The hunt is on for yet another leader of Scottish Labour. Once again, someone has stepped down either to try to bolster the party’s abysmal ratings ahead of an election or because they no longer believe in the message that they have to promote. Since the inception of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, there have been no fewer than 9 elected leaders for Labour in that two decades compared to only 3 from the SNP. The Lib Dems and the Tories showed more reliability with 4 and 5 respectively whilst the Greens, although now sharing a collective responsibility, have had 2 consistent leaders. It is clear that to have stability within leadership leads to stability in ratings yet Scottish Labour seem hellbent on implosion as they race to lose all reverence from the electorate.
Politics in the South of Scotland and the Highlands are worlds apart. The issues that affect them, the way people perceive things are different and generally the political make up of a council area will reflect that in the parties that it votes in. The farming heartlands of the rural East tended to be Tory, the industrial towns and cities of the heavily populated central belt were Labour to a man and the Highlands and Islands signified their differences with the Libdems. All areas were represented by the parties that focused on the issues that mattered to their communities and particularly in the Highlands, it was the person who was voted for rather than the party. Scotland has always been different from England in this situation, the people that were elected to represent them were people who lived amongst them, were friends, neighbours but always, very involved within their communities. Although elected with respect, there were no airs and graces afforded to them, rather an accountability and a reminder that “I kent your Faither”. Having lived so long in the areas they represented, they knew the issues, the people, the foibles and generally incumbencies were longlasting.
The demise of Labour and the other political parties in Scotland, although seemingly rapid in the last few years, actually began with the convening of Holyrood. From one national party singing from the same hymn sheet, the parties had to diverge and cater for the fact that they now found themselves representing UK versus Scotland. Newly faced with Scottish only issues in a different parliament, they found themselves sometimes at odds with the decisions being made in Westminster. The Uk headquarters, now embracing New Labour and its London-centric outlook refused to acknowledge the transformation happening in Scotland and the elected representatives, slow to wake, clung to the All One message from the south. The SNP did not have this problem of course and slowly but surely, the consistent messages began to resonate within the country and with the needs and wants of Scotland solely at its heart, unencumbered by the demands of others, it began to make inroads and established itself as the dominant party.
As the fortunes of the UK as a whole, and certainly that of Scotland changed, the inability of Labour to remain true to its roots of protecting the disadvantaged and core support began to haemorage votes. Completely lost, it did not know what to do – the values of New Labour were alien to the Scottish heartlands but even though the electorate were telling them that, they refused to change outlook. Tribal politics were fierce between two parties who on paper should have been closely aligned and the old saying of never discuss football, politics or religion proved its point over and over again as Labour refused to shift from its belief that as they had once been right, they would always be right. By the time of the referendum in 2014, their core support was desperate to welcome the visions of a new progressive country that put its citizens first and accepted all for who they were, not what they could offer, yet Labour dug in its heels. Behind the scenes, many of its elected members were sympathetic but could not say so publicly and the head offices from the South bombarded the Scots with the message that they were incapable of surviving on their own. This truly incomprehensible tactic backfired on them in the most unexpected way; as the Scots showed that they did not want independence at that moment, they would not forgive the way that they had been spoken to and treated during the campaign and the SNP secured an unexpected victory in Westminster.
Over the last few years the chasm between the Labour Party and the Scottish Labour Party has widened significantly and it now seems that to survive in Scotland, they have to adopt the promise of another independence election to win back the voters that they lost to the SNP. Those who publicly endorse this have no desire to drink from the poisoned chalice of the leadership and the two names that have so far come forward still refuse to countenance that there is another way. Offered a joint working partnership today by the Tories they refused, and so SNP ratings are safe yet. Monica Lennon, a respected and hard working MSP, would be the obvious choice for a new forward looking leader but it is likely that the experience of Anas Sarwar will win out; very closely aligned with UK Labour, nothing will change and the message will still echo in the wind that there only is one way to change – embrace independence and the opportunities that will provide. Their problems of course go deeper – until it is separated from its Westminster shackles. It is astounding to me that Labour – supposedly the party of the people, of social democracy , of equality and prosperity, should have a “Sir” as its leader. A Tory in all but name, it will not be long before UK Labour finds itself in the same position as Scottish Labour. England however does not have an alternative party such as the SNP to vote for and it is worrying indeed to see no effective opposition available and the impact that this is having on democracy. Starmer’s proclamations on Scotland so far have been simply dangerous, shutting down all debate and ruling the northern territory as effectively as his political opposites. Donald Dewar must surely be birlin’.