The right question

To balance John Foster’s sceptical piece about the “national conversation”, the Morning Star published the following:

Talking about independence (Wednesday 29 August 2007)
KEN FERGUSON on why the SSP welcomes Scotland’s new ‘national conversation.’

THE shock waves from new Labour’s May defeat in the Scottish elections and the advent of a minority SNP government in Holyrood are rapidly rewriting the rules in Scottish politics.

A series of progressive announcements on increased resources for schools, scrapping hospital closures and halting plans for a further private prison have all hit the spot with the public.

While nobody on the left will doubt that, at bottom, the SNP is pro-business, many voters will ask, as they review the record of the last eight years of Lab-Lib governments: “So what?”

Faced with this series of progressive moves, the reaction from the pro-unionist parties has been to form what amounts to an “unpopular front,” supposedly in opposition to independence and in defence of the union.

However, with the coronation of arch market forces fan Wendy Alexander to the leadership of new Labour, a wider agenda has started to break cover.

Earlier this week, press reports – clearly sourced from new Labour – told of moves to form what amounts to a unionist coalition to “seize the policy agenda” when Holyrood reconvenes in September.

The reality of any such moves, which are now being denied in true Mandelson fashion, would be a further rightward lurch, with Thatcher’s heirs and the opportunist Lib Dems linking with Alexander’s neoliberals.

The evidence of public reaction to the left-wing ideas put up by Salmond so far suggests that the public are not likely to find more pro-market ideas very welcome.

The background against which all this is played out is the launch by the SNP government of a white paper on independence – part of which is a “national conversation” on the issue.

Despite some criticism from the pro-unionist left, the truth is that the “conversation” is a deft move by an SNP which knows that it is outnumbered in voting terms in the Scottish Parliament.

By taking the debate beyond MSPs into wider civic society, the SNP is banking on swinging support in the direction of both forcing a referendum on independence and in favour of independence itself.

These developments take place at a point where, in terms of the Scottish Parliament, the forces of the left are at an eight-year low.

The split opened up by Tommy Sheridan’s libel case simply made the already difficult situation worse and contributed to all SSP and Solidarity MSPs – including Sheridan – losing their seats.

The abject failure of the Labour left to muster six MSPs to challenge the recent leadership election speaks volumes of the balance of forces there.

Faced with this difficult challenge, the SSP has both restated its support for an independent Scottish republic and pledged to fully engage with the debate around the national conversation.

Party branches are lobbying MSPs in favour of an independence referendum and raising the issue in street activity and in the party’s Scottish Socialist Voice paper.

The party’s position was set out in detail in a statement from the SSP executive, which said: “The Scottish Socialist Party welcomes the coming ‘national conversation’ on Scotland’s future.

“Unlike the three London-controlled parties, the Scottish Socialist Party is not afraid of a wide-ranging debate, followed by a democratic vote on Scotland’s future.”

Reaffirming support for independence, the statement spells out: “We believe Scotland would be economically, politically, culturally and socially better off making our own decisions and standing on our own two feet.

“We look forward to outlining our own unique vision for an independent socialist Scotland.

“In the meantime, the SSP will also support any steps to strengthen the Scottish Parliament short of full independence. We have called, for example, for Holyrood to have control over broadcasting, energy, fiscal policy, drugs and other matters that are currently reserved to Westminster.

“However, only full independence can rid Scotland of nuclear weapons, disentangle Scotland from the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, allow us to welcome refugees fleeing famine and persecution and enable Scotland to draw up its own democratic constitution fit for the 21st century.

“The SNP vision for independence would involve a ‘union of the crowns.’ The Scottish Socialist Party, in contrast, believes in sweeping away the remnants of feudalism, inherited power and class privilege which the monarchy symbolises.

“In the coming national conversation, we will be arguing strongly for an independent Scottish republic. The SSP believes that the fight for independence involves confronting powerful vested interests at the heart of the British Establishment.

“When they site their nuclear weapons here and rely disproportionately on our sons and daughters to stock their armies and die in their wars, it would be naive to imagine that the British state will be led gently down the slippery slope to full independence.

“We believe that the forces in favour of independence – including the SNP, the SSP, the Greens, the Independence Convention and Independence First – have a major battle on the hands to win the Scottish people decisively to the cause of Scottish independence.”

Why does Scotland have two socialist parties?

[Tuesday]

A rhetorical question, please note. But compare and contrast the following:

Solidarity Statement on Glasgow Airport Attack

Sunday, 01 July 2007

Solidarity condemns unreservedly the attack which took place at Glasgow Airport yesterday. If successful it would have resulted in the mass murder of innocent civilians of every background, ethnicity and religion, including children. It follows recent events in London, again with the intention of causing maximum carnage, and we join all right thinking people in condemning any and all such indiscriminate attacks.

However, we remain in no doubt that at the root of such attacks is the government’s culpability in the ongoing carnage and slaughter which is now part of daily life on the streets of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Last week, Tony Blair left office accompanied by a standing ovation in the House of Commons, only to leave Downing Street with his family a few hours later accompanied by jeers of “murderer” and “war criminal” from antiwar protesters. It was a contrast which served to underline the extent of the disconnect which now exists in British society -between a government and a parliament and the vast majority of people over which it governs.

Pat Smith stood as a Solidarity candidate in the Scottish elections and is on the national steering committee of the Stop The War Coalition. She said: “Blair and Brown have only succeeded in helping to make the world a much more dangerous place with their support for the illegal US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq is in flames, in Afghanistan civilians are being killed on a daily basis, yet at home the vast majority of people are against the war, including the troops. It is time to bring them out.”

Solidarity Co-Convenor, Tommy Sheridan, said: “Newly appointed Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has warned the public to be vigilant as there could be more attacks. Our message to him is that there will inevitably be more attacks as long as British troops are engaged in the Middle East and as long as he remains committed to US foreign policy and strategic objectives around the world.”

Solidarity Glasgow Councillor, Ruth Black, said: “This incident has really brought home the enormity of the polarisation and extremism which exists both at home and abroad as a direct result of this New Labour government’s policies in the Middle East. It was random and indiscriminate and I would make a plea for calm in the days and weeks ahead.”

