Daviddavidgow Gow says we must debate a new structure for Scottish Labour alongside its renewed purpose.


If Scottish Labour is to be the refreshed “insurgent force” called for by Kezia Dugdale in launching her leadership bid, it’s going to have to think – and act – radically about its structure and purpose. It needs to re-evaluate its current alliances and reach out to new political forces in Scotland.

The membership is aware – as it chooses its sixth leader in seven years – that there’s a long slog ahead; dealing with a decline in support stretching back over several/many years will take considerable time.

Lots of members have got over the immediate depression engendered by May 7/8 but remain keen to confront the deep-seated reasons that caused it, determined to reassert the party’s core values and, eventually, help Labour regain power – for the sake of the Scottish people, not for itself.

There is a strong political will, expressed not least in the myriad blogs and analyses on this site, to have a say in shaping the party’s future – not just by voting for a new leader but by taking part in the review under way.

This cannot be left to the outgoing leader and his team of advisers who presided over the disastrous results. And it’s not a simple question of, finally, belatedly, bringing in ‘one member one vote’ (OMOV) and leaving it at that 20 or 30 years too late.

It’s obvious that a crucial issue is the autonomy of Scottish Labour, yes or no. The 20/20 hindsight analysis (repudiation of the two Eds) conducted by the four current challengers for the UK leadership misses more than one trick for the party’s Scottish membership – and voters.

Admitting that “we spent too much” in the “fat growth years” prior to the 2008 Great Recession may play among right-wing newspaper columnists and leader-writers but it’s a “confession” based upon a false analysis – and a recipe for continued austerity. The party’s Scottish members and, more critically, Scottish voters will have no truck with this.

Equally, reprising or even just finessing the anti-immigrant message on that truly ugly mug might, at a pinch, cut the mustard in Morley but not in Scotland. Adopting euroscepticism-light in the run-up to Cameron’s presumed EU referendum next year (most likely) is simply not in the interests of Scotland or its people. Generally, tacking to the right on these and other issues would be a series of own goals for Scottish Labour. There’s a tough enough job ahead in the campaign for 2016. A rightward shift would render it pointless.

Some of us would now argue that the party in Scotland must, as an urgent priority, examine the case for autonomy. Whether that mirrors the wholly independent entity of, say, the Bavarian CSU (I wrote about here) that is a sister party of the all-German CDU or of, say, the old ILP is for discussion.

A more appropriate model might be a federated structure, with the Scottish party enjoying significantly more autonomy than now in terms of policy, campaigning and even funding but remaining an essential element of a British party working for genuine social democracy across the UK. Labour’s structure would then resemble the federal constitutional settlement one can envisage for these islands, including within England – such as adumbrated by the new Labour Campaign for Federalism.

Scottish Labour would need to consider, as part of this re-examination, the case for renewing its links with the trade unions and on what basis. But, equally, it might want to enter into discussions with and establish links to other progressive political forces (“civil society”), including community and/or single-issue groups working to improve people’s lives and social environment.

An over-arching goal must be to buttress political pluralism in Scotland against current democratic centralist tendencies – and embrace an alternative policy platform and governance to that of the SNP which talks left and acts right or simply fails to deliver (as we have seen in education this week).

There are no ready-made answers to these questions. The goal must, however, be to reaffirm and seek to implement in praxis those core Labour values: eradicating inequality, boosting the life chances of all children and young people, extending democracy, improving health, securing solidarity with all the peoples of the UK and beyond its shores. These, often summed up as “social justice,” are what continues to motivate the party’s membership in the renewed drive to convince the Scottish people it is Labour that can best deliver.