The Tories, UKIP, the Democratic Unionists, the Liberal Democrats, and the Labour Party are all British Unionist parties. Last weekend Left Unity (LU) conference took a significant step forward. It became an Anti-Unionist party and thus drew a sharp distinction with Corbyn’s Labour Party. LU took the first steps to realigning the party with the democratic movement in Scotland, not least in demanding the abolition of the 1707 Act of Union.
Since 2015 the Corbyn victories have produced an existential crisis in Left Unity. The party was founded in 2013 in the “Spirit of 45” to fill the political space vacated by New Labour with its neo-liberal policies. The post war ‘social monarchy’ had been under assault by every government from Thatcher to Blair and Brown. The election of Corbyn turned the tables. The “Spirit of 45” now revived inside the Labour Party. The very purpose of Left Unity and its rival Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) were put under question.
Over the last year LU lost members to Labour and Momentum. The three main Marxist groups, Workers Power, CPGB and Socialist Resistance have all departed for greener pastures in the Labour Party. There is no denying the contribution members of these groups made to Left Unity. LU is weakened by their exit. Yet politically they were a barrier to building a socialist party of militant working class democracy and internationalism. Nowhere was this shown more clearly than their failures on the national question.
The conference began, as it meant to continue, by moving the motions on Scotland from the end of the agenda to the middle. Then the first motion from York that LU should dissolve was easily seen off. If the rats had already left there was no sign the ship was sinking. The crew were busily plotting a new course for new political conditions. Left Unity would fight alongside, but remain independent of, the Labour Party and would highlight its distinct programme or, in marketing speak, it unique selling points.
This conference may, in time, come to be seen as a turning point in Left Unity’s fight back. There would be no concessions to the Anglo-British nationalism which is underpinned by Unionism. This had powered the leave campaign. ‘Make Britain great again’, ‘British jobs of British workers’, ‘take back British sovereignty’ and ‘stop immigration’ were at the centre of the ‘British Exit’ campaign. LU rejected the concept of Brexit and called for a “Democratic Exit”. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and must be allowed to do so. England and Wales voted leave and should do so as soon as possible.
In the post EU referendum world, LU agreed to fight to defend all workers rights and social rights, not least of European citizens denied a vote in the referendum. Just as employers are demanding ‘free trade’ and access to EU markets, so organised workers must fight to maintain the right to move freely across the EU. There should be no restrictions and no work permits. Free movement for workers is as important as free trade is for capitalists. Therefore England and Wales should remain, like Norway, in the European Economic Area.
All this is a defensive position against reactionary forces. But looking to the future LU would “campaign for a refounded European union on a democratic and anti-capitalist basis” and continue to work with the European Left Party. Whilst there is still more to be done on European policy there is no retreat on freedom of movement and a democratic Europe. Work on developing policy will continue at the next conference agreed for spring 2017.
Conference policy on Europe, Scotland and the Labour Party neatly fuse on the issue of self determination. The new policy says “Left Unity recognises the right of the Scottish people to self determination and in particular the right to remain in the EU given the majority vote in Scotland to remain. Left Unity will fully support the call for a ‘self determination’ referendum to enable the Scottish people to decide to leave the UK and seek to remain in the EU”.
Consequently “Left Unity calls for the Labour Party to support such a referendum and commit a future Labour government to guarantee Scotland’s right to referendum on the EU or on other issues. In the event that a Scottish referendum is held before the next general election, LU will promote activities to encourage the working class movement to support Scottish exit from the UK to implement the decision of the Scottish people to seek to remain in the EU”.