On the anniversary of Hardie’s death, his legacy should live on throughout the UK – Michael Sharpe

Hardie’s Fight for Peace, Equality and Socialism as vital for his old Constituencies in London and Wales as in Scotland, the Country of his birth.

Last month the Keir Hardie Society ran a campaign celebrating the legacy of Scottish Trade Unionist and father of the Labour Party, James Keir Hardie.

Contributions to the #HappyBirthdayHardie campaign poured in online from across the United Kingdom as well as internationally and served as a warm reminder of the passion and respect that still exists for a man who died 98 years ago today.

The commemoration of Hardie’s birth on August 15th gave the opportunity to catalogue some of the street signs, leisure centres and even children who have been named after him. Yet today – on the anniversary of his death – it is the future of the country of his birth that takes our attention.

Wednesday of last week marked 365 days until Scotland decides on its relationship with the United Kingdom. There is an appetite across the divide of this referendum to claim Hardie as a posthumous spokesperson for either argument; such is his standing in Scottish politics to this day.

For most, Hardie’s position would be fairly clear; a supporter of home rule who saw the importance of changing a system and not just a border. He stood once, unsuccessfully, for political office in Scotland before going on to champion working-class issues for constituencies he represented in London and Wales respectively. In many ways the devolution delivered from referendums in Scotland and Wales in 1997 are far more appropriate to Keir Hardie than next year’s ‘IndyRef’.

With less than a year until events around the World commemorate the centenary of the beginning of World War I, Keir Hardie society member and Hardie Biographer Bob Holman, joins Society executive members Richard Leonard and Jackson Cullinane as part of a campaign organized by the Jimmy Reid Foundation to remember those who took a stance against military action. Hardie himself a lifelong pacifist, came under prolonged attacks for leading calls for peaceful resolution. With that in mind the Keir Hardie Society’s members have been encouraged by the inclusion of the renewal of Trident question in the discussion on Scotland’s future post-independence. Unfortunately, the SNP position has changed somewhat throughout the time since the referendum was announced – 2 nationalist MSPs even resigned the whip over the party’s U-turn on NATO membership. In 1914 H.G. Wells published The World Set Free which includes the idea of Atomic Weapons, but the nuclear question was not one that would have faced Hardie. Yet in the modern day it is not work of science fiction to presume Keir Hardie would have abhorred their existence in any country. The Society’s President and Labour frontbencher Cathy Jamieson MP is currently Secretary of the Westminster CND group and a longstanding campaigner against Trident who has often spoken of the need for the United Kingdom to take the lead in a worldwide decommissioning program.

Further to Hardie’s historical stance on war, his involvement in the movement for Home Rule in a number of countries offers important insight to Scotland’s current ‘national conversation’. Last month, the Society hosted an event to mark the centenary of the Dublin Lockout and his involvement in the mass action. Scottish Regional Political Officer for Unite Jackson Cullinane explained the importance the Lockout had in placing class firmly on the political agenda in calls for Home Rule, particularly with Hardie, albeit temporarily leading the movement in its early days. The Ireland of today, despite achieving ‘Independence’, is one where many other political arguments have been ignored. After years of huge incentives for global conglomerates, the people of Ireland now face reality driven by austerity and public sector cuts.

Alarmingly, the SNP desires lower levels of corporation tax than David Cameron’s Westminster Government. This is part of Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney’s grand plan to make an Independent Scotland the most ‘competitive’ country in Europe. However, the use of ‘competitive’ is, in this instance, merely a euphemism for low pay, poor working conditions and siphoning money from public services. Issues the SNP know are not popular at the ballot box.
In his contribution to the Red Paper on Scotland 2014 Richard Leonard dissects ownership and control of Scotland’s economy. Focusing on external ownership he shows that despite only accounting for 1.4% of registered companies in Scotland external ownership accounts for 63.5% of private sector turnover – this of course without the incentives promised by those due to deliver a white paper on Independence by November.

For Keir Hardie the proposal of switching one neo-liberal Government for another is not democracy and, simply by delivering it in Scotland, is not home rule. A tireless campaigner for votes for women he would doubtlessly have disagreed with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s assertion that ‘Yes’ campaigners were modern day suffragettes. But so too may he find it hard to champion some of the views of a party he helped create. For a former miner’s union leader, the on-going ‘reassessment’ of Labour’s links with the Trade Union movement would indeed be a major concern.

However, Hardie may have had an easier time last week listening to Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont’s list of victories that the party has delivered over the years, both at Westminster and in Holyrood. From the National Health Service to the Equal Pay Act; Land Reform to Free Personal Care for the Elderly, there is plenty the Labour Movement can be proud of. The question is how to return to an agenda of progression and reform not just in Scotland but across our Islands.
For disciples of Hardie North and South of the border there is an opportunity to once again put class issues back on the political agenda. Despite a ‘modern turn of phrase’ there was much in Labour Leader Ed Milliband’s address to party conference this week to be supportive of. A stronger minimum wage; raising corporation tax for big business; and a ‘use it or lose it’ ultimatum to housing developers sitting on land until they can maximise profit. All of which place a welcome distance between Labour and the Conservatives at a UK level.

For the referendum, If the polls are to be believed – consistently suggesting Scotland will vote ‘No’ to independence – there is also an irony that a champion of Democracy such as Keir Hardie would struggle to ignore. There is no denying that the union of 1707 was not chosen by the people of Scotland, ,however, as Scottish Labour’s Constitution spokesperson Drew Smith MSP has said “the debate could just as much be an opportunity for Scots to democratically join the union rather than leave it”.

What we can be certain of is that, just as in the days when he represented the people of West Ham South and Merthyr Tydfil, James Keir Hardie would want to change the system that operates within our Nations. He would see the real problems being suffered by people not just across Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom. On this day, the anniversary of his death the Keir Hardie Society calls for his fight for peace, socialism and equality across the United Kingdom to live on.