It is a familiar routine. A sequence repeated so often that it has worn its own comfortable rut in Scotland’s political landscape. It goes like this…
The voters deliver a resounding electoral slap to British Labour in Scotland.
This triggers a prolonged mea culpa, curiously punctuated with protestations of blamelessness, and much talk of “listening and changing”, strangely interspersed with curt rejections of constructive criticism. Not forgetting repeated calls for “a proper debate” as a way of avoiding any kind of debate whatever.
An occasional “bold idea” gleams briefly, only to be snuffed out by the harumphing of the old guard.
Suitably chastened, the public faces of British Labour in Scotland dutifully back-pedal themselves into line with the preferences of the party bosses in London.
Some trivial tinkering with the rules and internal party structures is spun as meaningful reform.
British Labour in Scotland falls back on its sense of entitlement and its mindless hatred of the SNP, thus inviting yet another electoral slap from people who, having been engaged by the aspirational Yes campaign, now demand more and better of their politicians.
And so the the wheel turns.
All is confusion and incoherence as contenders for the party leadership and candidates for the Scottish branch manager’s job put on a public display of concern for the situation and determination to do something about it whilst knowing full well that they are going to do absolutely nothing.
Nowhere is this confusion and incoherence more embarrassingly evident than in the witterings of Kezia Digdale and Jeremy Corbyn, both of whom have come up with the nonsensical idea of trying to create some kind of party within a party as a way of addressing the increasingly divergent political cultures north and south of the border. They have, of course, no idea how this would work in practice. Which is understandable, given that it couldn’t possibly work in practice.
If you doubt this, just imagine a fairly plausible scenario. On the question of reform of the voting system for UK elections, the notionally autonomous Scottish bit of British Labour decides to campaign for proportional representation and several candidates are returned to Westminster on this basis. Meanwhile, at UK level, British Labour has opted for retaining first past the post (FPTP), and they go on to form a UK Government. Those who voted for British Labour candidates in Scotland have been cheated. Because one party cannot have two manifestos. It is perfectly legal for British Labour in Scotland to pretend that they are a real party with real policy-making powers for the purpose of luring voters. But it is illegal for their candidates to stand as anything other than candidates for the party which is registered with the Electoral Commission. A party that has a policy on electoral reform which is totally contrary to the one being professed by the candidate.
To fully illustrate the ridiculousness of this situation, a Tory candidate could stand in a Labour area and campaign using literature copied from Labour, and they would not be breaking any electoral law. Malcolm Bruce informs us that British politicians habitually lie whilst in office. That is, perhaps, unsurprising when it is perfectly legal for them to lie their way into office.
Labour in Scotland needs to break away completely from British Labour. That fact is so glaringly obvious that many people will be wondering why there is such determined resistance to the idea. The explanation is that “One Nation” British Labour is part of the British establishment. It is intimately, inextricably bound up with the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. The party’s interests are served by preserving the old order and the old ways. To allow the creation of a genuine Scottish Labour Party is to acknowledge that the “One Nation” doesn’t exist. It is to admit the “Better Together” lie. It is to fatally undermine the spurious “solidarity” argument with all of its high-minded but ultimately vacuous talk of “pooling and sharing”.
British Labour in Scotland is paralysed by the dilemma of needing to be a Scottish party while wanting to be a British party. And so it treads the same senseless path that it has been on for a decade and more. A path that is inexorably leading it to political irrelevance and electoral oblivion.
The “leadership” contest in Scotland may well be the last chance for Scottish Labour to get off that path. A final opportunity for Labour people in Scotland to assert themselves and shake off the stultifying grip off the British party machine. As things stand, it looks like this opportunity will be lost.