Scotland: Westminster coalition of savage cuts takes power

Time for mass struggle to fight the cuts

The formation of the so-called “liberal – conservative” coalition will open up a period of instability and class conflict not seen in Britain for decades. The character of this government is already clear. The Tory/Lib Dem coalition agreement is based on “a significantly accelerated reduction in the structural deficit over the course of a Parliament, with the main burden of deficit reduction borne by reduced spending rather than increased taxes.”

In any language that represents a declaration of war against public services, jobs, pensions, benefits and education. Deep cuts the like of which has not been seen for decades. To start with an emergency budget will take place in June to agree how £6 billion will be cut from this years public spending. A further £50 billion in cuts is planned over the next four years.

The Financial Times declared on Thursday 13th May that, “Mr Osborne will have to announce public spending cuts of £57 billion a year from a non-protected budget of about £260 billion – cuts of about 22%. It goes without saying that this will prove a sharp test of political will… Britain’s public sector will face similar austerity measures to those seen in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain.”

This outcome has angered and dismayed millions of people. Including many of those who had voted Liberal Democrat thinking they were voting against the return of a Tory government. In Scotland there is genuine anger that the Lib Dems have opened the gates to the “toxic Tories” – who again were driven to the margins of politics in Scotland – winning just 1 seat and securing 15% of the vote.

The Lib Dems will pay a huge price for this in Scotland and in many parts of England and Wales as well. Their membership will leave in their thousands as it becomes clear the character of this government. Already there have been reports of resignations of party activists in protest. The scale of the opposition to cuts on this scale will, at a certain stage, split the Lib Dems apart. One Lib Dem MSP commented, “The truth is we are deeply divided. Some of the Orange Book people are happy to move to the right and they don’t care about the position here”

This new anti-working class government will be unstable and a government of crisis. It is very unlikely to last a full term. Especially given the mass opposition its savage cuts will provoke among the working class. However, it could by hold onto power for a year or two – at least until the majority of their cuts are attempted from 2011-2012 onwards.

The capitalists had hoped for, and paid handsomely to try and ensure, a majority Tory government that was best able to carry through the enormous cuts planned. Big business funded the Tory campaign to the tune of £18 million and the outcome of a hung parliament was a blow to those hopes.

For a few days it seemed possible that a misnamed “progressive” coalition involving Labour and the Liberals, perhaps along with support from the “celtic nationalists” from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland was possible. A combination of the preference by the “Orange Book” Liberals led by Nick Clegg – who are much more ideologically closer to the Tories – and opposition from within New Labour for any deal involving the nationalists, plus a calculation that Labour had more to gain by staying outside such a coalition, ended that possibility.

A full coalition binding the Lib Dems closely to government responsibility was the next best alternative from the capitalist’s point of view to a majority Tory administration. More than one-third of Liberal MP’s have been given ministerial positions. A big majority will be on the government payroll by the time all the positions are filled. This is deliberately designed to make it more difficult for the Lib Dems to break from the coalition – and their ministerial perks and privileges. It won’t however prevent a split in the Lib Dems at a certain stage.

So desperate was Nick Clegg to team up with his fellow public school educated chum, David Cameron, that the Lib Dems have even abandoned their insistence on a referendum on proportional representation. Instead we are likely to see a future referendum on the Alternative Vote system, which is not proportional and would not have produced a different result in terms of seats than the one we saw on May 6th.

This government will provoke mass opposition and huge turmoil not least because it will be attempting to carry out these cuts, and tax rises including a likely increase in VAT, against the backdrop of a stagnating economy. As the economist David Blanchflower, who was a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, commented, “Growth is going to be limited. Living standards are going to fall. There will be a jobless or a job loss recovery. This is a world we have not seen in our lifetimes before.”

Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has reportedly said that so savage are the cuts to be that whichever government carries them out will be out of power for a generation.

We are entering a far more disturbed and unstable period for British capitalism and its political representatives. One in which the events that have exploded in Greece over the last few months will become more of a template for British society.

The Lib Dems are likely to suffer the same fate as other capitalist coalition partners have in other parts of Europe, such as the Progressive Democrats and the Greens in Ireland and the Greens in Germany. All of whom have seen their support diminished, if not completely broken, as a result of taking part in governments that savagely attacked the working class.

Scotland

The outcome of this election will, once again, increase national tensions and lead to a rise in demands for far-reaching constitutional change in Scotland – including increased demands for independence and a referendum. In workplaces and communities across Scotland there is anger and resentment, much of that aimed at the Lib Dems, that the people of Scotland are saddled with a Tory government who could only secure 1 MP out of the 59 elected on May 6th. 85% of people voting in Scotland voted for “anyone but the Tories”

The widespread fear of a Tory government actually saw an increase in Labour’s vote in Scotland as the mood of “lesser evilism” dominated the election. Labour won over 1 million votes which was 42% of the poll – an increase of over 2.5% compared to 2005, winning 41MPs. This share of the vote compared to Labour’s 29 % across the UK as a whole and 25% share of the poll in England.

