Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency: the Marxist voice of labour and youth.
The Glasgow North East By-election was billed by political commentators as a final test for Gordon Brown and his leadership of the Labour Party. If he was to loose another Labour heartland seat in Glasgow to the Scottish National Party (SNP) then he would struggle to hold on to his position as party leader. Despite many early predictions to the contrary, Labour held on to the seat (formerly held by the speaker and therefore previously benefiting from no opposition from Tories or Lib-Dems) and actually managed to increase their percentage of the vote. But this hides the real story. Labour got 3,000 less votes than they did in 2005, these votes did not fall to the Nationalist, who lost 1,000 votes on last time but instead fell into mass abstentions making this the lowest turn-out in a Scottish by-election ever.
The Glasgow North East By-election was billed by political commentators as a final test for Gordon Brown and his leadership of the Labour Party. If he was to loose another Labour heartland seat in Glasgow to the Scottish National Party (SNP) then he would struggle to hold on to his position as party leader. Despite many early predictions to the contrary, Labour held on to the seat (formerly held by the speaker and therefore previously benefiting from no opposition from Tories or Lib-Dems) and actually managed to increase their percentage of the vote. But this hides the real story. Labour got 3,000 less votes than they did in 2005, these votes did not fall to the Nationalist, who lost 1,000 votes on last time but instead fell into mass abstentions making this the lowest turn-out in a Scottish by-election ever.

            It’s clearly evident that this is not the great vindication of Gordon Brown's premiership that William Bain, the Labour candidate, said it was in his victory speech. This part of Glasgow has been voting Labour without fail since 1935, so keeping the seat does not signal the end of Scottish Labour's time in the political wilderness. What is also telling is the SNP's terrible performance, particularly compared to the Glasgow East by-election last year when the SNP managed to take a seat that had a 12,000 Labour majority in 2005. What has changed since then is that the SNP has been running Scotland as a minority government for two and a half years and in that time managed to do nothing of any significance apart from reneging on almost every one of its electoral pledges. Scottish workers do not see the SNP as an alternative to the Labour Party that will prevent them being hit by the effects of the capitalist crisis. But equally, with the New Labour clique still very much in charge of the Labour Party in Scotland and nationally, they are not offering a left wing response to the crisis and are in fact voting through cuts in services in the local councils they still control, just as their colleagues in Westminster are. As such the main result of this ballot was neither the Labour victory nor the SNP loss but a mass abstention by traditionally Labour voters.

            The main rumour the media were peddling before the count was that the BNP had come third and managed to keep their deposit. In the end they came a close fourth to the Tories with 4.92% of the vote, just below the 5% threshold they needed to keep the deposit. The BNP have claimed this as a great victory but in reality only got 93 more votes than they did last time and were disappointed at not coming third, though they wouldn't admit it. This result starkly shows what Socialist Appeal has consistently argued about the BNP's recent electoral success: that it is characterised by Labour abstentions and the odd disillusioned Labour voter turning to the BNP in despair. We cannot discount the threat the BNP pose if they continue to make gains electorally, but we must argue that they can only be opposed politically if Labour stands on a firm socialist programme that addresses the problems of all working class people, regardless of race. We must contrast this tactic to that of 'Unite Against Fascism' who, as they did during the EU elections, ran a “vote anybody but the BNP” campaign in the constituency. This fails to answer the genuine concerns that workers have about housing, jobs and services that the BNP pray on to wins a small number of votes.

            In amongst the also rans, that included two former Big Brother contestants of which Tommy Sheridan was only one, there were three socialist candidates. The combined 'left vote' was lower than that of the BNP with the vast majority, 794, going to Sheridan, standing for Solidarity. This indicates most of it was an endorsement of an individual rather than an organisation. That the SSP could only poll 152 votes, coming behind John Smeaton, the apparent hero of the attempted terrorist attacks on Glasgow Airport in 2007, who stood for the Jury Team (whoever they are), clearly raises questions for its members and supporters. Since 2007 the SSP has consistently failed to deliver electorally, having lost all of its elected representatives bar one councillor and performed disastrously in both the Euro-elections and several by-elections. Surely this shows that the project of a new workers' party in Scotland has proved impossible to realise. The SSP still contains many good working class activists and a layer of young people, yet these people choose to spend a great deal of time and effort standing in hopeless election campaigns. If the SSP was to work in the trade unions more effectively and act as a coherent left presence they would see the necessity of fighting for change in the Labour Party.

It’s impossible to completely predict the results of the coming general election or of the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2011. The recent results indicate that the SNP will find it more and more difficult to pose as a left alternative but also that the mass of workers are not willing to endorse the current leadership of the Labour Party. In Scotland we have not felt the brunt of the coming public sector cuts which will (we have been told) have to be made when the block grant for 2010, which the Scottish Government relies on for most of its funding, is announced. In office the SNP have conclusively shown that they are unable and unwilling to break from big business and will have to make public spending cuts at the behest of Westminster. It seems likely that while the Tories will win the next general election they will make, at best, few gains in Scotland. For the Labour Party to be serious about fighting the Nationalists it must stand on a bold socialist programme against cuts and for full fiscal autonomy for the Scottish Parliament so that it can effectively resist Tory attacks from Westminster. It's also clear that the current leadership will not do this. They are tied to the national government who are already implementing Tory cuts and will only go further if they were to win the next general election. In reality there can never be socialism in Scotland without it being tied to a wider socialist Britain.

 

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