France: After election win, what course will Francois Hollande take?

 Murray Smith on the results of the French elections

Paris, France
Following on the victory of Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande in the May 6 French presidential election, legislative elections were held in two rounds on June 10 and 17. The results confirmed those of the presidential election, but with some particular features.

Only since 2002 have the presidential and legislative terms been harmonised. Previously the decision to hold legislative elections or not was the choice of an incoming president. Now it is automatic. This sequence tends to produce elections that are simply a prolongation of the presidential contest, leading to a marked bipolarisation. On one side there is a strong push to give the incoming president a majority. On the other side of the political spectrum there is a tendency to vote for the main opposition party to provide a counterweight. Other parties tend to be squeezed out in the process.

And that is what happened this time. Despite polls indicating that there would not be a big wave of support for the Socialist Party, there was. Not on the scale of the landslide that followed Francois Mitterrand’s victory in 1981, but substantial. The Socialist Party won a majority on its own, reinforced by a couple of small parties of fellow travelers and further amplified by its Green allies.

First round

Let us look at the first round of the legislative elections compared to the first round of the presidential election. First, the rate of abstention was much higher, as it now is for every election except the presidential; more than 42 per cent in the first round and more than 44 in the second (comparable figures for the two rounds presidential election were 18-20 per cent). So naturally, with one notable exception, every party’s support dropped in absolute terms, but not necessarily in percentage terms. The Socialist Party vote, at 7.6 million, was about three quarters of its vote on April 22. The conservative UMP vote was 7 million, compared to 9.75 million. In percentage terms the Socialist Party won 28.63% in the presidential election, 29.35% at the legislative elections. The percentages for the UMP were 27.18 and 27.12.

Things fared differently for the other parties. The far-right National Front vote fell from 6.4 million to 3.5 million, and from 17.9 per cent to 13.6. The Front de Gauche (Left Front) went from just under 4 million to 1.8 million and from 11.1 per cent to 6.9. Only 44 per cent of those who voted for the Left Front presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon on April 22 voted for the Left Front on June 10 (also, 5 per cent of Hollande’s voters did so).

As for the centre candidate, Francois Bayrou, who won more than 3 million votes at the presidential elections, his party, the MoDem, got less than half a million votes, and Bayrou himself lost his seat, a victim, according to his own admission, of his electorate not having followed him in his choice of voting for Hollande in the second round of the presidential election.

Greens

The exception was the Green party, EELV, but it is one of those exceptions that proves the rule. Its presidential candidate got a modest 2.95 per cent, 828,000 votes. But in the first round of the legislative election EELV won 1.4 million votes, 5.46 per cent. “Won” is perhaps the wrong word: “received” would be more appropriate. EELV got those votes and obtained 17 seats (as against four previously) because in 61 seats, as part of a political pact, the Socialist Party did not present a candidate. So EELV’s progress did not go against the grain of bipolarisation but was part of it: Greens were elected with Socialist votes, something which is very obvious when you see that EELV averaged got just 3.9 per cent in the seats where it was confronted with a Socialist candidate.

Left Front

The Left Front did not make any such deals with the Socialist Party. Negotiations to have a common candidate of the left in a few constituencies where the National Front posed a threat fell through because the Socialist Party did not want to stand down for Left Front candidates. So the traditional rule applied: if the Socialist Party got more votes than the Left Front in the first round, the Left Front candidate withdrew before the second round, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, the vice versa was not very widespread. Left Front candidates came first in 11 constituencies, and were beaten by the Socialist Party elsewhere and stood down. In the Saint Denis constituency, the long-standing MP refused to accept this rule, stood against the Socialist Party in the second round and lost. After the second round the Left Front had 10 MPs, as against 19 before the elections.

This was clearly not a good result, but it was not as bad as one might think by just looking at the seats lost. The only comparison is with the results of the Communist Party in the 2007 elections (before the Left Front was formed). That shows a gain of around 600,000 votes, which is not so bad. But the result came as a shock to the Left Front. It had been widely expected that, on the strength of the result of the presidential election, not only would it keep its seats but win more. The figure of 30 seats was considered a reasonable objective.

So what happened? In the first place there was what might be called the objective factor of bipolarisation. There was a strong drive by left voters to give Hollande a good working majority. Whereas, at the on April 22 first round of the presidential election 30 per cent of Hollande’s voters are estimated to have hesitated between him and Melenchon, 38 per cent of Melenchon’s voters voted Socialist Party on June 10. However, there were also weaknesses on the part of the Left Front.

In the presidential campaign, which was a national campaign par excellence, the difference in program between the Left Front and the Socialist Party was very clear. The legislative campaign was of course a national campaign, but it was also a sum of more than 500 local campaigns. And it appears that the central, national aspect was not sufficiently emphasised and that the case was not sufficiently made as to why it was necessary to have a strong group of Left Front MPs and not just a presidential majority in general.

