Politics of divorce

Labour in Scotland is running scared. A low turnout, due to voter apathy, is on the cards. Latest opinion polls show the Scottish Nationalist Party neck and neck on 31%. The possibility of Jack McConnell (first minister) and his coalition Liberal Democrat lackey Jim Wallace (deputy first minister) losing control of Holyrood on May 1 has prompted a flurry of electioneering activity, which resembles panic. Addressing the Scottish Trade Union Congress in Inverness on April 14, McConnell warned that the SNP would divorce Scotland from the UK and as a result, threaten jobs, mortgages and public services. Rushing up north, in order to galvanise Labour's apathetic membership, we have Helen Liddell (Scottish secretary and erstwhile personal aide to Robert Maxwell). The national question haunts her too. She attacked the SNP's strategy for a breakaway. A major election plank is the pledge to hold a referendum on independence with the 'break' coming in 2007. This referendum plan was a "sham" because "we would have to sign up for the costs of a divorce settlement before we knew what those costs were actually going to be". This from a former Maxwell employee! Tony Blair also is troubled. Taking time out from carving up the economic and 'democratic' future of Iraq, and concerned by the prospect of a low poll and SNP victory, he attended a stage-managed meeting in Glasgow on April 15. His arrival was greeted not only by loyal supporters but also by an anti-war demonstration organised by the SSP. Ignoring the protestors, he warned his carefully selected audience that they had a choice between "devolution or divorce, investment or cuts, and stability and certainty or instability and isolation." As the war in Iraq splutters on, the possibility of targeting another 'rogue' state becomes a real possibility. Labour is acutely aware that in Scotland, although polls indicate that 48% support military action, this is due to support for the troops rather than the war itself. At a press interview on March 26, SSP press officer Hugh Kerr suggested that the SSP stood to gain from the imperialist invasion of Iraq because of its anti-war position. Labour attacked this and called for his resignation. McConnell's support for the neo-colonialist occupation of Iraq corresponds to the paltry 15% of the electorate who accepted invasion without United Nations backing. When Tommy Sheridan (SSP convenor) branded McConnell a "quisling" at the anti-war demonstration in Edinburgh on March 29, this was too much for the sensitivities of the first minister. Various Labour luminaries fell over themselves in attacking comrade Sheridan's description of their leader. They mischievously concluded that McConnell had been branded a 'Nazi'. Other party leaders also added their voices of disapproval. These deliberate distortions were further compounded by an article in the Labour friendly Sunday Mail (March 30) in which the first minister accused Tommy Sheridan and the SSP of "delighting in the bombing of Baghdad". Slurs directed at the SSP suggest that McConnell and the Labour Party feel they have something to fear. Nevertheless SSP support has grown to 6% on the first round vote and 10% on the second. Under the partial proportional representation system, this would signal an increase of an additional seven MSP's alongside Tommy Sheridan. A prospect Jack McConnell does not savour. However, unless the SNP gain an overall majority (unlikely), McConnell might just scrape through. It is extremely improbable that SNP leader John Swinney will seek a coalition with the Lib-Dems. Unless they get rid of Jim Wallace. It is also improbable that Swinny will try to woo the SSP, in light of scathing comments made by Roseanna Cunningham (SNP deputy leader) on the funding of the SSP's manifesto "200 steps to a new Scotland". Sheridan has drawn the support of trade union leaders at the Scottish TUC in Inverness this week. He shared a platform with Bob Crow (general secretary of RMT) and Mark Serwotka (of the civil service union PCS). Comrade Sheridan said the SSP's anti poverty policies of scrapping the council tax, universal free school meals and a decent wage for public sector workers address the real needs of people the Labour Party has long since turned its back on. SSP support for democratic public ownership stands in stark contrast to New Labour's obsession with privatisation. No wonder thousands of trade unionists and disenchanted Labour supporters are turning to the SSP. Comrades Crow and Serwotka agreed that the SSP is the only party in Scotland that now best represents the interests of the working class. Bob Crow called for trade union political funds to be diverted from their traditional home into parties like the SSP, "which support our policies". Comrade Crow described the relationship with Labour as "a rocky marriage heading for divorce. We did not walk away from the Labour Party. They walked away from the working class." Mark Serwotka said, "If I lived in Scotland, I'd be a member of the SSP and I'd be campaigning right now. These are exciting political times. What the SSP is doing in Scotland acts as a genuine beacon of hope for the working class in England and Wales." Socialist Alliance please note. Ronnie Mejka