…or what seems like the end of the beginning of the end of Scottish Labour.
It seems that whenever there is news coverage of the Scottish Labour Party it is always negative. Some would be inclined to blame this on media-bias or an anti-Corbyn-agenda (the focus on Corbyn, perhaps, being part of the problem), but when you see what we give them…I don’t think there’s much else to work with? This week, the Corbynisation of Scottish Labour reached a major milestone.
The week started with John McDonnell MP – the Shadow Chancellor and the widely-accepted mastermind behind Project Corbyn – saying Labour would allow a Second Independence Referendum if it was Holyrood voted for it. This, with the benefit of hindsight and knowing what followed later in the week, is a big red flag – and not one of the good ones.
Scottish Labour Party policy is, and always has been to oppose a second referendum – even if Jeremy Corbyn has been somewhat unsure of this in the past. But McDonnell in not Corbyn. His comments weren’t a slip of the tongue , and he has repeated them since – they were a calculated overture to the SNP to support a potential future minority Labour Government. There have been suggestions of a SNP-supported Labour Government before and, they did not go down well.
But apart from such an overture being self-defeating, it is also unnecessary. The SNP MPs after the next General Election (provided there is a hung parliament), will have to make a choice: do they support a potential Labour Government or allow the Tories to continue? The need not be tempted, they need not be bought – they can either agree with the Labour program for Government, or not. They can decide where their principles lead them – which may, indeed, be in two different directions.
But aside from the external politics of the situation – the internal signals are clear – The UK Labour Leadership doesn’t care about Scottish Labour any longer. After repeating Scottish Labour’s post-referendum mistakes in 2016 by trying to please both sides, they are now trying to force us to repeat them! To hell with Scottish Labour Policy or processes.
And that was just Tuesday!
Over the next couple of days what has been rightly described as a ‘Civil War’ broke out across the party. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the members who had fought in the 2014 referendum, who bore the scars of that vote, and the General Election who followed it – who remember being shouted at in St. Enoch Square and balled at outside our own rallies (including by some who are now members and claim to speak for ‘true Labour values’); who faced abuse on the doorstep – are the ones who feel most hurt and abandoned by McDonnell’s calculated comments.
They are the ones who have remained with the party through the (increasingly) hard times but now all-to-readily dismissed as the ‘Anti-Corbyn gang’, without those accusers considering the reasons for that position. And when they stand up for agreed party policy, their commitment to the party is questioned and they are called anti-democratic. Though, of course, when they support a 2nd EU Referendum, they’re being anti-democratic then too.
On Thursday, when Richard Leonard attempted to re-state Scottish Labour’s Policy, opposing a Second Referendum – that didn’t stem the tide. Even a statement supported by the majority of Labour MSPs couldn’t act as a ‘unity comrades’ moment – thanks to the Scottish Campaign Coordinator who led the party to a recent 5th place finish:
But, this wasn’t the end of the week – nor the most telling.
Brian Roy, The Scottish General Secretary for the past 5 years resigned on Friday morning with immediate effect. According to Davie Clegg of the Daily Record, this follows a meeting with Richard Leonard just last week where Roy was told he no longer enjoyed Richard Leonard’s confidence – for what that’s worth.
Over the past 5 years, in various roles and to various degrees, I’ve seen Brian Roy in action – and he was a dedicated and loyal servant to the Party and to each leader he worked alongside. His commitment to varied and risky campaigning was demonstrated in his facilitated Jim Murphy’s “we just need to see if anything works” plans; his focus on long-term strategy over short-term tactics was on display when working with Kez Dugdale to try and slowly re-build trust in the party (which stemmed the losses in 2016 and bore first-fruit in 2017); and his commitment to the Party as a whole continued to the last as he endevoured to keep the peace among warring factions in Richard Leonard’s era. If anything it is the last of these which was Brian’s hamartia, if reports of Richard’s mentioning of the door (but not being confident to show him it) are to be believed.
Indeed, if I was to make any criticism of Brian’s tenure – it woudl be that he was sometimes too accommodating in trying to balance views that could not be balanced. He was too willing to try and keep the leadership happy, while still genuinely trying to make sure the members’ voice was heard. He was, in my view, too permissive of CfS (Momentum Scotland) and SLYS (the Momentum Scotland Youth Wing), even when they walked along or stuck their toe over the line. Too willing to bend or amend rules to keep the peace, rather than enforce them and admit the war. And in thanks, they seem to have overtaken him.
In all, however, Brian Roy’s tenure as Scottish General Secretary completed its one job – to keep the Scottish Labour afloat over what was bound to be , and will undoubtedly be remembered as, its most tumultuous periods ever. For that – I thank him, and his treatment has been deplorable.
But, as thoughts turn to Scottish Labour’s future, with Lorna Finlayson as acting General Secretary, I am worried that Brian’s not-quite-sacking marks the end-of the-beginning of Scottish Labour’s decline. Lorna would be a strong General Secretary for the upcoming storm (be that a General Election or internal battles).
But, while Lorna would be the sensible choice – experience suggests she will not be the final choice. As I’ve noted before, all of Richard’s appointments have been Corbyn-friendly, line-toeing, Richard-agreeing folk. I don’t see why that will change now.
All of this week’s events, then, suggest to me that the Corbyn-led ‘neutralisation’ of Scottish Labour is progressing rapidly. The Corbyn-project never got as strong a foothold in Scotland as it did in the rest of the UK (Smith is suspected to have won the 2016 Leadership Election in Scotland and nowhere else) though many who stood against it have now left and those who have stayed are demoralised. If Corbyn couldn’t control Scotland – he would at least make Scottish Labour weak enough so he can cut a deal with the SNP. And now that he has a friendly leader and will (almost certainly) soon have a friendly General Secretary – it may be that he can embed his support in Scotland after all.
And at that point – we’re firmly in the middle of the end.