This attack will no doubt be taken as a green light by racists and fascists, such as the BNP, to push their agenda of hate and division across Scotland. Let them be in no doubt, however, that Solidarity will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community, immigrants and asylum seekers come what may. They are not the enemy of working class people. The true enemy of all working class people are the millionaires, the corporations and a government that governs on their behalf.

*

SSP statement on attack on Glasgow airport

Scottish Socialist Party Executive Committe

1.7.07

The Scottish Socialist Party offers its support and sympathy to Scotland’s Muslim community in the wake of Saturday’s attempted atrocity at Glasgow Airport.

As the Muslim Association of Britain has pointed out, Scotland’s Muslim community are justifiably angry at this attempted atrocity, which has the potential to play into the hands of the racist far-right, damage community relations and heighten fears in the Muslim community.

Saturday’s action is the first serious attempt in Scotland to conduct a terrorist campaign aimed at civilians since Word War II. With Gordon Brown taking the reigns of power in Westminster, Scotland has apparently become a legitimate terrorist target, as a result of the government’s disastrous and murderous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the needless murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians to young men from Fife meeting a premature and futile end in Basra, families around the world are in mourning as a result of Bush, Blair and now Brown’s warmongering.

In opposition, the SNP were vocal in their opposition to the war and their desire to bring the troops home. The SSP calls on Scotland’s politicians from all parties, whether they supported the war in Iraq or not, to end this mess and to end it now.

An independent Scotland would not have been dragged into an illegal war against the wishes of a majority of the people; the decision to bring the troops home is ours, not Mr Brown’s.

We call for the whole of Scotland to rally to the anti-war cause and to resist attempts to divide us on race or religion. Scotland’s Muslim community is not responsible for these attacks and should not be allowed to be scapegoated by the press or the politicians. Acts of terrorism target the innocent; we condemn such attacks wherever they occur.

A Lib-Lab Con

[Friday]

With the aid of coffee-fuelled insomnia, I pour forth on capitalist peace in Northern Ireland, pre-emptive coalitions that backfire, the flawed perspective of Jon Cruddas and the labour bureaucracy, the shaky leadership of Liberal Democrats, the chances of co-ordinated industrial action in the public sector, and what we can expect of a Brown premiership. I think I’ll have a lie down now…

You’re the one for me, Paddy
As I commented hastily only the other day, Gordon Brown’s promise of a “government of all the talents” has materialised as a recipe for a unity government. Why he should need to invite Lord Ashdown to be Northern Ireland Secretary is beyond me – in fact, why does Northern Ireland or British imperialism even need a Secretary, talented or not, from the British government?

The Provisional IRA has disbanded, British imperialism’s involvements in the Middle East have led to a reduction in the number of service personnel, and Sinn Fein now co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist Party’s Ian Paisley is First Minister with Sinn Fein’s Martin Maguiness as his deputy.

What problems are there to be solved in the province by Paddy the so-called peace-maker that cannot be dealt with by Stormont? The last rump of the British Empire’s colonies has been cowed; the people of Northern Ireland have a power-sharing government of unionists and republicans. Who needs Lord Ashdown’s “talent” now?

Invited gatecrashers
Labour’s backbenches will be seething, as will members of the cabinet who are hoping to hang around after Blair’s departure. It is known that those lacking in Scottish accents are though to have more secure cabinet careers than fellow Scots in a Brown administration, but there are plenty of Welsh and English people in the PLP, and some of them must be skilled. Why is Brown not seeking to promote talent within his own party? His offer to Liberals betrays a lack of confidence in the abilities and priorities of Labour MPs.

Claims that Brown is seeking a “new politics” are disingenuous. I understand that, like Labour, the Liberal Democrats are ostensibly a centre-left outfit, but why enter an effective coalition if there is no need to? Could it be that Brown fears Labour’s base in the trade unions and traditional class perspective will prevent him carrying out the work of the capitalist class?

The Liberal Democrats might differ from Labour over the planned ID cards scheme, the burgeoning DNA database, the Trident nuclear weapons system, and the necessity of a new nuclear power stations – but on economic matters, the Liberals are just as committed to neo-liberalism, and despite their opposition to the intervention in Iraq and Blair’s complicity in last summers Israeli assault of Lebanon, they are most certainly not anti-imperialist.

As I said, the “government of all the talents” idea, trailed at the launch of Brown’s campaign for the premiership, was thought to refer to bringing private sector figures into government – or rather, contracting-out policymaking to capitalists. Now it appears that Brown is preparing for a unity government.

Back to basics
There will be an expectation on the part of the labour movement and those who have stuck with the party that Brown can be held back and perhaps even won over. Jon Cruddas, the leftwing deputy leadership challenger who has the most support in the labour movement, wishes to become a conduit between the party’s base and leadership rather than take a cabinet post and run a ministry.

A left-winger breathing down his neck is the last thing Brown wants. Cruddas and the trade union leaders wish to reverse Labour’s commitment to the neo-liberal agenda. Not so much Old Labour but Real Labour, claims Cruddas. And there could be some truth in this: Labour has traditionally opposed aspects of the capitalist system, but at the same time lacked a coherent alternative. Cruddas has been derided as indicative of Labour’s “lurch to the left”, but he himself is not immune from red-baiting, characterising the party’s internal conflicts in the early eighties as a struggle against people who wanted to “abolish the police and invite the Russians in”.

Doubtless much of Cruddas’ support will come from class conscious working people, and while this could get him elected to the deputy leadership, there is little hope in him being able to influence policy. And because Labour is so discredited, lacking in democratic structures, and dependent on funding from wealthy businessmen there is no possibility of an independent working class party being constructed, not even if Brown has a Damascene conversion to the cause of the proletariat.

Gordon’s Liberal bias
Brown’s courting of the former Liberal leader has left the current Liberal leadership fuming. The Tory strategy has been to suggest that the Liberals will hop into bed with Labour after the next election – expected to result in a hung parliament and therefore necessitating a coalition government.

