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Glasgow North East by-election: Mass abstentions in Labour's 'surprise win'
Need for bigger left alternative in Scotland and across Britain
LABOUR'S VICTORY in the Glasgow North East by-election last week by more than 8,000 votes over the Scottish National Party (SNP) seems, on the face of it, to be a surprise.
Philip Stott, International Socialists (CWI Scotland)
The by-election was, after all, triggered by the forced resignation of the longstanding right wing Labour MP and Commons speaker, Michael Martin - a consequence of his role in the MPs' expenses scandal. Gordon Brown's New Labour government is also presiding over the deepest recession in generations, while its electoral support is draining away.
As recently as July 2008, the SNP pulled off a big victory in winning the neighbouring constituency in the Glasgow East by-election - a seat whose levels of social deprivation, poverty and unemployment are very similar to Glasgow North East. The 20% share of the vote that the SNP won last week contrasts sharply with the 43% they polled in Glasgow East last year.
There were three main factors that decided the outcome of this election. First, the mass abstentions that produced a dire 33% turnout - the lowest by-election turnout ever in Scotland.
Forget apathy, this was anger, hatred and disgust towards the political establishment of all parties who are held in contempt by the majority of the working class. The rage at the plain greed and arrogance displayed by MPs while working class communities are being torn apart by the economic recession was there for all to see.
The second factor is the increasing exposure of the SNP as a party of the capitalist market and therefore no fundamentally different from the rest of the main parties. The SNP government in Edinburgh is preparing to pass on huge cuts in public spending which will see a slashing of services and jobs in the public sector.
Ironically, Labour attempted to paint the SNP as being hostile to the interests of the working class - a theme that Labour will continue to try and play on in the run-up to the Westminster elections next year.
The third factor is the fear of the return of a Tory government at the general election. There has been a significant increase in Labour's electoral support in Scotland over the last few months as the prospect of a Cameron-led Tory government looms ever closer.
Neither this revival, nor Labour's 60% share of the vote in last week's by-election, is a positive endorsement of Brown's, Darling's and Mandelson's anti-working class agenda. Rather it is a reflection of a desire, especially powerful among the over 40s whose memory of Thatcherism is still strong, to stop the coming to power of a Tory government - even if it means voting Labour while 'holding their noses'.
In the absence of the emergence of a sizeable left electoral force to offer a pole of attraction for broad layers of the working class, it is likely that Labour support will hold up in Scotland and the SNP will fail to make a major breakthrough next year. The Tories, who only just saved their deposit in Glasgow North East, will be unlikely to win more than one or two seats in Scotland.
Tommy Sheridan stood for Solidarity in the by-election. Standing as "a workers' MP on a worker's wage", Tommy came 5th out of 13 candidates, winning 794 votes - 3.9% of the poll. He came well ahead of the LibDems, polling almost double their vote, and won more than double the vote of the Greens.
Unfortunately, despite Solidarity supporting left unity discussions to try and avoid more than one socialist candidate, both the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and the Socialist Labour Party rejected any idea of a united left candidate and stood in the election.
The SSP could only hold onto 152 votes (0.76%), the lowest number ever for the SSP in a by-election - a loss of 85% compared to the last time they stood in the same seat in the general election of 2005. This was the worst ever election result for the SSP in Glasgow, and is a clear indication that the remnants of the SSP are finished as a significant electoral force.
Despite not having stood in an election since 2007, and while still fighting a titanic battle against the Scottish legal establishment and the Rupert Murdoch media empire, Tommy Sheridan is still seen among important layers of the working class as a socialist fighter of standing.
Solidarity's campaign fought to raise the key issues of the recession, public ownership, the need for a mass working class party and opposition to wars and nuclear weapons.
Alongside the dozens of street stalls and tens of thousands of leaflets distributed, Solidarity was the only party with the confidence to hold public meetings - seven in all - during the campaign. 350 people came out on the Tuesday before polling day to hear Tommy, George Galloway, and International Socialists members Luke Ivory and postal worker Gary Clark speak at four meetings across the constituency. These meetings resulted in dozens of people looking for more information about joining Solidarity.
Many people were shocked at the fact that the BNP took over 1,000 votes in coming fourth, only 50 votes behind the Tory candidate. This is the largest vote ever for the racist party in Scotland in an election.
In fact the BNP have had a significant vote in the Glasgow North East area for a number of years having consciously targeted the area which has a relatively large number of asylum seekers and immigrant communities.
However, the BNP will be disappointed that they were unable to hold their deposit, following the election of two MEPs in England in June and the recent massive publicity generated around Nick Griffin's appearance on the BBC's Question Time.
Nevertheless, the size of the BNP vote is a warning which, in the main, reflects both a rise in racism and anger at the failure of the main establishment parties, particularly New Labour, who have abandoned the working class. Tommy Sheridan's campaign and the 800 votes won for fighting socialist policies almost certainly prevented the BNP from going over the 5% threshold.
While Solidarity is clearly the biggest and only viable socialist party in Scotland, the need for a bigger left alternative in Scotland and across Britain is essential. Solidarity participated in the RMT-led coalition, No2EU, in the European elections in June this year.
In Glasgow North East No2EU won 1.4%. Tommy Sheridan and Solidarity pushed that left vote up to just under 4% during this by-election.
It is vitally important that the current process of discussion comes to a successful conclusion that allows Solidarity and the International Socialists (the Socialist Party's counterpart in Scotland, which played a central role in Tommy Sheridan's election campaign), to help spearhead the building of a bigger working class alternative in Scotland in conjunction with wider trade union and left forces.
In The Socialist 18 November 2009:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party feature
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party election analysis
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Workplace news and analysis