How Not to Save Scottish Labour

Richard Leonard's resignation is evidence of serious problems in the Scottish Labour Party - problems which can't be fixed by a return to Blairism, no matter what millionaire donors may think.

I have been a Labour member for over 30 years, and through thick and thin have supported the party. There have been times when it’s been very tough—Iraq and the Better Together disaster being two of the most obvious cases—but there are so many more positive examples of what the Labour Party has achieved that have led me to remain loyal to the cause of democratic socialism. The Scottish Parliament, the National Minimum wage, the Equality Act, record investment in the NHS, peace in Northern Ireland, free personal care, the smoking ban, free bus travel for pensioners, land reform and reductions in child poverty: all these have made for a better country, and have made me proud to be a Labour Party member.

I joined the party driven by the injustice of the miners’ strike and the poll tax. It was the party of Tony Benn, Clare Short, Dennis Skinner, Tam Dalyell, and Robin Cook: political giants, people of conviction and principle, who inspired my generation of young socialists into a life of community and political activism and the fight for a better world. What would they make of today’s Scottish Labour Party?

This week showed us everything that is wrong with the party I love. People who have spent three years repeatedly undermining, briefing against, and openly attacking the Scottish leader Richard Leonard finally won their war of attrition, and he resigned.

In the last three years I have sat in dozens of private meetings of Labour MSPs, during which these cowards would send out anonymous tweets and text message accounts of what was being discussed to their pet journalists to run negative stories. I have watched as one of them ran their own media operation through which a journalist on their payroll openly and repeatedly wrote newspaper articles attacking Leonard, Corbyn, and anything or anyone attached to them. I have seen people with a level of self-entitlement you only get from a private education use everything in their box of tricks to grind down those whose only crime was to try and change the Scottish Labour Party for the better.

My understanding, however, is that it was not MSPs who finally got rid of Richard – nor was it party members. It was a group of millionaire potential party donors who delivered the fatal blow. It is reported that at a meeting held on Wednesday night—at which Angela Rayner, Jackie Baillie, and Ian Murray met with wealthy peers and donors—it was made clear that no money would be donated unless Leonard was removed and Anas Sarwar installed as leader.

This was, I understand, reported to Starmer who then called Richard and asked him to stand down. If he refused, the plan was to have a vote of no confidence at the party’s weekend executive meeting. Do these people know nothing about the recent history of Scottish Labour? Do the words ‘branch’ and ‘office’ not ring any bells? Do they really think that the coronation of a new leader weighted down with the same baggage that caused his defeat by Leonard three years ago will make a difference?

The reality is that the MSPs and their chums behind these moves have been at the heart of the party during 20 years of decline. They have never accepted that their chosen leadership candidate lost. They have never accepted their responsibility for the failed political and strategic direction the party took. They could not accept it when they lost internal elections.

They believe that replacing Richard with Anas Sarwar and Jackie Baillie will turn around our fortunes; I predict that it would be a disaster. They believe that taking a hard unionist, no-surrender stance on the constitution, like a pound-shop Ian Paisley (remember Ian Murray in his Union Jack suit?), is the road to salvation. They dismissed the advice and evidence of pollsters which showed us that we should be targeting working class ‘Yes’ voters with policies to change their lives and voting loyalty. They believe that sticking D:Ream on the CD player and dusting off the Blairite play book is the magic elixir.  Delusion doesn’t come even close to it.

We have to end the arrogant, destructive behaviour of a small, self-entitled group whose time has long passed and rebuild the party from the bottom up. Those with a track record of leaking stories, briefing journalists against colleagues, sniping, using their staff to attack the party and trashing everything we do have to be called out – and we need a new generation of leader to come forward to rebuild our party as one of democratic socialism, devo max, and justice.