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After Scottish election: Where now for the left?

This article is over 14 years, 8 months old
Though the Scottish Nationalists are not of the left, it would be wrong to dismiss last Thursday’s vote as right wing, writes Carlo Morelli
Issue 2050

The emergence of the Scottish National Party (SNP) as the largest party in the Scottish parliament represents more than just a “kicking” for New Labour.

It is wrong to conclude that the SNP’s victory represents a rightward drift in popular politics in the country.

But it is also wrong to think that last Thursday’s election represented a vote for independence.

Scottish voters backed the SNP, even in some of the staunchest working class seats, because they saw this as a means to a kinder, safer, more caring Scotland.

SNP leader Alex Salmond’s success was to reposition his party in a way that could appeal to the Labour-voting working class, as well as the nationalist support base in the middle class.

This shift enabled the SNP to win historic Labour seats like Fife Central (the core of Communist Party MP Willie Gallacher’s seat in the 1940s), Glasgow Govan, Edinburgh East, Cunninghame North, Kilmarnock & Loudon and both Dundee seats.

New Labour’s defeats are the latest in a process of disaffection within the Scottish working class.

This alienation focuses on the growth of inequality under Tony Blair, and the government’s attacks on the unions and organised working class interests.

Thus the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) was massively divided as the general council attempted to railroad its conference into supporting Labour in the elections.


Despite its victories in Labour heartlands, the SNP is not a party based on the organised working class.

Its base is in the rural north east of Scotland, and, historically, it is far from being a party of the left.

Nevertheless the SNP’s ­success is likely to focus Scottish politics around questions of war and peace, poverty and redistribution.

Its success in the elections is not simply a historic defeat for New Labour but represents a new set of opportunities for the left.

It is important to know that 13 of the 20 seats that the SNP gained came at the expense of socialist, Green, and independent MSPs – rather than Labour.

This gives us some indication of the politics associated with the vote for the SNP.


Any SNP government is going to face pressure to make good on its key election promises, including abolition of the council tax and university student fees, and the provision of free school meals.

More importantly, it will face demands to address issues that are not devolved to the Scottish parliament, particularly on the question of the replacement of Trident nuclear submarines, and the building of new nuclear power stations.

And of course there will be massive pressure to stop troops from Scotland being sent to Iraq.

As a result the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements that put these questions onto the agenda are going to be vital.

The ambivalence of much of the Scottish left towards these movements permitted the SNP to adopt a left wing gloss on these issues.

However, in power the SNP will be under massive pressure to deliver on these promises.

The future success of the left lies with its ability to campaign on these questions, and build the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements.

Holding a new Scottish government, whatever its complexion, to account on the question of the war requires a mass movement that unites people from trade unions and a variety of political traditions.

Inside the working class movement, the left must help build resistance to Gordon Brown’s pay freeze and demand Salmond scraps privatisation in our schools and hospitals.

As ever, a working class movement capable of rolling back the neoliberal agenda, and resisting warmongering imperialism, will emerge from the ground-up and not from any parliament.

Carlo Morelli is an activist in Solidarity in Fife, Mid Scotland


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