Why aren’t we furious with the Scottish party?

by Kevin Meagher

The dark, stinking hole Labour finds itself in these days might not feel quite so dark and stinking if the Scottish party had got its act together last year. The loss of forty seats north of the border in the general election turned disaster in England into cataclysm across the UK.

Last Thursday, the party suffered a repeat pasting in elections to the Scottish Parliament. Labour took nothing short of a punishment beating at the hands of the electorate, sliding into third place behind the Conservatives. After last May’s debacle, it was a ceremonial cherry placed on top of the steaming turd that is the Scottish Labour party.

How did it come to this? How did Labour ‘lose’ Scotland and by doing so, make it improbable the party will win a general election any time before the advent of commercial space travel? And why aren’t we angrier with the bunglers in the Scottish party who frittered away Labour’s position?

But first, let’s be clear: the extinguishing of Labour as a force in Scottish politics is the party’s own fault. The SNP hasn’t cheated its way to power. There has been no coup d’etat. They are triumphant because they have outplayed Scottish Labour at every turn in recent years, up to the point where it’s clear the party no longer seems to understand the Scottish people.

This is not a recent failing. Labour lost control of the parliament to the SNP as long ago as 2007. The situation was exacerbated at the 2011 elections, before the party’s virtual annihilation in last year’s general election. There have been ample opportunities to arrest the decline.

Clearly, it all came to a head during the independence referendum. By opposing ‘nationalism’ Scottish Labour foolishly forfeited ‘patriotism’ in the process. The party didn’t seem to understand that there is nothing wrong with being a proud Scot and wanting to see your nationhood recognised.

Equally, there is no reason why that identity cannot co-exist in a spirit of partnership and friendship with the people of England. It’s all a matter of tone. Yet instead of finding a subtle balance, seeking to persuade Scots, the party waded in behind the dreadful, puerile ‘Project Fear’ agenda of the ‘Better Together’ campaign.

In a referendum campaign where emotions were raw and identity politics was potent, it was a stupid move to sound like Westminster’s branch office, with Ed Balls dutifully toeing the line of George Osborne and Danny Alexander in petulantly ruling-out a currency union with an independent Scotland.

Yet just a few short months after winning the independence referendum a visiting Martian would be wondering which side really won and which lost. While the SNP surge was held back by a 55-45 per cent margin, the anti-independence Better Together coalition lost ground from practically the first day of the campaign to the last, turning what was a seemingly impregnable position at the start into a slender victory which has subsequently failed to quell demands for independence.

But back to Labour. How does the party fix its problems? How does it clamber out of the dark abyss? Perhaps a clue lies in peering across the aisle. When you see figures like Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon – fiery, confident, visionary, and, above all, optimistic leaders – you see people who believe in something, can clearly articulate it, fight for it and galvanise people behind them.

Following Donald Dewar’s untimely death in 2000, the Scottish party chose to field a series of B-team politicians who, let me put it generously, would struggle to find their way into the cabinet of an English county council.

Talent was not in short supply, however it chose to hop on a train from Edinburgh and Glasgow each Monday and head for London. We allowed an unmistakable message to go out: the Scottish Parliament is a second-best option. Ambitious Labour politicos still preferred Westminster. If we were really treating Scotland like a proud nation, we would send our best to represent our party. We didn’t. And the public noticed.

Jim Murphy became the first senior figure since Dewar to forego Westminster for Holyrood, taking the reins of the dysfunctional Scottish party six months before last May’s general election. His failure to arrest the party’s decline was not all his fault, but he was also Labour’s Scottish Secretary before 2010. The party was heading, inexorably, towards the iceberg that has ripped its hull to shreds while Murphy was on the bridge. He was symptomatic of a Scottish Labour political class that took its backyard for granted for too long.

At least he can say he had a good record as a local MP, turning his once-marginal Eastwood seat into a fortress, before last May’s annihilation, where the party lost 40 of its 41 MPs. Alas, the same work ethic was not in evidence among many ex-Scottish MPs, who were quite happy swanning around in Westminster while the SNP parked its tanks on their lawns.

For years, visiting party officials from England have been aghast at how riven the Scottish party is by the petty squabbling and boss politics of the pygmies who run the place; displacement activity for doing any actual campaigning.

What of the new broom? Labour’s current Scottish leader, 34 year-old Kezia Dugdale, is fluent but unconvincing. Again, the weight of failure for last week’s disaster is not hers alone, but she claimed last week’s result was ‘heart-breaking’ with all the earnestness of the student politician she still resembles.

Pitted against the impressive Nicola Sturgeon and highly-effective Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, even Dugdale’s gender isn’t a useful point of difference. And is it really too much to expect that a party leader has a track record and a bit of vision?

Over the next couple of years, it will become apparent whether or not Labour is at the bottom of a political cycle, or whether something structural has changed in Scottish politics. If it’s the former, then with the right policies and leadership – and quite a lot of blind luck – the party has a reasonable expectation of getting back in the game.

However, if a structural shift in political loyalties has taken place, then, without the prospect of winning back those 40 seats, and with a national leadership that simply will not stoop low enough to capture enough English marginals, Labour’s hopes of being a party of government are lost.

But at least we know who we should be furious with: the lazy, leaderless, incompetent, arrogant and ineffective Scottish Labour party and its leaders and MPs, who have handed a generational advantage to the Conservatives.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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46 Responses to “Why aren’t we furious with the Scottish party?”

  1. DRB says:

    I live in Glasgow, and morale in the party here is at rock bottom.
    Problem is that no lessons have been learned and Holyrood is still seen as second best. Most of the current MSPs are second rate with a few honourable exceptions. They have been coasting for years and are now back in parliament having been ‘saved’ on the list seat system.

    What makes things worse is that these were the same faces with the same mindset that resulted in us jumping into bed with the Tories during the referendum, and resisting substantial home rule afterwards, and they seem to have little capacity for the change that is needed on the constitution.

