It’s almost clichéd to say that we’re living in exciting times, a political landscape rapidly shifting beneath our feet and unpredictable in its destination. No sooner is one historic election out of the way but another beckons and next year’s Holyrood election could certainly be that. But while we live in exciting times we also live in dark times for ordinary working people bearing the brunt of the Tories form of class war they call ‘Austerity’. However next year’s Holyrood election gives us the opportunity to wipe out Unionism, and by extension the pro-austerity parties, as a political force in Scotland at this time, and also build an effective opposition to the SNP from the radical Green Left.
Before I get started I realise that much of what I say may sit uncomfortably with some in the various left groups, greens and others who understandably have their own particular interests to look out for. Believe me it is way out of my own comfort zone. As a Republican I don’t have any rose-tinted view of the Holyrood Assembly, given it can be abolished by Westminster at any time and has no legal right to launch another Indy referendum without Westminster approval it is little more than a Unionist institution set up to preserve the Union rather than further democracy, power devolved is power retained and all that. Furthermore as a socialist with syndicalist sympathies when it comes to fighting elections for “bourgeois parliaments” getting too het up over elections to a wee pretendy parliament, or parish council as Tony Blair described it, seems a distraction from the real job of establishing an independent workers’ republic.
But… now, here, Scotland 2015-16 is not ‘normal’ political times. We’re still riding the wave of activity and enthusiasm unleashed by the referendum and given momentum by the myriad of groups that sprung up as self-organising collectives, organisations such as Women for Indy, National Collective and RIC, where grass-roots campaigners could come together and get their voices heard independent of the party machines.
RIC in particular brought together all manner of radical forces from the socialist left, from the environmental movement as well as the left of the SNP and it seems to me self-evident that we were able to achieve far more working together (and working together consensually and harmoniously for a greater good) than would have been the case otherwise.
And that offers an interesting vision for the situation some nine months later. While those involved with the nascent Scottish Left Project (SLP) have done admirable work, building on the positivity of RIC, by actually getting elements of the Left talking to each other getting past the divisions which have scarred us and set back the cause of Socialism by a political generation or more, it is clear that the distrust that still exists means this won’t be achieved overnight and indeed with their own eyes set on the 2020 Holyrood elections rather than 2016 I fear they are in danger of not just selling themselves short but the needs and aspirations of the working-class in Scotland in the face of an unrestricted Tory government pursuing an increasingly aggressive domestic policy. So while the left still struggles to negotiate the legacy of the well bronzed buffer in its tracks the Greens have capitalised more on their role in the wider Yes campaign, yet their target of “at least 8 seats”, while easily achievable, still falls well short of the potential for a unified radical force.
As things currently stand even if the most ambitious projections of the left and greens were achieved it would still leave them around the same total achieved in 2003 when 13 were returned from this bloc. But… a unified Red/ Green or Green/ Red or Anti-Austerity or Radical Indy (call it what you want) Alliance that was able to tap into the positivity and momentum of the Yes campaign, which we played a large role in creating, could realistically aim to take 20-30 MSPs.
This isn’t based on the overly optimistic predictions of some party loyalist but simply through an understanding of the way the regional list system works in the Scottish parliament. It has an inbuilt mechanism designed to prevent any one party gaining outright control, a Unionist mechanism to prevent an SNP victory and the prospects of Independence, that worked well eh! If a party does well in the first past the post constituency section this will be balanced out by distributing seats on the list to other parties based on their support in the regional list vote. Put simply it means that if the SNP maintains its current level of constituency support they will need to poll well in excess of 50% to be in with a chance of winning any seats on the list.
Take as an example the recent TNS poll (1) which puts the SNP on course to win 70 out of 73 constituency seats. It also has the SNP at 50% on the list which they predict would give it only 3 out of 56 list seats across all Scotland, presumably in the 3 regions where they did not win every constituency seat.
Whilst obviously a lot of caveats apply and it takes no account of regional variations which always exist, if the results from this poll were applied across all 8 regions the returns would break down as follows for the 7 seats on each regional list, Labour 3 seats, Tories 2, Greens 1 and the last place going to a 3-way tie between the Lib-Dems, Greens and SNP. TNS predicts this being allocated as 3 SNP, 3 Lib Dem and 2 Green from the eight regions. So despite pro-Indy parties taking 60% of the regional vote the Unionist parties would take a 5-2 majority of seats in 4 lists, and 6-1 in the other 4.
