I don’t usually have any sympathies for unionist politicians in Scotland, particularly those who oppose not only the principle of independence but the democratic right of the Scottish people to decide their future in a democratic referendum.
Current Scottish branch leader of the UK Labour Party is one such individual. His name is Richard Leonard and his tenure as leader of the Labour party in Scotland began in November 2017 but is unlikely to last until the end of September this year. His chances of leading Scottish Labour into the May 2021 election are akin to me recovering the need to use a hairbrush. My receding hairline is permanent, and Richard’s time leading Scottish Labour is over.
I listened to and watched Richard defend his position just before 9am this morning on the Sophie Ridge Sky news show. It was an excruciating experience. He really should conduct such interviews in rooms with reliable internet connections as the constant loss of reception during his withering defence added to the impression of a condemned man making a futile plea for clemency.
Labour in Scotland on Political Life Support Machine
Labour in Scotland is a fatally wounded animal. It is on the political equivalent of a life support machine with latest opinion polls estimating support as low as 14%, a full six percentage points behind the dire Tories, and an embarrassing forty three percentage points behind the SNP. That YouGov poll of a couple of weeks ago predicts a massive victory for the SNP in next May’s Scottish Parliament elections and the election of an overall SNP majority in a parliament with a voting system designed to prevent any one party achieving an overall majority. It compelled Richard Leonard’s ineffectual predecessor and former staunch unionist Keiza Dugdale to make a stunning statement only a few days ago:
“… there will unquestionably be a second independence referendum”
Labour in Scotland have plummeted remarkably from the once dominant force in Scottish politics only ten years ago to the pathetic rump of principle-free blind unionists who are reduced to second fiddle union jack flag wavers and defenders behind the principle British party, the Bulldog Tories. In the 2010 General Election Labour in Scotland won 42% of the votes cast and 41 of the 59 contested Westminster seats. Nine months ago, at the December 2019 General Election they were reduced to less than 19% of the votes and won only one of the 59 seats. That they are now predicted to win only 14% of the vote indicates just how far they have fallen and the seriousness of the malaise they are in.
However, this miserable collapse in electoral support is not Richard Leonard’s responsibility, it relates fundamentally to their refusal to recognise the independence movement is at its core progressive, enlightened, and socially democratic. It is a movement for progressive change and rejection of the British union and Westminster system of inequality, corruption, vested privilege, and imperialist warmongering. The independence warriors champion fairness, unilateral nuclear disarmament, greater equality, public ownership, and an inclusive and welcoming country which offers a metaphorical and literal hand of friendship to refugees and asylum seekers, not a chauvinistic hate filled fist of fury.
While It Supports The British Union Labour Will Continue to Whither
Labour in Scotland is in terminal decline because it is tied to the dying British union which represents the interests of the rich, the powerful and the comfortable Establishment who benefited greatly from Britain’s bloody and brutal imperial conquests and colonial rule. Britain Incorporated is a relic of the past. It is dying before our eyes. Soon not only will Scotland be free, but the island of Ireland will become a complete nation. The overwhelming majority of young and intelligent people with a semblance of social awareness in their brains and hope for something better in their hearts endorse enthusiastically the movement to break the British union and establish a new, modern, and fairer Scotland. That the Labour party in Scotland sides with the reactionary and right-wing unionists against that movement explains their lousy level of electoral support.
Richard Leonard the individual is a decent guy. I was at Stirling University with him in the early 1980’s. We were both members of the university Labour club and local Stirling Labour party. I was a keen supporter of Tony Benn, and his arguments for socialism on a British basis attracted me and Richard. Benn’s passionate advocacy of unilateral nuclear disarmament also inspired Richard and I. The Labour party then wasn’t socialist, but it had a large socialist wing within it. Kinnock and particularly Tony Blair extinguished that socialist wing and soul of the Labour party. Richard left Stirling university to work for elected politicians and the trade union movement. I don’t doubt he still retains many of his socialist principles. But he is not a leader. A decent individual yes, but not a leader.
His position on a second independence referendum is also fundamentally reactionary and undemocratic. The SNP have fought elections in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019 with a commitment to IndyRef2 and won everyone of them comfortably. The Scottish Parliament itself has debated and voted twice to support IndyRef2. That is democracy in action. When Jeremy Corbyn made the democratic concession in 2019 that should the Scottish Parliament endorse a 2nd referendum Labour in Westminster would not oppose it, he was true to his democratic philosophy. When Richard Leonard opposed that position he let himself down and betrayed his own democratic credibility.
Supporting the right of the Scottish people to be consulted on their future in a second independence referendum is not synonymous with supporting independence. Stand against progress and independence if you wish but don’t stand against the democratic right to opt for self-determination. That is an inalienable right and no democrat worthy of the description can stand against that.
At Long Last Timetable for IndyRef2 Beckons
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now responded to the groundswell of impatience and concern from within her own party and the wider independence movement at the lack of progress and purpose towards IndyRef2 with another commitment to bring forward a bill proposal and timetable that will determine both the actual question and date for IndyRef2 within the next couple of months. The decision has attracted some criticism from independence quarters for lacking substance and merely rehashing old promises while others argue the lack of preparation for IndyRef2 by the SNP leadership has been “criminal”, not just “negligent”.
Many of these criticisms are legitimate and potent. However, as long as the forthcoming bill states categorically that the referendum will proceed next year with or without Westminster consent then I will welcome it. IndyRef2 must be dependent only on the independence supporting parties and candidates winning a majority of seats at next May’s election, not on a Section 30 Westminster order. We must not ask for permission to hold IndyRef2 – we must inform Westminster when IndyRef2 will be held if the Scottish parliament next May returns an independence majority. The Scottish people get to decide on IndyRef2, not Tories in Westminster with no mandate in Scotland.
Richard Leonard’s failure to see the independence movement as the progressive force for change it is, represents his and Labour in Scotland’s Achilles heel. He will inevitably be forced to relinquish his leadership role by non-entities within his own party in Scotland who would struggle to be recognised in their own households let alone the wider community in Scotland, such is their lack of impact on Scottish political life.
Political Oxymorons and Actual Morons
Some Scottish Labour Lords have suggested he should go which is the equivalent of being savaged by a sheep. These people are a disgrace to Labour traditions and history. Accepting the Red ermine of vested privilege and undemocratic practice in the House of Lords makes their views redundant and worthless. They are political oxymorons. Several of them are also literal morons.
The four MSPs who have publicly called for Leonard to go should hold their heads in shame for displaying such public disloyalty but politics for them is about bloated salaries, prestige, and defence of the British union. When they inherit the leadership, it won’t arrest the terminal decline, it will hasten it.
Until Labour in Scotland embraces and adopts the cause of independence it will never recover. There is undoubtedly a place and need in Scottish politics for a socialist alternative to the SNP’s meek approach to wealth redistribution, public ownership of essential industries like oil, gas, electricity and transport and the urgent need for radical land ownership reform but Scottish Labour is not that alternative and never will be until support for independence is put at it’s heart.