Separation is (still) not the answer
Gemma Doyle, former MP for West Dumbartonshire, says we rightly fought to keep the UK together and it would be a slap in the face to now choose to split the Labour Party.
The Scottish Labour Party is once again reviewing its structures and internal decision making. Hands up who thinks that the answer to our current predicament lies in reshuffling our decision making processes? Anybody? No, didn’t think so.
Worse than that, the basis of the consultation is flawed. The email to party members says that despite our record on devolving power to Scotland with the creation of the Scottish Parliament, we didn’t devolve power internally as a party. That’s just not true. The Scottish Policy forum was established long ago to reflect the new devolution settlement, and changes have continued to be made, most recently following the 2011 party review carried out by Sarah Boyack and Jim Murphy, which among other things established the position of Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and led to the reorganisation of CLPs on Scottish Parliament boundaries. Again, hands up anyone who is shocked that this alone didn’t lead to resounding victory? No-one? OK, let’s continue.
Scottish Labour’s demise is the combination of long and short-term factors. The short term is obvious. The referendum re-set Scottish politics and many of our voters left us because we were on a different side to them in the debate. Whilst deeply regrettable, and as someone who lost my seat in the ensuing tsunami, it was a price worth paying to keep the UK together, and anyone who thinks there was an obvious, realistic way of doing it differently which would have led to a different outcome for the Labour Party is kidding themselves.
The long term requires a harder look at ourselves. That is a post for another day, but what it does not include is either never-ending tinkering with our structures, or, and this is the important bit, splitting off from the rest of the Labour Party.
I am frankly raging as I write this. Having fought tooth and nail to keep the UK together, and seen the Scottish Labour Party nearly die in the process, it would be a slap in the face to decide to organise ourselves as though Scotland were independent.
And I have a confession. I love the Labour Party. It is a big messy family, and dear Lord do we need some counselling, but our members and supporters are with us because of our values. Because of the things we believe in, not because of where our computer systems are based.
If the Scottish Labour Party decides to be separate, then the UK Labour Party is going to need to set up a Scottish branch for the members who want to stay with Labour. Then we really will have a branch office.
I wait with anticipation to hear what policy the Scottish Labour Party wanted to adopt which we couldn’t because we were part of the Labour Party; what organisational change we would have made; what new direction we would have taken. The truth is the recent election campaign was made and executed in Scotland. And where Scottish Labour decided to pursue a different policy on a reserved issue we ended up in a quagmire with voters completely confused about where we stood. The consultation accepts that Scottish Labour will have separate policy on reserved issues. That in itself is a major break-away from Labour and has never been agreed by the membership.
Where we do rely on the national party is for money and non-financial support (including in the form of amazing Labour Party organisers). All our campaign tools, our membership system, the constitution unit are developed and run centrally, for the benefit of the Labour Party in every part of England, in Wales and in Scotland. Long before UK Labour’s recent fundraising woes, Scottish Labour was finding donors’ doors closed to us. So whoever is pushing this agenda better have a good answer for where the extra money is going to come from as we wave the rest of our Labour family goodbye.
And it’s not just money, but influence. Walk out of the Labour Party and you walk away from directly influencing reserved policy matters in this country. You relegate the Scottish Labour Party to a pressure group on anything not devolved to Scotland. And you certainly wouldn’t have a vote in the Labour Party leadership election.
If we start to organise ourselves as though Scotland were independent we play into the hands of those who want a separate Scotland and we accept their view of the world. We relegate Scotland to add-on status rather than an integral part of these isles.
Our political influence and role in the UK would move closer to that of Northern Ireland, with voters electing their constituency MP and deciding on the balance of power there, but with their vote (in most cases) not directly influencing who the government should be.
There is no easy answer to Scottish Labour’s woes. But splitting up the Labour Party isn’t it.
The consultation runs until 17 June 2016 and you can make a submission here.