May’s Snap Election: A Marxist View

Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh

“She is clearly betting that the Tories can win a bigger majority in England given the utter disarray in the Labour Party. That makes it all the more important that Scotland is protected from a Tory Party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right – forcing through a hard Brexit and imposing deeper cuts in the process.”

Nicola Sturgeon responding to Theresa May’s call for an election.

It is difficult to think of a general election announcement in recent history which has spurred so much discussion. Partly this is due to the surprise timing but mainly its due to the objective conditions in which we are living. Capitalism is in its deepest ever global crisis which has led to political crises everywhere with the rejection of established mainstream politicians and parties in one country after another. In the last year, political shocks such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have dragged many people into political discussion who would have previously avoided it.

May called this election in order to boost her mandate and authority (being that she’s currently unelected), as well as that of the Tory government as a whole. The logic is that she will need a much stronger mandate in order to lead the Brexit process whilst satisfying the rabid reactionaries in the tory rank and file and backbenches on one hand and the capitalist class on the other.

The British Tory party was historically looked up to by equivalent bourgeois parties in other countries as the party of the British ruling class, the class of the industrial revolution and the class that ruled half the world. It would be hard to find a party more representative of the establishment than the tory party. To understand the situation in Scotland it is necessary to remind ourselves of the impossible situation this once almighty party finds itself in. Despite the arrogant gesturing of the Tories, the reality is, the party has never been so divided and has never had such a difficult task ahead of it. What Theresa May needs is not a mandate but a miracle.

The Opposition

The situation within the main opposition, the Labour Party, was also part of the consideration in this announcement. The party is divided. On one side there is the left wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn supported by a small group of MPs plus the bulk of the rank and file and trade unions. On the other side there is the right wing bureaucracy including the majority of MPs and party officials backed by the capitalist class and mainstream media. The inspirational mass movement which brought Corbyn to leadership and defended him from the coup attempts, has been on an ebb in recent months. This is due mainly to Corbyn’s false idea of compromising with the right wing. However, despite weaknesses on the surface, the Labour Party is still a big threat to May’s plans. The election itself could spur the movement back into action and even if it doesn’t win, could bring even more people into the arena of left wing activism. Something the ruling class certainly does not want.

However in Scotland the Labour Party represents little if any threat to the Tory party, establishment and ruling class. When asked whether Labour would keep their one remaining MP in Scotland, Scottish leader, Kezia Dugdale said “Look, the polling numbers are challenging but I’m confident we can hold on to that seat”. Even the most loyal Labour Party activists would find it difficult to get excited by this. This is the result of decades of betrayals by the Labour Party in Scotland. Dugdale and the Scottish Labour leadership may try to make some left noises in order to desperately gain support but no one is really listening. Those who do hear them, have heard it all before and don’t believe a word of it. The Scottish working class has taken its trust from the Labour party and put it firmly into the SNP.

The SNP represent another type of threat to May in that they are a real threat to the future of the UK in general. Sturgeon’s call for an Indyref2 has been attacked and dismissed by May, and also Labour and Liberal democrats, who insist that the Scottish people don’t want another referendum. This is a very spurious claim given that the SNP won 56 out of 59 seats in the last general election and are in power in Holyrood, where there is a pro- independence majority. This election gives the SNP a chance to re-establish their mandate. If the SNP maintain this dominance then it will be even more difficult for the UK government to deny another referendum. Any more resistance from Westminster in the case of another victory would be very risky as it could draw Scottish people into much more militant opposition to Westminster and the union.

The potential for the SNP to break up the UK has earned them the label of being enemies of the British establishment (an attractive label for the many class conscious workers and youth). However the British establishment and ruling class don’t only fear the breakup of the UK but also fear the movement behind it. The YES campaign in 2014 was characterised not by narrow minded nationalism but by anti austerity, anti war and anti tory sentiments. The idea of leaving behind the corrupt, unequal, chauvinist and imperialist Britain to set up a fair, equal and inclusive Scotland is what brought masses of people into political activity.

This is feared not only by the Tory establishment but by the established SNP machine who have seen the party flood to over 120,000 members, making it the second biggest party relative to population in the world and very difficult for the traditional bourgeois nationalist elements to control. At the recent spring conference its membership voted for national investment banks and more radical land reform as well as commitments to LGBT+ and migrant rights. Many support nationalisation of the railways, are anti fracking, call for an end to the oppression of Palestine and the party also has a trade union group of over 14,000. The SNP has the STUC addressing its parliamentary group and conferences on one side and the likes of the Charlotte Street Partners and Ineos lobbying and supporting them on the other. In reality it is a party destined for huge divisions and splits which will shape the political future of Scotland.

