Two events last week spurred me to write about something that has been depressing me for some time now. In Scotland, the Labour Party is a busted flush!
I have been a supporter of the Labour Party all my life. Despite everything, I have never quite been able to bring myself to vote against it in any General Election, although in recent years at the level of council elections, I have voted for fine individuals standing for Dundee Against Cuts as a gesture of solidarity.
The two events to which I refer above are the challenge (now withdrawn) to the leadership of Richard Leonard and the article in the Scottish Review by Gerry Hassan
advocating the forming of a new Independent Labour Party.
Some of my best friends are, or have been, members of the Labour Party. Present and past Labour councillors on Dundee City Council and the former Tayside Regional Council are good people. Former Labour MPs and MSPs are people I am happy to call friends. So I write with sadness, not acrimony.
First, the challenge to Richard Leonard. When I was still working as an industrial chaplain, I had an excellent relationship with Richard Leonard, who I think is a good and decent human being, committed to fundamental Labour principles. But were the Labour Party a horse, I don't think even Frankie Dettori could get it to muster any sort of gallop. The Labour Party in Scotland, and possibly in the UK too, is a tired old nag requiring to be put out to pasture. So attacking and seeking to replace Richard Leonard is a futile pursuit, a distraction, a classic example of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The need for a credible opposition to the left of the SNP is desperately required for the health of Scottish politics, but where is that opposition to come from?
Second, the proposal to create a new Independent Labour Party in Scotland by Gerry Hassan
. The evidence of the terminal state of the Labour Party is there for all to see, except for those who will not
see. Its opposition to a referendum is simply untenable should next year's election bring a majority of pro-independence parties to power. It would still be legitimate to oppose independence, but it would be a democratic outrage to join with the lawless Tory Party in opposing a referendum on the issue. The bunker mentality revealed in George Foulkes boasting that he and Jackie Baillie were instrumental in getting the BBC to cut the First Minister's daily coronavirus briefings showed the desperation of a beleaguered party's concern for itself being more important than its concern for the health of the nation. I repeat, with great sadness, that the Labour Party which I have supported all my life, is a busted flush. The need for a credible opposition to the left of the SNP is desperately urgent.
The history of new parties is pretty abysmal, but, ironically, there is a ray of light coming from a most unlikely and unwelcome source – Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. Whatever we may think of the man and his core followers, by harnessing the power of social media they came from nowhere to a position of powerful influence in next to no time. They were able to tune into a widespread and malign mood about the nation being 'prisoners of Brussels' and 'being swamped by foreign immigrants'.
Is there not a widespread mood in Scotland for something much better?
The evidence of the pandemic – the magnificent response of tens of thousands of volunteers from all walks of life, the recognition of the heroes, nurses, care workers drivers , shop workers – shows the willingness to do the right and generous thing.
Who might galvanise this deep well of goodness into an effective political force? STUC, CABs, Common Weal, the churches, the mosques, CND, the Greens, the Democratic Left, the Council of Voluntary Organisations, Shelter, law centres, pensioners forums, Extinction Rebellion, unemployed groups, students' groups, Trussell Trust, social enterprise networks... Who will step up?
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