Ronnie McGowan, like thousands of other members, received an email from Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on Friday, addressing Thursday’s election results. Here is his reply.


Thank you for your correspondence on Friday evening and I appreciate the opportunity offered to say a few things.

Before you were born I was campaigning for Labour values, dragooned at a young age by a future leader of Tayside Regional Council into delivering a Labour Party newspaper round the doors of a post-war housing scheme. Ron Tosh was his name; he would later give me a lift to work every day.

When you were still in short trousers and mastering joined-up writing I was a shop steward while working as a high-precision toolmaker. This was a good arena for learning the ins and outs of AEUW politics; my knowledge of Euro-scepticism and the ‘left’ in British politics has some historical depth. While I was on the shop-floor, the current Labour leader was cutting a niche in a different brand of political activity, not one familiar with the application of ‘swarfega’ at the end of the working day.

I’ve now been working solidly for over half a century. The work ethic of ‘boomers’ is strong. We are not owed a living; we are too busy earning one.

I give you this background merely to indicate I have no political axe to grind, no political ambition to fulfil and no malice to anyone. I’m a working man who, at this stage of life, has a settled view on what I want to see from the Labour Party and gives his time to the cause when time permits.

The Labour Party should ditch identity politics. Last Thursday I had to vote for ‘Scottish Labour’. I want to vote only for the ‘Labour Party’. If the General Election has told us one thing it is that the Labour message has been comprehensively rejected throughout the United Kingdom. It needs a united UK response, not some parochial tinkering.

Your correspondence name-checks ‘Scotland’ or ‘Scottish’ no less than thirteen times. At the same time there is no reference to ‘equality of opportunity’. I was saddened neither word was present as it’s one of those core Labour values which resonates with meaning.

‘Children going to bed hungry’ is indeed tragic but the solution isn’t a Scottish one. If you think we must embrace the message of I, Daniel Blake, a film you admire, then I beg to differ. Anyone who thinks national identity will solve this kind of poverty should make a point of seeing the film Never Look Away. The horrors of nationalism should never be forgotten.

‘For the many not the few’ is a slogan oven-ready to be binned and should never have seen the light of day. It carries an insidious undertone.

The Labour Party needs healing from the inside. There is probably genuine and widespread disgust at the triumphalism shown by the First Minister during Thursday night’s results. But I witnessed similar sentiments and behaviour in the Glasgow Science Centre when you were elected leader. It dismayed me then and still does, years later. You need to fix that if the will is there.

Holyrood is failing. How do I know that? After forty-four years in the front-line of education I am currently watching a developing catastrophe for the future economy. There are school pupils emerging from statutory education not having sat a formal national exam in English and maths and other crucial subjects.

How on earth can the Labour Party ‘in Scotland’ have watched this unfolding and done so little? Where are the discussion papers on education policy? Harold Wilson gave us the Open University, Tony Blair ‘education, education, education’. But here we are ‘in Scotland’ failing a generation of whom we claim to be the champions.

The voters’ judgement might be that the Labour Party offers only ‘lip-service’ to education, amongst other things. The one ray of hope from Prime Minister Johnson is he turns the spotlight on Holyrood’s performance and asks some serious questions, demanding it gets its act together.  You should get in there first and demand better from Holyrood. 

I know what ambition and aspiration looks like. It looks like a good functioning education system, a good functioning health service, a good functioning communications infrastructure. It looks like a Glasgow underground system that links its four outer communities and beyond. That would get the economy moving. That would get a working population on the move and quicken the pulse of the west central heartbeat, fuelling a more prosperous future for everyone. It would be a start anyway.

And finally, I’ve said nothing about the campaign model. How could I express anything but admiration for that dedicated, tireless team of young activists who were at my door in the pouring rain at 7.30 on the morning of polling day, ensuring I voted.

You as leader have a great responsibility, to lead with passion, clarity and a hope based on sound social democratic principles and get rid of this constant ‘Scottish angle’. As a humanity we really are all in this together.

I wish you and your family a Happy Christmas and good health for 2020. Come back refreshed in the New Year with vigour and energy. The analysis can then commence in earnest.


Ronnie McGowan [Maryhill Springburn CLP]