Scottish Labour needs an interim leader before worrying about who should challenge for First Minister next time round, writes IAN SMART

 

The Scottish Labour Party is irrelevant to the Government of Scotland. Not for ever but for the moment.

Iain Gray did well at First Minister’s questions last Thursday but the guy who was never truly Tomorrow’s First Minister is now indubitably Yesterday’s man. Real Scottish politics is all about the governing party;  they set, or at least create the agenda. Last week, they did so as a result of the First Minister’s ill-advised and intemperate attack on the legal profession and the independent judiciary. I suspect they will do so  in the week to come as we watch the unravelling  of their ill-thought out sectarianism legislation which, insofar as it doesn’t simply declare to be against the law activity which is patently against the law already, otherwise accidently criminalises freedom of expression and makes singing “Sheep shagging bastards” at Aberdeen Fans and “All hibees are gay” at Hibernian fans offences punishable by five years imprisonment.

However, this blog is not an arbitrary reflection on events and this misconceived legislation is more than capable of falling apart without my assistance. Rather, my own purpose is aimed at trying to assist the Scottish Labour Party. And one of the first things any party needs is a leader.

So where are we now in that process? Well, so far, we don’t yet have any agreement as to the vacancy which will exist when Iain goes; as to who should then be entitled to vote in the contest to succeed him or even as to what the winner’s task should be once elected, we are in a state of complete disarray; that, ironically, is the one matter on which we are all agreed.

Now, I have previously suggested that we should reach a temporary fix by simply electing a leader of the Labour Holyrood group. Suffice to say, this does not seem to be a proposal which is finding favour. “The party” apparently needs a leader because such is the inadequacy of the activist layer, only a leader can “force through” the necessary changes. Quite who these changes are being resisted by is less clear. It appears to be “them”; them being those whose current stewardship of the Scottish Party has proved to be such an unparalleled success.

Anyway, it appears from my various contacts that the need for a leader is something which must be taken as a given. A bit like 1920s Italy.
So, what is this person to lead?  It appears to be one of the few of the areas of limited agreement that it should be the whole of the Scottish Labour Party. I concur, pausing only to observe that this must then include those who represent the party at Westminster. All of them.

And who should select that leader? The current electoral  college is a farce. It might just be possible to justify a situation whereby the elected members section was reserved to those elected to Holyrood, or even  open to all elected members, including councillors, but a section which will, under current circumstance, give Westminster MPs a majority share in who should represent us in the Holyrood Parliament? You couldn’t make it up. And it will become more farcical still if some, but not all, MPs voluntarily excuse themselves from the process.

As for the Trade Union section… well, as somebody recently said, he who pays the piper calls the tune. But this set up is a hang over from a different age. I simply don’t have time to analyse the numerous ways in which it is now an anachronism. Suffice to say, it is.

No, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party should be elected by the members of the Scottish Labour Party. That we need a lot more of these members, many of whom should be drawn from trade union activists, is a longer term project, although one I would hope the leader would regard as a priority. But more on that at another time.

So, what should the leader’s task be? It should be first and last, to sort out the Scottish Labour Party. It should not even start to be positioning themselves  to be a challenger for First Minister in five years’ time. There is a film in which somebody (I can’t remember if its Mel Gibson or John Travolta) is struck by lightining and transformed from a car mechanic into a nuclear physicist (Note from Editor: it was John Travolta in the movie, “Phenomenon”). Perhaps one of those potentially standing as candidates  will have a similar experience. That certainly appears to be our best hope, if selecting a First Ministerial challenger is what we are determined on at this time. There are some good new  people in the group, but none who could stand credibly within months of first being elected. And there are simply none of the survivors who have all, or even most, of the necessary attributes. There, I’ve said it.

But there are those who do have the right ideas about what needs to be sorted out and who could do a perfectly competent caretaker job while that was accomplished. So whoever is prepared to put themselves forward on that basis will get my support.

Now, that implies a later contest to select a candidate for First Minister. I will return as to how and when that might be organised.

 

Ian Smart is a lawyer and founder member of Scottish Labour Action. He is also a Past President of the Law Society of  Scotland. Follow Ian on Twitter at @IanSSmart. This post was originally published on Ian’s blog.