By Solomon Hughes in Britain:
How new Labour lost Scotland
Friday 12th september 2014
The leadership’s right-wing policies helped the SNP’s rise, says Solomon Hughes
For years, the Labour Party thought that “new Labour” won votes for free. Now it looks like there is a bill to pay. It might cost all of Scotland.
New Labour cost a lot in the short term as voter turnout slumped to record lows, but Blair, Brown and their ministers always covered up discontent with a great big election win.
From 1997 to 2010 new Labour sold the party’s principles. It cost the health service millions of pounds paid to privatisers as Labour started a commercialisation of the NHS which even Thatcher could not implement.
It cost all public services billions as Labour handed the banks and big contractors swathes of the public sector in the private finance initiative.
It cost a lot in terms of civil liberties as Labour brought in draconian powers in the name of fighting terrorism.
It cost thousands of Iraqis their lives as Labour became the party of war.
All told, the Blair-Brown plan cost Labour its soul. But it didn’t seem to cost at the ballot box, which meant discontent within the party was always damped down.
Lots of Labour members complained. Hundreds of thousands left the party. But there was no major confrontation within the party on the big issues.
I’ve been to every Labour conference since 1999, and the sad truth is that the opposition to new Labour was very small. Lots of Labour members bit their tongues.
For example, many Labour members were active in the anti-Iraq war campaign on the streets. But the Iraq war was only debated at Labour conference once — in 2004.
Worried about the upcoming election, the party decided not to rock the boat and voted to back the continuing, disastrous occupation of Iraq.
A lot of members thought that Tony and Gordon did a lot of bad things, but they did win elections. That success, in contrast to the defeats of the previous three elections, and the occasional good thing it enabled — the minimum wage, higher social spending — was enough.
There were new, striking electoral victories over new Labour from the left.
George Galloway in Bethnal Green. Ken Livingstone winning the London mayoralty after he was kicked out of Labour for opposing the wasteful Tube PFI. Dai Davies becoming Blaneau Gwent’s MP in 2006. The Scottish Socialist Party winning seats in Holyrood.
Caroline Lucas’s victory as Britain’s first Green MP in Brighton and Richard Taylor’s election in opposition to health privatisation in the Wyre Forest in 2001 weren’t strictly challenges from the left, but they attracted a lot of disenchanted Labour votes.
These challenges were serious, but ultimately the left outside of Labour weren’t able to hold together. We were too prone to internal division and self-destructive behaviour. So Labour rested easy and stuck with variants of Blairism.
But Labour should have spotted the signs.
Because the Scottish National Party did. Salmond built the votes for his party on the back of discontent with new Labour.
In a particularly self-harming way, Scottish Labour is even more “new Labour” than the party in the UK as a whole.
So, especially after the financial crisis, Salmond swam in the opposite direction. No NHS privatisation, no welfare cuts, no bedroom tax, no Trident, no English Tory-Labour Westminster consensus.
These are the building blocks of the Yes campaign [in the Scottish independence referendum]. If Blair and Brown were going to detach these sentiments from Labourism, Salmond would connect them to Scottish nationalism.
The SNP built votes when Blair and Brown were in government. But their big breakthrough came in the 2011 Holyrood election — this victory also won them the chance to hold the referendum.
Their big breakthrough came when Ed Miliband was trying to shuffle Labour leftwards.
But Ed’s little moves, muffled by ridiculously right-wing Scots Labour figures like Johann Lamont or Jim Murphy, were too little, too late. Labour’s continued commitment to austerity was a huge gift to the SNP.
The idea that Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband can make big breakthroughs against the Yes campaign, when they were in charge when the SNP grew, is unconvincing.
The “fear factor” might just be enough to win No in the referendum.
But they have lost Labour a huge swathe of their electoral base. Labour’s enthusiasm for the “banks won’t like it” argument against independence shows that the party’s instinct is still to follow the diktats of the banks and the City.
Unless there is a major change of direction, they are also going to continue on the road to long-term decline.
The strange death of Labour in Scotland is the principal reason why the country this weekend is looking down the barrel of a prolonged and anguished death: here.
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