Labour’s defeat in Glasgow East last week was historic. The constituency is one of Labour’s heartlands.
If the 22.5 percent swing to the Scottish National Party (SNP) was repeated across Scotland, Labour would have only one Scottish MP left.
The SNP won because it is to the left of Labour on issues such as the war, Trident nuclear weapons, nuclear power and council tax. This was a vote against New Labour – but the Tories didn’t benefit.
Despite having a “New Tory” candidate – a black woman trade unionist – the Conservative share of the vote went down.
Neither was this a vote for Scottish independence. Labour tried to make this an issue, raising the bogeyman of separatism. But this prospect doesn’t scare Labour’s traditional voters in the same way as it used to.
What was more important was the contrast between Labour and the SNP’s records. As leading Scottish commentator Iain MacWhirter put it, “It is Gordon Brown who has increased taxes on people with low incomes while reducing capital gains tax paid by private equity pirates. Britain has become grossly unequal under Labour.
“This long suffering Labour community has been dismayed by the cynicism and sleaze of the Labour establishment.”
Most press reaction to New Labour’s defeat has concentrated on the question of Brown’s leadership. This misses the point. It was not Brown who lost it for Labour, but its policies.
The Labour campaign was weak in its former stronghold, involving only MPs, MSPs, councillors and paid officials. In contrast the SNP had hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers.
The left vote inevitably suffered a severe squeeze.
Solidarity mounted an enthusiastic campaign with well attended public meetings. Its votes and those of the Scottish Socialist Party added together would have been enough to beat the Lib Dems into fourth place.
Scottish Labour now has a leadership contest, after Wendy Alexander was forced to step down. The candidates are all tainted by association with Brown’s policies. The left was unable to get sufficient MSPs to nominate a candidate.
The SNP’s victory will undoubtedly raise expectations. But it is just as committed to neoliberal policies as Labour.
How it will square this with its increased support from working people who are looking for an alternative to low wages and cuts in services remains to be seen.