Death of Certainty, New Hope Rising

21st-revised-1200x480We 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.

Comments (6)

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  1. James says:

    How curious to discuss the left in Scotland without even mentioning the only left party that’s won seats at every Holyrood election. The existence and success of the Greens too inconvenient for your case, I can only assume.

    1. Mark Crawford says:

      I don’t think the electoral achievements of the Greens are “inconvenient” for the case presented here – “irrelevant” would be a better description.

      Note: I’m not saying the Greens are irrelevant; I’m saying they are irrelevant to the process of galvanising the socialist left. I was recently speaking to a Green supporter who said they didn’t want to get involved with the Scottish Left Project because they are not keen to work with an organisation which has such a large number of self-declared socialists. Fine. Obviously the Greens are a good place for radicals who prefer not to play second-fiddle to such a large mass of socialists – I totally understand that, actually.

      1. Muscleguy says:

        And the polls on the list vote look good for the Greens, they on course if the polls hold for about 8 MSPs. They are therefore not going to jeopardise that by joining a coalition with no political track record, yet. However, the danger for the Greens is that if the SLP can get its act together and build a base then it might just erode the Green’s support on the lists. It depends on how much of the Green’s support is ideologically Green or they are just a safe “Yes, but not SNP” vote. It also depends on how many non voters will come out and support the SLP. All these are unknowns.

        I’m in RIC and like what I see in the SLP. I have in the past voted Green on the list for environmental reasons (I’m a Biologist and care, though I don’t like the Green’s more anti-science stances). But my vote may be up for grabs there and I may well find myself canvassing for the SLP.

  2. Frank says:

    I think the Greens and the SLP are fishing in different ‘left’ ponds, therefore I can see why there is no mention of the Greens in this article.

    The SLP stem from a different tradition, rooted in British Trotskyism (in the main most of the organisers are ex SWP), and workerist politics. Incidentally, I’m not convinced that the SLP is just another re-branding of the far left, many of whom a decade a ago were sceptical even hostile to Scottish independence.

    What distinguishes the ‘social movements’ in England and Scotland, compared to say Spain or Greece is that unlike Podemos or Syriza, the vast majority of people in England and Scotland have chosen to engage with mainstream parties like the SNP, and as we are seeing in England, Labour. It will be interesting to see if a radical agenda can be pursued in these parties, or if radicalism comes up against the dual barriers of careerism and managerialism.

    Having said that I’m not convinced that with the SNP, and potentially Labour under Corbyn, all singing from a left hymn sheet, that there is room in electoral politics, for the SLP.

  3. florian albert says:

    ‘in England, Corbyn is breathing new life into social democracy.’

    The evidence is that Jeremy Corbyn’s success lies in reviving the moribund tradition of English socialism and in acting as a focus for discontent with the status quo.

    Those caught up in ‘Corbynmania’ should remember that, in 1983, Michael Foot was convinced Labour was winning the general election because everywhere he went he was greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds.

  4. David Bryce says:

    With human nature being what it is, naturally all politicians are capable of becoming corrupt dictators. The way forward is an administrative system, whereby the people continue to have control. Capitalism can never work for the poor and capitalism has a short shelf life.

    Indeed, by the end of the year the US Dollar may have collapsed as predicted by many financial forecasters. We need a new system!

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