By 1987 the Labour party was deeply entrenched into every part of the Scottish political system. Labour had 50 of Scotland’s 72 MPs compared to the SNPs 3, 545 local council seats to the SNPs 59 and 223 regional council seats to the SNPs 36. In fact these figures do not do justice to the scale of the SNP defeat. Conservatives, Liberals and Independents all had more votes and elected representatives than the SNP. Labour presided over a country where it was the massively dominant force and its hated enemy the SNP was almost non-existent.
In the 1970s the Labour party had been bitter about relying on the SNP to stay in power in Westminster. Yet, the apparent destruction of the Nats in the 1980s did nothing to ease that bitterness. If anything hatred of the ‘Tartan Tories’ intensified; the narrative of social justice increasingly became secondary to a victim narrative which claimed that the nationalists had destroyed the last Labour government and helped Thatcher into power. It was a simplistic yet effective piece of propaganda. Labour had been badly bruised by its own divisions over home rule in the seventies and by its inability to protect traditional Scottish industries in the 1980s: hatred of the nationalist became a unifying salve.
Fear of losing power in Scotland brought with it an unforeseen consequence; Labour began to believe in its own absolute right to control Scotland, dissent was seen as dangerous and would not be tolerated within the party or within its working class heartlands. Labour controlled the local councils that employed working class people, many of whom also lived in council houses. Labour councillors used their influence over homes and wages to bolster support and threaten dissenting voices. Other tools to maintaining power included supporting sectarian divisions to maintain blocks of power throughout Scotland. With control maintained by any means, Labour members were free to use their influence to peddle deals over land and housing, and jet off to holiday junkets in warm climes – with little, if any, critical response from Scotland’s media. The joke in Glasgow was that if labour councillors returned from Hawaii wearing suntans and hoola hoola skirts, the glasgow press would praise them for the efforts they were taking to boost jobs, health and local government. Doubtless Moscovites made the same jokes about Pravda.
Convulsed by its own infighting and reduced to the role of Joker in the body politic of Scotland, the SNP still posed some very difficult questions for Labour. With so many MPs why was the labour party not doing more to defend the people of Scotland against Tory policies? How could Labour accept the legitimacy of Tory rule over Scotland when it had dismissed the democratic vote of Scotland in 1979? The SNP jibed that Labour MPs in Scotland were the ‘fifty fearties’. The jibe soon become more than an irritating insult. In the local council elections of 1988 the SNP doubled its number of seats, becoming the second party of local government, though still way behind Labour. Later in the same year, the Scottish Labour Party was struck a more substantial blow. Jim Sillars won the Govan by-election for the SNP. Scottish politics was once more about to get very interesting.
Now read Part Seven: Things begin to heat up
All these blogs can be read from beginning at: Social Justice & Scottish Independence
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