By Vince Mills
Neil Findlay, list MSP for Lothians began his address to the Campaign for Socialism conference on Saturday 25th October with a story that got a tense gathering, laughing. The meeting, as reported in the Morning Star, was standing room only and with the announcement the day before of Johann Lamont’s decision to resign, there was an atmosphere of hostility to the Westminster careerists who had manoeuvred against and expectation that the Left might just manage to field a candidate in the Labour Leadership contest that would now follow.
Talking about the attitudes he had encountered during referendum campaign Neil recounted how, while on holiday recently, post referendum, a disappointed ‘Yes’ voting Scots couple ( let’s call them Alick and Nicki) surveyed the breakfast menu in a Turkish sea side bar. “ See” said Alick.” This is always happening to us”. He pointed angrily at two options available. One was a full English which was a full 2 lira cheaper than the full Scottish (perhaps because of the inclusion of square sliced sausage). Attempts at assuaging the raging Scot by the owner were counter-productive.
It is not an exaggeration to say that in the use of that anecdote Neil showed why he will win the contest for the Leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. He understands the psyche of working class Scots. Everybody laughed at his story – ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ voters alike.
Of course that is not enough. What Neil also shows is a grasp of the seriousness of the situation facing Labour and the Left in Scotland. He is a member of the Campaign for Socialism (which was formed exactly 20 years ago) because he understands that the unstated ambition of the Balirites was to transform the Labour party as a party of the working class and its institutions, into something much closer to the Democratic Party in the US – with no affiliated unions and no left wing worth talking about and completely committed to capitalism as an ideology.
20 years ago the CfS warned that if Labour pursued this route and abandoned the working class then ultimately the working class would abandon them. And thatis what Scottish Labour experienced in the referendum campaign.
The loss of traditional Labour areas to populist nationalism – Lanarkshire, Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and Dundee – is the latest in a long line of cries of anguish from Scotland working class that austerity is biting and that if Labour will not defend them they are open to look elsewhere, even if the promises of the Yes campaign and in particular its dominant element, the SNP, are empty because they do not challenge the roots of the problem, This is because, and here is the big opportunity for the Scottish Labour Left, so far, no-one has articulated a credible alternative.
Just such an alternative is what Neil offered in his article in the Morning Stara few weeks ago showing an acute awareness that if ever we needed transformational politics, it is now. And yet, as he is wont to point out, transformational politics are common sense for working people: we need full employment; we need a living wage;we need more housing; we need a good health service; we need equality embedded in every facet of our lives; we needquality care services and all of these are dependent on healthy and safe working environments underpinned by trade union rights.
This is Neil’s offering to Scotland’s working class. Compare it to his main rival, Uber Blairite Jim Murphy. Jim, in case you need reminding,espoused the very neo-liberalism that created the material conditions for the rise of populist nationalism in Scotland in the first place. Neo-liberal ideology encouraged deregulation that led to the banking crisis; it built a debt fuelled economy instead of ensuring decent wages through effective trade unions bargaining,while supporting forms of workfare; it supervisedthe continued collapse of our manufacturing sector. And while Britain poured millions of pounds into foreign wars, which he, Jim Murphy wholeheartedly supported, millions of pounds of tax payers money lined the coffers of the privateers through privatisation and PFI/PPP.
While Blair was arguing that in Westminster, his ‘mini mes’ in the early noughties in the Scottish Labour Party mimicked his cries. While Sarah Boyack MSP(Minister for the Environment, Planning and Transportfrom 1999-2000 and Minister for Transport 2000-2001) Neil Findlay’s other rival for the leadership was promoting PFI/PPP for all she was worth, Wendy Alexander (Minister for Enterpriseand Lifelong Learning 1999-2002) was telling us that the state had no role in tackling unemployment otherthan providing a ‘trampoline’, yes a ‘trampoline’ where the unfortunate victims global capitalism could be encouraged to ‘bounce’ back into work.
If the Scottish Labour Party is to be relevant to working people, it has to start speaking in the language of the working class again – jobs, houses, health, equality and social justice and a good joke. And that reminds me of the hapless bar owner in Neil’s story. He suggested that the Alickperhaps add some sauce to his over-priced full Scottish breakfast to spice it up and presented him with a bottle of HP. “Right” said Alick, “ and you can shove your Westminster parliament sauce right up your….” I will leave the conclusion of this exhortation and that of the future of the Scottish Labour Party with a socialist leader, to your imagination.