This issue of The Citizen celebrates 20 years of the Campaign for Socialism. It is a reason to celebrate, but also to remember what brought the Campaign into existence. It is 20 years since the sad death of John Smith which resulted in the election of Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party. For those paying attention to his campaign it was obvious that his intentions were to change the nature of the Labour Party in what he thought would be a once and forever break with any claim to be a socialist party.
The judgement about whether he has succeeded or not lies in the future, but the continuation of his approach that produced the Collins Review is yet another nail in the coffin of a Party for and of the working class. The pressure group Progress and its supporters in Falkirk CLP could not have guessed that their manufactured outrage at trade unions recruiting members to the Labour Party would have such far reaching consequences. They got what they hoped to achieve not by their own tactics, but because Ed Miliband was running scared of the press.
Martyn Cook writes that the fundamental link between the Party and the affiliated trade unions remains intact because of the retention of the 50% of Conference votes at 12 seats on the NEC. Although what benefit there is in these NEC members remains a mystery. They rarely support the left.
Another significant anniversary that still has consequences for today is the 30 years since the 1984 Miners’ Strike. The lasting impact both on UK industry, employment, energy and policing come back to haunt us on an almost daily basis. David Hamilton MP, who as a striking miner, was kept in prison for two months before being acquitted, has long campaigned for an enquiry into the way the police force and security services were mobilised against the legitimate activities of striking miners. It is a stain on the 13 years of Labour Government that it never instigated an investigation. Mike Cowley reviews Seumas Milne’s book ‘The Enemy Within’ which has been updated for reissue on this anniversary.
Sadly 2014 will now be remembered for the sad and early death of Bob Crow whose impact on the RMT and the wider trade union and Labour Movement was huge. He was not someone the movement could afford to lose.
In future years 2014 will be recalled as the year of the Referendum, but will it be celebrated in an Independent Scotland? Or will it be remembered as a moment when the whole constitutional structure of the UK was called into question? Perhaps leading to changes in every part of the UK, where both nations and regions gain devolved powers to represent the views and needs of the people who live there. Will it be a chance to challenge the dominance of the City of London? We will look back and judge in 10, 20, 30 years time.
We have four articles covering the referendum in this issue. In the run up to the Scottish Labour Party Conference and the STUC Congress we give space to Ewan Gibbs putting the case for voting NO. Dave Watson of the Red Paper Collective putting the case for radical federalism and Cailean Gallagher putting the case for YES. Lynn Henderson of PCS explains why that union took the decision not to support either the YES or NO campaigns, but to continue to press both sides on how trade union rights will be advanced.
We must hope that the Scottish Labour Party recognises that it could win the referendum and still allow the SNP to steal the mantle of the people’s party in Scotland. We need to hear more than a list of powers from the Labour Party, we need to know what they intend doing with those power.
Mick Brooks spoke at the AGM of the Campaign for Socialism.
He continues here giving a Marxist analysis of the causes and consequences of the crisis and making the case for an alternative.
He questions whether Labour is able to offer an alternative.
This year may have lasting consequences for the Labour Party, not least in Scotland. This may be a momentous year for its future.
We are living through the most serious economic crisis that any of us have ever experienced. What are the reasons for the crisis? What policies are needed to defend and improve working class living standards?
The economic catastrophe is conventionally presented as a banking crisis, and this is not wrong. In the years before disaster struck the banks went on an orgy of lending. This crazy over-borrowing did not find its way into investment. The vast bulk of the money went to speculation, whether in house prices or in exotic pieces of paper coming in an alphabet soup of acronyms such as CDOs and SIVs. If you don’t know what they are and what they do, don’t worry: neither did the people who were trading in them! There is no doubt that when the house of cards came crashing down it made the recession much deeper and longer than it would otherwise have been.
But capitalism has always gone through cycles of boom and slump. That is in its very nature. It is an unplanned system where production is for profit. In any economic system we’re all interdependent, all part of a grand division of labour. But under capitalism nobody knows how many loaves of bread or pairs of socks we need. The bosses just get us to churn them out and hope they can make money. And if they can’t make money, they stop producing and some of us are out of a job.
That’s what happened. In the third quarter of 2006 profits peaked in the USA at $1,865bn, according to official figures. By the fourth quarter of 2008 they had dived to just $861bn. With or without all the financial jiggery pokery, that would have caused a crisis.
What happened next is that government receipts bombed while spending soared. This was for two reasons. First governments felt the need to bail out the banks at enormous expense – our expense. Secondly people lost their jobs on account of the recession. Instead of paying tax into the pot, they were claiming benefits.
So the crisis of government finance wasn’t because too many politicians had been spendthrift, wasting money on schools and hospitals. That is a black Tory lie. Gordon Brown didn’t cause the US housing bubble to burst. He didn’t cause the Irish crisis or the mess in Greece and Iceland. The fiscal crisis of the state was a consequence of the global crisis of capitalism. The crisis started in the private sector and then spread to government finances.
Osborne says the country’s number one priority is dealing with the government deficit and debt. Austerity is the order of the day. Actually he’s got it all the wrong way round. The deficit is the consequence of the crisis, not the cause.
It’s true he could present the deficit as a daunting problem. The deficit is the difference between what the government is spending and what it is getting in as tax. In 2010 it was running at more than 10% of National Income. We as a nation were in effect spending £110 for every £100 we were earning. It was easy for the Coalition to argue that ‘this can’t go on’ and that ‘we are living beyond our means’.
We have been here before. The emphasis on balancing the budget in the 1930s was called the ‘Treasury view’. The experts from the Treasury lectured Ramsay MacDonald in 1931 that the only way to deal with the crisis was to cut teachers’ and public sector pay, cut service pay and cut unemployment benefit in order to sort out government finances. Then the economy would recover of its own accord. To do this MacDonald had to split from the Labour party and join with the Tories.
Don’t the 1931 austerity policies sound familiar? It didn’t work to restore full employment in 1931 and it isn’t working now.
The extreme example of failed austerity policies is Greece. The country is effectively run by the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank). Greek National Income has collapsed by 25% since 2009, as big a fall as the USA or Germany experienced in the Great Depression of 1929-33. Wave after wave of cuts in public services and wages has impoverished the Greek people and driven the country towards third world standards. For instance hospitals have no medicines!
This is barbarism. The Troika’s solution to barbarism is more and deeper barbarism. Greek labour costs have fallen by 30% since 2010, but the deficit and the government debt keep spiralling way out of control. The Great Depression brought Germany the triumph of Hitlerism and the present recession has given Greece the rise of Golden Dawn, street fighting fascist thugs.
Back in Britain some austerity policies come across as plain bonkers. The government is cutting investment in our infrastructure, permanently damaging our productive potential. This is penny-wise, pound-foolish economics. They keep cutting, but the deficit is still there and the national debt is still growing.
So austerity hasn’t worked and isn’t working. By that we mean that austerity is not the way to restore full employment and steadily rising living standards. But that is not what austerity is really intended to do.
Remember that capitalism is a system of production for profit. A crisis is a period when profits are down and the bosses are desperate to restore them by hook or crook. Since profits are the unpaid labour of the working class, the task of the capitalists is therefore to cut wages and the social wage in order to restore the rate of profit. That is what the rhetoric of austerity is really about. ‘Never let a crisis go to waste’ is Osborne’s motto. The Tories have long wanted to lay the welfare state to waste and now, they calculate, is their opportunity.
To defend their austerity policies the ConDems resorts to the cheap trick of comparing the national economy to a household budget. That is how they are able to argue that ‘we are living beyond our means’. So they squeeze and squeeze. They have imprisoned us in a fiscal iron maiden for now and for years to come.
But that’s not the whole story. In fact governments can and do print money to get themselves out of a pickle, a solution not available to most households. The Bank of England has been printing money like it’s going out of fashion. It’s called quantitative easing. Since 2009 the Bank has pumped £375bn into the economy. Where did it go? What happened to it?
It hasn’t stimulated a major recovery, that’s for sure. The government has been giving what is in effect free money to the banks. But, because the rate of profit in the UK is still below its level in 2008, firms are not snapping up the funds to invest. Some firms are using the money to speculate rather than invest.
‘You can take a horse to water, but you can’t necessarily make it drink.’ The banks are out of control. RBS, now more than 80% state-owned, sees its way to profit by milking its customers (or ‘suckers’ as the Bank probably calls them) through all sorts of fiddles. Most recently RBS has been caught driving small firms into bankruptcy rather than helping them back on their feet after the recession. It’s more profitable that way.
What we need is a publicly owned banking sector administered as a planned public service, not run by a bunch of cowboys crazy to go to the races and bet with other people’s money.
That is a long way from the policies advocated by the Labour leaders. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have fallen hook, line and sinker for the austerity advocated by the Coalition. They pledge, once elected, to stay within government spending limits. But the National Health Service is struggling. Education has taken a hit. Local government services are bleeding to death.
Why should people vote Labour if no real alternative is on offer? If enough people do vote Labour, out of disgust with the ConDems, what is Labour going to do to make a difference to their lives? If Labour is ineffective in office, it will soon be out on its ear.
