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Dec 02

Are the SNP the heirs to Michael Foot?

Reading one of the most popular nationalist blogs, I began to realise that the author and the people leaving comments were hoping for a lot more than independence. The reason for their support for Scottish nationalism, was not merely that they wanted Scotland to secede from the rest of the UK, but perhaps more importantly, they wanted Scottish politics to shift much further to the left. It became more and more obvious that many of the people who were attracted to the SNP were attracted precisely because they were disappointed former Labour party voters. They now considered the Labour party to be a party of the right. Independence for many of these people was thus a way of bringing about “Socialism in one country” leaving world revolution for another day!

There are clearly people in the SNP with a variety of political viewpoints, but if supporters are declaring that the present day Labour party is a party of the centre right, then it must be that the SNP is a party of the centre left in a different sense to that in which most people understand the term. Moreover, they must be on the centre left in a different way from other European centre left parties. I always supposed that the the transition which the Labour party made in the 80s and 90s was from democratic socialism to social democracy. Thus, they made a transition from the left with some elements of the far left, to the centre left. But if the Labour party is considered by SNP supporters to now be a party of the centre right, it must be that they think that their “centre left” SNP occupies the position of the old Labour party around the time of Michael Foot. By normal definitions this is no longer a centre left party at all.

I never understood the almost universal SNP opposition to nuclear weapons until I realised that they truly were a left-wing party. What have nuclear weapons got to do with independence? It all seemed to be a bit of a debate from another age along with grainy black and white footage of CND marches. I hadn’t much thought about the issue of nuclear weapons at all since the election of 1983, certainly not since the end of the Cold War. Labour went into the election of 1983 proposing unilateral nuclear disarmament and was decisively defeated. Thereafter Labour realised that it had to reform in order to stand a chance of being elected. Through a succession of leaders gradually all the policies which made Labour unelectable were discarded.

Thus, the opposition to nuclear weapons was dropped, Clause 4 was dropped, the idea that everything must be nationalised was dropped, legislation curbing trade union power  was accepted and finally some basic understanding of  the nature of business and economics was obtained. Eventually, Labour became a social democratic party and became electable. It would seem however, to many Scottish nationalists that all this was a dreadful mistake. Labour should have remained the party of 1983 and the fact that they have failed to do so means that it is necessary to vote for the SNP, which now remains the equivalent of Old Labour circa 1983.

One reason that many nationalist supporters give for supporting the SNP is that the rest of the UK has drifted hopelessly to the right. There is no chance of that changing anytime soon. Therefore, the only chance of bringing about socialism to Scotland is through independence. Given that these supporters are choosing the SNP because of their dissatisfaction with the new Labour party, it must be that they reject the reforms that the Labour party has introduced since 1983.

These policy and doctrinal changes by Labour were an acceptance that much of the legislation and other forms of change introduced by Margaret Thatcher were painful but necessary. In order to change Labour had to accept that Britain in the late 1970s was a place desperately in need of reform. The world had moved on and the old ways of Old Labour were simply not working anymore. Especially in the 1990s the Labour party finally accepted, as did nearly everyone else, that the experiment of socialism had been shown to have decisively failed and that the only sensible economic model was variations on a theme of capitalism. But then if SNP supporters reject these Labour reforms, which brought about the party of today, it must be that they would prefer to turn the clock back to the ideology of Old Labour.

What would this practically speaking mean?  It must mean that they would prefer greater power for trade unions, the nationalisation of much of Scotland’s industry, the reopening of coal mines and steel works, indeed the reintroduction of Clause 4 bringing about the “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” for the workers of Scotland.

That the SNP really is outflanking Scottish Labour on the left, became clear to me with the debate about universal benefits. Johann Lamont put forward, what seemed to me to be, both a sensible and moderate view that it would be better to target benefits towards those who really needed them. This was portrayed by the SNP as if she was just another Tory wickedly doing the Conservatives work for them. Indeed, they presented Lamont as being somehow worse than the Tories, as she was betraying her own class.

