It was recently said by Dennis Canavan that Labour might win the first election in an independent Scotland. Of course, he did so in order to encourage habitual Labour voters to vote Yes in September, and from that point of view I should be agreeing with his message. However, the possibility of a Labour victory is not one I can view with any equanimity. There are two articles which I have come across which bear on this.
A response to my Question Time critics by Liam McLaughlan
17 year old Liam, as an audience member of Question Time, spoke in favour of independence and said that Tony Blair should be tried as a war criminal. Subsequently, he was subjected to abuse on Twitter by supporters of Labour. In his article he writes “Efforts to drag the Labour party back to its founding principles are both valiant and honourable, but those activists are fighting a losing battle.”
Scottish Labour – A pheonix waiting to arise or a damp squib? by Tarff Advertiser
Tarff Advertiser discusses the failure of the Labour Party to live up to the ideals of its founders, and questions whether Labour for Independence (LfI) can reform the party to the point where it is fit to govern an independent Scotland. He says “I am a SNP party member, on the socialist wing of the party and the new, post Yes vote, Scottish Labour Party will have a hard job convincing me it is a Phoenix rather than a damp squib.” I could say much the same thing, but I would go further; I fear that a post Yes vote Scottish Labour Party could turn out to be much more destructive than a damp squib.
Consider the following hypothetical scenario. The result of the referendum is, let us say, 55% Yes with a 70% turnout, and negotiations for indepence begin, in line with the Edinburgh Agreement.In the May 2015 UK general election, Labour win most of the Scottish seats (perhaps because independence supporters consider the election to be irrelevant to Scotland) and a narrow majority in the Commons, which they will lose when Scottish MPs withdraw from the Commons, just before Scotland becomes independent. They consider repudiating the Edinburgh Agreement, on the grounds that any pledge by a UK Government is not binding on its successor, but decide that this is too risky politically. Instead they drag out the independence negotiations, perhaps insisting on starting them again from scratch. As a result, the Scottish Government is forced to postpone independence by several months, and hence until after the 2016 election. Scottish Labour, with the full backing of the UK Government, and perhaps some dirty tricks, win the election.The new Scottish Government declares that as fewer than 40% of the electorate voted Yes, the referendum did not provide a mandate for independence, and the Scottish and UK governments agree to cancel independence.
The above scenario may seem unlikely, but as far as I can see it is not impossible. An unreformed Labour party could be a serious threat to Scottish independence even after a Yes vote. Even if it did not block independence, a Labour controlled Scottish Government would still be problematic, if LfI cannot replace the current leadership and their policies in time. Can one really believe that people, such as the current high-profile Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs, who are currently so bitterly opposed to independence will be able to work to make independence a success? If they fail, they will not admit their failure; instead, they will just claim that independence was a mistake and that they had been right to oppose it. Even in opposition, a strong Labour Party is very unlikely to put aside their anomosity towards the SNP and put the interests of Scotland ahead of their own.
Tarff Advertiser concludes “Alan Grogan: please prove me wrong, achieve your vision with and for LfI, create your socialist Phoenix – but I fear the history of your party is against you.” I fear so too, but on a more positive note I would say that LfI could have an important role to play, but to do so they will have to break with the present Labour Party and provide an alternative for those voters who still respect the original ideals of the Labour Party.
I was tempted to refer to leopards changing their spots, but I cannot bring myself to compare Scottish Labour to such a sleek animal, although sleekit might apply nicely to the Blairites.