Of the many arguments stood up against us during the referendum, the one with the greatest ability to tug at the heart-strings was the notion that socialism is internationalist at heart and that by cutting the ties with the English and Welsh working classes we would somehow be letting them down.
I never accepted this narrative, but I honestly understand those who clung to it.
I think many of them used it an excuse to hide their fears of us going it alone, or as a comforter as they stuck to tribal loyalty and toed the Labour line.
Additionally, there are many others who do believe in it as an article of faith.
Yet it is completely wrong-headed.
There are a couple of things that need to be considered here.
First is that this line usually emanates from the direction of the Labour Party. There are two groups within that party who are most likely to toss that one at you like a hand grenade; the first are the dwindling band of holdouts who still follow the Red Flag.
I call them that because now, with Jim Murphy as leader, I cannot fathom how they’re failing to see the writing on the wall.
The age old dream of “reforming Labour” is as dead as yesterday’s fish.
It was always a pipe dream, but it was their own fellow members who consigned it to the boneyard. They knew exactly who, and what, they were voting for and they did it anyway. Labour, as a party that stands up for ordinary people, the party of the trade unions, the party of the poor and the dispossessed … it’s gone and the people who killed it were the members themselves, and they did it quite deliberately.
That there can be left-wingers in Scottish Labour who have missed that is staggering.
Let me be blunt; if you are on the left, calling yourself a socialist, and you are still in the Labour Party then you, frankly, are a mug and the only person you are kidding on is you.
It’s over. It’s been over for a long time, but on the back of a referendum where you and others fought to keep the flag flying in spite of standing toe-to-toe with the Tories, your own fellow party members responded to the crisis within the movement by electing one of them leader.
Give it up. They won.
The party you’re fighting for right now routinely lies to the public. It is obsessed with cheap gimmicks, like bringing back booze at football matches, and contradicts itself at every turn. It is bent on one thing only … victory, and for itself, not for any of the things you and I spent years fighting for.
You are supporting the party that introduced private contracts into the NHS, that ended free education, that sent our troops into an illegal war and which lately has ended its commitment to universality, and is in favour of austerity, fracking and Trident.
Now its Scottish branch is led by the arch-Blairite, elected by your fellow “comrades.”
They know what they want from Labour. What do you want with it?
If you’re going to try and sell “solidarity with the working class on these islands” to me, then you’ll have to do it from behind a different banner. The one you presently hold has betrayed those people at every turn and there’s no going back with Ed Balls on the front benches and “branch leaders” like Slippery Jim.
The others within Labour who frequently use this “solidarity” line do so to try and shame and guilt us, but they do not believe a word of it themselves. They see it as a wedge issue for us, and they are perfectly happy to drive it into our midst in the full realisation that they are promoting a fraud.
They are the kind of people who happily, brazenly, took to Twitter to pretend to have voted against fracking when the evidence of what they actually did was in every national newspaper and easily discovered online.
These people are not just charlatans, they are fraudsters on a Nixonian scale, the kind of people who would lie to get elected and then, four years down the line, tell the same lie again in the hope of getting two of your votes for the price of one.
As I said in the piece Every Loser Wins, the New Labour careerists can all be recognised by one thing; their naked pursuit of personal advancement. To get what they want they will assume any identity they need to. In front of one audience they will speak the firebrand language of the red activist. In front of another, they will disdain the “blue collar, working-class, northern, horny-handed, dirty- overalled people” as if they were addressing the CBI.
(It is especially noteworthy that when Peter Mandelson actually used those words he was not addressing the heads of capitalism … he was speaking at a fringe meeting at Labour’s own annual conference. Some commentators said it was him being ironic … I’ve never been so sure, and most of the people there agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment, whether ironic or not. At the same conference, amongst the things that drew warmest applause were child curfews, tough inflation targets, financial support for married couples and head teachers getting the sack.)
A number of these careerists are standing for re-election in May, and based on the current opinion polls they are preparing themselves for their next jobs. The “seats for life” they blithely assumed were theirs for the taking have been turned into pitched battles and for many of them this will be the first serious test of their abilities in years, and I don’t fancy many of their chances.
The likes of Pamela Nash and Gemma Doyle will be swept away by the tide … but it will damn Labour for years to come that these people were even chosen to represent it in the first place. Quite how any trade unionist or left-winger can actually go on the stoop and campaign to maintain the fiction that these people are on our side … well, it defies belief.
There are people on the Scottish left who, when this is done, if it ends in the wipeout that seems likely, will actually hold a post mortem into how Labour so spectacularly imploded, and they will attempt to “regroup” and keep on fighting the good fight.
