The quote (actually a misquote) attributed to Mark Twain that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated, could equally well apply to the Scottish Labour Left.
The vast majority of socialists in the Scottish Labour Party campaigned for and voted “no” in the referendum campaign. This in itself was enough for many in Left groups outside the party to consign it to the dustbin of history, rather perversely given the long anti-nationalist history of the socialist movement.
Of course, and here I have some sympathy, this sat alongside other accusations that the Scottish Labour Left had made little impact ideologically on the party, was numerically small, and showed little sign of challenging for the political leadership of the party any time soon.
On Saturday 25 October, all of that changed.
It wasn’t just that the room booked for the Campaign for Socialism’s post-referendum analysis in the STUC in Glasgow had standing room only; it was the renewed sense of purpose and commitment from so many of the speakers and participants.
First up among a high powered list of political, trade union and local council speakers were Elaine Smith and Neil Findlay, both MSPs.
Elaine Smith argued that the reason for Scottish Labour’s poor performance in its heartlands of Dundee, Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West Dumbarton was a lack of socialist analysis and socialist solutions.
“The root of the problem is class society; the root of the problem is inequality; the root of the problem is in-work poverty; the root of the problem is unemployment. The root of the problem is avaricious capitalism and our job and the job of the Labour Party, surely, is to root it out.”
Neil Findlay spoke next, suggesting in some detail how Scottish Labour might go about the tasks that Elaine Smith had outlined arguing that Scottish Labour had to commit to:
• a policy of full employment;
• establish a national house-building programme to build council houses and social housing on a grand scale;
• set up a living wage unit in the Scottish government that would use grants, procurement and every lever of government to raise the minimum wage to the living wage;
• re-democratise local government, financing services, freeing councils to set their own taxes again and be held to account for doing and so beginning to reverse the 40,000 job losses across Scottish councils;
• end the social care scandal by making social care a rewarding, fairly paid career and ending the indignity of short-timed care visits;
• create quality apprenticeships and new college places that set young people up for life and develop an industrial policy that promotes manufacturing and new sustainable jobs;
• undertake a wholesale review of the Scottish NHS — recruiting enough staff and rewarding them to ensure an NHS for the 21st century and ending the increasing spend on the private sector;
• and, finally, build a charter of workers’ rights and new legislation on equalities.
Neil Findlay’s contribution was all the more important given the announcement on the day before the conference that Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour Party had resigned, citing unacceptable interference from the UK Labour leadership, and ensuring a Scottish Labour leadership contest.
Neil Findlay has since announced his intention to stand for the vacant post allowing the Scottish Labour Left to test the support for a Left agenda in the wider party.
The anticipation of this challenge on 25 October generated considerable optimism.
This left programme is far from the Utopian promises of the Yes Left because it is actually deliverable and this Labour Left is far from a historical footnote. It may actually be on the verge of its most important hour.