What is Scottish Labour for?

Readers, I’m sure I’ve blogged on this before and had wanted to do a nifty link to last year’s piece, suggesting you could just read it and save yourselves time and bother.

But I can’t find it so maybe I just dreamt that I wrote it.  In any event, last year or this, it’s pertinent to ask, what is Scottish Labour for?

Because, try as I might, I cannot find the answer.  And more importantly, until and unless Scottish Labour finds the answer, it is doomed to perpetual opposition.

We know what they are against.  They tell us so every single day and in every possible way. A rattle through recent postings on Labour Hame reveals an unhealthy obsession with all things related to the independence referendum and the SNP.  And their membership as leading lights in Better Together confirms that not only are they against independence but they are also opposed to any change whatsoever, by virtue of a lowest common denominator approach adopted in order to campaign alongside the Tories.  Which leaves a lot of Scottish voters who do favour more powers for their Parliament rather puzzled.

So, they are not for independence nor are they – officially – for more devolution.  Except a few brave souls are.  Kezia Dugdale MSP spoke at the STUC’s A Just Scotland event in Edinburgh yesterday – an event I would have attended but for my innate propensity to march and rally winning out – and proclaimed herself to be a devolutionist, not a unionist.  Hurrah.  But we need to start hearing and seeing what this means in practice, given that officially, Scottish Labour (including Kez herself) remain implacably opposed to a “more devo” option on the ballot for a referendum.

Thankfully, the Red Paper Collective is prepared to fill a gap, depositing some interesting and challenging ideas into the constitutional brew.  None of them, of course, will ever catch on.  The Collective’s left alternative – its redprint, if you like – promotes economic redistribution and increased powers for Holyrood, some of which “would require a challenge to EU law and changes to UK company law“.  Which, of course, might be possible if they all voted for independence, given that the political will in either Scottish or UK Labour to do any of this is sadly lacking.

Leaving aside the constitutional debate for a moment – and please, let’s do – what else can we discern from recent Scottish Labour activity?  How about the response to the draft Scottish budget?

I actually thought Ken Macintosh did a decent job picking holes in the Scottish Government’s budget proposals, but his quiet, laconic style of delivery fails to inspire confidence that he is a man in charge of his brief.  But here, as ever, it was all about what the SNP was doing, what was wrong with it and what shouldn’t happen. A few throwaway remarks calling for “immediate action on procurement, an ambitious employment programme and most importantly, investment in construction projects” do not an alternative economic strategy make.  And on the last two, while the detail might differ, the headlines suggest that this is exactly what the SNP is focused on (the wonks amongst us will of course, point to a procurement reform bill in the business programme).  The lack of real divide between the SNP and Labour on core economic policies will do little to usher all those lost Labour voters to return to the fold.

There is more sign of brain activity from UK Labour, given that the UK election comes sooner.  Ed Miliband’s nascent proposition of pre-distribution has potential, even if, as an economic and social policy the concept still has far to go, not least in obtaining a vote-winning catchy moniker.  And Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, appears to be winning the argument for his economic growth plan.  Meanwhile, Douglas Alexander has shown in speeches over the last year a thoughtfulness about where Labour goes, at UK and Scottish level.  Some of it is quite promising, even if the cloaking of it all as purple Labour is just too garish to contemplate seriously.

But it is not enough for UK Labour to know what it is for:  the changes mooted as a result of the trouncing in the 2011 elections to create a distinct Scottish Labour enterprise means that the party up here can no longer hang on the policy coat tails of its parent.  And while the Murphy/Boyack review proposed change and Johann Lamont declared herself up to the task, little has happened.  A promised commission on devolution has not yet been established.  There was talk too of a policy commission – or was that Iain Gray? – yet no signs of that either.   Aside from the aforesaid Red Paper Collective, which is clearly not a mainstream development, there is little sign of intelligent life.