    The ‘branch office’ perception is killing us, and it’s clear a separate party is needed, similar to the Greens in Scotland. And federalism looks to be the best way forwards where the party actually takes the lead for once on the constitution, but this needs UK party co-operation.

    It’s better for Labour to have affiliated Scottish Labour MP’s in a future UK parliament than none at all. Because without an independent Labour party in Scotland, nothing is going to change anytime soon. The SNP have a clear effective message in that they can protect Scottish interests in a way that whipped Labour MPs toeing the UK party line could never do.

  2. Mike Stallard says:

    What is Labour in Scotland actually for?
    Scottish independence?
    Independence from the EU?
    Radical reform of the dreadful Comprehensive School system?
    Cutting back the undergrowth of bureaucracy in the NHS?
    Reform of the Civil Service?
    Immigration and unemployment issues?
    Supporting Muslims by loathing Jews?
    Having a limo and chauffeur and frequent trips abroad?

    Answers on the back of a fag packet please (PS Only a few people can afford the fags within nowadays, by the way.)

  3. Cath says:

    This is a good article in many ways – more soul searching than most. But it still misses some fairly critical points.

    1. Scottish Labour hasn’t been “opposing ‘nationalism’” since 2007, it’s been opposing decent government, and a government elected by the people of Scotland. We have a national parliament now, and most people here want to see it run well and doing its best for Scotland. That isn’t nationalism, patriotism or “proud Scotism”, it’s common sense. Instead, the 2007-11 parliament was characterised by the 3 unionist parties – Labour, Tory and Lib Dem – forming an alliance to oppose good governance, long before Better Together formalised that alliance. Their key goal and hope then was simply for the SNP minority government to fail.

    2. The idea they sent all their talent to London is a fallacy. Go back as far as the 1980s and Labour had most of Scotland’s political talent. Labour’s problem is that the political talent in Scotland has been drifting to the SNP ever since devolution. If anything, the spotlight during the referendum threw up just what a load of non-talented, often frankly nasty, nonentities Scottish Labour had in both Scotland and London. People who even the Labour leadership admit were dire, dead wood and worse than useless. They did nothing for their constituents, nothing for Scotland and nothing for Labour. Meanwhile the referendum cemented the pull of talent to the SNP, with a whole load of new faces first speaking out politically, later joining the party. Some are now MPs and MPs. This is related to the first point – people with ambition and vision for Scotland want to be in a party that has ambition and vision for Scotland, not one that clings to the Tories coat-tails to defend the UK and Tory rule, however bad that is and has no ideas beyond, “we hate the SNP”.

    3. Labour’s reaction to all of this – to Scotland’s political talent shifting to the SNP, to the electorate giving the SNP a tentative win in 2007, far short of a majority, to them giving them a majority (which should have been impossible in Holyrood) and a clear mandate for a referendum, has been to abuse both the SNP and Scottish electorate with words like “nationalist”, “Natz” (even going as far as Nazi often), fascist, cult, brainwashed etc, etc and try to prevent a debate happening on any kind of different future of Scotland and the UK at all. It’s been doing this from a position of standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to oppose the more powers for Holyrood a clear majority of people want, even if not quite a majority want full independence.

    The question now isn’t really whether it’s at the bottom of a cycle, or whether it can re-invigorate itself, or whether Scotland has changed. It’s how the party accepts the way it has changed and what it’s been doing for the past 10 years. It was hollowed out by Blairism, entryism by right wing types and began to bleed support and talent after Iraq. Its decisions in Scotland since then have been utterly abysmal. And without a recognition of what they’ve really become in Scotland there is no way back – there can’t be a way back for a party which so fundamentally disrespects the electorate in Scotland.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Maybe because,even though they swung to the left,lost even more votes to the Tories, the damage done, was before Ed Miliband and the referendum, and when the right of the party had been running it,we’d started the rot, years ago?

  5. Andy Ellis says:

    Although I hesitate to intrude into private grief, hopefully you will accept some observations from a former Labour supporter, and now SNP member, in the spirit of comradely advice? Obviously, I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him….at least in terms of the Scottish political environment. As today’s piece in The Times shows only 1 in 3 Scottish voters thinks Labour has ANY future in Scotland; they believe it fought a negative and dishonest campaign and 36% say it is finished as a political party.
    There is much to agree with in your piece, but you fall into the trap of thinking that the political seppuku committed by Scottish Labour makes Labour recovery and/or victory in the UK either difficult or impossible. Simple electoral arithmetic disproves this idea, despite its popularity amongst English Labour activists. If every single Scottish seat had returned a Labour MP at the last General election, Labour would still have lost. The Tories narrow victory is not attributable to the SNP or Scottish Labour or to fears of a Lab/SNP coalition or confidence and supply agreement; rather, it is attributable to a failure to get enough “natural” Labour voters in England to actually turn up and vote, it is due to too few of those who did turn up supporting Labour, and to disillusioned Lib Dem voters handing the Tories marginal Tory/LD seats by voting for other parties.
    Something structural has indeed changed in Scottish politics. However, even in the improbable case of Scottish Labour somehow contriving to “get back in the game” (good luck with that one!), the Labour party in the UK needs to wean itself off the electoral crack cocaine of the regular return of a bloc of low-voltage MPs from the Celtic fringe whose votes were famously weighed rather than counted. The rot set in long before the rise of the SNP; the pro-independence movement and SNP in particular have simply capitalised on it. You should indeed be angry with execrable quality of the Scottish Labour leadership, their sense of entitlement, failure to develop constituency campaigning organisations and activism and their total inability to embrace let alone further progressive policies.
    However, the real culprits in the sorry state the UK Labour movement as a whole finds itself aren’t difficult to identify. I don’t often agree with Baron Prescott of Kingston upon Hull, but he’s right about the “Bitterite” New Labour tail wagging the dog. Having spectacularly failed to show us the corpse of New Labour after the 2010 General Election defeat, Corbyn and his allies haven’t managed to do any better post 2015. The extinction level event facing Scottish Labour may cause anger and anguish, but evidence suggests that energy would be best directed at UK Labour. Banking on a revivified Scottish Labour party for salvation is as asinine a strategy as carrying on with the failed New Labour project, and expecting it produce a different result.

