A party without a conscience
Scottish Labour has always believed in the supremacy of Westminster government. That belief has brought it to the point of extinction in the country that gave it birth. Paradoxically, against a tide of neo-con globalisation, the chief cause of the world’s upheavals, the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, gives people hope, yet allows it crushed in Scotland. Collectively Labour’s Scottish branch has the political acumen of the male widow spider. Having screwed Scotland it will get consumed on the spot.
By its irrational hatred of the SNP, and its political cowardliness, Labour made welcome resurgence of the xenophobic extremist Right, and by default, betraying public trust, allowed the Right to take its place, most evident odious Ukip. Scotland wants none of it.
One of the repugnant sights of the Scottish independence referendum was the sound of allegedly democratic politicians, in the House of Commons and the House of Lords – the self-styled ‘Mother of all Parliaments’ – warning the electorate that, should they exercise their rights and return full self-governance to their nation, the English state will punish them. Scottish Labour was part of that gang of thugs. They asked what we wanted and then told us we’d get a kicking for asking.
They are still saying it, intimidating in so many ways now that they know Scotland is in sight of that ultimate goal, self-determination reinstated, and will not let go. That’s why I publish a letter from a Labour voter at the end of this essay. More of that later.
Dear Labour Party
Scottish Labour threw itself into the vat of neo-liberal mythology. It promoted the phrase, “the something for nothing society”, a thinly veiled condemnation of the very welfare state their party had devised, enabled, and was elected to protect, a system envied by the world. Now the welfare state is portrayed as a terrible drain on the public finances.
Neo-liberalism is hailed as the solution. It concentrates wealth in tiny sectors. The few own the most. Scottish Labour doesn’t mind that because it suits their agenda to keep the SNP from power – they act like Tories telling us to work hard and we get rewards. It is not what happens, Scotland is not rewarded, but that fits the picture, the mythology. Thus they block Scotland’s progress in the modern world.
No one seems to know what Labour stands for these days, least of all Scotland’s Labour group. Rigor mortis is inevitable for a body politic that refuses to affirm support of Scotland’s renaissance, its new Enlightenment, and stand firm on its core principles, free education, a free health service, and free prescriptions. We in Scotland are bemused to see Labour politicians rejecting socialism, and the SNP doing what it can on a meagre annual Treasury allowance to protect socialism’s hallowed tenets. It’s bizarre. When it becomes part of the awareness, consciousness, and aspirations of the large majority of the population Labour joins with the Tories to reject it.
Scotland is the land of Adam Smith, an egalitarian. He believed in equality of outcome, not only opportunity. He is an Enlightenment figure, pre-capitalist. Scotland remains stoically egalitarian in values and attitude. To ignore that is to invite political defeat.
I was a Labour voter
On some issues I’m far left, the mandatory participation of employees in company decisions and profits, for example, and I’m centre left on other issues, such as helping new businesses to develop assisted by the public purse, and state support of the arts.
I thought Labour the caring party to achieve all that. Labour wanted Home Rule for Scotland from its earliest days, and seemed to hold firm to that ideal even when the policy stopped appearing in its election manifesto, a recoil from the troubles in Ireland that eventually gave Irish their republic.
I held the notion Labour would see the rise of the SNP as a justified, legitimate protest movement that other countries are currently witness to, (such as Spain’s Podemos) and they would emulate it. It isn’t just the working class that is rejecting conventional political institutions, the middle class in its totality is doing the same for they see no hope in the status quo.
Scottish Labour ignored the working class and the vulnerable to concentrate on wooing the middle class with false promise but instead alienated everybody. And they joined in the wave of Ukip led hysteria over immigrants, blaming them for Britain’s problems.
The rot began with Thatcher
There was a time I could just about accept a Conservative administration lording it over Scotland because its policies were those of the old school conciliatory Tory. (The attitude is in concilia-tory.) Then came Margaret Thatcher, mountebank on horseback, trailing in her wake the destruction of Scotland’s great industries of ship building and steel making, followed by the criminal squandering of North Sea oil profits on state organised repressive campaigns against unionism.
She topped those gross offences by demoting society’s carers, the doctors, the teachers and nurses, turning human sympathy into a dirty word, and instead elevated the barons of industry as saviours of Britain’s empire. In terms of globalisation, she might as well have said go forth and multiply in far off lands, and take no heed of the harm it will do the United Kingdom.
The final straw
Blair and then Brown, far from being radical new wave politicians, endorsed the policies of Thatcher. Ardent followers of the Adoration of the Maggie, Labour joined with extremist Tories to rob Scotland of its civil rights. You could barely tell the two parties apart.
