The following document dealing with perspectives for Scotland for 2017 was discussed, debated and agreed at the Socialist Party Scotland conference that took place on February 11th 2017. The document covers issues including the prospects for an indyref 2, the SNP’s move to the right, Brexit, the Corbyn phenomena and its limited impact in Scotland, the prospects for increased working class struggle and the crisis of the capitalist economy.
“I view the current global economic environment as the most uncertain in modern history.” Ethan Ilzetzki, London School of Economics. “Political and geopolitical upheaval could strike almost anywhere.” Gillian Tett, writing in the Financial Times, 30/12/16.
These two comments sum-up the unprecedented turmoil, uncertainty and volatility facing capitalism on a world scale. Almost a decade on from the global economic crisis of 2007/08, the inability of the bourgeois and their system to find a route to sustained economic recovery is driving political and social upheaval internationally.
2016 was a nightmare for the ruling class. The Brexit vote of June 2016, the election of Donald Trump as US president-elect in November and the defeat of Prime Minister Renzi in Italy in December were no isolated events. They all represented, even if in a distorted form because of the lack of a mass left and socialist alternative, a revolt of big sections of the working class and the oppressed. Mass anger against austerity, rage at the one-sided nature of the so-called recovery and a hatred of the political elite were all dominant themes, as they were in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
It is possible and even likely that 2017 will see a continuation of these major setbacks for the capitalist class. The general elections in France and the Netherlands could see further defeats for the preferred candidates of the bourgeois. The rise of the racist right and of reactionary populist candidates is a feature of the “collapsing political centre ground”. But we have also explained that the potential for a mass, left and socialist – in a broad sense – alternative to emerge is also posed in this period.
Upheaval in the US
This was exactly the situation that emerged through the candidature of Bernie Sanders in his attempt to win the nomination for the pro-capitalist Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders was and still is the most popular politician in the US. Millions of young people especially were mobilised in support for his stand and the call for a “political revolution against the billionaire class”. Had Sanders taken the decision to launch a new party and continue as a candidate in the November 2016 election after being defeated in the rigged Democratic primaries, he would have won millions of votes and would almost certainly have undercut Trump’s support to such an extent that Hillary Clinton would have won the election.
As it was Trump’s election will, and indeed has already begun to, provoke mass opposition to his racist, bigoted, anti-working class and anti-women polices. The real pro-billionaire character of the Trump presidency will also become clear over time. Indeed, the trade unions and workers’ rights, as well as women and immigrants, could be one of the first targets for attack. Even before he takes office, the appointment of a string of Goldman Sachs executives to his government and panel of advisors is indicative of the corporate-dominated nature of a Trump presidency. However, it’s also possible that Trump will attempt some populist concessions and a certain amount of public spending projects to shore up his base. The potential to build a fighting socialist alternative is already clear in the growth of Socialist Alternative in the US.
Limits of right wing reaction
The main feature of the current situation internationally has been a shift leftwards among big sections of young people and workers. This political radicalisation was given expression through the Sanders’ campaign, as well as the fight for $15, Black Lives Matter and Occupy before that. It was the decision by the Democratic establishment to block Sanders and run with the establishment candidate of Clinton that handed the presidency to Trump. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that Trump received 3 million votes fewer than Clinton and could only win 46% of the popular vote. Many who voted for Trump, minus the “alt-right” etc – can also move into opposition to his agenda once it becomes clear that it is, in the end, a continuation and even a stepping up of corporate rule by a billionaire.
Trump in the US, Le Pen in France, Ukip in Britain and other right-wing forces have tapped into mass anger at the impact of capitalist globalisation, unemployment and the race to the bottom in wages and conditions at work. But this is only possible where a viable left has been blocked or has not yet emerged. But in all these cases, even where the right come to power, it will ultimately prepare the way for an even bigger swing to the left and a mass radicalisation against their rule. Posing the urgent need to build new mass parties armed with a socialist programme for ending capitalism.
