Labour Party mark 2: a hopeless project

Give Tusc critical support

Voting Labour will strengthen the hand of Sir Keir and the right. Scott Evans reports on the recall background, the fixes and the candidates standing in the October 5 by-election

Voters in Glasgow’s Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency will have to choose between 14 (!) candidates. We recommend critical support for Christopher Sermanni of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. This is not because he is the only ‘socialist’ standing, for reasons we will come to, but because Tusc represents the least worse option.

The by-election has been called following a recall petition for Margaret Ferrier, which succeeded in getting the required one in 10 of constituent signatures to trigger a recall. Ferrier won the seat in 2015 in a massive swing to the Scottish National Party in a constituency that had been Labour since its creation in 2005, then lost it back to Labour temporarily by a very narrow margin in 2017, until she was re-elected in 2019.

In September 2020 Ferrier had developed Covid-19 symptoms at a time when guidance was such that nobody should be travelling if they were displaying symptoms. But she seemed to take this to mean that one must travel as much as possible when displaying symptoms, and promptly attended church, a family lunch, travelled down to London by taxi and train, participated in debates and ate in the House of Commons tea room, and then travelled back up to Scotland by train (lying to the SNP chief whip that the reason for returning was due to family illness).1 When Boris Johnson’s chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, was embroiled in a similar scandal, she stated that the government’s advice was clear and called his position in post untenable - thus digging her own grave.

The SNP did not come to the defence of Ferrier. Previous first minister Nicola Sturgeon called her actions dangerous and indefensible - she was suspended as an SNP MP in October 2020, and continued to sit as an independent. Alex Salmond, who is the leader of the breakaway Alba, and former SNP first minister, said he thought the by-election should not take place at all and opposed the manner in which the SNP “combined with Labour” to attack Ferrier. Alba’s ‘Scotland United’ policy includes support for only one pro-independence candidate in each seat, so it does not have anyone standing in this election.

Much to some people’s disappointment, it is not the case that every MP may be recalled at a moment’s notice if constituents demand it. An MP first has to fall foul of the Recall of MPs Act 2015, which requires a custodial prison sentence or a suspension from the house of at least two weeks following a report by a house standards body.2 It is only the fourth application of the act, and the third successful one.

As with everything, we should be principled in the mechanisms we demand for accountability (or safeguarding, etc). It is very easy, but short-sighted, to support whatever mechanism is currently being used largely or exclusively against one’s enemy - such as generalised no-platforming, or celebrating precedent-setting cases of a heavy-handed police and judicial crackdown on rightwingers. Even for more trivial-seeming and distant matters (the left is far from being able to elect a Karl Liebknecht at the moment), such as the call by some for ‘full recall’, we should be careful.

My own personal view is we should support accountability and the right to recall all workers’ representatives. But the idea of the constituents’ recall for MPs, following an initiative taken by them, may be opposed on the basis that it unduly amplifies momentary unpopularity, increasing resources spent on news-management, and further solidifies the tendency of MPs to become ombudsmen for constituents’ day-to-day problems alongside councillors and social workers.

Under capitalism, a socialist MP subject to pro-recall campaigns run by pro-capitalist interests may have to be defended by trade unions and socialist parties in expensive counter-campaigns.3 But diving too deeply into this aspect of the story here would also raise too many larger issues: the merits and demerits of the ‘constituency link’; alternative accountability mechanisms (outside of internal party discipline) for representatives (like automatic deselection rules such as that of the Representation of the People Act 1981); multi-member constituencies and proportional representation; and internal party mechanisms like mandatory reselection and recall.


Each high-profile by-election has its own narrative through which the various competing parties want to spin their particular version of the tale. For Labour, the script writes itself: a chance to put a middle finger up to both the Westminster and Holyrood administrations, to both the Tories and the SNP. The symbolism of it is also clear: a Labour win is a sign of things to come, and soon the party will come riding in on a white horse to save the UK from the Tories and take the fight to the SNP as the official opposition in Scotland (having already vanquished the internal Corbynite menace ...). Of course, it is a similar story for the Scottish Lib Dems and Greens, though they will not expect to actually be able to win.

In the general election in 2019, only five candidates stood, but as I have stated, the number for this by-election it is a whopping 14. As well as Tusc, these includes candidates from the Scottish Socialist Party, Greens, SNP and Labour - all of whom claiming some degree of ‘left’ credentials for one reason or another. The leader of every one of these groups and parties has at some point called themselves a socialist or have lots of people who describe themselves as socialist in them today. Every one of the candidates from these parties has come out against austerity and for help over the cost of living. But, of course, none are viable vehicles for achieving socialism, as even those which correctly take the Marxist view that the working class is the key agent for driving towards socialism (Tusc, the SSP and left Labourites) are mired in either reformism, broad-leftism, or tailing one wing or another of liberals and/or nationalists.

The Labour candidate, Michael Shanks, actually left the party in 2019 in protest over Labour’s approach to Brexit, as well as the so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ under Jeremy Corbyn, saying he could not even vote for Labour under these circumstances. But now he is back as a contender to become MP in a race where three other Labour members were blocked during the selection process apparently without explanation,4 over which two Constituency Labour Parties have submitted a formal complaint.5 This, of course, is a familiar and unsurprising story of the Labour right’s grip on power.

The SNP’s case is obviously much more difficult. It has been a rocky year for the party, to say the least, and people are in general wanting change. The approach of the SNP candidate, Katy Loudon, has been to position the SNP to the left of Labour (not exactly a difficult task). Her focus has been the two-child benefit cap and the rape clause, though Scottish Labour have said they will oppose the position of Labour HQ on the cap regardless.