Labour saw to it that our sons and daughters were cannon fodder on the oil stained battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. They deified greed, uncoupled bank and investment house morality, allowed free the avaricious to pursue fantasy economics, and consequently rob the nation of its savings as the means to keep the men of wealth in the habit to which they had become accustomed. Brown recast himself their employee, loyal Mafia bag man.
With three massive majority administrations at Westminster New Labour had the godsend of an opportunity to break Westminster’s monolithic power and tear up the usury Treaty of 1707 to devise one better suited to this century, one where Scotland was an equal participating partner. But they don’t think Scotland has anything to teach the English.
Even as Labour agreed publically to reinstate Scotland’s parliament it was arguing behind closed doors for the opposite action. It believes Holyrood is a grave error of judgement.
Now that a mere 26% of the United Kingdom’s population voted to dispense with European cooperation and employ confrontation instead, England is destined to become an infinitesimally smaller place with or without Scotland.
Labour won’t rescind Brexit. They know leaving Europe profoundly harms Scotland, but so what, they are happy the SNP will take the hit.
A malignant presence
Now Labour in Scotland face wipe out in all levels of elections. As a means of survival they propose to align with Tories yet again in wards that seem winnable as a team effort, and all to keep out the one party that is solely concerned with Scotland’s health, the SNP. They conspire to thwart the will of the electorate.
Some Labour politicians think self-immolation a noble sacrifice in the face of a party they detest elected in any form, and the most heinous transgression of all, one with an international outlook.
Where is the person for the hour?
That no Scottish Labour politician exists of any backbone, intellect, or vision, ready to change the course of Scotland’s history, is testament to decades of Labour’s exploitation of Scotland as a convenient stepping stone to greater reward and privilege dispensed by Westminster. As a political group it has ground to a halt, totally bereft of ideas.
You can almost hear their plea: if only Scotland would think like England, all would be safe and well again, and Labour could return to it true character of lethargy, inertia and cronyism, with no need to worry over the problems of this troublesome corner of Mighty Albion. They manifest that dogma in their phrase, “the Referendum was a divisive issue”.
Labour tells us time and time again, it has turned its back on reform.
An articulate explanation of political betrayal
To the letter in question: the writer signs himself ‘A. R. Brown’, a somewhat anonymous name. He describes himself as a former Labour voter who says – correctly, in my view – Scotland’s radical progressives will have no choice but to fight back; “Scottish Labour needs to pick a side”. Amen to that. It is almost too late. Who will trust it now?
The letter is reproduced below without edit or emendation. It is published in Labour’s whimsically named website, “Labour’s Hame“, a misnomer if ever there was one ever since Scotland so comprehensively rejected New Labour’s far right neo-liberal policies, and anti-Scottish posturing.
This website is not in the habit of quoting the work of another in toto, usually I select sentences or passages to discuss, but on this occasion I make an exception.
“So, here’s the thing.
For a long time I voted nothing but Labour, but I stopped doing that, and in 2014 I not only voted Yes but, for the first time in my life, I knocked doors in that campaign. It’s likely that I’ll be even more involved if there’s ever another chance to secure self-government for Scotland.
I don’t doubt that a fair proportion of Labour Hame’s readership after reading that first paragraph aren’t reading this one. We all know that there’s an impressive set of fortifications separating the Labour Party from those who voted Yes, and the guns on that bastion point both ways. Maybe there’s even a few people who will doubt my right to write anything on a site dedicated to progressive politics when I’m clearly a small-minded, parochial, anti-English bigot with no grasp of economic reality.
The problem with that is that I’m trained in academic research, I’m typing this in England, I build financial models for the banks and insurance houses, and I’ve never been a member of any political party – not even that one. And as I mentioned before, I used to be a Labour voter and a big part of my commitment to the Yes side was a strong desire to protect the remnants of the 1945 social democratic settlement secured by your party. In other words, apart from a difference in opinion about where the border should be a couple of years ago, I ought to be one of you.
We may not live in dark times yet, but the sun is going down and the stars seem shy in coming out. Progressives need to stand together now or be swept away by the tide of unpleasantness exemplified, not by the Brexit vote, with which I disagree but understand, but by the clear lurch of the UK to the authoritarian, nativist right in response to that vote.
I want the Labour party to function well in Scotland. I want your candidates for First Minister to be plausible and I want every constituency to be hard fought amongst as many parties as possible including yours. I don’t share the tribal disdain for your party that some of your opponents do, but I do resent some of the things that you have done to a degree that I can only describe as visceral. I’ll come back to that.