We have to patiently explain that what is taking place is not a repeat of the 1930s as some of the “liberal intelligentsia” fear. The rise of fascist regimes, or even a form of racist dictatorship and the wholesale removal of democratic rights, is not possible. The balance of forces is still overwhelmingly with the working class and who would never accept such a situation.
It should be remembered that fascism only came to power after the colossal revolutionary defeats suffered by the working class in Germany, Spain etc that laid the basis for these regimes to emerge. Even then, the working class had the opportunity to win power not once but on a number of occasions. Only the lack of a mass revolutionary party and clear-sighted leadership, not the willingness to struggle by the masses, allowed fascism to win power. There is, however, an urgent task for the working class to act decisively and collectively to defeat racism and division and the attacks of the capitalist class and the right. Central to this is the need to establish mass, combative political and industrial organisations – both parties and trade unions.
Corbyn: a missed opportunity
The US is not the only country where the emergence of a new mass party of the left was posed. Hundreds of thousands of young people, the radicalising middle class and sections of workers joined the Labour Party to support Jeremy Corbyn, primarily in England and Wales. This was an elemental movement which we supported and participated in. Effectively, it was an attempt to create a new party by tearing it from the dead-hand of the pro-capitalist leadership that dominates this former workers’ party. Because of the historic role of the trade unions in the Labour Party, the emergence of a new workers’ party was posed. This was possible with the proviso that the pro-capitalist elements of the party were driven out by insisting on full democratic rights and participation for members and the trade unions, including the mandatory re-selection of MPs, councillors etc and control over policy.
This has not happened, primarily because Corbyn and those around him sought compromise with the Blairites even after winning two election contests and a huge mandate. Corbyn has shifted his policy platform to the right, dropping a series of left policies and opposing the re-selection of MPs. The consequences of this approach has been to disorientate and demoralise a layer of the Corbynistas. It has also left the Labour Party, in terms of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the NEC, councillors etc and many local constituencies, in the hands of the right who will never accept Corbyn as leader. They are in fact waiting for an opportune time to remove him, possibly in the run-up to a general election. The right’s main policy is one of destabilisation and the slow strangulation of the Corbyn leadership in order to prepare for electoral defeat. In this they have the full backing of the capitalist class and the majority of the “liberal” media.
Ironically, if Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour Party (the Socialist Party in England and Wales has been effectively refused the right to participate) were to launch a struggle to reclaim Labour from the right, including a fighting opposition to all cuts, public ownership etc, this would actually enthuse their base and wider sections of the working class. As it is the possibility of a new workers’ party emerging from the Corbyn movement has been pushed back, at least for now. The ill-preparedness of Corbyn, Momentum, et al to face up to what needs to be done is rooted in their political outlook. Their very weak version of reformism, one that doesn’t clearly oppose capitalism or offer a developed alternative to the market and in favour of widespread nationalisation, is an obstacle to the emergence of a new workers’ party. Even now, it’s not entirely ruled out that Corbyn could move further to the left, provoking the right into a new round of their civil war.
Nevertheless, the left populism that has emerged in the last period around movements like Sanders, Corbyn, and also in some of the left formations in Europe, are a pre-cursor of what will become more developed left reformist ideas as a step to a mass socialist consciousness at a later stage. It is essential that we continue to intervene in these movements with a clear programme of what needs to be done to create a new mass party with a fighting socialist and anti-capitalist policy.
The Corbyn surge has not been reflected in Scotland to a significant degree for reasons we have explained. Scottish Labour’s calamitous role in opposition to Scottish independence, alongside years of pro-capitalist policies under the Blairites, has shattered its social base among the working class. Indeed, the support for Labour in Scotland has now descended closer to the single-digits suffered by the former social democratic parties in Europe, including Greece, Ireland and France. The latest opinion polls have shown Scottish Labour on 15% support, an astonishing 10% behind the Scottish Tories who are on 25%. Even more remarkable is that backing for Labour among the under-50s stands at a disastrous 10%.
