by Charlie Kimber
|23,000 vote for socialists
TOMMY SHERIDANS victory was a great boost, 100,000 across Scotland voted socialist
THE ELECTION results in Scotland show enormous disenchantment with Labour. But they also saw a breakthrough for the left, and hugely encouraging signs of the potential to build a socialist alternative to Labour. Just two years after the general election Labour's vote plummeted. At the 1997 general election Labour got 46 percent of votes. Now it got 39 percent in the constituency section vote and just 33 percent in the second, party list, vote.
"It's easy to see why Labour's vote went down," Margaret Hiller, an USDAW union shop steward from Coatbridge, told Socialist Worker. "It's about privatisation in the schools and hospitals, a minimum wage so low you're still in poverty, tuition fees which mean I worry whether my children will even have a chance to go to college."
Labour's war in the Balkans was also a defining issue for an important minority which switched to the anti-bombing Scottish National Party. The low turnout-at 57 percent it was over 10 percent less than in 1997-also reflected the lack of enthusiasm for Labour's policies. Peter Rossi, a firefighter at Glasgow's Parkhead fire station, told the Labour supporting Daily Record, "I couldn't bring myself to vote Labour because of the way they are treating us now. Out of 11 of us on duty last night, only four voted. Labour are trying to do everything the Tories couldn't." That mood can lead to cynicism and resignation. Fortunately last week there were also unmistakable signs that a significant and growing minority of people are ready to support a left wing alternative to Labour.
ACROSS Glasgow 23,000 people voted for socialists last week. That was enough to see Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party elected to the Scottish Parliament. In the Pollok constituency Tommy Sheridan's 22 percent of the vote was the highest share he has ever achieved.
In Glasgow Cathcart Roddy Slorach of the Socialist Workers Party more than doubled the socialist vote at the 1997 election and won a creditable 920 votes. Elsewhere in Glasgow, Rosie Kane of the Scottish Socialist Party took 1,640 votes in Shettleston. In the South of Scotland region (including Dumfries, East Lothian, Ayr and Clydesdale) the Socialist Labour Party took almost 14,000 votes, 4.36 percent of the total.
In Falkirk West the "rebel" MP Dennis Canavan destroyed his official Labour opponent. Canavan, prevented from standing for Labour because he was too left wing, won 18,000 votes to the 6,000 of Labour's Ross Martin. In an image that summed up the night, Canavan spent the evening mingling and chatting with his own supporters and local Labour Party officials, while Martin sat alone in the car park until ten minutes before the result.
Ray Kennedy, the AEEU union convenor at Glacier engineering in Glasgow, told Socialist Worker, "This has been a really great showing for the left. Tommy Sheridan's vote is tremendous and it's great to have a socialist MP, but Roddy Slorach's is also extremely good. More and more are realising that Labour is not going to deliver what working people need and want."
Jim Friel, Scottish Socialist Party candidate in Glasgow Springburn and the Scottish president of the GPMU print union, told Socialist Worker, "I see this election as showing that a very large section of the population has completely rejected Blair and his policies. It's a great base to build on and we need more cooperation among the left forces for elections and more generally."
It is not only the openly socialist vote which should give socialists a boost. Many who voted for Labour did so with a heavy heart and would willingly back campaigns to improve workers' conditions. Many people who voted SNP did so as a left wing protest at Labour. And lots of those who did not go to the polls could be given new hope by struggles against New Labour's pro-business agenda.
Dave Sherry, election agent for the SWP in Glasgow Cathcart, says, "We're delighted that Tommy Sheridan is in and hope he can act as a focus for workers' and students' battles and other campaigns. These results show that the left is back on the agenda and there are great opportunities ahead."
THE SCOTTISH National Party's vote rose from 22 percent at the general election to 29 percent. The SNP vote rose because it seemed to offer a left wing alternative to Labour. Many of the biggest swings from Labour to the SNP were in traditional working class Labour seats. In the more rural areas such as Moray and Angus there was a swing from the SNP to Labour. This reflects the disaffection of a section of the SNP's richer supporters with its policies of higher taxation and opposition to the bombing of Serbia.
The SNP is now debating why it did not make more of a breakthrough. Party leader Alex Salmond and his supporters want to go on putting forward "Old Labour" style policies with independence kept in the background. Another group, the "fundamentalists", wants to trumpet independence as the solution to everything and not dabble with left wing policies which might alienate some "patriotic Scots".
A SERIES of staggering results sent shockwaves through Labour in Wales. Labour lost constituencies central to the party's sense of identity such as Rhondda, Llanelli and Islwyn. Labour failed to secure a majority of seats in the assembly, winning just 28 out of 60. Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists, exceeded all expectations to win 17 seats.
Islwyn used to be ex Labour leader Neil Kinnock's constituency. It went to Plaid Cymru. Labour has held Rhondda for nearly 100 years. It went to Plaid Cymru. To ram home Labour's unpopularity, in the Rhondda Cynon Taff area 31 Labour councillors lost their seats and Plaid now controls the council.
The only seat in Wales where Labour's vote rose (by 1.3 percent) was Cardiff West, the constituency of Rhodri Morgan who was considered too "off message" to be Labour's assembly leader. In contrast Labour leader Alun Michael just scraped in as an assembly member in the list section because Labour had lost so many seats in the constituency section.
"I'm just completely shattered by the results," Janet Davies, a Labour Party member in Rhondda, told Socialist Worker. "I knew that Tony Blair imposing Alun Michael to lead the party had been unpopular but there is obviously much more going on as well. People talked about how Blair was a Tory who didn't care about ordinary people in Wales and they were going to give him a thrashing."
The low turnout of 48 percent was another sign of disenchantment with Labour, but also of a lack of obvious enthusiasm for the opposition parties. Plaid Cymru put forward some policies to the left of Labour. But the limitations of its way forward were starkly revealed after the election. Plaid announced that the first issue it would be pushing for in the assembly would be a lifting of the beef on the bone ban.
The votes for socialists in Wales were encouraging, if not on the same scale as in Scotland.
The results for Socialist Workers Party candidates in Scotland were:
Roddy Slorach, Glasgow Cathcart, 920 votes; Jackie Forrest, Paisley South, 673 votes; Willie Black, Edinburgh South, 482 votes; Pat Clarke, Renfrewshire West; 476 votes; Scott Sutherland, Aberdeen South, 206 votes.
The results for Socialist Workers Party members standing as part of the United Socialists slate in Wales were:
Nick Duncan, Neath, 519 votes; Huw Pudner, Aberavon, 517 votes; Ian Thomas, Islwyn, 475 votes; Julian Goss, Cardiff Central, 338 votes.
Socialist Worker supporters report hundreds of copies of Socialist Worker sold door to door during the campaign, dozens of recruits to the SWP and some new branches established.