Sir Menzies Campbell has been aiming to muscle in on Tory territory; he succeeded in getting his party to scrap their commitment to a 50% tax rate for those earning more than £100,000 a year, perhaps their most distinctive and progressive policy, in favour of regressive green taxes.

His predecessor, the affable Charles Kennedy was derided as a weak figure, a more a chairman than a leader, because he was unable to get his party to back the privatisation of Royal Mail. Campbell is unlikely to follow Kennedy in addressing anti-war demonstrations – he has claimed that the opposition to the Iraq war contained anti-American elements and backs the occupation of Afghanistan.

A weak [sic] is a long time in politics
Campbell has experienced a rumour campaign within his own party, partly because of the inefficacy of his own leadership. Though the party is not floundering, there has been a distinct lack of coverage of Campbell’s Liberals, compared to the high-profile maintained by Kennedy. The Liberals have been left out because of the resurgence of the Tory party under David Cameron and Campbell has been derided as being too old in comparison. This ageism is robustly challenged by Campbell, but it is not his age that is the issue.

The Liberals gained some support from Labour voters for their opposition to the invasion of Iraq and can be said to be the only party that has a presence within England, Scotland and Wales. The Tories have been unable to break into the northern cities of England whereas the Liberals have not experienced these.

As a third party in Westminster, the Liberals are confined to a permanent opposition – unless they decide to collaborate with Labour in the event of a hung parliament. Though they have shared power with Labour in the devolved governments, Liberal big shots are keen to stress the differences between central and devolved government in terms of electoral procedure and legislative function.

This reasoned response is not as strong as the emotive line from the Tories that Labour will be kept in power by the Campbell and that those seeking a change would do better than to vote for the Liberals come election time. One might counter, that since Cameron has come out as the heir to Blair, there would be little change in terms of policy in the event of a Tory victory in 2009.

Polytricks (an interlude)
When the ailing Charles Kennedy was forced to admit he had been seeking treatment for alcoholism, he announced that he was stepping down as “chairman”. This sparked a leadership contest in early 2006 that brought about an Orange Revolution within the Liberal Democrats. It was the man partly responsible for Kennedy’s downfall, Sir Menzies Campbell who assumed leadership of Britain’s “third party”, whereupon he set about repositioning the Liberals to the right on economic issues

It has to be said that Campbell was an unusual choice for the leadership due to his age and lack of prominence, though it was expected that the right-wing Orange Book group would dominate policy-making; Simon Hughes, the party’s loquacious President, was initially a front-runner because of his popularity with party activists and ability to communicate (at length) the party’s message. He was, though, seen as more of a left-winger, and this might have been why he was subject to a character assassination.

A homophobic smear campaign conducted by sections of the tabloid press scuppered his leadership bid and Hughes was forced to admit his bisexuality. This would not have been so bad, but the election contest that first brought Hughes to Westminster in 1983 was marred by a disgusting amount of homophobia towards the Labour candidate, Peter Tatchell, who is now a prominent human rights activist, and Hughes’ campaign team was party to the abuse and insinuation.

In this age of tolerance, there was no possibility of suggesting Hughes’ sexual orientation precluded him being an MP or even leader of a political party – the emphasis was very much on the lack of openness and on the earlier hypocrisy. This was the line adopted, but it failed to convince. For the interest in private matters was in marked contrast to the lack of concern about the nefarious role played by top Liberal figures in toppling Kennedy.

Hughes’ political opinions and actions account for far more importance than his personal life and it says much for the bourgeoisie’s commitment to equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that he was outed in this manner. The infamous by-Bermondsey election occurred almost a quarter of a century ago, and in a much different political climate. Since Hughes had not voted against LGBT rights legislation, the suggestion that his outing was in the public interest did not hold water.

So why the interest in Hughes’ sexuality? Surely not because The Sun was concerned about homophobic incidents that occurred years previously and for which Hughes had apologise? Peter Tatchell, now a member of the Green Party, said he wished Hughes well in the campaign to become party leader “because of all the contenders he is the most progressive on human rights, social justice and environmental issues”. So I suspect it had something to do with his talking up of the inequalities that have grown under New Labour – if he had been leader of the Liberals he would have been able to highlight the gap between expectation and reality on social justice.

As if to counter my theory, there’s the case of Mark Oaten: another of the candidates for Liberal leadership in 2006 and one of the contributors to the Orange Book, Oaten was revealed to have used male prostitutes. A married family man and supporter of “tough liberalism”, Oaten was forced to resign from his post as Home Affairs spokesman.

Kennedy, by the way, is believed to be interested in getting his old job back. But unless Ming the Merciful quits or kicks the bucket, a contest for the position of Third Man is as unthinkable as the possibility of a split within the party.

Crisis, what crisis?
Back to the issue, at hand, Brown’s preparations for a government of national unity lead to a series of questions. For one, why does he desire a coalition before it is necessary – is he trying to embarrass the Liberals or is he a maladroit political operator? Does Brown foresee a crisis in the national or international economy or some other momentous political event that might require a united front for the capitalist class?

If Brown was not intending to compromise the Liberals and does expect the imminent ruination of the economy, why did he make a move on Campbell and then Ashdown? Forgive me if I have constructed a case in reverse, but I am drawn back to the Labour Party and the broader labour movement.

Efforts towards political strike action against below-inflation pay increases and in defence of jobs and services in the public sector have not yet resulted in a concrete plan of action. The labour bureaucracy is split between engaging with Brown and confronting him; modifying the agenda and opposing it. Naturally, he would like neither engagement nor confrontation, but I suspect he would prefer the latter – it would allow him to win brownie points with the bourgeoisie, not that he needs any, by taking on the unions, and perhaps eating into the Tory lead over Labour in the polls as a result of positive media coverage.

There is a danger that because of the lack of organisation in the private sector and the fact that the wages of public sector workers are paid out of taxation, the bourgeois media will be able to conduct a successful disinformation campaign. Already, in the case of the CWU’s dispute with Royal Mail, the government has been party to this. Unfortunately, the postal union is quick to dismiss suggestions that the upcoming strike has a political character or concerns more than pay – the CWU did not put up much of a fight when the government implemented an EU directive to end the Royal Mail’s monopoly two years in advance.