This was particularly necessary given that the first measures of the Ayrault government (seehttp://links.org.au/node/2902) were well received on the left – 70 per cent of Left Front voters were fairly satisfied with them and 23 per cent very satisfied.

There has also been some criticism of the decision to stand Melenchon against Marine Le Pen in the North of France. In the event Melenchon came third in the first round, behind Le Pen and the Socialist Party candidate, and had to stand down. In fact he was not very far behind the Socialist, and actually ahead in the main town of the constituency. But a miss is as good as a mile. The criticism is that the ex-presidential candidate engaging in a duel with Le Pen encouraged the idea that the Left Front campaign was essentially anti-National Front, and not centred on the need for a strong force of the radical left in parliament. There is certainly something in that, but it should be emphasised that the choice was not taken by Melenchon individually, but collectively by the Left Front, after considering other options. In the second round the Socialist Party beat Le Pen by a handful of votes.

Distorted result

It should also be underlined that the electoral system, one of the most undemocratic in western Europe, completely distorts the relationship between votes and seats. With proportional representation the Communist Party (PCF) would have had 25 seats in 2007 and the Left Front 40 seats in 2012.  Today the Socialist Party would have less than a third of the seats in parliament, as against more than half.

When we look at the Left Front results in terms of votes the picture looks brighter. Compared to the PCF in 2007, the Left Front progressed in 90 per cent of the constituencies in metropolitan France. In 330 it scored more than 5 per cent (135 in 2007). In 69 constituencies the score of the Left Front was between 10 and 20 per cent (37 in 2007). In 26 out of the 95 departments in metropolitan France its score in 2012 was more than double that in 2007 and in eight it more than tripled. However, at the top end of the scale the number of constituencies where the score was over 20 per cent fell slightly from 23 to 20, thus not reversing a long-term trend.

As the historian Roger Martelli put it in an analysis of the first round, the foundations are becoming stronger, but the roof is fragile. You don’t need to be an architect to know that that’s better than the other way round (which was the tendency before). But that’s a long-term view and in the short term seats were lost. However, they were mostly narrowly lost — less than 5000 votes, distributed in the right places, would have secured six more MPs, mostly the sitting ones who were defeated despite their vote rising by between 2 and 4 per cent compared to 2007 – but the Socialist Party vote increased more.

Setback for right

The elections were a severe setback for the UMP, which lost 3 million votes and 119 seats compared to 2007, whereas the Socialist Party gained 1.2 million votes and 94 seats. The result has accentuated the crisis of orientation within the UMP, with some candidates, including prominent ones, openly courting the National Front, not usually successfully in terms of getting elected this time round. The (strong) current within the UMP that is closest to the ideas of the far right, the Popular Right, fared worse than the UMP as a whole, losing half its MPs.

The National Front made its entry into parliament for the first time since 1997. The defeat of Marine le Pen was a setback, but two MPs were elected, both in the south: Le Pen’s 22-year-old niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, and the lawyer Gilbert Collard, who is not a National Front member but part of Marine Le Pen’s “opening out” strategy and who may turn out to be a loose cannon. In the Provence-Cote d’Azur region, the Socialist Party president of the region won a narrow victory over the National Front candidate for whom the UMP candidate had stood aside. In spite of its overall drop in votes compared to the presidential election, in 33 constituencies the FN vote in the legislatives was higher.

Communist Party (PCF)

The biggest non-surprise in the aftermath of the second round was the decision of the PCF not to take part in the Socialist Party-led government. Whereas the other components of the Left Front had made it clear during the campaign that they would not go into government with the Socialist Party, the PCF had always said that it would take its decision after the second round. However it was pretty clear what the decision would be, for anyone listening to what PCF leaders were saying during the campaign. The Socialist Party was not going to modify its program to accommodate the Left Front, and the PCF was not going to go into government to apply the program of the Socialist Party. The only thing worth noting was the scale of the refusal.

At a PCF’s National Council meeting on June 18, a three-point resolution was adopted. The first point stressed the importance of taking political initiatives and mobilising to impose radical policies. Second, it was decided that the conditions did not exist for the PCF to take part in the government, though leaving open the possibility that these conditions could change in the future. Third, the continuation and reinforcement of the strategy of the Left Front was reaffirmed. The resolution was adopted by 93 for, 11 against and 17 abstentions. A consultative vote of party members in their branches on June 18-19 produced a majority of 93.44 per cent. The final decision was taken by 500 delegates at a national conference on June 20, with four against and 16 abstentions.

What course for Hollande?

