“Only by building an organised labour movement outside Parliament can workers win inside Parliament”

By Mercedes Villalba MSP

Over the last fifteen years the SNP in Scotland have mastered the art of talking radical in election campaigns while acting conservative in government.

Theirs is a government which this year has already implemented cuts of over £370 million to councils, leased Scotland’s wind energy capabilities to private companies and rowed back on its COP26 commitments by presiding over cuts to rail services.

Even the inclusion of Green ministers in the Scottish Government has not heralded any shift towards more radical and transformative policy.

In fact, the Greens have been quick to discard previous pledges to oppose any further delay to Scotland’s deposit return scheme, to create a public energy company and to introduce rent controls as a priority.

But despite this questionable record in government, the SNP remains electorally dominant in Scotland, with most progressive voters continuing to view the party as their natural political home.

In contrast, Scottish Labour’s support has declined over the last decade, seeing us go from the dominant political force in Scotland to third place.

But it would be wrong to suggest that a revival for Scottish Labour is impossible.

As socialists, we should always be optimists and I believe that by offering a bold policy alternative to the SNP, Scottish Labour can win back support from progressive voters, as we saw begin to happen in 2017.

On the back of a transformative UK manifesto in 2017 we regained traditional heartland seats in Glasgow, Fife and Lanarkshire. We did this by offering a positive alternative to the timidity and ineffectiveness underpinning the SNP’s record in government.

That’s why since entering the Scottish Parliament in May last year, I have been working with Scottish Labour colleagues, trade unions, workers and campaigners to develop a radical policy alternative to the SNP.

While the SNP sign away our renewable energy capability to private companies and refuse to tackle a broken energy market, my Scottish Labour colleagues and I have been making the case for a public energy company which would play a central role in the production, generation and distribution of energy.

Despite talk of a just transition for offshore oil and gas workers in the North East, the SNP leave delivery of this transition to the industry itself.

Working with climate campaigners and trade unions, I have been pushing the Scottish Government to commit to exploring the introduction of an Offshore Training Passport as part of a worker-led transition in the offshore energy sector, tackling rip-off training costs and a lack of common training standards.

Despite commitments to greener, accessible and public transport in the wake of COP26, the SNP continue to leave Scotland’s bus network in private hands and stand by as significant cuts are made to rail services.

That’s why across the country Labour representatives are working with community activists to campaign for municipal ownership of our bus networks.

It’s also why we have been supporting Scotland’s rail unions in their campaign against service cuts and for democratic public ownership of our railways.

When the SNP chose to stand on the sidelines as Police Scotland trained the Sri Lankan Police, they did so despite the concerns expressed by human rights campaigners.
It was Scottish Labour who worked with campaigners to put pressure on government ministers and Police Scotland to end the training contract and coordinated a cross-party letter to the British High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to flag human rights concerns relating to the training.

And as hospitality workers in Dundee take a stand against mistreatment by their employer, we are standing in solidarity with them and pushing the Scottish Government to publicly support the workers, condemn the employer’s alleged behaviour, and look at ways to improve employment rights across the hospitality sector.

If we continue this work to campaign for transformative policies as part of a Socialist Green New Deal for Scotland, I believe that we can begin to recapture the support of progressive voters who abandoned us over the past 10 years.

Because while the SNP’s strength lies in its ability to present itself as radical, its fundamental weakness is its record of conservativism in government.

From presiding over the sell-off of Scotland’s renewables, to turning a blind eye to human rights abuses overseas, the SNP are increasingly shifting away from the progressive image that they portray to voters.

That means there is space opening for Scottish Labour to offer a democratic socialist alternative, but we cannot be complacent.

We need a Labour Party that is rooted in community campaigns, that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with workers in struggle, and that is committed to fighting for real change. Because only by building an organised labour movement outside Parliament can workers win inside Parliament.

Mercedes Villalba is MSP for North East Scotland and Scottish Labour Shadow Minister for Environment and Biodiversity

Image: Mercedes Villalba, Member of the Scottish Parliament for North East Scotland. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3X81RaH9Os, Author: Scottish Parliament, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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