The Scottish Greens’ story here concerns the fact that they have stood at all in such a symbolic by-election. It means that two pro-independence candidates are standing, even though the Greens are the SNP’s junior partners in the current Scottish administration.

Turf war

But what about the actual left? Why on earth are both Tusc and the SSP fielding a candidate in this by-election?

Following talks in mid-May at which SSP members were present (including the current SSP candidate, Bill Bonnar), Tusc announced that Chris Sermanni would be its candidate in the by-election. In July, after the SSP put forward its own candidate, this prompted an open letter from Tusc addressed to the SSP and calling for “a single socialist candidate”. Finally, on September 14 Tusc explained that it had met with SSP members in August, but that talks broke down - essentially because for Tusc the candidate had to be Sermanni and for the SSP it had to be Bonnar.


While Tusc invited the SSP to campaign for Sermanni under its own name, it does not seem to have been entertained that there should be a procedure which both could agree on for deciding who should be selected of the two candidates by members and leaders across both parties. That is, a procedure which does not amount to mere haggling and points-scoring in a closed meeting. This failure probably, at least in part, stems from a common ailment on the left: an unwillingness to be, at least in the short term, in a minority within any organisation.

The SSP, in a classic sectarian move, has in public completely ignored the Tusc candidacy (as far as I can see). Its public statement on September 22 focused entirely on Labour, and concluded: “The only party campaigning on these anti-poverty measures is the SSP.” Comrades, this is ridiculous, almost spiteful posturing. On September 26, the SSP pulled a stunt where it “challenged” the Labour candidate to attend a screening of the film on Jeremy Corbyn, The big lie, on September 30 in Rutherglen, concluding “The Scottish Socialist Party is the only option left for traditional Labour voters who genuinely want socialist change.” Yet Bill Bonnar’s slogan, “For a socialist MP on a workers’ wage”, could easily also be applied to Sermanni, who has said: “I would only accept the average wage of a skilled worker and donate the rest back to working class and socialist causes.”

Who should have stepped aside and, as neither did, who should we support? The September 14 Tusc article offers a number of reasons why either candidate may be preferred. Aside from Sermanni’s trade union credentials, three particularly stupid points amount to ‘First come, first served’ (Tusc announced its candidate first); ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers’ (Bonnar last stood for the SSP there in 2005); and ‘You snooze, you lose’ (Tusc last stood a candidate covering the area much more recently, in 2021). Tusc also emphasises its approach to building a new mass workers’ party, though in my view this was likely included more as a distinguishing-brand feature than as a real key element in the breakdown of the talks. Nevertheless, pointing out that the SSP does not make any such call is worthwhile.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty has called for a vote for Labour to keep the Tories out and “help start to rebuild the Labour left”.6 For such comrades (?) it will never be the right time to vote for a party other than Labour, and it will always be the worst Tory government ever potentially in waiting. This perspective is so hopelessly limited, it hardly needs rebuttal.

Sermanni’s bid7 comes with the usual Tusc slogans. Indeed, this includes “the right to a second independence referendum and an independent socialist Scotland”.8 The final three words are a slogan that the overtly left-nationalist SSP uses as the main symbol of its identity, whereas for Tusc this is just a part of its broader programme. This slogan can only ever refer to either a watered down, unMarxist ‘socialism’, which Marxists should in no way champion, or the disastrous policy of ‘socialism in one country’. It is an abominable slogan for any self-proclaimed Marxist to be using at any time, but especially after the legacy of the 20th century. Besides all that, the SSP has not openly supported working closely with others on the left since its dalliance with Rise in 2015-20 (a very weak initiative), and has not attempted to grasp the reasons for its own increased marginalisation over the past two decades since the days of Tommy Sheridan.

All in all, while we recommend a Tusc vote in this election, it hardly represents the alternative to the poison of Labourism we need and continues to tail left nationalism. The socialist left is woefully unprepared for the current global challenges; these sectarian turf wars will need to be overcome sooner rather than later, hopefully left in the ever-distant past and remembered only as a bad dream.

At which point we will be able to proudly and simply say, ‘Vote communist!’

  1. publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5803/cmselect/cmstandards/1276/report.html.↩︎

  2. Until 2020 this had to be the Commons Select Committee on Standards, extended to include others like the Independent Expert Panel, to close a loophole after Tory MP Rob Roberts dodged a by-election after sexual misconduct allegations.↩︎

  3. It would also give a single constituency’s voters the power to recall a government minister - for example, the prime minister - though there is nothing requiring a PM to be an MP besides precedent.↩︎

  4. www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/labour-councillor-claims-rutherglen-hamilton-29869213.↩︎

  5. twitter.com/tomorrowsmps/status/1652260605787619330.↩︎

  6. www.workersliberty.org/story/2023-09-19/rutherglen-election-vote-labour.↩︎

  7. socialistpartyscotland.org.uk/support-the-trade-union-and-socialist-candidate-in-rutherglen-and-hamilton-west.↩︎

  8. This is a quote from Tusc’s election bid launch (www.tusc.org.uk/19288/29-05-2023/scottish-tusc-to-stand-in-rutherglen-and-hamilton-west) and from the policy document we have: “The break-up of the UK - and it’s Scotland that is currently the weakest link in that chain - would be a catastrophe for the ruling class and their economic, strategic and geopolitical interests.” See www.tusc.org.uk/17486/01-03-2021/core-manifesto-for-the-2021-scottish-parliament-election.↩︎