England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Scotland: What kind of party do we need?

Martin McGuigan, Socialist Alternative Scotland

Scotland’s ruling SNP seems caught in a death spiral. As its senior leadership’s alleged corruption is exposed, the party drifts further to the right. Meanwhile, Labour embraces Tory policies, making it abundantly clear that Scottish workers need a new party to represent our interests. The SNP has demonstrated that it is not capable of fulfilling its promise of independence or a progressive, antiausterity alternative. Meanwhile, Labour has proven that simply not being the Tories is also far from sufficient. Scotland needs a new party: a mass left party built on class struggle.

Labour is no alternative

While the SNP flounders, it is vital to remember why it overtook Labour in Scotland in the first place. Formerly a long-time stronghold of Labour support, the neoliberal policies of ‘New Labour’ in Scotland saw the party begin to lose ground to the SNP, which shifted left in its rhetoric and passed limited progressive measures, positioning themselves as an alternative to Labour rule.

Only to add insult to injury – Labour joined the Tories’ “Better Together” campaign during the 2014 independence referendum – standing hand-in-hand with the Westminster government implementing crushing austerity. The 2015 General Election saw an SNP landslide.

The victory of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader offered the opportunity of a break with the Blairite past. But Corbyn’s failure to come out clearly in support of the right to selfdetermination for Scotland meant Labour was not able to significantly reverse its decline.

Today, Starmer’s pro-capitalist leadership blatantly flies in the face of the party’s working-class roots. It is hard to imagine Keir Hardie, a founder of the Labour Party and vehement anti-monarchist, taking kindly to Keir Starmer’s fawning public admiration for the monarchy and his refusal to stand up to Tory austerity.

Under Starmer’s Blairite forerunners, Labour had a record of taking a heavy-handed approach to Scottish dissidence within its ranks, such as its 2004 expulsion of the RMT in its entirety over local Scottish branches affiliating with the Scottish Socialist Party. Such hard-line rejection of trade unions supporting pro-worker candidates demonstrated that, even 20 years ago, Labour was incapable of offering substantive change to the Scottish working class. Labour’s hopeless position is even more visible now under the leadership of Keir Starmer, which paints itself as a continuity of the very same policies that saw Labour’s vote collapse!

The trade union movement – and indeed all workers and youth in Scotland looking to fight back against the Tories and their system – must learn by the examples of the past and act swiftly to establish an alternative party in the vacuum left by the impotent SNP and Labour.

Traditions of struggle

In 1989, Thatcher’s Conservative government attempted to enforce the Poll Tax in Scotland. The revolutionary leadership of Scottish Militant Labour, through demonstrations and physical resistance campaigns, crystallised working class anger and halted the Poll Tax. This spirit of resistance has not disappeared.. The Battle of Turnbull Street outside a Glasgow police station in 1991 during the anti-poll tax movement bore striking resemblance, not only to tactics used by the women of the 1915 Red Clydeside Rent Strikes, but also to the Kenmure Street protests in 2021, when Glaswegians surrounded a Home Office van attempting to deport two Indian migrants.

In all three cases, the outnumbered police had to submit to the demands of the mass of workers overwhelming them. Kenmure Street’s inspiring act of class solidarity was no “one-off,” but showed the will to fight back that a mass workers’ party could consolidate into a coordinated and sustained campaign against racist Tory deportations.

The potential for such a party to challenge Blairite Labour and the other pro-capitalist parties was also shown by the initial growth of the Scottish Socialist Party, built on foundations laid by Scottish Militant Labour (a forerunner organisation of Socialist Alternative). The SSP had five Members of the Scottish Parliament elected in 2003, but its subsequent decline demonstrated the danger of dropping key aspects of a full socialist programme, including a turn toward narrower nationalist politics. This left them unable to distinguish themselves from the ascendant SNP.

Labour’s embrace of neoliberal policies left behind a vacuum which the SNP attempted to fill by realigning itself toward the left. Now it is clearer than ever that the SNP is not only incapable of delivering on independence, but is also incapable of resisting the escalating attacks on trans rights and the conditions of workers in Scotland.

It is high time for a new left pro-indy party of mass struggle in Scotland. Working class people once again find themselves in the crosshairs of the Conservative Westminster government, just as they were during the era of the poll tax, and with Labour nowhere to be found. Meanwhile the SNP, which sold itself on the promise of staving off Tory austerity in Scotland, is collapsing under its own contradictions.

In a new era of crisis and class struggle workers and youth are searching for the ideas, strategy and organisation necessary to fight back. Socialist Alternative calls for the building of a new mass left party, one rooted in workingclass struggle, completely independent from big business and democratically controlled by its membership. Far from a mere electoral outfit, such a force could bring together and organise the struggles of all workers and the oppressed, for an independent, socialist Scotland as part of a free and voluntary democratic socialist federation of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland





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