Fear finally hit home last week among New Labour leaders at Westminster at news that the Scottish National Party (SNP) is maintaining a consistent lead over Labour for the Scottish parliament elections on 3 May. They fear that Labour is on course to lose in one of its historic heartlands.
Gordon Brown has rushed to place himself at the heart of Labour’s campaign declaring it his “duty” to save the union of England and Scotland.
The reason Labour is doing so badly in Scotland is its record in office in Westminster and Scotland, and the right wing nature of the campaign it has launched in an attempt to damage the SNP.
Discontent with Tony Blair’s policies was reflected in the fact that a majority of Scottish MPs at Westminster voted against the replacement of Trident nuclear missiles, based on the Clyde.
Labour is portraying itself as the defender of the union and as the champion of big business. Last month Blair warned that Scotland was on a “travelator to separation”. He added, “There is a risk to the economy, there is a risk to the family, from separation itself and from the policies of the SNP.”
But the reason people are backing the SNP is because they see it as a party which supports Old Labour policies. SNP leader Alex Salmond is benefiting from the strong stance he has taken against the Iraq war. The SNP also makes appeals to working class voters.
Its ability to reposition itself explains why support for the SNP far exceeds support for Scottish independence, which remains where it has been for years at somewhere between 25 and 30 percent.
But the SNP has another face. Salmond has boasted of the support for independence of Sir George Mathewson, the former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Stagecoach boss Brian Souter’s donation of £500,000.
Mathewson said, “The SNP offers Scotland the best chance of escaping from the dependency culture that is currently all-pervasive.” The SNP has pledged to cut corporation tax to 20 percent and promised business a “lighter hand”. It looks to the Irish free market “Celtic Tiger” as an economic model.
Traditionally, the Scottish left and the trade union movement have a deep suspicion of the SNP.
The T&G union’s Scottish region has launched a stinging attack on the SNP. Regional secretary Mike Brider said, “The T&G has consistently urged our members to reject the policy of independence due to our concerns that investment will be driven out of Scotland and that our members’ terms and conditions, and ultimately their jobs will be put at risk by an SNP-led Scottish Executive.”
He concluded that Labour “best represents the views of working men and women”.
This ignores the fact that it is New Labour that is attacking pension rights, introducing PFI schemes in schools and hospitals, sacking civil service workers and which voted with the Tories to maintain nuclear weapons on the Clyde. New Labour’s extreme defence of the union of England and Scotland could create popular support for separation.
Senior party figures are talking about sharing power with the Tories and Liberals to exclude the SNP from forming a government in Edinburgh if it emerges as the biggest party in the elections.
Socialists cannot give a blank cheque of support to New Labour or the SNP. Solidarity, Scotland’s Socialist Movement, is standing in the list elections fought under a proportional representation system.
Solidarity’s MSPs Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne have a fighting record that deserves the support of all those pledged to fight for socialism, equality and peace.
Solidarity is not standing in the first past the post constituencies. There the best course is to vote for those candidates who have a clear record of opposition to war and neoliberalism.
Tommy offers a vision of Scotland “that would refuse to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, that would bring our oil, gas and electricity companies into public ownership, that could remove Trident and any successors from the Clyde and implement a living minimum wage of £8.50 an hour”.
That is a radically different vision from that of Gordon Brown, Jack McConnell or Alex Salmond.