Back in August 2012 I wrote that independence could be the best thing to happen to the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party. With last week’s announcement by UK Labour leader Ed Miliband that his party is now in favour of removing benefits from unemployed 18 to 21 year-olds - thereby further copying the Tories and UKIP - it would seem independence is ‘Scottish’ Labour’s only hope of returning the party to the core social democratic values favoured by activists in Scotland.
By the way, the reason I put ‘Scottish’ in inverted commas in the above sentence is because the Scottish Labour Party does not exist. All political parties must be registered with the Electoral Commission and there is no Scottish Labour Party on the register. According to the Commission, the term ‘Scottish Labour’ is simply a ‘description’ used by the Labour Party, which has its registered office in London.
The official position of ‘Scottish’ Labour in the Independence Referendum campaign is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories in opposing independence. So anti-independence is ‘Scottish’ Labour that it would rather see the Tories continue to govern Scotland from London than have a Labour government in an independent Scotland. Any psychologists reading this are welcome to have a go at explaining the tortured ‘logic’ behind such a position.
However, not every member of ‘Scottish’ Labour supports the party’s anti-independence stance, far from it. Virtually every day we hear of senior party members and trade union activists publicly stating their intention to vote ‘YES’ in the Independence Referendum. One of the fastest-growing political movements in Scotland is ‘Labour for Independence’, an organisation comprising rank-and-file members of ‘Scottish’ Labour who realise the opportunity presented by the Independence Referendum.
The hierarchy of ‘Scottish’ Labour and the party’s Westminster MPs from Scottish constituencies argue that the people of Scotland should reject independence on September 18th and should vote for the London-based Labour Party at a 2015 UK General Election. Then, so their argument goes, a UK Labour Government led by Ed Miliband would put everything right for us – but there are two striking problems with that strategy.
Firstly, Labour is unlikely to win a 2015 UK General Election. For the party to have any chance of electoral success it would, at this stage – 11 months from the scheduled election – need to be around 20 per cent ahead of the incumbent Tory-led Government. Polls show either the two parties neck-and-neck or the Tories ahead. The most likely outcome of a 2015 UK General Election is the Tories governing on their own or in a right-wing coalition with UKIP.
The second problem is that, even if UK Labour was able to pull-off an extremely unlikely turn-around in fortunes ahead of the May 2015 Westminster Election, the Labour Government elected would be little more than a pale imitation of David Cameron’s Tories. As the Conservatives move further and further to the right, attempting to recapture far-right English voters who deserted to the racist and homophobic UKIP at the recent European Election, so the Ed Miliband-led Labour Party also moves further right.
Everyone knows that Labour abandoned any pretence of being a socialist party when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown created the Tory-clone New Labour, and what has happened under the leadership of Ed Miliband is a further rightward re-branding that has ditched even moderate social democratic policies. Today’s Labour Party talks of supporting ‘compassionate capitalism’, which is an entirely contradictory concept. Capitalism is based on greed and exploitation of the majority by a small elite. For capitalism to work (for the elite), the majority – the working class – must be exploited in terms of being paid less than the value of their labour and by being charged more than the actual value of the products they must buy, such as food. There is no compassion in capitalism. UK Labour’s support for a concept that does not, and cannot exist, is a fraud.
Today’s Labour Party is as comfortable as the Tories and UKIP in demonising the unemployed as skivers and shirkers. Both Miliband and his ‘Scottish’ Labour leader Johann Lamont have spoken of ending the “something for nothing” culture, a barb directed at people deemed to be ‘undeserving’ simply because they find themselves without work and have to claim benefits to survive.
Today’s Labour Party is committed to backing the Tory policy of spending billions-of pounds on a new generation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, while hundreds-of-thousands of men, women and children rely on foodbanks to stave-off hunger. Labour would also continue to locate the UK’s first-strike nuclear arsenal at a base on the Clyde, just 30 miles from Scotland’s largest city.
Today’s Labour Party is a Tory clone pandering to right-wing prejudices. Electing a UK Labour Government would simply see a continuation of devastating austerity, cuts to public spending, soaring unemployment and deepening deprivation for so many of our fellow citizens.
It is these realities that have prompted a growing number of ordinary Labour Party members in Scotland to embrace the opportunity presented by independence. An independent Scotland would see the creation of a real Scottish Labour Party, free from London control and free to re-embrace the social democratic (maybe even socialist) policies favoured by activists.
The UK Labour Party was built on firm socialist foundations formed in Scotland. For many years the goal of providing a parliamentary voice for the working class and of advancing the cause of ordinary men, women and children was shared within the party in both Scotland and England. However, while ‘Scottish’ Labour activists still adhere to the party’s founding principles, the London-based hierarchy that controls Labour is now firmly committed to a capitalist economic system that exploits the working class and enshrines inequality, poverty and deprivation.
By voting ‘YES’ for independence, Labour activists can take back control of their party here in Scotland. Independence really can be the best thing to happen to ‘Scottish’ Labour.