Co-op Party Chair breakfast bombshell for Labour delegates

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  By Ken Ferguson
 
Whether New Labour croissants or the more traditional cooked fare, Labour delegates to their Inverness conference had some indigestible breakfast reading in Scotland on Sunday with the news that Co-op party chair Mary Lockhart intends to vote YES in next year’s referendum.
 
A Labour stalwart and supporter of the left wing Campaign for Socialism pressure group which presents – sometimes with some intellectual arrogance – the case for voting No and seeking an increasingly illusory British Road to Socialism, her decision is a blow for Labour but will be particularly stinging for the small, forces of the CFS.

Traditionally the Co-op Party although independent, has been a close ally of Labour often sponsoring joint Labour and Co-op MPs for example.

Ms Lockhart’s decision is the latest in a series which has seen former prominent Labour figures underline their support for independence including Dennis Canavan who now chairs the YES campaign, former Dundee MP and MSP John McAllion and Dundee University rector Brian Cox, and reflects a gathering trend in the Labour movement.

Plenty of evidence for this could be found in the coffee bars at the STUC’s congress in Perth last week.  Indeed one seasoned STUC watcher I spoke to said that union leaders are “between a rock and a hard place” with their own desire to remain loyal to Labour increasingly questioned by a rank and file considering a YES vote.

Much of this sentiment is fed by the simple fact that Labour has not delivered on the unions’ agenda and in particular with any move to repeal anti-trade union laws.  The fact that in 13 years of majority Blair/Brown government nothing was done on these laws (Blair even boasted about them) is a deep sore in union/Labour relations.

This was spotlighted at a YES fringe meeting at the Perth congress by Dennis Canavan who suggested that delegates look at their agenda and the policy decisions and ask how much a London government would deliver.

The implication that the answer would be very little went unchallenged.

It is this context that the growth of groups such as Labour for Independence and Trade Unionists for Independence both with left wing demands for a post YES vote Scotland has to be has to be viewed and reflects a growing trend in the wider Labour movement.

Many traditional Labour supporters are very uneasy about getting into bed with welfare slashing Tories and Lib Dems under the scandal hit ‘Better Together’ campaign umbrella and are increasingly restive with Labour home counties driven fear of the unions.

Indeed again at Perth it was clear that if the YES campaign could persuade the SNP government to move on backing a measure of repeal of the anti union laws which have marginalised union solidarity, this one move would be a significant game changer.

For the small group of pro British socialists grouped around the Campaign for Socialism, the Red Paper Collective and the Morning Star, the fact is that it would be difficult to conceive of any configuration of forces that would form a UK government which would be even mildly supportive of their socialist aspirations.

In contrast on the pro-independence side, progressive parties such as the Scottish Socialist and Scottish Greens alongside campaigns such as Scottish CND and the Radical Independence Campaign offer a glimpse of a potentially powerful left current in any post YES Scotland.

Increasingly on the left of the independence debate the No supporters are hamstrung by the rightward stance of all the No parties including Labour while left ideas are alive and growing in the YES camp.