If Labour is to hold on to its support and make workers’ lives better, its leaders need to campaign for a credible alternative to austerity.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
There’s a reason that the closing lines of T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men are so widely quoted. It captures that disappointingly common experience of something profound or important being lost – not in blaze of glory, but in pathetic acquiescence.
There was a notable lack of protest in the vote at Special Conference over the Collins Review changes, with 86.29% voting in favour and only 13.71% opposing the reforms. So, for socialists within the Labour party, what does this mean? Is this the way the Labour-trade union link is broken? Is this the way our world has been brought to an end?
Thankfully, the fundamental link between the affiliated trade unions and the Labour Party remains intact. The unions have retained their 50% vote at Conference, and 12 NEC seats. This means there is still a route for the organised trade unions movement to raise its voice and shape policy within the party. We are all aware of the limitations that are present – the leadership can simply ignore motions from Conference, for instance – but on this front, while there was no advance, there has at least not been an immediate step backwards. For the time being, at least.
Many of actual changes seem little more than fairly calculated tinkering. Firstly, there was a shift in the leadership selection process from a three-way electoral college (which previously consisted of the PLP of MPs, the trade unions, and CLPs) to One Member One Vote. This slight shift may have been a victory of sorts, but as the PLP have the right to select the shortlist of candidates, and as the percentage required for a candidate to be nominated has increased – from 12.5% to 15% – it certainly won’t make it any easier for left-wingers to get on the ballot.
Secondly, there is a new category of member, the Registered Supporter, who will receive limited voting rights for a reduced rate of membership fee. This is being floated as a way of getting wavering or hesitant potential members in to the party. While any attempt to increase numbers should be welcomed, the fact that we’ve already tried a half-way house recruitment category in the form of Affiliated Supporter (which failed spectacularly to increase numbers) seems not to have been noted.
Thirdly, there is the introduction of primaries in to the London mayoral elections. Clearly, this opens up the potential for outside influence and money to become involved in Labour party elections – something to be wholly opposed. Mercifully, it has been limited to this one election for the time being. Like all the changes, this test primary was passed through the vote as
part of the Collins “package” rather than individual amendments, and as the London Regional Party is opposed to it and the party at large seems, at best, ambivalent, there are some grounds for hoping that this will go no further.
Perhaps the biggest, and I believe most risky change, comes in the move towards opting-in. This involves trade union members now having to actively indicate their support on various forms which states that that they are happy for part of their subscription money to be paid to the Labour Party. This apparently is more democratic and will encourage more active participation within the party.
Of course, this ignores the fact that trade unionist had already opted-in by joining an affiliated union. God knows there are enough non-affiliated unions who, unfortunately, will take nothing to do with the Labour Party, which provide non-Labour party alternatives to join instead. It also ignores the fact that the affiliated unions have to hold rigorous periodic ballots regarding the use of their political funds – which routinely return high support for their current political strategies. Or that the formal links with the Labour party have been democratically agreed and endorsed at numerous conferences over the decades.
Never mind that all that though, because over the next five years there will now be a transition towards opting-in for all members. Since then we’ve seen Unite half its funding, following on from the GMB, which reduced its funding by 90% before the Conference had even taken place.
If he who pays the piper calls the tune, then apparently One Nation Labour is less likely to take requests from millions of ordinary working people speaking with a collective voice, and instead is more open to suggestions from individuals such as Tony Blair and Lord Owen, who have pledged large donations to plug to gaps in the run up to the general election. Great!
But it’s not just a crude point about funding. The logical conclusion in this process is towards the links that the trade unions have retained (the 50% Conference vote and 12 NEC seats) being further eroded. It will be much harder to justify, or so the argument will inevitably go, that the trade unions should keep this level of influence when they are contributing less supporters and money to the party than before. This will only increase the pressure on the link to be broken by those on the right of the party (and the Tory party and anti-Labour press outside it) who want to see it gone.
However, it doesn’t need to go this way. In any socialist organisation collective funding given in good faith should be the preference, but it’s clear that if one side is taking advantage of the situation, then things do need to change. The affiliated unions have been ignored for too long. The current changes would allow the trade unions to be more selective in which Labour MPs and candidates they provide funding to, rather than it being at the discretion of the Party. Of course, there are the likes of Lord Sainsbury and the Progress faction who would seek to fund and promote their own candidates, but as they are doing this already, and the unions have already been treated abysmally since the Falkirk debacle, there is very little left to lose.
Similarly, there is also scope for CLPs to shift to the left. The Collins review openly admitted the need for increasing numbers as there has been a rapid decline since the New Labour project was started. While numbers have dropped and local CLPs have often been hollowed out, this paradoxically presents an opportunity for a renewed left. The reality of the situation is that where half a dozen trade unionists or left wing activists join a CLP they would likely have a substantial impact on the local party’s perspective and policy.
It is only through this grassroots level of organising that we will see a Labour party that reflects the needs of society – one which provides socialist alternatives to the current crisis of capital. The Collins review was a mess, generated from a fabricated scandal designed to marginalise the influence of trade unionists, and the changes it has finally ushered in pleases no one. The review process will continue on, and it is still not clear which direction the party will take over the next 5 years. But if we wish to prevent the end of our party as we know it – a century’s worth of working class and trade union organisation – we need to re-build a fighting movement that refuses to submit with a mere whimper. Now more than ever we need to make as much noise as possible.
Arguing for a ‘no’ vote in the independence-referendum from a socialist point of view is far from an easy sell, largely because of the political company that at a superficial level we share in the ‘no’ camp. This is reinforced by the Labour Party’s fronting of ‘Better Together’ in cahoots with the Tories and Liberals.
The Union Flags, defence of nuclear weapons on the Clyde, Queen and country and a more general conspicuous aloofness which seems to combine ineptitude with callousness is summed up by the campaign’s slogan, “UK OK”. At a time when the Scottish Parliament is all that stands between us and the Tory ‘reforms’ the UK can only be viewed as NOT OK. This is particularly true for the poor, the youth and the disabled. Unsurprisingly the polls show that the younger and poorer are most likely to vote ‘yes’. Amid the triumphalism over an economic recovery based on rising house prices that guarantee large numbers of people will never leave extortionate privately rented accommodation, the only employment which seems to be growing for the most qualified generation in history is both casual and precarious and often on loathed ‘zero hour’ contracts.
To this list we could add the ten thousand plus people who have died under the brutal ATOS system of welfare assessment, or the bedroom tax which has only been averted through devolutionary powers. Support for independence is furthered by Labour singularly failing to articulate a coherent alternative to the Tories. In fact for most of us party members it is increasingly difficult to point to significant differences. What advances there have been are, as John McDonnell pointed out at the CfS AGM, the product of a safe pathway created by the left, for example, opposition to the bombing of Syria or the bedroom tax and capping energy prices. However any leftward momentum has been undermined by the continual unwillingness to support striking public sector workers and Ed Balls’ announcement that a Labour government would stick to Tory spending plans and commit to a balanced budget by 2020.
“The Westminster parties are all the same” combines with the thought that “it couldn’t be any worse than it is now” in the minds of many young people and traditional Labour voters, inclining them towards a yes vote. In these circumstances the referendum appears to offer something different, a once in a lifetime opportunity for a radical constitutional change with the potential to be rid of the Tories forever. This would then supposedly allow Scotland to build on a social democratic if not socialist consensus body-politic. Better Together is a political disaster for Labour in this respect. It confirms all these suspicions and offers absolutely no alternative to the status quo. It is no wonder that it has received an at best lukewarm response from Labour and trade union activists who certainly didn’t get involved in politics to line up with the political representatives of the bosses.
Better Together is based on the politics of the ‘national interest’ which disqualifies any notion of class struggle or wealth redistribution. Instead big business and Labour are placed on the same side fighting together for a constitutional setup in Scottish politics which only seems to favour the former at the expense of the rest of us.
Given the lack of an alternative, voting ‘no’ is being presented by some left independence supporters as sticking with the Tories and neo-liberalism. However, it is my contention that this reasoning, no matter how understandable, is misplaced. We have to deal with the concrete circumstances that are in front of us. This must include analysing the political forces who are leading the ‘yes’ campaign, and would play a formative role in constructing an independent Scottish state.
Appeals based on the implicit idea that nations must use their right to ‘self-determination’ do not have a basis in the current situation. It goes without saying that Scotland is a nation with a historically evolved national consciousness and is in that sense distinct from say the North of England which has also suffered from a form of “democratic deficit” in receiving governments and policies that it didn’t vote for. However, this does not provide an argument for independence. It is clear that although the labour movement in Scotland has always exercised autonomy and has traditions of its own it also evolved in tandem with and through joint struggles that united the British working class.
In Scotland the emergence of nationalism wasn’t the result of direct political oppression but of the increasing marginalisation of Scottish control over economic decision making and resources within Scotland during the late twentieth century. The decline of the Scottish Tories coincided with the erosion of Scottish capital as a significant independent force which contributed towards a national as well as class political discontent. This took a strong hold from the late 1960s. (For more on this read Jim Phillips, The Industrial Politics of Devolution or John Foster’s chapters in The New Penguin History of Scotland and Class, Nation and Socialism: The Red Paper on Scotland 2014). At times such as the UCS Work-In of the early 1970s or in opposition to the poll tax during the late 1980s and early 1990s this consciousness contributed to Scottish socialists providing a lead for movements which resisted and eventually overturned Tory policies across Britain.