The SNP also suffered in this election. They had set a target of winning 20 MPs but in the end secured only 6, losing Glasgow East to Labour. A seat they won in a by election victory in 2008. Their 20% of the poll was a small increase of 2% and put the nationalists in second place ahead of the Lib Dems who won 11 seats with 16.5% of the vote.

The Westminster “coalition of cuts” only has 12 representatives in Scotland and 32% of the vote. While they hope that the 11 Lib Dem MPs will ‘legitimise” their government in Scotland, in reality they will not be accepted as being representative. That feeling will increase dramatically over the next weeks and months as the savage cuts they plan begin to bite.

Cameron and Clegg have moved quickly to offer to carry out the conclusions of the Calman commission, which proposed to increase the powers of the Scottish parliament. They may well be forced to offer a Calman plus deal, involving more substantial fiscal measures in an attempt to “placate” the mood in Scotland. Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, has also offered to allow the SNP government to postpone until 2011 the £600 million in cuts planned for the Scottish budget for 2010.

The SNP may well grab this offer with both hands; given there is an election for the Scottish parliament in May 2011. The SNP are being increasingly exposed as a government of cuts and have put up no resistance, other than hot air, to the draconian austerity measures that are planned. Instead they have offered a “constructive working relationship” with the Tories and the Lib Dem coalition rather than preparing a campaign to resist the attacks that have already begun.

In an act of extreme irony Labour in Scotland are already positioning them selves as a “clean hands” alternative to the governments of cuts. Reduced to opposition at Westminster and at Holyrood, Labour’s tactics will be to attack the SNP and the Tories/Lib Dem coalition and hope to win the Scottish election in May next year. And yet new Labour were the gate keepers for the return of a Tory government. After all it was Labour’s own chancellor, Alistair Darling, who promised that if elected Labour’s cuts would be “worse than those of Margaret Thatcher.”

New Labour, under the leadership of Blair and Brown, were responsible for driving the Labour Party to the right and embracing the free market and neo-liberal capitalism. In it present form, it offers no alternative for workers and trade unionists searching for political representation.

Some trade union leaders will still cling to Labour at all costs. Others like UNITE general secretary candidate, Len McClusky, has said Unite members will join the Labour Party to reclaim it. We don’t think this is likely to happen, or if it does to succeed in changing the direction of the capitalist Labour Party.

As the Socialist Party in England and Wales have commented: “However, to stand a chance of reclaiming capitalist New Labour for the working class it would take a mass influx into the party – of trade unionists and young people – determined to rebuild the democratic structures which have long been destroyed. To put it mildly, this has not been the experience of the other ex-social democratic parties in Europe, which have not altered their capitalist character when out of power and have largely remained empty shells.”

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Socialist alternative

Under the conditions that prevailed in Scotland the votes for the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition were modest. The overwhelming mood in working class areas was to stop the Tories at all costs. This made it difficult to convince people to vote for us, although there was widespread sympathy for our message that we should not have to pay for a crisis we did not create. The campaign spoke to over half a million people in Scotland, warning of what was to come, whoever won the election. The turnouts at the public meetings was good and many new people looking to organise a fight back can be won to the socialist movement as a result.

Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow South West received the highest socialist vote in Scotland in winning 931 votes and 3% of the vote. Ray Gunnion a member of the International Socialists and the Lanarkshire Socialist Alliance won 609 votes in Motherwell and Wishaw, and polled the second highest socialist vote. Other members of the International Socialists who stood were Jim McFarlane in Dundee West (357 and 1%) and Brian Smith in Glasgow South (351 and 1%) and Gary Clark in East Edinburgh (274 0.7%)

The International Socialists believes that these modest votes, and the votes won by TUSC in England and Wales are a step forward and should be built on. We support the idea that a TUSC type of coalition should be continued and used to help prepare a united left and trade union based challenge for the Scottish elections next May.

The need for working class political representation is even more acute today and TUSC and other left trade union leaders should help take the lead in calling a conference to discuss the way forward.

Alongside this however we need to build a coalition of resistance to the savagery that is being perpetrated by this vicious cuts government. IA mass demonstration led by the trade unions and involving the communities needs to be organised. Industrial action across the public sector unions including preparing a 24 hour general strike will also be on the agenda at a certain stage.

United community and trade union struggles to defend public services and jobs are also vital. A struggle of young people and students to defend education and fight for jobs and a living wage also need to be stepped up.

The capitalists and their new Tory/Lib Dem government have declared war on working class people. We need to organise to fight these attacks and lay the basis for the building of a mass workers party armed with socialist ideas that will challenge the logic of capitalism that says we should pay the price for their economic crisis.