Scottish Labour still lacks autonomy and was undermined during the election by its UK leadership, Richard Leonard has privately admitted – five years after the party was branded a “branch office”.
The Scottish Labour leader told a marathon six-hour post-mortem into Labour’s election disaster that its policy on a second independence referendum was “not clear”, and warned that the party had to assert control over its own campaign message ahead of the 2021 Holyrood elections.
Mr Leonard suggested trade union members had turned their backs on the party, admitting that the election result, which saw the SNP win 48 out of 59 constituencies, reflected the views of workers in unions affiliated to Labour.
A leaked minute of Saturday’s meeting of the Scottish Executive Committee also reveals senior figures in Scottish Labour want Jeremy Corbyn to stay in place, despite leading the party to its worst defeat in almost a century.
The Scotsman understands members of the Scottish Labour executive were in tears as they raked over a campaign which ended with the party losing all but one of its MPs in Scotland for the second time in four years.
Saturday’s meeting brought together members of the executive, including Mr Leonard and defeated shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird, as well as party general secretary Michael Sharpe and Ian Murray, the only surviving Scottish Labour MP.
According to the minute written by Edinburgh councillor and SEC member Scott Arthur, Mr Leonard told the meeting that Scottish Labour policy on Brexit was “drowned out by UK Labour’s position”.
“The Indyref2 position was not clear and not as distinctive as the Tory/SNP policy – this was not helped by comments from rUK Labour politicians,” the summary reports.
Mr Leonard said that the party must “form a constitutional convention now to form a coherent position”.
And he admitted that the “autonomy of Scottish Labour needs to be more clearly stated,” adding that “party ownership of the strategy for 2021 must be complete”.
Mr Leonard, who has suggested a nationwide listening exercise in the wake of Labour’s defeat, also told the SEC that the party “need[s] to understand the views of the public more”.
Other members of the SEC told the meeting that the party’s manifesto “did not have distinctive Scottish policies” and said Mr Leonard did not have a high enough profile.
The meeting also discussed the fact that “shadow Cabinet visits to Scotland [were] often not helpful”. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell contradicted Scottish Labour policy on indyref2, saying it would not be blocked by the party.
They also noted that Mr Corbyn’s past association with the IRA was viewed from a “sectarian perspective” in the west of Scotland.
There was a damning assessment of the campaign from Ms Laird, who was defeated in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath despite her SNP opponent being suspended and having all official support removed.
She told the SEC that “party structures were not fit for modern campaigning” and that Scottish Labour had “no membership strategy”.
Mr Murray, who warned in his speech on election night that “this party will die” unless it changes, told the meeting that Labour was “not election ready at the UK level”.
According to the minutes, Mr Murray said: “We all need to put the party first. We need a story to tell and a leadership that can tell it. We need to take our head out of the sand – the election loss was not about Brexit, it was about leadership.”
In a statement, Mr Leonard said; “After Thursday’s devastating election result, it is crucial that we learn the lessons of our defeat. We owe this to Scotland’s communities, workplaces and most vulnerable people.
“In the coming weeks we will be conducting a swift evidence-based review of the election. Our starting point is that rather than expecting the people of Scotland to come home to us, Scottish Labour must instead come home to them.
“Neither the status quo nor the SNP’s vision for separation offers the way forward for Scotland. The 2021 Scottish Parliament elections are less than 18 months away, the campaign starts now.”