SNP: You cannot Please Two Masters

When voters in Scotland abandoned the Labour Party, it looked like things could not get any worse for Scottish Labour. However, nearly 20 months after the disastrous General Election, where the party was nearly wiped out North of the Border, Labour continues to decline in Scotland.
The direction and the leadership of the party have been vocally criticised also by its most crucial financial backers, namely trade union leaders. Many trade union members are SNP voters and had previously been YES voters at the Independence Referendum, but their leaders’ criticism of the LP is a rather novel development. Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, went as far as praising the SNP and suggested that the party led by Sturgeon could be the key to getting Labour into government in Westminster. Are Scottish Trade Unions about to desert Scottish Labour and affiliate to the SNP? Will this tactic pay off? Is the SNP able to pander to the interest of both big business and trade unions?
In recent weeks, the Leadership of Scottish Labour has been criticised by some of its most important donors – trade union leaders. The General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, claimed that Kezia Dugdale had done a disservice to the party by openly backing Owen Smith as Labour leader during last summer’s leadership elections. Her Welsh counterpart – Carwyn Jones – had stayed neutral despite potentially having a good reason to back Owen Smith, who is a Welsh MP. McCluskey went further and claimed that the SNP could be the key to getting Labour into power after the next general election.
Gary Smith, the leader of GMB in Scotland, has been consistently critical of Kezia Dugdale. He defined Scottish Labour as a “middle class protest party” far from the issues of working class people. Earlier on this year the union, which is affiliated to Labour, did not carry out a consultation with its members in Scotland over which candidate to back in the party’s leadership contest, due to the perceived irrelevance of Scottish Labour.
These criticisms do not come out of the blue and are a consequence of a shifting Scottish landscape, where the Labour party is not able to retain the support of its most traditional backers.
The Scottish Trade Union Council (STUC) leader addressed the SNP conference in Aberdeen in 2015 . This was watershed event, in that it was the first time that the ‘leader’ of the trade union movement was invited to address the SNP conference. In turn, Nicola Sturgeon spoke at the STUC congress last year, and used her speech to stress her commitment to workers’ right and the positive influence the ‘critical friends’ in the unions had on her party’s policies.
Although the STUC is not affiliated to the Labour Party, around 10 of its constituent unions are, and these recent developments may suggest that some of the big trade unions could reaffiliate to the SNP. At the rank-and-file level, the shift has already taken place. The SNP Trade Unions Group has over 15,000 members according to the information the group itself provides. This is about the same size as the whole membership of Scottish Labour, which recent estimates place at 18,000.
Many union members voted YES in the Independence Referendum and gave their support to the SNP in the following year’s general elections. SNP Socialists, a new left-wing group within the party, was set up in 2016 and generated some interest. Although its meetings are not public, this confirms a shift in the membership of the SNP, which has been joined by many left-wing voters.
This influx of left-wing and trade union forces poses an existential question to the SNP. So far, and with far more limited powers, the SNP tried to appease to both big business and workers with their vision for a low-tax, high-earning independent Scotland. This has won them the trust of both business and working people, but anyone versed in the ideas of Marx knows this honeymoon period cannot last forever. The first cracks have started to appear. The interests of workers and capital are inherently opposed, and any party trying to champion both causes will only last in power as long as it manages to delay answering the fundamental questions of economics. The SNP has so far done brilliantly, focusing on the two constitutional questions, but they can only put off the question of austerity, privatisation and workers rights for so long.
Since the referendum, new powers have been given to Holyrood, but the executive has been very careful in using them as little as possible. Although Holyrood was given new responsibilities regarding the administration of 11 benefits, the government decided to hand the new powers back to the DWP until 2020. The Scottish Government also gained new tax powers but again used as little as possible of them, and their greatest progressive measure was that of failing to implement a Tory tax cut for the highest earners.
As long as the party leadership wants to appeal to big business, its claim to be a party for Scottish workers will necessarily remain fictitious and awaits exposure. If anything, this influx of socialists and trade unionists will expose the bourgeois nature of the SNP leadership sooner, and possibly lead to a left-right split in the party.