A section of Labour voters who support the union have clearly shifted towards the Tories in Scotland. According to the YouGov poll in November 2016, 27% of those who voted Labour in the 2015 general election have switched to the Ruth Davidson-led Tory Party. This was a key factor as to why the Tories defeated Labour into third place in the May 2016 elections for the Scottish parliament. The prospects for a Labour recovery in Scotland ahead of the council elections in May are limited, despite the growing mood of opposition to the SNP. As we have explained in our material, without a clear break from austerity by Labour-led councils, the removal of the Scottish Blairite leadership and a change in their policy of blanket opposition to Scottish independence, it is difficult to see Labour avoiding the likely loss of all the councils they currently control outright in Scotland.
The Corbyn-supporting left in Scotland have been incapable of mapping a road to recovery. They ruled out a challenge to Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale, even when it became clear that she was supporting the post-Brexit coup by right wing Labour MPs against Corbyn. Momentum/Campaign for Socialism supporting councillors have continually voted through cuts and have even backed the privatisation of the Glasgow ICT service, which has provoked a strike of workers in opposition. Scottish Labour MSPs’ alternative to another SNP cuts budget for 2017 was to propose tax rises, correctly for the highest earners but also on all workers through an increase of a penny on the basic rate of income tax. The Scottish Labour left’s continual blanket opposition to a second indyref, let alone giving critical support to independence in the context of a voluntary socialist confederation, as we do, has allowed the SNP to pose unchallenged as the defender of democratic rights.
Stephen Low is a leading figure in the Campaign for Socialism group. Writing in the Morning Star newspaper in a column entitled Combating Nationalism with Socialism in January 2016, he correctly criticised the SNP for being a “pro-austerity government”. He went on to bemoan the public support for the SNP and the fact that the Tories had supplanted Labour as the second party in Scotland. “This won’t change for the better until Labour is seen, once again, as a trusted vehicle for social change. This isn’t the case just now, squeezed as we have been between competing Scottish and British nationalisms.” Low’s conclusion, that somehow Labour are victims of reactionary forces out-with their control, is symptomatic of the ideological dead-end the Labour left are stuck in. They seem blind to the elemental class revolt that the 2014 indyref represented at its base. And the huge potential that exists to confront the SNP for their pro-capitalist policies while maintaining a principled socialist position on the national question. This would necessitate the Labour left putting forward a real anti-austerity policy of no cuts budgets – instead of defending Labour councils that carry out cuts – as well as wide-ranging socialist policies for the transformation of the economy.
SNP move rightwards – space opens up to the left
A growing space to the left of the SNP in Scotland now exists for precisely such a socialist and anti-austerity alternative. There has been a marked change in mood amongst big sections of the working class towards the SNP leadership since the highpoint of May 2015 when the SNP won 56 of the 59 available Scottish MPs. The “anti-establishment” and “anti-austerity” credentials of the SNP have been battered by the role of the party in power. The Brexit vote has led the Sturgeon leadership to move even further to the right. She is now acting as a spokesperson for the interests of the British capitalist class through her demand for continued membership and access to the European single market.
The impact on the SNP leadership of the EU referendum, the collapse in the oil price and the defeat of the referendum in 2014 has been significant. In 2011-12, Scotland’s geographic share of North Sea oil revenues was worth £9.6 billion. Last year, 2014-15, they slumped to £60 million. This has contributed, alongside the lack of any real recovery in the economy, to a sharp increase in the overall notional Scottish fiscal deficit, which currently stands at 9.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), double that of the UK figure.
There is currently a growing phalanx of leading SNP politicians who are calling for the party to be more “honest” about the economic challenges that would face an independent Scotland under capitalism. George Kerevan, an SNP MSP, commented recently that: “an independent Scotland would face five years of fiscal consolidation”. In other words continued austerity. In response to these economic difficulties the SNP have established a “Growth Commission” to discuss ways to reduce the deficit and grow the capitalist economy post-independence. The chair of the business-dominated commission is ex-SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, who is managing director of a major lobby firm that advises big business.
