The Labour Party in Scotland has been thrown into a deep crisis following the resignation of its Scottish leader, Johann Lamont. It was not so much her resignation but “the manner of her leaving” that rocked an already weakened party. In her resignation statement Lamont accused Ed Miliband, and other leading figures in UK Labour, of treating Scotland like a “branch office”, calling for more autonomy for the Scottish party. Other unnamed Westminster MPs were described as “dinosaurs”, unable to face up to the changed situation in Scotland following the referendum. Many of them seem even to be resisting the transfer of all income tax powers to Holyrood as part of Labour’s “more powers” pledge.
The growing tensions inside the Labour party and many of its affiliated trade unions have now exploded into the open. Post September 18 thousands of trade unionists have demanded that any money paid from their union subscriptions to the Labour party are stopped. Labour’s empty “victory” in the independence referendum, rather than strengthen its position, has accelerated its disintegration. Ex-Labour working class strongholds like Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and Dundee voted Yes on the 18th September.
Huge anger at the role played by Labour, in alliance with the Tories, in the Project Fear campaign is leading to a further weakening of its social base in Scotland. An estimated 37% of Labour supporters voted Yes in the referendum. On top of all this membership of the SNP has rocketed to over 80,000 as tens of thousands of mainly working class people have flooded into the SNP, seeking a vehicle to use to hit back at the political establishment and continue the struggle for independence.
In contrast, Labour’s support and membership is in free fall, a consequence of its pro big business and pro austerity polices. There have been no publicly available membership figures since 2010 when it stood at a claimed 13,000. The SNP long ago replaced Labour as the biggest party in Scotland in terms of membership and activists. A decisive turning point was reached in 2011 when the SNP took a majority of seats in the Scottish parliament elections, defeating Labour across its traditional heartlands in the West of Scotland.
The Westminster elections in 2015 will likely see a number of Labour seats fall to the SNP. However, a complete wipeout of Labour MPs – an idea raised by some on the left to justify a so-called alliance of independence supporting parties – is extremely unlikely. Even some Yes voters, despite their hatred of the Labour leadership, could still vote Labour to try to ensure a defeat of the Tories.
Lamont’s resignation and statement is also a big blow for Labour’s UK leader Ed Miliband. Her open attacks on him and the increasingly likely loss of a number of Labour MPs from Scotland will undermine the chances of the election of a majority Labour government. And yet things could get worse. Uber-Blairite MP Jim Murphy, a former shadow defence minister and supporter of the Iraq war, is emerging as a leading candidate to replace Lamont. Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm warned that choosing a Scottish leader based at Westminster would “turn a crisis into a catastrophe”.
While a left Labour candidate like MSP Neil Findlay is a possibility, he would be very unlikely to win. As Socialist Party Scotland has consistently explained there is little possibility of moving the Labour party to the left. The party is largely empty of active workers, young people and trade unionists. The events in Falkirk, and the witch hunt of Unite which followed, underline that reality. The affiliated unions should urgently discuss breaking from Labour and helping to launch a new mass workers party.
Instead we would appeal to all those looking for a fighting alternative to come to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition conference on Saturday in Glasgow. The need to stand principled anti-cuts candidates in the Westminster elections is growing by the day. Despite the huge working class Yes vote, the SNP have introduced a £500 million cuts budget into the Scottish parliament for next year. Labour leaders Miliband and Balls are proposing to continue with Tory austerity if elected next year.
TUSC is planning to stand in up to 100 seats in Scotland, England and Wales next May. Join with us and help lay the basis for a fighting anti-cuts and socialist alternative as a step to a new mass working class party.