SNP Draft Budget Hides Austerity

The presentation of the draft budget for the Scottish Government is normally not a particularly interesting event, but the draft for 2017-2018 draws attention due to the further devolution of tax and welfare powers to Scotland this year.
The ambitious use of these new powers to change Scotland for the better is not the story of finance secretary Derek Mackay’s announcement, however. Former Alex Salmond advisor, Alex Bell, derided the Scottish Government as “cowards” for the lack of wealth-redistributing reforms in the draft budget. Mackay claims that the budget will mean more money coming from taxes to local services, but he is attempting to pull the wool over our eyes.
Mackay claims an “extra” £79m is to be raised through the use of the Scottish Governments new powers. The reality of this is that with powers over income tax, he will not be raising the tax threshold on the 40p rate as the Tories have done for the rest of the UK. Not losing that £79m through a tax cut could hardly be described as “extra” revenue.
Another piece of creative accounting includes boasting “additional spending power” (note a very careful choice of words) for local government by ending the SNP’s council tax freeze. So Mackay counts a 3% increase in Council Tax towards a total of £241m for “local government services”. Even though the final decision to actually increase council tax is not down to him, but local councils themselves.
The independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre finds Mr Mackay’s most dodgy budgetary trick to be the double-counting of funding for social care, which is included in the totals for both the Health and Local Government budgets, appearing to enlarge both! This did not go unmentioned by the opposition parties at Holyrood.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale attacked the draft budget by highlighting the real cuts to local services the SNP is implementing. Unfortunately for her, Scottish Labour’s criticisms sound like hypocrisy, as it is very difficult to imagine them doing anything different. For all their talk of using the Scottish Government’s new powers to prevent cuts, we know they’d swindle us just as much.
Local government definitely is a loser in this draft budget, however. In exchange for the Scottish Government allowing councils to raise Council Tax by 3%, there are cuts of £327m to local government grants. This sort of financial relationship – whereby the lower unit of government is hamstrung by cuts from above and given insufficient powers to make up the shortfall – is exactly what the SNP leadership complains about concerning the tax powers devolved to Holyrood and austerity cuts to the block grant from HM Treasury. In reality the only solution in either case is by defying austerity budgets and the bourgois law that defends them. Any idea such as this, as we’ve explained previously, could gain much resonance amongst the SNP’s membership and support. However the leadership are far from willing to carry out such a thing.
The SNP tops will always argue, of course, that only with the powers of an independent country can the Scottish Government truly run Scotland in “Scotland’s interests”. But whose interests are those, really? With more power comes more responsibility, and with the new devolved powers coming in April 2017 and beyond, the Scottish Government will be more responsible for the management of the Scottish economy and its budget will reflect that. For so long as the SNP are wedded to capitalism, they will have to implement the agenda of Scottish capital when in Government.
In these times of great uncertainty following the Brexit vote and ever-declining predictions for economic growth, the austerity agenda of capitalism has become somewhat more cautious. We saw this with the new Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Statement. The UK Government will adopt a slightly more Keynesian policy due to the instability of the British and European economic outlook, financed by the swelling national debt. This is the only area where the SNP are using Holyrood’s new powers to the maximum: borrowing money.
Currently the majority of the Scottish working class trusts the SNP to defend their interests. Where they want influence now is in the other half of their cross-class alliance for independence: the capitalist class. This draft budget which implements austerity cuts while trying to hide them behind misleading statistics and crumbs-from-the-table reforms shows this cautious new attitude.
The SNP will continue to speak up for “Scotland’s interests”, covering up the contradictory class interests at the heart of Scottish society and the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon has quickly become a stalwart defender of Scottish and British capitalist interests in the EU by using this deceptive slogan. She may still mention fighting the Tories from time-to-time, but on whose behalf? However the SNP have a problem in that their support comes from a healthy attitude of wanting to fight the Tories along with austerity, trident, warmongering and the rotten Westminster clique. I.e. an opposition to the some of the most unjust but inherent traits of capitalism. Even though Sturgeon et al are wedded to capitalism the mood and expectations created during the referendum and the SNPs rise are something which they will not be able to control forever.
The class contradictions of the SNP in time will lead to huge splits and formations of radical left wing currents where the ideas of revolutionary socialism will gain huge resonance. It is important now more than ever that we do not keep our criticisms of the SNP leadership to ourselves. If the working class does not fight for its interests – if we do not fight for socialism – nobody will. It’s not going to be handed to us by Parliaments or passed via referendum. 2017 will be a more turbulent year than 2016 as the crisis of capitalism and infighting among the ruling class intensifies. This is a precondition to revolutionary moments, but they will only come if we get organised, educated and take the offensive. Make Revolution your New Year’s Resolution!

SNP conference: Implications for class struggle in Scotland

by Ross Walker

Ross Walker of the Edinburgh Marxists discusses the events of the recent SNP annual party conference, where leader Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Beneath the apparent party unity surrounding independence, however, it is clear that strong class contradictions are developing within the SNP. Continue reading SNP conference: Implications for class struggle in Scotland

Scotland, The UK and The Fight for Socialism After Brexit

Brexit, Independence and The Battle for Socialism

By Ross Walker

On Friday the 24th of June, the results for the EU referendum were declared and the establishment was sent into a state of disarray. The value of the pound fell dramatically, Cameron was forced to resign and both Britain’s major political parties were pushed into civil wars. Since then events have continued to move very fast.  Continue reading Brexit, Independence and The Battle for Socialism

The Instability of The SNP

​Despite the Holyrood election results falling short of an overall majority, it is clear that the SNP is still the dominating party in Scotland. However, despite leadership claims to the contrary, it would be a mistake to think that this overwhelming popularity is the sign of a unified party. In fact differences on various issues including NATO, the monarchy, currency post-independence, the single police force and privatisation of CALMAC are very present and are subject to passionate discussion at many branches.

