s attacks on the poor.

During the Scottish Parliament’s debates on the reforms, Labour’s Jackie Baillie promised to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone against the Coalition Government’s welfare reform agenda that targeted cuts on pensioners, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

She highlighted her opposition to changes to housing benefit that threatened more than 60,000 Scottish tenants with cuts that averaged £40 per month per tenant.

Unfortunately for her and for the other Labour MSPs, all of them support a devolution settlement that allows Westminster to impose such reactionary changes.

Even more unfortunately, Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Westminster spokesperson on welfare reform, is far from sharing Labour MSP’s anti-cuts stance. In a recent speech spun as a “radical rethink of the welfare state”, he let it be known that a future Labour Government would pursue an equally tough line on welfare.

The housing benefit bill was “simply too high”. Too generous benefits were skewing the behaviour of the long-term unemployed whom, he implied, were happy to coast along on unearned income. Labour would no longer support the undeserving poor, only those who “work hard and do the right thing”.

Without consulting the Scottish Party or its new “powerful” leader, the Labour leadership in London had begun to move their Party closer to the Coalition Government’s position on welfare reform. The anti-cuts stance of Scottish Labour had effectively been undermined. So too was any idea that Scottish Labour policy on reserved issues could be any different from that of London Labour. The new fully devolved Labour Party remains incapable of defending Scotland on the big policy issues of the day.

Johann Lamont has therefore inherited a Party that is in long-term electoral decline. She leads a Party with no coherent position on the independence referendum. On paper, she may be the nominal leader of Scotland’s 41 Scottish Labour MP’s. In reality, the Westminster MPs continue to call the shots on the big policy issues of the day.

Arguably, she is in a weaker position politically than any of her five predecessors.

Devolution simply isn’t working for unionism’s largest Scottish Party. It is now up to the socialist and nationalist Left in Scotland to exploit that weakness.

This article first appeared in Scottish Socialist Voice, the journal of the Scottish Socialist Party

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