Let’s face it! Kezia Dugdale is fooling precisely no-one when she claims that “Scottish Labour” has “effective autonomy” from London. How is it possible to believe such patent nonsense when we have the likes of Henry McLeish and even her own deputy effectively calling her a liar. While some may stubbornly cling to this myth of “effective autonomy”, it is now common knowledge that there is no such entity as the Scottish Labour Party. We know that Kezia Dugdale is not a real leader of a real party with real policy-making powers even if the the media is determined to fool us into thinking otherwise. There is no Scottish Labour Party. There is only British Labour in Scotland. British Labour is a party of the British establishment, and “Scottish Labour” is merely the name given to its operation in Scotland.
British Labour in Scotland serves the British state. It is part of and dependent on the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. The interests of the party and its hierarchy are totally bound up with those of the British ruling elites. The interests of the people of Scotland are secondary, at best.
It is in the light of the foregoing that we must examine Henry McLeish’s prescription for the ills of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). But before looking at his recommendation that BLiS should make an honest woman of Kezia Dugdale by making that “effective autonomy” a reality, we need to ask whether he is correct in his diagnosis of what ails the pretendy wee party.
Listen to McLeish, and you’d suppose that British Labour’s problems all started with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader – and, incidentally, Dugdale’s boss. You would also take it from McLeish’s analysis that it was all about the electability of the party. But those of us with slightly longer and less selective memories will recall that British Labour’s troubles pre-date Corbyn’s accession to the leadership by a considerable period. And that the leadership election in which Corbyn triumphed was supposed to address the party’s existing problems.
To a very considerable extent, Corbyn is a scapegoat. The extraordinarily virulent anti-Corbyn campaign has all the appearance of displacement activity. The intensity and vehemence of the hate-fest is more readily understood as a means by which the party can distract itself from deeper and more pressing issues. Such as the fact that it has become all about electability. That the party has come to be entirely about the pursuit of power, with no thought whatever for principle beyond the cold and unconvincing sound-bites concocted by artless spin-quacks.
British Labour is a classic example of an organisation which, through the incompetence of its management, has succumbed to the tendency of all large organisations to gravitate towards serving their own existence rather than the purpose for which they were first conceived.
Jeremy Corbyn is not the problem. The idea that British Labour needs only the right figurehead is a foolish fallacy. The problem is not with the leader, but with what is being led. An army that exists only to wear uniforms and march will surely descend into squabbles about the style of the uniforms and the quality of the marching
So, what about British Labour in Scotland? If Corbyn isn’t the real problem for the real big party, how much less is he the pretendy wee one? Does it really matter who leads British Labour? They are always going to be, first, last and always, the leader of a British party. A party of the British establishment. A party committed to preserving the integrity of the British state. A unionist party. So it follows that British Labour in Scotland must be a unionist party. It doesn’t matter who Dugdale’s boss is. In terms of the overarching issue in Scottish politics – the constitutional question – who leads British Labour is totally irrelevant.
A digression is necessary here to deal with the nature of this “overarching issue”. The British state’s propagandists like to portray Scotland’s independence movement as, at best, a distraction from the “real issues” facing the country. (With “real issues” all too often being defined as anything other than whatever the SNP administration is talking about at the time.) They will peddle very much more grotesque caricatures of the independence movement. But the underlying theme of unionist propaganda is that the constitutional question is somehow disconnected from “proper politics”. (With “proper politics” all too often being defined as an endless joust of empty promises and economic doom-mongering.)
The reality, of course, is that the constitutional question is fundamental to our politics. It is about power. It is about how power is exercised, and how it is constrained. The matter of Scotland’s constitutional status is not separate from matters of policy, it is crucial to the question of how Scotland is governed – how we formulate and implement policy.
British Labour in Scotland demand that we should forget about independence. They insist that the most effective way to address matters of policy is to keep the main levers of power in the hands of the Westminster elite, and hope that one day British Labour will one day get its hands on those levers once again. They want the people of Scotland to get back to doing “proper politics”. By which they mean British politics, with its faux rivalries and its religious adherence to neo-liberal orthodoxy and its delusions of global status derived from a mythologised imperial past. At a time when Scotland is developing an increasingly distinct political culture, BLiS want us to settle for a cosmetically modified version of England’s politics.
Far from seeing it as necessarily an end in itself and something unrelated to day-to-day governance, Scotland’s civic nationalism regards independence as the only way of enabling the alignment of Scotland’s distinctive political culture and its functioning politics. As Michael Fry rather elegantly puts it,
What independence can give us is something Scotland has never had before: policy designed for Scottish conditions rather than for the conditions of that other country over the Border.
The “overarching issue” in Scottish politics is, not independence in any narrow sense, but governance in its widest sense. The main choice facing voters is between those who would have us cling to the old order and the old ways, and those who would have us seek new ways of doing things. It is a choice between those whose purpose is to maintain Scotland’s subsidiary status within the British state, and those whose aim is to create a state that is responsive to the needs, aspirations and priorities of Scotland’s people.
The problem for British Labour in Scotland, in terms of the electability that they consider to be of primary importance, is that both these positions are fully represented in Scotland’s politics. The Ruth Davidson Party (which is no more a real party than “Scottish Labour”) has seized the ground to the right by planting a huge union flag. The British nationalist vote now belongs to the Tories. On the left, the ground has been claimed by the SNP and the Greens. The progressive pro-independence vote is pretty much tied up. So, what happens if British Labour in Scotland follows Hery McLeish’s advice and splits from British Labour to become an autonomous party? What comes next?
In the first place, who is going to be persuaded that the break with British Labour is real this time? Who will believe that this time the autonomy is real? So long as those associated with BLiS’s murky past remain, there can be no trust. With the likes of Anas Sarwar and Jackie Baillie still involved, the new “Scottish Labour Party” will continue to carry the stench of alliance with the Tories. It will still be tainted by association with the utterly despicable Project Fear and totally discredited Better Together. It will have zero credibility.
And even if this nascent party were to purge all of those whose presence would tarnish its image, where would it position itself on the spectrum of Scotland’s politics? Where would it find a niche that is not already occupied?
Henry McLeish exhibits some old traits when he supposes that a breakaway Scottish Labour will easily find a role. The assumption is redolent with the old British Labour sense of entitlement and the idea of a “natural” Labour/Tory political divide. Maybe it’s time he accepted that there is no hope for BLiS. They had their chance. They made their choice. Dugdale and her predecessors chose to be a British party at the very time when British parties were on the verge of becoming irrelevant in Scotland. It may well be that there is simply no way back for them.Views: 1974
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