TOM HARRIS doesn’t believe that the current review of Scottish Labour has to be the final word


We’re all waiting with bated breath for the conclusions of Jim Murphy’s and Sarah Boyack’s review of party structures.

Whatever those conclusions are, we can be sure of at least a few facts in advance: every single SNP member without exception will dismiss them out of hand, Ed Miliband will say they’re great, and Labour’s hard left will complain that the review doesn’t mention the renationalisation of the railways.

For the rest of us there will undoubtedly be good bits and bad bits. Some recommendations won’t go as far as we would like, while others will be a bit too radical for some tastes.

It would be a misjudgment to believe that an extended period of soul-searching and internal review could do anything other than hurt Scottish Labour’s hopes of regrouping in time to fight the local elections next May, or even the general election and Holyrood elections in 2015 and 2016. Nevertheless, the review is important – crucially important. What it concludes and how we as a party respond to it will have a profound impact on whether Scottish Labour plays any significant role in Scotland’s politics in the future.

That’s why we must remember that the review is not the end of this process. It will make recommendations, sure. And those recommendations will need to be debated and decided upon by conference, both at UK and Scottish level.

But we in Scotland need to make it clear that we will settle for nothing less than what we believe is right for our party and our nation, irrespective of what the UK party thinks.

A key example: I don’t think I’m alone in believing that the time has come for Scottish Labour to have its own leader, someone who can draw authority from throughout the movement and represent it. Iain Gray and his predecessors were, absurdly, elected by the whole party but were leaders only of Labour’s MSPs. That is insulting nonsense and it has to stop. The review may well draw the same conclusions. But if it does not, it’s a reform that still needs to happen. How can we tell voters that Scottish Labour will stand up for Scottish interests against all comers – yes, even against a future Labour Westminster government – when our “leader” has no authority in the party beyond the confines of Holyrood?

Alongside an autonomous leader, we need an autonomous party, with the power to make our own decisions about organisation, fund-raising, staffing and spending, completely independent of the NEC and the UK leader’s office.

Now, I know that that might make life difficult for Ed Miliband, and I regret that. A wholly autonomous Scottish party with its own leader and its own organisation will be a bit untidy, lines of command will be blurred, egos bruised. But this isn’t about Ed Miliband or the UK party. It’s about Scotland first, Scottish Labour second and UK Labour third. And if decisions we make here – either at the publication of the review or further down the line – are inconvenient for the UK party, we’ll all just have to be grown up enough to deal with that.

And if the review doesn’t deliver all that we in Scotland think it should, then the Scottish Labour Party may have to take matters into its own hands. Which is where matters should have been long before now.

Tom Harris is the Labour MP for Glasgow South. Follow him on Twitter at @TomHarrisMP.