Continue reading The Instability of The SNP

The Housing Crisis IS The Capitalist Crisis

It is now over 35 years since Margaret Thatcher’s government implemented the Housing Act of 1980 and its Scottish equivalent, the ‘Tenants’ Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980’, which introduced the now infamous ‘right-to-buy’ scheme in Britain. The notorious policy has led to one third of ex-council homes being bought up by wealthy landlords, resulting in massive rent increases. Homes which were meant to provide comfort for working people are now being bought and sold at ridiculous prices in order to make a profit for the wealthy minority.

In Scotland in particular, the ‘right-to-buy’ policy has become associated with the selfish mentality of the current Conservative leaders, who have again been given rule over Scotland, despite only receiving 10% of Scottish votes in the recent general election. The ‘right-to-buy’ policy ensured a shortage of housing for those on low incomes by creating a property bubble that made many once working-class houses unaffordable. By pushing the working class out of urban residential areas and putting them into vast housing schemes, the Conservative party have found an effective way of keeping the working-class in their place.

Not only this, but the ideology encouraged by the right-to-buy scheme has led to a destruction of working class consciousness, with many workers associating home ownership with social stability and comfort, while associating housing schemes with ‘benefit scroungers’ and criminals.

The right-to-buy policy of the Tory party is still one of the biggest enemies of social equality today. George Osborne is determined to carry on Thatcher’s legacy of privatisation in every possible place, claiming it is all part of his mysterious ‘Long-term economic plan.’ Osborne clearly has no motive other than to increase the powers of Capitalism and create an immense divide between the rich and poor of Britain. Osborne’s ideas are completely alien to the working people of Scotland, who find it increasingly hard to survive in a world dominated by big businesses.

In the recent Queen’s speech the Tories put forward their plans to sell off housing association stock. Combined with their plans to cap the housing benefit this will undoubtedly lead to many poorer families losing their homes. In Scotland 277,000 homes are rented from housing associations. 2,911 new dwellings were built by housing associations in Scotland between 2013-14, a fair chunk less than the 3244 built the year before, but perhaps that is because 774 tenants were evicted from housing association properties the same year because they were unable to pay rent. With increased Tory austerity throughout Britain, it is unlikely the housing associations will receive enough public funding to be properly effective in providing homes for poorer people.

And what of public housing in Scotland? Well in 2013-14 1,140 new dwellings were built by local authorities in Scotland, a slight increase on the 963 built the year before, but considering 29,326 households in Scotland were assessed by local authorities to be homeless or potentially homeless in the same year, it hardly seems an adequate amount. The average rent of these houses in 2013-14 was £61.20, a 49% increase of the £40.94 of ten years previously. So not only is there not enough houses being built by local authorities, but the ones being built are unaffordable to many poor Scottish people. Over the past ten years over 53,000 Scottish public homes have been lost to private ownership thanks to the right-to-buy, a sad reflection of both Labour and the Conservative’s lack of interest in preserving public housing.

The vast majority of Scottish homes are either privately owned and occupied by the owner or privately owned and rented to tenants. For young workers and students in major Scottish cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen who wish to live practically and comfortably, often the only option is to privately rent. Landlords understand this better than anyone, owning an attractive properties is easy money. For the student tenants, the only reality is one where they always owe money to the owner, and they are told that when they graduate they will have to get their own foot in the property ladder if they wish to be successful in any way.

Of course, in owning a property the young person puts themselves right back into the position they occupied as a tenant. Because mortgages are a reality to almost everyone in society wishing to buy a property, the situation of having to pay someone else in order to have a home continues. Only for the top layer in society is it possible to avoid paying these debts, and it is only the top layer of society that these debts benefit.

It is well known that there is currently a housing crisis in Britain. Not enough homes are being built to properly house the population. The transformation of public houses into private properties does nothing to help create the homes we need. In fact it is more likely to destroy perfectly decent homes by allowing developers to make them into luxury apartments. Two or three affordable and comfortable flats are suddenly turned into one luxury apartment, good news for the developer who will know plenty of clients with the means to buy such places, but terrible news for struggling families looking for somewhere affordable to live.

