Elections for the Scottish Parliament and local councils are to be held on 3 May. Most opinion polls are forecasting a big fall in support for New Labour.
Labour’s agenda of neo-liberal attacks on workers – privatisation, attacks on public sector workers etc – and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen even their core support deserting them in droves. Whether their previous supporters vote for someone else or just stay at home, remains to be seen.
The main beneficiaries look to be the Scottish National Party (SNP). They have consistently topped opinion polls although a crucial factor in all the polls is the big number of voters who have still to make up their mind at this late stage.
Labour’s campaign was embarrassed further when the recent Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) voted by a majority of just one to call for a Labour vote in this election. Even the patience of the leaders of many of the trade unions has been strained to breaking point, resulting in this very narrow vote. Trade unionists have been involved in a number of industrial struggles over the last few years especially in the public sector. Firefighters, nursery nurses, civil servants and local government workers have all taken action over the last term of the Scottish Parliament and all were in direct opposition to the Labour-led Scottish Executive and/or Labour run local authorities. Workers in the NHS have seen privatisation spreading while pay and conditions have worsened.
The rise in support for the SNP has not meant a big rise in support for independence. The nationalists have benefited from the mass hatred and outright hostility towards Blair’s neo-liberal attacks on working-class people and the war in Iraq.
The SNP have also benefited from big financial donations from some of the richest people in the country such as Kwik-Fit owner Tom Farmer and Stagecoach boss Brian Soutar. The SNP have continued on their right-wing trajectory, they want to cut taxes for big business and have called for a more ’efficient and streamlined’ public sector – a very thinly veiled threat of cuts.
Their opposition to the war in Iraq is only due to the lack of United Nations support for it. They support the continued occupation of Afghanistan on so-called humanitarian grounds.
The most likely scenario is that the SNP will make gains and could end up as the largest party in the parliament. However that does not necessarily mean they will form an administration. The electoral system virtually means that any administration would have to be a coalition.
The Liberal Democrats have said they would be opposed to joining a coalition with the SNP because the nationalists want to hold a referendum on independence within the first term (four years) of their control. But the reality is, all of the big business parties may be prepared to do some backroom deal once the votes are counted.
It cannot be ruled out that Labour could remain in a coalition with their current partners the Lib-Dems, propped up by the support of the Tories in any confidence votes.
The International Socialists (CWI in Scotland) are energetically campaigning as part of Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement in these elections. Our members are candidates in a number of areas including top of the regional list in the West of Scotland.
The campaign to have Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne re-elected to the parliament as well as the election of other Solidarity candidates at both local and national level has seen tens of thousands of election bulletins distributed to workplaces and working class communities.
Trade unionists have been the backbone of Solidarity’s campaign in a number of areas due to Solidarity’s stance in support of workers in struggle and in defence of trade union rights.
A number of public meetings have taken place with big and enthusiastic audiences. The response to the fighting socialist alternative being presented by Solidarity has been encouraging but there is still much to do.
There will be industrial battles to follow in the coming months and years. If Solidarity can maintain a parliamentary presence then that can be a useful platform for the building of a much needed mass socialist party to challenge the economic consensus of the four big business parties.