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Scottish Labour’s night of the long knives

Devolution within the UK Labour Party came alive this week at Labour’s John Smith House HQ in Glasgow when  Johann Lamont showed her mettle in a cull of senior  party figures. Party General Secretary since 2008, Colin Smyth, will leave his post shortly, he announced to staff this morning. Rami Okasha, the party’s head of strategy, communications and policy, is facing disciplinary proceedings over alleged “insubordination”. In spite of warm messages of thanks in the party press release, both were forecast in last Sunday’s London Observer:

Few can deny that Johann Lamont has surprised many by how comfortably she has taken on the mantle of leader so early in her tenure. She underlined that last Thursday by besting Alex Salmond yet again at first minister’s questions. All is far from well, though, in the party of the people and the malady exists right at the heart of the party headquarters. Ms Lamont must sort this out very quickly if she is not to be consumed by the battles ahead; the independence referendum being simply one of several.

Kevin McKenna, former deputy editor of the (Glasgow) Herald and now executive editor of the Daily Mail in Scotland, was extremely rude about Smyth’s “leadership skills and the subtle arts of statecraft” and also about Okasha’s abilities. “I’m told there is a vacancy for a man of Mr Okasha’s qualities in Kazakhstan,” he quipped.

The Herald reports that the cull is the outcome of a turf war between Lamont’s office and Scottish HQ, and quote one source saying:

There is a perception that the top priority for John Smith House is the MPs, followed by Glasgow City Council, and then the Scottish Parliament.”

The Observer also suggested that Lamont “must be left alone to guide the party towards the Holyrood election in 2015“, implying that interference by Westminster MPs was an issue: “Just why some senior staffers brief Jim Murphy regularly on Scottish Labour party management is anyone’s guess,” said Kevin McKenna.

It seems clear that the outcome of this “turf war”, thanks to Lamont’s decisive action, will be a more unified Scottish leadership and organisation of the party focussing on Scottish politics and based in Edinburgh. That is welcome and we have confidence in Johann Lamont who we backed for the Scottish leadership. However, some party members might also like to see a little more accountability within the Scottish party rather than simply the the transfer of control of a centralised, authoritarian model of party organisation from London to Edinburgh.

Nevertheless, devolution of power to the Scottish Labour is to be welcomed. Some party members in Wales will also be following these developments, perhaps including the much criticised Dave Hagendyk (General Secretary of Welsh Labour).


  1. mike says:

    How does this decisive action and earlier descriptions of Johann as a left victory sit with her latest policy annoucements abour ending universalism and the “something for nothing culuture” – more here

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      I think the answer, Mike is not comfortably. Ending universalism is not a position which in my view should be taken on the left. However, the Scottish Government (like the Welsh government and English local government) are still subject to enforced Whitehall austerity (and might still be even if they were independent but remained within the Sterling area). In those circumstances, free access to university education would not be as high a priority for me as it has been for the SNP which is close to Scotland’s business sector and keen to protect its middle class voters even if it also poses as being to the Left of Labour on some issues. I shall endeavour to get some Scottish comment on the issue which I agree is worth examination.

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