“If the SNP were half as radical as they claim,” wrote Glasgow Herald political columnist David Torrance recently, “there would be no need for Rise.”
400,000 Scots earn poverty wages; many more endure insecure employment and carry crippling debts. They feel abandoned and fear for the future. There are parts of Scotland where one in three children live in profound deprivation.
The fifth Holyrood elections take place against this background, but you would not notice it from the dull election campaign. The polls suggest another SNP landslide is on the cards because the overwhelming mood of the Scottish electorate is anti-Tory and they see the Nationalists as the predominant anti-Tory party.
Independence remains the dominant issue in Scottish politics today. It is seen by many as the only realistic route to achieving the Tory-free Scotland we seek. Despite that dominance neither the SNP nor Labour want to talk about it.
Labour, out of office and likely to remain so for a long time, is a party in crisis. No-one knows what it stands for anymore, including the party itself, it seems. It doesn’t talk about independence for fear of reminding voters it was “in bed” with the Tories for two years. Few people of progressive opinion seem prepared to forgive it or forget that yet.
Labour remains blind to the progressive, democratic case for independence and the potential audience that might await it if it did. The SNP, more surprisingly, also ignores the independence case for fear of losing seats in constituencies where there was a large No vote in 2014. It plays down the case for self-determination in favour of promoting its record in government since 2007. It has put its party interest ahead of its cause. If the polls are any guide their electoral tactics at least appear to be working.
Like Tony Blair was, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is a populist who ultimately serves the interests of capital. The eminent economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert of Stirling University, themselves pro-independence, aptly describe the SNP’s political programme as “neoliberal with a heart.” The nationalists’ recent U-turn on council tax abolition and its refusal to increase taxes on the wealthy reflect politics inclined to managerial continuity rather than progressive change.
It’s ironic then that the SNP looks set to win the election on the back of a profound anti-Tory mood while presenting a deeply conservative political programme. Their slogans promising to “Stand up for Scotland,” be “Stronger for Scotland” and “Take Scotland forward” inevitably beg the question: “Which Scotland do you mean?”
Is it the Scotland of Tata Steel or the Scotland of Ravenscraig, Linwood, Bathgate and Lochaber? Communities like Port Talbot which still lie abandoned 25 years after the “free market” so beloved of the SNP declared them surplus to requirement and the promises of politicians turned to dust? Is it the Scotland that pays too much tax, or of rich Scots you fear to tax at all in case they leave the country? Is it the Scotland that depends on quality public services or the Scotland that demands cuts and the privatisation of our hospitals, water supplies and lifeline ferries?
Posing key questions like these cannot be delegated, as some have suggested, to the SNP’s “left-wing membership.” For they are nowhere near as left as many would have you believe. And they are too easily browbeaten by leadership “loyalty tests.” The Yes campaign found it was similarly compromised by its own inability to hold the SNP to account. Dissent and constructive criticism, we were warned, jeopardised our chances of a Yes victory.
Neither can the job of holding the SNP’s feet to the fire be left to Kezia Dugdale. The Scottish Labour leader has no credibility nor stomach for that fight. Nor can we expect such socialist opposition from the Greens. No, applying effective left-wing pressure on the SNP at Holyrood can only come from electing Rise MSPs. That is why it is vital progressive opinion in Scotland gets behind Rise, Scotland’s Left Alliance, on May 5.
The SNP has shown how susceptible it is to pressure from the right, from big business and from US billionaires desperate to trample over areas of outstanding natural beauty in order to build luxury golf courses. It talks left but acts right. It presents a conservative vision of Scotland that wants to conserve the council tax, conserve low taxes for corporations and the rich, conserve the monarchy, conserve Scotland’s warmongering Nato membership and conserve the pound sterling. It privatises public assets like the NHS, water and transport services and blames it on someone else (Westminster or the EU). It attacked Labour for privatising the NHS and then privatises the NHS itself.
Don’t believe me? Labour built Edinburgh’s new Royal Infirmary using a private finance initiative (PFI) and the SNP rightly condemned it for that. But it then employed its own “PFI-lite” Scottish Futures Trust to build the city’s children’s hospital adjacent to it.
The SNP is terrified of being seen as the “tartan Tories” again and yet runs that risk more and more.
Rise offers a crucial socialist alternative to the SNP. Our manifesto includes a promise to hold a second referendum on independence within the lifetime of this parliament. We campaign for a £10 living wage. We will replace the unfair council tax with an income-based alternative. We will build 100,000 new homes in the socially rented sector and create 100,000 new “climate jobs” for young Scots in the industries of the future — renewables, sustainable farming, free public transport and resource efficiency programmes.
This far-reaching programme of improvement for working people is one no other party can match. That’s why we urge all progressively minded Scots to give Rise: Scotland’s Left Alliance their second or list vote, on May 5.
Colin Fox is the Scottish Socialist Party national spokesman and lead Rise candidate in the Lothians for the Holyrood elections on May 5.