Why ‘anyone but Labour’ sets back the Home Rule cause

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An old destructive impulse of Scottish nationalism spurred kilt-clad die-hards to blow up red pillar-boxes in the 1950s. Our radical independence generation has a new kind of pillar-box in its sights: between four and six foot tall, clad in Red, bearing the letters Rt Hon MP, with large operating costs and imperial designs, offering working people a declining service.

Since the Yes campaign’s defeat last week, lots of people have channelled their wrath with Westminster and the No campaign towards Labour and its Scottish MPs. A Facebook group aiming to ‘get Labour out of Scotland’ in the General Election has accrued 19,000 likes in a matter of days. There’s growing determination to eject long-standing Labour members from Yes-voting Glasgow. Tens of thousands of former Labour members and supporters have joined the SNP. The spinners at SNP HQ are quietly fuelling the flames with press releases about Labour’s hypocrisy.

In its response, Labour’s conduct at its conference has hardly been deserving of acclaim or new respect. Margaret Curran’s idea to hold surgeries for Yes-voting Labour supporters gave the impression she thinks voting Yes is a nasty problem she can cure, a symptom of the nationalist virus Johann Lamont described a year ago. The tone of Johann Lamont’s speech was ridiculous; she insisted that Labour is the party to ‘change the world’. Meanwhile, having said the NHS is safe with a No vote, Labour are now claiming the NHS is still in peril.  These notes all strike a dissonant chord with thousands who believed a Yes vote would have brought real change, and they do nothing to suggest the Labour party will learn much from the referendum.

Only Len McCluskey’s speech sought to draw lessons from the vote. “Let the Scottish referendum be the tombstone on twenty years of our party’s indifference to the interest of the working class”, he said. “For a generation there have been pundits including people in our own party saying we can forget about class. they’ve said the working class aren’t interested in politics. Well go up to Scotland and see.” Alas, Len is not in charge of Labour and is unlikely to sway many Scottish people to return to the Labour party.

But whatever you think of Labour, the left should stem the tide of hate towards the party, not fuel it as some activists have done. For while Labour-bashing is compulsive, this narrow-minded, juvenile reaction breeds the wrong kind of sentiment – it is part of the ‘45’ craze which is concerned with building a bitter identity among frustrated Yes-voters, and it only bolsters a wave of anti-establishment fury which is not a helpful feeling for a wounded left to nurture.

Last night I attended a meeting called by Glasgow West Radical Independence to discuss where the organisation should go. Many of the speeches focussed on opposing Labour, instead of talking about renewed demands for power or policies that would bring us closer to the aspirations we had for independence. Some are reluctant to work with trade unions and trades unionists which are affiliated to Labour, whereas they should be looking to the likes of Unite and Unison, as well as the STUC, to lead a demand for meaningful economic power. They are gleeful about the SNP’s surging membership, when they should be making plans to unseat its members in 2016.

When it comes to the General Election, the campaign against Labour is not progressive. Its priority rejects the realities of a No-vote: the Yes campaign lost, so crucial powers remain controlled by Westminster. The campaign for further powers in Scotland is going to have to stretch beyond bitterness towards Labour to be decisive and effective. The desire for more powers may be fierce, but the actual power to determine further devolution lies at Westminster – where there’s a choice of a Tory and a Labour government. Only the latter could conceivably deliver deep economic power to Scotland.

A Labour majority at Westminster will be the best result for Scotland because it is the only feasible way for Scottish working class interests to be reflected in a Westminster government. A cross-society Home Rule campaign can work with MSPs and trade unions, building pressure on Scottish Labour MPs to transfer powers to Scotland and to those areas like Glasgow, Lanarkshire and other urban areas which have voted to take economic and social power into the people’s control. If the left is right that working class votes are crucial for Labour MPs to hold their seats, then Labour will have to address their demands. On the other hand, if you replace Scottish Labour MPs with SNP members, what route do you see for the delivery of Home Rule?

The ‘radical’ alternative for 2015 is to replace Labour MPs with SNP MPs and hope they hold the balance of power – making the transfer of significant powers to Scotland one of their central demands. A Parliament with no overall majority, where the SNP holds some of the balance of power, seems attractive to the people that believe Westminster does not function and cannot be made to work for the people of Scotland. But given last week’s vote, this tactic really is old-style nationalism: defy Westminster, play no part in its affairs except when they bear directly on Scotland and the Scottish people, and stand up for the interests of Scotland whatever it takes. So much for solidarity or the interests of workers in England. So much for rebalancing Britain’s economy. Power will be jealously guarded by the Tories, and our movement will be effectively ignored.

There is another peril in working for a hung parliament. The last time it happened, SNP votes were decisive in bringing down Labour in 1979 and ushering in a long, long term of Tory government. The same could happen again: Scottish votes could help Cameron to form the government or leave Labour short of a majority. So if you’re tempted to join this bandwagon, ask yourself the question this way: if you thought that more SNP MPs would make a Tory government more likely, would you still vote SNP? Some nationalists would, no doubt, on the grounds that the SNP could represent Scotland’s interests, that Labour and the Tories are pretty much the same, and even because bringing about another ‘Tory government we didn’t vote for’ would accelerate a new call for independence – and another referendum in 5 years.

