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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