The latest Red Paper seminar was held at the STUC in Glasgow today. Pauline Bryan outlined the purpose of the seminar was to influence the next Red Paper book on constitutional change.
Jackson Cullinane set out the background to the Red Paper in Scotland with a class not nationalist perspective on constitutional change. Stands proudly in the Home Rule tradition of the Labour Movement going back to Keir Hardie. He was critical of the Better Together campaign because it was perceived as supporting the status quo. Can agree with much of the Radical Independence vision, but that vision is not on offer. Independence will be defined by the SNP who are not offering a radical vision. He gave a range of examples including SNP MEPs voting against the Robin Hood Tax and opposition to an amnesty for striking miners.
Lynn Henderson set out the significance of the independence debate for her UK civil service members in PCS. Concerned about anti-English tone creeping into debate – little evidence that Scots are automatically more radical. Need to look at the UK consequences of the debate and break away from polarised debate. We should set out Labour Movement alternative, very different from Better Together approach, particularly the attack on universal public services. Independent Scotland as defined by the SNP is a business agenda and current actions in many policy fields are less than radical.
John Foster highlighted risks of the written constitution proposed by the SNP. It entrenches neo-liberal European Union constitution making it very difficult to adopt more radical approaches. Balance of economic power not in Scotland and that will not change in an independent Scotland. He focused on public and social ownership outlining the current concentration of means of production in a few hands. Challenge for Red Paper is to bring together forces of class and nation.
There were a range of contributions in the questions session. A common focus was the importance of devolution not stopping at Holyrood, given the increasing centralisation of services away from local government.
After the initial contributions and questions, participants broke into four workshops covering the the main sections on the next Red Paper book:
Economics of Social Progress
Democratic Control and Ownership
Changing the Balance of Class Forces
The Political Challenge
The plenary session focused on the political challenges.
Eric Shaw outlined the changes in voting patterns connected to societal change. However, he saw an opportunity to build a new community of interest across the public and private sector and between what he regards as an artificial middle and working class divide. Labour needs a long term strategy around the social democratic project, rather than simply short term reactions to SNP shortcomings.
Dave Moxham agreed that Labour needs to develop a new narrative to explain what it exists for. There needs to be new mechanisms that rewards the devolved administrations for initiatives that actually saves the UK government money. Examples include investment in new jobs and child care. On fiscal policy, Scottish Labour has to decide to what extent it wants to adopt policies in Scotland that are different to the UK. So many powers are already devolved but not understood or used. Powers to revitalise local democracy, land reform and gender disadvantage already here, but no political party appears willing to adopt policies on these issues.
Vince Mills tackled the different approaches on the left. An independent Scotland on the terms the SNP are proposing would make it even more difficult to achieve the five principles in the Radical Independence agenda. The power of capital rests in London and therefore outside the UK we give up any real chance of tackling that power. The track record of the SNP government on these issues gives no cause to believe they can be achieved in an independent Scotland.
In discussion speakers highlighted importance of getting the rest of the UK engaged in discussion around constitutional change. The Red Paper needs to be seen as part of a long term campaign to make the case for socialism not nationalism. We need to talk about issues that matter to working people.
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