At the SNP party conference in October 2016, businesses were able to sponsor a “members lounge” for £23,000, a lounge exclusively populated by SNP MPs, MEPs and MSPs for £11,500 or the conference dinner for £12,500. For a mere £200-a-head you could go to a dinner attended by Nicola Sturgeon and finance secretary Derek Mackay at which, “corporate organisations and professional associations could learn more about the SNP in a relaxed and informal setting.” The SNP’s MP for Dundee West – a constituency containing some of the poorest areas of Scotland – has recently put an offer in to buy a castle in Angus for over £600,000.
Almost one-third of the SNP’s intake to Westminster in 2015 were in receipt of income from the rental market for properties they own, over and above their MPs salaries. 90% of the party’s MPs, MSPs and MEPs are drawn from the top three occupational groupings. These examples illuminate the reality of a party whose main representatives – drawn overwhelmingly from the middle class and small business layers – are completely removed from the lives of the working class majority in Scotland. Individuals from a working class background, such as Mhairi Black, are a tiny minority among the elected representatives of the SNP.
The new establishment
In addition, the recent Scottish Government budget for 2017 was yet another round of austerity that will deliver more deep cuts for public services. The SNP even refused to use the new powers over income tax to raise tax levels on the richest in society. With the SNP set to take control of a large number of councils in May, the potential for a series of explosive battles against the SNP is posed both now and over the next 12 to 24 months. Particularly as the scale of planned cuts have been heavily weighted for after the 2017 local government elections and in the run-up to 2019/20. The SNP are the political establishment in Scotland. And yet they are presiding over the deepest assault on public spending since the 1930s.
These factors have led to a dramatic falling away in membership and activity, especially by the new layer who joined the SNP following the 2014 indyref when the party membership rocketed to over 100,000. While electoral support for the SNP is still around the 46% mark, the numbers prepared to vote for the SNP have dropped significantly. This has been reflected mainly in high levels of abstentionism and low turnouts. 1.3 million fewer voters took part in the 2016 Scottish parliament elections compared to the 2014 referendum, and 660,000 less than in the 2015 Westminster election. Nicola Sturgeon herself was extremely popular when she took over the leadership of the SNP from Alex Salmond after the indyref. Her approval ratings as first minister, which were as high as +56% in May 2015, have now slumped to just +11%. Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has now surpassed the SNP leader in the latest polls.
At this stage there has not been a surge towards another political alternative. Scottish Labour, for reasons mentioned previously, are unable to offer a viable option to the hundreds of thousands who are open to a radical, left and anti-austerity programme. Scottish TUSC, in a small but important way, have given a glimpse of what is possible. In the 2016 election our votes in Dundee, Glasgow and Renfrewshire trebled compared to 2015. There was a very clear change in receptiveness to the need for a fighting alternative to the SNP. We are likely to find a similar, and possibly even a greater, opening during the council elections in May 2017.
It is vital that we continue to advocate the need for the trade unions, the biggest workers’ organisations in Scotland, to take to the political plane with a no cuts platform, including standing and supporting candidates in elections. Our call for the unions to play a key role in the building of a new workers’ party in Scotland retain their validity. While it is not totally excluded that the Labour left and the affiliated trade unions could challenge for the leadership of Scottish Labour and attempt to shift the party to the left, this is not the most likely perspective at this stage. Therefore, we should continue to call for the trade unions to work alongside TUSC and others in building that alternative to austerity as a step to a new mass workers’ party in Scotland. As part of our tactics in the trade unions we should argue for the devolution of the political funds to the Scottish membership and structures, where applicable, to take account of the different political situation that exists.
Indyref 2: SNP kick the can down the road
Much to the shock of the SNP leadership, the majority vote in Scotland to remain in the EU has not resulted in an increase in support for independence. It still stands at roughly the same level as it was in 2014 – 45% for independence and 55% opposed. In the run-up to the EU referendum, Scotland being “taken out of the EU against its will” was supposed to be a “material change of circumstances” that would justify a second indyref.
