JAMES CHALMERS argues that Scottish Labour has lost its way. To rediscover its historic roots it should turn to modern Scandinavia as a social democratic model to emulate in Scotland.


A comment on Labour Hame in August said “Of course Labour is a right of centre party, those are the realities which we face. The debt must be cut, albeit less quickly than with the Tories. The economy must start moving again …”

I think, more than anything else I have read on from Labour in the last few years, this sums up the reasons for Scottish Labour’s rejection by so many Scots.

Like many, perhaps most, Scots of my (baby boomer) generation, I grew up in a family and with friends where voting for Labour was an ‘of course’. My mother’s family were West Fife miners. Of course we were members of the ‘Store’ (the Co-op for younger readers). Of course my granddad was a Labour activist and of course everyone we knew shared our views.

They and we had a vision for the future where we lived in a just and equitable society, where, of course, you were rewarded for your efforts, but, of course, no-one should be rewarded excessively, certainly not for greed and self-serving.

All that started to die during the Thatcher years. Its final death-knell was the Special Conference of the 1995 British Labour Party in 1995. Now Labour is just another right wing Tory-lite party whose priorities are “… to cut the debt and to start the economy moving again …”

The founding generation and the generations of Labour activists who followed them, not least the generation of the great Atlee government years, must be revolving in their graves. Modern Labour is a betrayal of all they stood for and a betrayal of the hopes and fears of the ordinary folk of Britain and of Scotland who voted for them in 2010. The vote for Labour in Scotland was, I think, in the hope of keeping out a Tory government whose priorities were “…to cut the debt and to start the economy moving again…” and to hell with the social consequences. It failed, for the Liberal Democrats sold their souls, too, and became yet another Tory-lookalike party.

For there is an alternative. It’s still alive and an everyday reality for the folk in the Scandinavian social democracies. Aye, well, but Salmond’s “arc of prosperity” isn’t looking so good today, I hear you say, with the failure of Iceland. Yes, Iceland failed, because it, too, forgot its social democratic ideals and let its banks gamble with their depositors money. The other Scandinavian social democracies, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway, have weathered the economic storms of the last few years with little damage and their folk are still prosperous and happy. They are living examples of how to implement the old Labour dream. Read Wilkinson and Picket’s “The Spirit Level” and see how the Scandinavian countries come out near the top on every measure that contributes to happiness and contentment, despite paying the highest taxes in the world. The secret .. social equality.

But there’s very little social equality in Britain today. All the right wing governments since Thatcher’s, including Blair’s and Brown’s Labour governments, have put paid to that.

Many English folk seem to like that, and that’s fine for them, but many Scots seem not to. In the past, they put their trust in Labour to deliver a socially equitable society, but Labour has betrayed them. Nowadays there seems to be an alternative for Scots, another party that incorporates the social democratic dream of a just and equitable society, and is beginning to put it into practice. That party has concluded, however, that it’s not possible to realise this dream for Scots while remaining in a Union with an England moving ever farther to the right.

So what’s the way forward for Scottish Labour? There are two choices. Carry on as you are, as another right wing unionist party, and expect to fade away in Scotland as the Tories have done and the Liberal Democrats are doing. Alternatively, find your heritage again, become a party working towards a just and equitable society in Scotland, and you may find Scots returning to your fold.

However, I fear you cannot do the latter as long as Scotland remains part of the UK.

James Chalmers is now retired after working in the oil industry as a geophysicist. He lives in Copenhagen, but still has strong connections to Scotland.