The question that is posed now is what course will Francois Hollande and his government pursue? For the moment the answer is not absolutely clear. Of course Hollande will not pursue an anti-capitalist policy, no one expects him to. What he will do is less clear. It is quite clear what capital, in particular finance capital in France and internationally, wants him to do. He has to impose government spending cuts, drop any ideas of taxing the rich, carry out structural reforms, in particular reforms of the labour market that reduce workers’ rights, pension reform, reduction of the public sector. In other words the program that is advocated and pushed forward in Europe by the “Troika “of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, supported by the OECD and the whole panoply of employers’ organisations.

How is Hollande shaping up? Let us look first at the opinions of two eminent organs of finance capital, theEconomist and the Financial Times. The Financial Times says in its editorial of June 20: “The sweep of the National Assembly by Mr. Hollande’s Socialist Party should have marked an end to populist initiatives. So far it has not.” Let us note in passing the FT’s conception of democracy: get yourself elected and then forget your promises and fall into line. The editorial goes on to criticise Hollande’s idea of a (3 per cent ) tax on dividends, his failure to define spending cuts, and so on.

The Economist is much more forthright. In an editorial titled “Powerful as well as dangerous” (a reference to its April 28 front page, “The rather dangerous Monsieur Hollande”, see http://links.org.au/node/2902). The sub-heading was “Investors beware; Francois Hollande is set to take France in the wrong direction even faster than you feared”.

The editorial has a reasonably good word for Hollande’s 120 billion euro European growth pact, also backed by Italy and Spain. It might have complimented him for joining in the chorus of advice to the Greeks to vote responsibly on June 17 and his expression of satisfaction when they did. But the Economist’s preoccupations are elsewhere. The editorial states: “Mr Hollande will start by cutting the retirement age for some workers to 60, putting the top marginal income-tax rate up to 75%, raising taxes on wealth, inheritance and dividends, increasing the minimum wage and making it much harder for employers to fire workers. Far from curbing the size of the public sector, at 56% of GDP the biggest in the euro zone, he seems likely to expand it. With these policies he is acting against the grain of change in the rest of the EU. This will do nothing to improve France’s competitiveness which, as its gaping trade deficit shows, has declined fast. Nor will it make the business climate any friendlier”.

In an article in the same issue, we read: “So it has been hard to distinguish what part of his speechifying—calling ‘the world of finance’ his main enemy or the rich ‘grasping and arrogant’—has been purely electoral. Now he will be forced into real choices. For he has, in effect, campaigned with two contradictory messages: a pledge to keep to France’s commitment to bring down the budget deficit to 3% next year (and to eliminate it by 2017), and a promise to increase benefits and fight austerity in Europe.

“Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, has insisted that France would meet its targets ‘without austerity’. The government plans some immediate fiscal changes on July 4th, a day after Jean-Marc Ayrault, the prime minister, outlines his legislative plans to parliament. They will include a vast array of tax rises—on the annual wealth tax, companies, oil firms, financial transactions and inheritance—focused on the rich and on business. There may be an extra 3% dividend tax to be paid by companies. Mr. Sarkozy’s planned VAT increase will be abolished. Further tax rises are expected in the full 2013 budget, due in September, including a new top rate of income tax of 75% on incomes over €1m.

“The government is ducking an even more crucial issue: France’s loss of competitiveness inside the euro zone. In an unusually blunt outburst this week, Laurence Parisot, head of Medef, the employers’ federation, said that she feared the ‘strangling’ of companies. Besides tax rises, there are plans to tighten redundancy rules for profitable firms and to raise the minimum wage. When David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, said cheekily that he would ‘roll out the red carpet’ to French firms seeking to flee, the Socialists dismissed it as cross-channel rivalry. The real danger of Mr Hollande’s plans has yet to sink in”.

The Financial Times wrote on June 18: “Potential deep cuts in France’s huge public spending bill will have to be made in the 2013 budget. But the new government has avoided any detail on this highly sensitive issue until it has safely negotiated the elections. It has indicated it will resist calls from the European Commission and others for structural reforms and deregulation, preferring instead to toughen employment protection legislation.”

The Economist editorial concludes: “In the end Mr Hollande will meet reality, just as Mitterrand did. A weakened France has no alternative but to embrace structural reforms and liberalise its economy. And it will surely take less than the two years Mitterrand had before changing course. In the meantime a powerful President Hollande could wreak much damage on his country.”

The reason for such long quotes is that they sum up very well the opinion of the ruling class, in France and internationally, about the Hollande presidency. They have expressed such criticism and disquiet before during and after the electoral sequence. Theirs fears may be exaggerated: if we were to go through the measures over which they express outrage, we would find that they are in most cases not as radical as they seem to believe. However, there is a problem, which can be summed up by the Economist’s sentence, “With these policies he is acting against the grain of change in the rest of the EU”. It does seem that Hollande would prefer to reduce the deficit by taxation rather than cuts, that he is not enthusiastic about cutting the public sector, or about the much-demanded structural reforms.

