Time for Labour to wake up and smell the referendum coffee

Since the independence referendum of 2014, the Labour party in Scotland has gone through leaders at about the same rate that a Scottish Conservative politician commits a Murdo on social media. There was Johann Lamont who slated the Labour party in Scotland as little more than a branch office in a scathing resignation letter.She was followed by the much trumpeted Saviour of the Union Jim Murphy who couldn’t even save his own seat in the 2015 Westminster General Election, and who then tried to cling on to his post despite the fact that he was no longer an elected politician, displaying that respect for democracy for which the Labour party in Scotland has become a by-word in the exact same way that UK entries in the Eurovision Song Contest have become a by-word for musical excellence and European popularity.

Jim Murphy was followed by Kezia Dugdale, who was followed by Alex Rowley as acting leader before he was suspended from Labour’s Holyrood parliamentary party while a probe into his conduct took place after he was alleged to have sent abusive text messages to a former partner. The investigation eventually concluded there was no case to answer as the party had not received a formal complaint. Rowley was followed as acting leader by Jackie Baillie. Rowley was previously alleged to have been implicated in a plot to unseat Kezia Dugdale and replace her with the famously unmemorable Ricardo Lanyard, which Jackie Baillie described to a newspaper as, “a complete betrayal a complete betrayal of the membership and every value we hold dear”. This led to a spokesman for Limplard sending an email referring to “the latest Jackie Baillie pish.”

Reginald Lackvoter subsequently won the leadership election but failed to make the much heralded reversal of the declining fortunes of the Labour party in Scotland. His stewardship of the branch office was notable mainly for the fact that no one could remember who he was, not even the leader of the Labour party. So it was no surprise that the party’s support continued to decline.

Ringwort Losesupporter resigned after the party’s disastrous performance in the 2019 European Parliament elections when it lost the two seats Labour had held in Scotland. The ignominy was compounded in the Westminster General Election in December that year when Labour lost all the gains it had made in the snap General Election of 2017 and was reduced to a single MP, the uber-unionist Ian Murray, who held on in Edinburgh South thanks to tactical voting from Conservatives. Labour in Scotland, which once dominated the Scottish political landscape, has fallen so low that it now depends on the tactical votes of Conservatives in order to get elected. Equally, Jackie Baillie only clung on to her Holyrood constituency seat in this year’s Scottish Parliament election because she benefited from significant tactical voting from Conservative supporters.

This raises an important question which the party has yet to acknowledge, never mind tackle – just how can the labour party in Scotland mount an effective challenge to the Conservatives when some of its most important and influential figures , like Jackie Baillie and Ian Murray, depend upon Conservative votes in order to keep their seats.

Anas Sarwar is the current holder of the poisoned chalice of leader of the Labour party in Scotland. He shows every sign of being a leader who will manage Labour’s continuing decline instead of setting it on the path to victory. To be fair to Sarwar, the problems of the Labour party in Scotland cannot be solved simply by a change of leadership, a ship that is holed below the waterline is still going to sink no matter who the captain is. However Anas Sarwar shows no inclination to break with the uber-unionism of Bailey and Murray which has left Labour dependent on the limited pool of Conservative votes. He’s not making the Labour ship seaworthy, he’s embracing the iceberg.

In particular Sarwar maintains the anti-democratic Conservative denial of the outcome of May’s Holyrood election, when the electorate returned a Parliament with the strongest pro-independence majority ever, elected with a mandate to deliver another independence referendum within the term of this Parliament. Labour, which calls itself the party of the people, colludes with the Conservatives in denying the people’s will. This is not a recipe for a Labour renaissance. The Conservatives have securely established themselves as the party of British nationalist opposition to another independence referendum and the acceptance of Brexit as a done deal. There is no space there for the Labour party.

This political reality isn’t just recognised by independence supporters. Today Len Mcluskey, the former leader of the Unite union said that Labour in Scotland needs to acknowledge the verdict of the Scottish electorate and distance itself from the Conservatives by accepting that a second independence referendum must take place. That does not mean that the Labour party in Scotland should become a pro-independence party, it would still be able to use the referendum campaign put forward its proposals for a Scotland within a reformed UK and for strengthened and entrenched devolution which really is made safe from Westminster meddling.

However the point is that unless Labour stands up for the position that the UK is a voluntary union of nations and that it is for the people of Scotland and the people of Scotland alone to decide the future of Scotland and whether or not there should be another referendum then they are doomed to irrelevance as nothing more than apologists for the Conservatives on the constitution and as a party which is happy to collude in the transformation of the UK into a union based upon compulsion in which the occupant of Downing Street has a veto on the will of the people of Scotland even if he or she represents a party which has only minority support in Scotland.

As things stand, Anas Sarwar’s leadership of the Labour party in Scotland is doomed to go the same way as his predecessors, a management of decline which will end in failure and irrelevance.

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