Death or Glory: Scottish Labour’s Choice’s (includes nuclear option)

It is has become clear that most people agree of two things since 7th May. One is that the Labour Party lost very badly in all parts of the UK and especially so in Scotland. The other is that we have to change drastically if we wish to be a party of government ever again.

Some of us have been here before: in 1983, in 1992 – and to a lesser extent in 1979. There are even some people who remember 1959, the third consecutive defeat – which prompted  Rose and Abrams to ask the question “Must Labour Lose”?

What is different from most of those earlier crises is that the Labour vote in 2015 is much lower either in votes cast or share of the vote, or both: in 1959, we took 12 million votes (or 46.4%)in 1979, 11½ million votes (39.2%); in 1992 we again took 11½ million votes (30.8%). The exception was in 1983, when we took 8½ million votes (27.6%)

To rub it in once more, in 2015, we took 9⅓ million votes or 29%, and in Scotland, we took 700,000 votes  or 24%.

This is an electoral catastrophe, by anybody’s standards. It could signal that Labour is on its way to extinction, especially north of the Border. It is possible that the electorate believes that we have no function in modern Britain.

Indeed, this is the position which strategists must contemplate: the possibility that Labour has achieved its historic function, by delivering the big institutions and legal framework necessary for an advanced mixed economy, and is no longer needed.

In short, Labour may have delivered what Keir Hardie promised – at least the relevant and sensible bits, i.e., excluding temperance, immigration bans and vaccination conspiracy theories – and it may be time pack our bags and go, leaving others to run the show.

On this reading , the heavy lifting is done, and the need for a “big tent”, “Morrisonian” UK party is over.  The larger part of Scottish voters, it seems, believes the SNP are better custodians of, for example, the Scottish NHS and education services than Labour, and will serve as a more effective voice in Opposition at Westminster.

So that is where we are: the machine is switched off. The only question whether it was a life support system or a PC.

In the first case, the obvious strategy is to wind up the Scottish Labour Party and join the SNP, forming an entryist movement within the party to seek the abolition of Clause 2(a) – “Independence for Scotland”- leaving the much more sensible Clause 2(b) – “the furtherance of all Scottish interests.” RIP Scottish Labour, in others words.

But my instinct – and I take it that of most of my comrades  – is the alternative: to switch off the Scottish Labour Party and immediately re-start.

After 1983 and 1992, we saw exactly this process take place: respectively, Neil Kinnock’s dramatic intervention against the doctrinaire left within the party, and Tony Blair’s modernising revision of the Party’ aims through the adoption of the new Clause 4. In the one case, it put Labour on the road to recovery, in the other it completed the process.

Unfortunately, Scottish Labour has already squandered one such re-founding opportunity.

Personally, I found most of what Jim Murphy did as leader laudable and I fall into the camp that says  none of the other candidates (or his predecessor) would have done much better. However, the special conference to underscore Scottish Labour as a “patriotic” party was misguided.

Indeed, its sole useful purpose may have been to suggest that to try to steal the nationalists’ clothes may not be the best away forward. Labour needs its own distinctive and relevant offer: and the restart button is to be found on the back of our membership cards. It reads:

“by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone so as to create … a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect”

This statement – which we all accepted either when it was adopted or when we later joined the Labour Party – is the antithesis of nationalist thought, expressing as it does the power of common endeavour, and the values of freely living together, solidarity, tolerance and respect.

In contrast, nationalism states that a separate Scotland will achieve more, that people should be parted and that the spirit of solidarity is worthless, even that tolerance and respect are optional, as the behaviour of the SNP and its supporters towards political opponents shows.

Labour’s reboot should therefore major heavily on co-operation, redistribution and solidarity, at every level from workplace to macro-economics.

Obviously, a reboot on the scale required cannot be achieved all at once, but needs to be phased in: 2016 may be too soon to take a grip on the popular imagination, and some of the gloss will still be on the SNP after its success of 2015.

However, with the priority in that election set to be the avoidance another wasteful and divisive referendum, there will be plenty of room to put sharing and redistribution front and centre of Labour’s manifesto. In short: Scotland benefits from redistribution within the UK; and even if it did not do so, redistribution from wealthier areas to less well-off areas is a good sound social democratic principle.