  6. Eduin says:

    I think there is a huge danger that Scottish Labour might think they have bottomed out. That might be a very optimistic view of where they are.

    They’ve lost on Good Governance with huge numbers switching to the SNP. They’ve lost on Independence (or at least Devo Max thanks to their weakest position on Smith) to the SNP. They’ve just lost their Unionist rump to the Tories.

    In their current position, with a core vote which will be heavily “anyone but the Tories” is exposed to another drift to the SNP as those voters whose genuine dislike of Tories and Tory policy will see the SNP as the only way to combat the rise of the right.

    And worse, they have a huge bear trap being laid by Ruth Davidson. Labour walked into the trap of backing up the Tories every time they mentioned the Union (which was the first topic Ruth raised in every debate and interview). They backed the message while sounding much weaker on the subject.

    Now they have another trap. The Tories want to win votes against the SNP starting with Named Person. The only way they can do that is with active Labour support at Holyrood. If the Labour leadership do back the Tories on things like Named Person or OBFA and the Tories get their victories over the SNP, that won’t be good for Labour, it will just back up Ruth’s claim that Labour never laid a glove on the SNP and she and her Tories can.

  7. Ewan Munro says:

    The idea that the collapse of Labour in Scotland somehow translates to an inability to win UK elections is utter nonsense. Labour no more needs Scots votes to win a Westminster majority than the tories do. It’s a much used myth, but myth is all it is. For examples look only to the last three Labour UK election wins. Blair won all three without the need to even open a Scottish ballot box, never mind count the contents. England provides electoral majorities to whichever party is next in turn for the job. Scotland could have unanimously voted tory (aye.. right!) and we would still have had Blair as our PM. Scotland only elects MPs. It’s England that elects governments.

  8. Peter A Bell says:

    Kevin Meagher has come closer than most in British Labour to acknowledging the harsh reality of the party’s problems in Scotland. His recognition that the SNP has earned its electoral success and its status as the default party of government in Scotland, is very welcome. Would that this spirit of honesty and candour could infect unthinking loyalists the likes of Duncan Hothersall.

    But Kevin Meagher’s analysis is still flawed by the fallacies of what we might, for purposes of discussion, label the London perspective. A perception of Scottish politics distorted by the lens of the British media and a set of prejudices so deeply ingrained as to be casually insulting rather than wilfully malicious.

    Meagher’s characterisation of the independence campaign as being about ‘patriotism’ and ‘identity politics’ is just plain wrong. It’s as if, seeking a better understanding of the Yes movement, Meagher consulted Alan Cochrane and Alex Massie.

    But unquestionably the most serious error in Kevin Meagher’s analysis is his reference to a “Scottish Labour party”. As more and more people in Scotland have become aware, there is no such entity. There is no such thing as a “Scottish Labour Party”.

    And this is no petty semantic nit-picking. It’s not merely a matter of terminology. It is a crucial and fundamental point of political reality. Because, however accurate Kevin Meagher may be in his assessment of where British Labour in Scotland is now, it got there as British Labour in Scotland. Can there possibly be any doubt that a real Scottish Labour Party would have developed differently? Is it not entirely safe to assume that a real Scottish Labour Party would have been responsive to Scotland’s changing politics, over a period of decades, in ways that British Labour in Scotland most assuredly has not?

    Is it not plainly evident that “Scottish Labour” has come to its current parlous state BECAUSE it is no more than a branch operation of a London-headquartered British Labour that suffers from the same flawed understanding of Scottish politics as afflicts Mr Meagher?

    Is it not, therefore, rather misguided – not to say disingenuous – of Kevin Meagher to be so determined to lay the blame for British Labour’s woes in England on a Scottish section of the party which itself has been destroyed by being part of British Labour?

  9. Frank Wright says:

    I am another ex-Labour voter living in Scotland.

    Right up until the actual referendum vote on 18th September 2014, I intended to vote Labour in the first election of an independent Scotland (i.e. in the event of a YES vote). I felt Scottish Labour would then be free to put Scottish voters first and try to create a Social Democratic Scotland, free at last from the constraints of being a branch of a UK party that was no longer Social Democratic due to the need to win sufficient seats in the South-East of England.

    I also said that if there was a NO vote, I would *never* vote for Scottish Labour again, due to their behaviour in the Better Together campaign.

    I would reconsider voting for Scottish Labour if (1) they left British Labour and set up an autonomous Scottish Labour party, (2) supported more devolution for Scotland, (3) stopped hating everything the SNP had done/is doing/or will ever do in future, and (4) must not seek to block a future referendum on independence.

    We Scots must feel relaxed about voting Scotland Labour again, knowing they are not controlled from London, knowing that they support more powers (e.g. National Insurance, full control of wlefare) that can protect us from Westminster Tory rule, knowing that they might one day perhaps form a coalition with the SNP (due to similar policies in many areas), and that they will let us vote on independence if we wish to do so (they can campaign positivelly for us to stay in the union).

    At the moment, I do not have trust in Scottish Labour to do what is best for Scotland. If we had voted YES in the Indepdence Referendum, Scottish labour could have been governing an indepedent Social Democratic Scotkand and thus showing English and Welsh voters an alternative to neoliberal UK. Instead, Scottish Labour did not even consider the opportunity of a Social Democratic independent Scotland. To my knowledge, they did not even discuss (never mind vote on) the Independence issue within the Scottish branch. I presume British Labour HQ told the branch how they felt about independence. I also presume that British Labour HQ thought only of preserving their 40 MPs in Scotland and that was the only reason that Scotland could not be allowed to be a nation in ots own right.

    Even now, Scottish Labour seems to be thinking only of Scottish Labour.