They will analyse electoral trends and try to make sense of it all.
The truth is, we, the people of Scotland, got too smart for these folks.
This website launched its magazine, Enjoy the Silence?, at the weekend, and I aimed the title in the direction of the political class, who for years assumed the public’s silent acquiescence of the status quo.
The silence is over and many of us are wide awake for the first time in our lives.
With all the access we have to information, with sites like Bella Caledonia, Newsnet Scotland and, especially, Wings over Scotland, there’s no real excuse for anyone to later claim they were hoodwinked by the politicos. All the truth we need is out there if we want to find it … and millions are looking and reading, and sharing what they find.
The second most people opened their eyes and engaged their brains, they outpaced the slow wits of their “representatives”, most of whom were selected on the basis of their own mute acceptance of the “party line” and their own shocking lack of intellectual curioisity.
Ordinary people, once engaged, started to suss these chancers out, and it didn’t take more than a cursory glance at their records and past statements to get a clear idea of who they were.
Now, as they gear up to fight a general election campaign based on the old tactics, we’re utilising new ones they simply can’t cope with or respond to. One of them is this “show solidarity with your brothers and sisters down south.”
It resonates with some people, even some who should know better.
There’s an oddly haunting moment in the barmy (but brilliant) movie The Matrix, where the “terrorist leader” Morpheus first meets Neo, and he gives him two options, disguised as red and blue pills. One will have him wake up in a comforting fantasy which, to him, and for all his life, will seem real … the other will drag him up from the well of sleep and into the world as it truly is.
What makes it an especially memorable moment is that Neo isn’t being presented with Happily Ever After; he’s been given a tough choice, between living in ignorance and living in a hellish reality.
“Remember,” Morpheus tells him, “all I am offering you is the truth.”
The symbology is perfect to what we’re all doing here.
The “red pill”, the one that wakes Neo up, is, to us, information. Once taken, once you open your eyes and start to see the world as it really is, there’s no going back … and one of the most painful adjustments many on the Scottish left have struggled to make – and it becomes a struggle the more they learn – is to understand that the present status quo renders a part of their life’s work practically null and void.
The simple truth is that all their hopes of building common cause with the working class across this island are constrained within an electoral system that is designed, wilfully designed, to prevent that very thing.
Wishing it away won’t get rid of it and hoping that the people who we elect under that system will, like turkeys voting for Christmas, wilfully sacrifice it on the altar of the greater good is the stuff of Alice in Wonderland itself.
Looking at the referendum campaign, in which the party stood on the same side of the lines as the Tories and the big business interests they’ve struggled against their entire lives, some of these people were confronted, for the first time ever, with the tremendous and awful truth that Labour has completely abandoned them and any pretence it ever had of being on the side of working people.
They stood side by side as the corporations threatened our jobs. They allowed the London political establishment they loathe to hammer fear and smear at us. They echoed those sentiments themselves, over and over again … and they even lied to us when they felt they had to.
What price left wing beliefs when these are the people you’ve got to side with?
Why do those on the left but who voted No think the entire establishment was so firmly set against the idea?
For our good? Of course not. For their own.
Once you accept that fact – and you have to wilfully take the blue pill not to see it; in other words, you have to actually, consciously, take the decision to switch off your own brain and your own critical faculties – you’re forced to re-evaluate the way you do things.
Once you realise that we, here in Scotland, can no more help the working class of England by continuing with the status quo than we can save the impoverished people of Africa or benefit the American underclass, what are you left with?
I spent years listening to people telling me that the utopia was just around the corner, and that working class solidarity – organised within Labour, of course – was the way to deliver it.
For years, like Neo, I was semi-content to live in the fantasy world where it seemed possible.
Yet, like him, I felt, “like a splinter in my brain” that something wasn’t right, and it got harder to shake as time went by.
Watching a Labour government cut single parent benefits was the first surface tremor I can recall. The 9.5 Richter Scale earthquake of Iraq destroyed my “reality” at a stroke, and I arrived at independence naturally and wholly convinced because of what had come before.
What I’m saying is that I sympathise with those who struggle with this, but I, personally, don’t feel like I’ve lost something here. At a point later in the film, Neo asks if he could go back. Morpheous asks him a more pertinent question; “Would you really want to?”
The bedrock of my beliefs crumbled to dust, but I don’t wish, as some do, that I “still believed.” Indeed, I am glad that I’ve become cynical and wise to the gigantic fraud which lies behind that familiar tugging on my heart strings.
