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INTERVIEW ‘The most fundamental issues for working people are being left by the wayside’

Communist candidate for the Scottish Parliament elections JOHNNIE HUNTER tells Niall Christie why the party’s focus is on recovery from coronavirus rather than constitutional upheaval

A COMMON attribution to Scotland is that as a country, it is generally more left-wing than its neighbours south of the border — the one-time dominance of the Labour Party often held up as an example of this. 

In recent years, this grip on Scotland has significantly loosened as the SNP shifted to become the dominant force while other left-wing parties have peaked and troughed in their popularity since the reopening of the Scottish Parliament.

Why, then, has it taken 22 years for a widespread and co-ordinated campaign of communists to run for Holyrood? 

Three candidates — stretching from Glasgow in the west to Edinburgh in the east — make up the Scottish contingent of a Britain-wide campaign by the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) in May’s elections.

North of the border, those hoping to take seats in Scotland’s devolved parliament under the red flag are taken from the resurgent Young Communist League (YCL). 

Focusing primarily on the recovery from coronavirus and working for the working class — not constitutional upheaval — Johnnie Hunter, 27, Matthew Waddell, 20, and Daniel Lambe, 24, mean more voters will have a chance to vote communist on May 6 than for many decades.

“We think it’s unfortunate that the national question remains front and centre in this election,” he says over Zoom. 

“In terms of the right to choose, we think that is a choice for the Scottish people. We’d never get behind the destructive use of government power or courts by the Tories to circumvent that. But we do think there was a referendum relatively recently, and it’s a democratic result that must be respected. 

“As from the perspective of working people, it’s the most fundamental issues that are being left by the wayside — giving the SNP government a smokescreen for the right-wing policies they have pursued for 14 years. As ever, they are very much able to talk left and walk right.

“We are keen to give what will be hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to vote communist — the majority for the first time in their lives. We see the need for a fundamental alternative.”

Hunter, a public-sector solicitor now living in Scotland’s largest city, represents a new generation of those in the CPB. 

The YCL’s general secretary, he will run on the Glasgow regional list — facing off against the leaders of three of Scotland’s five major parties.

Catching up with the political mainstream is even more difficult under current restrictions, with limitations in place for most of the campaign. But Hunter believes the positive message of the CPB has cut through.

“The big parties still have at their disposal an electoral machine, whereas we’d usually try and make up the ground on the doorsteps. But we still think we are reaching people with the work that we are doing, and we think it’s a valuable opportunity to get the message across about our key political demands.

“Having studied law and then worked in private practice before moving into the public sector, it really demonstrates the great inequality in the country, in that there’s a system that is rigged and set up against working people to keep in place the power of the few and to facilitate the thorough exploitation of working people.

“We see that in work, we see that in housing, we see that in access to public services.”

Despite his enthusiasm, Hunter says he and the others running next week are well aware of the challenge they face to even register with many voters — long gone are the days of Willie Gallacher, after all.

But this does not dampen his enthusiasm, with local elections in Scotland next year — where another form of proportional representation is used to elect councillors — providing another opportunity to spread the socialist word and hopefully have an elected communist in Scotland again.

“The Communist Party has a very long and proud history — in Scotland in particular — of being on the side of working people. 

“It’s only communists that have ever been able to wield state power for working people, and build socialist states. 

“That’s probably not our point for this election, but for me the communist movement on the left is the only one serious about what building socialism means, and the difficulties in that.”

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