  10. John says:

    You make some good points but was it solely the Scottish party that voted for the war in Iraq? Scotland has never been comfortable with New Labour, the Scottish party is guilty of incompetence but its the association with the maligned Westminster Labour that has seen it turfed out.

    Labour had a choice between its roots and middle England marginals. It chose the latter and now what it has taken for granted is being uprooted. Scotland is only the beginning, Northern England and Wales will follow suit unless Labour start representing and understanding working class interests instead of treating them with aloof disdain. Its Corbyn or the dustbin for me.

  11. paul barker says:

    As an outsider (Libdem) I dont think SLabs opposition to Nationalism was as clear as the article makes out. My perception was that Labour went along with The SNP in playing the Anti-English card against the Tories & later, The Libdems. The agreed line was that you couldnt be a Tory (or in Coalition with Tories) & still be a “Real” Scot. Once the Tories & Libdems had been sufficiently damaged The SNP could turn the same guns on Labour. Labour had no defence because they had been using the same argument themselves.
    There is a wider problem for Labour, that a lot of its support is based on prejudice, once you allow that Class Hate is OK then what is your argument against other forms of prejudice ?

  12. Duncan Hothersall says:

    As a Scottish Labour member I’m disgusted with the tone of this piece. As the chair of Edinburgh Southern CLP and as agent in the recent election where we achieved a Labour gain from the SNP I’m also appalled by its poor quality, gaping generalisation and ill-considered analysis.

    The author knows nothing about Scottish politics and nothing about Scottish Labour. He presents reheated theories about the effect of the referendum without a shred of serious consideration. His aim appears to be to lay blame rather than find solutions. And he resorts to abuse rather than argument.

    It is, in short, a dreadful article which shames the site that hosts it.

    Next time you want to comment on Scottish Labour or Scottish politics, find someone who knows the first thing about it.

  13. G says:

    Here are some hard truths.

    1. In Scotland the Tories are not the enemy. The SNP are. The SNP policy of independence would result in Scottish voters, particularly the working classes, being much worse off. Opposing nationalism is in the best interests of Scots, particularly those on low incomes, whose interests Labour are supposed to act on.

    2. Obsessing about constitutional detail turns off Unionist voters and only enables the Nationalists to talk about this, not deal with the failures of SNP government, Neither of which will encourage voters back to Labour.

    3. What Scotland wants, and what is has voted for in the SNP (and to a lesser extent Ruth Davidson’s Tories), is the impression of centrist, competent governance. It does not want a party veering into leftist posturing, either from the grim charisma free Corbyn, or from his acolytes attacking Kezia.

  14. Tafia says:

    kevin you are either stupid or kischief-making.

    Everyone knows what has crippled Scottosh Labour. It’s apparently passed you by so I will put it here for you.

    1. Scottish Labour did not allow it’s membership to decide what their position should be for IndyRef.

    2. They campaigned on the same platform as and alongside the Scottish Tories.

    3. They publicly insulted and belittled their own supporters who had decided to vote Yes.

    4. London sent up Labour MPs etc who didn’t even have seats in Scotland to help with the No campaign.

    5. They (SLab) insulted what remained by foisting the idiot Murphy on them.

    As a result, Scottish Labour got what it deserved – it’s bollocks kicking in. It’s membership is less than 10,000. Thought by many to be as low as 6,000 – and mosty of those are elderly and in no physical state to campaign.

    It is finished north of the border unless it becomes an entirely separate party to the London one – totally separate membership, totally separate finances, totally separate party. Even Dugdale acknowledges that in private.

    No longer the Scottish Labour Party, rather the Labour Party of Scotland – or the dustbin.

    And that’s the reason for the increase in support for the Tories – those floating voters that are unionist are gravitating towards the tories because they see them as more likely to survive.

  15. Allan says:

    Cronyism and terribly unimpressive representatives started the rot. In my constituency we had a series of MP’s who were ex NUM officials. Non entities from a dying or dead industry. Their background totally irrelevant to the vast majority of the electorate. The head of the council (now ousted by the SNP) was a low acheiver at school and had never held a job prior to becoming a councillor. Yet he was the pick of the Labour crop. Perhaps someone with Blair’s charisma could revive them but I reckon they’re done. The SNP is now the established centre left party and the Tories have a chance to be a credible opposition

  16. Kevin says:

    Dear all – many thanks for your comments and observations – many of which are incredibly astute and thought-provoking. A subject we should return to.

    It’s clear there’s a section of the party in Scotland still in deep denial, not only at the state of Labour’s collapse, but what has caused it. Only by examining these aspects (hopefully, the point of my piece) can we move on to look at remedies.

  17. Liam K says:

    Sorry no. Labour lost because they tried to fight this election on policy from their left wing manifesto and deeply underestimated the importance of the constitution in people’s minds. We all knew who was going to be in gov, public debate about policy, manifestos and issues did not matter.

    It was just another Yes vs No election. The fight for 2nd place was just who’s party seemed strongest against nationalism and another indyref. Labour thought we had moved on/wanted us to move on. And we on the No side at least really do want to move on but the Tories used the indyref to position themselves as the ones to put a stop to all this nonsense/indyref2.

    Yadayadayada… For now Labours focus should’ve been on securing centre ground no voters. Not just the left wing as that’s already labours core vote. The nationalists just fought with Sturgeon face plastered everywhere and teasing its supporters over indyref2. The Tories campaigned as the Union party doing just about every photo op possible with their likeable, working class, modern Tory.. Basically the complete opposite of her English counterparts.

    SNP peaked last year. Indyref2 is not going to happen. SNP do not have a majority. 5 years until the next election.. one which will hopefully be fought on policy rather than constitution as the support for Indy just keeps falling.

  18. Donald says:

    I’m a Yes supporting ex-Labour supporter. I now vote SNP. I will never lend my vote to the Labour party ever again – but even I find this article so far off the mark, that it only speaks to the mess the Labour party is in as a whole.