After the Westminster election of 2015 I heard Johann Lamont on Radio 4 asking for anyone who had forsaken her party to get in touch and making clear that she would listen. I got in touch, offering to talk all she liked but all I got was a baffled response from her office that led nowhere. My interpretation was that she clearly wasn’t expecting anyone to actually get in touch, she just wanted to appear to be open to ideas, to give the impression of listening.
After the Scottish general election I thought again about offering my tuppence worth, and indeed after a talk by your former staffer Simon Pia I thought I’d try again, so I sent a polite e-mail offering to talk at any meeting of my local CLP about bridging the gap between Yes voters and the Labour Party. I never received a reply, although I know the email was received, which only intensified my worry for your future.
So this is my third and final attempt at reaching out to you, and here’s what I need you to hear.
I was horrified by our attack on Iraq, I was exasperated by the grubby municipal politics of the early years of the last decade – especially by the usurious PFI programme – and I was aghast at Gordon Brown’s proposals for a national identity register, but the summit of my fury at your party is the way you approached our referendum of 2014. That was the decision in my life to which I have applied the most intellectual effort. I felt privileged to be trusted with the future of our country and keenly aware of the solemn weight of that responsibility and, perhaps subconsciously, I expected everyone else to feel the same way regardless of which way they decided to vote.
If you consider the notion of Scottish self-government absurd, impossible or criminal what comes next won’t make sense, but neither – to my mind – will the existence of Denmark as a self-governing entity of five and a half million highly educated, well organised, energetic, happy people.
From a party political point of view the referendum put you in a fantastically powerful position and with this power came, axiomatically, commensurate responsibility. The Tories couldn’t win the vote on their own. They relied on you to win it, and you could have extracted any price you cared to in return for your help. You could have demanded the reform of the electoral system, abolition of the House of Lords, reform of trust law or reform of company ownership rules – any one of which would have counted as massive forward movement for progressive politics. You could even have done something about the British class system.
Demanding Crown dependency status for our country would probably put independence in the shadows for several generations, leaving the party-that-must-not-be-named as an etiolated seedling desperately seeking the sun rather than taking root in the limelight of European affairs.
Instead, as far as I can make out, you gleefully joined in the campaign to make the referendum itself a wretched, dumbed-down, tribal trench war with the ultimate aim not of improving the lives of ordinary people but of defeating your opponents. You behaved as if it was mathematically impossible to find any benefit in self-government, yet failed to explain why the last part of the UK to become self-governing, despite its troubles, has never contemplated re-joining that Union.
Arguments presented as absolute and un-nuanced tend to fail basic reality checks and yours did just that. To make matters worse every single one of the skeletons you rattled at us two years ago has since clambered from the grave to dance a grinning Charleston round the country despite us voting as you exhorted.
So what can you do?
First off you have to decide if your approach in 2014 was a potentially fatal error or not and declare that decision loudly. If you decide that you’d do the same again then I really do think that you are finished, but that’s your call to make. Every human being has exquisitely tuned antennae for sincerity. If you do decide to apologise for the course you sailed during the referendum campaign then it has to be truly heartfelt and it has to have consequences that will initially be painful for you. There can’t be a hint of rebuke or grievance. Some of your recently retired representatives and former employees have hit this tone, but none of your actual elected officials’ public statements do – there’s calculation, triangulation and deference in every word.
Secondly, you need to live up to the ‘Scottish Labour’ name and become an actual party, or drop it and campaign proudly as plain Labour. We need to know who’s in charge, and even those of us who pay attention just don’t. As things stand your candidates for First Minister will have a leader in another nation to whom they answer and who is unaffected by decisions here. If you have a notion of our nation as having its own unique needs, that situation is ultimately untenable regardless of the qualities of the leaders involved.
And lastly – federalism. If you really want to keep giving CPR to that constitutional corpse you need to tell us what the complete end-to-end mechanism is for its delivery. If that process includes Labour winning a UK general election and a vote in the House of Lords then I think it’s only fair to say that we’re going to need atomic-level detail on how that situation might come about.
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this is an emergency. Forces are afoot now that might see not just the post-war settlement but all the subsequent social advances swept away within a few years. Scotland’s radical progressives will be in a knife-fight with the UK’s radical conservatives over the next two years. There will be no place for moderates. James Wilson’s 1820 slogan seems likely to fit 2018 like a glove – Scotland Free or a Desert.
This is the time for decisive collective action and I’d love Labour to join in, but if you can’t, if you really think this is the moment to squabble about income tax, then you will have placed yourselves firmly and permanently in the opposite camp to mine.”