New openings for a socialist left alternative emerge
The Scottish National Party (SNP) won the Scottish parliamentary elections on Thursday, although they lost their overall majority and will govern as a minority administration at Holyrood with 63 MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament)
In a catastrophe for Scottish Labour, the Tories were second on 31 seats, pushing Labour into third on 24. The Greens secured 6 MSPs and the Lib Dems 5. The United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) failed to make a breakthrough and polled only 2% nationally. The Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) saw its vote increase in the six seats we contested (see report below)
Turnout at 55% was down significantly compared to the “electoral uprisings” against austerity and the political establishment witnessed in 2014 and 2015, although it was slightly higher than the 50% who voted in the 2011 Scottish election.
In contrast with the indyref, 1.3 million fewer people took part in the election. There was a 650,000 fall-off from last year’s Westminster election.
An increasing mood of disappointment in the actions of the SNP in power; their implementation of Tory austerity and the lack of a viable national left alternative has led to an increasing alienation in many working-class areas, reflected in the turnout. Also absent was the mobilisation of young people – 16 and 17-year olds voted for the first time in an election – so energised by the indyref.
There has been no significant shift to the left by the SNP since the great surge in membership that following the referendum.
During the election campaign the SNP leadership came out against tax rises for the richest, even at this time of growing inequality and tax evasion/avoidance by big business, underlined by the Panama Papers.
The decision by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to pose holding the front page of the Scottish Sun newspaper, after the paper endorsed a vote for the SNP just a few days after the Hillsborough inquests, caused great anger. TUSC supporters witnessed a number of times voters haranguing SNP canvassers at the polling stations over the Sun debacle.
Last year, the SNP won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats, reducing Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems to only one MP apiece. On Thursday, however, the Tories won 7 constituencies, the Lib Dems 4 and Labour 3. This was mainly because the SNP’s constituency share of the vote fell compared to the 2015 Westminster election, from 50% to 46.5%. In addition, there was also clearly “tactical” voting by supporters of the pro-union parties to try and keep the SNP out.
This was evident in Edinburgh where the SNP lost 3 seats to the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour. Indyref No voters were backing the candidate most likely to defeat the SNP.
The SNP also lost votes to the Tories across North East Scotland, a traditional SNP base. Again, this evidently reflected former SNP supporters who had voted No in the indyref switching to the Tories to defend the union and in opposition to the idea of a second referendum.
There has been much made in the media of the gains made by the Tories in Scotland in doubling their number of MSPs from 15 to 31. As commented on above, a key factor in the Tory gains was their ability to attract No voters – including some of what is left of Labour’s support – as “the best option”.
In part, this was made possible by a political “makeover” under the Scottish Tory leadership of the populist leader, Ruth Davidson. Dropped were the hard-edged Thatcherism and the poll tax of previous Tory leaders of the past, like Michael Forsyth and his ilk. In its place was a so-called “kinder” Conservatism, in favour of “equality and fairness for all”.
The class-polarisation which underscored the referendum, with working-class communities voting in far greater numbers for independence, and the older, more affluent and rural areas voting heavily for No, has been seized on by the Scottish Tories to pose as the most capable “defenders of the union.”
The Tory vote in North East Scotland increased by 14% compared to 2011, by 13% in South Scotland and by 10% in the Highlands and Islands, whereas in Glasgow it was up by only 5.8%. It should be born in mind, however, that the Tories won only 7 of the 73 constituency seats and 24 from the regional list system elected by proportional representation where they polled 524,000 votes, 23% of the total.
Labour’s free-fall continues
Labour, in contrast, saw its vote fall even further from the disastrous calamity of the 2015 near wipe-out when it lost 40 of their 41 Westminster seats. Their share fell from last year’s 24.3% to 22.6% in the constituency section.
Labour lost its entire Glasgow constituency MSPs to the SNP and won only 3 of the 73 constituency seats in Scotland. Only through the regional list PR system did Labour end up with 24 MSPs, in all. But Labour’s vote here was also down, by 7% to 19%.
Scottish Labour is still paying the price for their role in ‘Project Fear’ (the anti-independence campaign during the referendum) and for years of Blairite policies that combined to shatter its base of support among the working class. Nor is there any sign of a significant left emerging in Scottish Labour. One new Labour member who joined in the wake of Corbyn’s victory described feeling physically ill after attending their first Labour meeting in Glasgow because it was so right wing.
Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) contested 6 constituency seats; Dundee (2), Glasgow (3) and Renfrewshire (1). All TUSC candidates were members of Socialist Party Scotland (CWI). The total TUSC vote was 3,540, an average of 590 votes per candidate. This compares well with the 184 per candidate in 2015, a more than trebling of the vote (see list below for comparison).
Our top vote was 909 for Brian Smith in Glasgow Cathcart. TUSC polled 2,047 votes in the three Glasgow seats, 682 votes per candidate. In Dundee we won a respectable 1079 votes across the two seats. TUSC’s share of the vote in the six seats ranged between 1.4% and 3%.
