Labour’s vote to scrap Trident reveals a party that is deeply split and unable to bring clarity to clouded waters
Scottish Labour’s vote to scrap the Trident missile system creates as many doubts as it resolves.
The conference vote in favour yesterday clearly reflects the overwhelming view of those who are still in the party and who attended the Perth conference. It also establishes the independence of Scottish Labour from the main UK party which has yet to decide on the issue.
The clear policy separation from London is an outcome that Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale has been strongly advocating – though on this major issue she remains a multilateralist and is in clear disagreement with her party’s wishes.
Herein lie real problems for Scottish Labour and its leadership. Supporters may feel it has closed the gap between it and the SNP and thus better able to woo back those who crossed over to the nationalists in such devastating numbers in May.
But it is difficult to see how Labour can make a convincing pitch. Why would those voters who defected to the SNP switch back to Labour, whose leader clearly does not agree with the policy just adopted? Ms Dugdale will struggle to persuade the public of the merits of the party’s position.
This confusion is set to be compounded given the posture of Labour south of the Border. Jeremy Corbyn, its leader, is opposed to the retention of Trident and has said he would never himself press the nuclear button. But many of his parliamentary colleagues are, like Ms Dugdale, opposed to unilateral nuclear disarmament. Ahead of a conference vote on the issue – one which the leadership carefully avoided in September for fear of an open split – voters are effectively being presented with a Scottish Labour Party which wants to scrap Trident (but whose leader is opposed) and the Labour Party south of the Border which is in favour of retaining Trident (but whose leader wants to scrap it).
What on earth is the general public to make of it? It could be, of course, that a conference down south will endorse Corbyn’s position. But that risks a significant rebellion among Labour MPs. Some may well opt to resign.
Little of this makes sense other than as gesture politics of the most troublesome sort. Even within Scottish Labour, and the trade unions whose members would be directly affected, there is deep unease about the implications for engineering, service and maintenance jobs in the west of Scotland.
Gary Smith of GMB Scotland, which represents shipyard and defence workers, denounced yesterday’s debate as “nonsense frankly… an utter indulgence” and “Alice in Wonderland politics”.
Long-standing Labour members in Scotland may argue yesterday’s vote reaffirms previous opposition to the nuclear deterrent in Scotland. But this would only matter now were a unilateralist Labour to win and election or if Labour to return sufficient numbers of Scottish MPs who could then cross the floor to vote with the SNP: both highly unlikely.
That is why many cannot but regard yesterday’s vote as gesture politics, and one that, far from clarifying matters, will leave voters mystified as to what Labour really stands for.