There are just over three months to go before the elections for the Scottish parliament, which take place on May 5th. Aside from the contest itself the Scottish electorate is left with the knowledge that, whoever wins the election, massive cuts are set to follow after the Nationalist Scottish Government set a budget in December clearly aimed at winning this election. This was the result of Salmond’s agreement with Cameron to defer Scottish cuts for this year, only for them to be doubled next year.
Despite these measures, the SNP looks set to lose its place as the biggest party at Holyrood. According to a recent TNS-BMRC poll their share of the constituency and list votes has risen slightly to approximately one third. Yet in reality this represents a massive failure given the collapse of the Con-Dem vote. The Tories are now down to 9% of the constituency vote from 17% at the 2007 election. The Lib Dems have fallen to 7%, a drop of 5% since August and less than half their 2007 result. (Source: Herald 17th January 2010)
This reflects the failure of the SNP government to live up to the promises it made in its 2007 election program when it presented itself as being to the left of Labour. Measures such as the cancellation of student debt and smaller class sizes have gone abated whilst the Nats have pleased their own traditional middle class base with increased benefits for small businesses and council tax freezes, without increasing funds available to local authorities.
This leaves Labour as by far the largest party, with 49% of the constituency and 47% of the regional list votes expected based on current poll ratings. Yet, as outlined above, this is for the most part the result of discontent with the coalition and the failure of the SNP. The general election result in Scotland, where the Labour vote rose and the party won 41 out of 59 seats, happened largely because, across the traditional strongholds of the labour movement in the central belt, workers looked to their traditional organisation to fight the Tories. Despite this show of strength the response from Scotland’s Labour leadership has been faltering. Iain Gray quite rightly criticised Alex Salmond for cowardliness and playing a political game with the budget that would only see those dependent on and who work in the welfare state suffer more. However, in a situation where the Scottish Government block grant from Westminster is being cut, it has not made clear how, if in power, a Labour government would behave any differently to the SNP and as such Labour appears to accept the ‘necessity’ of cuts.
At the present time, the cuts already unveiled are starting to have a harmful effect but a response is clearly brewing. The £28m cuts to higher education have made the funding situation in many Scottish universities shift from bad to worse. Already the lecturers union, the UCU, is balloting its members for strike action at Dundee University following the announcement of compulsory redundancies. Similar measures could be in store for other universities. Already others, including Glasgow, have reopened their voluntary redundancy scheme and made it clear that if they don’t get the numbers then compulsory schemes will follow. This situation is being repeated across the public sector, with Unison strike action a possibility at Scotland’s biggest local authority, Glasgow, due to cuts representing £5million worth of “savings” which amount to an end to flexible working, reduced holiday entitlement and increased hours, i.e. a pay cut. (Herald January 18 2010)
When, as is likely, Labour wins the election it may not end up as the majority party. Regardless, the prospect of a coalition with any of the other three major parties must be rejected. Given their recent records in power it is clear these parties are intent on cuts and following the behest of the bankers.
If Labour is to succeed it needs to base itself on the workers and students now moving into action against the cuts. Labour lost in 2007 because it represented a government of cuts, privatisation and was slavish to a government at Westminster which had launched Britain into two wars and failed to offer little recompense for 18 years of Tory rule. It would be fatal to make this mistake twice! A Labour government at Holyrood must appeal to the wider movement, not just in Scotland but across Britain and Europe, if it is to have any chance of offering an alternative to cuts and austerity.