What this fundamentally showed was that while the modern Labour party are gradually coming to terms with the present economic crisis, the SNP have drifted so far to the left that they are barely even aware of the economic needs of Scotland. When someone wants to discuss the economic needs of this country in a serious way, explaining that the present levels of debt are unsustainable and therefore will not be sustained, it is as if they want to stick their fingers in their ears and sing “la la la, we’re not listening.” Labour are beginning to get the debt crisis, the SNP meanwhile are taking a sharp left turn towards their own MacSocialist utopia.

The choice facing the people of Scotland in the independence referendum is the choice between who is likely to govern us for the foreseeable future. If the majority of the Scottish people choose independence they will also be choosing the SNP as the natural party of government. The idea that the SNP will somehow break up after a triumphant independence referendum and that we will end up with a new political consensus with new parties of the centre-right and centre left in Scotland is unlikely to occur for the foreseeable future.

Rather, the SNP would be the equivalent of Fianna Fáil, the party associated with bringing about Irish independence and entrusted with power for most of Ireland’s history. A vote for independence would thus see Scotland going much further to the left, with an attempt to create a much more left wing society than that which is envisioned by almost anyone in the present Labour party. It is for this reason that those on the left and far left, such as the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party are willing to side with Alex Salmond.

People on the left and the far left, people far to the left of the average supporter of the Labour party and the Lib Dems, must be delighted that at last they have the chance to bring about the society they have so long dreamed of. A socialist utopia is within reach. It’s only necessary to wait a couple of years, just so long as the vote goes their way.

The rest of us should consider very carefully before embarking on such an experiment. It is an experiment after all, which has been tried and failed before in the UK. It is an experiment which Labour itself has recognised does not lead to prosperity. If Scotland chose to go down an economic path so radically different from the rest of the UK, it would be impossible for our economies to retain their present convergence, their present single market and their present currency union.

The SNP and their supporters oppose everything the modern Labour party has done to make itself fit for the modern world. They see Labour’s modernisation as a betrayal of the left. Sometimes, as when they debate about nuclear weapons, I almost experience a sense of time travel. I half expect to see Alex Salmond with wild white hair and a donkey jacket, for don’t be fooled: the SNP really are the heirs of Michael Foot.

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29 comments

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  1. Talorcan

    “Labour went into the election of 1983 proposing unilateral nuclear disarmament and was decisively defeated.”

    Except in Scotland, where they were comfortably victorious, winning almost twice as many seats as the second placed Tories.

    1. Effie Deans

      Which means that you would have been happy with a Michael Foot government in 83, no doubt with Tony Benn as Chancellor of the Exchequer and some comrade running the foreign office. Moscow would have been delighted by unilateral nuclear disarmament. If the whole of the West had followed Labour’s example we would never have developed the conditions necessary for the collapse of the Soviet Union. We’d have surrendered in the Cold War, just when we were about to win it.

      1. Talorcan

        I didn’t say anything about what kind of government I’d have preferred in ’83 (or at any election). I’m pointing out that what was a totally unelectable platform in the UK as a whole was in fact very popular in Scotland. You can pretend otherwise if you like.

        1. Effie Deans

          You’re quite right. Labour won 35%, the Tories 28%, with the SNP polling just under 12%. Labour won a lot more seats than the Tories, but the share of the vote was not that different. In any democracy it is normal for some areas to vote differently to others. It would equally be the case in an independent Scotland, that some regions would not get the government they voted for. Would that be grounds for Aberdeenshire or Sutherland deciding to secede?

          1. Talorcan

            You are once more critiquing positions I’ve said nothing about.

            It’s a lot like Iain Smart declaring that the Yes campaign (or it may have been the Radical Independence Conference in particular) was hoping to win on a platform that had lost Labour the election in ’83. Had he paused to think that that platform actually won quite comfortably in Scotland he might have considered that this may be the point…

  2. Alex Grant

    What utter nonsense. To suggest that the only alternative to New Labour or the Tories is Old Labour is nonsense.
    As has continually been proposed there is an alternative and it is best exemplified in the Nordic countries.
    Finland with amongst the best education in the world, Norway, Sweden and Denmark which exemplify the benefits of less differential between richest and poorest – as analysed in The Sprit Level?
    To suggest that the only way is New Labour and the appeal to Middle England is to put it mildly a sad prognosis and I am one of many who believes there is an alternative that is not North Korea!!!

