Scotland: Anti-cuts and socialist election challenge launched

Whichever combination of party’s form the next Scottish government, it will be a government that will attempt to carry through the deepest cuts in decades.

Nominations have closed for the May 5th elections to the Scottish parliament. While current polls indicate that Labour is marginally ahead of the incumbent SNP government, the election outcome is too close to call. What is certain is that this election takes place at a time of unprecedented cuts. Public spending in Scotland has been slashed by £1.3 billion for the year 2011-2012 by the SNP – who have meekly passed on the Con-Dem cuts. Local councils across Scotland of all political colours are carrying out savage cuts to jobs and public services.

Whichever combination of party’s form the next Scottish government, it will be a government that will attempt to carry through the deepest cuts in decades. But as the colossal 500,000 plus demonstration organised by the TUC in London on 26th March shows, trade unionists and working class communities will not accept this savagery without a fight.

The Socialist Party Scotland is taking part in these elections on a fighting anti-cuts programme. We will be standing in 7 of the 8 regions in Scotland as part of the Solidarity election challenge. In North East Scotland – which includes the cities of Dundee and Aberdeen – Socialist Party Scotland member Jim McFarlane, Chair of Dundee City Unison and a local government worker will be the lead candidate for Solidarity. Likewise in West Scotland which covers areas including Clydebank, Paisley, Greenock and Inverclyde, Socialist Party Scotland member Jim Halfpenny, who is a teacher and an EIS rep, is heading the Solidarity list.

In Glasgow SPS members are taking part in a joint list with George Galloway and others in Solidarity as part of the George Galloway – Coalition Against Cuts list. This agreement with George Galloway follows detailed negotiations based on an anti-cuts programme put forward by the Socialist Party Scotland. A programme that includes opposition to all cuts, support for needs budgets and a pledge that any MSPs elected from the list will vote against all cuts in the Scottish parliament.

This was agreed with George Galloway and has allowed us to form a short-term electoral agreement for the elections. There exists the possibility that George Galloway could be elected in Glasgow on a clear and principled anti-cuts programme. A programme which is being advocated by the Defend Glasgow Services and the Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance. A good vote for the Coalition Against Cuts list would represent a major boost for the anti-cuts movement in the city and across Scotland.

Brian Smith, a Socialist Party Scotland member and branch secretary of the 11,000 strong Glasgow City Unison branch and the convener of the Defend Glasgow Services is standing on the list. As is Ryan Stuart who is a college student and a member of Youth Fight For Jobs and well as the SPS.

While this will be a difficult election for Solidarity, following the jailing of Tommy Sheridan at the end of January, it is important to put down a marker for a fighting opposition to the cuts. In part to prepare for a much wider anti-cuts challenge in 2012, when the local council elections will be taking place. Socialist Party Scotland will be working to try to build a widespread anti-cuts challenge we hope as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)

As well as putting forward a fighting programme against the cuts we will also be popularising the socialist alternative to cuts and the capitalist crisis. Below is an article written for the March edition of Socialism Today, before a final agreement was reached with George Galloway, that sketches out the political backdrop to the Scottish elections and our tactics.

The 2011 Scottish elections – what approach should socialists take?

The Scottish parliamentary elections due to take place on 5th May 2011 will be conducted against the backdrop of the most severe cuts in public spending in generations. The Scottish government, in an act of supreme irony, succeeded with support from the Tories and the Lib Dems in implementing, a savage cuts budget in February. The result is a £1.3 billion reduction in funding for public services in Scotland for 2011/12. Whichever of the establishment parties wins the election in May, further cuts of another £2 billion are planned over the next three years.

The consequences for jobs, services and working conditions are horrendous. Thursday 10th February – so-called Super Thursday – saw the majority of Scotland’s councils set cuts budgets amounting to the slashing of more than £500 million from local government over the next year. The GMB trade union estimate that 10,000 jobs will be lost in Scotland’s public services. This will prove to be an underestimate when you consider than Glasgow city council alone plan to implement a minimum loss of 3,500 posts over the next two years.

On top of this are the cuts at a UK level that directly affect the welfare state including Scotland’s share of the £18 billion in benefit cuts and the slashing of civil service jobs, which will add billions more in cuts to the Scottish economy.

