New Labour caused an exodus of Labour Party members in Scotland.
The SNP were standing by to welcome them in with open arms. The SNP were gradually moving to the left, or so it appeared. A lot of former Labour members and supporters therefore felt more at home and welcomed within the folds of the SNP than they did within New Labour.
This trend also manifested in the lack of electoral successes for Scottish Labour.
At one time, the Labour vote in my constituency needed to be weighed. But people were noticing a shift in Labour. When Jim Murphy became leader of Scottish Labour and Labour MPs, including mine, voted in favour of the Tory welfare bill that penalised the destitute, the writing was on the wall. Labour’s support began to haemorrhage.
Then in 2014 came the referendum on Scottish independence. Another catastrophe for Scottish Labour.
‘Better Together’ brought Scottish Labour and the Scottish Tories under the same banner. The Tories provided the money and Labour provided the street campaigners. Labour and the Tories were publicly seen sharing the same platform. And Scottish Labour paid the price.
This was an exceptionally divisive period in Scotland. Bitterness ran strong in both camps. Families were divided and bile and hatred surfaced within Scottish politics.
The ‘No’ campaign won the day with 55% voting to remain part of the UK. It was a shallow victory for Scottish Labour as we paid the price. Support for Labour sunk even further.
Indeed, my CLP hall was firebombed the weekend following the result with our hall being gutted and we lost a part of our history with records of our local party and its involvement in Red Clydeside being destroyed.
The SNP came to dominate Scottish politics with Scottish Labour even losing the senior party of opposition in the Scottish Parliament to the Tories.
Today, Labour has one MP in Scotland and it has lost control of nearly all the Red Clydeside local authorities, including Glasgow City Council.
There is a spreading apathy in the Scottish Labour membership, you can no longer can put teams of campaigners into a ward to spread our message and get the Labour vote out. I stood as a council candidate in the last local authority elections in Clydebank. Campaigning was mostly down to me and my fellow candidates.
The SNP on the other hand were able to put out large community campaign teams which we could only envy. The result was inevitable.
Labour lost control of West Dunbartonshire to the SNP and, for the first time, two Tories were elected. The SNP Administration, despite its glaringly obvious incompetence and attempt to out Tory the Tories, remains popular.
This does not bode well for the next Scottish local authority elections in 2022.
Scottish Labour appears divided, like UK Labour. We have a left Leader in Richard Leonard and a right Deputy Leader in Jackie Baillie.
The left in Scotland lacks organisation. There are a number of left groupings: Campaign for Socialism, Labour Left Alliance, and Momentum to name but three.
The right have been emboldened following the election of Keir Starmer as Leader of the Labour Party to the extent we can now see moves to publicly undermine Richard Leonard’s leadership.
‘A shot at the King’ must be on the cards for the right.
There is an inherent danger in this tactic in Scotland as many may well feel that a Socialist Scotland is more palatable than a neoliberal UK.
Leonard has been forced to come out against a second independence referendum. But many on the left, myself included, feel that it would be wrong for us to deny the Scottish people a referendum if the will to have one is there. If the case for the Union is just, we should not be afraid to test it.
The right view of this, led by Jackie Baillie, is ‘over my dead body’. Unfortunately that may be an apt prophecy for the Scottish Labour Party. If Scottish Labour deny Scotland a second referendum we will be punished.
If Scottish Labour support a second referendum, allowing Labour supporters to come out in support, the probability is that Scotland will be an independent nation.
South of the border, we have seen Labour MPs publicly attacking and ridiculing our former Leader and the Socialist policies tabled in the 2019 manifesto (which they also stood on). In Scotland the right does not have the same luxury as they cannot risk an open civil war. Starmer is taking Labour to the right again. His views emulate many of Blair’s positions. His scant regard for the membership may turn the party into a New Labour reincarnated dictatorship. Starmer could be the final nail in the coffin of Scottish Labour.
Will the Union survive a right-wing Labour Party under Starmer?
Despite the most incompetent Government in recent history, the Tories remain higher in the polls than Labour. Starmer has yet to produce any magical touch that will reverse Labour’s fortunes and is yet to prove that an opposition exists.
Alan Sorrell, Dumbarton CLP