The problem is that “the grain of change in the rest of the EU” is not some general tendency, it is a clear, well-defined policy imposed by European institutions, by the IMF, by Germany and its allies. If it is not frontally opposed, it will over-determine national politics. Hollande can only give himself room for manoeuvre to apply heterodox policies in France if he is prepared to take on those forces, to engage in a real battle with them. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely. But there will very soon be a test, at the EU summit on June 28-29.

Fiscal pact

In a preparatory meeting of the “big four” of the euro zone (Germany, France, Italy, Spain) on June 22 Hollande got agreement  on the ”growth package” of 120 billion euros, most of it not new money. But Merkel did not budge on anything substantial. The real test will come at the summit. In fact, among Hollande’s promises there is one that could be explosive, if he keeps it – his promise to renegotiate the fiscal pact, which Merkel and her allies refuse. If France then refused to ratify it, the whole project would be holed below the water line. If Hollande dug his heels in on that and furthermore demanded serious changes in the Greek bail-out conditions, that would be a real breach in the wall of austerity. If he accepts the fiscal pact, claiming the growth package as a victory and then France ratifies it, he will have placed himself on the defensive, and he will have great difficulty maintaining any independence in terms of his policies in France.

In any case, we will soon have some indications as to where Hollande is going. First of all at the EU summit, then with the report by the Cour des Comptes on France’s public finances, then the presentations of the legislative program, then the summit between the government, the employers and the unions.

To come back to the conclusion of the Economist’s editorial, it is certain that Hollande will meet reality; indeed he is already meeting it. It is also true that he will have less time than Mitterrand. He may resist the idea that “France has no alternative but to embrace structural reforms and liberalise its economy” and fight what would probably be a rearguard action. Or he may, more or less quickly, just cave in.

Whatever course Hollande pursues, the analogy with Mitterrand has its limits. When Mitterrand did his U-turn in 1983, there was no serious challenge from the left. The Communist Party was still in the government and the reaction among those who had put the left in power in 1981 was one of disillusion and disorientation. There were some defensive battles, against the destruction of the steel industry in 1984, for example, but no coherent fightback.

Since then people have learned, for example under the Jospin government, that sometimes you have to fight back against a left government. And there is today in the Left Front a credible political force that is outside and independent of the government. It may be a case of supporting measures of the Socialist Party government that go in the right direction and trying to make further advances. Or it may be a case of opposing austerity measures and reforms that “go with the grain of change in the rest of the EU”. But the opposition will now come not on the electoral terrain but from popular mobilisations. In that context, the links that have been established or re-established in the last period between political and trade-union activists will be invaluable.

Murray Smith is a member of the anti-capitalist party Dei Lenk (The Left) in Luxembourg.

This article originally published in Links magazine and reproduced with the permission of the author.

Left far behind at the polls – again

Gregor Gall looks at the council elections across England and Scotland of May 2012

polling station by secretlondon on flickr
Image by secretlondon on flickr

Left far behind at the polls – that is the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the latest outing of the political formations to the left of Labour in local May 2012 elections. Despite the age of austerity and workers paying for a crisis not of their own making, the radical left could not make any hay out of the situation.

This is not only desperately bad but desperately frustrating. And, given that the crisis has being going on since 2008, it is a little too late to talk of any sense of putting down markers for the future. The radical left should already have been put down, especially as the future is here and now.

Bradford Spring

Beforehand, there was much hope that the ripples of the Bradford spring – following Galloway’s victory in the parliamentary by-election – would wash out to elsewhere. No such effect was discernible other than in Bradford where Respect won five council seats. Indeed, Respect barely stood anywhere else and without any candidates being elected. Its old heartland of the east end of London has withered on the vine.

Other than three individual successes for the radical left in Preston (Michael Lavalette TUSC), West Dunbartonshire (Jim Bollan SSP) and Walsall (Peter Smith Democratic Labour Party), the election was a wipe out. Even worse was that former MP, Dave Nellist, lost his seat in Coventry after fourteen years as a sitting councillor.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), standing 134 candidates in 133 wards in England and Wales, received just 21,046 votes. Eighty of its candidates got less than 5% of the share of the vote and only ten got more than 10%. Tony Mulhearn’s candidature in the Liverpool mayoral contest received 5,000 votes. In the Greater London Assembly elections, TUSC gained just 17,686 while UKIP, the BNP and National Front collectively gained 155,000 votes.

Scotland Votes

Meanwhile in Scotland, TUSC’s sister organisation, the Scottish Anti-Cuts Alliance stood in 38 areas, receiving a paltry 3,200 first preference votes. This included the 472 votes for Gail Sheridan who came fifth. The Scottish Socialist Party, standing in 31 areas, did not much – but a little – better with 4,185 first preference votes

Pointing out the odd good vote in Glasgow, Barnsley, Cambridge, Salford, Sheffield, Lewisham and so on does not change the dimensions of how bad the situation actually is.

