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2 June 2010

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Minority representation in Scotland for Westminster coalition of cuts

The formation of the so-called "liberal - conservative" coalition will open up a period of instability and class conflict not seen in Britain for decades. In Scotland there is genuine anger that the Lib Dems have opened the gates to the "toxic Tories" - who again were driven to the margins of politics in Scotland.

Philip Stott

The Lib Dems will pay a huge price for this in Scotland and in many parts of England and Wales as well. Their membership will leave in their thousands as the character of this government becomes clear. Already there have been reports of resignations of party activists in protest.

A full coalition binding the Lib Dems closely to government responsibility was the next best alternative from the capitalists' point of view to a majority Tory administration. More than one-third of Liberal MPs have been given ministerial positions.

This is deliberately designed to make it more difficult for the Lib Dems to break from the coalition - and their ministerial perks and privileges. But they are likely to suffer the same fate as other capitalist coalition partners have in other parts of Europe, such as the Progressive Democrats and the Greens in Ireland and the Greens in Germany. All of whom have seen their support diminished, if not completely broken, as a result of taking part in governments that savagely attacked the working class.

The outcome of this election will lead, at a certain stage, to increased national tensions and will provoke a rise in demands for far-reaching constitutional change in Scotland - including increased demands for independence and a referendum.

In workplaces and communities across Scotland there is anger and resentment, much of that aimed at the Lib Dems, that the people of Scotland are saddled with a Tory government who could only secure one Tory MP out of the 59 elected in Scotland on 6 May. 85% of people voting in Scotland voted for "anyone but the Tories".

The widespread fear of a Tory government actually caused an increase in Labour's vote in Scotland as the mood of "lesser evilism" dominated the election. Labour won over one million votes which was 42% of the poll - an increase of over 2.5% compared to 2005, winning 41 MPs. This share of the vote compared to Labour's 29 % across the UK as a whole and 25% share of the poll in England.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) also suffered in this election. They had set a target of winning 20 MPs but in the end secured only six, losing Glasgow East to Labour, a seat they won in a byelection victory in 2008. Their 20% of the poll was a small increase of 2% and put the nationalists in second place ahead of the Lib Dems who won eleven seats with 16.5% of the vote.

The Westminster "coalition of cuts" only has 12 representatives in Scotland and 32% of the vote. While they hope that the eleven Lib Dem MPs will 'legitimise" their government in Scotland, in reality they will not be accepted as being representative. That feeling will increase dramatically over the next weeks and months as the savage cuts they plan begin to bite.

Calman commission

Cameron and Clegg have moved quickly to offer to carry out the conclusions of the Calman commission, which proposed to increase the powers of the Scottish parliament. They may well be forced to offer a Calman plus deal, involving more substantial fiscal measures in an attempt to placate the mood in Scotland. Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, has also offered to allow the SNP Scottish government to postpone until 2011 the 330 million in cuts planned for the Scottish budget for 2010-11.

The SNP have grabbed this offer with both hands; given there is an election for the Scottish parliament in May 2011. With Alex Salmond and the SNP being increasingly exposed as a government of cuts, they have put up no resistance, other than hot air, to the draconian austerity measures that are planned. Instead they have offered a "constructive working relationship" with the Tories and the Lib Dem coalition rather than preparing a campaign to resist the attacks that have already begun.

In an act of extreme irony, Labour in Scotland are already positioning themselves as a 'clean hands' alternative to the governments of cuts. Reduced to opposition at Westminster and at Holyrood, Labour's tactics will be to attack the SNP and the Tories/Lib Dem coalition and hope to win the Scottish election in May next year. And yet New Labour were the gatekeepers for the return of a Tory government.

After all it was Labour's own chancellor, Alistair Darling, who promised that if elected Labour's cuts would be "worse than those of Margaret Thatcher".

Some trade union leaders will still cling to Labour at all costs. Others like Unite general secretary candidate, Len McCluskey, has said Unite members will join the Labour Party to reclaim it. This is not likely to happen, or, if it does, it won't succeed in changing the direction of the capitalist Labour Party.

Modest votes

Under the conditions that prevailed in Scotland, the votes for the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (STUSC) were understandably modest. The overwhelming mood in working class areas was to stop the Tories at all costs. This made it difficult to convince people to vote for us, although there was widespread sympathy for our message that workers should not have to pay for a crisis we did not create.

The campaign spoke to over half a million people in Scotland in the ten seats that STUSC contested, warning of what was to come, whoever won the election. The turnouts at the public meetings were good and many new people looking to organise a fightback can be won to the socialist movement as a result.

Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow South West received the highest socialist vote in Scotland in winning 931 votes and 3% of the vote. Ray Gunnion, a member of the International Socialists and the Lanarkshire Socialist Alliance, won 609 votes in Motherwell and Wishaw, and polled the second highest socialist vote. Other members of the International Socialists who stood were Jim McFarlane in Dundee West (357 and 1%) and Brian Smith in Glasgow South (351 and 1%) and Gary Clark in East Edinburgh (274, 0.7%)

The International Socialists believe that these modest votes, and the votes won by TUSC in England and Wales are a step forward and should be built on. We support the idea that a TUSC type of coalition should be continued and used to help prepare a united left and trade union based challenge for the Scottish elections next May.

Alongside this however we need to build a coalition of resistance to the savagery that is being perpetrated by this vicious cuts government. As a first step the 22 June emergency Tory/Lib Dem budget should be met by trade union and community organised rallies in cities and towns across Scotland in protest against cuts and in defence of jobs and services. Members of the International Socialists in Scotland are helping to initiate these protests in union branches across the country.

A mass demonstration led by the trade unions and involving local communities needs to be organised. It's time that the TUC and the Scottish TUC called such a demonstration as part of a united campaign across the public sector. If they are not prepared to do so those unions that do want to organise a fight to stop the cuts should name the day for mass demonstrations.

Industrial action across the public sector unions, including preparing a 24 hour general strike will also be on the agenda at a certain stage.

It is vital that as part of this campaign a clear alternative to the logic of the cuts is put forward. Democratic public ownership of the banking system and the rest of the major companies that dominate the economy, taxing the rich and big business, cancellation of spending on nuclear weapons, can all form part of a socialist alternative to capitalism and the parties of cuts who defend that system.

The capitalists and their new Tory/Lib Dem government have declared war on working class people. We need to organise to fight these attacks and lay the basis for the building of a mass workers' party armed with socialist ideas that will challenge the logic of capitalism that says we should pay the price for their economic crisis.

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Leicester picket on the 21st strike day (22nd Feb) of around 7,000 British Gas engineers.  They are fighting against

Leicester picket on the 21st strike day (22nd Feb) of around 7,000 British Gas engineers. They are fighting against 'fire and rehire' - designed to worsen terms and conditions. Photo by Steve Score, Leicester Socialist Party

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