So – The European Elections happened, and they were a disaster.
They say that it’s in the small things the big issues become clear.
Tonight, after Mass, I spoke to a fellow parishioner. She has always voted, and has always voted Labour. The Funeral of her grandmother, great-grandmother to her young children, was on Thursday 23rd May 2019. She still voted.
But, for the first time in her life – she didn’t vote Labour. She voted for an unambiguously remain party.
From being out on the doors over the course of the campaign – and it was a fair number of doors – there are two reasons for Scottish Labour’s utterly dire performance last Thursday. Both are to do with leadership, but both in different ways.
The first is at the UK level – and that Jeremy Corbyn has bent over backwards to avoid implementing the UK Labour Party’s policy over Brexit. That motion – formed and fashioned in a meeting that lasted over 6 hours – seems to mean nothing to the current party leadership. The insistence that only a ‘bad Tory Brexit’ (not a Labour one) need be put to a ‘public vote’ (which has been extended to include a General Election) killed our party for the European Elections.
Since September 2018, Corbyn has insisted – and his twitter army of fans and followers – have insisted that what the country really needs is a General Election, and that the real divide isn’t between Leave and Remain, but the ‘many’ and the ‘few’. And, the thing is, I agree with that. I agree that that division, the class division, is the most important one – but it doesn’t mean that any other divisions aren’t “real”. I would argue (and most experts and forecasters appear to agree) that Leaving the European Union would affect the many far, far worse than it would the few…but that’s not the conversation the leader of the Labour Party wants to have.
It is, however, the conversation the country is having – but Labour don’t want to take part in. In Scotland, we have tried that. After the 2014 IndyRef, Scottish Labour tried to move the conversation on, tried to talk about schools and hospitals – but the country wasn’t ready to heal, and move on. The Party were punished for it at the polls.
And yet, despite this warning – which was highlighted by several north of the border – the UK leadership failed to learn the lessons and trod the same path.
It seems clear that Jeremy Corbyn lies at the root of this – and with members overwhelmingly in favour of remain or a referendum on the deal – he either needs to unify with the rest of the party, or accept he can no longer lead it.
But, for viewers in Scotland
While the Labour Party did terribly in the UK, it was annihilated in Scotland. From a close second behind the SNP in 2014; to a distant FIFTH only just ahead of the Greens in 2019.
To be fair, the 2014 Euros were the last vote before THAT vote – so at least part of the slippage is the post-#IndyRef reality catching up with us. But even in 2016 and 2017 we at least came 3rd! So how did was fall even further from grace. I don’t think it’s all a consequence of UK Level decisions. I think there is something else that has to happen in the Scottish party.
First off – and this is the most important bit – I do not think Richard Leonard should resign as party leader. This is because, primarily, I think he has the potential to be a good leader (infra) and, secondly, because if he did resign, there are 4 people who would be a decent shout to replace him but one’s too obscure, one’s too divisive, one’s too wise and one’s not an MSP until July.
But what I do think needs to happen in Scotland is that Richard Leonard needs to start showing some personal leadership. I am willing to be corrected on this, but every leader Scottish Labour put out was based on the UK Labour template. Every message was a UK Labour message. There was practically no Scottish message or input at all – but there could have been.
The issue is, not just in respect of the most recent elections, but since Leonard took office just under 2 years ago, is that the call of “unity comrades” – which Corbyn/Leonard supporting Campaign For Socialism have adopted as a rallying cry over the past few days, despite previous positions on other leaders – doesn’t seek unity, it seeks conformity.
The view from the membership, and this is not a view exclusive to me, is that Richard staffed by people who wholly agree with him; speaks to people who wholly agree with him; campaigns for those who wholly agree with him; listens to those who wholly agree with him; and listens only to those that wholly agree with him.
This attitude is best demonstrated at 2018 Scottish Labour Conference, where my own CLP submitted a motion on Brexit after over a year of the Scottish and UK parties doing practically nothing. On the eve of Conference the Leonard-supporting SEC decided to issue a policy statement (which they were allowed to do), but that would scupper the motion. Just the year before, when Kez Dugdale had the opportunity to manoeuvre to prevent a motion on nuclear weapons being debated (which she was bound to lose), she didn’t take it, allowed the debate to play out and took it on the chin.
Yesterday, Neil Findlay MSP, who was in charge of the 2019 Election Campaign and was a key Leonard supporter, stood down and that was the right thing to do. But the leader’s office will still be full of ‘true-believers’ who agree with Leonard, and any replacement is more likely to be a slavish ally than a critical-friend.
If we continue to ignore the reality that the debate is Yes/No, Leave/Remain, and we refuse to take part in that debate, then is it any wonder that people aren’t going to listen to whatever else we have to say?
In Scotland, the issue is not one of the Leader (I think we have the right once) but of Leadership and the lack of it. From the back-room staff to the front bench, we all need to hear what we’re being told, and realise that we’re not currently fighting, sadly, for the next Labour Government.
We’re fighting for the next Labour Party grouping.