Credibility Gap

So what explains the pitiful outcome of this latest electoral outcome for the radical left, and especially when things are so different in Greece, Portugal, Germany and France? In one word: credibility.

It was not the lack of the right political programme or set of policies or election manifestos that has any bearing on the situation. The difference between wanting to fight most of the cuts and all the cuts would be lost on anyone but the most vigilant voter.

But it was the credibility of the programme, policies and manifestos – as well as the organisations and individuals who authored them – that explains the gap between the widespread anger and the lowly number of votes.

Building Profile

Put very simply and bluntly, no one on the radical left can hope to stand in an election and get elected – let alone just do well – by running an election campaign that lasts for a matter of weeks or a few months in the run up to the election.

To have any chance of doing well, candidates and their organisations must have a widely-known and high-profile track record of effective and successful campaigning. The organisations must exist in a genuine sense between the elections, not just being dusted off a few weeks or months before the election (and since the last time).

Exceptions

Of course, there is an exception to every rule. This exception is one George Galloway. But he is actually the exception that proves the rule. His election campaign started just weeks before the vote but because of who he is – rather than just what he was saying – he was able to tap into a series of networks as Helen Pidd’s reporting in the Guardian made clear. Galloway’s credibility allowed him to speak to people who normally would shut their eyes and ears off to such a radical message.

And, of course, it has taken Galloway years of high-profile activity to be able to stand as a candidate from outside of the mainstream parties and beat them at their own game. This was true with the rise of Respect and his election in 2005 to the Bethnal Green and Bow seat in London.

The only other exception is recent times has been the Scottish Socialist Party from 1999 to 2004 under the leadership of Tommy Sheridan. His and the SSP’s prominence were built on the back of not just the anti-poll tax revolt but all the campaigns since them.

Long journeys start with small footsteps but the radical left should already have been in a position of being ready for lift off on 3 May 2012.

Professor Gregor Gall, University of Hertfordshire and Edinburgh resident

Both Sides the Tweed

Both Sides the Tweed

What’s the spring-breathing jasmine and rose ?
What’s the summer with all its gay train
Or the splendour of autumn to those
Who’ve bartered their freedom for gain?

 Chorus: Let the love of our land’s sacred rights

To the love of our people succeed
Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.

No sweetness the senses can cheer
Which corruption and bribery bind
No brightness that gloom can e’er clear
For honour’s the sum of the mind

Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Think them poorest who can be a slave
Them richest who dare to be free

Bill Scott on a folk classic with a little known literary origin – a stirring, beautiful song about events of over three hundred years ago, written by two of our most talented artists, whose lyrics and sentiments are exceptionally relevant to the campaign for Independence today.

James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd

Image: shirokazan on flickr

“Both Sides the Tweed” made its first known appearance in “Hogg’s Jacobite Reliques” published in 1819.  James Hogg (1770 -1835) himself was born into rural poverty in the Borders of Scotland. He worked as a shepherd until he discovered the works of Robert Burns. Thereafter he began writing poetry in emulation of his literary hero. Taken up, like Burns, by the Scottish intelligentsia, Hogg won a contemporary fame as a poet and essayist (with Blackwood’s Magazine) that rivalled that attained earlier by Burns himself.

James Hogg

Whilst his fame as a poet has dimmed Hogg retains a place amongst Scotland’s literary giants as the author of the novel, “Confessions of a Justified Sinner”.  A magnificent, modernistic novel on the duality of “Man” (humanity) and the hypocrisy of Calvinism it is a must read to this day for anyone who wants to understand Scotland’s collective psychology.

In 1817 Hogg was commissioned by the Highland Society of London to collect songs relating to the Jacobite period (1689 to 1746) of Scottish history. He collected many great songs from the rural poor that he knew so well and also included songs earlier collected and/or written by Burns (such as “Ye Jacobites by Name”). However it is widely suspected that several of the songs in the Jacobite Reliques were not collected at all but instead written by Hogg himself. One of those songs was “Both Sides the Tweed” whose lyrics refer to the events leading up to the Act of Union in 1707.

As folk singer and songwriter Dick Gaughan has said the song has, “Hogg’s fingerprints all over it”.  The song asks if any real beauty and honest sentiment can truly be experienced in a land where corruption has been allowed to flourish and steal its people’s liberty.

Union and Scotland’s Parcel of Rogues

When political union of Scotland & England was proposed by the English Parliament in 1706  there was massive opposition from Scotland’s ordinary folk. Every one of Scotland’s burghs opposed union; the Church of Scotland and Scotland’s legal profession opposed it; there were near daily demonstrations and disturbances in the streets of the capital in opposition to it and Glasgow’s citizens rose in spontaneous armed rebellion.  Two groups until then inimically opposed, on political and religious grounds, Highland Jacobites and Lowland Covenanters, also found common cause in opposing Union.

