Today the world is an even more hostile place. The UK election has dealt another blow to the planet and corroded truth. It is a gift to the warmongers and the bloodsuckers. It is an attack on all the hard-won gains of the post-war welfare state. It will make life harder for the vast majority of the population, and if you’re on low wages, or from an immigrant family or unemployed or disabled, then heaven help you.
So why did so many people, especially in the old Labour heartlands, vote against their own interests?
Over the course of the last four decades, many places in the north of England have, as in Scotland, been transformed from vibrant local communities based on heavy industry, into windblown wastelands. However, the Brexit issue and how it was taken up by the working class of the English industrial heartlands points up the very real political differences that now exist between Scotland and England. Many areas such as Blythe Valley and Bassett law have been strangers to hope for many years, but voted in huge numbers for Brexit, which, for many, appeared as a way out of an oppressive system. In 2017 they largely remained loyal to Labour, even when the party’s left reformist program was being attacked every bit as viciously as has occurred over the last few weeks. The difference between then and now is that Labour has effectively moved away from honouring the result of the 2016 EU referendum, towards a fudged policy that faces in two directions simultaneously. Instead, many Brexit voters chose to support the man and the party whose only coherent message was, quite deliberately, ‘get Brexit done’.
It is a dark and burning irony that Jeremy Corbyn has been, like many others on the socialist left, a long-time opponent of the EU, which he, correctly, viewed as, essentially, an anti-socialist and business dominated bosses club, which would block any attempt to bring services such as rail, energy and water into public ownership. (The problem with Boris’s Brexit is not Brexit per se, but the way in which it is being done and the new trade deals that are being planned in its stead.) Corbyn’s move away from this radical, and socialist based, Euro-scepticism represents a triumph for the party’s EU-supporting right wing, and has cost the Labour Party dear. However, the drive for a second referendum on the EU came not only from the Blairites, but also from the left of the party, and particularly from within Momentum. This group, which played such a key role in Corbyn’s historic Labour leadership victory, have transformed themselves into Labour’s very own gravediggers, under the leadership and influence of John Lansman, a ‘useful idiot’ of the first rank, who, on the antisemitism witch hunt well as the EU issue, could not have been a more effective recruiting sergeant for Tory reaction.
It must, however, be acknowledged that whilst John Lansman’s complicity in leading the Labour left to the hell it has now found itself in was founded on good intentions, this is not the case with the Blairite and virulently anti-left elements within the parliamentary Labour Party. These are the people who are saying that the reason for Labour’s defeat was Corbyn and what he stood for, and that now Corbyn has said he will step down, his more socialist (though by no means radical) policies should go with him.
In reality, the only sense in which these policies damaged Labour’s electoral chances is that they ensured that the whole British establishment lined up against them, including a deeply compromised BBC. It wasn’t just the incessant lies and smears, and the endless monstering of Corbyn himself, but the deliberate diversion away from discussing the essential bread and butter issues that Labour was highlighting and which threatened to make the UK a more equal society where they would no longer be so powerful. They did this precisely because they knew that if these ideas were properly heard and discussed they would be vote winners. You could describe this as political gaslighting. But, in the final analysis, it is important to underline that it was not the popular social-democratic manifesto that lost the Labour Party votes, but their confusing position on Brexit, along with relentless attacks from the right both within and outwith the party.
Even then, the result for Labour in England is not the collapse that the MSN and the labour right have widely trumpeting it as, and does not begin to compare with the catastrophic melt down of the party in Scotland: English Labour actually polled more votes (10.3 million) than they managed in 2005 (9.5 million), 2010 (8.6 million) and 2015 (9.35 million), and even in terms of percentage, Labour’s result on Thursday was 32.2%, compared with 29% in 2010 and 30.4% in 2015. It is also clear that this Tory government will be almost immediately beset with crises on an ever widening front, from Ireland, where the Unionist parliamentary majority has disappeared like snow from a dyke, to the potential consequences of a ‘hard Brexit’, and the very real possibility that a further economic recession is on the horizon. Under these circumstances, it is crucial that English Labour remains a viable force, thus enabling the SNP to form an effective anti-austerity alliance that can withstand the inevitable Tory offensive that is coming our way, whilst a collapse in the party south of the border would also strengthen Tory reaction, and allow them to focus their full attention on the ‘Scottish problem’.
There is now a stark political contrast between Scotland and England that is probably unequalled in modern times. Scotland has spoken, and the message is clear – a fundamental rejection of Tory Austerity and of dog-whistle reaction, and a resounding call for a second Independence referendum. Here in Scotland people do not have to pin their hopes on Brexit because a way out of the current system is clear. The Scottish working class voted SNP in droves, and Independence represents their settled will, despite increasingly desperate pleas from an albeit dwindling band of Labour activists that the ‘constitutional issue’ is a deflection from the class struggle.
The looming confrontation between the Scottish Indy movement and Westminster will be played out on the terrain of class conflict, as it always has been. During the ‘Scottish Insurrection’ of 1820, Hardie, Baird and Wilson believed that revolution was necessary because Scotland was either ‘free’ or it was ‘a desert’, and this battle cry was taken up by John MacLean during the political upsurges that accompanied the end of World War One. Another century on, it remains as true as before.
It now falls to a new generation of Scottish socialists and the wider progressive left to carry this tradition forward. Despite some pockets of socialist campaigning, Labour is almost dead in Scotland, but they could still become relevant again, if they were to embrace the spirit of their late nineteenth-century origins, when they became the Scottish party of ‘Home Rule’. Gordon Brown and others may well attempt to resurrect their dismal demands for some kind of Federal agreement, but that ship has sailed, and today hope lies only in Independence. With the possibility of a Labour government now off the table, Scottish Labour should, as a matter of urgency, drop their opposition to Independence – a position that has no relation to socialist values – so that we can work together in the fight for a better Scotland founded on social justice and economic equality. On the other hand, if Scottish Labour continue to set their face against independence they will quickly become completely irrelevant as a meaningful vehicle of Scottish working-class interests, and will yet again be used as a cat’s paw by the forces of reaction in the looming Independence struggle.
The only realistic possibility of a better future, and even of basic relief for those Scots who are unemployed, disabled or elderly, now firmly rests with Independence. Indeed, so many lives depend on it that the issue of welfare and class should be at the very heart of the independence campaign. Our message should be that another Scotland is not only possible, but absolutely essential in order to ensure a future for the coming generations – a welfare system and a wider social and economic system that truly reflects the aspirations and desires of embattled working-class communities across our nation.
With Boris in Downing Street, working-class communities will increasingly have to draw on their own resources merely to help each other survive. We will find ourselves continually involved in defensive struggles, but these can be transformed into the struggle for something better: for the independent ecosocialist Scotland we look to as the alternative to the neoliberal gulag that the dis-United Kingdom has become.