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Corbyn’s campaign helps, but Scottish Labour’s solutions have to be home grown

Kezia DugdaleCongratulations to Kez Dugdale and Alex Rowley on winning the Scottish Labour leadership elections. The challenges haven’t gone away, but this is the right leadership team to start rebuilding Scottish Labour.
The Scottish Labour leadership elections drifted to a conclusion, somewhat under the radar as Corbynmania dominates the political scene. There were no huge ideological differences between the candidates. When even Jim Murphy recognised that Scottish Labour can only win from the left, the scope for a different strategy is limited! Instead members recognised that Kez carried less political baggage and offered a fresh approach. She may be light on political ideology, but she isn’t just a political spin machine either. She has demonstrated that opposition matters, by forcing important issues onto the political agenda that the Scottish Government would rather have buried. Most importantly, I think she will be more of a team leader, building a consensus, rather than relying on a presidential approach
The deputy election was somewhat more ideological with Alex Rowley making an explicitly left pitch, coming out from the shadows of Gordon Brown, where the media still likes to place him. Alex is a thoughtful politician who has shown in debate and his written contributions that he has thought through different approaches.

Of course the hard work starts now. Kez’s election pitch shows that she gets the need to show what Scottish Labour stands for, as I argued in June. This means going big and bold in vision and policy terms, stretching the SNP on the left, without tribalism and knee jerk opposition. There are also some big and difficult organisational issues to be addressed. Local government is the tricky one, as well as the degree of autonomy Scottish Labour wants within the UK Labour Party.
The support Jeremy Corbyn is attracting, in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK, actually helps with this agenda. In policy terms, it creates a degree of space to develop a policy position that works for Scottish Labour without as many tensions with the UK party. Organisationally, Jeremy doesn’t appear to have thought through Scottish Labour, but neither have his opponents. As he demonstrated during the referendum, he takes the position that it’s up to the Scottish Labour to decide these matters – and that’s fine.
The real gain from the Corbyn campaign is the enthusiasm and hope it has generated. From the outset his opponents have looked tired and cautious, saying very little and not even saying that well. Their focus has become the mechanisms of the election – who can beat Jeremy – rather than making the positive pitch members are looking for. All the big beasts have been wheeled out to tell us that this will be a repeat of 1982 and Labour effectively has to accept the right wing media narrative.
In contrast Jeremy talks about trying to change the conversation on issues such as welfare. As he said; “If all that your average voter hears is politicians saying they’re going to be tough on welfare, newspapers calling everyone who legitimately claims benefits a scrounger and programmes like Benefits Street demonising those that claim benefits, is it surprising that that is then reflected in polls?”
Changing the conversation is pretty difficult, but it’s a message that is winning support because simply tacking ever rightwards is unlikely to generate much enthusiasm in a left of centre political party. If we are not about changing society, what is the point of the Labour Party?
That still leaves the constitutional issue. Craig McAngus at the LSE blog shows that that at least half of those who are most left-wing in Scotland are disappointed by the outcome of the referendum. Ideology alone won’t win back these voters, Scottish Labour also has to have an answer on the constitution.
Jeremy was the first of the UK leadership candidates to understand the damage the Better Together campaign did to Scottish Labour. His interview in the Herald also shows that he understands that support for the union and unionism is not the same thing. The union is only credible if it has a positive political purpose, for socialists it is not an end in itself.
So, Scottish Labour should embrace the energy Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has generated, and the space it could help create.  However, the solutions to the challenges facing the new leadership team will have to be found here in Scotland.
This article first appeared at Dave’s own blog


  1. Robert says:

    Murphy was to the right he took a number of the Progress back room staff with him and he totally got it wrong in his assumption Scotland had a group of right wingers who would jump on his progress band wagon, he then tried to tack to the left and failed.

    Is not Kez Dugdale a Progress drone as well, they seem to think she is with them, she is more to the right then the left which should help labour no end in May election in Scotland.

    We will see what happens.

  2. James Martin says:

    “The union is only credible if it has a positive political purpose, for socialists it is not an end in itself.”. Up to a point Dave, yes. However for socialists the bottom line is working class unity, for nationalists, even the ‘left’ variety, that is secondary to cross class unity, national separation and a divided working class along nationalist lines.

    It is for that reason that when most of the fake left outside the Labour Party, both north and south of the border, supported the Yes campaign for their own short-term opportunist reasons they showed that they did not grasp the huge dangers nationalism poses for the strength and effectiveness labour and trade union movement. Corbyn has immediately cut across this and cut some of the ground from under the feet of the reactionary nationalists given he cannot be accused of westminster colonialism or whatever other nonsense gets banded about by the more rabid nats.

  3. David Ellis says:

    The reason Jeremy will never win back Scotland for Labour is because of Scottish Labour who as they degenerate simply get more right wing. THey will thwart Jeremy’s anti-austerity message and seek Tory and UKIP votes against the SNP. Scottish Labour is what the whole of Labour will look like in just a few short years if Corbyn loses.

    To win back Scotland Corbyn would have to by pass Scottish Labour and actively support the replacement of the Westminster Union by a federation of sovereign nations. He could even invite the likes of Mhairi Black into his shadow cabinet so that Scotland has at least one socialist in the official opposition. Supporting voluntary federation would unite the currently unionist and nationalist Scottish workers behind an anti-austerity and socialist Labour banner. If Corbyn does not then there is a new left growing up in Scotland prepared to outflank the SNP from the left and should it win a majority make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

    1. James Martin says:

      Yes David, but of course not very long ago you were cheering on the SNP when they were well to the right of comrades like Katy Clark who lost her seat to someone who in political terms was at best a liberal, and even now you just talk about a left SNP MP and not the higher number of socialist MPs they replaced. Also of course you were writing off the Labour Party generally (you used to use the term ‘pasoked’ rather a lot didn’t you, not heard that one recently from you though for some reason) not understanding the potential of the left within Labour – and the fact remains that despite the huge growth of the SNP and the damage of the right-wing, there remains a left current in the Scottish Labour Party that can have a significant role to play in the future. In other words you constantly strike me as being both impressionistic and opportunist in your political analysis, not least in your support for reactionary nationalism and copying the constitutional proposals of the English Democrats.

      1. David Ellis says:

        That is a simple lie. I was urging Scottish Labour to elect a candidate to outflank the SNP from the left. They did not and lost everything. Check back on the comments. Please don’t make shit up.

  4. swatantra says:

    Kes has an almost impossible task of picking up Scots Lab off the floor. The worst is still yet to come in 2016, when Scots Lab will be virtually wiped out in Holyrood, and suffer the same fate as the LIb Dems.

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