Which is confirmed by the recent comings and goings in backroom staff.  These changes suggest that Johann Lamont is starting to sort out some of the internal issues which have bedevilled the party throughout devolution, but no voter is going to choose a party on the strength of its internal structures.  The party has to focus internally and externally – at the same time no less – if it is to make progress and many outside observers are bemused as to why Johann Lamont is moving on all fronts at a snail’s pace.

There is some concern, that having acquitted herself rather better than many expected, the Scottish Labour leader now fancies her chances as a putative First Minister, rather than the Kinnock-esque reform role the Labour party faithful voted for her to perform.  If the former idea starts to take hold, a handful of personnel changes is likely to be the full extent of internal reform.  Others may have to grasp the nettle if Scottish Labour is not going to fall into the trap – again – of persuading itself that a few tweaks around the edges together with continually pointing up the failings of the SNP will be enough to win back power.

Which brings us back to the question – what is Scottish Labour for?  Who knows.  Is there any suggestion that we might find out soon?  No.  Is there any sense that folk inside Scottish Labour want to work any of this out?  Not really.

Which suggests that another election cycle may need to come and go before we get to find out, by which time Labour’s worst nightmare in the form of independence could well have happened.


32 thoughts on “What is Scottish Labour for?

  1. Pingback: What is Scottish Labour for? | YES Scotland | Scoop.it

  2. So how many Scottish millionaires over the age of 60 have a free bus pass and use it?

    What are the odds it is less than 1?

  3. OK, here’s the conspiracy theory…

    Scottish Labour knows that it can only re-emerge as the dominant political force in Scotland following Independence. It also knows that it can’t be seen to support Independence or face being shut down completely by UK Labour.

    So, what better way to secure its future by aping Labour UK policy in the knowledge it will push its traditional supporters in Scotland towards Independence. It’s a splendid wheeze because in the long term it puts Scottish Labour exactly where it needs to be and in the short term keeps all the Westminster monkeys thinking that they are the boys calling the shots.

    Once sufficient momentum has built up behind the Independence campaign all Labour has to do is change their stance on the constitution to ‘Agnostic’. This would pretty much secure a Yes vote as it would totally destroy the No campaign.

    Then, during the negotiation period, they realign themselves with their traditional support base ready for the first Scottish General Election.

    Johann Lamont first Prime Minister of an Independent Scotland. Simples.

    • it’s a nice idea, but its crediting them with too much intelligence. i suspect that in a bid to stamp her authority, her team of policy-gonks came up with the idea of her championing something very unpopular, and then sticking by it on principle.
      The problem is they left a vaccuum at the centre of it and allowed the press a free run at it. The other problem is their attack on universal benefits is aimed at people who by & large don’t use these services. The idea that Fred the shred goes to boots with prescription from an NHS GP and took a bus with his bus pass is way too fanciful. Trying to direct their fire on Sturgeon is the sort of thing that will bounce back and bite them on the bum all over again. The right wing press are hailing it as an attack on the poor and the left wing press are condeming it as an attack on the poor. Her main boss Miliband comes out and states with conviction that universla benefits should stay. At a stroke Lamont and Scottish Labour look horribly out of step with everyone except the party that is deeply unpopular with the Scottish people.

      It may well push people to Scottish Indy – but it will have done it through sheer bloody minded incompetence. Johann Lamont will not be first Prime Minister of Scotland – I suspect if she can’t find a safe seat in England somewhere, she’ll retire – write her memoirs and fade away. Simples

  4. “What is Scottish Labour? Best to ask Johann Lamont, however just in case she is unavailable for comment, I think it’s fair to say her answer would be BETRAYAL!

