|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Scotland: voters reject the Westminster cuts coalition
THE FORMATION of the Conservative-Liberal coalition in Westminster will open up a period of instability and class conflict not seen in Scotland and Britain for decades. The character of this government is already clear. It is a government for the rich elite who have declared war against public services, jobs, pensions, benefits and education. The scale of the cuts they aim to carry out is unprecedented since the second world war.
The £6.2 billion-worth of cuts announced for 2010-11 by Tory chancellor, George Osborne, and his Liberal Democrat partner-in-crime, millionaire David Laws, is only the start. It is the "end of the [mythical] age of plenty and the start of the age of austerity", according to them – as if such a change could be enacted as easily as changing one of their expensive suits.
Professor Brian Ashcroft, policy director of the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University, suggests that public-sector job losses in Scotland could top 60,000 over the next four years: "The public probably don’t realise what we are facing. We are set to see a cut in spending unprecedented in recent history".
With one in four of all jobs in Scotland dependent on the public sector, the proposed cuts will have a devastating impact. Already, in the NHS across Scotland, health boards are axing thousands of jobs. This is not in response to Tory-Lib Dem savagery, but a consequence of the cuts of the outgoing New Labour government. Two days after the coalition came into being, health authorities in Scotland announced budget cuts of up to 5,000 jobs in the next two years – including frontline nursing and midwifery posts.
Freezing vacancies in the NHS and now the civil service will soon be joined by effective pay cuts across the public sector – made worse by rising inflation. Local government workers in Scotland are facing the threat of three years of pay cuts under an offer tabled by their employer, CoSLA.
Nick Clegg will have to be reminded that, before the election, he warned that Britain would face social unrest on the scale of Greece – unless the public was convinced of the need for deep cuts on the scale ‘required’. Ironically, he and his MPs will be largely responsible for unleashing the huge backlash that will greet this new government.
The outcome of the election has angered and dismayed many in Scotland. The Lib Dems have been particularly targeted because they opened the gates to the ‘toxic Tories’ – who were driven, once again, to the margins of politics in Scotland, winning just one seat and 15% of the vote. There is no way that a Tory government would have been perceived as legitimate with only one out of 59 Scottish MPs – 85% of voters in Scotland voted for ‘anyone but the Tories’.
The Lib Dems will pay a huge price for this in Scotland, and in many parts of England and Wales as well. Already there have been reports of resignations of party activists in protest. The massive opposition to cuts on this scale will, at a certain stage, split the Lib Dems apart – some of them may well end up being absorbed into the Tory party. One Scottish Lib Dem Member of the Scottish Parliament commented: "The truth is we are deeply divided. Some of the Orange Book people are happy to move to the right and they don’t care about the position here".
The widespread fear of a Tory government actually saw an increase in Labour’s vote in Scotland as the mood of ‘lesser evilism’ dominated the election. Labour won more than one million votes, 41 MPs, with 42% of the poll – an increase of over 2.5% compared to 2005. This compared with Labour’s 29% in Britain as a whole, and its 25% share of the poll in England. In 20 seats in Scotland, Labour MPs have a majority of more than 10,000.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) also suffered. It had set a target of winning 20 MPs. In the end, it secured only six, losing Glasgow East to Labour – a seat it had won in a by-election in 2008. The SNP’s 20% of the poll was a small increase of 2% and put the nationalists in second place in percentage terms – ahead of the Lib Dems on 16.5%, although they won eleven seats.
The Westminster cuts coalition has only twelve representatives in Scotland and 33% of the vote. A majority or minority Tory government with only one MP in Scotland would never have been accepted as legitimate in Scotland and would have led to a significant sharpening in national tension.
While David Cameron and Clegg hope that the addition of the eleven Lib Dem MPs will ‘legitimise’ their government in Scotland, in reality, they will not be accepted as being representative. That is especially the case given that the coalition’s representation is overwhelmingly in the rural areas. Large swathes of working-class areas, including the main cities and the central belt of Scotland, can muster only two coalition MPs between them. The anger and opposition to the government will increase dramatically over the next weeks and months as the savage cuts they plan begin to bite.
The coalition has moved quickly to offer an olive branch to the SNP government in the Scottish parliament. Cameron met with SNP leader, Alex Salmond, within a week of becoming prime minister and there is an agreement that Scotland’s share of the £6.2 billion cuts package for 2010-11 will be postponed until 2011-12. A further £180 million of fossil fuel taxes may be transferred to Scotland as well. Parts of the Calman commission report, which proposed increased powers for the Scottish parliament, are likely to be introduced quickly. And further discussions over more substantial fiscal measures, in an attempt to placate the mood in Scotland, are possible over the next few years.
The SNP has grabbed the offer to postpone Scotland’s share of the cuts with both hands. Not least because there is an election for the Scottish parliament in May 2011 which the SNP is hoping to win. The SNP, however, is being increasingly exposed as a government of cuts and has put up no resistance, other than hot air, to the draconian austerity measures that are planned. On the one hand, it has offered a ‘constructive working relationship’ with the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. On the other, it has warned of the impact of the cuts to come. What the SNP has refused to do is prepare any sort of campaign to resist the attacks that have already begun.
