England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Scotland: Labour set for historic gains as SNP collapses

By Socialist Alternative members in Scotland

The 4 July General Election looks set to end the Scottish National Party’s decade-long domination of the nation’s politics. In 2015 the SNP won 56 of 59 Westminster seats and has been the largest party by a mile in UK and Scottish elections, and on almost all Scottish local authorities ever since. The latest YouGov poll suggests Labour will take 34 seats out of 57, to the SNP’s 17. This does not, however, represent renewed confidence in Labour on the part of Scottish workers so much as a complete collapse in the authority of the SNP (whose membership is now barely half its 2018 peak of 125,000).

The resignation, since the beginning of 2023, of two SNP First Ministers, the arrest of one (Nicola Sturgeon) alongside subsequent charges against Sturgeon’s husband (and SNP CEO) Peter Murrell for embezzling party funds all played their part in this collapse. But fundamentally it reflects the inability of the SNP’s pro-capitalist leadership to deliver solutions to the poverty, austerity cuts, and national and social oppression the profit system imposes on Scotland.

Sturgeon’s determination, inherited by her successors Humza Yousaf and John Swinney, to accept rules imposed by British capitalism and its state has left former SNP voters defenceless in the face of a cost of living crisis, cuts from SNP led councils and blocks on even the most modest Holyrood legislation, on issues ranging from trans rights and environmental protection, to the basic democratic right to have a referendum on independence, from Westminster Tory ministers and the courts.

SNP’s betrayal on trans rights

Instead of linking up with the spontaneous rebellion against Tory ministers’ suppression of the 2022 Gender Recognition Reform Act (GRR) the SNP made a vain appeal to the courts. Now, when Sunak proposes to remove Holyood’s right to legislate on trans rights and redefine gender as biological sex in the equalities legislation, Swinney makes equally hollow appeals to the constitutional ‘principles’ of devolution, rather than mobilising the massive power of the thousands who demonstrated to defend trans rights and the hundreds of thousands of Scottish workers who have marched for independence over recent years.

Examining Swinney’s actions, rather than words, we find that he is actually attacking, not defending, trans rights. The decision of NHS Scotland to ‘pause’ the prescription of puberty blockers in the wake of the Cass report, which Swinney has described as “substantial” and “evidence-based” and to be “taken… extremely seriously”, represented a betrayal of trans people in Scotland, who protested against the decision, alongside health workers and others, in Glasgow’s St Georges’s Square within hours of the report’s publication. Swinney has capitulated to the reactionary agenda of the Tory press backed up by prominent Scottish transphobes including J K Rowling and his own Deputy, Kate Forbes.

Scottish Labour

However Starmer’s Labour Party and his Scottish ‘office manager’ millionaire Anas Sarwar do not represent a real alternative to SNP betrayals and cuts for Scottish workers. Sarwar and Scottish Labour have attempted to distance themselves in recent months from the Westminster leadership on a handful of issues such as abolishing the benefit cap and a Gaza ceasefire. But they fully back Strarmer’s and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ commitment to defending capitalism and operating within Tory spending limits for the lifetime of the next parliament. This is a recipe for disaster for Scottish workers facing some of the highest poverty levels in the UK

Nor has Sarwar raised a squeak against Reeve’s slashing of Labour’s commitment to spend £28 billion on a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ for energy transition by 80%. As well as intensifying the existential threat to the environment, this is a slap in the face for 95,000 Scottish workers producing a third of UK energy and for 31% of Scottish households living in fuel poverty.

Most crucially, Starmer and Sarwar trenchantly oppose allowing Scotland a new referendum on independence (‘Indyref2’). Starmer insists that the Union with Britain is a “voluntary organisation”, and that Scotland is not “stuck” in the United Kingdom – yet refuses to allow us the basic right to a democratic vote on the question!

Labour’s ‘surge’ in the polls represents two processes in Scottish society. On one hand, a collapse of confidence in the SNP to defend living standards, public services and social, national, and democratic rights. On the other hand a layer of workers and youth are prepared to ‘lend’ their votes to Starmer and Sarwar in order to get rid of the hated Tory Westminster government. That this is done without any illusions in Labour is revealed by a recent poll showing that while Sunak has a -38% approval rating, Starmer barely nudges into the positive zone on +3%, compared to Sarwar’s -3% and Swinney’s -7%.

Prepare for new struggles!

A Starmer government will not offer any relief for Scottish workers from poverty-ridden Tory Britain. Indeed, as the British and world capitalist crisis deepens, Labour can only offer us an intensification of national oppression, misogyny, transphobia, racism and exploitation. The only road out will be through our own struggles.

Glimpses of what we can achieve and the power that we have to change society have been shown in the hundreds of thousands that have marched in the ‘All Under One Banner’ demonstrations for independence held in almost every Scottish city over the recent years; in the strikes to defend wages in the face of the cost of living crisis (which successfully overcame stringent public sector wage limits drawn up by Swinney and Forbes); and in multiple demonstrations by queer and other youth and women to defend the GRR, oppose the Cass Report and expose the reactionary agenda of Rowling, Posie Parker and other transphobes.

These movements need to be drawn together to build a working-class party of mass struggle. Not just an electoral organisation, this can only be built from workplace, community and social struggles as people unite to resist capitalist oppression and exploitation. We need to start now to build the organs of resistance such as community conferences against cuts and joint shop stewards committees accountable to the rank and file.

Only by democratically organised struggle from below can we forge a party capable of resisting capitalist misery and winning an independent, socialist Scotland as an important step on the way to a voluntary democratic socialist federation of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. 

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