The day after the cataclysm that took place on the 7th May I commented that Labour was "too far right for Scotland and too far left for England." That conclusion is still true as far as it goes, but it was based on a fact that I did not know at the time, which is that the Tories scored highly in the polls with people who voted, whereas Labour scored highest with people who didn't bother to go out and vote. To make matters even worse for Labour, turnout in Scotland was 71% compared to a national figure of just 66%, so it wasn't that the poor didn't vote, it was that the poor in England didn't vote compared to the well off in that country and the poor in Scotland. So let's look at why the Scottish poor turned out to see if any lessons can be learned for Labour from that fact.
It is a truism that when the future battles with the past, the future tends to win. People want a better life and the party that offers that to them will win their support, even if the better life will be at the end of a long road that will take many years to travel.
The SNP offer that better tomorrow via independence for Scotland. In the meantime, whilst we are all waiting for it to arrive, the party supports the benefit claimants. During last year's referendum campaign an army of young, socialist activists were knocking on doors throughout Scotland, telling people who had not voted for years that tomorrow would be brighter if only the country could throw off the dead weight of Tory England. The slogan "The Tories can have England, but Scotland's ours" resonated with a lot of people who had given up on politics. They registered to vote, cast their ballots last September, and then carried on voting in the recent general election. It was those people who turned out in their thousands to give Labour - or the Red Tory Party as it is now called in Scotland - a good electoral kicking.
Once upon a time Labour was very good at creating such hope, and its failure is in many ways due to its lack of belief in socialism as an ideal to aspire towards. Take the final paragraph of Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists as a case in point:
But from these ruins was surely growing the glorious fabric of the Co-operative Commonwealth. Mankind, awaking from the long night of bondage and mourning and arising from the dust wherein they had lain prone so long, were at last looking upward to the light that was riving asunder and dissolving the dark clouds which had so long concealed from them the face of heaven. The light that will shine upon the world wide Fatherland and illumine the gilded domes and glittering pinnacles of the beautiful cities of the future, where men shall dwell together in true brotherhood and goodwill and joy. The Golden Light that will be diffused throughout all the happy world from the rays of the risen sun of Socialism.
Could any of today's Labour people create such imagery? If they did, the scrawny titted feminists from the local new university would howl about the male centred wording, before the local homosexual brigade started whining about their exclusion from the imagery.
More importantly, today's Labour people cannot write as Tressell did because they don't believe in "the risen sun of socialism," even as an aspiration. Their party is now a managerial outfit which accepts the capitalist order and seeks to reward its pushy client base with goodies taken from that order's profits. So the feminists get this and the homosexualists get that, and here's something for the ethnics, and as for the working class, well they can have what's left, if they are lucky.
It is unlikely that Labour can ever change for the simple reason that the young graduates who provide what is laughingly called its intellectual stimulation are not connected in any way to the working class. They are the children of privilege and the working class exist only as a concept to them. In Scotland, the young radicals are likewise the products of the finer universities, but they also tend to be either unemployed or under-employed. Those graduates without a future tend to live in the poorer parts of every city so inhabit public spaces where they interact on a daily basis with the old working class. What you end up with is a bourgeois bubble in England such as Occupy, which has few if any links to the plebeian masses and Radical Independence in Scotland which does.
For Labour to mobilise the non-voters who helped the Tories gain power by their abstentions, it needs to have an army of activists that is comparable to Radical Independence. However, it cannot gain those activists because the ones that it already has tend to be people who have done well out of the changes that have occurred in England since 1979. Their objection is to one aspect of the capitalist order, not capitalism itself. In Scotland, the radical base is different, and is made up of people who are both well educated and are just as adrift economically as any old coal minor or shipyard worker.
Unless Labour can find a way to connect radical activism with the working class under the Labour banner, then the future for the party looks grim indeed.