The quandary facing the SNP leadership is the need to delay a concrete timetable for a new referendum while awaiting a sustained shift in the polls in favour of independence. For this reason there is now no prospect of an immediate proposal for an indyref 2 from the SNP. However, the possibility of another referendum before 2020 is becoming more likely. Sturgeon has sought “compromise and consensus” and was prepared to “put aside the issue of another referendum” until the Brexit talks are completed. The referendum was “on the table” as a negotiating tactic to try and wrestle the best deal, as they see it, from the Brexit talks. For Sturgeon and the SNP that means continued membership and access to the European Single Market while accepting that Scotland would be outside the formal structures of the EU. This in itself is another retreat from their initial position, which was that Scotland should still be part of the EU even after the UK leaves.
Sturgeon and the SNP strategists have spent much of the period since the Brexit vote redefining Scottish independence as a last resort through which membership of the EU and the single market could be maintained. But this has clashed significantly with a big layer of working-class pro-indy supporters who voted to leave the EU. Reflecting this reality, Kenny MacKaskill, the former SNP Justice Minister, writing in the Herald newspaper appealed to Sturgeon to de-couple the issue of independence from EU membership. “Independence in the EU many well be less popular that straight-forward independence. Many of the most ardent Yes voters were also Leave supporters.”
In December 2016 the SNP unveiled their new negotiating stance on Brexit. These were, according to Nicola Sturgeon, “a significant compromise on the part of the Scottish Government” that “fall short of what we consider to be the best option for Scotland and the UK – full membership of the EU.” The Scottish Government are now arguing for membership of the single market for Scotland and the UK through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) or the European Economic Area (EEA). If the UK ends up outside the single market – a so-called hard Brexit – it will be difficult for the SNP to avoid beginning the formal process of triggering a second referendum on Scottish independence. This could, however, be a very long and protracted process.
One of the factors in the change of tack is that the SNP are losing ground among their working-class supporters, including over their position on the EU. Polling indicates that in December 2016, only 76% of those who voted Yes in 2014 would make the same choice again in an indyref 2. Effectively a quarter of those who backed independence in 2014 – overwhelmingly working class – are now saying they have changed their position. In contrast, there has been a growth in support for independence amongst a section of middle class voters who opted to stay in the EU and who opposed independence in 2014.
The intensity of the mood around the national question has dipped over the past year. A large majority are opposed to the holding of a referendum in 2017. For some pro-indy supporters this will be a consideration that it would not be possible to win a majority Yes vote just now. However, it also reflects a growing disenchantment with the SNP, the intractable economic problems and the viability of a independent capitalist state – including the fall in the oil price – as well as a new and important focus on class issues. This third factor is also driven by the many trade union struggles that are now taking place against the Scottish government and the SNP’s role in austerity. Increasingly the SNP are being seen as a political party hostile to the interests of trade unionists and workers in struggle.
Capitalism is crisis – in or out of the EU
The overwhelming majority of the capitalist class in Britain wish to retain membership of the EU and, in particular, membership of the single market. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership are defending the interests of the the ruling elite in calling for as soft a Brexit as possible. The Brexit vote was therefore a major blow to the economic interests and indeed the prestige of the ruling class. Brexit – particularly a hard Brexit – will introduce new features of dislocation and crisis into the economy. However, in or out of the EU on the basis of capitalism, inequality, austerity and further attacks on the working and middle class are inevitable. We stand for a socialist Brexit; that is a breaking with the neo-liberal, pro-privatisation and anti-working class treaties that make up the EU. We must link this to the struggle for a voluntary socialist confederation of Europe as the only way out for the working class majority. Retaining membership of the EU or a “soft” Brexit will not end the attacks.