The SNP are currently in an advantageous situation in that they can appeal to the working class and ruling class. They make contradictory promises which cannot yet be put to the test. The unpopular measures that they do take can be blamed on Westminster. Sturgeon can appeal to the left in her party by calling for a Westminster coalition with the Labour Party down south. Such a situation is currently unlikely due to Labour’s unionist emphasis, influenced by right wing dominance among the labour MPs, not to mention Corbyn’s attempt to appease what remains of the staunchly pro-union Scottish Labour Party. However, appeals such as this, particularly given the SNP’s recent Westminster record on opposing war and austerity (which is much more consistent than Labour’s) will bode well for the SNP and can even win sympathy south of the border, including in the labour rank and file.

“Progressive” alliance?

However in classic SNP style, Sturgeon also called for the Lib Dems to be in the “progressive” coalition. Recent memories of the Con-Dem government show how “progressive” the Lib Dems are. This is possibly a naïve miscalculation on Sturgeon’s behalf, but the fact that it is deemed plausible has significance. The Lib Dems may well gain seats south of the border in the upcoming election by labelling themselves staunchly pro EU and anti-Brexit. A stance they share with the SNP.

Many have progressive illusions in the EU or at least understandably prefer it to the chauvinism of Brexit. But as we’ve pointed out before, the EU is capitalist club which has imposed barbaric austerity throughout Europe and would do so in Scotland. The question of the EU in time could very well become the SNP’s Achille’s heel. The fact that through opposition to Brexit they align themselves with the likes of the Lib dems will raise questions among the more left wing elements of their membership and support. Of course it’s not going to undermine their overwhelming support and momentum yet, but it is an expression of the class contradictory nature they bear. As time goes on, as they gain more importance and get closer to independence, contradictory moves like this will become more common which will lead their base to question the leadership further.

It is likely that the SNP will gain a majority. They may lose a few seats here or there to Tories. More conservative voters who for a time were attracted to New Labour may switch to the Tories as the more convincing unionist party. The changing character of the SNP may also lead to it losing some of its conservative traditional base. The fact the old SNP heartlands such as Aberdeenshire and Perth overwhelmingly voted NO is very possibly a pre-cursor to this. However the overwhelming trajectory is to the SNP and independence.

What should socialists do?

Many left-wingers and socialists in Scotland have been drawn into debate about who to vote for. It is not an accident that the left has no consistent message over this. Whilst south of the border Corbyn’s Labour is an obvious choice, north of the border the party is becoming more and more irrelevant. What is left of the party is dominated by the right-wing. For example, the only Labour MP in Scotland, Ian Murray, has been disgustingly appealing for tactical voting in other constituencies to block the SNP (i.e. calling on Labour voters to vote Tory), whilst calling for Tory voters in his constituency to vote for him so he can retain his job. The ray of hope that Corbyn represents is too far away and too weak to overshadow the Scottish Party’s bankruptcy. Due to his constant efforts to compromise with the right wing, Corbyn can’t even commit to opposing the trident missiles based in Scotland.

To the left of the SNP, the SSP have stated that they won’t be contesting in any seats and the Greens have said they are focussing on the council elections. Some lefts are voting for the SNP as they see it as the only way to stop the Tories and also further the route to independence. On the other hand some can’t bring themselves to vote for the SNP due to its pro-business leadership, and others have said it depends on who the candidate is. The SNP itself is in flux. By origins, it is not a workers’ party, but a bourgeois nationalist party, which in recent years has had a very left wing influx of membership whilst maintaining a pro-capitalist bureaucratic leadership. The party is partially a vehicle for the YES movement including many class-conscious elements but also has a bureaucracy that acts to suffocate such elements. There are some candidates such as Mhairi Black and Tommy Sheppard who tend to put themselves on the left of the party, whose re-election would be welcome. However there are other candidates that are quite clearly on the pro-capitalist wing and many who could go either way. Events will polarise the party including its MPs. It is a party with semtex built into its foundations, but the semtex is yet to ignite

As important as this election is, parliamentary elections are secondary to class struggle and revolutionary movements. There can be a tendency amongst socialists to feel they need to pick a side in parliamentary elections. This is often in response to the all so dominating liberal parliamentary cretinism. The “if you don’t vote you don’t have a say!” crowd. In reality we are under no such obligation.

We are however under obligation to prepare for the huge events that are coming our way. The capitalist crisis that has shook the Tory and Labour parties to their foundations will in time shake the SNP. The mood of complacence and trust in nationalist leaders will turn into a mood of impatience, questioning and energy which will create the basis for splits and mass left-wing movements of which the ideas of revolutionary socialism can thrive.

In order for such ideas to thrive, a bold, sizeable revolutionary organisation needs to be built now. An organisation that can convincingly put forward the vision of a Scottish workers’ republic against the SNP leader’s vision of a capitalist Scotland. An organisation that can convincingly put forward the idea of an international socialist revolution to the SNP leaders’ bourgeois nationalism. If you agree with this, do not hesitate, get in contact with us now and join the IMT.

For a Scottish Workers Republic!
For a World Socialist Revolution!


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