    I found myself voting SNP in Scottish elections as a protest vote. Not because Labour up here were weak – simply Tony Blair. Iraq. The illegal war is what did it.

    But guess what. The SNP went & delivered good left policies. Free prescriptions, free education. Abolished toll charges. They out-flanked you on the left.

    But you know what killed your party stone dead up here? The referendum. Gordon Brown promising “As close to Home Rule or federalisation as possible” it was Ed Milliband turning up in Scotland & looking utterly clueless.

    On the morning of the 19/9/2014 I watched Labour activists stand shoulder to shoulder with Tories & jump up & down celebrating project fear. Celebrating victory with Tories. And that’s when I finally saw the Labour party for what it is – a centre, pro-establishment, sell-out party.

    I am sure I am like many other ex Labour supporters. I reserve a special, unrelenting kind of hatred in my heart for the party that utterly betrayed it’s core values. I knew on that morning of the 19th that nothing – nothing – could ever persuade me to vote for them again. In fact I would actively campaign for their demise in Scotland.

    But it’s not simply “Scottish Labour” that are to blame. This started with Tony Blair & Gordon Brown, this started at Westminster.

  19. Jim Fraser says:

    A really interesting article and set of comments which both raise useful points, if anyone is listening. We all only see and feel our part of the jigsaw puzzle, and I feel enough residual goodwill for the Labour party to offer mine. First, the working hand-in-hand with the Tories. For me, it wasn’t so much the fact tha Labour did this during the referendum, it was the evident relish with which it was done (see Ed Balls gleefully joining in with Gideon telling us we couldn’t use the Pound; or early on Ian Davidson’s chat about it all being over bar the bayoneting of the survivors).

    Labour could hardly avoid siding with the Tories, having decided (I believe) that saving the 40+ MP tribute that Scotland could send to Westminster was their main reason for joining Better Together. But it mistaken set its face against being ‘the party of devolution’ and arguing the case for a reasonably devo max/federalist option on the referendum ballot mainly (I believe) because it wanted to see Alex Salmond not only defeated but humiliated. Moves to turn to that strategy now seem pretty hollow given it was rejected out of hand when 80% of people in the polls were saying it’s what they actually wanted more than anything.

    Not to mention Labour fighting tooth and nail to minimise anything coming to Scotland via the Smith Commission. David Cameron made a big mistake on the 19th of September 2014 by immediately linking our constitutional future wiith EVEL, when an unambiguously magnanimous devolution of power would have been politically smart. Labour effectively compounded this mistake, and has since then tried to rub Scotland’s noses in it – or at least around 50% of Scotland’s electorate – by the continuation of its SNPBad ‘non-policy’.

    And yet, and yet…many Yes voters fought the independence referendum knowing that Scottish Labour was in a difficult place (often made worse by its being a bit sheepishly loyal to the diktat and interests of London Labour) but being perfectly prepared to forgive and forget if independence was won. Because Labour, or something like it, would obviously be a big part of the future in Scotland, perhaps even a dominant part. In this I suspect we were a bit naive or at least unaware of the deep and debilitating hatred felt for the SNP by many in Labour, still. Perhaps because so many independence supporters came from Labour in the first place I don’t think this ill feeling is reciprocated with anything like the same fervour.

    So, where next for Labour? A true and sincere devo max strategy might be the only viable, if difficult, option (but please, no more of the Vow and those Vow Delivered claims in the Record, it’s embarrasing.) It won’t be easy to define what that means (I said it wouldn’t be easy) but unlees you go for independence (which I doubt anyone in Labour currently has the vision and chutzpah to advocate, sorry) it’s either that or become a poor man’s Tory party in Better Together 2.

    The thing is, I don’t think you have long to decide. Drifting, because Kezia is a leader only in name at this point, into a continuation of opposing SNP policy when it could easily have been Labour policy only a few years ago (minimum alcohol pricing or Named Person, anyone?) will achieve nothing except the illusion of holding the SNP’s feet to the fire. With nobody listening to you. Like now.

    I’m for independence, but you have to give me and others like me a major conundrum to solve: might a properly federal Britain be possible under a Labour party that took us for granted and then betrayed our trust.

    I believe there is no alternative for Labour.

    Don’t take too long to decide.

  20. alan says:

    I think Slab made a huge mistake returning so many of the same failed and toxic old faces that essentially are figures of comedy in Scotland. Kezia has take more positions than the Karma Sutra – shifting position constantly over just one year. She is widely seen as a shallow careerist with no values. You also have people like Duncan who likes to argue black is white and score petty points than set out any vision.

    I personally think its too late. You could have stopped the rot to some degree shortly after indyref by fighting for devo-max/home rule (everything but currency and foreign affairs/defense) but instead they gave what felt like a total betrayal by a short sighted con job involving Gordon Brown, Darling etc. That was incredibly damaging IMO – even more so than being part of better together.

    I think it has probably gone too far for Labour to recover but here are some SLab issues and solutions:

    1. The Party – you need to form a totally autonomous party. it was a dead giveaway that PLP was pulling the strings in Smith and Scotland Bill. PLP have a clear motive for not wanting a most devolved plus EVEL but SLab shouldnt. They should want all the power possible to shield us from a Westminster which has been right wing dominated 79-2020. So if PLP wont accept devo-max then SLab simply have to split. There is a straight choice between

    2. Personnel – well that is royally effed up for another 4 or 5 years so no way out. So many of the same old rejected faces. Slab need to understand those faces are totally toxic, not trust, mostly seen a careerists with no convictions. So Your stuck with a mix of low talent people way off the beat of modern Scotland and some slimy Blairites. So nothing can be done there.

    3. Constitution – Smith and Scot bill basically killed off any trust from people who support Indy or Devo-Max (which is a very large chunk of the non-Tory voters). You simply have to back devo-max now or die. Insulting half the population as Nazis etc doesnt help win friends and influene people.