In the run-up to the general election, the Tories promised to slash £5 billion (15%) from the Scottish budget over the first three years of any new government. Cuts of that magnitude would decimate the public sector, in particular the jobs and, therefore, the services that are organically connected to them.
In an act of extreme irony, Labour in Scotland is already positioning itself as a ‘clean hands’ alternative to the governments of cuts in London and Edinburgh. Reduced to opposition at Westminster and Holyrood, Labour’s tactics will be to attack the SNP and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition and hope to win the Scottish election next May. At least in words, Labour in Scotland has the luxury of talking more ‘left’ – opposing the parties of cuts – and of being prepared to give tacit support to workers in struggle as well. This is likely to lead to a period where Labour’s support will hold up over the next year in the run-up to the Scottish elections – in the absence of a significant left alternative emerging. This, in turn, can temporarily complicate the situation, especially in the unions, for the necessary steps to break from Labour and for a new working-class party to be built.
Thirteen years of New Labour, anti-working class governments acted as the gatekeeper for the return of a Tory government. After all, it was the New Labour chancellor, Alistair Darling, who promised that, if elected, Labour’s cuts would be "worse than those of Margaret Thatcher". Under the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Labour Party was driven to the right, embracing the free market and neo-liberal capitalism. In its present form, it offers no alternative for workers and trade unionists searching for political representation. The frontrunners for the Labour leadership contest – the Oxbridge-educated Miliband brothers – will continue the Blair/Brown pro-capitalist ideology.
Under the conditions that prevailed in Scotland, with a powerful mood of lesser evilism, votes for the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (STUSC) were modest. The overwhelming mood in working-class areas was to stop the Tories at all costs. This made it difficult to convince people to vote for us, although there was widespread sympathy for our message that we should not have to pay for a crisis we did not create. STUSC stood in ten seats, including four in Glasgow. The campaign spoke to over half-a-million people, warning of what was to come, whoever won the election. The turnouts at the public meetings were good, ranging from 35 to 80. And many new people looking to organise a fight-back can be won to the socialist movement as a result.
Tommy Sheridan, in Glasgow South West, received the highest socialist vote in Scotland and the third-highest for TUSC in Britain, with 931 votes, 3%. Ray Gunnion, of the International Socialists and the Lanarkshire Socialist Alliance, won 609 votes in Motherwell and Wishaw, the second-highest socialist vote. Other members of the International Socialists who stood were Jim McFarlane in Dundee West (357, 1%), Brian Smith in Glasgow South (351, 1%), and Gary Clark in Edinburgh East (274, 0.7%). International Socialists members stood in four of the ten seats that STUSC contested.
The International Socialists believe that these modest votes, and those won by TUSC in England and Wales, are a step forward and should be built on. We support the idea that a TUSC-type of coalition should be continued and used to help prepare a united left and trade union based challenge for the Scottish elections next May. The need for working-class political representation is even more acute today.
Alongside this, however, we need to build a coalition of resistance to the savagery that is being perpetrated by this vicious cuts government. As a first step, the 22 June emergency Tory-Lib Dem budget should be met by trade union and community organised rallies in cities and towns across Scotland in protest against cuts and in defence of jobs and services. Members of the International Socialists in Scotland are helping to initiate these protests in union branches.
A mass demonstration led by the trade unions and involving the communities needs to be organised. It is time that the TUC and the STUC called such a demonstration as part of a united campaign across the public sector. If they are not prepared to do so, those unions that want to organise a fight-back to stop the cuts should name the day for mass demonstrations. Industrial action across the public-sector unions, including preparing a 24-hour general strike, will also be on the agenda at a certain stage.
It is vital that, as part of this campaign, a clear alternative to the logic of the cuts is put forward. Democratic public ownership of the banking system and the rest of the major companies that dominate the economy, taxing the rich and big business, cancelling spending on nuclear weapons, can all form part of a socialist alternative to capitalism and the parties of cuts which defend that system.
The capitalists and their new Tory-Lib Dem government have declared war on working-class people. We need to organise to fight these attacks and lay the basis for a mass workers’ party armed with socialist ideas that will challenge the logic of capitalism that says we should pay the price for their economic crisis.
Socialist Party Scotland to be launched
THE SCOTTISH section of the Committee for a Workers’ International – the International Socialists – is changing its name to Socialist Party Scotland.
The new organisation will be launched at a rally in Glasgow on 10 June. Speaking at the rally will be Joe Higgins, Socialist Party Ireland MEP, and Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary in England and Wales, as well as trade unionists and socialists from Scotland.
We have chosen this new name because we believe that it allows us to have a clearer banner that will help attract new young people and workers to the ranks of the CWI. It also has the distinct advantage of making a direct link with our sister parties in England, Wales and Ireland which are also known as Socialist Party.
We will continue to work to build Solidarity–Scotland’s Socialist Movement, alongside Tommy Sheridan, and help to develop TUSC as a step towards building a new mass workers’ party.