Breaking BLiS – Part 1

There is much merit in Pete Wishart’s analysis. That British Labour in Scotland needs to cut itself free of the electoral millstone of ideological unionism is a fact so obvious that the only wonder is so many supposedly astute politicians have managed to miss it. Or avoid it.

There are, however, two rather significant flaws in Mr Wishart’s argument. In the first place, what he takes to be promising noises from Kezia Dugdale regarding her ability to ‘conceive’ of a ‘Scottish Labour’ leader who supports independence, should be treated with caution, not to say some scepticism. This is, after all, coming from someone who lately was making noises which gave a rather different impression of her commitment to democracy, far less her amenability to real constitutional change. Kezia Dugdale quite unabashedly declared that she was prepared to defy the democratic will of the people of Scotland. She openly declared that she would oppose any move towards restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Including a second independence referendum. Even if this was mandated by the Scottish electorate.

Maybe Dugdale can imagine a ‘Scottish Labour’ leader who supports independence. But she’s made it clear that it isn’t her. She isn’t even prepared to acknowledge our democratic right of self-determination, far less our right to govern ourselves. And we must assume that she speaks with authority. She is, after all, ‘leader’ of the pretendy wee party.

And that’s the second major flaw in Pete Wishart’s argument. He treats ‘Scottish Labour’ as if it were a real political party, with the capacity to formulate policy. It isn’t. How can anybody be unaware of the fact that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is no more than a branch operation of the UK party. Kezia Dugdale, like all her disgraced and humiliated predecessors, has precisely zero authority when it comes to matters of party policy. And precious little influence. Even in regard to devolved issues, BLiS branch managers must ultimately submit to authority of their bosses in London.

There is, therefore, no possibility whatever of BLiS ever becoming a pro-independence party. Because it isn’t even a party. And the party of which it is a mere accounting unit is a party of the British establishment. British Labour is committed to preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. ‘Scottish Labour’ is absolutely bound by that same commitment. It cannot be otherwise.

Dugdale may be able to imagine a pro-independence BLiS leader. (Hell! She can imagine herself as First Minister!) But I can guarantee that her masters aren’t prepared to countenance such an affront to their Britishness. And, even if they were, this pro-independence stance would be meaningless, as it could never be reflected in policy. British Labour will always be a unionist party. And the Scottish Labour Party that might be pro-independence simply doesn’t exist.

Pete Wishart is right about one thing, at least. “Nothing is going to save Scottish Labour for this election”. I suspect, however, that he is somewhat optimistic about the implications and ramifications for whatever they have instead of internal thinking. But that’s something I shall pursue in Part 2. For now, I leave you with the following thought.

British Labour in Scotland is, and always will be, just that – BRITISH Labour in Scotland. The notion that this ugly bug might metamorphose into a beautiful, constitutionally progressive butterfly is… well… let’s be generous and call it wishful thinking.

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8 thoughts on “Breaking BLiS – Part 1

  1. Jim Gilmer

    What’s to say. You have covered it all nicely and thankfully the Scottish electorate are seeing the truth.
    Hopefully our friends south of the border will replace the treacherous labour and Tory with a party that genuinely represents the people of England.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      There can be little doubt that one of the main reasons the British establishment is so terrified by what is happening in Scotland is the very real possibility that it will provide the impetus for change south of the border.

  2. Jim Arnott

    One of British Labour in Scotland’s little local difficulties is in relation to Electoral Law as it applies to Westminster elections. As there is no Labour Party in Scotland in terms of electoral law, they can only stand as The Labour Party and therefore the Scottish “Party” cannot stand on policies that differ from the Labour Party. A good example of this would be in relation to Trident.

    I am not so sure of what Labour Party in Scotland can do in terms of electoral law and elections to the Scottish Parliament. I would assume that Labour Party in Scotland has no status under electoral law as it is not recognised as a political party.

    I am not sure that I am correct in both scenarios outlined above and maybe someone more versed in electoral law could offer their professional assessment.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      You are perfectly correct regarding UK elections. Although the electoral commission does not directly regulate the content of manifestos, British Labour in Scotland cannot stand as a party separate from British Labour, and having a significantly different policy platform would imply a party status that BLiS is not entitled to.