  5. Good show on the telly last night Kate. Well done!

  6. Grahamski…some very good points, but …despite the commitment of Keir Hardie and the ILP, Labour was dragged biting and screaming to devolution, They did n’t want it and when it became inevitable they did their best to make it toothless. They did, however, find an electoral system for Holyrood that was specifically designed to prevent the SNP from becoming the largest party. let alone forming a majority.and they also (in collusion with the Tories and the Liberals) excluded the gnats from the constitutional convention b y refusing any discussion of independence..
    In addition to the welfare state – brainchild of a Liberal peer incidentally – Labour can also fairly claim to have always left office having brought about a financial disaster through sheer incompetence and to lying about the Scottish economy (in cooperation with Margaret Thatcher of course) and to having a very sound track-record in persecuting certain harmless groups, wide-ranging corruption in local government, jobs for old buddies…oh – and for being very matey with the Orange Order.
    it’s not the Labour party of the distant past that is the problem, it is the Labour party of the present.

  7. Pingback: The Lady is for Turning |

  8. “What is Scottish Labour?”, queries burdzeyeview

    Well you got your answer yesterday. It is simply to emphasise its unionist credentials by adopting widespread Tory cuts to Scottish government and council budgets.

    I hope you are satisfied with Johann “Maggie” Lamont’s reply to your question.

  9. At the risk of cynicism, I can only point to the wise words of the political sage that is Mr Joshua Lyman:

    Senator, you’re the prohibitive favorite to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for President. You have 58 million dollars in war chest with no end in sight, and… I don’t know what we’re for.

    I don’t know what we’re for, and I don’t know what we’re against. Except we seem to be for winning and against somebody else winning.


    This has been Labour’s (not just in Scotland) problem since the mid-90s; while I can appreciate the argument that you need to be in power to truly change anything, the emphasis changed very quickly away from achieving anything to winning simply for its own sake.

  10. How Grahamski must be regretting his words upthread, after Lamont made her announcement today that SLab moves to the right to match up wit their UKLab, Con & LD pals.

  11. Ok, I’m reading this a few days late, but I couldn’t resist a reply to Grahamski.

    If we could take half our your energy and implant it into Labour and redirect it as a force for good, then think what we could do. You obviously think energetically about Labour and are proud of it’s past achievements. No bad thing, but there are numerous issues and problems in our society today that require attention and the SNP are trying to do this but with one arm tied behind their back. The thing that binds that arm is the Union. Free the arm and we can get on with rebuilding a fair society. Labour can join the project. Or they can continue to do
    nothing while a high flying few within the party can continue to milk the tax payer for a lifestyle in London and also continue to do absolutely nothing to fix Scotland’s society.
    Nothing new or something better…you have to make the choice.

  12. I am becoming increasingly astonished at the notion that Labour’s Scottish contingent of Westminster MPs are the créme de la créme of their party. They strike me as boorish, dull and lacklustre. Has the expenses scandals, the physical aggression and the other unfitting behaviour taught us nothing? When was the last time any of these people actually excited you? I can forgive a lot, but politicians that have no ideas, no vision and no appetite for change are a complete waste of space. It is as if the Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland did not die, it simply morphed into the Labour Party.

  13. I honestly think that you can ask that question of Labour as a whole as well, not just about the sick man of Scottish politics. For example, there really isn’t very much between Ed Balls debt reduction plan and George’s Scorched Earth policy. he has said that he will cut at slower speed, well that’s not going to help when the UK economy is still tanking in 2015. Meanwhile there is still no flesh on Milliband the younger’s speeches in resect of honesty and responsible capitalism.

    To return to “Scottish Labour” though, the problem with them is not the party but the people at the top and the “grandees”. They are currently a centre right party promoting centre right policies – their law and order policies at the last Holyrood election came straight out of a Michael Howard speech circa 1993. Yet there is this perception that this stuff is popular. Maybe this is the real legacy of Dewar & McKenna’s fixing of the selection process for the inaugrial Holyrood election – that all of the candidates were New Labour accolytes. Instead what we have seen is the return of Municipalist Labour – the seeking of power for the sake of gaining power whilst not really doing very much with that power.

