Saturday 13 February 2021

Scottish Labour: Vote Monica Lennon

Scotland hardly registers on Westminster's radar at the best of times, and even at the worst - such as the present life or death tussle between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond - it's something of a specialist interest. Consider then the fates of Anas Sarwar and Monica Lennon, the two hopefuls vying for Scottish Labour's crown. Most politics people in England, and in Scotland for that matter, could hardly give a hoot. Indeed, it's likely most party members south of the border don't even know there's a contest. Such is the regard of the branch office in the Labourist family. Yet what happens in Scotland is important. If the party can't claw back some support from the SNP, the path to a parliamentary majority is next to impossible. And there is another lesson Labour hasn't learned yet: how can the party convince left leaning progressive supporters to come back after crapping on their interests so long? A vital teachable moment, one might suggest, with Labour in England and Wales getting menaced and, unbeknownst to its leadership, actively disassembling its coalition. But we're getting ahead of ourselves: do either of the candidates have a novel strategy that might restore Scottish Labour?

Anas Sarwar certainly doesn't. The favourite and, apparently, the better known of the two, Anas is firmly on the old Progress wing of the party and carries the can of business-as-usual. Consider his campaign launch video. Nice production values, talks up the achievements of the last Labour government, nods to Keir Hardie, Donald Dewar, and Gordon Brown and speaks some nice platitudes about the NHS and rebuilding the country after Covid. Popping over to the campaign website, what do we find? Very little. Endorsements are the usual suspects duumvirate of Community and USDAW (joined by the GMB, who regularly enjoys their society these days), but bizarrely there are no news updates or articles or even position pieces. I know Anas wants to help disabled people, but not enough to include them in a list of pledges.

Picking through the potted biography, there isn't much to see. Some charitable work here, some NHS campaigns there. Work on Islamophobia, and his past role campaigning against independence. Naturally, the small matter of the family firm and their living wage awkwardness aren't hinted at. But what about the politics? The campaign video says he's for unity in the party and the country, and we can't refight the battles of years ago. Okay, but here is the problem. Scottish independence isn't a "years ago" issue, it is central to Scottish politics. Anas's pitch is devoid of ideas and rehashes the kind of unionist economism Ruth Davidson used to spout - we need better public services, and independence is just a distraction. Complete head-in-the-sand stuff. How, for example, does Anas bat away the argument that Brexit has fundamentally changed the prospectus on which 2014's No vote was delivered? How can he ignore the simple truth that all three Westminster party leaders lined up and made "The Vow" to concede more powers to Holyrood, only for Dave and Osborne to throw it down the memory hole hours after the result was announced?

Here is Scottish Labour's problem. As noted here time and again, the party handed over most of its core support to the SNP to keep the union together. Or, to be more precise, they forfeited vast swathes of their base by lining up with and amplifying the Tory line against independence. A shambles and a catastrophic failure no one on the Labour right has explained or been held to account for. If Scottish Labour is to have a hope in hell of coming back, it must stop confining its strategy to fighting the Tories for the declining unionist vote and, to quote his Blairist majesty, go to where the voters are.

This is why anyone who cares about Scottish Labour must support Monica Lennon. Contrary to Anas and his LOTO-based cheerleaders, she knows indyref2 cannot be ducked. Pretending it doesn't matter, or it's "divisive" won't convince anyone apart from thinly-attended CLP meetings held over Zoom. As Monica has put it during the course of the campaign, Labour should listen and not oppose a referendum if this is the majority view of the Scottish people. I mean, it's not as though Anas hasn't supported second referendums on issues for which there was no public clamour in the past. Monica's position, as it happens, is against independence, but is also against hiding behind Boris Johnson - a very encouraging sign of the combativity Scottish Labour needs. Now six years have passed since 2015's great annihilation, it's time the party tried a different tack.

In the plastic patriotism row, defenders of dear Keir have (bogusly) argued how Labour has to wave flags to get permission to be heard. The party must tap into a rarefied patriotic pride and be part of the community (consistent community organising would have done this better, but of course the dedicated unit is getting scrapped). If we take this consultant-mandated advice in good faith in England and Wales, why is London's candidate proposing doing the opposite in his patch?

This alone would be enough to justify a vote for Monica Lennon, but there are other excellent reasons. Unlike Anas, who talks a good talk about rebuilding Scotland, she provides more detailed positions on women's equality and workers' rights, and a series of shorter set-piece pledges on health, employment law, and promoting cooperative ownership. Monica's platform is more rooted in our class, and offers a solid base from which her leadership could turn heads not because her positions out-dazzle indyref2, but because by tackling it head on and standing up for Scotland's right to self-determine its future, the left-curious - a not inconsiderable number of SNP supporters - might be interested in what a renewed Scottish Labour has to say.

The ballots are now open. If Anas Sarwar wins, Labour's going nowhere but down the plughole. But if Monica Lennon gets in, the party might stand a chance.

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