The weak shall inherit… 10 Downing Street
Brown and Blair have only personal differences; politically, they are indistinguishable. But that is not to say that Brown can or will be as strident as Blair. The towering majority gained in the 1997 landslide victory has ebbed away and Labour may be forced to go into coalition with the Liberals in the next session of the Westminster parliament.

The Labour Party had 407,000 members when Blair’s New Labour project was swept to power in 1997, by the start of this year membership has fallen to 177,000. Ten years of New Labour rule and the wars in the Middle East have cut the party to shreds organisationally and in the opinion polls. The trade unions may reconsider bailing Labour out when the leadership can easily secure party finances by selling peerages to rich businessmen…

Brown lacks charisma, a power-hungry parliamentary party, and the air of expectation that surrounded Tony Blair’s elevation to Prime Minister. Whilst his predecessor was elected, Brown has become party leader by default. Blair became PM after the party had won a parliamentary majority in a general election; Brown will enter Number 10 two years from parliamentary elections, trailing the opposition in the polls, with the expectation of a hung parliament in 2009.

He might have concluded that since electoral participation is in a downward spiral and Wales could follow Scotland on the road to political independence, Labour is finished. The Tories are committed to pick up on the direction New Labour set out on and are playing on Brown’s reputation as a control freak to portray him as a Stalinist in favour of more state control.

All that remains then is to piece together a coalition and cling on for a while longer. And to think he’s not even through the door of Number 10…

Clunking fist
So Brown appears weak, how will he remedy this?

As a Scot representing a Scottish constituency at a time when the SNP have recently come to power in Scotland, beating New Labour, Brown will have his work cut out in proving he is the British PM. Curbing the rights of Scottish MPs to vote on matters which only concern England and Wales is a proposal that has been supported by the opposition leader David Cameron. Brown is unlikely to endorse such a measure, for obvious reasons.

Proposals for a written constitution and a Bill of Rights are expected; Cameron has come out in favour of a written constitution, so Brown is sure to shoot his fox. And a review of the Barnett formula – the equation that determines funding for the public expenditure of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – will probably be announced within the first one hundred days of the Brown administration, not least because of Tony Blair’s admission that higher per capita public spending in Scotland than England is a bribe to retain the Union. Plaid Cymru are seeking to secure tax-varying powers for the Welsh Assembly, and the SNP are naturally seeking fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

There will be an expectation of withdrawal from Iraq, but Brown is not in a position to disappoint the US or distance himself from the Bush administration, he is a confirmed Atlanticist. Majority opinion in the UK is that troops should be brought home from Iraq and there is support for withdrawal amongst sections of the British ruling class because the venture is not successful, that is to say profitable, and may weaken the influence of Britain in future.. On the Afghan front, Brown is likely to commit to more funding for the mission; though he will try to dispel the notion that British forces will occupy the country for thirty years, not least because of the demoralisation the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have cause the armed forces.

Walkouts and walking away
After the fire-fighters’ national strike in 2003, the Fire Brigades Union decided to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. The Communication Workers Union could do the same in the wake of planned strike action – if the membership were given a choice I suspect they’d rather tip the political fund into a drain than hand it over to Brown.

A break by the CWU could lead to momentum for breaking the union link with Labour completely if other unions decide to review the situation. Certainly, it would harm Brown in that he would lack funds and unless the cash for honours scandal is completely forgotten about, very few rich businessmen will be arranging to make donations. Still, he could always introduce state funding of political parties and get the new Chancellor (if there is one) to write the cheques for the next election.

But where would the unions take their cash? In Wales, it could be conceivable that there would be funding for Plaid Cymru, which is to the left of Labour, or continued support for Welsh Labour. Is it all that unimaginable that the unions might support the SNP in Scotland? The Scottish Trade Union Congress narrowly supported Labour before the last election, and the reforms being implemented by the nationalists might be more appealing than the reformism-without-reforms of New Labour.

For class conscious working people in England, there is little to choose from and electoral politics might seem like a dead end at this point. Organisationally, workers are weak in terms of self-defence and pro-active political intervention is unlikely to get results until there is greater unity in action.

In the past, I have pointed to the Scottish Socialist Party as a model for going forward in England (excising from my memory the Sheridan split and the failure of previous endeavours, namely the Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance). As I have long believed that the break-up of Britain will be the key to revolution in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, perhaps attention should be focused on constitutional arrangements and the industrial struggle rather than any further attempts at a unified pluralist workers’ party.

Here’s Jonny
Cruddas winning deputy leadership would make Brown respond to complaints from the labour bureaucracy and at best could provide a focus for the left within the Labour Party – but since the leader of the party is more interested in connecting with members of other political parties, what hope is there of rebuilding Labour’s electoral base?

Reviving participation in elections will only become an issue for the bourgeoisie when the legitimacy of the capitalist system comes under question. State funding of political parties may emerge as a solution to the unseemliness of capitalist funding of the parties, which was brought to public attention in the cash for honours scandal – the police investigation of which has yet to conclude.

It comes down to a different approach to politics. Brown doesn’t mind blundering on, targeting swing voters whilst alienating Labour supporters with neo-liberal policies and imperialist wars; Cruddas sees the need for Labour to make amends with its base, apologies for the war in Iraq, and try to move forward with policies that benefit working class people.

Brown’s passionate desire to be Prime Minister, supposedly assured in a deal made with Blair in a restaurant called Granita, looks set to be realised, though it may not last. What does Cruddas want? Not much, and that’s what he’s bound to get if he wins the powerless post of deputy to the President-unelect.

Breaking news: Brown’s been turned down by a second unelected figure. Sir John Stevens, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has declined an invitation from the Iron Chancellor to join his administration. Yes, that’s right – Brown will build a police state…

Brown trouser time

[Thursday]

In perhaps the shoddiest post I have ever written, I deal with Gordon Brown’s attempted seduction of Paddy Ashdown, the Scottish government’s lurch to the left, and finish with a humorous “And finally” item.