These attacks are being implemented with hardly a whimper of opposition from Labour and Scottish National Party (SNP) councillors and members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). The mere suggestion that they should stand-up and oppose the Con-Dem austerity programme has barely registered with the overwhelming majority of them. Rather than take the Liverpool road, set needs budgets and build a mass campaign for a return of the £1.3 billion stolen by the Con-Dem government, they have been prepared, without exception, to vote for cuts in one form or another.

A whole book could be written cataloguing the spinelessness of the ironically termed ‘opposition’ parties. Labour in Glasgow have slashed £100 million from the budget over the next two years. North Lanarkshire have axed £55 million, including 600 job losses in what the Labour leader, Tom McCabe, described as a ‘socialist’ budget – because it spread the pain evenly! The SNP/Lib Dem coalition in Aberdeen demanded a 5% pay cut on all workers on over £21,000 a year: when this was rightly rejected by the trade unions, the council then came back with a proposal for 900 compulsory redundancies. In Fife, the SNP/Lib Dem coalition have voted to privatise all the council’s residential care homes. While in Dundee the SNP council have imposed cuts of £15 million, including privatisation of services and major cuts to education.

The SNP’s new social contract

Across Scotland the local government employers’ body, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), have already imposed a three-year pay freeze, ie a pay cut, on all council workers, which will result in a 10-12% cut in living standards. The SNP’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has declared, “If people are willing to accept pay restraint, then we will do our bit to protect family budgets and job security”. Public sector workers will rightly reply, how can you protect family budgets when faced with year-on-year wage cuts? How can job security be protected when tens of thousands of jobs are being slashed from the public sector pay-roll?

Salmond wants to see a new version of the discredited ‘social contract’ for Scotland. In other words an agreement between the government, employers and workers that cuts to pay and terms and conditions should be accepted in order to avoid compulsory redundancies and to defend the ‘social wage’. Like the social contract proposed by the right wing Labour government in the1970s, this is nothing more than a cover for cuts. In reality only a determined mass struggle by workers and local communities to defend every job, oppose wage cuts and all attacks on services can the parties of cuts and privatisation be defeated.

This has not stopped the right-wing trade union leaders in Scotland from embracing the social contract idea. A recent document presented with no prior notice to the February meeting of the Scottish Council of Unison proposed that the union should sign up to an agreement with CoSLA and the Scottish government – a framework agreement that the STUC has already put its name to. ‘The Public Sector Workforce Framework’ argues for “the pursuit of the goal of no compulsory redundancies in exchange for agreement to real and meaningful working practices that allow employers to generate the package of savings required to fund this goal”.

The vast majority of the Unison branches were outraged by both these proposals and the Scottish Unison leadership’s advocation of the agreement. Following the debate during which Socialist Party Scotland (SPS) members played a leading role, the Framework document was overwhelmingly rejected by Unison.

This defeat for a ‘partnership’ agreement that accepts the inevitably of cuts comes after the union voted in December to call on councils and the Scottish government to set ‘needs budgets’ that protect jobs and services. It was also agreed by Unison that coordinated strike action across the public sector was necessary to build mass opposition to the cuts – again these policy positions were put forward by SPS members and were passed overwhelmingly.

The successful launch of the Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance (SACA) at the end of January 2011 is a very significant step forward for the building of an anti-cuts movement with a fighting programme. One hundred trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners representing 23 trade union and anti-cuts organisations agreed to launch SACA on a clear opposition to all cuts, for the setting of needs budgets, and that politicians who want to take part in the anti-cuts movement must vote against all cuts. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) sought to water down the founding principles of SACA to allow Labour and SNP politicians who voted for cuts to participate in the campaign – but this was rejected by the conference. In contrast the Right To Work (RTW) campaign set up by the SWP does allow politicians onto their Scottish steering committee without ‘checking their credentials’, including an SNP MSP who voted for cuts.

Political representation.

With all the main establishment parties implementing the Con-Dem savagery, increasingly trade unionists and wider sections of working class communities will be looking for a political alternative to the parties of cuts and privatisation.

However, the temporary lack of a major left force in Scotland as well as a desire to protest against the Con-Dem cuts will probably see Labour emerge as the biggest party in Scotland after the May elections. This will partly be a continuation of the ‘lesser evilism’ that predominated in the 2010 Westminster elections – with the added advantage for Labour that they are now out of power in Westminster and Holyrood. They are attempting to absolve themselves from any blame for the cuts by posing as an ‘opposition’ to the SNP government in Edinburgh and the Cameron/Clegg coalition in London.