In an energetic campaign, we spoke to thousands of people on the doors and at street stalls, produced and distributed 300,000 election leaflets and organised successful public meetings in all the areas we stood in.
As we expected, there was a far greater openness to TUSC’s 100% anti-austerity and socialist message. The experience of working-class people of the SNP and Labour making cuts is leading to a widening base of support for Scottish TUSC’s demand for no-cuts budgets and for MSPs and councillors to refuse to make Tory cuts.
The fact that we were standing candidates who are in the forefront of leading struggles against cuts locally also made a significant difference. The local council trade unions in Dundee and Glasgow support the demand for no-cuts budgets. In four of the six seats, TUSC candidates were leading local government trade unionists.
The clarity of TUSC’s platform – no support for the SNP and Labour in their implementation of austerity, for socialist policies to tackle the economic crisis and for the building of a new political movement for the 99% – was well received.
Solidarity and RISE
Unfortunately this political clarity, particularly on the need for a socialist left alternative to the SNP, was not clearly evident from the other left parties who stood in the election.
Solidarity – led by Tommy Sheridan – and RISE – a coalition involving the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) – stood on the regional lists and had some hopes of winning an MSP. Gaining around 6.5% in any of the eight regional lists would be enough to win a seat.
However, both had disappointing results. Their impact was limited by the refusal to openly criticise the SNP for its role in implementing cuts in Scotland and its pro-business policies. By taking this position they narrowed their appeal, especially to the growing numbers of working-class people who are looking for a political alternative to the left of the SNP.
Solidarity has, since the referendum, been calling for a vote for the SNP. They hoped to ride in the SNP slipstream and get elected into the parliament on the regional lists. Solidarity’s main demand in this election was for a second indyref by 2018. Their appeal was to the “Yes family” to “vote SNP with your first vote and Solidarity with your second, list vote”.
Despite Tommy Sheridan’s profile and his past role as a socialist fighter, including as a Glasgow MSP for eight years, Solidarity polled 1.4% on the Glasgow list, a total of 3,593 votes. Across Scotland Solidarity’s vote were 14,333 votes (0.6% share).
RISE, with some relatively favourable press coverage, did slightly worse than Solidarity and polled 0.5% nationally. Their highest vote was 1% on the Glasgow list. Like Solidarity, RISE made the issue of another referendum the key point in their manifesto but downplayed or ignored completely the role of the SNP in making Tory cuts. In the Highlands, where RISE stood a sitting MSP at the top of their list, they could only poll 0.4% of the regional vote.
In 5 of the 6 seats TUSC contested, the constituency vote was significantly higher than the list vote of Solidarity and Rise (see below). In 4 of the 6 constituencies TUSC received a higher vote than Solidarity and RISE combined.
Socialist Party Scotland (CWI) had called for the launching of a new socialist left party following the referendum. We appealed to Tommy Sheridan, the leaders of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) and others to support this step in the building a left alternative to the SNP. This was not done and the potential to establish a fighting anti-austerity party in Scotland was squandered.
RISE was only launched in August 2015, a year after the indyref and after the explosion in SNP support and membership. Socialist Party Scotland and TUSC were excluded from participation by the RISE leadership.
However, Socialist Party Scotland and TUSC continued to stand for a socialist alternative, despite the relatively difficult circumstances following the surge in support for the SNP after the referendum. We also stood in the Westminster election, last year, and our results, this year, underlines the growing potential to build a fighting left alternative to the parties of cuts.
Despite winning the election, the SNP government will continue to carry out cuts to budgets, jobs and public services in Scotland. The election of six Green MSPs should, if they fight for an anti-austerity policy, lead to them proposing a no-cuts budget at Holyrood, later this year. However the record of Green councillors in Scotland is not good, having backed budgets that included cuts in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
There is going to be a growing mood for real anti-austerity and socialist policies over the next twelve months. The council elections, next year, will take place at a time of increasing conflict between cuts councillors – mainly SNP and Labour – and trade unionists and local communities.
Socialist Party Scotland and Scottish TUSC will continue to work with all those who want to build a fighting anti-cuts alternative in the months ahead.
Scottish TUSC 2016 election results and comparison with 2015 Westminster election
(TUSC candidates unless otherwise stated)
Note: constituencies for the Scottish election are smaller than those in the 2015 Westminster election but are a useful comparison)
Dundee City West
Jim McFarlane 642 (2.3%)
2015 – 304 (0.7%)
Dundee City West regional list vote
Dundee City East
Leah Ganley 437 (1.5%)
2015 – 104 (0.2%)
Dundee City East regional list vote
Brian Smith 909 (3%)
2015 – 299 (0.6%)
Glasgow Cathcart regional list vote
Ian Leech 555 (2%)
2015 – 176 (0.4%) – SSP candidate
Glasgow Pollok regional list vote
Jamie Cocozza 583 (2.3%)
2015 – 224 (0.5%) – SSP candidate
Glasgow Shettleston regional list vote
Renfrewshire North and West
Jim Halfpenny 414 (1.4%)
2015 193 (0.4%)
Renfrewshire North and West regional list vote