    1. Effie Deans

      No doubt members of the present day Labour party would likewise like to follow the Scandinavian model, of high taxation, high benefits, but it isn’t as easy as it looks. I’ve lived in Copenhagen and could converse with the locals in their own language. The Scandinavian mentality is different from ours. What enables them to be prosperous is that they have an excellent work ethic, fine efficient businesses and a willingness to follow the rules that society sets them. People don’t tend to take advantage of the high benefits, even if they could. They prefer to work. That said many Scandinavian societies have their own problems. It’s as naive to suppose that they are the promised land, as it is to suppose that such a society could be replicated in Scotland.

      1. OU Editors

        Worth remembering also that in places like Sweden there is: part-private healthcare provision, education vouchers and school competition, part-privatised public services and no minimum wage. Whilst Sweden et al have a high-tax, high-spend culture, they’re often much more willing to experiment with different forms of public provision than the Labour left. Sweden is basically Blairite in a lot of ways, at least when it comes to public service provision.

  3. Alex Grant

    So, the Scots have a poor work ethic, inefficient businesses, and are feckless unable to follow rules???
    Any ambition to achieve something other than Neoliberal , ‘Devil take the hindmost’ vision is always described by New Labour supporters view the sort of ambition I alluded to as utopian. and now ‘something for nothing’ nonsense. And the well off in Middle England carry on regardless? Pray tell what is Labour Party for?
    And by the way you can be anti Trident without being part of the Loony Left?

    1. Effie Deans

      Scots have the character that we have, owing to our history and our culture. We are not Scandinavians. We have many fine qualities, there are millions of hard workers in Scotland, good businesses, but I think we’ve lost something that we had when the worlds greatest economist wrote The Wealth of Nations. We’ve lost something even since the time when we were known for being canny and prudent and self-reliant. Too many Scots now think that money comes from the government, rather than that money is something that is earned by self-reliance and skill. There’s a very simple way to create wealth in Scotland, which would make us all wealthier. It’s called the free market. Adam Smith understood that, but far too few of his compatriots do. As you might have guessed I’m far from being a Labour party supporter. But what I think Labour is for is to govern in the interests of the whole country when it is in power and hopefully not make quite such a muck of the economy next time it gets its hands on the wheel.

  4. Ron Bagley

    The lack of vision in this piece is startling. To be against the brutal creed of neoliberalism does not of necessity mean a desire to go back to a flawed past. Let’s break down your almost comically tribal view:

    – “What have nuclear weapons got to do with independence?”

    What do they have to do with Unionism?

    - “It must mean that they would prefer greater power for trade unions”

    Sounds good. Unions were too powerful in the 70s, but the balance has shifted much too far the other way, leaving working people with little or no protection. We’re moving slowly but surely back to serfdom, with the rich becoming vastly, obscenely richer over the last 30 years yet the poor gaining nothing in the good times and carrying all the pain in the hard times.

    - “the nationalisation of much of Scotland’s industry”

    Brilliant. We pay more in subsidies to private companies to run the railways now than we ever did when they were state-owned, yet fares are sky-high and service often abominable. The vast majority of people in the UK – not just nasty old socialist Scotland – want them renationalised. We pay through the nose for electricty and gas, so that private and usually foreign companies can make vast profits. You’re going to have to explain why that’s good, not just sneerily assert it as if it were axiomatic.

    - “the reopening of coal mines and steel works”

    Clearly it’s you who’s stuck in the past, not the nationalists. The future for Scottish industry lies in renewable energy, of which we’re blessed with a vast bounty, and the engineering needed to unleash it.

    - “the reintroduction of Clause 4″

    Oh dear.

    - “Johann Lamont put forward, what seemed to me to be, both a sensible and moderate view that it would be better to target benefits towards those who really needed them”

    Well, yes – it WOULD seem that way to you, as you’re a Tory. That’s sort of the point. That you approve of Labour’s shift to the right is perfectly understandable. But it’s a betrayal of democracy. If people want Tory policies, they can vote for the Tories. They shouldn’t also get Tory policies if they vote Labour. If Blair wanted to introduce a slightly softer version of Conservatism, he should have got himself elected leader of the Conservative Party.