Devolution was eventually secured during late 1990s, in the aftermath of the labour movement defeats of the 1980s both in Britain and internationally which contributed to the moribund state of social democracy that is still evident today. Although devolution has undoubtedly provided important material gains including free higher education, free personal care for the elderly, the end of prescription charges etc the Scottish Parliament has not been the vehicle for asserting democratic control over the economy through implementing socialist policies that was argued for within the labour movement in the early 1970s. This is about more than the limitations on its statutory powers. Under both the Liberal-Labour coalition and now the SNP there has been a broad contentment to work within a neo-liberal political economy. This has included not using the full extent of powers currently available, for instance no Scottish Government has used its tax raising powers or reformed Council Tax.
There is absolutely no indication this would change with a ‘yes’ vote, if anything there are signs things would slide towards entrenching the interests of capital. The SNP’s White Paper includes a commitment to competing with the rest of the UK for foreign investment by cutting corporation tax and having a more ‘business friendly’ Scottish economy, added to the private and largely external control of our resources. There are no commitments to improving workers’ rights or abolishing the severe limitations put on trade unions by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. Therefore there are no reasons to believe the SNP would be prepared to challenge the likes of Jim Ratcliffe or that the actions at INEOS in Grangemouth wouldn’t be repeated in an independent Scotland.
Historically, state-building parties have carried a lot of weight in newly independent nations or ones that have undergone dramatic constitutional change; be that Fianna Fáil in Ireland, the Congress party in India or the ANC in South Africa. Given this it is both dangerous and naive to view the SNP as merely a vehicle which will deliver independence and then make way for a struggle for socialism.
The reality is that things are not going to get better by a constitutional change that doesn’t involve a rebalancing of class forces. Putting our hope in the SNP to deliver this is a blind alley. The independence vote isn’t happening in the abstract, the SNP are leading the ‘yes’ campaign and have made a pro-big business case in the White Paper. At a time of ongoing uncertainty for the future of the trade union link in particular, voting to divide our historically linked movement is a huge risk to the future of working class political representation. It may not be as immediately attractive as a knee-jerk ‘yes’ position but we can only expect to see any change by remaining principled and fighting from a clear socialist position. This necessarily involves engagement with and struggles in communities, universities and workplaces as well as the trade unions and the Labour Party and putting forward a program which links these questions to national consciousness in Scotland. There is in this respect a clear case for the transfer of further powers to the Scottish Parliament which can be used to implement progressive or even socialist policies within a federal Britain. However, such gains would only be remotely meaningful as the product of a much broader political shift which independence is more likely to hinder than help.
The implications of the Independence Referendum go well beyond the future constitutional framework of Scotland, whichever way the vote goes, and should involve a wider debate on the constitutional future of the UK as a whole.
If Scotland votes Yes in September, Scotland separating from the UK will have some obvious, and some less obvious, implications for the rest of the UK (rUK). The obvious one is that the UK institutions will have to adapt to Scotland’s absence – from the union flag to the number of seats in the UK parliament, Commons and Lords. UK civil service outposts in Scotland, administering services like army payroll, overseas development and criminal injuries compensation will have to decamp down south. Slightly less disruptively, services based in England will lose around 9% of their work with a similar impact. The one ‘service’ most of us will be glad to see go are Trident nuclear missiles, assuming that actually happens.
The rUK may also want to take the opportunity to review the constitution. There are already calls within the UK to revisit the constitutional arrangements under the current uncodified constitution. For example, the LSE Institute of Public Affairs is promoting a project to crowdsource a new written constitution for the United Kingdom that truly represents the values of citizens. We should of course remember that the words written in a constitution do not guarantee rights in practice. Article 64 of the constitution of The People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) says, “The State shall effectively guarantee genuine democratic rights and liberties as well as the material and cultural well-being of its citizens”. Obviously, this is not an accurate reflection of life in contemporary North Korea!
The Tories are also challenging the future status of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the future of the UK as a Member State of the Council of Europe and European Union. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons has also questioned whether it is time for a UK constitutional convention. They addressed what they called ‘The elephant in the room – England’ and said:
“We recommend that the “English Question” be addressed without delay. Of all the tectonic plates within the Union, it is England which most needs to be lubricated and adjusted to the new reality of an effective Union, within a key framework of national competences. The Government should now, with all urgency, create a forum, or pre-convention, for the people of England to discuss if, and how, they wish to follow in the footsteps of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and access substantial devolved powers, clearly defined in statute, for their local communities.”
Even one of the strongest opponents of independence, Gordon Brown, has recently suggested the codification of a written constitution for the United Kingdom in which the status of the Scottish Parliament ought to be, “permanent, irreversible and indissolvable”.
Until the recent UK wide media attention on the currency union issue, I suspect most people in the UK assumed independence meant what it says on the tin. They probably didn’t grasp the ‘Indy Lite’ approach in the Scottish Government’s White Paper. Putting to one side if the currency, energy, university research, monarchy et al plans for a continuing union are good for either Scotland or the rUK, let alone deliverable – independence may not mean real separation.
If Scotland votes No in September, one positive outcome should be more devolution, not only for Scotland but for the other nations and regions of the UK. The constitutional debate has focused attention on our economy and our politics that have become too London-centric. Comrades in the north-west, north-east and south-west of England also recognise this concern and therefore this could be a pivotal moment for the UK as a whole.
Unsurprisingly, this debate is most advanced in Wales. The Welsh Labour Leader, Carwyn Jones has led the way in calling for a UK Constitutional Convention. He went even further in an interview with The Independent:
“Whatever happens after the referendum in Scotland there will need to be change because the UK’s constitution has come to the end of its ability to deal with devolution, to embed devolution and clarify what each level of Government does … I think it’s simply a question of putting in place a constitution where it is understood what the different levels of government do. Does that mean the end of Parliamentary sovereignty? Well I’m afraid it does.”
In taking this line, Carwyn Jones is reflecting growing support in Wales for greater devolution. From a slow start, polling shows that voters in Wales support devolution in very similar numbers to those in Scotland.
English regional devolution was very badly handled at the last time of trying and it must of course be for those living in England to decide. However, as Pauline Bryan put it in the recent Red Paper on Scotland, “I suspect the dominance of London would be felt even more keenly as more powers are exercised in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh”. That should lead to a growing expectation of representation on a regional basis.
The IPPR ‘Future of England’ survey reflects pressure to redraw relationships within the UK in ways that grant the various national units more autonomy, not only from Scotland and Wales, but increasingly from England too. These English sentiments could provide an even more profound challenge to the UK. If the current fusion of UK and English functions in UK-level institutions is brought to an end, then institutionally speaking, everything would change.
I am writing this before the publication of the Scottish Labour Devolution Commission report that I hope will recommend a radical shift of powers as argued in the Red Paper Collective submission. However, our newspapers are full of MPs arguing that more devolution will lead to independence, the loss of the Barnett formula and a cut in Scottish MPs at Westminster. I addressed these points in a Sunday Times column (23 Feb). Fiscal devolution is important not just for income redistribution because that will probably be limited. The real problem is that Scotland is suffering from the financial consequences of English public service reform as the Tories shrink the state. Having the power to develop our own public service model is weakened if the financial rug is pulled from under it.
All the polls make it clear that the majority of Scots want to see greater devolution short of outright independence. It is increasingly clear that voters in the rest of the UK are moving in the same direction. Labour should go with that majority by supporting an ever looser, more federal union. However, we should always remember that it has to be powers for a purpose – delivering a fairer and more equal society.
Pessimists in Labour say that after a Yes vote on the 18th September the SNP would consolidate their dominance of Scottish politics and govern for the long term. Alex Salmond’s administration would commit to making significant social investments in ‘universal services’ that pleased everyone, and would protect current mortgage-rates, pensions and public sector wages. Tackling poverty, homelessness and youth unemployment would remain priorities, but any scope for quick solutions would certainly be limited by the tight fiscal and monetary conditions of any new European state.
Projects like Common Weal would continue to insist, as they do today, that a brighter social state can put ‘all of us first’ in a civil partnership of business, unions, politics and the burgeoning third sector, united as a people to defend Scotland from the forces of ‘profit’ that are conspiring against us. But while the SNP would carry Common Weal’s radical maps and plans into government under its left oxter, the new business elite would be holding its right arm. From the outset of an independent Scotland, the SNP government and its partners would insist they were doing their best in the name of the social democratic consensus.
For millions of ordinary working Scots nothing much would change for the better. Trade unions that were not appeased by mutual agreements, along with small leftist sects, would work to give people some power in the economic struggle that would happen behind the scenes of partnership. Yet any strategy of conflict would find a harsh response under a government that made the stability and growth of the nation its main priority. So, gradually at first, Gordon Brown’s omens would start to come true: there would be a slow but definite move to reduce corporation tax, financial regulations, and wage thresholds, and corporate hawks would start swooping down on the open economy and its precarious labour force.
