Separation is still not the answer
There was a horrible sense of déjà vu as we hurried past the gauntlet of reporters into the meeting at John Smith House to discuss our dreadful election result. I remember similar meetings after the resignations of three leaders and two Holyrood election defeats.
The disastrous result last Thursday was particularly soul destroying, not least for me personally having lost the election in Aberdeen North. In the aftermath of events like this of course we have to learn lessons and discuss how we need to change so we do better.
I know that is what motivates those who in the past few days have called for a separate Scottish Labour Party, both from the right and the left of the party. But it is a proposal with which I fundamentally disagree.
We have to recognise that there is no quick fix to the political predicament in which we find ourselves. Although there have been major events along the way it has taken us years to get to this position. It will require time as well as almighty effort to restore our party and Labour values to leadership in Scotland.
We have also been here before and changes to our party, however merited in themselves, have evidently not persuaded the public to move away from the SNP and support Labour. Rather they have served to confirm we will conduct political debate on the territory where the nationalists are most comfortable, that of national identity rather than progress and socialism.
We have ensured our leader in Scotland leads our whole party, we have made clear our policies are decided by Scottish Labour, we have even changed our constitution to inform people we are patriotic. Of course it was right to reform the party to reflect devolution. But electoral success has not followed.
Despite this we are now counselled that we should break up the Labour Party. I could spend a great deal of time arguing against this on grounds of practicality, resources and complexity but there are much bigger issues at stake. It would mean our party structure would reflect a constitutional settlement of separation not devolution. It would mean once again we would be looking inward as a party at the very time we should be reaching out. It would mean a futile attempt to follow in the wake of the SNP rather than seek to change and lead political debate in Scotland.
I agree staff appointments must be a matter for the Scottish Party and our selection processes should be governed here. But what has been proposed by some appears to seek to go far further than that. If we decide to separate Scottish Labour from the UK party it will delight, not threaten, the SNP because it will only make their job of making the case for nationalism easier. They will argue we have accepted the very logic of their argument. It will weaken our ability to argue for solidarity and redistribution to be at the heart of politics in Scotland rather than grievance against others based solely on geography.
I can’t understand how any socialist analysis would lead us to the conclusion we should break up the party. People may feel we must follow a national mood, but for all the focus groups which were conducted for the referendum and General Election to mould policy and message, the results speak for themselves.
People believe the SNP are passionate and authentic and this has been a big part of their success. Let us not try and be something we’re not or shouldn’t be, a kind of sugar-free nationalism. If we keep running after a nationalist agenda we will only lose sight of our own values, and that will only further impoverish the politics of Scotland.