Welcome to my Blog

I am a semi-retired former Scottish trade union policy wonk, now working on a range of projects. This includes the Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation. All views are my own, not any of the organisations I work with. You can also follow me on Twitter. Or on Threads @davewatson1683. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Sunday 8 May 2016

Scottish Labour - What Next?

As you would expect after last week’s election result, there is no shortage of analysis of Scottish Labour’s problems – even if that commentary is stronger on the problem than the solution.

My own contribution can be found in my column in today’s Sunday Mail. I am in not ducking the deep-seated problems, but Labour’s policy stance at this election puts it in a stronger position as austerity bites even harder. Making a radical change of direction or leadership is not the way forward. Sometimes in politics you have to play a longer game. Brian Wilson in the Sunday Times also takes a positive view.

If there is any point to John McTernan, it is to articulate another failed strategy - something he has considerable experience of. And he doesn’t let us down with his three points in yesterday’s Scotsman. So let’s address them because they do represent a strand New Labour opinion that believes that Labour must do whatever works, and if that means out Torying the Tories, then so be it.

Firstly, Labour should be the fundamentalist unionist party. This strategy may have shifted the voting share a couple of points in this election, but in the longer term it’s a dead end game. With the ‘No’ vote split three ways, Labour has little chance of getting more than a quarter of the vote - forever fighting with the Tories over the dubious prize of being the largest opposition party. It’s fine for the Tories who just want to conserve the status quo, but we are a socialist party, committed to changing our unequal society.

Secondly, Labour should not have outflanked the SNP on the left with the taxation policy. In essence this means conniving with the SNP’s Scandamerica myth that we can have social justice without cost. An SNP-lite policy stance would have left Labour without a distinctive policy offer. The polls showed clearly that Labour’s policy was more popular with SNP voters than their own manifesto offer and that points to a longer-term strategy.

Thirdly, ‘the unions self-indulgently imposed an anti-Trident policy of Kezia Dugdale’. Factually wrong because the policy was supported by constituencies as well as unions and reflects a long-standing view within Scottish Labour on this issue. Historically, that may have reflected a moral stance on nuclear weapons, but today, just as many members see the folly of spending £167bn on a militarily useless weapons system.

An interesting view, from outwith Scotland, comes from PaulMason. His solutions focus primarily on the UK party, but he has some useful points on Scotland as well. Like many English lefties he retains a romantic view of Scottish nationalism and an optimistic view of the prospects for independence. None the less, he has a point about how Jeremy Corbyn needs to get a grip of UK party organisation and reorganise it as a federal party. Politically, this is reflected in the latest Red Paper publication and organisationally, in my own paper. There is already a rather poor UK party discussion paper on this issue and there will shortly be a consultation amongst Scottish Labour Party members.

I am not sure Kevin McKenna’s ‘bring it on’ strategy over an independence referendum will work. Even though I was one of the few that supported Wendy Alexander. It was a strategy of its time, like the second question that the unions also championed. It was an opportunity missed, like so many, due to the complacent Labour Westminster establishment of the period. The problem with a quick re-run of Indyref is that neither side has moved on. It would again be Project Fear vs Project Pollyanna, with Project Fear having fresh economic ammunition post the oil price crash, but with even less vision of how a fairer Scotland can be achieved. On the other side, the independence project remains a disparate political alliance, with little work completed on the issues that need to be addressed before a clear majority of Scots will vote for it.

In conclusion, I’m afraid I don’t have a magic wand for Scottish Labour’s challenges. However, I do believe that the rebuilding project that started some nine months ago has to continue with renewed effort. Scottish Labour now at least stands for something worthwhile. It will take time to get a hearing, but lurching in a new direction will only hamper progress.  

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