This is part of the pessimistic account given by some who doubt the radical prospects of a Yes vote in September. Their story is largely dependent on the political landscape remaining unchanged, with a ruling SNP that faces no forceful opposition, and a weak Labour party. This scenario seems unlikely, as what follows a ‘yes’ vote won’t depend on the SNP, will depend on the social and economic struggle of the organised many against the powerful few, and the political struggle between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Labour Party.
Some members assume Scottish Labour would show little interest and even less ability in shaping an independent Scotland, and would continue to be pessimistic, dragging the struggles of people’s everyday lives around like a hearse but never believing ‘the real world’ could be invigorated and renewed. But once the national problem is solved, once Scotland’s politics is no longer on pause but begins a new phase as an independent country, then Scottish Labour could bring to life the realism which Johann Lamont has put at the heart of the party’s politics, and state its intention to use powers the SNP will never wield – powers over workplace regulation, work-contract security, fair taxation, public ownership, housing development, education and social investment.
This could become the strategy of Scottish Labour after the referendum, because the party’s main priority would be to defeat the SNP in the 2016 elections. Some strategists would seek to entice the people with a range of social policies, but the realistic ones will know that Scottish Labour cannot outsell the experts of retail politics, and should not enter any bidding war for votes. The better strategy would be to come into direct conflict with the SNP’s decade-old ‘government-by-consensus’, with a plan to create work for the many thousands of people who are underemployed or unemployed, a working wage that gives each family the security of a decent standard of living, and a welfare system that removes the fear of worklessness, sickness, or any other circumstances that impede social and economic participation. The SNP has shallow aspirations and will only offer ‘wee things’. Scottish Labour must probe deeper, and aspire to bigger things, to win back the support of working class people.
Before presenting its programme, Scottish Labour would need to criticise national politics, exposing the limits of nationalist consensus and utopian dupes. It would reveal the SNP’s plans as extensive but toothless, a transitional programme to sovereignty that does nothing to alter the basic conditions for the masses. After a yes vote the SNP will be shorn of their main policy, and the whole woolly appearance, the stuff of the White Paper, will fall to the ground. Labour will be able to pick it apart, showing why the national project offers nothing to reduce inequality, but simply conceals the basic divisions in society under the gluey wash of socially cohesive solutions. Scottish Labour would condemn the SNP’s weak offers to increase the minimum wage by no more than the rate of inflation, and expose the failures of their employability plans in a labour market which discriminates and exploits the most vulnerable groups. It would point out the business focus in the SNP’s current economic priorities, and do just what United with Labour is doing today: ask working people, quite simply, whether the SNP’s plans for the national interests are in the interests of them or their families.
Alongside criticism, Scottish Labour could develop a politics based on conflicts and struggles that working people face. A Scottish Labour party used to acting within the limits of devolution would quickly need to draw up extensive plans to create and invest in work. Detached from a British party committed to austerity, it would need to rearticulate its aspiration for a society that provides care and support to each according to their need. Rather than citing ‘real life’ experience to call for certain policy or spending shifts within institutions like schools and hospitals, Scottish Labour could turn personal suffering into collective anger against those who live off the work of others and leave them to languish when they are in need: it could fuel the demand for higher taxes in order that public services are funded back to proper health.
The party’s links with trade unions, which lately have been damaged and torn, could be retained and strengthened so that Scottish Labour had a direct link to people’s working experience. The labour movement could politicise the kinds of struggle people face at work and in the labour market, and link these with the economic prospects that influence the political decisions of the public. If foreign capital and City corporations try to dictate workers’ terms, just as they do already across Britain, the powers of this new small state could be used to safeguard workers’ independence and to enforce a higher standard of labour contract not just in Scotland but wherever our small nation state can exert influence across the world. And if the companies refuse to cooperate with the workers, production can be organised at home. Aspiring for an economy that works in people’s interests is good electoral politics.
Scottish Labour has often been ridiculed, especially by the SNP, for pandering to British Labour and lacking aspirations for change. But the poverty of ambition relates to the lack of power in Scotland’s politics. Stuck within the limits of devolution, Scottish Labour has never been permitted to intervene in the economic sphere of employment and production. By standing for the economic interests of the masses, Labour members would find themselves allied with socialists and trade unionists who had fought to make a Yes vote a catalyst for economic change. With independence, Scottish Labour can get down to work.
There is a risk that Scottish Labour would continue after a Yes vote on the same path of cautious moderation, with an emphasis on social policy solution; and this case, a Yes vote would be unlikely to bring transformative gains for working people and their families. But if Scottish Labour were optimistic and determined enough to stand for workers and to challenge capital, then, with vision and strategy, our party would be in a strong position to restore itself as the head of a movement that fights for the interests of working people. It would focus on winning the 2016 elections in an independent Scotland, so that it could use the limited but significant powers of a small nation-state to challenge the interests of capital, meet society’s needs, and empower the people who work and contribute to society, for the benefit of all.
While other trade unions continue to deliberate over what recommendation to make to their members on the referendum, the Public and Commercial Services union has set the bar in open, widespread and inclusive member engagement.
My union should be proud of the lead we have taken. Over the past year PCS enabled a thorough, democratic consultation which entitled every member to have their say and for their vote to count, culminating in our Scottish consultative conference.
Every PCS member in Scotland received a booklet outlining 3 positions: that PCS: takes no campaigning side; campaigns for independence; or campaigns against independence. Members participated in good old fashioned trade union all-member mandating meetings. High turn outs were recorded across the country, and views were robustly debated.
The votes cast were 18,025 for taking no campaigning side, to 5,775 for the union to support independence. Significantly no branch voted to oppose independence. Yes Scotland cannot claim PCS as the latest acquisition to Trade Unionists for Indy, but Better Together must ask itself why members of the lead union of British civil servants have rejected the case for campaigning to stay in the UK.
In my view, there are several simple reasons. The Tory-led UK coalition’s austerity, pay freezes, increases in pension contributions and job cuts have hit government workers hard. The public sector scandal of this age is that 40% of PCS members administering universal credit are dependent on it themselves. There have also been attacks on their terms and conditions, privatisation and the assault on workplace trade union rights.
At the same time there has been a lack of public support from Labour leaders for basic trade union rights and collective bargaining in the public sector. Instead, all we are offered is Miliband and Balls’ austerity-lite and Lamont’s abandonment of principles of universalism as a “something for nothing” culture. Is it little wonder then that the limited social democratic glimmer coming from the SNP offers a flicker of hope?
Scottish members of PCS are not stupid. They know that SNP Finance Minister John Swinney is not Tommy Sheridan in a tweed suit. Of course the SNP is not a socialist party or the new political wing of the organised working class in Scotland. Its business-friendly leanings, low tax preferences and macro-economic outlook are at odds with PCS policies. But our members have recognised a willingness to engage and negotiate with our union – resulting in a no compulsory redundancy guarantee and a living wage to all Scottish government workers.
PCS has won the SNP’s public commitment not to implement the Tory’s facility time cuts which aims to unseat our union organisation. With the exception of members of PCS Scottish Parliamentary Group of MSPs, the Scottish Labour team has been silent. PCS members wonder where the party of labour now stands on withdrawal of basic trade union rights in the public sector. Last month Swinney went against Cabinet Office advice and confirmed that the Scottish Government would continue check off – the means whereby trade union dues are collected by the employer. Again, silence from Scottish Labour.
In ‘Scotland’s Future’ the Scottish Government blueprint for an independent Scotland, the 30,000 civil servants working for UK departments in Scotland were promised the same job protection and no compulsory redundancies as already achieved by their Scottish Government colleagues. The Deputy First Minister made this public commitment at the PCS conference – and we will hold her to it in the months to come. This is a very attractive prize as opposed to further cuts to jobs, pay and services.
Neil Findlay, Richard Leonard and others who take a principled class perspective in opposition to independence have spoken at PCS meetings across the country. Yet our members have been so scunnered by the UK Tory cuts, that some are prepared to take a chance on independence and many more simply do not want their union to support the retention of the status quo.
PCS NEC will now consider what our members have said and make recommendations to our annual delegate conference in May on how we develop “PCS informs – you decide”. We will not be campaigning for either side in the referendum, but unless the No side start to offer a positive alternative, or any information at all, then we will hardly be in a position to present a balanced case.
Lynn Henderson is PCS Scottish Secretary
The sudden death of John Smith in May 1994 precipitated the election of Tony Blair to the Labour Leadership and accelerated change within the Labour Party that may otherwise have been deferred or redirected. There are times when only hindsight says you have witnessed a significant event, but on this occasion the left should have been fully aware that the rise of Tony Blair was going to result in substantial damage to the Labour Party. From the beginning of his leadership campaign Blair committed himself to rewriting the definition of socialism. His clear intention was to ‘liberate’ Labour from its class base.
Once elected, Blair immediately made it clear that he was going to drive a stake through the very heart of the Labour Party by challenging Clause IV. Not on the basis of its 1918 style language, but rather on the basis of its content. The replacement words were irrelevant, it was a vote for or against the Labour Party continuing in the tradition of a Party for and of the working class or a party in the mould of the European Christian Democrats that were ready to adapt to neo-liberal economic policies.