    And here’s the killer – if Scotland chooses independence, it’ll still have a Tory party. If your ideology is so strong, Scotland would soon see the error of its ways and elect its own Tory government. But either you don’t have that much confidence, or you have no confidence in the people of Scotland, and want to ensure they stay governed by their betters in the south-east of England because they can’t be trusted to elect the “right” government by themselves. Which is it?

    1. Effie Deans

      I’m not sure such a comical piece as mine deserved such a long and detailed response as yours. I’d need to write another blog to answer all of your queries. Who knows perhaps I will. Just a couple of points. I don’t believe there’s any future in renewables as a business venture unless you can persuade someone else to subsidise them for you. I think Mr Salmond thinks the English will do this for him when we leave the Union. My guess is that this is unlikely. All in all your position seems to be somewhat to the left of Mr Milliband, which is really the point that I was making. You don’t need to go back to Old Labour to be basically cut from the same cloth cap. I actually think the Tory party, or whatever it might be called, could do better in an independent Scotland. After a few years of socialist mess, the Scottish people might well see that a business friendly party that understood the free market was necessary in order to generate some wealth. But it would be selfish of me to vote for independence for narrowly party political reasons. Naturally voters for independence and especially socialists should never be selfish. What was that about it being oor oil, sorry oor wind.

      1. Ron Bagley

        “I’m not sure such a comical piece as mine”

        Don’t sell the bike shop, Orville.

  5. Commenter

    Hah, normally folk try to explain how the SNP are actually not as left wing as they make out. I think there’s definitely a large and vocal minority of “unreconstructed” lefties in the independence camp, and as a prospective yes voter I do find their belief in a socialist utopia of oodles of government spending to be off putting. However, I don’t think you can fairly direct the charge of being Old Labour at the SNP government. They certainly capitalise on the fact that Scotland is a little to the left of England, using it (or rather Labour’s resulting more rightist position in a Scottish context) as a stick with which to beat Labour and the Lb Dems.

    If we can persuade the Scottish people to have the balls to take their sovereignty in 2014, I doubt we will subsequently actually vote for the “radical” dreams of the lefties. I certainly wouldn’t remain in or vote for a Mchael Foot SNP government in 2016.

  6. Effie Deans

    The fact that most commentators don’t realise how lefty the SNP really are is precisely the reason that I wrote this article. If the socialist nature of many SNP supporters is off putting to you, perhaps it is time for you to rethink your allegiance to the yes camp. Anyone who is concerned about ending up with politics to the left of the present Labour and Lib Dem parties in Scotland, would be well advised to avoid voting for independence. If Scots were to vote for independence, we might not end up with the equivalent of Michael Foot, but there would be no right wing at all in Scotland for the time being and nothing to restrain the left from going as far to the left as they pleased. I don’t believe this would lead to prosperity for any of us.

    1. Commenter

      Okay I now see your position more starkly: it’s that Scots are too stupid to vote sensibly so need to be restrained by sensible southerners. This is what Better Together means, for you at least. And this is why your suggestion of joining a unionist party doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. It’s generally when unionists open their mouths that I remember why I vote for the SNP.

      Effie, there is hope – remember Scots returned Tony Blair to Downing Street with landslides three times, and would have kept doing so had they had the opportunity. And if you really don’t like it, well naff off to somewhere you don’t have contempt for the electorate. You can come back once you see things working out wel ;-)

      1. Effie Deans

        This is clearly a caricature of the position that was outlined both in the original article and as a response to your query. No one is saying that Scots are stupid or need to be restrained by southerners. What I’m saying is that independence could see Scotland drifting very much further to the left, much further than the either the present Labour or Liberal Democrats. Those who are opposed to this should think carefully before voting for independence. Disagreeing with the majority does not mean that someone shows contempt for them. If I’m not allowed to disagree with the political choices of my fellow Scots, this would imply that my minority view is somehow not allowed.