The effective collapse of the Scottish Socialist Party in 2006, due to the political mistakes and degeneration of the leadership of that party (who left the ranks of the Committee for a Workers’ International in 2001), has left a very bad legacy. (See Lessons from the SSP experience, Socialism Today No.100, April 2006) The SSP lost 90% of its vote between the 2003 and 2007 elections and is finished as a viable electoral force.

The SSP has weakened its position even further as a result of their leadership being widely seen as having played the central role in the conviction and subsequent jailing of Tommy Sheridan on charges of perjury in January. Incredibly, the vendetta carried out against Tommy and Gail Sheridan was only possible through an unholy alliance of the SSP leadership, the police, the legal establishment and the Murdoch Empire. SSP members actively encouraged the perjury investigation, including the selling of a video to the News of the World for £200,000 and the handing in of SSP Executive Committee minutes to Lothian and Borders Police, both of which formed a key part of the state’s case against Tommy. In all twenty four SSP members gave evidence for the prosecution during the longest and most expensive perjury trial in Scottish legal history.

A colossal £4 million of public money was squandered in this political prosecution of Scotland’s best-known socialist. Socialist Party Scotland gave and continues to give our full support to Tommy Sheridan and his family as well as the Defend Tommy Sheridan Campaign (see www.defendtommysheidan.org).

As well as working as part of Solidarity, Socialist Party Scotland have also encouraged the development of the Scottish Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (STUSC). Our preferred option for the upcoming May elections was for a Scottish wide challenge under the banner of STUSC – with Tommy Sheridan heading the list in Glasgow. However, given the limited nature of the coalition at this stage, reflected in the lack of the engagement of wider forces in the coalition, this will not be possible. At present STUSC involves the forces around Solidarity, one branch of the RMT union, and the Lanarkshire Socialist Alliance.

There is a temporary mood amongst a layer of trade union activists on the left in Scotland to hold back from engaging in the political field at this stage, which necessitates a left challenge to Labour and the SNP. This has been reinforced by the coming to power of the Con-Dem coalition with a savage cuts programme, which the Labour-supporting trade union bureaucracy have used to bolster their case that the alternative to the cuts involves building support for Labour. However, another factor is also the legacy of the SSP’s disintegration and its leadership’s role in the jailing of Tommy Sheridan, which has tarnished the idea of building a socialist electoral alternative among a layer of workers – although this will change in the period we are moving into now.

Despite this temporary situation STUSC will continue and in particular prepare for the 2012 local government elections in Scotland. Whoever wins the elections on May 5th either a Labour or SNP led government will be a government of savage cuts. This will allow for a wider and stronger electoral challenge by STUSC for next year.

With the exception of Glasgow, we are supporting and calling for a vote for Solidarity in the other regions of Scotland.

George Galloway

George Galloway’s declaration that he will stand for a Glasgow list seat was followed in late January by an approach to Solidarity about the possibility of a short-term electoral agreement for the May elections.

The Socialist Party Scotland were not opposed to discussing with Galloway to see if a genuine agreement was possible on the basis of a consistent anti-cuts and left platform for the elections. The Socialist Party in England and Wales did discuss with Galloway and the SWP in 2004 prior to the formation of Respect. The Socialist Party had previously discussed with George Galloway and advocated that he should announce his intention to launch a new left party at the height of the anti-war movement in 2003, on the day when over one million marched to Hyde Park in London.

This he did not do until the formation of Respect in early 2004. Nevertheless, we were prepared to go through the process of discussion, while making our position clear on the need for a principled programme and orientation for Respect. In the end this was not possible due to significant differences over programme and the democratic functioning of Respect, which was dominated by the SWP and George Galloway.

Socialist Party Scotland drew up a list of minimum proposals that would form the basis of an acceptable agreement to stand on a joint list in Glasgow with George Galloway. To refuse outright to even discuss with Galloway would not have been understood amongst a wider layer of trade unionists as well as youth.

However, unlike the SWP who in 2004 put no political conditions to an agreement to establish Respect – taking part in effect in an unprincipled ‘lash-up’ – we adopted the opposite approach. Our minimum proposals for an electoral bloc include a fighting programme for the anti-cuts movement, support for needs budgets, as well as a guarantee that any elected candidates, including George Galloway, will not vote for cuts in the parliament or take part in a coalition with Labour. These have been agreed to. On that basis George Galloway, Solidarity, Socialist Party Scotland, will stand on a joint list for Glasgow under the name George Galloway (Respect) – Coalition Against Cuts.