In Scotland, as elsewhere, the response was to build an opposition.
A meeting held in Glasgow City Chambers in 1994 founded The Scottish Campaign for Socialism. Its founding statement was that it “believes that Clause IV, as presently worded, should remain as an integral part of the Labour Party Constitution, and only be added to if required”. Among the many founding signatories you can find Johann Lamont, the current leader of Scottish Labour. It adopted The Citizen as its publication and it has been published continuously during the 20 years.
CfS has fought for the following aims:
- To promote Labour as a party committed to socialism on the basis of common ownership of the means of production, distribution & exchange.
- To campaign within the party for a democratic, comprehensive and accountable public sector; full employment; socialised medicine, transport and education; common ownership of the public utilities and an extension of common ownership in the banking and financial institutions; a reinvigorated and devolved system of local government; a parliament in Scotland; and the elimination of poverty and injustice.
- To determine socialist policies for Labour in government – socialist policies that will build the sound planned economy needed to ensure equality and social justice.
- To act as an organisational focus for all those within the party and Labour movement who agree with the above aims, and wish to see them form the basis of the party’s approach to policy making.
One achievement of the Blair’s first Government was to deliver the Scottish Parliament which carried the hopes of disillusioned Party members. It has to be remembered that the electoral system adopted for the Scottish Parliament was designed to prevent any one party majority. This constitutional hobbling was intended to prevent a socialist Labour majority challenging the right wing policies coming from a Labour led Westminster government. There was also a London led culling of potential candidates for the Scottish Parliament to prevent it having a strong left grouping. The result was a weak and timid Labour group which, after the death of Donald Dewer, saw 4 leaders in 8 years, each put in place without an election. The Campaign for Socialism campaigned on each occasion to demand that Party members should have a chance to vote for the leader.
Campaign for Socialism has campaigned both within and outside the Labour Party. It opposed the invasion of Afghanistan and helped to organise the massive march in Glasgow to oppose to the invasion of Iraq. It supported John McDonnell in his campaign to run for the Labour leadership in 2006 and 2010. It was central to the work of The People’s Charter including the submission to the Scottish Parliament. It helped establish Revitalise Scottish Labour to work with the affiliated trade unions to democratise the Scottish Party.
Its recent AGM was addressed by Mick Brooks, MPs John McDonnell and Katy Clark and Elaine Smith MSP its Convener. It will be joining with Unite the Union for a fringe meeting at Scottish Labour Party Conference in Perth which will mark the 20th anniversary of the plan to ditch Clause IV which has played such a central part in the downward spiral of the Party. CfS members are, however, still in there fighting so if you are struggling in the Party and want to work alongside comrades on the left; CfS is the place for you.
David Hamilton MP
Since becoming an MP I have used Freedom of Information requests to try to obtain papers from No 10 and the Home Office – but have always had my requests rejected.
I believe that the papers released at the start of January under the 30-year rule only scratch the surface of the truth that has been kept from us.
While the revelations provided a level of vindication for me and my colleagues involved in the strike it would be wrong to consider them in a purely historical context. The impact of the miners’ strike still lingers today and there remains a real danger that we will let history repeat itself.
There is a common judgement that the “miners lost” and Margaret Thatcher won. But perhaps we should seek to see the bigger picture and wonder if the miners’ strike was merely the most high-profile battle in the war between workers and extreme free-market Thatcherism.
Even by 1984 Thatcher was changing Britain but the Thatcher revolution was boosted after the end of the strike.
It was after that victory that she was able to deregulate, remove financial controls and unleash the “big bang” in the City.
We still live with the consequences. The inequality, the consumerist society and the acceptance of unemployment and poverty as “the price worth paying.”
Would it have been different if we’d known the truth during the strike?
Thatcher lied about the number of pit closures. She wanted to close 75 pits, not the 20 she said in public. She refused to say in public which pits would close or that 64,000 people would lose their jobs. If we’d known just how many pits she planned to close would the communities involved have fought back even harder and stopped her?
Would the Nottingham area have backed the strike until the end had they known their pits were on her agenda to close?
If the public had known that the government was considering the use of the army to transport coal and passing an Emergency Powers Act to impose a state of emergency would they have reacted to this abuse of power?
Would the country, Parliament or even the Tory Party have seen this as an unnecessary act of hostility and defended our civil liberties?
Were the lies the only thing that kept Thatcher from defeat?
Even if the result of the miners’ strike didn’t change the course of history what do these lies and deceit tells us about our government today?
That Tory government refused to publish the truth, telling us then that it would only be 20 pit closures and that the mining industry would not be dismantled.
Today’s Tory government refuses to publish the risk register for its health care reforms but tells us that this isn’t the start of the dismantling of our NHS. Maybe we’ll find out a different truth in 30 years’ time.
I fear that not even these recent revelations tell us the true story of the lengths to which Thatcher went to beat the miners.
We realised phones were tapped throughout the strike centres and we were able to prove this on numerous occasions.
One example was when the 26 strike centres of Mid and East Lothian phoned each of the offices to inform them we would be picketing the following morning at a particular place in East Lothian, at the same time as we sent out runners giving the true location of our plans.
The police turned out in their droves at Dunbar and the striking miners were elsewhere. A victory to the miners that day.
Victimisation and blacklisting followed and 30 years on Parliament is still debating these issues in today’s world.
The carrot was dangled before police officers – overtime payments not a problem, increased wages not a problem, whatever the police wanted they got, thus making them compliant.
If they did not agree with the line being taken by their senior officers, they found any chance of promotion was blocked.
Are these concerns merely a relic from the past? Were they a tragic breach of my civil liberties which could not happen again today?
I find it hard to believe that there are not meaningful parallels between the deceit and lies that occurred during the miners’ strike and the world we find ourselves in now.
The Snowden revelations tell us that government still seeks to monitor those it doesn’t trust.
The undercover police infiltration and subsequent mistrial of environmental protesters tells us that the police are still politicised, seeking to curtail the political behaviour of left-wing protest groups.
The world has changed in the 30 years since the miners’ strike but the more things change the more they stay the same.
The released papers are not a mere historical footnote. They are a warning for society on the lies and deceit of the government.
This is why the calls for full inquiries which have been made in both Westminster and Holyrood, along with the release of further suppressed papers and a full public apology to the miners and their communities, are so important.
We cannot stop history repeating itself until we learn the full lesson, admit mistakes and offer justice to those who have been wronged. At the end of the strike 1,000 miners were sacked. Some were lucky enough to return to work.
However although they won in industrial tribunals many did not get the opportunity to return – blacklisting followed. I myself was unemployed for two-and-a-half years and many more were in the same situation.
We must stop history from repeating itself.
‘Whilst the Party structures at a UK level has been pre-occupied with the Labour – trade union link, the constitutional debate in Scotland continues as we head towards the referendum in September. Meanwhile the Tories are rolling back the state. The welfare state and public sector are under attack as never before. Austerity economics and the so called need for cuts are going unchallenged. The UK wide cost of living crisis is not going away.
Most people are not experiencing an economic recovery in any part of the UK. Real wages have fallen so far now that for the first time the majority of those living in poverty are in work. Absolute poverty has risen by 1.4 million since 2010. We have seen serious erosion in our pension provision and levels of child poverty are on the increase. We are experiencing real misery and a lack of hope in many of our communities.
At Westminster Labour MPs have won a number of votes so far in 2014 – on the bedroom tax, the Shrewsbury 24, to set up a Commission to investigate the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms on the incidence of poverty. This Government however say they do not need to pay any attention to such “backbench” votes and it is only defeats in legislation they need to take into account. We have a crisis in democracy from a Government formed of two Parties pursuing a cuts agenda which was in neither manifesto at the last General Election. We need to win the argument in our communities that these cuts are not necessary and that there is an alternative. Facilities and services which have been struggled for over many generations are being lost every week. Whatever happens at the referendum in September that challenge will not go away. We have to fight to defend the values our movement. We have to remember what previous generations have fought for and the achievements made in far more difficult circumstances than we face today.
Over the next few months we have to have the confidence to make a radical offer to the people of Scotland. We need to have a good enough offer at both a Scottish and a UK level. Let’s show that we understand how to take on vested interests and challenge wealth and privilege. We need to explain where the wealth is and how it can be shared more fairly. We should make the case for progressive taxation and why it is necessary to pay more for better schools and hospitals. We must also however make the case for a living wage and remind people of the success of Labour’s national minimum wage. We have to explain how we will raise funds to build council houses to tackle the housing crisis but also in the construction sector. We need to show we will give power back to local government, re-regulate the buses and that we will protect our public services from privatisation. We need to offer good quality apprenticeships and training which re skill our economy.
Yes we want redistribution within Scotland but that is not enough. The complex and intertwined economies of these Isles will be extremely difficult to disentangle as the current debate shows. Scotland may have volatile oil but the power house still remains in the City, in London and the South-East of England with the rest of the UK suffering as a result. We need to explain how redistribution is best done at a UK level.