    2. Ron Bagley

      “If Scots were to vote for independence, we might not end up with the equivalent of Michael Foot, but there would be no right wing at all in Scotland”

      Wait, what? Have you discovered a secret page on the YesScotland site that says the Tories will be outlawed in an independent Scotland? Or are the Scottish Conservatives “lefties” too by your standards?

      Since both of those are self-evidently insane, it can only rationally be that you mean “the Tories will lose the first independent Scottish election”, and that therefore your entire argument against independence does indeed boil down to “We mustn’t be independent, because we can’t trust the stupid Scots to vote Tory”. It’s not a very persuasive argument for the Union, is it?

      1. Effie Deans

        People who want very left wing politics may well see it as sensible to vote for indpedence. That’s obviously why parties like the SSP support it. The point I’m making is that I believe this would be bad for the future prosperity of Scotland. I’m quite certain the Tories will lose any election in Scotland for the forseable future, independence or not. But I hope a Scot is still allowed to have opinions, which are right of centre and to express them as part of the debate about independence. Whether that argument is persuasive is another matter, but let’s try to describe each other’s positions in ways which begin to resemble that which was clearly intended. Otherwise we both will be attacking straw men.

        1. Ron Bagley

          When did anyone try to prevent you from having or expressing an opinion? But I’m glad we’ve established that your core opposition to independence is that you don’t think Scots are smart enough to vote for the Tories.

          1. Effie Deans

            I disagree with left wing Scots, but that does not mean I think they are stupid.

    3. Rab B

      It’s quite simple. After independence (god willing it happens) we will vote in the government WE elected and not one forced upon us.
      If WE decide to have a socialist government then we’ll get one. Likewise if WE vote for a right wing Tory government then we’ll get one. It will be our choice which for me is why I will vote Yes in 2014.

      You can debate the if’s and but’s to your blue in the face. I want a proper democracy in Scotland and nothing short of independence will deliver it. I’ll happily take the peaks with the troughs.

      1. Effie Deans

        I’m afraid I find this argument, which I’ve heard many times from nationalists, all rather circular. You see I could say just the same thing about Britain. If we decide to vote for Labour, we get Labour if we decide to vote Conservative we get Conservative. It’s our choice as the electorate of Britain. A part of Britain, may vote in a different way from the whole. That part may be called Cornwall, or Yorkshire, or Scotland, but there’s nothing undemocratic about this as long as the will of the majority will holds sway. If Scotland were independent, the same problem would occur. Aberdeenshire might vote in a different way from the rest of Scotland. Would that give Aberdeenshire the right to say We elected someone other than the rest of Scotland, which means that We should have our own government, our own country etc etc.? You see where this leads. You choose as your building block Scotland, I choose Britain.

  7. Juteman

    If their was no right wing party in Scotland post Independence, that would be the democratic voice of Scotland.
    However, i don’t think that will happen. New parties will form to represent all Scottish viewpoints, but not controlled from Westminster.

    1. Effie Deans

      I think after independence we’d have near permanent SNP government in coalition with various other parties of the left. There might or might not be new parties, but they would have precious little chance of forming a government. It may well be that you would be happy with this and that’s fine, but I’m trying to point out to my fellow Scots that this model of government is unlikely to lead us to prosperity.

  8. Juteman

    I would counter that most folk already know the SNP are to the left of Labour, even though it seems to be news to you. That’s why they are popular. Hasn’t it occured to you that the reason we are having a referendum is because the majority of Scots disagree with the rightwards lurch of Westminster?

    1. Effie Deans

      We’re remarkably agreed Juteman. Just so long as the Scottish people are aware that independence means Scotland going on a path well to the left of Labour. It’s good that some clarity has arisen from this discussion. I really wasn’t aware that the SNP were quite as left wing as they are.

      1. Ron Bagley

        That’ll be why Labour still regularly portray them as the “Tartan Tories”, no doubt. Sigh.

  9. Juteman

    ‘Left wing’ compared to Labour isn’t saying much. The Tory party of the middle of last century is probably farther to the left than the present Labour party.

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