My column for the Scottish Socialist Voice, July 7, 2015
A Red/Green bloc is needed at Holyrood
By Pat Kane
As they used to say about Frank Sinatra: it’s a SNP world—we just live in it. Or at least it sometimes seems that way, in terms of the Scottish National Party’s recent history.
A leading voice in the multi-and-no-party Yes movement which lead up to a 45 per cent endorsement for independence, the SNP has benefitted from that mobilisation (and a broken electoral system) to the tune of 56 MPs at the last General Election. A week ago, a poll put the SNP on 60 per cent of the constituency votes for the next Holyrood Elections in May 2016.
But as we know in Scotland, our “list” vote—the second candidate we vote for in our national elections, who gets in on their party’s proportion of that region’s votes—allows the opportunity to express our political complexity.
For years myself, I have flipped between voting SNP, Green and SSP, in various combinations of constituency and list, in Scottish elections. It feels like I’m being allowed to be a sophisticated citizen—and it feels like parties are being allowed to be exactly who they want to be.
That moment is coming again. But post-18 September 2014, and 7 May 2015, means not just the ascendancy of the SNP but the sheer collapse of the Scottish Labour Party. So now I feel that my flexible voting patterns (thought not that flexible—I’ll only vote for independence-supporting parties in Scotland) need some new degrees of movement.
Should the SNP be as dominant in the Holyrood Parliament as their Westminster representation makes them in Scotland? Let’s be honest: it just doesn’t feel right. Is it the SNP’s fault that they are a brilliantly disciplined left-of-centre campaign machine and governing strategy? And that their primary opponents (Scottish Labour) are paying for decades of complacency, patronisation and misunderstanding of the popular desire among Scots for self-rule? No to both.
But I always wonder what kind of White Paper would have been offered if it was an “independence majority” that had triggered the process, rather than an SNP majority in Holyrood.
Would we have had a more diverse front-foot political leadership of the movement? Would our currency options have been multi-option from the start?
Would we have avoiding trying to square removing Trident with joining the NATO nuclear umbrella? Would have had much stronger and more redistributive wage and fiscal policies?
Indeed it’s the flaws in the SNP’s “indy life” offer presented to the Scottish people the last time which makes me, once again, desire a multi-party “indy majority” at the next Holyrood election.
We have to be ready for any of a number of factors tripping the next indyref process—both pull (eg, a majority mandate for that in a Scottish Parliament) and push (eg, the rise of a English national resistance to continued links with Scotland).
But we have to go with a “prospectus” that is a lot more straight and wise about the short-and-medium term outlooks for independence. The Syriza situation doesn’t always travel well to the Scottish context.
Pre-any indy run up, we will not be (and we were not) fighting for our economic lives, with only the weapons of persuasion or withdrawal at our disposal. But we surely do recognise the degree of attack and intimidation by financial and political elites on the legitimacy and strategy of Syriza.
No matter their actions at a macro-level, they have built up a reserve of collective social trust in Greek society which makes the people ready for the next stage of struggle for their country. We have to build that same level of trust in Scotland—or perhaps test this new state of political awareness that’s so often proclaimed.
And that will be generated by being honest with Scottish voters, about how Scots may have to tax more, and live with less, in order to shift the fundamental structures of an independent Scotland towards a more social-democratic, maybe even democratic-socialist norm.
In my mind, that honesty will only come about if a much bigger bloc of left-green parties, maintaining their commitment to independence—is playing a decisive role at Holyrood in May 2016. Ideally they’d hold the balance of power, but at the very least bite into the Labour seats—providing a huge representative symbol that independence was the eventual aim of the Scottish people.
How does this work at the level of electoral tactics between, say, the Scottish Greens, and whatever collection of parties (including the SSP) the Left Project eventually unite under their banner? I don’t know—I’m not an expert. But even as a Scottish Green party member, I am continually disappointed in my own party’s tribalism.
In my online and offline conversations, too many are unwilling to even begin to work out what would be needed to maximise this left-green vote, in terms of merging candidates in appropriate areas, pooling activist resources, etc.
Does it look like the Scottish Greens and Left Project/SSP will be duking it out for the share of the non-SNP Yes voter, or the utterly disillusioned left-wing Labour voters? Sadly it does. Do I think that parties only seem to respond to the inevitable after punching themselves repeatedly in the nose? Yes I do.
So perhaps we need another SNP landslide, and the bloody-nosed failure of the Scots left and green parties, to forge the radical front that we should be able to build right now. Sigh. But if we want a radical democracy in Scotland, and we don’t think the SNP are the only instrument to achieving it, some high-horses need to be unmounted. Sooner or later.
• Pat Kane is a writer and musician, and board member of Common Weal