Politics - Uncategorized - Art - Scotland

2007 - 2021

Wherefore art thou, Scottish Labour?

There is no denying that whoever wins the Scottish Labour leadership contest is taking on a big job.

In no particular order, the leader has to get the party fit and ready for the local government elections in 2012, to avoid a demolition derby led by the SNP.  Although I do think that STV – ironically – will save many Labour skins.  Sadly, the ones who will survive will be the weel kent names, the ancients who have made a very comfy living out of being a cooncillor and who have achieved diddly squat for their constituents and communities.  They will hold on at the expense of new faces who might have brought about change and fresh thinking.

There are all the recommendations from the Review in terms of restructuring and re-organising the party internally.  These take up time and a lot of energy.  Doesn’t matter that they are a good idea, they threaten fiefdoms, and are likely to met with spirited resistance from some quarters.

And then there’s the day to day politics, and the need (in my opinion) to come up with a coherent narrative of constructive opposition that all MSPs and MPs can buy into.  So that Labour starts to resemble a political force rather than a ragbag of rent a quotes on any given topic.  A key part of this will be bridge-building between the Holyrood and Westminster groups to end the impression given that they currently occupy different political planets.  Team Scotland, with its 12 Scottish Labour MPs, could be a real boon here, unless tribalism and hierarchy triumphs.  The fact that Margaret Curran is now heidie of the team might mitigate against this, given that she has actually been in both camps.

But there’s also the biggie – what does Scottish Labour do about the prospect/threat (delete as appropriate) of an independence referendum?  At the moment, a majority of Scots want a debate about far-reaching constitutional change.  That’s what they voted for in May.  Not sure if we want what you want, SNP, but we’d like to give you a chance to set out your stall, without having it watered down or deflected by the other parties.  On the day to day stuff, they ain’t offering nothing that you aren’t, and we like the cut of your jib.  Here you go, have a majority, sell it to us.

And since May, a series of polls have confirmed that most Scots want some form of far-reaching constitutional change.  They want Scotland to do more things for itself.  Just now, a majority favour devo-max or indie-lite: having control of nearly everything domestic, leaving the big things to be determined on an island wide basis, not quite cutting the ties completely.  But the more the Scots see of the Con Dems in action, the more inclined they are to think we’d be better off doing things our own way.

It’s a simplistic analysis but it kinda works, for me anyway.

So where does Labour stand in all this?  Out in the cold, with their noses pressed against the glass, frankly.

One of the key observations I made at SNP conference – as their first ever accredited blogger, by the way – was how little any of the SNP’s big hitters talked about Labour in their speeches.  In fact, the only one to spend any time on them at all was John Swinney.  And that was deliberate.  He’s in charge of local government and the SNP’s biggest opponent in that arena is the Labour party.  He was winding up his party’s activists for another long winter of campaigning:  go out there and wipe them off the municipal map, finish off the job started in May and “let’s bring to an end the last vestige of Labour failure in Scotland”.

But he also focused them in his sights on the economic stuff.  Not at Holyrood but at Westminster.  This was also deliberate, to keep on reminding the Scots who got us into this mess in the first place, and to be able to highlight the Scottish Government’s budgetary competency compared to the basketcase that was UK Labour’s.  It’s all part of the plan.

The Depute First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in her speech made only three direct references to Labour – to have a pop at Jim Murphy, to criticise their failure to support minimum pricing and to meet hospital waiting times.  And that’s it.  She even had the audacity to quote Nye Bevan as “the founding father of our health service”, without saying he was one of Labour’s greatest politicians.

And the First Minister did even better.  Two paltry mentions they got, one poking fun at them for their PR system failing to prevent the SNP for achieving a majority at Holyrood, the second emphasising their lack of fitness to govern in Scotland.

In a few short months, Labour has been airbrushed out of existence in Scottish politics.  Which given the party’s near omnipotence a few short years ago, is truly remarkable.

They are being treated by the SNP and the Scottish Government as an irritating sideshow.  The party knows that in order to drive an independence wedge between Scotland and the UK, the negative side of the argument  – look what we’ll get if we stay put – has to be trained on the UK Government and helpfully, given the Scots’ innate distrust and dislike of the Tories, the fact that the ConDems are behaving just as we always suspected they might, is making their job easy.  They are capable of making the positive case of the benefits of independence all on their own, in a way the Scottish electorate responds to.

And until Labour has something of value to contribute to the debate, they will be ignored.  They are not an immediate electoral threat, they are resorting to old and tired tactics already, and are leaderless and rudderless.  They can bleat all they like at Westminster and Holyrood:  no one is listening.  Nine years out of power in Scotland?  Make that fourteen.

To date, the three contenders for the Scottish Labour leadership haven’t really grasped the nettle.  It’s not about the number of questions, or who gets to vote, or the need to stop the SNP in its tracks or to keep everything in the constitutional garden growing as it was.  The first are petty details that no one, bar the political anoraks, are interested in.  The latter is utterly out of kilter with the wishes of the Scottish people.  Until and unless Scottish Labour works out that Holyrood is going to get a big wodge of powers, it will have nothing constructive to contribute to the debate.  And that suits the SNP very well.  Worse, Labour cannot escape its worst instincts, to carp and criticise what the SNP is doing in governing Scotland on the day to day stuff, and to scaremonger to almost laughable proportions.

There are however, signs of green shoots.  Douglas Alexander’s lecture last month showed he gets it – shame no one can persuade him to stand for the leadership.  And Jackie Baillie is doing a good job at Holyrood, in highlighting failings in the NHS under the SNP and manoeuvring the terms of debate on key issues rather successfully.

