Scotland's radicals, the disciples of the great Jimmy Reid, are in need of a party to call home – Kenny MacAskill MP

A healthy democracy should reflect a wide spectrum of political views. Scotland was unrepresentative in 1997 with the Tory wipe-out, ironically requiring the Scottish Parliament to restore them. But it was right, as they represent a significant strand of Scottish political opinion.

Union leader Jimmy Reid addresses a mass meeting of the Upper Clyde Shipyards at Clydebank in July 1971 (Picture: Allan Milligan)
Union leader Jimmy Reid addresses a mass meeting of the Upper Clyde Shipyards at Clydebank in July 1971 (Picture: Allan Milligan)

Similarly, the election of both Greens and Scottish Socialist Party members added to the political debate. Since 2014, the main political driving force has been the constitution with independence votes flocking to the SNP and the Greens to a lesser extent, with unionist votes coalescing around the major British parties.

That’s epitomised by the shenanigans in council administrations. The SNP bleat about being excluded from power but they know the electoral system and the political divide. They’ve reaped what they sowed with their rejection of support for other independence parties.

But Labour’s playing a dangerous game. It’s not just that the optics are awful but there’ll be a price to be paid. The idea that they can pursue a radical agenda having been put in by Tory votes is fanciful. The Labour voices who opposed it know what’s coming.

As the SNP lurch to the centre and Labour sell out, it means that the political opinion unrepresented in Scotland is that seeking radical independence or home rule, even if the latter’s hard to see evolve. It’s longstanding in Scottish politics and has been about long before some of the more modern parties or their latest iterations were born.

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Jimmy Reid: A leader of men who took on the system ... and won

It’s a few years now since I wrote a biography of Jimmy Reid based around his political journey from being Britain’s best-known Communist, through a sojourn in Labour, to joining the SNP.

He was a great man but he was his own man and, as many said to me, he wasn’t really comfortable in any party. He wasn’t doctrinaire and as he expressed himself, Scottish socialism was always rooted in morality rather than ideology.

Joining the Communist Party was understandable. A committed socialist, he was also a war child. It wasn’t Putin in Ukraine on the TV screens but Pathe News detailing the Soviet Union’s heroism and extolling Uncle Joe. It wasn’t just young socialists who were enthralled, even Churchill was before the Iron Curtain came down.

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With the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in terminal decline, Labour lacking the fire and already trimming to the right, it was easy to see why he’d be enthralled by the energy and commitment of Communists such as Willie Gallagher and Harry Pollitt.

But it must have been uncomfortable and only the greatness of his personality and oratory, no doubt, saved him from purges. For he was always far more popular than the party he remained loyal to for so long.

Labour was a natural choice as the Communist Party of Great Britain imploded, just as leaving Blair’s New Labour for the SNP was logical. His political views evolved as the world changed but his fundamental commitment to socialism and Scotland remained. It’s impossible to see him having remained in New SNP but where now for the likes of him and others?

My own party has so far failed to persuade, as have others previously. But the twin causes of radicalism and Scotland remain. There’s a gap in the political spectrum waiting to be filled.

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Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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