PAUL McGARR reports from Glasgow
|Picture: JESS HURD|
|Socialist Worker candidate Jackie Forrest puts the case for socialism outside the Chivas whisky factory in Paisley|
THE CAMPAIGN for the 6 May election to the Scottish Parliament got under way last week. The election is centred on the fight between New Labour and the Scottish National Party. Polls show Labour is on course to be the biggest single party in the new Scottish Parliament. But they also suggest that the SNP could do well enough to deprive Labour of an overall majority. There has been a barrage of sound and fury between the two parties.
Incredibly, the Labour campaign sounds just like a Tory British general election campaign from the 1980s and early 1990s. Chancellor Gordon Brown is masterminding Labour's campaign in tandem with Scots Labour leader Donald Dewar. They are pushing New Labour as the party of "enterprise" and "business". Tony Blair appeared in Inverness last week flanked by some wealthy businessmen.
Donald Dewar even used businessmen who bankrolled the Tory campaign against setting up the Scottish Parliament to back up Labour's campaign. Labour is now the only party standing in the election committed to keeping tuition fees for higher education. Even the Tories say they will scrap them! Labour is also committed to pressing ahead with a series of privatisations. These include Private Finance Initiative schemes, which will see private companies making a fortune from the health service, and the wholesale privatisation of council housing across Scotland.
Labour's Tory style campaign is shocking many of the party's own candidates and officials. A sixth of Labour's Scottish Parliament candidates said in a Newsnight survey that they agreed with the SNP on tax. A full 40 percent of Labour's candidates said they agreed with the SNP on scrapping Trident nuclear submarines and disagreed with Labour leaders' commitment to the Private Finance Initiative. Last week Bob Thompson, Labour's treasurer in Scotland, denounced PFI, saying it was "repugnant" and meant selling workers off to private companies like "feudal serfs".
LABOUR placed a double page ad in the press last week attacking the SNP. It listed 100 top businessmen who opposed the SNP's election plans and backed Labour's stance. Among them was David Murray, chair of Rangers football club, worth £200 million. The list also included Tom Hunter, who sold off his Sports Division firm for millions and then announced the closure of the distribution centre with 1,000 redundancies.
SOCIALISTS ARE standing candidates in the elections to the Scottish Parliament to give voice to the dissatisfaction with New Labour's Tory policies. They are aiming to show that there is opposition to New Labour which is not nationalist, and to put across socialist arguments. They are also beginning to break the pro-war media barrage and put clear opposition to NATO's war in the Balkans.
Socialists campaigning in Glasgow last week found that most people were not excited by the election. The dominant mood was one of cynicism towards all established parties and politicians. In Cathcart's Castlemilk housing scheme in Glasgow last Friday one man said, "All politicians are the same, just men in suits who know nothing about our problems." There was also disillusionment and anger with New Labour. A woman postal worker in Paisley's Glenburn housing scheme said, "I voted Labour before but I'm not so sure now. I hoped they would stop privatisation, but they haven't." An unemployed man in Cathcart said, "I voted Labour, but it's changed nothing."
SOCIALIST WORKER is standing five candidates for the Scottish Parliament:
Socialist Worker is also urging a vote for the candidates of the Scottish Socialist Party who are standing in a number of areas.
SCOTTISH National Party leader Alex Salmond hopes to win votes by feeding off disillusionment with New Labour. So on key issues the party has taken a stance significantly to the left of Labour. "New Labour has taken on Tory principles," declares the SNP manifesto. At the centre of the SNP campaign is the "penny for Scotland". Salmond has pledged that the SNP would reject chancellor Gordon Brown's plan to cut the basic rate of tax by 1p next year. This, says Salmond, would give the Scottish Parliament some £690 million to invest in schools, hospitals and housing.
The SNP has denounced Labour's commitment to Private Finance Initiative schemes. Salmond has also stuck by his pledge to scrap the Trident nuclear submarine programme in Scotland. And he has provoked fury from New Labour and the press by his welcome opposition to the NATO bombing of the Balkans.
Yet there are huge limitations in the SNP's policies. The tax plan does not involve taxing the rich, or even challenging Labour's refusal to allow the Scottish Parliament to vary the top rate of tax. Alex Salmond is as keen as New Labour to woo big business. Bosses backing the SNP include Brian Souter, the multi-millionaire boss of the Stagecoach bus and rail company, which has made millions from privatisation. The party is pledged to a string of pro-business policies such as cutting business rates and corporation tax on company profits.
The SNP's previous policy of ending the ceiling on national insurance contributions for the rich did not appear in the party's manifesto. Neither does the manifesto mention workers' rights or trade unions. Even the SNP opposition to PFI is less radical than it sounds. The SNP rightly says of one PFI scheme, "The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is a £180 million hospitalit will cost taxpayers £900 million over the next 30 years." But Salmond has made it clear that "existing PFIs will have to continue"so the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary scheme would carry on under the SNP.
GLASGOW'S NEW Labour council launched an outrageous attack on free speech on the day the Scottish election campaign began. It suspended leading trade unionist Roddy Slorach from his job. Roddy is the UNISON union convenor for the council's social work department. He is also the Socialist Worker election candidate in the Glasgow Cathcart constituency.
Roddy is charged with "misuse of council facilities". This amounts to sending a fax about a meeting opposing the NATO bombing of Serbia to other stewards and activists. This meeting had been backed by a meeting of the social work shop stewards committee and was sponsored by Scottish CND (to which Glasgow UNISON is affiliated). A McCarthy style witch hunt has now been launched against Roddy and other activists, complete with smearing articles denouncing "Red Roddy" in papers like the Daily Record. Five other UNISON shop stewards were hauled in by the council last week as part of the council's "investigation". At least one was asked questions like, "Are you an SWP member?" Roddy's desk and computer have also been searched.
The response from leaders of Glasgow UNISON has been far from adequate, giving Roddy at most lukewarm backing which can only have encouraged the council in its attack. Roddy's workmates in the Gorbals social work office walked out for a day in protest at his suspension last week. On Monday over 30 of his workmates then lobbied an investigatory hearing. An open letter condemning the attack on Roddy and calling for his reinstatement has been launched. Those signing it include author Angus Calder and Euro MP Hugh Kerr.