Initially there was also a substantial majority against Union in Scotland’s Parliament.  But Scotland’s aristocracy and mercantile classes, having lost massive amounts of capital in the “Darien Disaster” (Scotland’s attempt to establish a colony in Central America), were open to persuasion. Eventually a majority were bought by the promise of having their Darien debts paid off. Thus despite massive public opposition the Act of Union was signed and passed.

So corruption and political preference was at the heart of Union from the outset.  This meant that after Union was achieved the Scots ruling class and politicians were held in contempt, on the grounds of their corruptibility, by the very same English ruling class that had bribed them! As Hogg saw it the only way that mutual respect between the peoples of England and Scotland could be restored was through achieving Scotland’s freedom, and thus equal standing, with our neighbours south of the Tweed.

A Classic Collection

Hogg’s collection of songs was popular when published and preserved many fine folk songs for later generations. When the Scottish Folk revival came along in the 1960s the Reliques were raided for material and songs like “Cam Ye Ower Fae France” and “A Parcel of Rogues” were recorded and given a new lease of life by the Corries and others. However “Both Sides the Tweed” lay unused until 1979.

The Folk revival was part of a rediscovery of Scottish culture and national identity that also took a political form at the polls. Following the 1974 election and the SNP’s greatest electoral success, thus far, the Scottish Labour Party rediscovered its commitment to a national parliament for Scotland.  This was something it had adopted as a policy some 60 odd years earlier but had done precisely nothing to implement in the intervening years – until the success of the SNP forced its hand.

But the sop granted was a grudging one and a 40% threshold was set for the referendum which meant that although a majority voted in favour of establishing an Assembly the dead and those who did not vote were counted alongside NO voters to deny the Scots’ electorate’s will.

 Gaughan and the referendum

In the aftermath of the referendum, perhaps our greatest modern folksinger/songwriter, Dick Gaughan, looking for a way of expressing his frustration at Scotland being cheated out of its own Parliament rediscovered “Both Sides the Tweed”.  It encapsulated both his anger at the continuing perfidy of Scots politicians (Labour and Tory in this case) but also his view that support for self-rule should not be confused with hatred for the English people.

Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.

 Dick made a few small changes to the lyrics and wrote a new and beautiful melody for the song.  It was then included in Gaughan’s album, “A Handful of Earth”. The song has since been covered by Capercaillie and Mary Black  amongst many others.

So the song recalls two seminal moments in Scottish history – the ending of Scottish independence with the passage of the Act of Union and the denial of the Scottish people’s will in the 1979 Assembly Referendum. But it also looks forward to that day when we will rediscover our own self-worth (“For honour’s the sum of the mind”) by achieving independence once more.

Hogg’s last verse echoes the sentiments of his hero Burns’ great hymn to international brotherhood, “For A’ That”.  Virtue and honour are not to be found in riches but in the courage of those who fight for freedom.  Not bad watchwords for Scottish socialists as we enter the independence campaign.

Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Think them poorest who can be a slave
Them richest who dare to be free

The Left Road to Scottish Independence

Sandra Webster, co-convenor of the Scottish Socialist Party, looks at the launch of the campaign for Scottish Independence and asks how socialists can make a difference.

Yes Campaign Launch
Launch of Yes for Scotland campaign. Image: (c) Craig Maclean.

With the launch of the YES campaign in May 2012, the clock has now started ticking towards an Independence vote in June 2014. In these early days it is crucial that as voices from the left in Scottish Politics we have a duty to clearly explain to the Scottish people the benefits an independent Scotland will have for them over the current union with with England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Westminster politics.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

Some politicians are keen to emphasise that the morning after the referendum nothing will change. We will wake up having decided to vote for independence with nothing having changed. We will still be subjects of good Queen Bess but she will now be Queen Of Scots. All that will be different is we will have autonomy over our political and economic affairs, (well up to a degree anyhow). This position is an example of how politicians think ordinary people cannot understand or desire a different society. If they want an Independent Scotland that is just the same why not stick with the status quo? Politicians can only persuade the voters if they offer a new vision of Scotland which will improve all our citizen’s lives.

Democracy in a peoples’ republic would not be a vote every five years, but a continuous process of engagement and accountability punctuated by electing members of parliament and local government.

ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP

The position of being an active citizen in a people’s republic is much more of an active role than that of a passive citizen. Citizens participate in the vision of how their country looks. It is a bottom up movement, not just dictates from a few who currently hold power. It is a challenge to all and means a proper dialogue and a way of ensuring more voices are heard not just those with the ability to shout loudest but the groups who are currently marginalised and with more barriers challenging them to be more fairly represented.