The UK economy needs to be rebalanced. The way to do that is not to walk away from where the economic decisions which affect our lives are made. Instead we need to step up to the challenge of how we bring those decisions under some sort of democratic control. Yes let’s develop policies for the Scottish Parliament which will make a real difference in Scotland. And if the Parliament does not have the power currently to implement them make sure it gets those powers. But the main problem that the Scottish Parliament has at the moment is not a lack of powers but the lack of vision.
Labour has representation at all levels and our challenge in all parts of the UK is to show that we are worth listening to and that we have the courage to make the changes which will make real differences to people’s lives.
30th anniversary edition Seumas Milne Verso 2014￼ ￼
Keeping a lid on the dustbin of history is a full time job. Re-emerging as farce where once it was content as tragedy, the past does not have to come back to haunt us. Instead it remains a constant spectre, a landfill of un-recycled events which creep up on those who fail to heed its lessons. As ‘revelations’ confirming the infiltration of dedicated undercover officers into the ranks of anti-racist and environmental groups as well as the grieving family of Stephen Lawrence emerged in the media last year, past and present mining communities must have experienced a collective shudder at memories of the aftermath of the 84-85 strike.
The lengths to which the security apparatus were prepared to go to scandalize public opinion, to smear and defame the leaders of the NUM Arthur Scargill and Peter Heathfield, and to create the political space to facilitate both the tethering of the NUM as an effective trade union and the closure of all but a handful of pits in the early 1990s is a case study in the assertion of class power. Seumas Milne’s pacey, iconic exposure of intrigue and dirty tricks against Mrs Thatcher’s ‘enemy within’ should have clarified once and for all exactly whose interests are deemed to coincide with our national security. Recent ‘shocks’ should therefore be regarded as an upgrading of shop-worn tales from the Zinoviev Letter onwards. Edward Snowden may have courageously exposed the extent to which new technology has allowed the state to extend its reach into the most intimate redoubts of private life, but ‘The Enemy Within,’ first published in 1994, stands comparison as a benchmark of investigative journalism.
Beginning with the 1990 Daily Mirror headline ‘Scargill and the Libyan Money: the Facts,’ Robert Maxwell personally oversaw a campaign of vilification against Scargill and Heathfield. The rest of the printed press smelled a feeding frenzy and television soon followed suit with Roger Cook door-stepping Scargill at his Yorkshire home. As the manufactured hysteria grew, the stories became increasingly lurid; Scargill had stolen money collected by Russian miners and arranged for donations from Colonel Gadaffi’s slush fund for subversive causes to be salted away to pay for his mortgage. Never one to pass up the opportunity for some easy moral posturing, Labour leader Neil Kinnock joined the fray. It looked for all the world as if the leaders of the NUM were bang to rights, up to their elbows in greed and hypocrisy. Allegations became daily more outlandish. During the strike, Scargill had demanded not only cash from Gadaffi, it was claimed, but guns. Until that is the simple journalistic expedient of fact checking was exercised, and the truth began to emerge.
Milne exposes the NUM’s Chief Executive Roger Windsor as an MI5 plant. Neither Scargill (who had in fact paid his mortgage off) nor Heathfield had received any monies at all. Whistle-blowers from GCHQ (denied the right to join a trade union by the Conservative government) began to come forward with tales of state subversion headed up by Stella Rimington, newly appointed Director General of MI5 but at the time of the miner’s strike in charge of ‘monitoring’ the trade union movement.
Officers involved in the shameful distortions and cover up of Hillsborough point to the impunity inferred by Thatcher’s militarisation of the police force in Sheffield. Today, in an attempt to secure retrospective justice for miners and their families, Neil Findlay MSP campaigns to have the Scottish parliament review the convictions of 500 pit workers. National security is codified as anything contributing to the prosecution of the War on Terror (with the occasional diversion of resources into the equally effective War on Drugs), and the state networks Milne describes become, as their global systems stagger from the aftershock of the financial crash, ever more sophisticated and amoral in their efforts to ‘police the crisis.’
For anyone still labouring under the comforting delusion of a pluralist state mediating between competing interest groups, ‘The Enemy Within’ makes for sobering reading. The state may discharge hard won obligations in the form of welfare and social security, redistribute wealth through taxation or process the odd just legal judgement. The Left should take care to defend its more progressive mechanisms against the laissez faire ideologues of both Tory and New Labour zealots. But when the battle lines are drawn, all ambiguities become clarified. On the 30th anniversary of the miner’s strike, its lessons and ramifications continue to reverberate.
This issue of The Citizen covers two particularly significant issues for the future of the Labour Movement in Scotland. One is the future of the Union — Labour Party link and the second the future of the Union or the UK.
Though I say that these are of particular significance for Scotland, both are in fact of significance for the whole of the UK. Whatever happens in the Scottish referendum it cannot help but have implications for the rest of the UK.
At the turn of the 19th century, the trade union activist and organiser Keir Hardie could have devoted his efforts to recruiting trade unionists to the Scottish Labour Party and later the Independent Labour Party until it was strong enough to challenge the Liberals and the Lib-Lab members of Parliament who were usually trade union leaders. He did not. He understood that what was needed was an organisation that had the collective organisation of trade unions linked to a party with a socialist vision.
It took many attempts before the TUC finally agreed to establish the Labour Representation Committee along with the ILP and SDF. He recognised the benefits of bringing a united trade union movement into a new party that would give a collective voice to working people. Keir Hardie and others went into that new organisation knowing that it was not going to be a revolutionary socialist organisation, but they recognised the benefit of having a Party that included within it the collective power of the unions. It is that element that is often forgotten in the debate today.
Unfortunately Ed Miliband in his speech to the TUC Congress looked back to Edward Stanley and Disraeli for inspiration for his peculiar ‘One Nation’ approach and neglected the thoughts of Keir Hardie.
He was trying to be conciliatory with many references to “friends” and he stated that he wanted to give trade union members “a real voice in our party founded on an active role”. He went on “You have been telling me that the Labour Party isn’t sufficiently connected to working people” and his plan would change that.
He did not, however mention Falkirk and unfortunately the leadership’s behaviour over that says more about his approach than soothing words at the TUC.
The root of the problem in Falkirk was that trade union members did become active in their local Labour Party. They joined up as individual members in order to have influence. That is what Progress and others objected to. Union members dared to want someone sympathetic to trade unions as their candidate at the next Westminster election.
The case for encouraging individual membership is of course very persuasive, and what a difference thousands of new members in our local parties would make, but that does not mean that the link with the organised trade unions should be abolished. All those thousands or millions of members who will not join the Labour Party should still have their voices heard within it. That is the nature of the Union— Party link. That is not to say that those members have always been well served, but that battle should be fought within the trade unions for greater democratic accountability for those representing them on Labour Party bodies such as the NEC and the National Policy Forums.
Those who believe that the unions would be better outside the Party because they could help form a new socialist party will be sadly disappointed. The Unions are not in business for that; they are in business to protect their members.
It is only when you go out of Scotland that you realise the debate around the referendum is not the most talked about issue in the daily papers and on the evening political discussion programmes. It is, however, as I have said, something that could have an impact across the UK.
The book “Class, Nation and Socialism: The Red Paper on Scotland 2014” starts with the question: what constitutional arrangement is more likely to allow greater democratic control of our economy and retain the ability to redistribute wealth from richer to poorer and geographically from wealthy parts of the UK to those less wealthy. Independence, the book argues, does not achieve this, but neither does the status quo.
From England, in particular, it may look as if the an independent Scotland would be adopting radical policies but if you look at the SNP programme (the Party that would actually take power) it will retain sterling and therefore City of London control; keep the monarch; apply for membership of the EU (which will require adopting EU fiscal disciplines) and NATO (which will involve pressure to delay any removal of Trident). No wonder the Red Paper argues that there needs to be political change rather than constitutional change.
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“The Labour Party is based on an out-of-date doctrine. Its social basis does not match modern social structures. Its dependence on the trade unions ties it to conservative sectional interests. The ‘labour coalition’ of the party and the unions should be scrapped and replaced by a regrouping of non-Conservative forces”.
This was the advice helpfully offered to the Labour Party in 1943 by The Economist magazine.
Two years later the Labour Party won a landslide general election victory, hailed by its national election organiser as the moment when “the working classes, hitherto a subject race, succeeded in the organisation of political power and became the ruling class in their own land.”
There is nothing new in calls for the Labour Party to cut itself loose from affiliated trade unions as its only means of survival. According to Lewis Minkin’s definitive history of the Labour-unions link, ‘The Contentious Alliance’:
“For the Centre and the Right, it became a priority to seek the destruction of the union – Party relationship. Often they diagnosedi nevitable degeneration or suicide as the future of the labour movement.”
But when Minkin spoke of “the Centre and the Right”, he was referring to the centre and right of the political spectrum as a whole, not to the centre and right within the Labour Party.
In fact, for virtually the entire twentieth century even the Labour Party right wing accepted the Labour-unions link as the bedrock of the movement. And more often than not, it was usually the right wing who benefited the most from the link.
