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A popular front for a liveable future?

On the Saturday following the UK general election, a number of Democratic Left members met online to share feelings and views. What are the lessons for the left in Scotland? Here we share some thoughts that came from the meeting: please get in contact if you’d like share your reactions to anything here, and your perspectives and questions going forward.

Keir Starmer’s ‘landslide’ of 412 MPs was achieved on less than 34% of those registered to vote : how inspiring can that be? The Westminster voting system is broken, it has never worked.  The question now has to be consistently put: can Westminster work for Scotland?

The Scottish Labour Party with 37 seats (35% of the vote translating into 65% of the seats in our country) in Scotland will be in high spirits. 

The SNP (30% of the vote), having been put under endless media scrutiny and acting as a mitigator of endless austerity, have dropped to 9 seats (which is 17 per cent of Scotland’s representation in the House of Commons). With independence blocked many voters prioritised getting to Tories out by switching to Labour or did not vote at all. 

So - what do we do now? Build a popular front for a liveable future! Ok, it does not sound catchy - but it is time to start thinking about what we do next. Some lessons from England point to the positive: Greens, independents and Corbyn won in spite of first past the post. Palestine is still understandably at the front of the minds of many. Campaigning and building a 'fightback' matters. The results from Northern Ireland, with Sinn Fein winning 7 MPs, means that ‘constitutional issues' are unlikely to disappear. 

In Scotland, CND, many trade unions, and those working on various forms of community ownership and mutual aid are amongst those best placed to not just challenge the drift to the right but to build an alternative. 

To do this we need to find a new story that both addresses immediate social needs and which illustrates and contributes to the case for self-determination. Our ‘popular front' needs to be one that goes beyond the sectional interests of different parts of society. It needs to be one that describes a different future, one where people can enjoy a liveable reality without our economy contributing to the destruction of the planet. This will require greater democracy at all levels of government and in our workplaces and communities. It will require greater honesty from our politicians. 

Why is this essential? Because the Starmer victory is shallow. Not just numerically but also in terms of policy and - most importantly - vision. Added to this Rachael Reeves tells us there is no money. Can Starmer's Labour consolidate? Time will tell us what change looks like. But if Starmer falters, the Tory/Reform realignment is waiting in the wings. This does not just relate to England and Wales. Reform's 7% vote share in Scotland means we cannot be complacent. 

Anas Sarwar is already on the count down to the 2026 Holyrood elections with the assumption Labour can win then too. This prospect will inform the thinking that the SNP now undertakes. The SNP Westminster group has lost a number of able women. It is now mostly located in Tayside and the Northeast, and contains members positively predisposed to continued oil extraction. Who John Swinney listens to in this group and the SNP more generally will be important. The more progressive wing of the party will have a battle to have their voices heard. 

More broadly, the independence movement needs to quickly rethink its approach, who it works with and who it is trying to reach. There is a need to move beyond Yes and the politics of 2014. As stated, the future needs to be about our right to decide at many levels of society. Results for Greens candidates, particularly in parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh, indicate that their support is holding up - they are not suffering from Bute House or disengaging from it (this is especially so when you consider that many who would have voted Green in a properly representative system instead voted otherwise in order to defeat the Tories). Many in the Labour movement are not inspired by Labour in London. These are amongst the groups that the independence movement needs to work with. The Left needs to be a part of this. 

Much harder will be connecting with those that remain despondent and disengaged. A new infrastructure of the Left in Scotland is needed if we are to build a community to which people can relate and which they will join. 

GB energy will not nationalise energy. The two-child cap will likely remain. Local government will continue to be starved of resources and the NHS is unlikely to be saved. Changing a country is not like flicking a switch. It cannot be done whilst in hock to the British state and those that push the interests of capital. 

Perhaps the new Starmer Government can prove us wrong - but the clock is already ticking. The 2026 election for the Scottish Government will be an important point to measure where things have gotten to. But there is a lot to do before then. 

Published 7 July 2024.






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