THE CHALLENGE TO THE LEFT

As a member of the SSP and along with my socialist comrades, we all strive for that vision of Scotland. We want a kinder, fairer society where an accident of birth no longer determines your status in society. We want a society where we don’t need people to look up to and defer to and where our worth is not determined by our economic worth but the contribution we make to society; whether that be a highly paid hospital consultant, a cleaner who keeps our wards hygienic, or a parent who stays at home to support their children or looks after a relative with a chronic illness. Our challenge then is to sell our vision, get into communities and let them know that Independence is about them and for a purpose.

TARGETING NON VOTERS

We are used to being among groups of people who are passionate about their politics and have probably made up their minds whether to vote Yes or even No. However we must remember the low turnouts in elections in Scotland and the rest of the UK. The simple truth is how do we persuade the over fifty percent of the registered electorate to even vote let alone vote Yes? As people of the left in touch with communities we need to take the arguments to people where they live and work not just assume that because of the high profile the Vote Yes campaign will have they feel they have the enfranchisement to do so.

Reaching Out

Historically our message and support has been to working class communities. We supported the miner’s strike, we campaigned against the poll tax. We are involved in campaigns such as school and hospital closures and fuel poverty and the Welfare Reform Act. We can with our ordinary work, spread the word that although Independence is not a panacea, it is the start of a debate about how we can create a different kind of society.

Dare To Be Different

From conversations I am having with people not normally involved in politics, I know the message that something better change is not enough for them. They are asking difficult questions about the economy, spending on the most vulnerable, the monarchy, the left. People don’t want just the vision of a Scotland on a shortbread tin. The SNP may say they are the only party to represent Scotland, but as voices of the left we have to ensure that people know that the Scotland some of them promote can be radically different – a people’s republic.

A Positive Message

The No Brigade have already begun to spread their message. It is evident that they are going to use scaremongering techniques playing on people’s concerns. Propaganda will represent an Independent Scotland as a weaker divided nation like a rowing boat on a sea of recession, facing insurmountable challenges. Their message is of “Rule Britannia”, us all cosily tucked up in a double bed of red, white and blue union jacks. Labour, the Liberal democrats and the Tories all in this together? Strange bedfellows indeed. We have to challenge their criticisms with our intelligent rhetoric and be positive. Let people realise the real reasons they are so concerned with the dissolution of the Act Of Union. It is not about their concerns for us, but for the greater good of those already in positions of power.

The Left and Campaigns

The YES campaign has been launched. It is all shiny and new and very optimistic. I was at its launch and was worried about the narrow spectrum of society represented. It has the huge political apparatus of the SNP party political machine behind it. However it’s message is one that it does not belong to any any political party. I also attended the first organizing campaign of the Radical Independence movement. I was enthused by the large turn out and the energy and optimism of everyone presented. At my workshop about equalities there was a genuine desire to include as many people as possible. We should be behind both of these groups. I look forward to the Radical Independence as a time for people coming together with visions of a new Scotland opposed to that of the negativity of the Unionist parties. We should also be involved in the YES campaign and use it to highlight the message and the reality of an Independent, Socialist Scotland.

We need to talk about Scotland

As comrades we have common values, I’m biased of course, but think we are the kindest people in the world. I know I always have my comrades at my back to support me. Of course we have our differences and these can’t be forgotten but we have a shared vision of an Independent Scotland. As a member of the SSP I will be working with my party up to 2014 never forgetting who we are and what we believe in. Lets ensure that our message is heard and not diluted. We have been campaigning for Independence from the very beginnings of our party. Let’s not allow the Unionists to throw mud in our direction which they will be doing at every opportunity as the greens found to their cost last weekend. We need to be positive about our message about our nation.

A Shared Vision

So let’s not pretend to the people of our nation that we’ll get independence first and work out the finer details later. Let’s lay out our strategy and vision of Scotland. It’s a beautiful one and one with much to offer ordinary people. Let’s make it a people’s republic where all are equal. Let’s dare to make a radical change. Let’s remind people that Salmond promised a Nuclear Free Scotland and hold him accountable. Most of all lets hold ourselves accountable.

The Road Ahead

The next few years with the lead up are going to be challenging ones for us all. Cuts to services are going to have an impact on all our lives. The Unionists will blame the Scottish government for cuts to budgets saying imagine how bad it will be under Independence. On the other hand the SNP will lay the blame at Westminster. They have no duty of care to those most affected. Let’s remember who we represent and always be on the side of those who need us most.

Looking Ahead

I describe myself as a Feminist, Socialist and Republican. These are ways I have labelled myself and I am proud of them. Although we all describe ourselves in different ways. I hope we can remember the commonality we have and move towards the referendum with a positivity and an knowledge that independence is the best choice for our nation. We on the left carry our red banners with pride let’s carry an optimism about an independent Scotland in our hearts too and a message that will ensure more voices have the confidence to vote YES in the 2014 referendum.

