What the hell is going on with Scottish Labour? Just when you think things couldn’t get any more dire, another opinion poll comes out, reinforcing just how far the mighty have fallen. But despite the well of mean-spiritedness currently passing for political discourse in this angry corner of the world, not everyone who voted Yes feels an urge to cheer every time the Labour Party commits another senseless act of self-harm. There are many of us in favour of Scottish independence for the perfectly legitimate reason of national self-determination, who find the demise of the Labour Party in Scotland not only painful but wholly unnecessary.
Is it pride? Is it that feeling of being caught between a rock and hard place? Or has it become simply about survival, at any cost? Are there any principles Scottish Labour won’t throw overboard to stop Scottish independence?
Admittedly, it must be very sore, having sneered at nationalists for so long from the seat of power, to see them become the most powerful political force Scotland has ever known. Not only that, but to be wielding that power with such a galling swag that even some of us Yessers have to look away occasionally, uncomfortable with the unending nationalist victory lap around what appears to be a terminally-injured Labour party. Once labelled – correctly – Tartan Tories, Alex Salmond skilfully guided the SNP to the political centre, from where it has effectively colonised the left while simultaneously appeasing the privileged sections of the electorate with which working class interests are not so easily reconciled. Sound familiar, Scottish Labour?
But there are so many potential weaknesses and opportunities to be exploited in nationalist politics – from the left. The Scottish Tories now have the monopoly on unionism, so that’s out. They are as obsessed with independence as the SNP because it’s politically expedient, and Scottish Labour simply cannot carve out a niche for itself in this dynamic.
Oddly, the only hope Labour appears to have is to ditch its opposition to Scottish independence at the next election and readopt its natural posture of antagonism towards both the Tories and the nationalists – by presenting an alternative vision of what sort of independent country we want to be.
I’m aware this will be hard for many of you to read. But Labour’s refusal to adjust to the new circumstances, where demand for independence remains high and where the Tories are now the natural opposition to it, has left Labour looking like a political zombie. As we all know, every democratic event on the calendar in Europe, whether general elections or referenda, is now regarded only a theatre in the on-going war between pro and anti-EU proxies. The rise of the far right is very real and the rules to the game are changing. It’s on these grounds that the next Scottish independence referendum will be fought – and won.
The Scottish Labour Party has the infrastructure, depleted as it may be, to rebuild itself as a counterpoint to both the SNP and the Tories, but only if it accepts the premise that Scottish independence provides the best opportunity to push back against the rising tide of right-wing populism. Many No voters, understandably bitter at the sea-change in Scottish politics from Labour to SNP, wrongly regard Scottish nationalism as part of that same wave of populism, but this is not the case.
The Yes movement, while often appearing monolithic, is more politically diverse than the SNP’s “standing up for Scotland” agenda suggests. Within that diversity, there’s a growing section who find it unnatural to support the SNP, but who do so because personal politics have been constrained by the reality of constitutional politics. The Green Party has benefited most from the lack of choice on offer at the ballot box for Yes voters – but Scottish Labour could make a killing.
In the aftermath of the referendum in 2014, many were hacked off with Scottish Labour. But while it’s true there’s a block of nationalists who have never voted Labour and never will, as well as a block who will never vote Labour again, there are also a lot of people who would be open to it and this presents the only opportunity the party has to survive. If independence is achieved, the indy question will be gone from Scottish politics.
Admittedly, this seems unperceivable right now, but the moment that question is settled then the fragile contours of the SNP’s patchy record in government, and the Tories’ utter lack of credibility as anything but a pantomime villain for them, will expose themselves for all to see.
Isn’t it time some people in Scottish Labour started considering a Plan B, given how atrociously Plan A is going? The party is almost unrecognisable; deformed by a political pragmatism that never extends beyond the narrow confines of unionism. You need to find a rudder soon before it’s too late.
The constitutional debate has impacted politics in a way few could have foreseen. But there is nothing quite as alarming as the sight of Labour politicians advocating that people vote for the Tories to stop the SNP. It’s such an abysmal misreading of the electorate. Remember, it’s not just the SNP you’re trying to stop, it’s all the people who vote for them because they oppose the Tories. It’s all the people affronted by the notion of perpetual Tory rule. It’s all the people who used to vote Scottish Labour you are trying to stop.
It doesn’t have to be like this. With acceptance (and some new blood), Scottish Labour can be reborn, but ironically, it will only be possible in an independent Scotland.