The Scottish National Party (SNP) has emerged as the largest party in the four major cities in Scotland following today's council elections. The Tories also made considerable gains, mainly at Labour's expense.
The SNP does not have a majority in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh or Glasgow—where Labour was dumped after 40 years in control. But the result is another historic milestone for the party.
Yet no overall majority control is the main result in most councils.
The Tories’ huge gains have taken many by surprise. The nasty party that was once wiped out has successfully been reborn as the party of the British union and Brexit.
It more than doubled its seats and pushed Labour into third place, replicating its Scottish parliament result last year.
Yet Tory claims that the results show that people do not want a second independence referendum are far from the obvious conclusion to draw. For starters, the Scottish parliament has a majority that has voted to seek another vote on independence.
And the pro-independence Green party had a fairly good result.
But what is clear is that the votes of those who do not want a second referendum overwhelmingly went to the Tories. There were shock Tory gains in some of Scotland’s poorest areas, including in Glasgow where it won eight seats.
On the streets of the city on polling day people told Socialist Worker why they think Labour has collapsed.
Gerry, a retired council worker, was struggling with deciding who to vote for. He’s voted Labour all his life but backed independence in 2014 because he thought that in Scotland’s current set up “you vote for something that you never get”. He pointed to several general election results to prove his point.
Gerry also “wasn’t too happy” with Labour’s anti-independence alliance with the Tories.
Many former Labour voters who’ve switched to the SNP say Labour has strayed very far from its roots and doesn’t represent the interests of workers.
College worker Jackie said Labour “got too comfy and too complacent and really got away from their roots—they don’t understand that working people are suffering”. She believes its pro-union position “is isolating it from normal people working normal jobs”.
Jackie added, “They’ve just privatised the IT at Glasgow City Council—that was Labour that did that.”
She was considering whether to hand her vote to the Greens or the SNP, the main beneficiaries of the independence movement.
Electrician George also backed independence and was voting SNP, but really wanted Labour to lead the fight for independence. Jackie thought that would be “ideal” but couldn’t see it happening.
There was a boost in support for independence in 2014. It was won by Yes campaigners arguing independence could be a route to end austerity, scrap Trident, defend public services and get a government you vote for.
Labour’s Scottish leadership tried to win back support, not by appealing to these aspirations but by defending the British state. This has served the Tories more than anyone, who have pitched themselves as the only party that can really be trusted to fight for the union.
The last Scottish parliament results, where the Tories came second, and today’s council results are a confirmation of Labour’s mistake in Scotland. Most who want independence are not inspired by nationalism—they are more anti-Tory than anything else.
Much of Labour’s former base wants it to back independence and break away from what they see as the Tories’ domination of Westminster and a politics they reject.
But while many people have been gleefully dancing on Labour’s grave and giving the SNP a free run the Tories have quietly overtaken Labour in many places.
The left’s inability to unite and provide a real alternative has not helped.
These results underline the dangers for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour of backing the British state and turning away from struggle.