Keith White, North East Fife CLP, looks at the disruptive behavior of Labour’s right wing in the run up to next year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament.
At September’s Scottish Labour Executive (SEC) meeting, a motion of no confidence in leader Richard Leonard, signed by 10 committee members, was moved by Jenny Marra MSP and strongly supported by Deputy Leader, Jackie Baillie MSP, and Shadow Secretary of State Ian Murray. They cited low poll ratings and charged Richard with “failing to make an impact with voters”.
In the run up to the meeting several MSPs had initiated serial resignations from the front bench team – a rather pale version of the 2016 ‘chicken coup’ against Jeremy Corbyn.
The SEC is finely balanced between left and right, especially since Murray (recently outed as the 9th Change UK defector who decided to stay put at the last minute), replaced Lesley Laird as Shadow Scottish Secretary of State and Jackie Baillie won the Deputy Leadership election earlier this year. The meeting started with one signatory being ruled ineligible for SEC membership, easing the situation for the left. After an “intense debate” the motion was withdrawn.
As Neil Findlay MSP put it: “People who have been central to the demise of Labour over 20 years have decided that none of what went before was their fault but it was all down to …. Richard Leonard.” The plotting and sniping Jeremy had to suffer has also marked Richard’s leadership. Those Party members who hoped for a ‘new start’ under Starmer’s ‘unity leadership’ were far from happy to see preparations for the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections undermined and disrupted in this way.
So why move now rather than after the widely predicted SNP victory in 2021? A proposal from Richard, on the meeting agenda, to place women candidates at the head of every regional list (except where the Leader and Deputy are standing), clearly led some MSPs to worry about their careers. This, together with a determination to encourage frontline key workers to come forward as candidates, was endorsed by the meeting, although final candidate selection arrangements are yet to be completed.
The Scottish Parliament is elected through a combination of 73 constituency and 56 regional list representatives. From the 2016 election the SNP have over 60 of the total MSPs but require the support of 6 Greens for an overall majority. Scottish Labour’s 23 MSPs, all but two from the regional lists, puts us behind the Tories in third place. Richard became leader in November 2017 and there is no evidence that a new leader (and no one involved let on who they had in mind) would change anything.
I know of no Labour Party member who has any enthusiasm for the SNP government. Driving support for the nationalists is growing horror of anything emanating from Westminster. Those wanting rid of Richard look back to the Lab/Lib/Tory ‘Better Together’ campaign, supposedly successful in defeating the SNP in the 2014 Independence Referendum. To cries of ‘Red Tories’ we subsequently lost all but one of our MPs in 2015. The plotters now want to repeat that ‘success’ in May 2021. As Neil Findlay puts it: “They believe we should drape ourselves in the Union flag and that any further devolution is a concession to nationalism.”
The SNP can be challenged by arguing for maximum possible devolution within a federal constitutional settlement for the UK. Indeed we must embrace the referendum the SNP claim to want. Scottish Labour should commit itself to a position that it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether or not there is to be another referendum. We should support such a referendum and demand a third option of maximum devolution be on the ballot.
The SNP is presently mired in a faction fight between the followers of Sturgeon and Salmond, one which threatens serious damage. Sturgeon looks good compared with Johnson but within Scotland there are many questions being asked about the performance of the government – health, education and job protection/creation are all live issues here. COVID 19 has placed more question marks on Sturgeon’s record, especially in care homes, however much better than the UK government it has been.
Richard Leonard and Scottish Labour are putting centre stage the COVID crisis, front line workers, green job creation, job protection and housing. We will have women workers at the centre of our campaigns, as candidates. We need this to be combined with a constitutional policy capable of pointing the way to a truly democratic, socialist society, an answer to the SNP’s single policy of independence.