Scotland: Interview with John McAllion

John McAllion was for many years an outspoken Labour MP at both Westminster and Holyrood parliaments. 

He narrowly lost his seat in Dundee in the May elections. His opposition to the war on Iraq and uncompromising stand against New Labour policies marked him out as one of the few principled socialists left in New Labour. We spoke to John about recent events.

International Socialists (IS): John, what do you think will be the outcome of the crisis facing Tony Blair?

John McAllion: Well, I think it’s likely that some people will take the fall. Most likely, Geoff Hoon will be forced to resign. Blair may stumble on for a while. But people don’t trust him at all. At some point, Gordon Brown will replace him. That won’t change anything. Brown was also one of the architects of New Labour. It will be the same policies.

IS: Some of the new Left union leaders have suggested that trade unionists should join Labour, and transform it. What do you think of that idea ?

John McAllion: I think if it worked, and if workers were joining the Labour Party, then great. But I see no evidence of workers joining. There was an Amicus poll recently which said that over 90% of those union members don’t identify with any political party. So, I think there’s a gap between the leaders of the trade unions and what the rank and file want to do. Anyway, even if people did begin to join, the procedures have been so altered, for making decisions in the party, that the members would have very little say over policy.

IS: With the leadership election in the SNP raising the issue of independence, do you think there could be a split in the SNP? And, what are your own views on the issue of independence for Scotland?

John McAllion: I think the SNP may split. Certainly, if John Swinney concentrates power at the party centre, the SNP may split. Also, if Swinney fails to win the leadership election convincingly, there could be a split.

Of course the issue of independence is very interesting and goes beyond the SNP itself. One poll of a trade union suggested around 40% supported independence but did not trust the SNP.

And it’s not just the question of independence – but what kind of independence. The SNP are offering "independence in Europe". But we need to discuss what kind of powers the Scottish Parliament needs to tackle the issues facing Scotland.

IS: After the last Scottish election results, do you think that the SSP, Greens and Independents are now a permanent feature of Scottish politics?

John McAllion: It depends on how they perform. I think they’re seen as a threat now – so all the big parties will unite against them. Then, it depends on how the small parties cope with that pressure. They could become a permanent feature. The media will be looking for points to attack them on – being "too extremist", and so on. So, this next four years is important for how they cope.

This interview was carried in the August/September issue of International Socialist, newspaper of the CWI in Scotland.

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August 2003