    As for the PLP they must ditch the dream of occasional unbridled power and embrace both UK wide federalism and Single Transferable voting system. That may bring out a large amount of voters who dont see a point and I suspect most are left of centre. Not doing this is a UK scale version of not giving Scots devo max – it is willfully depriving people of a tool that could permanently keep Tory rule out.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I am not in the business of defending Labour in Scotland, but some simple mathematics confirms that only on a couple of occasions has Labour needed the Scottish seats to have a majority in Westminster. In the last General Election you would have failed to have a majority with 41 seats in Scotland. I can’t recall, but you may have failed to get a majority of you had gained all the seats in Scotland.

    You seem to be quite far behind the times regarding the shift in Scottish politics and your post just looks like yet more anti-Scottish sentiment. If I were Labour in Scotland and I was reading a fellow party member referring to me as a “pygmy” I would be thinking about demanding a split from the party – the irony is you bang out that language on your wee keyboard and then accuse Labout in Scotland of being “riven” and “squabbling” – what on earth is your post if it isn’t evidence that the entire Labour party in Britain is riven with petty name-calling and squabbles.

    Tony Blair, New Labour, the Iraq War – these are the symptoms of your problems, and Labour in Scotland appears to still be demonstrating affections for Blairite/New Labour ideology.

    Carry on, though, it’s quite entertaining watching you all rip shreds out of each other and confirm that Labour should never be given a chance to govern Scotland again.

  22. James Kelly says:

    The fact your piece has caused Duncan to get incandescent with rage says it all really. Probably the most self-aware (not perfect) piece on Labour’s position in Scotland that I have read from a Labour member.

    Up here in Scotland the only rump left in Labour seems to be the hardcore denialists, previously rejected MSP’s, ‘SNP Bad’ shouty people (just who is the enemy to Labour?) and folks like Duncan (who falls comfortably into three of those four categories). There is no way back for Labour in Scotland if that is the foundation for ‘rebuilding’.

    They had a *real chance* in 2014 and they blew it spectacularly.

  23. Bill McLean says:

    Labour in Scotland were wrecked, not just because of their political uselessness, but because Scots now know they are “British Labour” and will look to the interests of the UK before Scotland. There is no such entity as “Scottish Labour” either de facto or de jure. Labour in Scotland lost most of its credibility when it allowed itself to be used as front men for the the Tories in the Independence Referendum. Their only chance of recovery in Scotland is to re-examine their position re the constitutional situation of Scotland in/out of the UK. My preference would be for Labour up here to become autonomous, support Scotland’s right to a return to independence, and re-establish itself as the voice for Scottish working people – unfortunately, since Blair, Labour in Scotland is simply Tory Lite!

  24. Stefan says:

    Labour have largely limited their vote in Scotland to the half that voted no plain and simple. They are fighting Tories and Lib dems for their share. Despite some commentators belief that support for independence is falling its not its much the same and considerably up from when the indy ref was called. Labour need to broaden their net and fish in the pool with yes voters also. How they do that is anybodys guess.

    This mixed with historic legacies – corrupt councillors – second rate MSPs (and leaders FFS) – Iraq and you have a toxic stew.

    Feel for Keziah who everyone seems to like (She went to my school!) but she is up against some tough opponents (Not Willie Rennie!) and she is not leadership material (second rate again) Maybe she will grow into it but i dont think she’s ready yet.

    Voted Labour all my life until recently like so many others.

  25. ExDex says:

    Thank you for writing this article.
    Sometimes these things need to be spoken about frankly and honestly just to clear the air. It will be painful and some don’t want to hear it (won’t mention any names) but if Labour can cast the deadwood adrift it may be able to recover some semblance of respect some day.

  26. ad says:

    It would seem that Labours dominance in Scotland was based on uniting left-wing unionists and nationalists. Leaving the right-of-centre voters split between the Tories and the SNP.

    Then after the Scottish Parliament opened its doors, nationalist voters started to switch to the SNP. Leaving the unionist voters split between Labour and the Tories.

    Which should give people some sympathy for Scottish Labours position in the indyref: they could hardly fudge the independence question in that campaign, yet any clear-cut position was bound to alienate half their voters. (At least, half the voters who voted for them in Westminster elections.) Which perhaps explains why the Better Together campaign was so terrible.

    The problem would seem to be: What is the point of Scottish Labour, in the era in which Scottish politics is dominated by the question of the Union?

  27. Brian McMahon says:

    How very Tory of you to blame the Scots.

  28. robert says:

    Duncan is really quite a signifier of Scottish Labours failure up here, his whole condescending tone and inability (or refusal) to grasp a single Scottish cultural nuance here is unbelieveable.

    He is celebrating Labour winning Edinburgh South.

    This is Morningside, Prime of Miss Jean Brodie territory – the Scottish cultural lodestar of all that is ‘posh’.

    He doesn’t even know that after being here for decades. He hasn’t even bothered.

    Can you imagine if I was an Labour activist in England, Labour had lost 99% of their seats but had taken Kensington and Chelsea ?

    What would you think of me if I was celebrating that ?

  29. Chris says:

    As arithmetic & electoral history would suggest, many of us who now don’t vote Labour in Scotland did vote for Labour until quite recently.

    But I’m in the ‘never again’ camp too. My views are the same as Donald (post at 5.21pm) so there’s not much point in repeating them.

    One thing I’d challenge, though, is the wishful thinking of Liam K (posted at 4.59 ) in claiming that support for indy is on the wane. Support for independence is – if anything – gently rising and the demographics are stacked in Yes’s favour. A humiliating defeat for Corbyn and Boris or Theresa or George in No 10 will only reinforce the democratic demands for Scottish home rule.

    If I were a Labour loyalist, I’d be arguing enthusiastically for indy or at least the last chance saloon for the union which is a radical federal/home rule position.

