Scottish flag GE2019 result in Scotland. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Scots have again rejected Tory rule and have to be ready for Tory vengeance, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

From 1979 to 1997, Scotland voted against Tory government but ended up with Tory rule from Westminster. The same has been the case since 2010.

This election is no different. Turnout in Scotland at 68.1% was higher than in the UK as a whole at around 67.2%, and the SNP won 47 out of 59 MPs with around 45% share of the vote.

The SNP beat the Tories who received 25.1% and retained only 6 of their 13 seats having lost 3.5% of their 2017 vote. 

Labour’s woes continued as it won 18.6%, a loss of over 8%, and retained just one seat. The Lib Dems won four seats on an increased share of around 9.5%, but they lost their UK leader Jo Swinson.

Yet the reported mood among SNP activists at the count was not one of jubilation. For they know that they face the nastiest Tory government in 30 years.

Nicola Sturgeon had said that this result is a mandate for IndyRef2. It is hard to dispute this claim.

The conundrum for the SNP

But to hold a referendum, according to the Scotland Act 1998, the Scottish Parliament has to ask for permission from the UK government.

Sturgeon has previously indicated that she would not hold a referendum if she did not receive permission, and Boris Johnson has repeatedly ruled out another vote. This begs the question: what then?

It is clear that Scotland could try to force a referendum. Sturgeon implied the day after the General Election that it was Scotland’s right to hold one and that she was not asking for permission.

But the SNP would have to factor in the resistance of the British state and lack of international support – if the Catalonia parallel shows anything, it shows us that. Catalonia tried to hold a referendum illegally and faced massive repression from the Spanish state. Moreover, it has had no support within the EU.

Scotland might face similar challenges, even though a British crackdown given the scale of the SNP victory may be difficult to enforce, especially if there were a mass and mobilised movement in Scotland.

The SNP has so far signalled it is not willing to go down the route of direct confrontation with London. All the indications are that the SNP has been at pains to present itself as moderate, social liberal alternative.

This would imply that the SNP may try to play a long-term game, and use Westminster denial of a referendum as part of the 2021 Holyrood campaign, with independence a distant prospect after that.

But such a strategy is even riskier than outright mobilisation for a referendum now. The SNP’s rule in Scotland has produced austerity-lite and its last outing in the Holyrood election in 2016 saw the party lose its majority.

Meanwhile, the Tories have consolidated their role as the main opposition in Scotland, consistently gaining between 20 and 30 percent of the vote in recent elections.

Scottish Labour squeezed

The erosion of support for Scottish Labour is moreover a false friend of the SNP. Scottish Labour has continued to shed support, partly because of the legacy of the Blair years, and partly because it has continued to deny the right to self-determination for Scotland.

Even though I saw that, on the doorstep, many Scottish Labour activists were not following the party’s hard line on independence, and that there was a more general emphasis on economic and social issues, the party was squeezed.

At the UK level, the attempt to downplay Brexit while essentially taking a Remain position played badly for Labour in the end. At the Scottish level, trying to play up social and economic issues while taking an essentially unionist position had the same effect.

This has meant that the SNP has not felt much pressure from the left and has drifted to the centre. As recent history suggests, centre-left parties that do that risk drifting to defeat. The longer the SNP puts off the fight for independence, the more chance there is that it may begin to lose support because of its record in power.

The need for a left alternative

It does not appear likely that Scottish Labour will provide a left pole to counteract this trend. Labour members in Scotland voted by a large majority against Corbyn in the leadership election after the ‘chicken coup’ in 2016. Though there has been a shift leftward under Richard Leonard, the shift was shallower than in England.

Despite the influx of ‘Corbynista’ members in recent times – the people I campaigned with for a Corbyn government in the last couple of weeks – the scale of defeat in England will strengthen anti-left officials who maintained more of a grip on the party machine.

Under such circumstances, it is clear that a radicalising pole will have to emerge elsewhere.

The relaunch of the Radical Independence Campaign just before the General Election in this context is critical and could prove to be the beginning of the reconstitution of such a pole.

Uniting the left from different backgrounds, including the SNP and Labour, but also elsewhere, in order to build an extra-parliamentary movement of the working class that can challenge the SNP from the left, is an urgent task.

RIC could be a central actor to push a mass confrontation with the British state and help defy the Tories in the event of IndyRef2.

There is no room for complacency. While it is far from clear that the Tories have won hegemony in society, they do wield power in Westminster. And the Labour Party will be in deep disarray for some time. The Tories will be vicious in power and there is no reason to expect that they will spare Scotland. Indeed, chances are Scotland will be one of their main targets. We have to be ready.

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.

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