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Labour's pro-business policies are punished
THE DUNFERMLINE and West Fife by-election on 9 February was a major defeat for New Labour. The Liberal-Democrats overturned an 11,000 Labour majority in a solidly working-class constituency - with a big ex-mining community that had formerly elected Communist Willie Gallacher as MP and in a constituency where Tony Blair's heir-apparent Gordon Brown lives.
Philip Stott, CWI Scotland
The Lib Dems won with a 16% swing from Labour whose vote fell from 47% in May 2005 to 31% this time around on a 49% turnout. New Labour ministers try to explain this debacle as a result of "local issues."
These "local issues" included a factory closure costing 700 jobs, the threatened transfer of hospital services from Dunfermline and the possible increase in the cost of tolls over the Forth Road Bridge to Edinburgh.
Ironically these last two issues are devolved to the Scottish parliament where the Lib Dems are in coalition with New Labour. As part of the Scottish Executive they have overseen a wholesale attack on local health provision in Scotland. This didn't stop their candidate from cynically coming out against hospital cuts.
It was primarily intense anger at their pro-business, pro-war and anti-working class policies, and particularly the hatred of Blair, at the heart of the government's crushing defeat.
In the absence of a mass working-class alternative another big-business party, the Lib Dems, are increasingly seen as a vehicle for anti-government protest in Scotland.
This is the first time since World War Two that Labour have lost a seat to the Lib Dems in a Scottish by-election. However, at last year's general election the Lib Dems increased their support significantly in Glasgow, Edinburgh and across the central belt of Scotland.
In the past the semi-radical Scottish National Party (SNP) have been the main beneficiaries of anti-government protest in Scotland. But their move to the neo-liberal right, and particularly the softening of the mood around the national question, has set the SNP back significantly in the last few years.
As election analyst John Curtice commented: "It is the worst SNP result in a by-election since 1982 on the change in share of the votes. The SNP's potential as the natural repository for protest votes is now undermined."
THE SCOTTISH Socialist Party (SSP) suffered a very bad result. Despite the candidate being the well-respected left-wing former Dundee Labour MP and MSP John McAllion, the SSP vote fell compared to May 2005 to 1.5% from 1.6%.
The SSP vote across Scotland last May was 1.9%, a fall from 3.1% in the 2001 general election - a 40% drop in the national vote. This result poses urgent challenges for the SSP. There are as yet no signs that the party is recovering public support from the crisis following Tommy Sheridan's resignation as party convenor in November 2004.
Even more seriously, the SSP leadership have made a turn towards left nationalism, playing down a socialist and class programme, while launching a cross-party campaign for independence with the pro-business SNP and the Greens. This move, when support for independence has fallen in the last few years, could further impede a possible recovery for the SSP.
The CWI platform in the SSP is putting forward an alternative programme that would see the party prioritising issues immediately affecting working-class people - pensions, job cuts and the bosses' offensive against the working class - while at all times linking these struggle to the need to fight for a socialist Scotland as part as the struggle for socialism internationally.
In The Socialist 16 February 2006: