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Is there a Scottish road to Socialism?

Scottish Road to SocialismIs there a Scottish road to Socialism?’ This is the question posed in the third edition of this SLR Press book. The format is the same – a range of contributors from across the left wing spectrum in Scotland attempt to answer this question.

The last edition was in 2013, pre-dating the independence referendum and the General Election. These have been turbulent years in Scottish and UK politics, so a new edition is certainly justified. There are 18 contributors, excluding the Editor, Gregor Gall, who has his own unique analysis. They can be grouped into some broad camps with similar approaches.

We have the far left camp, including those grouped into the latest attempt at partial left unity, RISE, including Cat Boyd, Neil Davidson and Colin Fox. Together, or not, with Tommy Sheridan of Solidarity and Philip Stott of Socialist Party Scotland. Their analysis predictably sees a space caused by Labour’s demise for the far left in Scotland that the Greens cant fill because they have little appeal in working class communities. The fact that their vote rarely secured more than 0.4% doesn’t appear to have dented their optimism. Independence remains the priority, particularly for Tommy, and almost everything else is secondary.

Maggie Chetty and John Foster give different communist perspectives, recognising that they were on different sides of Indyref. Maggie emphasises the opportunities of independence, while John promotes progressive federalism with a strong section on class consciousness and national identity.

From a Labour perspective Neil Findlay/Tommy Kane, Lesley Brennan and Katy Clark point to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the transformational change while exposing the contradictions in SNP policy. It’s a point acknowledged by other contributors, even if they doubt its impact in Scotland. Pauline Bryan topically focuses on the EU. Lyn Henderson places more emphasis on extra parliamentary activity, including the People’s Assembly, to give her some optimism for the future.

Jim Cuthbert sets out his criticisms of the Smith agreement and the difficulty of achieving fundamental social change in the current constitutional settlement. Margaret Cuthbert looks at a range of Scottish Government initiatives, and while making the case for greater economic levers, finds the Scottish Government’s use of current powers unexplainably weak.

Peter McColl argues that the Scottish Green’s have moved from being the environmental conscience of the other parties, to being a radical participatory movement around ideas like a citizens Income, land reform and radical democracy. The dead hand of middle class environmentalism has apparently been lifted to reveal the true radicalism of Green politics.

Chris Stephen’s left SNP perspective, gives us a reasonable analysis of where Labour went wrong and how independence could come about, but notably doesn’t make the case that the SNP is the route to a socialist Scotland. Austerity may help fuel the demand for a second referendum, but that still doesn’t tell us how the SNP can move from being a social democratic (or social liberal as Gregor Gall argues) force, to one that embraces fundamental social change. Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru gives us a similar structural analysis for Wales, but without an ideological road map.

My own chapter continues where I left off in the second edition. As someone who didn’t take a position in the referendum, I set out my views of both campaigns, but Labour’s in particular. The failure to grasp the strategy suggested by the trade unions was hugely damaging, even if Labour’s problems pre-dated the referendum. While I have been brutally honest (probably too brutal for some comrades!) about Labour’s failings, I focus on where next for Scottish Labour. The changes in Scottish Labour may have happened under the radar, given the impact of Corbynmania, but it is none the less significant.

I make the case for big and bold policies and point to early signs of progress. Since the book was written we have had the boldest of policy shifts with the 1p on income tax policy. This positions Labour very firmly as the anti-austerity party and the SNP in the centre ground where most of its leadership is comfortable. I am always amused to see how closely the SNP follows the New Labour text book. It may be electorally successful, it may even some day deliver independence – but socialist it isn’t. I conclude that Scottish Labour, for all its failings, remains the only realistic prospect for socialism in Scotland.

The nature of a book like this, with eighteen contributors, doesn’t leave the reader with many consistent themes. It may also drive you to despair, given how much energy is spent finding difference, when the actual policy gap between the contributors is not that great. However, it has the advantage of being a bite sized read and does give a fair picture of where the left in Scotland is at today.

This review first appeared on Dave’s own blog


  1. James Martin says:

    What constantly seems to be the case with these discussions is that they fail to analyse what the actual state of play is in terms of support for socialist ideas (in or out of the Labour Party) and trade union struggle. And it remains the case that there is no – I repeat no – greater militancy or trade union activity in Scotland than there is anywhere else in the UK despite all the referendum huff and puff. And that then cuts the legs from all the arguments about Scottish separate development and different politics – the British working class remains united, both positively in its’ unified trade union structures and negatively in its current passivity. And in that situation all talk of nationalist separation and division (which is what much of the Scottish left appears to have been sucked into to a greater or lesser extent) remains the reactionary dead-end that it always was.

  2. David Ellis says:

    There is no Scottish Road to Socialism, there are no national roads to socialism at all, there is however a Scottish Road to Revolution. I recommend the Scottish working class take that road.

  3. John Penney says:

    The entire Scottish Left Nationalist proposition is bogus – based on tailing the completely historically nonsensical SNP “Scotland as oppressed nation” mythology, and proposing that “Scottish” capitalists and workers somehow have a genuinely greater shared identity of cross class interest than the Scottish working class actually have with their English, Welsh, and Northern Irish working class brothers and sisters.

    The way most of the self proclaimed “radical Left” in Scotland jumped so uncritically on the petty bourgeois pseudo Leftish SNP political bandwagon tells us more about the utterly bankrupt politics and personal opportunism of too many on the Scottish Left, than about the harsh realities of either the class struggle in Scotland or the real economic
    prospects of an “independent” capitalist Scotland , tasked as it would be with competing as a tiny economic unit in an ever more competitive recessionery global economy, with oil prices now stuck around the $40 a barrel level.

    Losing the Independence Referendum was , for the SNP, actually its greatest good fortune. A nominally “independent ” Scotland would be bankrupt by now given the current oil price. Having “lost” the referendum the SNP , and their Left apologists have dodged the “reality bullet” and have been able to carry on as before – “left faking” as being “Anti Austerity” – whilst actually implementing Austerity for the capitalist class with great gusto. And all the while getting political cover by blaming “the English” under the euphemism of “The Westminster Elite”.

  4. Bazza says:

    I read an excellent piece by a Scottish academic in a recent New Statesman and he argued well that Scotland had quite a social democratic tradition but that Scottish Labour Party deserted this swallowing New Labour hook, line and sinker so the SNP were happy to fill a popular void.
    We can see off the ultra left in Scotland – the bourgeois socialists – with their ready made programmes who if they can only deposit these programmes into the heads of the working class/working people then their top down leadership will deliver socialism FOR the working class.
    I don’t support independence but a more Federal Britian but I think the only hope for Labour in Scotland is a grassroots–led, bottom up, participatory, left wing democratic socialism WITH the working class/working people.
    The SNP are born again social democrats who offer crumbs to working class/working people; Scottish Labour should offer power and a redistribution of wealth.

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