Scottish Left’s attempt to re-establish its identity will be a sideshow sunk by a dominant SNP, writes Euan McColm
THE political Left in Scotland has had a difficult few years. If we rewind to 2003, we see a Scottish Parliament with six MSPs representing the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and seven from the Greens.
In their chamber, if one shouts out ‘socialism’, the echo comes back ‘nationalism’
Now, Holyrood is bereft of radical left-wing voices.
The collapse of the Scottish left can be attributed to a couple of factors. First, the former leader of the SSP, Tommy Sheridan, took the decision to sue the News of the World over stories about his private life (the details of which contrasted sharply with his carefully constructed public image).
The fall-out from Sheridan’s course of action was the fragmentation of the SSP; those who refused to support his lies remained while Sheridan and a band of acolytes formed the new party Solidarity.
And then, of course, Sheridan was found guilty of perjury and jailed.
The second thing which hastened the demise of the Left as an elected political force in Scotland was the adoption by the SNP of its rhetoric. The Scottish Nationalists may be cautious centrists in deed, but in words they are radicals.
During last year’s independence referendum campaign, far-left organisations lined up beside the Scottish Nationalists to fight for a Yes vote. Trots and Greens were, by and large, happy to use the Scottish Government’s white paper as their own blueprint for an independent Scotland.
But now, the Scottish left wants to re-establish its identity and it plans to do so with the establishment of Rise, a new alliance between the SSP and the Radical Independence Campaign, two groups which already work together in the Scottish Left Project.
Those behind Rise – which will formally launch on Saturday – say there is a need for something “truly new and original” in Scottish politics.
They will put this confident assertion to the test in next May’s Holyrood election.
The good people of Rise – it stands for respect, independence, socialism, and environmentalism – must be applauded for their charming optimism. Their movement will not succeed.
Those on the political left are never more comfortable than when they’re standing inside a booming echo chamber. This was evident in Scotland last year when Yes campaigners convinced themselves that they were on course to win the referendum.
I remember a chum on the radical left calling me one Saturday when more than 10,000 Yes campaigners marched up Calton Hill in Edinburgh. This gathering was proof, he said, that the radical, pro-independence left was on its way to victory. Where, he asked, are the No voters?
They’re getting on with their lives, having a pint, doing the shopping, and not giving a flying one about a group of face-painted punters waving flags, I replied.
And, rare as this may be, I was right.
The Left has, recently, found itself a larger echo chamber. The remarkable lead of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK Labour leadership campaign has convinced believers that their politics is soon to become dominant.
In the final days of registration for the right to vote in Labour’s leadership election, more than 160,000 people signed up, bringing the number of those eligible to have their say to 610,000.
Corbyn’s unreconstructed (or completely batty, depending on your position on such matters) leftist views have inspired a new generation of voters (or idiots) who, it appears, have convinced themselves that the only reason the UK elected a Tory government in May was that there wasn’t an old-fashioned socialist alternative.
In Scotland, many of those who voted Yes in last year’s referendum loudly proclaim their support for Corbyn, seemingly convinced that somehow he shares their vision of an independent Scotland. In their chamber, if one shouts out “socialism”, the echo comes back “nationalism”.
There is no room, currently, at Holyrood for Rise.
The SNP’s dominance of Scottish politics continues – grows greater, in fact – and those who believe in Scottish independence know that the best way of achieving it is to elect as many SNP MSPs as possible.
You might say that’s not strictly true. You might point out that what matters most to the Yes movement is the number of pro-independence MSPs. And, yes, you would have a point.
But the problem with this logic is that if those in favour of the break-up of the UK share their votes among a larger number of parties, they may just let unionists come though the middle.
This will, without question, be the message coming from SNP central in advance of next May’s election.
The Scottish Nationalists will urge those who want Scotland to go it alone to give both their constituency and their regional list votes to the SNP.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is a ruthlessly effective political campaigner. She, rather than Scottish Labour, will do most to prevent votes for Rise or the Greens. She, after all, is the person with most to lose from a split in the pro-independence vote.
The Radical Independence Campaign last year managed to convince itself that a majority of Scots were crying out for a dramatic shift to the left; they bought the SNP rhetoric that those of us who live north of the Border hold different values, and cherish different ambitions to those in England.
They were wrong, of course. The far-left invariably is.
Its is a politics of petulance rather than pragmatism, where principle is more important than power. It’s better to be politically impotent but pure than to have to dirty one’s hands by compromising with the electorate.
In these pages on Monday, the writer and campaigner Lesley Riddoch argued that Rise would provide a “viable alternative” for Scottish voters.
I doubt that very much, indeed.
Rise will provide us with a distraction, a sideshow run by the usual suspects who’ve spent decades on the fringes of politics.
And when it comes to polling day, Rise will sink, drowning in the echoes of voices claiming mainstream media conspiracy and unfair electoral systems. After that, the tradition of splits on the left will begin again.