  30. Purple Poppy says:

    To be honest before the referendum i knew little about politics other than what i heard on the news. I didn’t really understand much of what went on, although at the time i thought i did. I blindly trusted the BBC to be honest and truthful. Oh how all that has changed!
    The referendum opened my eyes, never to be closed again. The world looks very different to me now. So I’m shocked to find when reading these comments that people like Duncan and G ,still live in the old world of believing total nonsense.
    I have wanted independence since the 70’s and always will, but i had voted Labour a few times over the years, if only because i thought it would keep the Tories out. So to see them campaign with the Tories!!! Backing up Tory lies and not even allowing their own MSPs the freedom to support independence , shocked me into reality.
    I am now a member of the SNP. Had it not been for the referendum i wouldn’t have even realised how easy it was to join. I knew so little, i had thought to be a member you had to be active and out campaigning etc. However I have ended up helping with taking people to the polls and delivering leaflets a few times.
    The referendum took politics to the people in a whole new way. We started to find out what was really happening, and we didn’t like it. Labour have no one to blame but themselves, they could have changed but they were too arrogant to even imagine that they could be to blame for their problems . No they blamed the voters, apparently we were brainwashed. They were right in a way, my brain was washed of all the lies and bias in the media and i found out that if i wanted information i could find it.
    To be honest i wish ‘Scottish ‘Labour had realised the error of its ways and become a force for good in Scotland. Instead of having nothing to say other than SNP bad all the time, that gets boring after a while. They would have to completely reinvent themselves, apologise and support independence before i would even listen to them. Even then I’m not sure they could be trusted!

  31. eddie says:

    hehehehe If you think that was bad, wait and see the 2017 council elections

    I think this analysis was rather good but still missing some important points. As Peter A Bell has pointed out, much of the problem is that ‘scottish labour’ doesn’t actually exist. Thee is only the labour party’s branch office, as johanna lamont put it. As a consequence, whoever is labour in scotland’s leader cannot make any policy proposals with a hope of having the uk labour party implementing them. See how #labstain helped them put thru the scotland bill, eh? Worse than that, there’s no point in the scottish branch making policy proposals in areas that are not actually devolved or, thanks to uk labour, devolved in such a way that to implement them is a poisoned chalice. Case in point: the devolution of some income tax powers that, had they been used in kezia dugdale’s headline policy, would merely have resulted in highly taxed scots either moving south or, if business owners, switching their income to non-devolved dividends. That and any revenue actually raised like this would be cancelled out with a deduction in barnet formula funds.

  32. Ken says:

    If you want to see the true depths of denial, I suggest you try this article on the ‘Labour Hame’ website, posted today.


    In it, the writer argues that the problem was that the SNP weren’t attacked enough, that ‘we balked at sticking the boot into the SNP’.

    He also goes on to say that we should have been offering a tax cut rather than a rise, and that unions were a ‘protection racket for working people’.

    I defy any Yes-voting former Labour supporter to read this and feel any desire to return to Scottish Labour.

  33. Allan says:

    Not actually sure why you aren’t furious at “The Scottish Party”, but you should really have been a lot more furious an awful lot sooner.

    The tipping point is definitely the referendum, the sight of Labour politicians gleefully reciting Tory attack lines has certainly been the moment where previously loyal Labour supporters have seen how right wing their party has become. ‘Scottish’ Labours lap dog performances during the Smith Commission negotiations have only exacerbated this view.

    However, there is one name mysteriously missing from the list of the guilty. Before the inaugural Scottish Parliament elections, Blair appointed the then Cumbernauld & Kilsyth MP, Rosemary McKenna, to head up the selection panel to choose the candidates for that election. The list of candidates for that election turned out to represent a very narrow, Blairite, section of the party. While there was no Rhodri Morgan style embarrassment for Labour at the time – aside from Denis Canavan – they have paid for it since.

  34. Brian says:

    Slab has to become independent, just like Scotland. I wished you had spoken to us before the referendum because most members wanted to break away from Westminster. Scottish Labour have to stop telling Scots “we are to small,to stupid to take control of this great country. I believe we can rise up again but it needs to be in a independent Scotland. We should at least talk about indyref2 and not be afraid of it.

  35. Jim Fraser says:

    Duncan’s response to your article is pretty much par for the course, Kevin. He is the apparatchik’s apparatchik. I remember asking him before the referendum question was even set whether, if devo max could save the union, he would vote for it? He said he wouldn’t/couldn’t answer on the grounds that it was hypothetical. Jeez. It’s not so hypothetical now, is it. But Labour’s time to answer it may have passed.

    In Scotland Labour allowed themselves to believe that defeating the existential threat posed by the SNP (who had become more Labour than Labour in many people’s eyes), and in particular destroying the hate-figure they’d made out of Alex Salmond, was more important than responding to the expressed public desire for more powers.

    I doubt whether Duncan can change now. Let’s hope his party can.

  36. Ro Bell says:

    Ro Bell May I point out that there is no Scottish Party – merely a North Britain Branch Office. And therein lies the rub…

  37. Hamish says:

    Labour’s demise in Scotland is Labour’s fault — the whole of the British Labour Party, not just the Scottish branch.

    A large part of the reason this translated into a kicking in the last UK General Election is that when the Tories ran a campaign in England claiming that Labour would be in the pocket of the SNP… the Labour Party capitulated completely and utterly, instead of making the simple and easy-to-grasp point that this was tantamount to saying the Tories were in the pocket of the Lib Dems?

  38. TCO says:

    The problem for Labour in Scotland was that the electorate that mattered wasn’t the general populace, but the internal party aparatchiks who bestowed candidate preferment.

    Ironically the move to STV for Scottish Council elections will help the Labour Party in the long run in that it makes every seat competitive and encourages able politicians, not party make-weights.

    If STV were in place for Westminster it would permit all shades of Labour opinion to run in constituencies, and offer the electorate the final decision as to whether they were New or Old Labour, Blairite or Corbynite.

    Friendly advice – embrace electoral reform and you will see the rebirth of your party.

