Neil Findlay's 'Socialism and Hope' - a review

Written by Maria Fyfe on 16 November 2017 in Comment

Former Labour Glasgow Maryhill MP Maria Fyfe on Neil Findlay's recent book 'Socialism and Hope'

Neil Findlay book review - Holyrood

On the eve of the Scottish independence referendum, Neil Findlay writes in his diary: “I love my country but I love my class and community too. Working people across the United Kingdom have the same needs, wants and ambitions.” This will not be news to anyone who spends their time in the Scottish Parliament, because that is exactly how he comes across.

A clear case of saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

Socialism and Hope is written in diary form, beginning with Findlay’s early life and how he was attracted to socialism. As a young, working-class man, not seeing himself as at all academic, he gained experience in the world of work before entering university as a mature student and achieving a degree in geography.


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He did not study politics, or join the Labour club. He was learning his politics in life back home. He could not go on to do honours, because as a family man, he needed to earn money. However, this book is a gift to historians. He certainly intended to provide a service to all of us who were not in the loop. 

Half the book is devoted to the independence referendum and his views on the Better Together campaign. I thought at the time that the SNP could not possibly attack Labour on this, as they themselves had, for no fewer than four years running, got their budgets passed with the support of, er, the Tories.

However, as it turned out, they could and did. Findlay gives a fascinating account of those three years, campaigning around the country and debating with Yes supporters, not all of whom could be regarded as having a grasp on reality. It reminds me of the occasions when I heard it asserted that if Scotland voted for independence, the British state would send troops over the border. When I scoffed at this, their answer was “look at Ireland”.  They weren’t so keen to mention the Irish civil war.

He also takes us through the upheavals of recent political history: the European Union debate as played out in Scotland, the general and Scottish elections, and the leadership battles within Labour, at both UK and Scottish levels.

Findlay pulls no punches when considering why things went so badly wrong for Labour, so much so that many thought the party was dead or dying. It was hard to believe that the party that only a short time before could send 50 MPs to Westminster could fall to only one – one! – in the 2015 election.   

He does not hold back when showing how internal machinations contributed to the downfall.

Johann Lamont, who, to her credit, stepped forward at a time when the leadership was already considered a poisoned chalice, now stood in the way of Jim Murphy’s ambition to be leader.

Findlay sees Murphy’s entire effort during the referendum campaign, speaking on soapboxes around the country, as an exercise in self-promotion. So he plotted behind her back, and he had allies, some of whom Findlay names in his diary, who schemed with him. Why anyone ever thought that he would be a better leader than Lamont remains a mystery.

It didn’t turn out that way, for he was in charge when Labour crashed so spectacularly. Findlay is generous to him about this, believing that Labour was going to crash anyway, no matter who was in charge. The nationalists were on a roll, yet own goals within the party certainly did not help. He recalls her being exasperated beyond endurance by the arrogant presumption of people who took it on themselves to sack the Scottish party secretary without even consulting her. Predictably, the SNP made the most of that debacle.

Puzzlement is sometimes expressed by people down south who don’t understand why Labour does not make common cause with the progressive Scottish nationalists. Socialists up here do get a bit annoyed with comrades in the south who are taken in by the leftist rhetoric, of which we will no doubt be hearing more now that Nicola Sturgeon realises she has to compete with Jeremy Corbyn for working class votes. Findlay gives plenty of reasons.

To take but one example:  in May 2015, shortly before the general election, he notes that Sturgeon says she wants an anti-Tory coalition, while urging voters in England to vote Green. With wide-eyed innocence, she denied her intention was to put forward the notion to Scottish voters that it could safely vote SNP instead of Labour. And what happened? The Tories, predictably, had posters in England showing Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket.

This is a book for everyone who wants to see a society for the many, not the few.

 

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