Sunday 27 August 2017

Time to Renew Scottish Labour

Few things typify the volatility of British politics more than what has happened in Scotland during these last three years. It's dizzying. The summer of 2014 signified the seeming eclipse of Scottish Labour as the nationalist tide came in and annexed its activist base and a goodly chunk of the party's voters to the SNP. Then came the 2015 general election and what Nicola Sturgeon calls the Westminster parties were comprehensively routed. Huge majorities that would ordinarily grant MPs seats for life tumbled. Battered, traumatised, from England and Wales it appeared a Labour come back in Scotland would be glacially slow. Then 2017 and the volatility struck again. This time the SNP were out of sorts as the nationalist tide went out. All eyes were on the Tories who scored their best result for 30 years. Say what you like about Scottish Labour, it at least proved effective in putting them in a box and ensuring the lid stayed on. And, of course, Labour were able to claw back six seats from the SNP to take its parliamentary representation to seven.

Last month, I argued that Scottish Labour would have done much better had they ditched the scabrous 'unionist vote' strategy the party pursued during the election. As elsewhere in England and Wales, Corbynism is the political expression of a new mass of workers moving into electoral politics. The key difference separating what was happening here from what was going on in Scotland is the independence movement was, at the time the best vehicle for those interests. It was anti-Tory, the SNP offered a broadly social democratic alternative to eternal insecurity, and, well, they had the vision thing. It was fuzzy, but at least the SNP talked a good better future. If Labour hopes to restore its former dominance, intersecting with this burgeoning constituency, which is not at all represented by the backward and frequently sectarian politics of unionism, is the best, the only path to renewal.

This in mind, there are two things of interest to have happened this last week. The first is Jeremy Corbyn's tour of Scotland, which is seeking to build on the movement from the SNP back to Labour. Part of it is helped by the SNP's record in government, and part is the growing realisation among layers of former SNP supporters that independence isn't necessary to get rid of the Tories and building a better society. The SNP for their part cannot really give an answer this. As a governing party their rhetoric doesn't match their day-to-day, though it would be unwise to not note they operate under the same Tory cosh as much as the Welsh government and myriad Labour authorities do. Nevertheless there are choices to be made within the constraints they operate, and the persistent difficulties afflicting the Scottish education system cannot be laid entirely at the door of mean spirited Tory funding. There's one opening for Labour.

And second, the Sunday Herald ran with "Scottish Labour in civil war" this morning. Closer inspection with the hyperbole filters on locates the revolt's epicentre in the editorial office of Scottish Left Review. It is the journal and the journal alone calling for the ouster of Our Kez ... for now. But they are entirely right to do so. As per above, Scottish Labour was impeded by its cretinous unionist vote strategy during the election not because they have the wrong ideas, but because of the party apparatus. As it withered on the vine after decades of neglect so the outlook of Scottish Labour reflects less a broad constituency and more a wretched and decomposing labour aristocracy peopled by lazy (ex)MPs, spads, fixers, time-servers, and cliquey friends-of-friends. It's a rotten culture that makes a mockery of the very idea of party democracy, and one that needs forcibly shoving aside if the party is to remain a going concern, let alone grow and prosper. It's early days yet, but accompanying the Herald piece was a splash on Neil Findlay's new book on the recent travails of Scottish Labour. Readers may recall Neil took on the execrable Jim Murphy in the 2014 leadership contest. Coincidence?

At the next election Scotland will be an even more important battleground. Not just because the SNP are on the retreat and Labour could potentially take many more seats from them. There are also now 13 Tory seats in play, seats absolutely vital to their chances of forming a government. For once, what happens up there is going to make a real difference to the parliamentary arithmetic. That's why it's not only a good idea for Scottish Labour to rebel and turf out its hapless leader and the party's appalling coterie of bureaucrats, but a necessity.


Boffy said...

The problems of Britain cannot be solved by nationalism. Blair pandered to nationalism via devolution, as an alternative to addressing the needs of all workers in Britain, and their more acute nature in Scotland. It was simply a policy based upon stratified marketing.

Devolution has simply encouraged nationalism further. The solutions to the problems of workers, in general, do not come from nationalism, regionalism, sectionalism or individualism, but from collectivism, co-operation on the widest possible scale, which is also why Brexit will be a disaster.

Labour's change of stance over the Single Market and Customs Union is a small step forward, but it only removes the immediate contradiction of the stance, and pushes it two years into the future, just as it does not remove a cliff edge for the economy, but simply moves that cliff edge a bit further into the distance.

In the modern global economy, even social-democracy cannot function rationally within the borders of relatively small states such as Britain, even less does the policy of social-democracy in one country make any sense in an even smaller country like Scotland.

Labour should say so, and build the movement with its sights set on our brothers and sisters in the rest of Europe.

Anonymous said...

They material put out in Edinburgh South by Murray's campaign was to this left indy inclined voter off putting to say the least. The leaflet highlights included quotes from the Spectator magazine about how Murray was a great MP and plenty on saying no to 'indy ref 2'. Little if anything on Labour's actual policy proposals. All carefully calibrated for trad tory and liberal voters no doubt, but not for me. Frankly hearing Labour bang on about 'Nats' is tiresome, especially when the Scottish Party is happy to wrap itself in the Union Flag and in this sense is as nationalist as they come.

Walsie said...

Yes. A few years ago, I and another council colleague made a journey to the Central Belt as we had been told some councils there, encouraged by a Labour Holyrood, were developing interesting anti-poverty policies in areas of otherwise mainstream service. As Rick said 'we were misinformed'. Moving from Provost Chamber to Provsot Chamber, I felt like Professor Challenger entering a lost world of lifeforms long extinct - even in my own North East.

Unknown said...

I think you have been too easily taken in by the media narrative of the 'collapse' of the SNP: by any measure, what they achieved was a landslide victory. The fact that it came after a near clean-sweep might make it look like a collapse, but they still have somewhere around 60% of Scottish seats, and that proportion is far greater than what elsewhere have been described as 'landslides' - Thatcher in 83, Blair in 97. The narrative of the SNP having a poor record in government is also one-sided and over-played: whilst not without problems, in general they have far outperformed both their predecessors and their contemporary UK counterparts, all the while acting under considerable constraints. In fact, and contrary to the media and Labour Party narrative (and those two things are far too entwined in Scotland for the health of the Estates), it's 'doing the day job' well which has been the foundation of their success. Going back to the point about the degree of electoral success, it's also worth reflecting on that fact that they have achieved this after 10 years in power - something no other party has come even close to sustaining.

This insistence on a convenient fairy tale rather than acknowledging the reality which many people in Scotland see with their own eyes is at the heart of the collapse of trust in Scottish Labour.

Steph said...

This article is consistent with everything I've read and heard about Scottish Labour over the years. What Scottish Labour needs is root-and-branch reform towards a whole new apparatus and leadership reflecting grassroots members' enthusiasm for socialist ideals. It really shouldn't have to be pointed out that Tory seats must become Labour's priority targets in Scotland. Jeremy Corbyn might be Prime Minister now if this strategy had been pursued. The SNP would make much better allies for Corbyn than the Blairites, and would support a progressive coalition.

Anonymous said...

Labour are third at best in every Scottish Tory seat.

Even given recent volatility there, at most a handful are seriously winnable - lots of low-hanging SNP fruit now, though.

As for the genuinely laughable Comical Ali-esque screed above, by all means continue being that delusional. It makes the "Quebecisation" of the Nats - unthinkable just months ago - that more realistic a prospect.