I don’t wish I still believed in the utopia because that’s like finding out your partner is cheating on you and wishing you didn’t know that, rather than wishing to God you’d been with someone who wasn’t a liar and could keep their knickers on.
I wish the system did allow for the kind of political settlement that would allow us to do something for the working class everywhere. It doesn’t though, and I accepted that fact quite some time ago.
A wrecking ball has to be driven through the whole thing, and short of a revolution that will not be done whilst those in London are driving the agenda.
There are those on the left who will disdain independence as a waste of energy and effort, as insular and separatist rather than outward looking and internationalist. Again, it requires the wilful swallowing of the blue pill to arrive at this conclusion, because the pro-independence movement in Scotland is forward thinking in every respect.
Unless the UK political system changes, Britain will never speak up for the causes we care about. It will never offer the kind of leadership that would reform the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the EU, NATO and other international agencies in the way we would like.
Scotland could, and would, raise a rucus. We could speak up and speak out, without worrying about “losing influence.” Our very existence, having broken away from a powerful union, to stand aside from it, to repudiate some of the things it stood for, would give us a moral authority and presence we otherwise will never enjoy … and that would be powerful in itself.
If we broke away from London, and set our own star, building a country which was fair and a society that was just, that would do more to inspire our brothers and sisters in England than any general election with its phony “consensus” ever would or could.
Those on the left in Scotland need to look at the opportunity this election, and all the uncertainty surrounding it, actually offers us.
There is no sign of Labour moving more leftwards in an effort to change the national narrative.
The one party which stands a good chance of forming part of a future coalition, which echoes left-wing sentiments, which wants an end to austerity, the scrapping of Trident and the reversal of NHS privatisation is, whether they like it or not, the SNP.
What do we care – what does anyone care – that they might see these things purely as political calculations? If they can be delivered, the results will be wholly positive and progressive, and beyond that “so what?”
Yet, what does the Labour Party prefer?
Well, right now they are nodding in the direction of the sectarian Unionist parties of Ulster, who between them will not muster more than a handful of seats and make things very unstable.
This is what they’d rather do than deal with people who want what their core support does.
It’s not simply the shameful way this treats the Scottish people that bothers me, as much as it’s the clear message it sends out about what the party’s ambitions are. They clearly have no interest in any coalition agreement which delivers progressive politics.
Added to this, there are also those within Labour who will not give the SNP anything that even appears to be a victory, even if it’s one that would help millions of people and, in many ways, spike Nicola and the party’s guns.
For what could blunt the independence broadsword better than a demonstration that Westminster can deliver what the core Labour vote wants? If Labour willingly entered coalition negotiations with the SNP, taking nothing off the table, and both parties came to an amicable – and left of centre – consensus, that would do more to promote this cross-border solidarity some on the left talk about than anything else that’s likely to come out of May’s vote.
But they won’t do it.
There’s even talk of MP’s walking away from the party completely rather than agree to it.
Because Labour no longer believes in the things the left does, and would rather wallow in tribal hate than deal, in good faith, with people who do, people who might even force them to confront the better angels of their nature.
The best thing those on the Scottish left can do at this election is to stop kidding on that victory is just around the corner, that the present system can deliver what they care about and that Labour is the only vehicle which can bring those things about.
The SNP can do this because they are outside of the London bubble, and they are the only party that can.
The left needs to embrace that. They need to act according to their best instincts, and in defence of their politics, rather than cling to the forlorn hope that Labour can be saved from itself. If you vote for that, you won’t get what you want. You will be handing a victory to Jim Murphy and strengthening the hand of those who supported him and his leadership in the first place.
Deny him that, and you cut him off at the knees and force Labour to start again.
That won’t change the tide but it will give you a fighting chance of accomplishing something in Scotland.
Labour has betrayed every principle it ever cared about. The votes of the Scottish people alone cannot elect that party or deprive them of power and nor would that do us much good even if we could.
We won’t get the kind of government we want, far less the one we deserve, as long as the Londoncentric system exists.
In those circumstances, voting SNP becomes a no brainer. Sending as many people to Westminster with Scotland’s best interests at heart becomes an imperative. Sending those with progressive views down there, to hold whoever is Prime Minister’s feet to the fire … well, that becomes a moral and political absolute that requires no selling or spin.
We already know that Nicola and the party will not lend their support to another Tory government, and we know what it wants to support Ed Miliband as PM … and it’s no surprise that they are the very things we care most about, things Labour will not do otherwise.
The decision seems clear to me. The logic is unarguable.
It’s time for everyone on the left to take the red pill, and get behind what needs to be done.
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