I thought, seeing as it is my blog, that I ought to post at least once this week. And given that I’ve allowed Labour guests to have their say on who they’ll vote for – and very grateful I am that they took time out to share their views – also thought I ought to have a think about who I might vote for, if I had a vote of course.
I could have been one of the many lucky Labour types who have more than one vote. Imagine being in the Lamont household this week. Not one vote (Johann’s), not two (her husband’s, who is the longstanding Labour Glasgow councillor Archie Graham), not even four (as individual party members and also elected representatives) but it is possible that this leadership contender’s household cast eight votes (also as affiliated union members). Indeed, given that Ms Lamont is a Co-operative party sponsored MSP, she might even have enjoyed another vote through that route. The burd hopes that not only did she and her husband vote early and often, but that they also voted wisely.
I’m sure, long ago, there was a point to this multiple electoral college but I’m struggling to see its relevance now. One member, one vote: good enough for the rest of us after all.
So if I had one vote, or even three, whom might I have chosen?
Actually, the guest posts helpfully pointed up some of the contenders’ strengths and weaknesses. And I’m happy to add a few observations of my own.
If nominations are anything to go by, then Johann Lamont is clearly the front runner. With plenty of support from across the piece – elected representatives, CLPs and the all important unions – she appears to be the one to beat. And while the burdz heart sings at the prospect of another woman leading a political party in Scotland, for once, I am willing to admit that that might not be good enough reason in itself. Yes, Johann Lamont is the continuity candidate with a long hinterland of activism and involvement at all levels of her party but she is also a thoroughly decent and hardworking person who has more than earned her spurs. She has earned her tilt at the top prize and still manages to come across as in touch with her roots.
She is definitely on the left of the Labour party but also has that authoritarian streak of the left that is so inexplicable to the likes of me. Much to admire about her parliamentary career – especially the fact that she led the revolt against her own government in order to support the SSP’s bill to abolish poindings and warrant sales – but we will never see eye to eye on her approach to youth justice. She was one of the most vocal advocates of the ASBO policy which has achieved precisely nothing.
But Johann has also done much to promote relatively unfashionable and unsung causes, long before they grabbed the imagination of other politicians: championing the cause of carers and kinship carers in particular. Does any of this make her leadership material? I think it does but she would be a safe choice. And I’m not sure that’s what Labour needs right now.
Scottish Labour needs a reformer, someone who will do a Kinnock or a Swinney and make the hard internal choices to make the party fit to govern once again. Labour as a dominant political force is finished; it needs to find its place in a multi-party system where it cannot take election for granted. That is a big mind and cultural shift to make and it will need a leader who has ideas and an attention to detail to internal party activity, someone who is also unafraid to push through change and rage against the vested interests who want to keep their ever-diminishing power bases intact. That requires someone very special.
Could Ken Macintosh be that leader? Sadly, no. Ken is a thoroughly decent and affable individual and is an assiduous and diligent parliamentarian with whom I have had the pleasure of working on a whole range of bills. But what makes him so accessible to those on the outside of Parliament is precisely why he lacks the necessary political acumen to be Scottish Labour’s leader. He has ideas and of all three candidates, he is the one to come out firmly as a devolutionist rather than a unionist. That I like. And he is focused on the future, which is also a good thing. But it’s backbone that I fear is lacking. The willingness to drive through change, to avoid internal pitfalls. Ken is a consensus politician and while that is a huge strength in so many ways, it is not what is needed for his party right now.
Which leaves Tom Harris. A bit of a loner in terms of where he sits in the movement, he does of course have friends and admirers but not the caucus enjoyed by the likes of Johann Lamont. And that would give a modernising leader power: beholden to few, so long as he kept his goals clear-sighted he could push through a reform agenda or at least, bomb politically in the trying. Interestingly, he’s from the right of the party, a Blairite in fact (which is almost a swear word in Scottish political circles). And that would give us a different perspective and narrative. The slightly left of centre in Scottish politics is pretty crowded: the field is more open if one glances to the right. Of course, he would have difficulty lining Salmond up in his sights from Westminster but frankly, that’s the least of Labour’s worries right now. in any event, these sorts of considerations are mere flotsam.
Perhaps I am drawn to Mr Harris because of the outsider thing – the way MSPs ganged up behind their ain in nomination terms was pretty poor – but also because of his boldness and frankness. It takes guts to put yourself out on a limb and engage in a way few other politicians have been brave enough to do in recent years, through the internet and social media, particularly when it means you might be passed over when promotions are being handed out (as he was recently). Like Ian Smart, I admire the fact that Tom Harris was prepared, after the mauling in May, to not only think the unthinkable but say it. And in order to try and flush some bigger beasts out of the closet, he was prepared to stand to try and force a battle of ideas, which sadly has been rather lacking from this contest.
But if I was a Labour member, Tom Harris would get my vote purely on the basis of this. Anyone with that level of creativity and who has his sense of humour intact after a gruelling leadership contest must be worth a punt.