    Thats not to say that “Scottish” Labour is dead. If they were bold enough, they could re-position themselves to the left of the SNP – after all the current SNP Administration is a very good version of MacNew Labour.

  14. As a socialist proud of his working class background, I should be a member of the Labour Party, however, I am not: Instead, many years ago (the late sixties actually) I joined the SNP, it was not a popular choice with, a) my friends who were red revolutionaries, b) my mother who was a devout Catholic and had been told by her church going friends that an SNP Scotland would be Protestant Scotland c) my father whose crofting, Protestant forefathers, had installed in him that “we could not feed our rabbits, never mind ourselves!”. Hence to be a member of the SNP in those days was a declaration of eccentricity, if not complete madness.
    How things have changed, the SNP, under Alex Salmond it has to be said, like him or loathe him, is now a progressive social democratic party with a vision for Scotland not seen in this country for over 300 years.
    In contrast Labour offers nothing, no vision, no progression, no policies, no intellect. Labour politicians have never been interested in the working class of Scotland other than to cultivate their vote, Jim Murphy being a classic example.
    In an independent Scotland there may well be a “New Labour” party which is genuinely interested in representing the working class, however I have my doubts. As a socialist, I think I shall be very comfortable remaining in a party which sees Scotland as a genuine country and not an attachment called north Brtain, a party led by politicans like Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, politicans who put country and its people before themselves.

    • My Catholic family had also been told that an independent Scotland would be run by the Kirk. However, my mother’s family (yes, I’m the product of a Mixed Marriage) had always been told that Home Rule would be Rome Rule.

      Both sides of the message pointed to Ireland of course, with a dog whistle so loud it was deafening.

  15. Pingback: What is Scottish Labour for? | Referendum 2014 | Scoop.it

  16. You give credence to Ken Macintosh. Last week on BBC Newsnight he twice criticised the Scottish government for purchasing steel from China for the new Forth road bridge, the BBC interviewer didn’t correct him, that is to be expected now, but was it twice or three times that Alex Salmon explained to Johann Lamont at FM Question Time that Scotland can no longer produce steel to the specification? And wasn’t Macintosh present?
    Now we have McMahon linking the First Minister to the Hillsborough affair via a photo of him with Rupert Murdoch
    Then Baillie with her faux emotions and hospital blanket victims.
    Knuckledraggers may well find such behaviour funny, even believable, but I reckon people of an even temperament will recognise that Labour’s problems in Scotland are a absolute dearth of talent lacking the intellect to develop policy, and a willingness to be less than truthful.
    Politics isn’t just a game and a means to earn a living. New Labour are facing the political abyss in Scotland and good riddance. A party principled on social democracy, to term it, will be required post 2014. Whether that proves to be the SNP or some new group time will tell.

  17. Labour is there to remind the SNP what it must never become – smug, complacent, corrupt, betraying its principals, tory, etc P.S. It was good to chat to you and the wean yesterday. G&K

  18. What is Scottish Labour for?

    It is for protecting and articulating the working people of Scotland’s interests and aspirations.

    In the last sixty or so years it has been responsible for creating the NHS, the welfare state, and every piece of legislation which protects the health and safety of workers and their rights at work.

    It has created the Open University, it gave women the right to choose as well as bringing in every piece of equality legislation that protects our minorities in this country.

    In Scotland it spearheaded the campaign for a Scottish Parliament – in the face of hostility from the SNP it must be said – and it set a course for devolution then delivered it within months of gaining power.

    Months, not years, mind.

    In its time in power at Holyrood it helped deliver the smoking ban, universal care for the elderly and free travel for our senior citizens.

    When your party has delivered a tenth of these things come back and ask what the Labour Party is for…

    • What is Scottish Labour for?

      That is in the present tense your reply is all in the distant past which I will continue in blocking the Mcrone Report and bringing in that undemocratic 40% rule on the last Independence referendum. They also brought in ATOS back in 2008 and started privatising the NHS which the Tories are carrying on with glee not to mention the disastrous PFI scandal.