Even the future leaders of the breakaway SDP such as Bill Rodgers acknowledged just two years before its split that “there is no salvation for the Labour Party in a break with the trade union movement.” The subsequent fate of the SDP was to prove him correct.
The fact that the ‘traditional’ right wing treated affiliated unions as the natural allies of the Labour Party – even if that alliance, to use Minkin’s expression, could sometimes be “contentious” – underlines the seismic shift represented by the emergence of Blairism in the Labour Party in the 1990s.
The Blairites were hostile not just to the policies which the party might adopt because of its links with the unions. They were hostile to the links themselves. They were the leaders of a labour movement which they did not think should even exist. For some Blairites the solution was to reduce the role of the unions in the party to such a degree that it became meaningless. For others, the solution was to break the link completely.
Two years after Blair’s election as party leader his ally and fellow Labour MP Stephen Byers was already briefing the media that the Labour Party might sever its links with the unions.
In 2005 the ex-CWU general secretary and then Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson advocated that the unions’ share of votes at Labour Party annual conference be cut to 15%. In early 2007 Johnson lined up with former TGWU general secretary Bill Morris and the fake-left Jon Cruddas MP to advocate further reductions in the unions’ role in the Labour Party.
In late 2010 Blairites returned to the attack on Labour-union links. MPs Andy Burnham and Tessa Jowell “questioned” affiliated union members having a vote in Labour Party leadership elections. Margaret Hodge MP advocated that Labour “cut the umbilical cord” with the unions on the grounds that they were “irrelevant in British society”.
And ex-MP Alan Milburn – so right-wing that some Tories wanted him to be offered a post in the Con-Dem coalition government – proposed that the unions “should no longer have a structural relationship with Labour.”
In February of this year Alan Johnson again raised the issue of reducing the unions’ role in the Labour Party. In an interview with Progress he attacked union leaders as “fat, white, finger-jabbing blokes on rostrums shouting and screaming” and called for their share of the vote at Labour Party conference to be cut to “about a third”.
Unsurprisingly, when Miliband announced his proposals to replace ‘opting out’ by ‘opting in’, they won applause from these old-time Blairites and from Blair himself (“bold and strong … long overdue and probably, frankly, I should have done it when I was party leader”).
Miliband’s proposals are not, as Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey has claimed, “an opportunity rather than a threat.” His proposals represent the latest stage in the long-term Blairite project of destroying what defines the Labour Party as the party of organised labour in Britain. If the recent “interim consultation” about yet another batch of party reforms is anything to go by, the “major consultation exercise” due to take place after this year’s party conference could easily end up as an empty charade.
Launched after Ed Miliband had proposed sweeping changes in the relationship between the party and affiliated trade unions, the interim consultation will present its findings to this year’s party conference. This is to be followed by what has been described as “a major consultation exercise”, culminating in a special party conference in the spring of 2014.
But the interim consultation was one in the worst traditions of New Labour. Although supposedly open and participatory, it was really designed to drum up support for the party leader’s proposals.
Given the summer break, many trade union and Labour Party branches and CLPs would not even have met during the period of the interim consultation (mid-July to mid-September). They would therefore have been unable to contribute to the consultation.
The closing date for submissions to the consultation was just a week before the start of the party conference to which its findings are to be presented. This suggests either that only a limited number of submissions were expected (which defeats the purpose of the exercise) or that however many submissions were sent in, little or no notice would be taken of them (which likewise defeats the purpose of the exercise).
The two-page leaflet produced by the Labour Party to accompany the consultation – “Let’s build a better Labour Party, so we can build a better Britain” – consisted of a single statement in the name of Ed Miliband.
This did not map out the basic issues at stake in the consultation. Nor did it give over any space to different points of view. Instead, it merely presented a one-sided outline of Miliband’s proposals. The article promised “a new way of doing politics”, by “taking the big money out and allowing the people of Britain back in.” On closer inspection, however, the article proposed to do the exact opposite. After a lengthy paragraph highlighting the support which Tories get from rich people, the article concluded:
“That’s why we need historic change in Labour’s relationship with (affiliated trade union members).” But the fact that rich people have always backed the Tories explains why the working class needs its own party. It does not explain why there should suddenly be a radical change the relationship between the Labour Party and its affiliates. Miliband (or whoever wrote this nonsense in his name) continued: “These three million people (affiliated union members) should be at the heart of everything Labour does. I want to hear their voices louder and clearer than ever before.” But replacing ‘opting out’ by ‘opting in’ would have the opposite effect.
It would permanently exclude the bulk of those three million affiliated members from “the heart of everything Labour does.” It would effectively silence their voices. The overall result would be to exclude “the people of Britain” – in the form of three million affiliated trade unionists – from politics and thereby allow “big money” to exert an even bigger influence than it does at the moment. In fact, the superficially democratic language used by the article – in which individual voices are prioritised above collective concerns – was a throwback to Thatcherism. “I care very deeply about individuals – I don’t like treating people as block votes,” said Margaret Thatcher during the 1987 general election campaign.
Exactly the same sentimentsfound expression in Miliband’s leaflet: “I want … an active, individual choice (by union members) on whether they become part of our party, not to see them affiliated automatically. It’s time Labour heard each trade unionist’s own individual voice.” With unconscious irony the article ended with the words: “All of our country’s history shows that change does not come just from a few people at the top … from Prime Ministers or party leaders. Change comes when individual people come together to demand it.”
But “individual people” did not come together to demand the changes proposed by Miliband and advocated in the article. The reforms came very much “from a few people at the top” and then began to be foisted onto the party and its affiliates. And that, in reality, was what the interim consultation was all about. Not an exercise to ascertain the views of individual members and affiliates. But a stage in an undemocratic process designed to undermine still further the voice of working-class collectivism in the party.
The introduction of primaries will vastly reduce the left influence in policy development and the selection of progressive candidates. Ideas and attitudes are shaped by a range of forces in our society almost all of these conservative – especially the local and national media.
What a left political party, or a party influenced by the Left (our aspiration for the Labour Party) can offer is a space where ideas different from the mainstream support for individualism can be developed over time.
It would be ridiculous to say that a political Party can inoculate members from the wider society, but progressive political Parties at least allow the possibility of hearing alternative ideas and engaging with these, although it has to said that this is only possible if membership is engaged with the community the party creates. This is hardly a revolutionary idea. Learning theorists Lave and Wenger argue that meaningful participation more than anything else, creates ‘communities of practice’.
Registered voters would not be part of this community and their ideas and political priorities will therefore not be shaped by participation in the political community that local parties create. It is true that the ideas of members in local Labour parties have changed and become more right wing and individualistic since the nineties, but such communities are not hermetically sealed and indeed the influx of new ideas and activity was being felt in Falkirk CLP and may well have led to a significant shift to the left. The introduction of primaries will, for the most part, make it much more difficult for the left to create communities seeking to redress inequality and its roots, since the sphere of influence of left ideas is much more limited than that of local and national media. The other probable consequence of this is to devalue party membership making it less, not more attractive.
Changing the nature of party membership and diluting the role of the activist are both long term objectives of the Blair/Brown project for the Labour Party. In 2009 Brown endorsed The Change We Need a Fabian tract which questioned the need for traditional membership arguing instead for ‘networks’ supported by the new media, as well as primaries. As one of the contributors Ben Brandzel put it:
“Mass movements open to anyone who can log on or get together when they have a spare moment will always be pulled towards the common sense centre. It’s why Wikipedia can self-police for accuracy, why Obama’s open forums never seriously embarrassed the candidate and why the London Citizens’ agenda called for things like ensuring the Olympic Village creates public housing – not erecting statues to Che.”
Here is an alternative: in relation to selections, concerns about flooding meetings could be addressed not only by ‘cut off dates’ but also by participation criteria, that is to say you can only vote if you can demonstrate some level of participation in the democratic life of the Party. Admittedly this will be difficult to define because, for example, there are a range of people who cannot participate for legitimate reasons and these people would have to be exempted from the rule. Generally, however, participation would provide opportunities for members to consider other perspectives than those offered by the mainstream media.
Ed Miliband has announced the Collins Review as his way of responding to a crisis which he has, to a large extent, created. The Collins Review will focus on:
- The use of primaries in the selection of Labour candidate for London Mayor and in other circumstances
- The conduct of parliamentary selections to ensure fairness and transparency
- The development of a new relationship between the Labour Party and individual members of our affiliate organisations
- Constituency development agreements between affiliate organisations and constituency Labour parties.
So how should we respond to the Collins review?
We should oppose primaries in favour of membership rights contingent on participation.
Participation in parliamentary selections should depend on evidence of being a participating member for the Labour Party able to make informed decisions based on engaging with the discussion, debate and campaigning activity.
We should retain affiliate status for unions contingent on the affiliating organisation allowing democratic participation of Labour policy to its levy paying members.
We already have development plans with affiliated unions, and some unions have, not unreasonably, been asking what sponsored public representatives are doing to promote the interests of the relevant trade union. We should defend legitimate democratic pressure.