But so far, Labour is lacking a strategic focus and purpose, and consequently tactically, the SNP has dismissed its threat to its grand scheme of change.

If Labour doesn’t want to be left behind in the service station, as Scotland motors speedily and confidently towards its constitutional destination, it needs to get some petrol in its tank and fast.

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  1. Clarinda says:

    ….. and look what happened to Romeo, a Montague through and through unable to change his origin and predicament. Perhaps there are just some things that have a natural obsolescence when their idelogical ‘DNA’ cannot replicate and survive in a changing environment.

  2. Morag Lennie says:

    Labour is in a totally no win situation. If they come on board with repatriation of substantial powers to the Scottish parliament, they have to admit they have been out of step with the people for some time. If they don’t, they risk ( from their point of view, ) pushing the electorate into voting for sovereign Independence.The Westminster MPs daren’t risk this, as they know it’s highly unlikely that they will ever form another govt. without the Scottish vote, and will therefore lose their fairly cushy jobs.I wish I could say I felt sorry for them in their dilemma, but I sooooo don’t. INDEPENDENCE, NOTHING LESS.

  3. DougtheDug says:

    Team Scotland, with its 12 Scottish Labour MPs, could be a real boon here, unless tribalism and hierarchy triumphs.

    Since I don’t think that the new, “Leader”, post in Labour’s Scottish region will have any authority over the MP’s it seems a recipe for factionalism. Labour are setting up a new Labour post in Scotland which is more powerful than the previous MSP Group Leader in order to strengthen their, “Scottishness”, while at the same time a rival Westminster team have been set up under Curran which as far as I know doesn’t come under the authority of the new post.

    Members, Labour office holders, councillors, MSP’s, MP’s. Who will fall under the control of the new, “Leader” and where is Margaret Curran’s team in the hierarchy?

    Will the Scottish Secretary be more powerful than Labour’s Scottish regional manager?

  4. Doug Daniel says:

    The contest between Harris, Mackintosh and Lamont has to be the most uninspiring leadership race since Clegg vs Huhne. Mackintosh in particular is just completely bereft of ideas, and it was plain to see that regardless of who wins, it’s going to be more of the same from Labour. It’s amazing they’ve managed to find a worse trio than the last time, and it speaks volumes that Tom Harris, who only entered the “race” to provoke one of the bigger guns into entering, is the least worst candidate (I don’t think you can really use the word “best” in this context).

    Labour has a chance to take a short-cut back to relevance. Malcolm Chisholm gets it. Henry McLeish gets it. Even Eric Joyce seems to get it. Unfortunately, Labour stopped listening to either of these two a long time ago. I’m surprised Chisholm hasn’t been ejected from the party for having the audacity to vote in favour of SNP policies in the last parliament, rather than following the Labour tribal orders.

  5. Doug Daniel says:

    Oh, and another thing that speaks volumes about Labour in Scotland just now is that Tom Harris, the only MP in the leadership race, isn’t even thought highly enough of to be included in Team Scotland…

  6. Apparently, according to blogger Iain Smart, a labour activist, all the weekend demonstrated was how out of touch any of the folk standing as ‘Leader or Deputy Leader’ are.

    They say the words but the words have no meaning and he went on to say that maybe after 2007 Labour could convince themselves that shouting the same message louder would work but in 2011 they have to understand the Scottish Electorate have heard what Labour has to say and are not interested yet sadly none of the leadership contenders appear to understand this.

  7. Andrew says:

    Peter,theres none as blind as them that cannae see.

  8. DougtheDug says:

    As a follow up to my question on what powers the new, “Scottish Labour Leader”, will really have there was an interesting exchange between Aidan Skinner who is a Labour activist and Labour MSP Drew Smith on twitter about the new Labour Leader candidates.

    aidanskinner Aidan Skinner
    @DrewSm1th well, no, not really – what authority do they have over non-MSPs? What’s the relationship with Shadow Scottish Secretary?
    20 hours ago

    DrewSm1th Drew Smith
    @aidanskinner I don’t only define leadership as authority to tell others what to do, not aware of any rules to include such a definition.
    20 hours ago

    aidanskinner Aidan Skinner
    @DrewSm1th I mean, obviously I’d hope that anybody *in* authority in Scottish Labour is because they are *an* authority (to butcher Weber)
    20 hours ago

    DrewSm1th Drew Smith
    @aidanskinner Of course, authority is conveyed by more than rules in a book. The change is as much cultural as constitutional.

    @aidanskinner Aidan Skinner
    @DrewSm1th indeed – think that would be helped by it being clear what the new role is though. Devolved issues as per LOLITSP and… more?

    It doesn’t look as if the new, “Scottish Labour Leader”, is going to be anymore than some form of regional fall guy with no real power whatsoever.

  9. Ard Righ says:

    There may well be a health and safety issue in all the methane produced by ineffectual labour councillors after they have been buried with their landfill tax.

  10. Eddy Kempston says:

    Ah new labour, the party of war crimes, bank deregulation and the ever widening gap between the richest and poorest. A party which has become so like the tories that they have rendered voting meaningless as the population realise voting changes nothing. However some folk here still think new labour are some sort of progressive force in Scotland. I gave up that idea twenty uears ago. They are a complete irrelevance. Good to see Ian Grays humiliation though when the SNP wiped them out. New labour are a party of big business and the super rich and have nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer the 99% in Scotland.
    Eddy Kempston

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