But no more, now it’s a diminished show and north of the Border is an irrelevance to most in the British Labour Party.
The great debates and battles that waged within them, whether between Gaitskill and Bevan, Healey and Benn, and even Kinnock and Militant, are no more.
They’re consigned to the history books along with Castle’s “in place of strife” policy, when Employment Secretary, to reduce and regulate strikes, which was rejected by the unions and even party conference. She was removed from Cabinet when her rival Jim Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson in 1976, although there was no schadenfreude for her when the Winter of Discontent brought his demise and Thatcher butchered the trade union movement.
But what would she make of this conference under Sir Keir Starmer who more and more resembles not just an accidental politician but an accidental Labour member. His public displays, not just his dispatch box appearances, bear more of a likeness to Rumpole of the Bailey, than a Labour leader. Forensic cross-examination may work in the witness box but it doesn’t cut it in politics where passion and belief are required.
What is “Starmerism”? Even he doesn’t seem to know, just as he doesn’t seem to understand basic biology with his shameful failure to defend his colleague Rosie Duffield MP. There were no great debates on nuclear weapons, the role of trade unions or even on the left/right spectrum.
Instead it was the centralisation of power and a continuing pandering to Orwellian idiocy on sex-based rights. Healey was to the right politically though I share Barbara Castle’s respect for him. But I doubt she would find much more to root for in Starmer than even I.
And what of Scotland? It’s a long time since the Celtic fringe was an essential part of Labour and their conference fringes a must visit for any leader. Not any more. Scottish Labour may forlornly make a call to arms to restore Scotland to Labour hegemony but it’s falling on deaf ears, not just in Scotland but in Brighton.
North of the Border, Labour can’t say a vote for them’s essential to stop the Tories. It didn’t work before and it’s sure not going to do so now, when they continually trail in the polls to the most despicable Tory government in living memory.
But it isn’t washing in English Labour either. They’ve enough internal problems on their own without worrying about Scotland, which many have now written off anyway. For sure loyalist MPs parrot set-piece lines at Scottish Questions, as before they trooped north for Better Together.
Most members though are more concerned about winning back swathes of England than regaining Scotland. More than that, many now support Scottish independence. Labour friends who opposed it now either see it as inevitable or even essential as a precursor to radical change in England.