What Future for Labour after the Collapse?


Entering the debate about the future of the Labour Party in Scotland, Jim Sillars forcefully addresses the Labour dilemma. As former Labour MP for South Ayrshire, founder of the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) in the seventies and then SNP MP for Govan and deputy leader of the SNP, he has unmatched experience of the political journey upon which Scottish Labour has now to embark if it is to survive.

“Scottish Labour now faces the issue it had dodged for more than a generation. What is it exactly?  A branch of the UK Labour Party, or an autonomous body affiliated to UK Labour, with implication that affiliation always carries the right to disaffiliate and stand alone? There is an additional matter now:  where will it stand on independence, given that the Labour Metropolitan elite is galloping swiftly in the direction of Blair; and that the Tory party, which once again proved that England is a natural Tory country, and come boundary changes will have an even more built-in majority next time?

How many times can it tell the people that it prefers to deliver them into the hands of a Tory government they reject, than a non-Tory government they elect?  One Tory elected this time, and he is Secretary of State.  A Tory Prime Minister comprehensively rejected, slips easily into the mindset of a Colonial Governor, telling us that he, and he alone, will prevent a second referendum, no matter what the Scots may want. Where does Scottish Labour stand in the face of those absurdities?  Does it realise that, as it did in the 2014 referendum, it will end up being seen as de facto in alliance with the English Tories, and be damned again by the Scots?

I don’t think Scottish Labour understood what happened during the referendum.  It was a unique civic exercise in self-political education on a massive scale, leaving us with a nation far better able to get to grips with issues than ever before.  During the referendum Labour was sour, negative, on the side of big business, and seemingly committed to lowering the aspirations of the people. The Gordon Brown appeal to historical association with the 1945 Government, his Vow, and the fear he let loose among the elderly, worked in the referendum. At one time the Labour vote was heading 42% to Yes, but after his intervention, on polling day only 33% voted Yes.  When Brown sought to repeat that formula in the general election, he was ignored. People knew that last year Labour had engaged in deceit, and put themselves against the best interests of the people who once gave them their trust.

Can Scottish Labour shift its position in the dramatic direction now required?  I know from personal experience just how difficult it is for a Labour member to move from an essentially Unionist position to independence.  For me it was a long journey, from 1972-80; ideologically, intellectually and emotionally painful. Willie Ross said there was a special hell for people like me, and I certainly went through its fires.  At the start of that journey, I realised that the Union as constructed, a very Large England and a small Scotland, could not deliver what I knew was essential for our people, and I opted for devolution. But I found that there are always limits to devolution in a unitary State, and when those limits are

compared to the full powers of independence, then there is really no choice.

Big decisions will be demanded of Scottish Labour if it is to survive. I am not sure that there are the number of big people who can lead it out of the Unionist wilderness it is now in, and re-connect with a Scottish nation heading in the direction of independence.  Pity isn’t it that the SLP failed all those years ago.”