In the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, the Labour party received 21 percent of the constituency vote in Glasgow Kelvin, coming third behind the Scottish Greens and the Scottish National Party in a seat that it had once won comfortably. As in much of the city and the country, Labour has lost most of its vote to pro-independence parties.
To run in the constituency in 2021, the local CLP selected Hollie Cameron, a young working-class socialist woman who had voted and campaigned Yes in the 2014 independence referendum. Cameron was selected unopposed within the CLP, with support from across the ideological spectrum of the membership. She is clearly on the left of the party, but is widely well respected as a hard-working, personable, and loyal member of Labour. Throughout the process of her selection for the constituency seat, as well as for a place on the Glasgow list, Cameron made her views on Scottish independence very clear.
Cameron recently gave an interview to the pro-independence newspaper, The National, outlining her view that, while she was less convinced of the case for independence now, she believed in the democratic right of the Scottish people to hold a referendum to decide. As the Scottish Policy Forum recently reaffirmed, ‘it is the sovereign right of the people to determine their future, and the right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government suited to their needs.’
As a result of this interview, a small panel from the Scottish Executive Committee of the party chose International Women’s Day to call Cameron in to ‘re-interview’ her. It decided that she was no longer a suitable candidate and withdrew its endorsement. Kelvin CLP was only formally informed that any of this was taking place after the decision had been made. As of midday today, as far as we are aware, neither Cameron nor the CLP has received any formal, written explanation of the basis for this decision. The local party, one of the largest and most active in the country, has been told that it would have no say in choosing a new candidate, who would simply be imposed.
The fundamental breach of party democracy here is clear. Like Starmer in the UK party, the new leader of Scottish Labour, Anas Sarwar, has preached party unity as central to any recovery. Decisions like the one taken by the SEC in Kelvin send a very different message: that no deviance from the leadership’s view will be tolerated, and that the democratic rights of party activists can be ignored. We hope this decision is an aberration not a sign of things to come in Scotland.
Perhaps more important, however, is what this decision says about the strategy of Scottish Labour. It is a strategy based on firming up an ever-shrinking core of existing unionist supporters and perhaps peeling off a few tactical votes from the Tories and Lib Dems. This is a dead end, electorally and politically. The numbers simply aren’t there if Labour hopes to recover to any significant degree, and go beyond merely vying with the Scottish Conservatives to be the main unionist opposition at Holyrood. The logic of orientating towards right-wing voters is even worse: to make any progress in this direction, it will mean dropping any pretence to socialist policies. What, exactly, will be the point of the Labour Party then?
Cameron did not intend to run a campaign focused primarily on the question of Scottish independence. She wanted to talk about a Green New Deal for Glasgow, and Scotland more widely, which would create jobs in every community while tackling the climate crisis. She would have emphasised Scottish Labour’s support for a National Care Service, and commitment to secure the future of the NHS through significant investment. The campaign would have highlighted the SNP’s cruel cuts to local council budgets and Scotland’s shameful record on drug deaths. On education, work and housing, Cameron would have made the strongest possible case for the socialist ideals that should be at the heart of the Labour party.
However, we cannot hope to get a hearing for these ideas if we insist on foregrounding an unreconstructed unionism and ignoring swathes of the population who should be part of the party’s core vote. Cameron’s interview with The National was an attempt to speak to a constituency that no longer listens to the party. It may not be successful in the short term, but in the long term, this is the only future for Labour in Scotland. The party should welcome voices such as Cameron’s, and it should reinstate her as the candidate in Kelvin immediately.