      Labour today stands for power for the sake of nothing more.

      • What are you for now? You can’t live of the back of few recent (pre 2007) policies forever. In fact Scottish Labour is now making noises about free travel and free care as unaffordable, along with free prescriptions and tertiary education. So where does that leave you? The no smoking ban and the unaffordable PFI debt we are now saddled with in 13 years? So again, what are SCOTTISH Labour for?

    • It’s something the Left never talks about. Goes against the political grain, I suppose. But Labour did more than any stone-faced capitalist to turn Scotland into a vulnerable branch-factory economy. But when these sectors were re-privatised the Scots could never muster the cash (or the bottle) to buy back the industries we’d lost. Which suggested to me that we’d lost the talent for enterprise and capitalism with which we’d careered across the planet in the 19th century. I began to wonder if the SNP ever scaled the ‘commanding heights’ of the Scottish economy would there be anything left for them to command?


      Scottish Labour does not exists except in the minds of people like you. Which is why the ones with a neuron of talent bailed out to Westminster chasing the wee furry ermine creature. And snuffling in our taxes. Eric Joyce your idol being the epitome of Scottish Labour. A nasty violent thug. Watson the convicted pyromaniac. Davidson the Neanderthal misogynist. Reid, Ingram, and the ex speaker whose name I cannot even type lest I boak. A bunch of self serving losers. Who plough their own furrows and to hell with Scotland and the workers. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tory’s against Scotland, that will never be forgotten.


    • Grahamski,

      The question was ‘What is Labour for?’ not ‘What was Labour for?’. I haven’t seen them now or in recent times defending the NHS, fighting for social justice, or protecting the working folk of Scotland.

      The indepedence rally on Saturday was very illuminating because I witnessed a very great deal of sincerely expressed good will towards the Labour party and the hope that they would quickly see sense and join the independence movement whole-heartedly.

      That and the massive cheers for the defence of higher education, a protected NHS and no nuclear weapons or illegal wars made in Scotland, made even clearer to me that independence is about the genuine aspirations for social justice of the Scottish people and doing what we can do here, becuase let’s face it, Westminster won’t and can’t listen. And this is particularly important since the neo-liberal ‘consensus’ and verities have clearly become so enrenched down south within all parties, including Labour.

      Labour needs to stop looking to the past and trying to please the bankers of London and the self-interested voters of the SE and look to what they can do where they can do it. And I think that Scotland is a very good place to start.

    • Sorry, it was for protecting and articulating the working people of Scotland,s interests and aspirations. Labour generally stopped doing this around 1994. Can’t possibly think what happened in that year…

  19. “What is Scottish Labour for?”


  20. It lost Scotland in 2007 and again in 2011 – They have a sense of entitlement to the Scottish vote that beggars belief. Then there is their current record in opposition…they are fixated with a bizarre desire to attack Alex Salmond in FMQ, not hold his government to account. They also seem unable to articulate an alternative vision for Scotland. Its easy to attack a Government in power, but you have to be able to present an alternative, to show the voter that you are a potential government in waiting. They are wrapped up in a narrative fallacy of their own making, and simply cannot see Scotland straight anymore. At the moment they are hopelessly lost and adrift.

  21. Keeping Willie Haughey in the style to which he is accustomed?

    • Exactly that and until they unpick the patronage and complacency and cronyism they won’t be able to begin to answer the question

  22. All I can see is a Labour party that is opposed to everything because it really has nothing to offer,its hypocritical,in that it only wants power for its party and no longer cares (if it ever did)for the people and it has no care of Scotland whatsoever.I would say that all it WANTS from Scotland is its votes so that they can maintain there lifestyle at Westminster,it gives nothing in return for these votes and for the loyalty the Scottish voter has given them.Long may they continue for with independence we will see a new Scottish Labour party doing what it set out to do a hundred years ago.Just maybe.

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