Time for a radical break?
David Gow says talk of a Scottish leadership election flies in the face of the evidence, and Scottish Labour’s real task must be to do the hard work of rebuilding its policy platform distinct from that of UK Labour, not to focus on spurious unity.
The knives are out again for Kezia Dugdale, with commentators assuming she’ll be another short-lived Scottish Labour leader. She’ll be a goner by Christmas is how many put it.
This emerged after she cast doubt on Jeremy Corbyn’s real desire to unite UK Labour after he – utterly unsurprisingly – secured a bigger share of the vote than in the 2015 leadership election and proceeded to try to backtrack on recent decisions to ensure Scottish Labour has representation on the party’s ruling body.
Paul Hutcheon, the Herald’s investigations editor, wrote of “a strategic blunder” and “jump(ing) into the swamp”. On Twitter, Kezia’s interminable interview with Gordon Brewer was rated “car crash” – almost entirely by SNP/Yes supporters – as she failed to explain contradictory statements in response to the same question repeated a dozen times.
It wasn’t a great interview to be honest. But Scottish Labour should stand back and consider some salient facts before blundering into yet another leadership election.
First, the party’s standing in the latest Panelbase poll is third at 16%. Not exactly a brilliant performance under Jeremy’s wonderful leadership – another wipe-out on the cards at the council elections next May unless there’s a dramatic change in fortune now he’s cemented his position for four more years.
Second, according to admittedly partial and unofficial evidence, largely via YouGov, Scottish Labour members (not associates or supporters) voted by a significant majority for Owen Smith. The figure in the room yesterday was 58% – or the same proportion as of Scots who voted to Remain in the June 23 EU referendum. Owen was vocally pro-EU – unlike Jeremy who is a lifelong Eurosceptic – so on that score alone, Smith is more in tune with Scottish opinion.
He was also right to stress Labour’s unelectability under Jeremy, who commands poor and sinking support among voters. In Scotland we know a lot about being unelectable – and there is zero evidence that Jeremy and Momentum will change that with their combination of demanding Stalinist loyalty politically and proposing 1970s-style state ownership economically. In any case, the SNP has taken on many of Labour’s policy stances – and won with them.
Kezia supported Owen and, like many of us, seriously questions whether the Corbynistas want to unite the party on anything other than their own terms. So far they have shown zero tolerance for alternative views. So in my view, Kezia should have stuck to her guns and demanded evidence that Jeremy and his leadership team genuinely “want” to unite the party. Where’s the beef? Show us the money. Like on Scottish political autonomy.
Instead she’s attempting to placate, talking about accepting his leadership and ability to take on the Tories and win in 2020. But the interests and goals of Scottish Labour and Labour in England (excluding London) are very different. For starters, Scottish Labour faces two opponents: the SNP and the (somewhat revived) Tories. And it is being squeezed between independence and unionism.
Scottish Labour’s problem is not Kezia but the incoherence of its policy positions: is it pro- or anti-Scottish independence via a second referendum? Is it pro-federalist? What kind of society and economy does it want to shape using all the powers available to a Scottish Government? It needs to discuss and decide on these core issues, and the Corbynista solutions so far on offer are inimical to any Scottish Labour revival, not least on the EU where Jeremy’s re-election buttresses the prospect of a hard Brexit, however emollient his words on the single market and freedom of movement.
A UK Labour Party run by largely hard-left cadres using the enthusiasm of tens of thousands of new members to win its positions is of little or no use to Scottish Labour as it fights to re-establish its credibility as a centre-left, social democratic force for political, social and economic change – and, unlike the SNP, to deliver on promises of tackling inequality, educational under-achievement and poor health among the working and unemployed poor.
A radical break, or even a rupture, may be the required outcome; spurious unity is to be avoided at all costs.