According to the Financial Times: “Growth will slow markedly in 2017, household incomes will be squeezed by higher inflation and businesses will hold back on investment decisions.” (2/1/17) The likely slowdown in the UK economy will mean a growth rate of around 1.3% for 2017. While much of this will be blamed on the post-Brexit vote conditions, as we have explained, the era of relatively dynamic growth for capitalism is over. “Since the Global Crisis, per-capita (per head) income in developed countries has stagnated. Europe took until 2015 to recover to the 2008 level. There has been a structural transition to minimal, essentially zero, growth.” Enrico Perotti The bourgeois’ inability to find a way out of structural low growth, low productivity and low investment is symptomatic of its parasitical character today.
Brexit also threatens the destruction of the Tory Party. The May-led government is weak and deeply divided. As the negotiations over Britain leaving the EU unfold, the divisions in the Tories will grow to crisis levels. Even a formal split is possible, as happened in 1846 over the Corn Laws. On the one hand May cannot be seen to abandon openly the mandate of the over 17 million who voted to leave the EU. On the other side are the interests of the capitalist class as a whole, including in Europe, who wish to soften or to even avoid a Brexit altogether. Either way, the potential for an early general election is inherent in this situation. The outcome of which would be very uncertain. Above all, the potential for the working class to go on the offensive against austerity – a policy unaltered by the May government – and to press for its own class interests will grow.
Workers’ struggles on the increase
Struggle plays a vital role in the sharpening of class-consciousness and the drawing of political conclusions. We base ourselves on the working class and its mass organisations for a reason: because they are the decisive force that can and will lead the struggle to overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist democracy. Prior to that, the increased confidence and cohesion that comes from taking strike action and engaging in struggle generally is a key factor, although not the only one, in preparing the ground of the emergence of a powerful anti-capitalist and socialist outlook.
2016 saw small but important strikes in Scotland that represented a certain revival in the confidence of workers to take action. There were national strikes by college lecturers and college support staff over pay, train guards on safety, RMT workers on CalMac ferries over privatisation and PCS members in the Scottish museums, all of whom won important victories. In addition, the first strikes in over two decades by North Sea oil workers took place against the onslaught on pay and conditions in the industry. Oil workers’ unions are also currently preparing a ballot over pay. The partial recovery in the oil price in the past period can embolden oil workers to demand a return of what has been lost since 2015. There are also ongoing strikes in the Post Office and possible further action over the removal of the Royal Mail pension scheme.
At a local level there were a number of struggles in local government, many of which were led by our comrades in conjunction with other trade union fighters. The West Dunbartonshire secondary teachers action lasted for 13 weeks and included six days of strike action. It was a strike that ended in an important victory over cuts to teacher posts and had national repercussions throughout the union- the EIS – and has been seen as a fighting example for other branches. The role of our forces was critical in this struggle and underlines yet again the decisive difference that even one or two Marxists can make in a trade union.
If this was the case in West Dunbartonshire, then it has been shown many times over in Glasgow, and in particular the 10,000-strong Unison branch that we play a leading role in. In a whole number of disputes – school janitors, community safety staff, ICT workers etc – workers have had the confidence to move into struggle. The socialist policy of the Unison branch in Glasgow, of opposition to all cuts and a refusal to accept concession bargaining, has had a huge effect. We have been singled out for attack by the Labour leadership of Glasgow council for our defence of the working class and our refusal to accept austerity. This has also had a big impact in other local government branches of Unison as well as Unite, GMB etc, who have agreed a no cuts policy.
On a British level, the leading role of our party in the civil service union, PCS, has been a tremendous example of what a fighting socialist leadership means in practice. For this reason the Tory government singled-out PCS in an attempt to effectively destroy the union by attacking its ability to collect subs from its members. The incredible campaign by the union in defeating this attack is a testimony to the role of our comrades. PCS will be involved in a series of struggle in the next year as well. These include an emerging campaign over jobcentre closures, as well as further attacks on pay and terms and conditions and redundancy rights.