But here’s the thing: it’s the height of hypocrisy to be content with a Tory government in the next election. If you campaigned with Yes Scotland this was one of your key arguments – we must end Tory rule, so we should vote Yes. If now you say that is anything other than your priority, it betrays your real politics: you want revenge on the No-backing traitors, and you will say anything to get people to back independence, including burdening them with more Tory rule.

The biggest losers are those who can’t accept defeat. Going in a huff will turn off thousands of people who are not yet sure about the left’s maturity and who doubt its credibility in mainstream politics, let alone government. The reaction smacks of myopia and obsession. If you are intent on smashing Labour because they betrayed the working class by backing No, your destructive impulse is the sign of your great weakness – which you share with nationalists. You say you want social justice, but when it comes to action, you fight your former opponents above all else. Your ends are determined more by your reaction and emotion than by concrete aims. Your ambitions are unclear and you seek votes on the basis of a vague promise of a better nation. The demand for Anyone but Labour comes from a motivation to sustain a losing independence campaign, and the refocused socialist programme that should follow defeat is blurred, because radical activists can see nothing but red.

Cailean Gallagher

8 thoughts on “Why ‘anyone but Labour’ sets back the Home Rule cause

  1. I actually agree with a good deal of this. There’s a more pernicious mood abroad than the rabid anti-Labour stuff though – and that’s the belief, promoted by the SNP, that another indyref, or even devomaxref could be produced by another political cycle, either by electing large numbers of SNP to go to Westminster (god only knows what that will achieve), or by winning an SNP/Yes majority again at 2016 which Salmond has claimed, rather audaciously, would supply the Scottish government with the authority to simply unilaterally declare independence.

    Presumably at some point the penny must drop.

    As a side note – I’m not convinced Jonathon’s tweet implies anything new – he would have said it at any point in the last ten years.


  2. Your logic is wrong. If Labour achieves a majority of, say, 30 seats at Westminster, including, say 40 Scottish MPs, then the non Scottish Labour MPs will outnumber the Scottish MPs by 5 to 1 or so. The Scottish Labour MPs will not be able to change anything in Scotlands favour. If we replace those 40 MPs with SNP MPs, then Labour no longer have a majority, and the SNP hold the balance of power.

    This does not increase the likelyhood of a Tory government – do the sums – replacing Labour MPs with SNP MPs does not increase the number of Tory MPs.

    Of course, if the Labour party are more concerned about refusing to share power with the SNP than they are about stopping the Tories getting into power, I suppose that could mean more Tory governments. You could end up in a situation where Labour could be in power with SNP and Lib Dem backing, but refuse this option out of spite and let the Tories run roughshod over the poor. Oh, wait a minute…


    1. Which is more likely to deliver Home Rule? A majority Labour government with a strong Scottish presence whose Scottish members have won their seats on the basis of a strong Home Rule platform, or a minority Labour government with a weak Scottish presence whose Scottish members have been unseated by uncompromising nationalists who are making tactical demands to fuel their ambitions for another shot at independence?

      Yes, Labour is sometimes too determined to get a secure majority and is reluctant to share power with the SNP. In May, if the SNP do get those decisive balancing seats, then Labour might be wise to enter coalition with them. But this is not the clearest route to Home Rule. The SNP are not and have never been committed to Home Rule. They have never really demanded power over things like employment law, community empowerment, labour relations and wage bargaining which are the stuff of Home Rule. I don’t want to see another round of devolution on the road to another referendum – I want to see a radical transfer of economic powers within the UK constitutional frame that people voted for last week.



  3. But if a majority of yes party MP s(SNP SSP Green) is elected by Scotland to Westminster in May, and Labour still win the general election then Labour also become a party in power that ‘Scotland didn’t vote for’. Not just the Tories.


    1. In spite of people’s vote last week, you want to prove that Westminster cannot work because ‘Scotland doesn’t vote for’ Labour or Tory governments. Because of people’s vote last week, I want to get a UK government that works for Scotland, transfers significant powers to people here, and honours the commitments that led people to vote No last week. In my book, this makes me the democrat and makes you the nationalist.


  4. The westminster election is a fresh vote. If people want to elect parties other than labour because they trust them more or they are offering more then that is their right.


  5. Some fundamental points: (1) the dissatisfaction with Labour for many Scottish voters precedes the referendum by several years; (2) the notion that Labour will reflect “Scottish working class interests” at Westminster is not supported by any evidence; and (3) Labour does not have a “strong Home Rule platform” – what it does have are ill-defined promises of “more powers” which the Party leadership seem incapable of articulating.

    Asking people to vote for a party with which they do not agree on the spurious assumption that that party will “transfer significant powers” to Scotland does not make you a “democrat”.


  6. If, as is said, SNP MP’s hold a sway over a Labour Westminster majority. What would be the price of supporting such a government?

    Outright Independence or we bring you down? Indyref2 in 28 days?

    If we go down the indyref2 line, please make sure the date collides with an election in England, it’d divert the resources and Labour activists coming up for work through Scotland.


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