The amount of affordable social housing in Scotland is running low, and of the ones we have, 43% fall below the Scottish Housing Quality Standard. ‘Scheme’ has now become something of a dirty word in Scotland, partially thanks to the controversial 2011 TV series ‘The Scheme,’ which certainly did give some insight into the lives of the lower class in Kilmarnock, but ultimately painted the inhabitants of schemes as hopeless and uncaring. Similar ‘poverty porn’ TV programmes as well as reactionary papers like the Daily Mail have taken the same approach, looking at the lower classes with sympathy, but ultimately concluding that they are doing nothing to help themselves. ‘Benefits’ as a word has also become associated with inhabitants of social housing, who are seen as un-ambitious and unwilling to work. Benefits are simply a reality of living in Capitalist society and a lot of the people who rely on housing benefits are university graduates and part-time workers.

One of the most dangerous policies of today’s Tory party is the Bedroom Tax. If you are of working age and inhabit a home with at least one ‘spare’ bedroom, you are deemed unfit to claim full housing benefit. 14% of your housing benefits will be taken away if you have one spare room, 25% if you have two or more. This means many people living in rented homes will have to make up the difference with money from their own pockets, which is difficult on a low paid job with other essential costs like food and heating to consider.

A ‘spare’ room can be any room that is not already occupied by a tenant or used as a facility (e.g. a kitchen, bathroom etc.) The Tories consider it the responsibility of the inhabitants of the property to find another renter to occupy the ‘spare’ room, a renter who can not only save money for all the other inhabitants, but also provide a much greater overall profit for the property owner. Clearly the aim of this policy is to encourage a money-motivated Capitalist tendency amongst working people, and the Tories know that the Bedroom Tax is a key ingredient in creating a fully privatised economy.

It is clear that a Capitalist system can never properly deal with the crises of British housing efficiently. Building the amount of homes needed would simply be un-profitable and therefore unthinkable for the arch Capitalists who dictate the property market. In a country that is headed increasingly to pure privatisation under the current Tory government, it is very unlikely that council homes will represent any sort of solution to the crises. The new homes that are being developed serve only as commodities for the Capitalist economy and can in no way be seen as practical or affordable for the many struggling families looking for somewhere to live.

The SNP, who have promised to yank much of the Conservatives power over Scotland away in the next few years, have stated abolishing the Bedroom Tax as one of their main policies in their recent manifesto. Their manifesto also states:

“The Scottish Government is on track to meet the commitment to 30,000 new affordable homes by 2016, but more needs to be done. We will back investment in an annual house building target across the UK of 100,000 affordable homes a year.”

This certainly sounds nice, and seems to be a genuine attempt by the SNP to directly tackle the problem of housing in Scotland. However these reforms will by no means change the fundamental problems that have led to the property bubble and housing crises in recent years. Building new homes is helpful, but how long those homes remain ‘affordable’ is unsure to say the least under a Capitalist system. Abolishing the bedroom tax would save working people great amounts of money, but the Tories will always find some other way to wreak their terrible austerity on workers.

As long as the SNP preserve the same Capitalist economic system as the rest of Britain, there is never going to be a proper breakdown of the class system in Scotland. Under Capitalism, the rich will always find a way to thrive, and they will cunningly dodge all the economic reforms thrown at them. Until a fundamental change in the class system occurs, the less well-off will always find themselves in either inadequate housing, great debt or homelessness.

What we need is for the working class to take control over their own affairs. With working people living in unaffordable homes, exploitative Capitalists know they have complete control. As long as workers are in debt or paying rent, the Bourgeoisie can effectively keep them in the place they want, unable to escape from their hand-to-mouth existence. In our current heavily privatised housing situation, the vast majority will always be under the thumbs of the Bourgeoisie. Reforms can be put foreword to try and prevent this, but the Bourgeoisie will always be able to find another way of maintaining their domination as long as a Capitalist system is preserved.

In order to establish an equal and fair society, where everyone can live in a decent and comfortable home, we must establish a Socialist system in which people earn what they really deserve and the means of production are publicly owned. Such a system would prevent the rich from buying up vast amounts of land and properties and will allow for families to live safely in a place they can call home. Unfortunately achieving such a society is impossible in the current political system, where the few dictate the lives of the many. Full representation of working people will not be achieved through parliament, the workers must take power for themselves through revolution. Only through revolution can effective and practical housing be achieved for the people of Scotland.​

Holyrood 2016: What happened to Labour?

by Amy Dean

Last week’s Scottish parliamentary election results demonstrated the continuing dominance of the SNP over Scottish politics, as the party won the largest number of seats – 63 out of 129 – and secured 47% and 42% of the constituency and list votes respectively. Continue reading Holyrood 2016: What happened to Labour?

Edinburgh School Crisis – the dangerous effects of privatisation

Since the Easter holidays 7,000 children have been denied their education due to the discovery that 10 primary, 5 secondary and 2 additional support schools, built on a PFI scheme are unsafe for the children and young people to be in. Continue reading Edinburgh School Crisis – the dangerous effects of privatisation