By Héctor Sierra
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What should socialists in Scotland do in the general election?

We can fight to ensure that all the issues politicians don’t want to talk about dominate the campaign
Issue 2908
A picture of a Palestine protest outside a football stadium in Glasgow illustrating an article about the general election in Scotland

Hundreds of protesters assembled outside Hampden Scotland national stadiums, Glasgow, on Friday, taking action during the general election in Scotland. They chanted, ‘Shame shame, stop the game,’ The Israeli women’s team was playing Scotland in a game behind closed doors.

1. We must make the election a referendum on Gaza 

The election campaign will take place against the backdrop Israel’s genocide, which is being  committed with the backing of the British political establishment. 

This week, The Ferret news site revealed that since 2015 the Scottish government has funnelled millions of pounds into the main arms companies that operate in Scotland. Taxpayers’ money has funded the activities of Leonardo, Thales, Raytheon, BAE Systems or Lockheed Martin, which are part of the manufacturing chains that enable Israel’s genocidal machine. 

Voting on 4 July matters, but it falls short of what is needed to stop the slaughter. The actions of Palestinian supporters—shutting down the city centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh, occupying train stations, Palestine Action cutting internet cables at the Leonardo arms factory—are far more important.

2. Kick out the Tories

Fourteen years of Tory rule have been a disaster for working class people across Britain. In Scotland, the Tories have not won in an election since 1955. Yet successive Tory prime ministers in the last decade have spat in voters’ faces by repeatedly denying Scotland’s right to hold a referendum on independence.  

Without any serious prospect of a fight for independence, most working class voters’ top priority will be finishing off Tory rule. 

For some, the best way to achieve this will be backing Labour. According to polls, this will include many people who support independence but are furious at the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) excuses and its failure to tackle poverty and inequality. 

Others will still vote SNP because they cannot forgive Labour’s betrayals. They remember the party backing imperialist wars, implementing free market reforms or teaming up with the Tories in the Better Together coalition to save the Union in 2014. 

But it will be the desire to boot the Tories out that will drive most to vote for the SNP and Labour, not enthusiasm for the politics and promises of either party. 

3. Fight Starmer from day one 

We understand why some voters will see parties like the SNP or the Scottish Greens as more palatable options than Labour. At least they have backed a ceasefire in Gaza and they don’t oppose independence and wrap themselves in the Union flag. 

But as the recent break-up of the SNP-Green governing coalition showed, these parties reproduce the same problems that make Labour a dead-end. That’s because they operate within the framework of the system, which is rigged for the rich, and don’t see it as the problem. 

Starmer will almost certainly become the next prime minister. Labour aren’t “red Tories”, as it’s sometimes claimed, but Starmer will represent more continuity than a break with the 14 years of Tory rule

He will not fundamentally break with the Tories’ attitude to Israel, Scottish independence, the removal of Trident nuclear weapons or taking on the fossil fuel corporations. If Starmer wins, we need more protests and strikes, not less. 

4. Only mass and radical action, not the SNP, can win independence 

Almost ten years on from the 2014 referendum that almost broke up the British state, the SNP is set to make widespread losses. 

The snap election is bad news for John Swinney, who has just taken over as first minister and SNP leader. He is a grey figure closely associated with the world of business.

Swinney hadn’t mentioned the word “Gaza” once since becoming first minister until forced by events this week.  

Support for independence remains high and socialists should support it—but this won’t be the issue that dominates the election. Swinney pathetically says the best way to achieve independence is by securing another mandate in the form of an SNP victory in July and at the next Holyrood election. 

The SNP hijacked the energy of a mass movement for change into boosting their own electoral fortunes. Hundreds of thousands of working class people, who backed independence because they wanted radical change, lent their support to a party that has only offered more of the same. 

Independence supporters deserve a lot better than this—and it is good that many are now deserting the SNP. 

5. Vote left, stand with Palestine 

We wish that serious challenges to the left of the SNP and Labour had emerged in Scotland. People should vote for those candidates that best advance socialist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics.

We don’t believe George Galloway’s Workers’ Party or Alex Salmond’s Alba party—with their reactionary positions on many issues such as trans+ rights—can be the basis for such a challenge. 

But even where no such credible left candidates exist, there is much that socialists can do to shape the election. We can fight to ensure that all the issues politicians don’t want to talk about dominate the campaign. And we must argue that every struggle taking place needs to intensify in this period, not to be “paused”. 

This means backing the college lecturers’ strikes. It means mobilising to gather outside the public inquiry into Sheku Bayoh’s death, in Edinburgh on 6 June, to demand justice and action on police racism. 

It means hounding politicians who don’t back a ceasefire and picketing hustings. 

It means building support in every trade union and encampment for the Free Palestine, Stop Arming Israel national demonstration in Glasgow on 15 June. It’s called by the Stop The War Coalition Scotland, the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Scottish TUC union federation. 

And it means arguing with people that we need a genuine fighting socialist alternative. 

  • Join the Justice for Sheku Bayoh vigil to say ‘No more deaths in custody’ and ‘Black lives matter’. Thu 6 June, 8.45am, Festival Square, Edinburgh EH3 9BZ
  • Free Palestine, Stop Arming Israel, national march for Gaza. Sat 15 June, 10.30am. Assemble: Glasgow Green 

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