The general secretary election in Unite will be a crucial battle in the coming months. We are giving critical support to Len McCluskey against a right-wing candidate who is also backed by the capitalist class and the right in the Labour Party. This election is also widely seen, rightly, as an attempt to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s position and to try and turn the tide against the shift to the left in the trade unions generally over the last few years.
Despite our criticisms of Corbyn and McCluskey we are not neutral in this struggle. A defeat for the candidate of the right would be a step forward and give confidence to workers who are taking action or will do. Conversely, if McCluskey was defeated it would be seen as a victory for the right and the ruling class. For this reason, the entry into the contest of a candidate of the ultra left is a major mistake and can play into the hands of those capitalist forces who wish to inflict a defeat on the working class and the left generally. We are also standing comrades from the party in Scotland, England and Wales for the NEC of Unison and Unite. There is a new situation opening up in Unison that can see a major breakthrough for the left.
With a growing mood in favour of action, our key demands for nationally coordinated strike action and a 24-hour general strike will come back to the fore. A victory for McCluskey in Unite and a swing to the left in Unison at a national level – Britain’s two biggest trade union – would also open new opportunities for advancing the case for mass coordinated strike action. Of course the craven leaders of the right-wing unions, the TUC and the STUC for that matter, will view this prospect with horror.
Looking ahead to 2017, pay is increasingly emerging as a key battleground. The prospects for rapidly rising inflation in the next months, and against the backdrop of a fall in wages of around 10% since 2009, can lead to an outbreak of further strikes seeking pay rises. The Resolution Foundation commented in December 2016: “we are on course for fast, significant and repeated falls in real earnings growth early in the New Year…almost all of this drop is being driven by rising inflation.”
There are already record levels of in-work poverty in Scotland. Incredibly 58% of the working age adults who live in poverty are in working households (figures for 2015). For children, the position is even worse. 66% of children in poverty in Scotland live in a household where at least one parent is in work. This scandalous situation underlines dramatically the appalling levels of low pay, as well as the numbers forced into part-time and self-employed working. Not surprisingly, median income in Scotland is no higher than in 2009/10 and is set to fall back again in 2017. At the same time income inequality has grown to record levels.
Under these conditions there can be explosive moods developing on pay as workers draw the conclusion that “enough is enough”. Strike ballots are possible for local government workers early in 2017. Given our role in key unions such as Unison, PCS and others we are well placed to assist and help develop the potential for national and coordinated strike action.
Nor is it only in the workplaces, crucial though they are, that the class struggle can erupt. Battles over cuts to the NHS – which are at least £500 million this year – will inevitably provoke community campaigns and protests. This was the case in the Lochee area of Dundee for example. Again the role of our comrades was vital in what ended up as a victory and extra GP resources for the area. However, we need to continually put the case for the linking up of local struggles against cuts both city-wide and in a national movement. It’s crucial that the health sector trade unions unite with the communities in a joint campaign to defend the NHS from cuts.
Young people moving left
One of the features of the situation is the increased potential for unorganised workers to take to the road of struggle. Recently in England there have been examples of the Uber and Deliveroo workers taking action to organise themselves, including strike action and protests. For young workers in particular the questions of pay, security of work and the levels of exploitation they face are potentially explosive. The new openings for our work among young people must also include an orientation to young workers.
There has been a significant change in the outlook of big sections of young people in Scotland. Primarily, this is driven by the horrendous economic and social prospects that exist under capitalism for the younger generation. In many ways this was the wellspring for the interest in politics that exploded through the indyref of 2014. Young people in Scotland were hugely attracted to the movement. The surge to the SNP particularly affected the youth, although many supported and joined the Greens as well. However, the craven failure of the SNP to deliver on its anti-austerity rhetoric has created a big vacuum and has led to a layer looking consciously for a political alternative to the left of the SNP.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that there is a genuine interest in socialism and socialist ideas now. This includes on the campuses where we have done most of our work over the past 6 months with some success. International events like the Sanders’ phenomena have also played a role, as has the Corbyn surge in acquainting young people with “socialism” for the first time. This interest will increase in the next period. As will a mood to fight on cuts to education in schools, colleges etc, student debt, low pay and zero-hours as well as on other issues including sexism, racism and LGBTQ rights. The new round of attacks on welfare, Bedroom Tax Two and other attacks can also lead to further radicalisation and, crucially, the potential to organise young people in a struggle. Our work among young people is, along with the trade unions, key areas of our work.