This election platform would represent an opportunity to strengthen the anti-cuts movement in the city. For example the leading figure of the anti-cuts movement in Glasgow, Brian Smith, the secretary of the Glasgow council Unison branch, who is a Socialist Party Scotland member is taking part on the list.

It is clear that George Galloway intends to run an anti-establishment and left campaign in Glasgow. If he is prepared to adopt the programme of the anti-cuts movement in the city (in which the Defend Glasgow Services Campaign plays the leading role) this campaign could be used to strengthen the anti-cuts movement. This list is also certain to emerge with the largest left vote in Glasgow since the height of the SSP’s support in 2003.

In the concrete case of the situation in Glasgow there is no possibility of any other ‘left’ figure or party being elected to the Scottish parliament. The Socialist Party would of course have preferred Tommy Sheridan to have won his court case and been available to stand, but this is not an option.

George Galloway is, despite the important political differences that exist between us, widely seen as an anti-establishment figure. Moreover, if he runs a left campaign, which is much more likely with a joint list with Solidarity, he is likely to gain the ear of tens of thousands of working class people in the city. This campaign can have a potent impact and is also an opportunity to deepen and strengthen the anti-cuts movement, a vital requirement to ensure that any electoral agreements to fight the cuts are kept to and implemented in practice.

The Scottish electoral system means that around 6-7% of the ‘list vote’ for Glasgow will result in the election of an MSP. There is a good chance that Galloway could be elected on an anti-cuts platform, which would be a significant boost for the campaign. Even a strong vote for such a list would bolster the case for a wide scale anti-cuts electoral challenge for the 2012 local elections, with nothing that may transpire subsequently negating the fact that the vote achieved in Glasgow was because of the principled position on the cuts and a fighting left programme.

During the campaign the Socialist Party can also energetically put forward our wider programme for a socialist solution to the capitalist crisis, including the vital task of building a new mass workers’ party, which can be widely propagated through leaflets, posters, paper as well as the major public rallies that will be held during the campaign.

Flexible tactics

This is not the first time that Marxists have had to confront such questions. Temporary agreements and blocs, even with political forces that we have major differences with, are not new. This applies in the trade union field where in some cases socialists are obliged to work in broad lefts with people who are in opposition to them on other political issues. Especially on the electoral plane, agreements with parties, groups and individuals who socialists have political differences with are inevitable at certain stages.

The CWI has a rich experience of this type of work, including most recently our participation in the United Left Alliance in Ireland. In all these cases, and numerous others, it is a question of applying a united front approach, even of a temporary character, that can help strengthen the independent interests and voice of the working class – as a step towards building a new mass workers’ party. At the same time this must go hand in hand with the promotion of a clear socialist and Marxist programme, and building support for organised Marxists, that in the tumultuous events that will engulf Scotland will become a pole of attraction for increasing numbers of workers and young people.

The minimum demands for an agreement with George Galloway proposed by the Socialist Party Scotland

That any joint campaign for the Glasgow list seats between George Galloway and the forces involved in Solidarity should include:

Fight the cuts

  • Opposition to all cuts in jobs, services, benefits and pensions, whether carried out by the Con-Dem coalition or Labour and SNP here in Scotland.
  • Oppose privatisation and support for public ownership.
  • Support for councillors and MSPs who refuse to do the Con-Dem’s dirty work.
  • Support for the setting of needs budgets that protect jobs and public services.
  • Support for the Defend Glasgow Services campaign and clear opposition to the cuts of the Glasgow Labour council.
  • That any coalition campaign will not advocate a vote for any Labour or SNP candidate in Glasgow for the constituency section of the elections unless a Labour or SNP candidate supports the anti-cuts stand as outlined above.

We won’t pay the price for the bankers crisis

  • Tax the rich and big business.
  • Democratic public ownership of the banks.
  • Scrap the council tax – make the rich pay.
  • Support for ending the anti-trade union laws.

Democracy

  • Support for a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future.
  • Support for extending the powers of the parliament.

Agreement

  • Leaflets and election material should be agreed between the coalition partners.
  • An agreement that any candidates elected will vote against all budgets presented to the parliament that would result in cuts to jobs and services, and only support legislation and bills that are in the interests of working class people.
  • An agreement that any candidates elected will not participate in any formal or informal coalition with either Labour or the SNP, but will only vote on a case by case basis for progressive legislation.

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