Ashdown’s got talent?
At the launch of his leadership campaign, Gordon Brown spoke of a “government of all the talents” at the launch of his leadership campaign. At the time, this was though to be a reference to bringing figures from business into his cabinet.

Today it emerged that Brown had approached former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord Ashdown to offer him a cabinet post as secretary for Northern Ireland. The current leader of the Liberals, Sir Menzies Campbell, had ordered his party to refrain from joining Brown’s administration and views the move as an attempt to cause divisions in his party – which is styling itself as an alternative to the Tories in much of the country.

The fear/scare-tactic of the Tories is that Labour will retain power in Westminster beyond 2009 by entering a coalition with the Liberals. Campbell strenuously denies this, citing differences with Labour on nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and the war in Iraq amongst other things; it will be damaging for the Liberals that Campbell met with Brown and appears to have given some consideration before calling upon his party to turn down any offers from the new PM.

Brown’s new politics
The Labour left is not terribly happy about this latest move by the Chancellor. John McDonnell, whose long-running campaign to challenge Brown in a leadership contest was ended by Labour MPs, had this to say:

“Gordon Brown may have mentioned wanting a Government of all the talents but at no stage in his speeches to meetings of party members during the leadership process has he ever suggested a coalition with the Liberals. He should have had the decency to consult his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party on such significant matters of principle. I believe that many would have been more circumspect in giving him their support if they knew these were his plans.”

Brown faces the prospect of being forced to hold a referendum on the EU constitution (which the government would lose) and a series of public sector strikes in his first hundred days as PM: the Communication Workers Union announced today that the first national postal strike for ten years will commence next Friday after talks with Royal Mail failed to produce an agreement.

The Brownite defence of their man’s wooing of the Liberals has been that there is a desire on the part of the electorate for a “new politics” that breaks down tribal party divisions. But who are these talented people accountable to? Paddy Ashdown is an appointed Lord – he has no constituency and is not a member of the governing party. The effect of the new PM inviting people from outside the Labour Party to join cabinet will be to further alienate the dwindling electorate.

Perhaps Brown sees that his party has an uncertain future and is intent on forming the first unity government since the Second World War. Or maybe he’s just set on screwing the Liberals’ new Tory-friendly image…

Sense and consensus
In Scotland, meanwhile, the SNP-Green coalition has been founded more consensually. SNP leader Alex Salmond has made much of his accountability to the Scottish parliament, especially over the recent scandal concerning the “Lockerbie bomber”. No doubt Salmond will have something to say about Brown’s scheming – which seems to have backfired on the Chancellor – the next time there is a clash between the devolved administration and the central government.

After the announcement that schools in Scotland would in future have smaller class sizes, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has revealled that the Scottish government plans to end private sector involvement in the NHS north of the border. The creeping privatisation of healthcare is particularly unpopular – the issue of privatisation has never been a political issue in the UK and there has never been majority public opinion in favour.

In marked contrast Gordon Brown signalled at last night’s Mansion House speech to the City of London that he would like to see business involvement in all schools. This paves the way for more creeping privatisation, with City Academies the key to future capitalist ownership of public schooling.

No bombs, please: we’re Scottish
Last week, the Scottish parliament voted, by 71 votes to 16, against Westminster’s plans to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system. No Labour MSPs supported their party’s position on the issue, with most abstaining and five voting for the motion, which had been put forward by the Scottish Greens. This is the first time that a nuclear weapons system has been rejected by elected representatives in a UK parliament, and was the result of a successful campaign by Scottish CND that united trade unions, political parties, and religious organisations.

Andy Newman wrote the following about the SNP in a post entitled “Will Trident destroy the UK?” a few days ago:

Scottish Left Review, a very impressive and non-politically aligned publication, argues that Scottish politics can best be understood in terms of a core SNP electoral bloc, a core Labour electoral bloc, and a less clearly defined progressive vote that is tactically inclined to what ever is the best left of Labour option at the time. In 1999 that vote went largely to the SNP, in 2003 it was split between the SNP, Greens and SSP, and in 2007 returned to the SNP.

“So is the SNP a left party? Well clearly it is a pro-capitalist party, but so is Labour. On most policy issues the SNP stands to the left of Labour, and in particular Trident and opposition to the Iraq war have been central SNP policies.

“One of the most successful and enduring myths promoted by labour is that the SNP are Tartan Tories. But Gordon Morgan, again in Scottish Left Review, points to the second preference transfer votes in the Glasgow local elections last month. Among SNP voters just 4.7% of then placed a second preference for the Tories, and just 0.3% for the BNP. In contrast, 13.1% of SNP voters in Glasgow placed a second preference for Solidarity, 7.5% for the SSP, and 14.3% for the Greens. 35% of SNP voters put a second preference for a left of Labour party.

“If we compare this to the transfers from Labour voters, 4.5% expressed a second preference for Solidarity, 2.6% for the SSP and 9.8 % for the Greens.

“On this evidence the SNP’s electoral base is as least as broadly progressive as Labour’s – but the party itself is to the left of Labour.”

That’s a cracker!
And finally, a joke:

It is rumoured that Tony Blair will take on a peace-making role in the Middle East when he leaves 10 Downing Street, representing the Quartet of America, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations.

No, wait a minute – that wasn’t a joke. Or at least, it wasn’t supposed to be funny.

A road to nowhere?

[Note: the following deals with the Communist Party of Britain, not the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee). Both claim the legacy of the historical CPGB, but the former is regarded as the Communist Party in the UK.]

Bloody revolutions
There has always been a tension between revolution and reform in the working class movement. The point is rather that revolutions are processes rather than abrupt changes. Is the power of the bourgeois being gradually eroded or is it not being eroded at all? That is the question we must ask of revolutions.

Much criticism has been made of the British Road to Socialism, the programme of the Communist Party in the UK. Other countries have their own National Roads, and I’m sure they have been similarly critiqued. This dispute over revisionism might appear irrelevant today, but with the advent of new socialist revolutions in Latin America, and possibly elsewhere, the question of how to make an anti-capitalist revolution arises seriously in the oppressor countries for the first time in many years.

