Issue 208 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 1997 Copyright Socialist Review

Election special: Northern lights shine red

Chris Bambery

A Scotland free of Tory MPs is cause for celebration. But the election results north of the border demonstrate something else.

Since Labour's defeat in April 1992 there has been a drive towards nationalism: less importantly in terms of growth of support for the Scottish National Party, more importantly in terms of an acceptance of a nationalist agenda by much of the Scottish left and the trade union movement. Many socialists now accept the need for alliances on an all Scottish level which would have to come through a Scottish parliament.

Underlying this has been a pessimism about the prospects for the left and a belief that England would never vote the Tories out. Beneath that lies the collapse of the dominant ideas of the Scottish labour movement in the postwar years the ideas of the Communist Party. The disintegration of the USSR and then of the party itself fuelled the notion that the working class had been fatally weakened.

The Scottish TUC in particular has repeatedly championed the need to build alliances across party and class lines on an explicitly nationalist basis. Similarly, much of the left has moved towards such alliances.

Today this common sense has received a jolt. Across urban Scotland there was a swing to Labour, not as dramatic as south of the border but it was starting from a higher point. The SNP did well but they were contained to their areas of traditional support in the more rural areas. Neither now nor at its previous high point, in 1974, has the SNP broken into Labour's heartlands.

In Scotland there exists the same mood for change, the same jubilation at the humiliation of the Tories, as in England and Wales. Glasgow and Dundee stand with Basildon and Northampton.

Socialists argue for a Scottish parliament. No socialist can stand for the defence of the United Kingdom. To do that would be to line up with the discredited Tories. But a parliament will not bring real change. Any Scottish parliament granted by Blair will lack serious power. Even the SNP only promise independence within the European Union. Scotland would have to compete for investment as a low wage economy and Scottish bosses would attack welfare spending, pensions and jobs in line with their European rivals.

Socialists have to argue against nationalist solutions and for the possibility of common struggle. That is no pipe dream as the strikes and protests across Europe show.


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