Elections in Scotland and Wales

Is New Labour so popular?


DOES LABOUR offer any hope for these Glasgow children?

"SNP IN Freefall" was the headline last week in the Herald newspaper. It followed an opinion poll which showed Labour 20 percent ahead of the Scottish National Party. The poll predicted Labour would win 63 of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament and the SNP 34. A separate poll in the Daily Record suggested Labour could take 65 seats with the SNP gaining 41.

Labour leaders are joyous that their Tory style election campaign seems to be working. Six months ago Labour and the SNP were neck and neck in the polls. Labour has targeted the SNP as a high tax party which is soft on defence—just as the Tories did to Labour in 1983, 1987 and 1992. Many commentators argue that the polls demonstrate there is not an audience to the left of Labour in Scotland. Scotsman managing editor Andrew Neil sums up the case: "Alex Salmond chose to pitch his tent to the left of the Labour Party. He swallowed the consensus that Scotland was disillusioned with Blairism. He was wrong. New Labour is just as popular with voters north of the border as it is south."

But it is mistaken to believe people voting Labour are voting to endorse Tony Blair. Many will vote Labour for reasons of class loyalty or because their trade union encourages them to do so. Especially among older voters, there is a strong feeling that nationalism does not offer anything to working class people. But even among Labour supporters there is a deep hatred for privatisation, tuition fees for students, health closures and the continuing huge wealth of the rich at the same time as poverty grows.

None of this is going to go away after the election on 6 May. Labour will almost certainly be the largest party in the parliament, but there is very little enthusiasm for the way it has run the campaign. Margaret Hemmings, a shop worker from Glasgow, told Socialist Worker last week, "I've always voted Labour and I probably will this time, but I don't think they've done very well and I'm not sure they'll be any better in the future."

In 1997 at the general election the streets in the main cities were awash with Labour posters in people's windows. At the start of this week there were hardly any Labour posters apart from those paid for on billboards. There is still a degree of doubt about the final result. That feeling reflects people who are bitterly disillusioned with Labour but not yet ready to break from them electorally. They are unsure of the alternatives and half believe independence would be disastrous for ordinary people

But there is a large minority which could transform Scottish politics—if it was pulled together to fight against PFI, for better pay, for union rights and against the war. The way forward before and after the elections is not concentrating on the polls, but building the fighting socialist alternative to all the pro-market parties.

Evidence of polls

MOST analysts say the SNP is slipping because it is for higher taxes and against the bombing of the Balkans. The evidence does not show that clearly. Three polling organisations did polls before and after the SNP announced it was against accepting the 1p budget tax cut and would instead spend the money on health, education and housing. Two of the polls showed that the decision had made no difference to SNP support. And a new poll this week showed that 80 percent of people actually agree with the SNP tax policy and just 15 percent with Labour's official policy.

Meanwhile opposition to the NATO bombing in the Balkans is significantly higher than the SNP's own poll rating. In all polls most voters say that the question of Kosovo has made no difference to how they will vote. Scotland on Sunday reported recently, "Labour's lead is built on surprisingly weak foundations. All the pollsters are finding a strange new mood of uncertainty among Scots voters."


THE WELSH Assembly election has not had the same high profile as the vote for the Scottish Parliament. As Tom Jenkins, the union branch secretary for NATFHE at Neath Port Talbot College, put it, "There's a lot of disillusion here about the election. All we seem to have had off New Labour since they got in is a continuation of Thatcherism."

Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists, are Labour's main challengers. They have criticised Labour's pro-market policies, but believe the problems in Wales are caused by the parliament in London making decisions for the country.

The candidates of the United Socialists joint election platform have had a warm response when they have argued for a socialist alternative in the election. Retired train driver Donald Sullivan attended the election meeting in Skewen organised to support United Socialist candidate and Socialist Workers Party member Huw Pudner, saying, "I think it's good a socialist is standing."

Socialists campaign

SOCIALIST WORKER'S election campaign has linked up with agitation over the issues ordinary people care about. Aberdeen candidate Scott Sutherland spoke at a demonstration by students against tuition fees. Edinburgh candidate Willie Black joined a protest against PFI at the city's Royal Infirmary. In Glasgow Socialist Worker campaigners disrupted a walkabout last Saturday by Scottish secretary Donald Dewar and chancellor Gordon Brown.

Over 70 copies of Socialist Worker were sold by campaigners during five days of door to door canvassing last week in the Glasgow Cathcart constituency and 50 in the Port Glasgow constituency. A woman pensioner who had been a Labour member for most of her life told candidate Pat Clark, "The Labour Party has left me and I'll be voting for you." On Monday she came to the campaign office and donated £50 to the election fund.

In Wales sales of Socialist Worker have risen as more people hear the socialist alternative. Around 20 copies of Socialist Worker were sold campaigning door to door in Cardiff Central last Sunday and 15 in Blackwood.

Socialist Worker candidates do not expect to win vast numbers of votes, still less to win. But the campaign has helped build the socialist alternative.

Welsh candidates

UNITED SOCIALISTS (an electoral alliance of the SWP, the Socialist Party, Cymru Goch and individual socialists) are standing in both sections of the Welsh Assembly elections—in nine constituencies and four of the five regions. Socialist Worker urges a vote for all the United Socialists candidates on the first and second ballot. The Socialist Workers Party members who are standing as United Socialists are:

Nimisha Trivedi, council worker, tops the United Socialists South Central List and Ian Thomas tops the South East List.

Scottish candidates

SOCIALIST WORKER candidates for the Scottish Parliament are:

Socialist Worker also urges a vote for the Scottish Socialist Party candidates in individual constituencies and in the (second vote) regional lists.

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