No options off the table
David Gow says that all the options for Labour’s and Scotland’s future should be on the table – and we need to have a vigorous debate, not a quick consultation, to find our way forward.
So, it appears Henry McLeish’s idea of a wholly independent Scottish Labour Party has bitten the dust little more than a few days after he floated it. It is reported that independence has been ruled out – and even greater autonomy ruled in. This follows a consultation in which many of us (perhaps) took part and which, we’re told unofficially, showed little or no appetite for independence a la Ramsay MacDonald (not a good precedent) among members.
But that may well not be the end of the matter – just as, pace Tom Harris, Brexit may not mean Brexit at all when Article 50 has not even been lodged and may not be until well into 2017 if ever. These are politically more than volatile, more likely tumultuous times when a cowardly, loud-mouthed bigot and bully is in serious contention of occupying the Oval Office and a serially mendacious braggart is the UK’s foreign secretary, just to mention a couple of things.
As I’ve argued here before, I’m in favour of greater autonomy for Scottish Labour – and would even contemplate a German-style arrangement (CDU/CSU) for it with UK Labour. It may even be the party’s sole route to survival and/or recovery now that we’re in third place in Holyrood and even our sole MP and “Westminster spokesperson”, Ian Murray, might lose his seat if Theresa May calls a snap general election.
The Brexit vote, the more or less looming prospect of #indyref2 (less right now) and the virtually certain prospect that Jeremy Corbyn will be re-elected UK Labour leader on September 24 all heighten the uncertainty and insecurity that Scottish Labour faces. It would be foolish to rule any option out in these circumstances. In the immediate aftermath of the #EUref result on June 24, I changed sides and argued for an independent Scotland inside the EU and that remains my favoured option – if asked to choose between the UK and the EU – but it’s not party policy and many people, including (probably) Kezia Dugdale, passionately oppose it.
But we should at least discuss it. The same goes for the degree of autonomy we want from a Corbyn-led UK Labour party hellbent on mutually assured destruction even with a membership of half a million. Jeremy, my old colleague Seumas Milne, Andrew Murray of Unite, Momentum et al, they may all want a mass party but it’s one run by an elite corps of cadres – and seeking MPs as delegates of this inner party core and its ideas rather than as representatives of constituencies of varied citizens and often conflicting interest groups. They may even want to be in government but, as a host of departing economic advisers to our great leader are telling us (and here and here), have little or no idea what policies they could enact there (oh yes, the £500bn investment plan and the NIB) – and which MPs would actively implement them as ministers. (Unless, of course, all those “Blairite” rebels, aka Corbyn opponents, are subjected to mass de-selection for disloyalty.)
We should also certainly discuss the fall-out from #EUref in a way that goes beyond the Brexit Action Plan set out by Kez and Jackie Baillie and/or the meagre measures set out here by Harris – minimum alcohol pricing, repatriation of procurement policy (not as cut-and-dried as he suggests: ask the French and Germans) and consulting farmers (set to lose hundreds of millions) and fishermen about their future. As if one can airily dismiss any recessionary threat (despite plenty of evidence) as pure invention on the part of disgruntled Remainers. Or the existential threat – potentially – to Scottish financial services if we exit the single market. Scientists are already seeing EU finding drying up – and so are high-tech start-ups as well as witnessing a flight to Berlin.
Scottish Labour needs to do a proper SWOT analysis of what this troubled, sometimes dark economic and political environment might mean for its recovery. This should involve the membership in more than just a knee-jerk consultation that can be left to gather dust in a cupboard in Bath Street. We should all be part of the more than ever vitally necessary debate about what it takes to reboot European social democracy – in Scotland and elsewhere.