Keith White, North East Fife CLP, looks at the elections to the Scottish Parliament on 6th May.
Following our worst ever performance in Scottish Parliament elections, Anas Sarwar (Leader) and Jackie Baillie (Deputy) have claimed a bright new beginning.
After tacitly, some say enthusiastically, endorsing tactical voting to stop the SNP, we have 22 (two fewer) MSPs, a reduced share of the vote in both the constituency and list sections; and the SNP on 64 seats, only one short of an absolute majority, with 8 Greens pledged to support Independence. Alex Salmond’s Alba failed to elect anyone, the Tories stayed on 31 and the Lib Dems were reduced to 4.
Tactical voting was clearly in evidence in Jackie Baillie’s Dumbarton seat and in Eastwood. In my own, North East Fife, Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie’s emphatic re-election was secured by clear shifts from the Tories and indeed from Labour.
Labour’s campaign was focused on a post Covid ‘national recovery’ and the message that we are now under new management. An attempt to change the ballot paper designation to ‘Anas Sarwar’s Scottish Labour’ failed, but the leader’s image was central to the campaign leaflets. In the debates his slick approach was seen as going down well, but Anas’s message that he expected to be in office next time, either as a minority administration or in a coalition, presumably with the Lib Dems, points clearly away from socialist policies towards the centre ground.
The SNP increasingly has one message, ‘we need independence and ‘they’ won’t let us have a referendum’. Sturgeon has said she will not take unilateral action should the Tories refuse to accede to a request from the Scottish Parliament. Within this Parliament she will, however, propose a vote requesting Indyref2. Without a change in policy Labour will then be left in a Better Together bind.
The SNP is vulnerable on its record but the central issue remains Indyref2. On that, the prospect of a border on the M74 and indecision on a future currency are their weak points. We as a Party should make it clear we are not part of any ‘unionist family’, that we do not endorse the UK as such, but have a vision which includes a far more democratised society with decision making as local as possible.
The SNP administration has a policy of more and more centralisation while our starting point must be local government and it is from there that implementation of a radical programme can be launched. We should put front and centre the work of councils such as North Ayrshire where a strategy of Community Wealth Building is being demonstrated in practice. It is no accident that councils such as Preston which take a similar approach bucked the trend in the elections on 6th May.
We must reject the unionist/independence binary choice with a vision of a new approach to the different parts of the UK and how they might fit together in a more equal, federal system. The Red Paper Collective’s recently launched ‘Third Option Campaign’ seeks to address the constitutional impasse in which we are presently mired. Seeking to go beyond Yes/No it suggests the option of ‘Devo Max’ within the context of a new constitutional settlement should be available on the ballot in any future independence referendum. The Scottish TUC has voted to support a third option and indeed has voted to support the view that the Scottish Parliament has the right to hold a referendum without UK government consent.
The SNP want to keep stoking resentment rather than actually holding a referendum. There is, however, pressure building at its base, one of the factors in the emergence of the Alba Party. Some on the left feel we should call their bluff, demand the referendum.
Anas Sarwar has so far set his face against any change of approach and dumped Glasgow Kelvin candidate, Hollie Cameron, for having the audacity to suggest Scottish Labour respected the right of the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum on independence.
The Campaign for Socialism / Scottish Momentum announced post election that we have four MSPs out of Labour’s 22, including former MP and Corbyn aide Katy Clark at Holyrood. Other left MSPs include Richard Leonard, Monica Lennon and Alex Rowley, though we have lost the powerful voice of retired MSP Neil Findlay.