Scottish Labour 28.05.2010

All quiet on the northern front
By Vince Mills

I suppose when you are expecting a drubbing from the Tories, seeing a region of the country staying resolutely red – even spreading over bits that were previously the SNP’s black and yellow or the Lib Dem’s highly appropriate single yellow – is very heartening. In this Scotland reflected the Celtic response to the Tories. The Tories won 40% of the vote in England, 26% in Wales, 17% in Scotland (winning them one seat) and failed to register in Northern Ireland. This went some way to explain the failure of the Tories to win a majority large enough to govern on their own.

In that regard the Scots, like their Celtic cousins, achieved exactly what they wanted: to stop the Tories. This was a negative vote. Almost one in four Scots is employed directly by the public sector. If you add in the voluntary sector, outsourced public sector organisations and small and medium enterprises dependent on local authority contracts you could probably double that. If half of the population are faced with a Government in a bidding war over the speed and ferocity of attacking the basis of how those people make a living, it is not difficult to imagine how they might vote.

Ok, you might say: but why not vote SNP or even SSP if you want to frustrate the Tories? Let’s take the left of Labour first. Always in a difficult position when voting for a non-Labour left candidate might bring the Tories back, their chance of support in Scotland is less than 2% (which is what most SSP and TUSC candidates got, with the exception of Tommy Sheridan who managed 2.9%).

The SNP had a target of 20 seats and got six, as opposed to the Liberals eleven and Labour’s 41. The SNP, posturing left during the election, had precisely the same problem as the independence supporting SSP and TUSC, coupled with a less than competent performance in office in the Scottish Parliament. their free school meals, Scottish Futures Trust, local income tax and smaller class sizes policies had variously been scaled down, back burnered or simply ditched. More than anything, the threat of a vote for the SNP returning a Tory not only meant they made few gains, but seats like Glasgow East went back to Labour.

This is an enormous problem for the Scottish Labour Party. Likely to return to office in the Scottish Parliament in 2011, the SLP has no existing or emerging strategy for dealing with a hostile Westminster Government demanding cuts while they hold office on the basis that they oppose them (assuming they run on that basis in 2011). The more they foment rebellion on the cuts, the more will be expected of them in leading the fightback. There will be calls on both a nationalist and class basis to resist by industrial action, community action and civil disobedience.

We have been here before. In 1987 there was a massive swing to Labour from the Tories and Alliance in Scotland. However, in 1988 a Scottish Labour Party Special Conference refused to back non-payment of the poll tax in effect, ending Labour resistance to it. (It wasn’t long till Brian Wilson, initially in support of non-payment, was telling folk they ought to pay). In November 1988, Labour lost a by-election in Govan, a very safe Labour seat, to the SNP’s Jim Sillars, who was championing Scotland against the Tories in general and the poll tax in particular.

The vote against the Tories in 2010 was a re-statement of a deeply held belief in Scotland that Labour will defend the working class against the worst efforts of the hated Tories. Watch this space.

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