  39. Macaulay says:

    This ‘insight’ is wrong on several points. As someone who was a Labour voter but now a Yes, Green and SNP voter, I can assure you Scottish Labour politicians were never done telling us what “Proud Scot”s they were during the referendum campaign, which only illustrated, as you have again, that they had failed utterly to understand why a lot of people were moving towards Yes – it had nothing to do with nationalism or patriotism at all. It is the stultifying, stunted, pathetic effort at democracy that pertains at Westminster which has been holding back the people like a ball and chain for over a century through a feudal structure of privilege and autocratic power. The Labour Party has been assimilated by it, what are you doing in the House of Lords? Power for power’s sake. But of course the silly electorate doesn’t “understand” how “these things work”. Our bad. The SNP doesn’t go there. Trying to democratise and make things egalitarian seems like banging your head off a collossal stone edifice that keeps regenerating its stonework after someone’s bashed their brains out making a crack. Then along comes a chance and suddenly we see a chink of light and we are off towards it, of course. So what it’s independence? It’s a way forward. We can work together afterwards in a stronger British Irish Council without the remnants of a dead empire in people’s heads. England needs to wake up. Dismantle the Westminster system, it’s a delusion of democracy and a dead empire but it is not fit for purpose as a 21st century democracy.

  40. Tafia says:

    when the Tories ran a campaign in England claiming that Labour would be in the pocket of the SNP… the Labour Party capitulated completely and utterly, instead of making the simple and easy-to-grasp point that this was tantamount to saying the Tories were in the pocket of the Lib Dems?

    The SNP and Salmond are desppised by middle England because of the hate campaign the English edition of the Daily Mail & Sun ran during IndyRef (the Scottish editions were far far less vitriolic, almost neutral). That made any form of alliance with teh SNP unaccptable to a large swathe of the English elecrorate. Whereas the Lib Dems didn’t have that handicap

  41. ad says:

    Tafia, the whole point of a nationalist party is that it doesn’t care about people outside that nation. If there were such a thing as an English National Party and it was likely to hold the balence of power in Westminster, I feel sure you would realise it was unlikely to care about people on the other side of the Anglo-Scottish border.

    Likewise, people in England are never going to believe the SNP cares about them, whatever the Mail and the Sun say. A British party can claim to care about people throughout the UK, and might be belived. A purely English or Scottish party cannot.

    You can’t have a party explicitly dedicated to one identity group, and then expect it to be liked or trusted by people who are not in that group.

  42. eddie says:

    Of course, Tafia. It was in the papers so it must be true.

  43. Tafia says:

    eddie Of course, Tafia. It was in the papers so it must be true

    That’s the point cock-womble – the two largest selling papers both ran anti-SNP/anti-Salmond campaigns in their south of the border editions. And that influenced what England’s voters thought and how they behaved.

    ad – Likewise, people in England are never going to believe the SNP cares about them
    Not only does the SNP care about them, but it also quite outspokenly believes England should have a devolved Assembly/Parliament all of it’s own. And you overlook that in the past, Labour relied on the SNP Westminster vote when it was in government in the 1970’s and it was the withdrawal of that vote that brought about the end of Callaghan’s regime.

  44. Jams O'Donnell says:

    This article seems to assume that the Labour party in Scotland is a separate party – it is not – it is a wholly=owned branch of the UK Labour party.

    If Labour want to rise again in Scotland they will a) – have to become independent of UK Labour, and b) – put Scotland’s interest first, last and all the time.

    Even if they do that, I hope they fail – as long as they remain committed to neo-liberal policies and propping up the unbridled capitalist state.

  45. Jeannie says:

    Although the writer didn’t quite capture the entire spectrum of failure by labour in Scotland, it did make some honest evaluations of the spectacular downfall of Fortress Labour. I can only speak for myself:

    My grandfather was on the committee that got James Maxton elected in 1924. His wife and children were suffering from malnutrition at the time. He took part in all the hunger marches and worked tirelessly for the party all his life. In the following generation, my father and his brothers did the same. They worked in the Clydeside shipyards and represented the men in the union. We grew up in the labour party and the trade union movement. We believed. The party was the centre of our world and what we believed in. I took pride in their commitment and all that they achieved. We were represented by people from our streets; familiar faces.

    Then along came Thatcher followed by NEW LABOUR. We all watched aghast as everything that had been so hard won was jettisoned in favour of elites. Local ‘feet on the ground’ politicians were replaced by careerists in silk suits. Our PM was arse crawling to the US and embroiled us in an act of genocide that has engendered repercussions that will reverberate long after I am long gone.

    We have been a nuclear target since I was at primary school. My own family were part of the protest at the Holy Loch. The cost of replacing this abomination hardly bears thinking about in the face of poverty and foodbanks.

    What is my point you ask?

    It is this: if the labour party has lost me, all of my family, and thousands of others who were brought up in families just like mine, who will absolutely never vote for them again, what does that tell you?

    Another poster hit the nail right on the head. ‘Better Together’ finished them forever. The sight of them high-fiving and hugging each other when the referendum results came in, was boak-worthy. I don’t like using the word ‘hate’ so let’s just say I loathe them. I was very glad that my dear old father wasn’t around to see what his beloved labour party did to their own country. The manifesto of Keir Hardie had Home Rule right at the top of their agenda. If they had supported the Yes campaign, there would be an independent Scotland today with a proud Scottish Labour Party. If they oppose a second referendum (in view of the changed circumstances with Brexit) they are stupider than even I give them credit for.

  46. uglyfatbloke says:

    No sign that things are getting any better as we look to the local elections. I read that internal polling was giving Labour 15% of the vote but my (ultra-smart) friend in Glasgow tells me even that’s better than she expects in her constituency.
    The current situation is not all Kezia’s fault by a long, long way, but I’m not sure she has any means of turning things around. The party has failed spectacularly to hit the nats on the subjects where they are weak such as personal liberty but it has also failed miserably to be the guardian of the Treaty of Union. Blair’s bit of north sea ‘land’-grabbing and his invention of a ‘supreme court’ are just two examples. If Labour is to defend the Union it has to defend all of its aspects.

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