The turn towards the parliamentary road and peaceful revolution in the international communist movement was influenced by the foreign policy of the Soviet Union after the Second World War. “Peaceful co-existence” is impossible, of course, but it is not hard to see why the Soviet Union adopted this stance. The world’s first socialist state did not come into existence at the right time or in the right place; the Civil War and then the Second World War had a negative impact on its development.

After the war there was no appetite for a bloody revolution in Britain and it seemed that a Labour government could introduce socialistic measures. So the switch from a proletarian revolution on the back of workers’ councils to a peaceful revolution through parliamentary action would have been made without the input of Joseph Stalin.

Parliamentary cretinism?
The same criticism made of the Communist Party’s programme has been made of Socialist Party’s notion that an enabling act passed by parliament could nationalise the hundred largest monopolies (or whatever the number) without the bourgeoisie kicking up a fuss. But in truth, neither the CP nor the SP envisaged the revolution happening without massive extra-parliamentary pressure.

And yes, Marx and Engels observed in the 1872 preface to the Manifesto that the Paris Commune demonstrated that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes”. This is often cited in objections to the National Roads thesis, sometimes by groups which lack a programme of action. Marx and Engels were right, but the act of smashing the old state takes time and what is, in effect, dual power will exist for a period of time whilst the capitalists are being expropriated. It is a process.

My own problem with the BRS (which was last updated in …) is the lack of any understanding of the role of the aristocracy of labour in the oppressor nations and the CP’s continued support for the position that the Labour is a mass party of the working class. But much of the revolutionary left in the UK still orients itself towards the labour aristocracy and is critical of Labour, so this is not an exceptional trend. Those Trotskyists still remaining in New Labour are finding it hard to justify continued support, and have failed to reclaim an inch from the leadership; conversely, Trotskyist groups outside of New Labour have failed to unite around an “Old Labour” party or capitalise on the disaffection of traditional Labour supporters.

Labouring under a misapprehension
Of the advent of neo-liberalism and the attack on the living conditions of the proletariat in the 1980s, the BRS observes:

“Crucially, the TUC and the unions failed to maintain a united, militant front in the face of this onslaught.”

But this failure is not explained. Why did the TUC and unions not react in a united and militant way? Could this failure have something to do with divisions within the working class?

There is a faint acknowledgement of the split that imperialism has created in the working class:

“The predominance of class collaboration and reformism in the British labour movement has its roots in empire. The propaganda and some of the super-profits of British imperialism have been used to make some layers of the labour movement and many leaders identify their own interests with those of the capitalist class and its system.”

The italics are mine, but they are needed. If you weren’t reading the text closely you would miss this concession to the theory (and reality) of the labour aristocracy. There is no further elaboration because these are the layers that the CPB, and the wider revolutionary left, are primarily oriented towards.

“To maintain divisions, the ruling class is still prepared to provide privileges and benefits to some sections of the working class. It continues to use every possible avenue to promote capitalist concepts and ideals in order to prevent dissatisfaction from being turned against capitalism itself.”

These paragraphs are phrased to allow for the possibility that reformism can be argued away. The BRS does not entertain the possibility that these “layers of the labour movement” do indeed have a stake in the capitalism and, by extension, imperialism.

A rush and a push and the Party is ours?
It is the Communist Party’s belief that Labour will remain the mass party of the working class until the majority of unions have disaffiliated. Labour, we are told can be influenced by its base when the party is in power:

“In any major clash of interests, a Labour government will tend to side with the ruling class – unless massive pressure can be brought to bear by the labour movement and the mass of people, forcing a change of course at the earliest opportunity.”

I realise that this paragraph is addressed to domestic economic matters, but we might ask why Labour could not be brought to heel in 2003 when millions marched against the invasion of Iraq. Why did the TUC and the unions not present a “united, militant front” against this imperialist war?

There has not been massive opposition to the occupation of Iraq from the trade unions, and the lack of any “change of course” has cost Labour votes and members – because no change could be forced. There is no democracy in the Labour Party; rank and file members can not exert any pressure on the leadership, which is the party’s membership has halved in the last ten years.

Biting the hand…
The Bristish Road to Socialism is based on a “democratic anti-monopoly alliance”, led by the working class, winning a parliamentary majority and mass support for an alternative political and economic strategy. But the programme does not address how the divisions that exist within the working class, briefly alluded to, can be overcome.

The leadership of both Labour and its affiliated unions would rather see the defeat of the party and the death of independent trade unionism than embrace a socialist agenda. New Labour is keen for state funding of political parties to ensure the union link is diminished, if not abolished. Leaders of the big unions are not just devoted to the “social partnership” but to managing the workforce for employers, allowing the odd token demonstration of unity and militancy, but stubbornly refusing demands from below on grounds of co-operation with the incumbent Labour administration.

Labour cannot be reclaimed or pushed to the left; John McDonnell’s campaign for Labour leadership has shown the limitations of attempts to influence the direction of the party by working with its left wing in parliament. McDonnell was unable to guarantee the backing of all of the Socialist Campaign Group’s MPs. His inability to even get on the ballot to challenge Gordon Brown was not just down to the considerable pressure MPs were put under to back Brown: the Labour left in parliament consists of social democrats, not socialists. It’s clear the Labour left in parliament will remain a loyal opposition to Brown and try again for Labour leadership following Labour’s defeat in 2009.

A break from Labour is the only way that the unions will come to reflect the consciousness of their members and respond to demands for united action to put an end to wage restraint and privatisation. I believe that the organised working class can be won to an alternative economic and political strategy. It is clear, however, a change of leadership and policy within the labour movement will not take place if the unions remain affiliated to Labour and left groups like the CPB continue to promote the Labour Party as a mass party of the working class.

No one buys it, least of all the thousands of ex-Labour Party members and the millions of voters who have given up hope in electoral politics. A credible socialist alternative to Labour would get the backing of those unions which have already disaffiliated and would win the votes of traditional Labour supporters.

