The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 3rd March 2017

Scottish Labour at Perth

by our Scottish political correspondent

DESPITE the un-spring like weather the Spring party conference season has started. The round was kicked off by the Scottish Labour Party, who met in the Perth Concert hall last weekend.

It has to be said that the party in Scotland is not in great shape. The hall was skilfully draped in curtains to make it look smaller for the TV cameras. The financial position reflects this — donations were down from £600,000 in 2015 to £100,000 last year. For 2016 there was a deficit of £104,000 and reserves were below £160,000, the lowest since 2003. Although it was claimed that membership are at a 20-year high, the precise figures are not talked about.

One bright spot was that the recent elections to the Scottish Executive Committee saw a swing to the Left, with supporters of Jeremy Corbyn romping home in the constituency section. The new composition of the committee will not be to the delight of Scottish Leader Kezia Dugdale.

At least it is in a much better state than its former ultra-Left rivals, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Party of Scotland and Solidarity, who appear to have trouble even updating their websites for weeks on end. Solidarity’s “forthcoming events” all seem to be for last year.

Whereas Nicola Sturgeon has been making regular demands for another independence referendum (whilst possibly hoping nothing of the kind happens in the near future), Ms Dugdale came out strongly against having another independence referendum. Instead “Federalism” was the buzz word of the conference.

Delegates voted for a new “people’s constitutional convention” and for powers presently wielded by Brussels to come to Holyrood rather than Westminster in a brand new “Federal United Kingdom”.

This is both an old and new development. Ever since Irish nationalism arose in the 19th century “Home Rule all round” plans have been talked about, with little action. Offering “Home Rule” to Scotland and Wales would have allowed Protestants in those countries to drop their opposition to Irish “Rome Rule” and support a form of Home Rule that would keep Ireland within the UK. Some Imperialists welcomed these as part of a process of giving colonies internal self-government whilst remaining within a more efficiently governed British Empire.

One problem with Federalism is how to balance out the numerical supremacy of England within the British Isles. Some 19th century romantics wanted to re-establish the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms but found few takers. More recently, John Prescott’s plans for regional assemblies received the thumbs downs whenever they were put to the electorate. Indifference to such dreams is unlikely to go away. Tellingly, Jeremy Corbyn did not make a single reference to Federalism in his speech at the close of conference on Sunday. But Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has backed the idea of a People’s Convention across the UK, so something might happen. On television after the conference Ms Dugdale gave the impression that her “Federalism” was something of a back of an envelope policy as she struggled to explain how it would work UK wide.

Corbyn’s own speech denounced the Scottish National Party (SNP) for “Devolving austerity” by implementing Tory cuts singling out their recent budget, which saw £170 million being cut from local government. He also reminded delegates that in the independence referendum the SNP wanted a low tax Scotland to attract business investment. His warning that voters should “never again accept any moralising lectures from the Greens” who supported these cuts needs to be heeded south of the border.

The visiting Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, caused a stir. Before the conference he wrote in the Daily Record that: “There’s no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we’re English or Scottish and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background, race or religion.” As might be expected, those sensitive souls in the SNP complained that he was accusing them of being racist. Khan later backtracked, claiming that he was not saying that nationalists are somehow racist or bigoted, even though the nationalist response seems to suggest that he was correct in the first place.

Because everybody is against children living in poverty Ms Dugdale announced a plan to use the new powers of the Scottish Parliament to top-up child benefit by £240 in four years. Citing the Child Poverty Action Group, she said this would lift 18,000 children out of poverty in the first year alone, which means that only 202,000 would remain in poverty, according to official figures.