Editorial: Angry Europe

Επίσκεψη Αλέξη Τσίπρα στην Κομοτηνή

Greece went back to the polls in June 2012, following the election six weeks earlier which had failed to produce a government. There was one fundamental divide between the parties, and one fundamental issue faced by the Greek voters. That was, whether to back the austerity deal being imposed by European leaders to bail out Greece and remain, for a while at least, in the Eurozone or to reject the deal and, in all probability, exit the Eurozone and return to the Drachma.

The bourgeois parties led by New Democracy and with the support of the one-time socialist party PASOK fought to save the deal they had brokered. The right dominated the media and pushed a consistent message that exit from the euro would be even worse for Greece than austerity.

Austerity

Millions of Greek workers however knew that austerity was already a disaster. Unemployment has soared. The state has laid off tens of thousands of workers and private businesses were failing daily. Soup kitchens saw their queue’s lengthen and funding for essential services has dried up. Even the very sick could not obtain essential medicines as the state was no longer able to pay its bills. How much worse could it be?

The attention of the world was focused onGreece, a Greek exit could have brought the euro down, with the bigger economies ofSpainandItalynext in focus. In the end Angela Merkel and David Cameron could breathe a temporary sigh of relief.  The right won the election by just a few percentage points.

Greek Left

There were four main groups on the left who went into the Greek election. SYRIZA, the KKE, the Democratic Left and ANTARSYA. SYRIZA are a coalition of different left groups launched in 2004, the biggest component of which is the former euro-communist party Synaspismos. They have performed modestly in elections since their formation, typical of many groups of the European socialist left they did not receive more than 6% of the vote until 2012. The May election saw them achieve 16.78% which soared to 26.89% in June. This result meant that they were only a few percentage points away from being the biggest party, which would give them a fifty seat bonus and most probably power. In itself this is a remarkable achievement. It represents primarily the rejection of Pasok by the large sections of the working class who faced poverty, who could no longer stomach austerity and who rejected the loss of Greek sovereignty.

Syriza siphoned the votes of the other left parties with the KKE (old-style Moscow Communist Party) vote clearly dropping in favour of Syriza. Antarsya, a grouping of the anti-capitalist left saw their vote reduce to a few thousand. But perhaps the most significant result was that the overall vote saw parties that rejected the bailout in the majority. It will be difficult for the ND/Pasok/Democratic Left government to claim a mandate and they face a tough ride.Europehas shown little indication that there can be any renegotiation of the bailout deal. If the left can mobilise on the streets in a united way then a new and decisive round of battle can begin.

The stakes are high. Racist groups are on the rise, with the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party winning 21 seats in the June election. This group have carried out attacks on immigrants and political opponents across Greece, in one incident a KKE councillor was severely beaten. Golden Dawn have attacked refugee camps and threatened to drag immigrant children from hospitals.

Euro Failure

The victory for the right in Greece therefore means that the end of the euro is back to its old agenda. The economic problems of Spain, Italy, Ireland and Portugal have not changed. In this issue of Frontline we look at the rise of resistance to austerity among the indignados in pain, a country where youth unemployment now sits at more than fifty percent. Spain now has borrowing costs which are at a 16 year high and their banks have asked for a bailout of 19 million euros, although they may need more than 62 billion euros.

The banks need huge injections of liquidity but these come at a political price. German voters are turning against bailouts. So too, would bank nationalisations – anathema to the neo-liberals of Berlin and Brussels.

The single European currency was a key policy for the European elite. It aimed to create a powerful trading bloc to compete internationally and maintain profits. With their project facing meltdown that elite may have to look at more drastic action. A form of fiscal union has been suggested as the model of multiple diverging economies under a single currency has not worked. Another possibility is a ‘northern eurozone’, essentially cutting adrift the weaker economies such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland.

New Ways

Capitalism has clearly shown that it is not capable of solving the problems of humanity. It fails to provide a living for millions whilst concentrating wealth in the hands of a tiny minority, the much discussed one percent. Now millions acrossEuropeare turning the tide. The youth and the miners in Spain are part of this. The rise of the left in France is also an important part with the vote for the Left Party and the defeat of the right. The immense steps forward by the Marxist left in Greece too are an inspiration to socialists across Europe. Each of these are taking their own paths, and they are not the party-building methods of the past.

We have an opportunity to move forward even here in Northern Europe. But socialists in Scotland and the rest of Britain may need to learn the lessons that the old movements and parties need to recognise and work with the new movements, the young people in anti-cuts groups, pro-independence groups, the occupiers and tax campaigners. If they don’t learn that lesson they may find themselves left behind.