Parting shots
The result of recent elections to the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, and the strong support in opinion polls for an English equivalent, signals another low for Labour and proves that British national identity is unraveling. Labour lost support in both Scotland and Wales to nationalist parties that promised to implement Old Labour policies. Class-conscious workers now see Labour as being no better than the Tories, which is why “don’t let the Tories back in” has been dropped in favour of “don’t let the fascists in” as a way of motivating turn out come election time.

I do not see a British road to socialism, I see English, Scottish and Welsh roads, which may or may not involve a federation – but the continued existence the British state stands in the way of socialism, both in the oppressed and oppressor countries.

It does not look like the CPB and the rest of the Anglo-centric left will wake up to the desirability of the break-up of the UK and the potential of that independence for Britain’s internal colonies will bring, but I live in hope. In Scotland, the SSP made great advances before the messy split and subsequent losses and if there can be left unity then the SNP/Green administration can be challenged from the left and held on the promised social reforms. Socialists in Wales may prefer to work within Plaid Cymru, where there is a better chance of winning reforms and a more progressive, independent Wales.

There is strong support for Scottish and Welsh independence in England, but the case for an English Parliament is mainly made by xenophobes and Unionists. The English independence cause is not viewed as being progressive, but a separation can be made from British nationalism and the fascist policies of the BNP and the Poujadist UK Independence Party.

And finally
We should be careful not to confuse organised workers with advanced workers. Workers who are given no special privileges by the capitalist class are likely to be more militant than organised workers.

Union membership remains the preserve of affluent workers. The lower you are paid the less likely you are to be organised. The union bureaucracy is generally disinterested in organising these workers and the TUC demands legislation to ensure low-paid and casualised workers have improved conditions rather than launching a concerted effort to help workers organise.

The aristocracy of labour will not be won over to an anti-capitalist position through agitation alone. The coming to power of more anti-imperialist and socialist governments in the oppressed countries, Scottish and Welsh independence, and a crisis in the world economy may come before the labour aristocracy looks to the rest of the working class instead of the bourgeoisie.

The BRS would be convincing if the formation of a democratic anti-monopoly alliance was conditional upon the suspension of the centralised British state and independence for Scotland and Wales (weakening imperialism and militarism), the disaffiliation of the trades unions (undermining class collaboration and reformism) and the presence of united, pluralist workers’ parties in England, Scotland and Wales.

An assessment of workers’ parties and the national question in Wales

[Wednesday]

This is to be read in conjunction with “An assessment of workers’ parties and the national question in Scotland”. What got me started on the subject of Welsh politics was an enchanting little post to the Welsh Independence blog, What sort of independence?. It was written by “hafod”, who aspires towards an independent Wales based on “cooperation not the free market, care not warfare and putting people before profit.” As for ownership and control in the economy, hafod is straightforward: “the wealth of the country is in the hands of […] the workers [and] democracy means more than putting a cross in a box every four years […] In the same way as I have faith in the people of Wales to have the ability to run their own country, I’m also confident that the workers of Wales can run our industries and services.”

How it Plaid out in Wales
Despite expectations, the Labour Party was not disastrously defeated in the Welsh Assembly elections. This may be attributable to the ‘freebies’, such as free prescriptions, that Welsh Labour are introducing, thus going against the New Labour grain. It may well have been that the low approval of Labour registered in opinion polls did not result in an embarrassing defeat because many traditional Labour voters no longer participate in elections.

Rhodri Morgan, the leader of Welsh Labour, had said there would be ‘clear red water’ between the party and its rivals, hence the criticism that the party’s losses were due to ‘the slow pace of [neo-liberal] reform’. The difference between Welsh Labour and New Labour may have been big enough to lessen the impact of the latter’s imperialist wars, corruption, and habitual dishonesty.

One cannot imagine Blair or Brown holding a meeting of Labour MPs to decide what to do next after the loss of a majority position, as Morgan did with his party’s Assembly Members. Neither Blair nor Brown would talk of having a mandate from their peers to proceed with negotiations, such is their leadership style – centralist rather than democratic – there would be no pretence at accountability.

Morgan has acknowledged that the party requires a coalition, or at least a deal, and that it would not be right to carry on as before. This may be merely an affectation on his part, but it is more graceful than the words and deeds of Jack McConnell, the deposed First Minister for Labour in the Scottish Parliament, who is waiting for the SNP to fail to secure coalition partners so that he can do a deal with the Liberals to prop up Labour. But then, I’m sure Morgan would have acted just like McConnell if Plaid had one more AM than Labour.

Coalition not dole
Though Tories fared better than before, it was not through stealing votes from Labour. It was a party to the left of Labour, Plaid Cymru, which came second. Plaid now has a quarter of the seats in the Assembly: 15 out of 30. Labour needed 31 seats to retain a majority, but they now have 26 seats, meaning they will have to deal with either Plaid or the Liberals, who have 6 seats, but certainly not with the Tories, who have 12 seats. There is a single independent Labour member, Trish Law, who may remain independent from the coalition-building process.

A rainbow coalition of Plaid, the Tories and the Liberals is possible, but it would be unstable and rather embarrassing for all concerned. The Liberals would not want to be seen sharing power with the Tories, and the feeling is probably mutual, as the two are rivals for power in many council and parliamentary seats in England. And it would be unwise, from an electoral perspective, for Plaid Cymru to get cosy under the covers with the Tories (like the Scottish nationalists, Plaid is not a racist or right-wing party).

What will happen, then? In all likelihood there will be a deal struck between Labour with the Liberals and/or Plaid if not an actual coalition. A non-aggression pact would allow the stable government that Labour desire, but would create problems for both Plaid and the Liberals.

Don’t shoot, we’re only bourgeois nationalists
It is obligatory for me to lurch into a rant about these petty-bourgeois nationalists at this point. But I will not oblige. However iffy their socialist credentials, Plaid wish to dissolve the Union; they are opposed to imperialist wars in the Middle East and have plotted with the SNP in the Westminster parliament to impeach Tony Blair. All of this might suggest that they represent a nascent national bourgeoisie in Wales which wishes to break away from Britain because it sees no profit from protracted wars in a junior partnership with an unreliable and unhinged superpower. Indeed, Plaid, like the SNP, is oriented towards the EU and away from NATO.

