Scotland: Big opportunities for socialists in May poll

The second elections to the Scottish Parliament take place on May 1st 2003. May Day is the traditional day of celebration and commemoration for the international workers and socialist movement. But the first four years of life of the Scottish Parliament have been more of a homage to neo-liberal capitalism with increasing poverty and a privatisation bonanza for big business rather than an advance for working class people in Scotland.

The New Labour/Liberal executive have presided over an unprecedented number of privatisation projects, particularly in local government.

From road maintainence, to PFI/PPP projects in schools and hospitals, to the wholesale stock transfer of council housing in Glasgow and the Borders. Labour led local authorities and the Executive have collaborated with big business to steal billions of pounds worth of public assets from ordinary people in Scotland.

Hospital waiting times are up, low pay in public services is rife and the number of children and adults in Scotland living in poverty has increased in the last four years.

The cost of building the still unfinished new Scottish Parliament has spiralled from £40 million to over £340 million.

There have been benefits though. MSP’s voted themselves a 14% wage rise taking their pay to £48,000 a year. First minister Jack McConnell has to survive on £116,000. While disgraced former First Minister, Henry McLeish, who was in post for barely a year, now receives a £34,000 a year pension.

At the same time thousands of workers in Scotland are having their pension schemes cancelled, one in three children live in poverty and 750,000 people cannot afford to adequately heat their homes.

No wonder there is a massive rejection of capitalist politicians and parties in Scotland.

Recent polls show that 50% of people do not intend to vote in the Scottish elections this year. A majority believe the NHS and public services will get worse in the next year.

The Scottish manufacturing sector has collapsed. Exports slumped by 25% in the third quarter of 2002, with electronics, supposedly the sunrise savour of the Scottish economy, suffering a devastating 35% fall.

The Scottish National Party, once a ’left’ alternative to New Labour, have themselves moved dramaticaly to the right. The SNP have long since dropped their commitments to public ownership and tax increases on the rich. They now pledge to slash business tax to below the levels of England in an effort to crate a low tax, high profit environment and attract investment into Scotland.

Their model is the Celtic Tiger of Ireland which is in rapid decline following the recession in the US and now the world economy as a whole. The nationalists have failed to capitalise on the anger that exists towards the government and polls expect the SNP to make only modest gains in May.

Workers and young people are fighting back however.

The firefighters, NHS workers, train drivers and local government staff have all taken strike action in the past two years. The anti-war movement is growing, especially amongst young people.

In the May elections the Scottish Socialist Party is poised to make a significant advance. Latest polls indicate the SSP is consistenly acheving 7% in the second vote for the PR list. This could deliver four or five SSP MSP’s on May 1st. The SSP has been able to tap into the anti-establishment mood and the fury at widening inequality and poverty in Scotland.

Potentially this development alongside the growing industrial unrest, with moves to break the links with New Labour in the trade unions, can lay the basis for the rapid strengthening of socialist ideas and the building of a mass working class alternative to the capitalist establishment.

The challenge for the SSP leadership is to put forward a socialist and internationalist programme which will be necessary to ensure that this movement can fully develop in the months and years ahead.

This article first appeared in International Socialist, paper of the CWI in Scotland

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January 2003