Morning Star, 05/08/09
FRANCES CURRAN on the by-election campaign where Labour lost the plot.
DURING the course of the Glasgow East by-election campaign, I kept coming across people who had voted Labour all their lives saying: "Never again."
Labour's loss in Glasgow East appears to confirm something that my Scottish Socialist Party colleague John McAllion has written of recently. Labour in Scotland is in a state of terminal decline.
The party that had represented Glasgow East unbroken since 1922 and held a vice-like grip on politics in central Scotland for generations has found itself humiliated and in headlong retreat since its defeat at the hands of the SNP in the 2007 Scottish parliamentary election.
I started my political life in the Labour Party Young Socialists in Glasgow's East End in the late 1970s. It is still startling to see the extent of the decay in Labour's support among the working class and the total domination of US-style spin and froth, even though we have had 10 years of new Labour to get used to it.
Voters in Glasgow East clearly signalled that they had had enough of a government which has done nothing to protect working people in the gathering financial crisis and is seen as remote and no longer on their side.
Everywhere I went there was revulsion with expenses fiddles, John Lewis lists and Labour politicians living high on the hog as former supporters struggle to pay the bills.
In contrast, SNP candidate John Mason clearly benefited from the fact that Alex Salmond's Scottish government has adopted policies such as abolition of prescription charges and free school meals, both policies that were pioneered by the SSP, alongside a renewed programme of council housing, and the abolition of bridge tolls.
So, despite his conservative views on issues such as abortion, Mason came across as a supporter of an Edinburgh government treading something like an old Labour path and attracting traditional Labour voters as a result.
Importantly, the result also shows that attempts to create fear around independence no longer have the impact that they once had, even though the issue was highlighted constantly and negatively by the Labour campaign.
The clear lesson here is that working-class voters want a government which is seen to be on their side against the fat cats and not one which simply pours them more cream while lapping up some itself.
In Scotland, the twin blows of economic crisis and the popular SNP administration look like turning a difficult new Labour crisis into a terminal one, with the prospects of a public fight for the leadership of their crisis-ridden Holyrood group looming.
Significantly, the result also shows that there is a bedrock of support for socialist politics, with the SSP gaining 555 votes, Solidarity 512 and the Greens trailing on 232.
But it also underlines the criminal folly of Solidarity's breakaway from the SSP and the mistake of its assertion that there is room for two socialist parties in Scotland.
Star readers need to understand that the SSP was successful as a result of being a unified socialist party and that the wipeout of socialists from the Scottish Parliament is a direct result of the split led by Tommy Sheridan.
The change from last year, when Solidarity outpolled the SSP by five to one in Glasgow East, to a position where it was behind the SSP last week indicates both the folly of the split and its declining influence.
As the crisis engulfing new Labour intensifies, the SSP is committed to playing its part in winning support in Scotland for a democratic socialist republic and for a serious left-wing programme across the UK.
We are already involved in organising a grass-roots conference between our activists and ecosocialists from both Green and no party traditions later this year.
The SSP is also officially supporting the September Convention of the Left in Manchester and a delegation from the party will be participating fully in the event.
It seems clear that the death knell of new Labour is sounding. This makes the task of left in fashioning a democratic socialist alternative a task of the greatest urgency.
Frances Curran was the SSP candidate in Glasgow East.