Plaid Cymru are Welsh nationalists, but their election campaign was not focused on the question of independence to the same degree as the SNP in Scotland. Nor was “decentralist socialism” mentioned in Plaid’s campaign literature, though supposedly their vision is of an independent and socialist Wales.

I have had trouble unearthing anything detailed on Plaid’s professed socialism; there is no satisfactory definition of the term on their website. The absence of a class perspective has, in the past, led me to believe they are social democrats in reality and therefore have no revolutionary potential (nor potential in a revolution).

Could Plaid be disguising their proletarian partisanship at this time, hiding their wholeheartedness to the workers until the national democratic revolution is in full swing? Would Ieuan Wyn Jones take to wearing a red berret and quoting Trotsky if Plaid were dominant in an independent Wales?

Post-colonial Welsh nationalism
Plaid Cymru have taken advantage of Welsh devolution to argue for self-determination, but as talk of independence has been delayed, so too “community socialism”. Generally, the “S” word has been unofficially banned from polite conversation – it is of the past, not the future. Where the “S” word was tolerated, it denoted a form of welfare capitalism that did not trouble the bourgeoisie nor threaten to expropriate it, and was actually supportive of imperialism. Plaid’s stressing decentralisation could be a nod to the ruling class that since the commanding heights of the economy are not in their sights they can be trusted to govern without upsetting any apple carts or felling trees in the orchard. Is community socialism now just the wink that says an independent Wales will be open for business?

I have no trouble believing that Plaid is a nationalist party, but socialist? Prominent members come across as radical nationalists more than anything else; socialism implies an alternative to capitalism. By advocating national independence for Wales, Plaid signals that it is seeking an alternative political arrangement, namely Welsh self-government. In cultural terms, Plaid aims to revive the Welsh language and affirm a positive national identity.

Could it be that Plaid Cymru is also seeking an alternative economic arrangement, a Socialist Republic, a workers’ state in which there is common ownership of means of production under democratic control? What does socialism with Welsh characteristics look like?

Don’t ask, don’t tell
The questions that revolutionary socialists should use to interrogate Plaid’s vision of socialism are: who will own the means of production and on what basis will goods and services be allocated?

Naturally, these inquires will be dismissed as premature until Wales has independence, by which time another excuse will have been found. They are relevant questions, though. Plaid’s leadership would prefer that its politics remain moderate, which is to say within the realm of bourgeois respectability; a vanguard of the nation rather than the proletariat.

But let us imagine that Wales has gained independence and there is a militant labour movement and strengthened class consciousness. Would Plaid be with this movement, on the fence, or actively against it? One can be a democrat and disagree with the results of democracy. Would Plaid be Welsh nationalists opposing the majority Welsh opinion?

Throw another party?
Ah, too many questions, too little time. Here is an important one: what should be done by revolutionary socialists in terms of organisation? In Wales, the options are: enter Welsh Labour and agitate for change, build up either Respect or the Socialist Party of Wales, or join Plaid Cymru and agitate for change.

If Welsh Labour and Labour in Westminster continue on the same path, there will be further erosion of their working class base. And the fact that there will be no massive change in Labour policy leaves an opening for another party to fill their boots, “left-leaning” in the case of Plaid, or fully leftist. Recall that the disaffiliated unions have contributed financially to the Scottish Socialist Party in the past, would a Welsh version get union cash and have the same success? Wait, don’t answer that one.

The recent creation of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party by the Socialist Party of England and Wales and the electoral intervention by the Socialist Party of Wales, which is part of the SPEW, confirms that the organisation formerly known as Militant has given up entrism for good. A habit worth kicking is one that is damaging. And the other sizable (larger, that is) Trotskyist outfit, the Socialist Worker Party is keen to build up respect in Wales… by building up Respect in Wales. Ahem.

But seriously, it is inefficient to have two or three left reformist parties populated by revolutionary socialists. Why not make do with one? Again, a bad example nowadays, but the SSP saw the various far left parties work in a single organisation and the failure of the project was not caused by these groups being unable to work together. (I accept that the Sheridan trial was viewed as political by both sides in the SSP, but contend the split resulted because of personal differences.)

I do not think it wise for socialists to join Plaid Cymru for it is primarily committed to national self-determination and would serve the interests of the capitalist class more than the working class.

A Welsh Socialist Party should be formed by the SWP, the SP, and others, following the template of the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party. This would be a workers’ party with a workers’ programme – supportive of Welsh self-determination and dealing with Plaid, but committed to the class struggle at home and in solidarity with struggles internationally.

Don’t let it dragon
I suspect that in future Plaid may experience a win like that of the SNP – gaining support for a change, but not independence. The neo-liberal nature of the Welsh nationalists would become more apparent in these circumstances. A minority may well be full-blooded socialists, but the direction of Plaid will follow the route of the SNP: talk of social reforms to gain workers’ votes, but at the same time promise stability, continuity and cuts in tax and red-tape for bosses at home and abroad.

Plaid wants lower business rates, and it might be argued that low taxation is the only way for a country without natural resources to guarantee investment. But as there is no alternate form of ownership articulated by Plaid in which investment and disinvestment can be decided democratically, one is given to believe that the colonial relationship will remain, but on better terms and with a leftish and nationalist gloss.

It remains to be seen what will come of the SNP’s promises and whatever happens it will not totally determine the future of Welsh nationalism. But if the SNP fail to implement the progressive elements of their programme for reasons other than being a minority government, it will impact negatively on Plaid. Conversely, if the SNP succeed and win an independence referendum, it will buoy the case for self-determination in Wales. Either way, the national capitalist support for the Union will continue to fade as the imperialist wars rage.

There needs to be an independent working class party in Wales. And that’s one party in total, by the way. There will and should be differences of opinion, but there is no need for disorganisation. My fear is that the electoral division of the left in the UK, wrought by the two largest far left groups, will continue to impede the progress of the working class movement.

Unity is not a luxury and should not be treated as such, it is a necessity. Two parties don’t produce twice as much growth or double strength. There should be coalition talks between the revolutionary socialist parties! If not physically, then at least here, in the Blogosphere. What do you say?