Socialists should seek a political fund: that provides workers with a collective voice in the Labour party at local and national level; that provides working people with a means to participate in the democratic process; and that compels the Labour party to listen to the collective experience of millions of teachers, nurses, factory, rail and postal workers.
The current political fund achieves none of this and that is why socialists should welcome the opportunity to reform it to ensure working people can once again have a voice in the party of Labour that their fore parents founded.
The starting point of reform is to acknowledge that the majority of trade unionists do not vote Labour. While at the same time the percentage of trade unionists paying the political levy can reach 90% within some unions. It does not take Sherlock Holmes to smell a rat. The reality is that they are millions of trade unionists who are unaware they were paying the political fund and many more who could not be bothered to withdraw to save a few pence. No socialist should support such a shoddy system that treats union members as passive voting fodder.
The undemocratic nature of the current fund contributes to a system that embeds the status quo and enables the Labour hierarchy to ignore the voice of organised labour. The CWU – ignored as the last Labour Government tried to sell off the Royal Mail. ASLEF – ignored as rip of rail privatisation continued, with even failing rail franchises fattened up and handed back to the private sector. The POA – ignored as the prisons were privatised.
We do not even have the influence to stop Labour condemning far less insisting that it supports democratic industrial action such as the 2011 pension strikes.
“I believe the strikes were a mistake, I still believe that.” Ed Milliband 2011 TUC Congress
As for reforming Thatcher’s anti trade union laws well I will tell the jokes.
It is a masochistic relationship that involves unions paying out millions of pounds to be ignored or condemned when they try to fight against the injustices workers face over pensions, pay freezes and much beside.
So we need to reform a system whereby union members are conscripted into the political fund creating a system of massive but passive membership that provides the Labour Party with a ready stream of income but no obligation to listen.
No doubt some trade unions leaders found this cosy arrangement convenient, but there is evidence that some among the current leadership want to preserve, but make changes to the existing relationship that does not serve trade unions needs . The irony is that in trying to break the link those clever Labour apparatchiks have lost their compass and may help revive it.
For this to happen unions have to create their own vision of a participatory political fund and a road map on how to achieve it.
Unions should take the radical step and ask their membership in a democratic ballot if they wish to continue to fund the Labour party.
If successful we should set up a system where members actively have to join the fund as an act of political choice.
Increase the rate to make the commitment real and include a minimal commitment in terms of attending their local party.
As a condition of affiliation the political levy must provide a collective voice for trade unions at both local national level in the labour party.
No funding is paid to the Labour party out with the political fund without the explicit consent of the union’s membership.
These simple changes create a new dynamic whereby the Labour party has to actively appeal to trade unionists to join and remain within the political fund knowing that no other funding will be provided. Even the most extreme Blairite would understand that support for privatisation, blanket condemning of democratic strikes and support for cuts is hardly a recipe for mass membership.
For too long unions have endured the status of unwelcome elderly relative at posh cocktail party. We have been needy as we begged for approval from New Labour. It is time to create a new dynamic and a new political engagement that re-connects us with membership and ensures the siren voices of big business and the chatterings of the Islington intelligentsia is replaced by wise the voice of working people.
Kate Arnot is Treasurer of Fal-kirk Constituency Labour Party
The roots of the latest fiasco in Falkirk lie back in 1998 when Dennis Canavan was excluded from the panel of candidates to be Members of the Scottish Parliament. Dennis stood as an Independent candidate, winning an outright, and largest, majority in Scotland. The decision to exclude Dennis was made by outsiders to Falkirk whose lack of political acumen was matched by the inability of officers to explain the decision to the local party.
Falkirk CLP lost half its membership who resigned to campaign for Dennis, an excellent left wing MP and an excellent MSP who should have been a Labour MSP.
After May 1999, I was told and witnessed that officers of the Scottish Labour Party were heavily involved in the selection of Eric Joyce as the candidate for the bye election when Dennis resigned as an MP.
Eric made headlines for all the wrong reasons, his claims for expenses, which were the highest in Britain, followed by convictions for drink driving, assault, and removing his tag. His rare visits to CLP meetings were often unpleasant and he only carried out surgeries when the CLP told him to do so. I am sure he will not resign before 2015.
I am the Treasurer of the CLP and a member of Unite, but I should add I haven’t asked anyone to join the Labour Party for years. When the selection process began, the Executive of the CLP asked the office bearers to issue a questionnaire to all members asking e.g. what date would suit you for the CLP to meet, what time, do you agree to an all women shortlist? Although I was not at the Executive meeting having been injured in a fall, I understand that it was agreed that Unite would meet the costs. I received the questionnaire and separately a letter from the Scottish Labour Party encouraging me to complete it. I was made aware that Unite was campaigning for the candidate to be a woman.
At the end of March 60 members attended a CLP meeting with an outside speaker on the Bedroom Tax. This was both an encouraging meeting (such a large turnout) and difficult as there was already constant press sniping and disclosures about what was supposedly happening in Falkirk.
Arising from a “complaint” that an unknown number of people/one family had been signed up as Labour Party members without either knowledge or consent, the Labour Party at a British national level set up an enquiry. Labour Party members in Falkirk were neither informed of this nor were interviewed, so far as I know and I’m the CLP Treasurer. A report was then produced. No one locally has seen this. Falkirk Labour Party members have no more knowledge than anyone else dependent as they are on press, radio and TV. Our views are not wanted, we have no voice, we’re told nothing – a re-run of 1998. We understand from a very good Radio 4 programme that not even the National
Executive of the Labour Party had seen the whole report!
Now we are told that that no organisation or individual has been found to have breached the rules, but regardless of that the ‘special measures’ which deny legitimate members a vote are to be left in place. Cryptic comments about “key evidence” being withdrawn leaves a bad taste without allowing any further investigation.
This possible small local difficulty could have been easily resolved. If people were signed up as members without either knowledge or consent apologise and cancel their membership. Instead in stunning over reaction which included involving the police, this has been ineptly blown up into a full scale re-evaluation of the Trade Union’s role within the Labour Party. Or perhaps it’s not so inept but was planned. I don’t know. Either way it’s lose/lose. The wider picture is most important, but for me, it’s ensuring Falkirk CLP survives. We’ve suffered enormously from outside interference, losing the good years when we had Dennis, coping with the lean years with Eric and what now?
Falkirk CLP has been punished enough and I do feel that for some there is unfinished business with us for supporting Dennis. We don’t need the whole of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions, especially Unite, to also suffer. It’s not too late to have some strategic thought and wise political sense to be activated.
Class, Nation and Socialism
Pauline Bryan and Tommy Kane
It is over two years since the Red Paper Collective came together to consider the implications of constitutional change.
The book ‘Class, Nation and Socialism: The Red Paper 2014’ is we hope a timely contribution to the Scottish constitutional debate. The contributors are prominent trade unionists, politicians, political activists, academics and researchers and the book takes an unashamedly class based perspective on the question of constitutional change. The central question the writers address is how best can the interests of working people be advanced.
The Red Paper Collective is critical of the stagnant debate of the competing nationalisms of both the Yes and Better Together Campaigns and poses a political challenge to both independence and the status quo. It also goes beyond the limited procedural and technical perspectives of Devo Plus and Devo-Max with their thinly disguised commitment to neo-liberalism. Its primarily concern is to win powers for a purpose: powers that will enable us to tackle the huge social and economic problems that Scotland faces.
It is quite understandable that people may want to escape the possibility of a further assault on our welfare services by Cameron and Clegg, and ask what is there to lose from a Yes vote. The answer is: a great deal. A Yes vote would break Scotland away from the democratic structures of the UK without breaking the control of Scotland’s economy that is overwhelming in London.
Constitutional change does not mean social change and many of the promises of a progressive Scotland coming from the left of the ‘Yes’ camp are more to do with their own hopes rather than realisable goals based on the political and economic realities of 21st century Scotland. We should remember that the Party that delivers independence will deliver the constitution and put an ideological stamp on the future development of Scotland that would be hard to undo. The SNP will not conveniently dissolve itself and create space for the creation of a left based alternative. Its very strength lies in its cross class alliance that is committed to lowering corporation tax, keeping the monarchy being part of a sterling zone and NATO and the EU.
The referendum could, however, be a turning point in Scotland even without a vote for independence. The remaining 12 months before the referendum provide an opportunity to raise fundamental questions about current political and economic conditions and to explore political alternatives which would be beneficial for people across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The Red Paper argues that any constitutional change must be measured against its potential to challenge the power of international capitalism and bring greater democratic control of our economy. Democratic control could encompass a variety of forms of public ownership including co-operatives and mutual ownership which would help build a sustainable and secure economy and redistribute wealth from the rich to the rest of the population and geographically from areas of greater wealth to areas of need. In short, developing a society founded on social ownership will to help to build an economy in which we all have a stake and from which we can all benefit.
The Red Paper Collective argues that the answer to the real problems facing us all will not be found in constitutional change, but in political change. If we can find a constitutional solution that enhances our capacity to make that political change and that meets the majority demand for greater devolution, it will allow the energies and imagination of all those concerned with a progressive future for Scotland to be put to more effective use. We could then begin to turn back the tide of austerity and rebuild a base for socialism in Scotland.