I don’t doubt AR Brown’s sincerity. His analysis of where ‘Scottish’ Labour is and how it got there has the clear ring of truth about it. In particular, his identification of the fact that it was not simply the ‘party’s’ alliance with the Tories during the first independence referendum campaign which so many found offensive, but the eagerness with which they entered into that alliance. In respect of the leadership, at least, there was no sense of reluctance or even, as Mr Brown points out, any apparent consideration or reflection. It simply never seemed to occur to them that they might make their participation in Better Together conditional. To all outward appearances, the leadership of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) instinctively felt that the ‘party’s’ natural and appropriate place was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories. There was the distinct impression that, when the great constitutional question was asked, they were British first, and Scottish only as a matter of electoral expediency.
I don’t use the terms ‘British’ and ‘Scottish’ in any shallow nationalistic sense, but in reference to two quite distinctive political cultures. When push came to shove, BLiS chose to associate itself with a British political culture characterised by corruption and venality and inequity and injustice in preference to a political culture informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of the Scottish people. And it did so with unseemly relish.
But for all its undoubted sincerity and all its insights, AR Brown’s analysis is built on a couple of pretty significant fallacies. Firstly the notion that British Labour in Scotland is necessary. The idea that Scotland needs BLiS. The assumption that there is a place in Scottish politics for BLiS. That there is a niche in Scotland’s political environment which can only be filled by ‘Scottish’ Labour. And, alongside this, the belief that BLiS is capable of being a real political party such as might occupy that niche.
I find both propositions extremely dubious. And that’s being generous. I ask myself what reason there is to suppose that BLiS might actually change? What cause do we have to believe that this is an organisation amenable to reform? Certainly nothing that has happened to date. There has been much talk of ‘listening and learning’. But, as Mr Brown himself has discovered, the phrase has never been anything more than a platitudinous sound-bite.
And even if we stretch credulity to a point where BLiS actually becomes the party AR Brown evidently wants it to be, where would it fit in the Scottish political landscape? How would it differentiate itself from parties already occupying the political territory? Even supposing BLiS could convince people it had genuinely metamorphosed into a Scottish political party, what part of the electorate might it address? Basically, how would it compete with the SNP? Because, unless you are so lost to tribalism as to be blind to objective reality, the SNP is self-evidently giving the electorate what it wants. For any party that aspires to effective political power, the challenge is to convince the voters that they can do what the SNP is doing, but better.
It is important to bear in mind that ‘Scottish’ Labour’s decline is not entirely explained by their role in the British state’s Project Fear. Nor even by the toxic legacy of Tony Blair. Not least among the other reasons is their obdurate refusal to accept that the SNP are winning elections because they deserve to. Because, in the eyes of the electorate, they’re got it right. The voters are not fools. They are not being duped by the SNP. They most certainly are not being roused to ferocious woad-painted nationalistic fervour by watching ‘Braveheart’. Blinded by bitter resentment at the loss of its status, BLiS has been incapable of accepting that voters are making rational decisions.
The upshot of this failure to recognise the true nature of the SNP and the reasons for its electoral success is that BLiS continues to entertain the delusion that its old place in Scottish politics is still there waiting to be reoccupied. They can’t admit that this space has been taken over completely by their rivals, because that would involve a discomfiting realisation that the SNP is not the grotesque caricature that they have been tilting at. It would involve accepting that the SNP has become what ‘Scottish’ Labour should have been.
To summarise, BLiS is not going to change. Even if it could change, it is not going to convince people that it has changed. And even if it could both change and convince people that it had changed, the thing it would have to change into already exists.
It is time to accept that British Labour in Scotland is a British political party. It is part of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. As Scotland’s political culture develops and diverges, distancing itself from British political culture, it is inevitable that British political parties will become irrelevant. What ‘Scottish’ Labour is facing isn’t untimely death, but natural extinction. Let it go.Views: 2019
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