      One might think that BLiS would be entirely in control of policy in areas that are devolved. And they certainly work hard to give this impression. But however much leeway the party bosses in London may afford the Scottish branch operation in the name of keeping up the pretence of ‘autonomy’, they still retain ultimate control. If policies don’t actually have to be approved by London, this is only because the branch management in Scotland are careful not to cross the line.

  3. alasdair galloway

    is there not a bit of a contradiction between your first identified flaw – that Kezia currently resembles a weather vane in a gale where policy is concerned – and the second – that Labour in Scotland is no more than the British, Unionist Labour Party in Scotland?
    Is it not true to say that Labour In Scotland is a very confusing place that it cannot quite work out for itself?
    In terms of electoral and administrative law you are right – the Scottish Labour Party is no more than an accounting unit. But, on the other hand, they have a leader *(OK the fact that its Kez just now does nothing for my argument, but there is a leader role), they have a conference and at least on Scottish specific issues they get to work out their own policies. Toward the end of last year that conference even voted to bin Trident, though it is true to say that the party nationally were quire to make the point that it changed nothing for Labour in the UK. So, in practical respects Labour in Scotland resembles a party, even if in legal terms they are not and have to accept being talked down to and put in their place from time to time by national leadership. So in practice but not in law they could be said to be a party, and they have their own policies even if they are constrained by policy nationally. Is that not a confusing place?
    From time to time there have been rumours of a “proper” independent Scottish Labour Party (Jim Sillars tried it 40 years ago) but which have come to naught. However in all those instances Labour were still the dominant party, with any threat from the SNP at that time unrealised. Things are not like that today. They could conceivably end up the third party in Scotland, behind the Tories. Not only that, most commentators write of their chances at Westminster in 2020. The last time things were this bad was probably 1979, moving forward to the election in 1983 with Michael Foot as leader. It took them another three elections to get re-elected to govt and even then with the dreadful Blair at the helm. How will Labour in Scotland react to losing in 2020 if commentators are writing off their chances in 2025? Might a better option not be to back independence, having declared your own UDI first? Something like this might even happen if there is a Brexit vote this summer.
    You might want to argue Peter that what I have pointed to are small things (maybe “wee things”?) – appearing (or at least doing their best) to behave as a party even if they are not one legally, voting against Trident even if they know its pointless. But one of the lessons of the collapse of the Soviet Union – another entity that was rotten at the core – is that the collapse happens very quickly and following what might seem trivial events.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      I don’t see any contradiction between my assessment of Kezia Dugdale and of the ‘party’ she manages. On the contrary, her confusion is a consequence of trying to maintain the pretence of being the real leader of real party while avoiding treading on her bosses’ toes. The contradictory statements are evidence of the situation that I describe.

      As to the permutations of possibilities for BLiS in the aftermath of May, I’ll be dealing with that in the second part of the article. You may want to comment further then.

      1. alasdair galloway

        Gerry Hassan wrote yesterday in Bella “is the party’s eighth leader in seventeen years – a sign of a party where something fundamental went wrong a long time ago.” (http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/04/03/kezias-subway-moment/). Gerry then goes off, as you do, in to the particular circumstances of Kezia Dugdale. But the wider point is that its not really about her – she is just the lightening conductor, just as Murphy, Lamont et al (name the last 8 Labour leaders in Scotland would be a good pub quiz question?) were before her. Leading a party that is legally not a party but acts as if it is, but can be over-ruled by London whenever they want because they are the 1st team, is a recipe to drive even the most sane person off their heads.
        This didnt really matter before Holyrood, because the “Scottish Leader” – usually the Secy of State or Shadow – was part of the WM team. But now they are in Holyrood, and not part of that team. Dewar held it together because he had status down there. What was the London view of McLeish and McConnell, never mind all those who came afterwards?
        Will look forward to the part 2.

  4. Pingback: Breaking BLiS – Part 2 – Towards Indyref2 …

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