We live in a historical moment marked by deep and profound ideological and social flux. If you are unconvinced by this, just think back ten years from now: Tony Blair had just won a third term, Gordon Brown was stating boom and bust was over and Jack McConnell was First Minister of a Labour-Lib Dem administration in Scotland.
A decade ago Alex Salmond had just taken over for a second time an SNP that looked as far away from its goal of independence as ever, and Jeremy Corbyn was speaking at Stop the War rallies about the the UK-US annihilation of Fallujah in Iraq, as far away from power in the Labour party as ever.
In that time, all the old certainties of British politics have disappeared under the weight of multiple, intertwining crisis, some that have been festering for years, and some that came with a bang: the economic crash and the austerity agenda, the legacy of the Iraq war, the growing mistrust in the establishment, the decline of newspaper readership and the rise of social media, the unprecedented growth in inequality and the economic disparity between London and the rest of the country.
The political manifestation of this in recent times in Scotland was of course the referendum. All of the contradictions of our time were centred on that constitutional vote, and those crucial years gave voice in coherent fashion to the underlying injustices that people feel about modern capitalism.
That is why it is not surprising that recent statistics show a surge in attitudes described as being on the far left of the spectrum in Scotland. The findings, uncovered by Stirling University political scientist Craig McCangus, found that whereas one in ten people in the rest of UK place themselves on the radical left, that number is one in seven north of the border.
This means that the intellectual case for the ideas of the radical left penetrating mainstream politics as they did during the referendum, also has a clear social base at the ballot box. Comparing the election results of radical left parties across Europe over the past decade, Scotland had a lot of catching up to do with countries like Spain and Greece, but also Holland and Germany, where the radical left’s base has become a substantial parliamentary force in that time. But it is undoubted that given the experience of the referendum and the social forces involved that the left has a big chance to develop in the same way as the various manifestations of progressives left wing vehicles have emerged in Europe.
Comparing the election results of radical left parties across Europe over the past decade, Scotland had a lot of catching up to do with countries like Spain and Greece, but also Holland and Germany, where the radical left’s base has become a substantial parliamentary force in that time. But it is undoubted that given the experience of the referendum and the social forces involved that the left has a big chance to develop in the same way as the various manifestations of progressives left wing vehicles have emerged in Europe.
Each of these have their own problems and contradictions which especially come to the fore upon taking power. We need to learn from those mistakes, but the basic idea of the left – that society should be run by and for people not profit – is as important now as it has ever been.
In Scotland, the SNP has emerged from the referendum with by far the most political capital. But spanning such a broad swathe of Scottish society has its own complications– can a party committed to big business also contain the support of socialists for a long period of time? The other factor in the strength of SNP hegemony – a recent poll put the party on 62% for the constituency vote in 2016 – is that it could open up space for ‘second vote’ tactical voting – if the SNP win every constituency seat in Glasgow, voting for them on the list is worth one-eleventh of using your second vote on another pro-independence party, such is the nature of our additional member system.
And then we have the Corbyn factor. Whereas in England Corbyn is breathing new life into social democracy, his appearance in Scotland this week was marked by two contradictions. The first is that he has nothing in common with Kezia Dugdale, or much of the broader leadership of Scottish Labour. Her volte face on previous comments, where she said Corbyn could leave Labour ‘carping on the sidelines’, fooled no one. There is no place for a living Corbynism, working hand in hand with a diverse social movement of the left, in Scottish Labour.
Secondly, Corbyn’s speeches also showed that despite tapping into the mood of much of working class England, he was out of touch on the changing face of politics in Scotland by opposing a future referendum on independence and ending any lingering hopes in a new ILP-style home rule politics for Labour in Scotland.
That said the Corbyn phenomenon is energising an ideological debate in a similar way to the referendum. It is claimed the Tories would love nothing more than to have a Corbyn opposition. But this fails to understand British conservatism as a hegemonic project. The Tories prefer a right-wing Labour Party because the political atmosphere this generates allows them to deploy measures that go even further to the right. Additionally it allows the Tories to create a split between Labour and its social base.
The independence movement and the Corbyn surge both challenge this strategy and are expressions of mass movements of people searching to find political representation. That is why the same forces that clamped down on independence, are tuning their attention to Corbyn.
The reality is those inspired by Corbyn’s electric campaign don’t have an obvious political home in Scotland. Many of those people will also have been inspired by the independence movement and grassroots initiatives like the Radical Independence Campaign. They will make up the one in seven of the radical left in McCangus’ findings. The work of developing a political home for the diverse social movements of the radical left, born from the referendum, moves into action on August 29th when the Scottish Left Project will launch a new left wing coalition standing for the regional list seats in the 2016 elections.
This comes on the back of dozens of Democracy Now policy forums that have been taking place all over Scotland. As well as involvement from an array of activists, trade unionists, cultural figures and local campaigns, the launch will be joined by Black Lives Matter from the US, Quebec Solidaire and representatives from the emerging European Left. You too can be part of this exciting process by taking part in a day of workshops, plenaries, ideas and debate.