But, in the hypothetical situation where a unified list of the pro-Indy Green/ Left was able to garner support primarily, though not exclusively, from that broad base of the Yes support who want radical change, this situation could be near reversed.
Let me explain. It’s been well documented that since devolution the Scottish electorate has developed relatively sophisticated voting patterns, voting in different way in different elections to achieve different, progressive, outcomes. This situation has certainly not been diminished by the IndyRef and many Yes supporters, and others, will be only too aware that voting SNP on the list may well be a wasted vote that will paradoxically only increase the chances of a Unionist candidate being elected.
If however a unified candidate of the Green Left radical forces was standing as a realistic, credible alternative then they would be well placed to capitalise on this situation.
So using some basic maths if one-third of the SNP support on the list could be persuaded to vote Red/Green (based on the TNS poll with all the caveats etc.) and coupled with the already existing Green support this could lead to regional voting figures of SNP 33%, Red/ Green 27%, Labour 19%, Tory 14%, LD 5% leading to the election of 3 Red/ Greens, 2 Labour and 2 Tories on each list. This would mean 24 Red/Greens in total making them the 2nd largest grouping at Holyrood behind the SNP, who would have already won the election based on their support at constituency level (it’s probably worth noting that it would be in the interests of such a grouping for the SNP to win every constituency seat in Scotland.)
Again if one half of SNP voters supported this new grouping the corresponding figures would be Red Green 35%, SNP 25%, Labour 19%, Tory 14%, LD 5%. This could result in 4 Red/Greens being elected in each region giving 32 seats across Scotland outnumbering the combined total of all the Unionist parties at Holyrood.
Obviously there is no data to support the claim that SNP voters would support a Red/Green alliance but given the positive and committed role that socialists and Greens played in RIC and the wider Yes campaign and, as has been stated, the ‘sophisticated’ nature of voting in Scotland and increased levels of political activity since the referendum, I believe that this could be achievable, but only though a unified force that wasn’t going to be fighting each other for the same votes.
Now basing politics on opinion polls is not generally the sort of politics that I would touch with the proverbial bargepole, it reeks of new Labour focus groups and the selling of your soul for the sake of a handful of votes in a few marginal constituencies, but this is a different situation altogether, and while compromise is inevitable it need not be at the expense of political principle.
We wouldn’t need a huge unified political programme, just agreement around a set of core demands where unity already exists, opposing austerity, stopping fracking, more green energy projects, real radical land reform, ending zero hour contracts, fighting for better workers’ rights, No to NATO, a £10 minimum wage, more social housing built to higher environmental standards as well as support for an independent Republic. There is plenty we have in common as we showed throughout the referendum campaign.
Realistically the left would have to accept its weakened position at this time and probably offer the Greens at least the top spot on every list, even in its Glasgow heartlands, though Patrick Harvie top of the list, a problem? I don’t think so. Given the potential to elect 2/3/4 MSPs from each list perhaps the rest could be decided by some form of regional aggregates, but I digress.
Here in the Highlands the thought of standing in opposition to someone like John Finnie who played such an active role in the RIC campaign and is top of the regional list for the Greens next year is not something which appeals to me and I’m sure that similar situations would be replicated elsewhere.
Is it too late for this to happen? Certainly not. But whether narrow party political advantage will win out over the NEEDS of the marginalised and disadvantaged bearing the brunt of Tory ‘Austerity’ is another matter altogether.
Socialists and Greens managed to put our differences aside, in RIC and elsewhere, to work collectively for a greater good last year, surely the radical forces of Scotland can do the same for the next? Talks did take place between the Greens and the SSP before the 2014 European elections which indicate that there must be willingness, in some quarters at least, to contemplate this scenario.
But this time round the opportunity for such a bloc wouldn’t just mean the election of one MEP, not even replacing the Lib-Dems as the 4th largest party, but on becoming the main opposition to the SNP at Holyrood, pushing them in a more radical direction and making sure they live up to their anti-austerity promises, the prize is potentially that big. Surely that’s something worth aiming for?
(1) TNS Poll, 9 June 2015 – Regional list voting intentions for Holyrood: SNP 50%, Labour (19%), the Conservatives (14%), the Greens (10%), Liberal Democrats (5%), UKIP (2%) and others (2%)