Women fighting back
Internationally, there has been a wave of radicalisation among women. Big struggles have erupted over abortion rights, including in Poland and Ireland. In Latin America thousands have mobilised against sexism, violence and sexual assault. Following the election of the misogynist Trump in the US, a new wave of struggle is certain if, as seems likely, attempts are made to attack the Roe v Wade abortion legislation.
In Scotland, the impact of cuts to public services, where the majority of the workforce are women, has and will increasingly see women taking to the road of struggle and strike action. Cuts to vital violence against women projects such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, in addition to the attacks on welfare and housing provision, will also affect women hard. We have also seen the emergence of many young women becoming interested in socialist ideas on campuses across Scotland. The opportunities to continue the building of our work among women will grow in 2017. United working class struggle against sexism, violence and austerity cuts is increasingly seen as the way forward.
Following Brexit there has been a rise in racism and anti-immigrant views and this also applies in the US post Trump’s election. The rise of racism in the context of the capitalist crisis and the need to combat all forms of discrimination are key issues facing the workers’ movement. The role played by the right-wing, anti-immigrant populists like Ukip, whose ideas are also increasingly adapted by the “mainstream” parties, requires a left and socialist alternative to be built on a mass scale. There are many young people and workers who will want to fight on the issues of opposing racism in the next year.
The SNP and other pro-capitalist parties who support the EU have made much of the so-called “four freedoms”, including freedom of movement. For socialists, we need to be clear that “free movement of labour” is a tool used by the bosses to aid their exploitation of the working class as a whole. We therefore don’t support “free movement” of capital, labour, goods and services etc as practised by the bourgeois, which is a weapon to drive down wages and undermine workers’ rights. Instead we defend all workers, including migrant workers, having the rate for the job, trade union rights and workers’ control of conditions at work. We defend the rights of all migrant workers and immigrants and oppose all forms of racism at all times.
A socialist world would be a world without borders, with genuinely free movement, unlike what passes for it in Fortress Europe where thousands of refugees are left to drown in the Mediterranean. Since its inception, however, the workers’ movement has not supported capitalist ‘free movement’, including of labour, which undermines and drives down workers’ conditions and consequently aggravates racism and nationalism, but rather has fought to maximise workers’ control of conditions at work, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.
Capitalism represents a dead end for the overwhelming majority of the world’s population and a ticking-time bomb for the environment. After the collapse of Stalinism in 1989/90, Francis Fukuyama, the American economist and philosopher, proclaimed “the end of history”. That neo-liberal capitalism was the highest and final form of human society, ideas he has largely had to abandon. Today, the pessimism of the bourgeois is evident in these words from Martin Wolf of the Financial Times: “The hopes of a brave new world of progress, harmony and democracy, raised by the market opening of the 1980s and collapse of Soviet communism between 1989 and 1991, have turned to ashes.”
It falls to the working class, the oppressed and the poor to forge a new socialist world from the ashes of capitalism. This year – 2017 – is the 100th anniversary of the greatest event in human history – the October 1917 Russian Revolution led by the Bolsheviks. It is these ideas – in their modern form – that will offer the way forward in the struggle to end a diseased capitalism and establish a real democratic and socialist future.
Despite the throwing back of consciousness that followed the collapse of Stalinism, and which we are still dealing with today, consciousness is changing. There is widespread rejection of capitalism in its neo-liberal form. Socialist ideas are becoming more relevant and increasingly in tune with the outlook of growing layers of the working class and young people. Our task this year is to reach out to those sections and build a stronger and more combative revolutionary party in Scotland in 2017.