To be an official opposition, you must firstly oppose the government. The role of the opposition is to scrutinise the impact that the government’s policies are having on people and how it can be improved. RISE is the new left wing electoral alliance made up of supporters of the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Socialist Party that aims to be an alternative to neo-liberal politics in the Scottish Parliament. Despite this claim, their lack of opposition to the SNP is glaringly obvious almost immediately, given that the article written to announce RISE was emblazoned with a picture of SNP badges.
The SNP have been in power in Scotland for eight years now. As of the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, they will have been in power for nine years. That’s half as long as the Tories were in power before 1997. In that time, they have operated as a reasonably competent government, introducing popular policies such as free prescriptions. In Cat Boyd’s recent column in The National talking about the launch of RISE, she cited this as one of “The SNP’s most celebrated policies”. This was without any mention of some of the more questionable SNP policies such as the cuts to college funding or the ban on genetically modified crops.
In addition to celebrating SNP policies, it also appears that RISE is not willing to challenge the SNP in constituencies. Despite wanting to offer a change from neo-liberal policies, RISE actually advocates voting SNP in the constituency. The feeling that came from this article was that people should still vote SNP in constituencies, as opposed to another party.
The 2015 general election in Scotland was cited as “civic activism” where ordinary voters “threw off their apathy”. Whilst the turnout in Scotland was the highest it had been since 1997 at 71.1% of the total electorate, this was down from the referendum where the turnout was a remarkable 84.3%. This means that 13% of people who had voted in referendum, did not vote. Whilst we cannot tell the reasons for voting in the referendum, but not voting in the general election, the fact that less people voted in the general election than in the referendum is not quite the European revolutionary spirit that Cat Boyd was hoping for. In addition, Scotland lost principled socialist MPs such as Katy Clark in the general election. Losing socialists to nationalists who are quite hesitant to challenge their party is not a revolution.
Notably, Boyd fails to recognise the potential for socialism through the labour movement in this article. There appears to be a concerning absence of Jeremy Corbyn, who’s leadership campaign has taken him from being on 900/1 to win, to being bookies favourite in a matter of weeks and who is turning the Labour Party upside down. For years, we have been told that the Labour Party cannot change and is dying before our very eyes, but Corbyn is reinvigorating the party. Supporters and former members are returning in their droves because they feel that Jeremy Corbyn represents “real Labour”. Whilst the Scottish Left Project’s website does say there is a need for “something truly new and original” then surely a Labour Party led by Corbyn could be new and original?
Rise wants to be a party that speaks out against TTIP, fracking and unfair taxation. But Scottish Labour has already made a commitment not to allow TTIP in the NHS, a triple lock on fracking and are vocal critics of the unfair council tax freeze that means the most vulnerable who disproportionately use more public services are adversely affected.
For those in the Scottish Left Project/Rise who have been so opposed to Labour throughout the referendum, now is the chance to change it. Cat Boyd is right when she says we cannot forget the reasons that the Labour Party was founded: to represent the voice of working class people our trade unions and our history and, if Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader of the Labour Party, the Labour Party can surely return to being the voice of working class people and trade unions.
We cannot continue to define commitment to left wing politics on the basis of the stance taken on the referendum. It does a disservice to people in Scotland who are waiting longer at accident and emergency; who are putting their university courses on hold because of cuts to student grants and parents who are having their clothing grants cut due to local authority cuts. Given Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity across Britain, it strengthens the ability of Scottish Labour to become bolder and more radical. If RISE want to be seen as left wing challengers to the SNP, then they must criticise the SNP from the left and present a real challenge.