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Scotland: Pro-independence majority in highly polarised election
Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland general secretary
Following a highly polarised Scottish election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) will form the new government at Holyrood. By winning 64 MSPs it will once again be a minority administration. However, pro-independence supporting parties - the SNP and Scottish Greens - will make up a majority with 72 of the 129-seat parliament.
The outcome sets the Scottish parliament - and more importantly a majority of the Scottish working class - on a collision course with a Boris Johnson-led Tory government that has ruled out granting the powers for a second independence referendum (indeyref2), no matter the outcome of the election.
Despite the victory of the SNP in the election, it has no strategy for taking on and defeating the Tories and capitalism's opposition to indyref2. In particular, Nicola Sturgeon is mortally opposed to mobilising mass working-class struggle to win democratic rights.
The SNP won 62 of the 73 constituencies, with a record 1.3 million votes. The largest vote for a party in the 22-year history of the parliament. It also won two seats on the regional lists.
The Tories, yet again, came second with 31 MSPs. Labour underwent no significant recovery under their new Blairite leader Anas Sarwar. Indeed, they ended up with two fewer seats than 2016 with 22 MSPs. It was Labour's worst ever performance in a Scottish parliament election.
The Scottish Greens increased their representation to nine from their previous six, all of them elected on the regional lists. Alba, the new party formed by former SNP leader Alex Salmond, failed to win any MSPs.
The turnout was a record for a Holyrood poll at 63%. Overall, roughly 50% of those voting backed pro-independence parties and 50% voting for pro-union parties.
While Nicola Sturgeon's handling of the pandemic boosted the SNP, it was independence that dominated the election. Pro-independence working-class voters overwhelmingly backed the SNP.
Labour and Tories
Tactical voting in seats where there was a close contest between the SNP and a pro-union party was clearly evident. For example, in Dumbarton, a Labour-SNP marginal, there was a sizeable swing from the Tories to Labour to hold off the SNP. In Eastwood, Labour voters in large numbers backed the Tory candidate to prevent the SNP from winning. This pattern was repeated in seats across Scotland.
Scottish Labour was again decimated in its former working-class heartlands, winning only a single constituency seat in the Glasgow-West Scotland-Central Scotland region and two constituency seats overall.
Socialist Party Scotland advocated consistently the need to stand working-class, socialist candidates to make the case that no other party would make: for a socialist recovery for the working class after the pandemic; for pay rises, jobs and homes and for the building of a mass movement for indyref2.
We were the only socialist organisation in Scotland prepared to put up candidates. Most of the socialist left groups that had stood in the past - SSP, Rise, SWP etc - retreated, bowed by the pandemic and the temporary moods to back the SNP or the Greens as the best available option.
Socialist Party Scotland was a key driving force in supporting the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) campaign which stood in three regions and three constituencies.
With the election being so polarised and taking place against the backdrop of focus on the pandemic, the space for a socialist alternative was more limited. More than 98% of the votes on the constituencies went to the pro/anti-indy blocs.
SNP and Greens
It's also clear that the priority for many working-class people was to vote for the party on the regional list most likely to add to a pro-independence majority - in this case the SNP or, for some young people especially, the Scottish Greens.
Still, we won over 700 votes in Dundee and 230 votes in Aberdeen Donside. In Glasgow region the Scottish TUSC vote was 645. In West Scotland it was 469 and Highlands and Islands 280 votes.
These modest votes for Scottish TUSC are far from the whole picture. There was a large amount of support and sympathy for our ideas from a much wider section of the working class and young people.
Some examples from young people on Twitter who we did not know previously: "Go out and vote today guys! I'm voting @ScottishTUSC as they're the only Scottish party that seem to care about helping the working class". "Vote @ScottishTUSC to actually make a difference and stray away from anti-working class parties." "I voted for TUSC on the regional ballot and I'm proud of it."
A leading trade unionist in Glasgow messaged to say: "I really think the profile of socialism on the political spectrum has been raised. Thanks to all TUSC candidates in this election."
Another said: "I think TUSC ran a great campaign. Many, many were impressed and ready to hear socialist ideas. Well done on a brilliant campaign."
We were pleased to have the support of leading NHS pay campaigners, 2018 Glasgow equal pay strikers and RMT activists among many others.
Overall, the Scottish TUSC campaign was simply necessary. With an array of pro-capitalist options on the ballot, the need for a fighting socialist alternative was essential.
Now, the attention of workers and young people will turn to the struggles that impend. On the fight for the right to decide and an indyref 2. On pay rises, jobs, affordable homes and a future free from a system that benefits only the rich and the billionaire class. On the fight for an independent socialist Scotland and for socialist world.
- Next week's issue of the Socialist will include an article looking at the question of Scottish independence
In The Socialist 12 May 2021: