FACED WITH WHAT APPEARS to be almost insurmountable odds, Scottish Labour must now engage in a serious consideration of its principles, policies and practices, and in particular its engagement with class politics.
We need to be on the frontline with anti-fracking protestors, health activists and housing campaigners. We need to reinvent the Labour Party as a local party. We need to bring back branches – not to discuss fundraising and council reports, but to organise campaigns on local issues and co-ordinate with national initiatives.
Labour councillors, as part of local campaigns, really must resist the cuts – which must be the priority for Scottish Labour. The Scottish government has faced a ten per cent cut to its budget over the last five years. Scottish councils, however, have faced a 24% cut in funding from the Scottish government. The main casualties are the usual ones – those who most use council services, the poor and the vulnerable.
Local government is entirely in the hands of the Scottish Parliament and consequently it might have been thought the Scottish Parliament would have been the target for a myriad of local campaigns designed to expose the class basis of the assault on local government. But the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) ran only a very limited campaign against these cuts. There has been no sustained local campaign despite demands by CLPs in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Instead, as part of its election strategy the leadership announced a commitment to increased taxation to mitigate the cuts. This was welcome but fundamentally different from campaigns rooted in working class communities – campaigns that are designed to empower and encourage working class resistance to neo-liberal incursions into public services – and in the process educate the participants about the nature of capitalist society.
Fundamental change cannot happen on the basis of what elected representatives do in an elected chamber. Radical change needs a mass base and a mass party to organise that movement. There has undoubtedly been significant and welcome change to the left. Only a year after the SLP adopted the infamous ‘Patriotic’ clause to its constitution, sponsored by then party leader Jim Murphy, an arch-Blairite, it not only ditched Murphy but his political ideology. At its annual conference last October it opposed Trident, TTIP, and the Trade Union Bill and voted to build council houses and, more recently, to increase taxation in order to combat Tory and SNP austerity.
Our vision and purpose, however, remains unclear – a point made painfully obvious in polling before the elections and even more painfully on polling day. Scottish Labour must call a special conference to relaunch the Party in Scotland in which it reaffirms the central commitment of the founding members of Labour in Scotland – the need to end capitalism. The change should be reflected in a new clause in our constitution. That would be a start. The real work which follows will require patient engagement with workers and communities in struggle and in rebuilding a sound working class base for the fight to challenge the rich and the powerful. In this task we will have powerful allies in a British Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn.
- This is an edited version of an article from the on-line Citizen.