Saturday, 1 December 2012

Are the SNP the heirs to Michael Foot?

Reading one of the most popular nationalist blogs, I began to realise that the author and the people leaving comments were hoping for a lot more than independence. The reason for their support for Scottish nationalism, was not merely that they wanted Scotland to secede from the rest of the UK, but perhaps more importantly, they wanted Scottish politics to shift much further to the left. It became more and more obvious that many of the people who were attracted to the SNP were attracted precisely because they were disappointed former Labour party voters. They now considered the Labour party to be a party of the right. Independence for many of these people was thus a way of bringing about “Socialism in one country” leaving world revolution for another day!

There are clearly people in the SNP with a variety of political viewpoints, but if supporters are declaring that the present day Labour party is a party of the centre right, then it must be that the SNP is a party of the centre left in a different sense to that in which most people understand the term. Moreover, they must be on the centre left in a different way from other European centre left parties. I always supposed that the the transition which the Labour party made in the 80s and 90s was from democratic socialism to social democracy. Thus, they made a transition from the left with some elements of the far left, to the centre left. But if the Labour party is considered by SNP supporters to now be a party of the centre right, it must be that they think that their “centre left” SNP occupies the position of the old Labour party around the time of Michael Foot. By normal definitions this is no longer a centre left party at all. 

I never understood the almost universal SNP opposition to nuclear weapons until I realised that they truly were a left-wing party. What have nuclear weapons got to do with independence? It all seemed to be a bit of a debate from another age along with grainy black and white footage of CND marches. I hadn’t much thought about the issue of nuclear weapons at all since the election of 1983, certainly not since the end of the Cold War. Labour went into the election of 1983 proposing unilateral nuclear disarmament and was decisively defeated. Thereafter Labour realised that it had to reform in order to stand a chance of being elected. Through a succession of leaders gradually all the policies which made Labour unelectable were discarded. Thus, the opposition to nuclear weapons was dropped, Clause 4 was dropped, the idea that everything must be nationalised was dropped, legislation curbing trade union power  was accepted and finally some basic understanding of  the nature of business and economics was obtained. Eventually, Labour became a social democratic party and became electable. It would seem however, to many Scottish nationalists that all this was a dreadful mistake. Labour should have remained the party of 1983 and the fact that they have failed to do so means that it is necessary to vote for the SNP, which now remains the equivalent of Old Labour circa 1983. 

One reason that many nationalist supporters give for supporting the SNP is that the rest of the UK has drifted hopelessly to the right. There is no chance of that changing anytime soon. Therefore, the only chance of bringing about socialism to Scotland is through independence. Given that these supporters are choosing the SNP because of their dissatisfaction with the new Labour party, it must be that they reject the reforms that the Labour party has introduced since 1983. These policy and doctrinal changes by Labour were an acceptance that much of the legislation and other forms of change introduced by Margaret Thatcher were painful but necessary. In order to change Labour had to accept that Britain in the late 1970s was a place desperately in need of reform. The world had moved on and the old ways of Old Labour were simply not working anymore. Especially in the 1990s the Labour party finally accepted, as did nearly everyone else, that the experiment of socialism had been shown to have decisively failed and that the only sensible economic model was variations on a theme of capitalism. But then if  SNP supporters reject these Labour reforms, which brought about the party of today, it must be that they would prefer to turn the clock back to the ideology of Old Labour. What would this practically speaking mean?  It must mean that they would prefer greater power for trade unions, the nationalisation of much of Scotland’s industry, the reopening of coal mines and steel works, indeed the reintroduction of Clause 4 bringing about the “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” for the workers of Scotland. 

That the SNP really is outflanking Scottish Labour on the left, became clear to me with the debate about universal benefits. Johann Lamont put forward, what seemed to me to be, both a sensible and moderate view that it would be better to target benefits towards those who really needed them. This was portrayed by the SNP as if she was just another Tory wickedly doing the Conservatives work for them. Indeed, they presented Lamont as being somehow worse than the Tories, as she was betraying her own class. What this fundamentally showed was that while the modern Labour party are gradually coming to terms with the present economic crisis, the SNP have drifted so far to the left that they are barely even aware of the economic needs of Scotland. When someone wants to discuss the economic needs of this country in a serious way, explaining that the present levels of debt are unsustainable and therefore will not be sustained, it is as if they want to stick their fingers in their ears and sing “la la la, we’re not listening.” Labour are beginning to get the debt crisis, the SNP meanwhile are taking a sharp left turn towards their own MacSocialist utopia.

The choice facing the people of Scotland in the independence referendum is the choice between who is likely to govern us for the foreseeable future. If the majority of the Scottish people choose independence they will also be choosing the SNP as the natural party of government. The idea that the SNP will somehow break up after a triumphant independence referendum and that we will end up with a new political consensus with new parties of the centre-right and centre left in Scotland is unlikely to occur for the foreseeable future. Rather, the SNP would be the equivalent of Fianna Fáil, the party associated with bringing about Irish independence and entrusted with power for most of Ireland’s history. A vote for independence would thus see Scotland going much further to the left, with an attempt to create a much more left wing society than that which is envisioned by almost anyone in the present Labour party. It is for this reason that those on the left and far left, such as the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party are willing to side with Alex Salmond. 

People on the left and the far left, people far to the left of the average supporter of the Labour party and the Lib Dems, must be delighted that at last they have the chance to bring about the society they have so long dreamed of. A socialist utopia is within reach. It’s only necessary to wait a couple of years, just so long as the vote goes their way. The rest of us should consider very carefully before embarking on such an experiment. It is an experiment after all, which has been tried and failed before in the UK. It is an experiment which Labour itself has recognised does not lead to prosperity. If Scotland chose to go down an economic path so radically different from the rest of the UK, it would be impossible for our economies to retain their present convergence, their present single market and their present currency union. The SNP and their supporters oppose everything the modern Labour party has done to make itself fit for the modern world. They see Labour’s modernisation as a betrayal of the left. Sometimes, as when they debate about nuclear weapons, I almost experience a sense of time travel. I half expect to see Alex Salmond with wild white hair and a donkey jacket, for don’t be fooled: the SNP really are the heirs of Michael Foot.
Michael_foot






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