However, the best place to start on the electoral road to recovery in earnest will be the Council elections of May 2017. Tactically, it will also be the place to launch effectively a new party, with a considerable existing voter base and the benefits of a proportional system.

Manifestos could include demands for and commitments to greater co-operation , both externally (between Councils) and internally (between the authority and community-based service providers and users). Likewise redistribution could be championed in the form of the concentration of funds in needier Council areas. Solidarity would crucially involve rebuilding relationships with the local trade unions and trades councils, as well as the community and voluntary sector.

Many councillors and activists will no doubt point out that they do many of these things anyway. My answer is that I know you do, but their political effect can only be strengthened by being part of a greater – indeed elemental – political narrative.

If Labour does not provide that narrative, the SNP will. Their narrative is Scotland; ours is co-operation and solidarity. That is the battle of ideas in a nutshell: “nation” against “solidarity” and only one can win.

Like the Clash said, “Death or Glory.”

My Latest on LabourList: In Scotland, Everyone Hates Labour

The symptoms of the size of the task ahead for those who wish to secure any kind of future for Scottish Labour are unmistakeable.

The evidence was there in the massive swings and the devastating losses of so-called “safe” seats in the General Election, and also the way in which no Labour candidate (no matter how competent, dedicated and talented) was safe from any SNP candidate (no matter how incompetent, unprincipled or untalented).

There was the range of opprobrium hurled at us as “Red Tories”; there is continuing ridicule in the streets; and the long term realisation that Scottish Labour is a toxic brand. It should also be remembered that Labour’s near wipe-out in Scotland differed in a crucial way from the Tory apocalypse in 1997: in John Major’s case, his party lost from a position of government, rather than while in opposition.

In fact the standard chant of the Nationalists (taken up on banners on railway and motorway bridges in the west of Scotland) “Red Tories Out!” made no sense in that Labour were in opposition in both Westminster and Holyrood. If people were unhappy with the UK or Scotland both, it made more sense to blame the Tories, the SNP and indeed both.

Just as illogical was much of the policy debate leading up to 7th May. The SNP waited until Scottish Labour had published its manifesto, then cut and pasted most of its commitments into to its own: 50p tax rate, Mansion Tax, et al.

(The exception was Trident, which had not been an issue which had drawn blood in any previous General Election – besides which, a number of Labour candidates have never made a secret of their unilateralist views. Likewise, the SNP hammered away on the issue of the Iraq War, which makes as much sense in 2015 as not voting for Attlee in 1945 because Lansbury had been a pacifist in 1935.)

The position regarding economic policy was no less absurd. The SNP promised to end austerity by two means. The first was an increase in public expenditure (actually not that much more than Labour’s offer, according the IFS). The second was by seeking Full Fiscal Autonomy from the UK – which would have cut Scotland off from over £7 billion of UK revenues, with the result of much more austerity rather than less.

The only point in relating these contradictions and failings in SNP policy at this stage is to use them as illustrations of the depth of Scottish Labour’s problems. Like the superiority of Labour candidates, the greater consistency and practicality of our policies did not register, because no-one was listening.

Further evidence of this process was the way in which during the campaign, the SNP’s failures in office were ignored, and indeed Nicola Sturgeon was elevated to near-goddess like status. Issues which would have cost other parties hundreds of thousands of votes were overlooked: these included falling standards of literacy in Scotland’s schools, shortages of GPs, new drink driving laws which are killing off country pubs and destination restaurants.

It seemed that Nicola Sturgeon could have strangled kittens on live television and her poll ratings would have increased. But what is more chilling for Labour is the mirror image: that Jim Murphy could have raised Lazarus from the dead and donated his technique to the Scottish NHS and still have lost support.

What has happened in Scotland seems pretty obvious. The electorate has fallen out of love with the Labour Party, despite our record whenever in office of progressive policy and achievement from the NHS to the National Minimum Wage. It did so at the time of the independence referendum and since then it has missed out indifference and turned straight to hatred and scorn.

On the doorstep, most comrades found the same thing: hostility and real and deep anger at Scottish Labour’s role in delivering the No vote majority. This is despite the fact that a Yes vote would have been economically ruinous to Scotland and deeply damaging to the most vulnerable in society, and that the pragmatic alternative – devolution – had been our policy for decades.

How did the referendum have such an effect? The standard answer – we were punished for working with the Tories – does not hold water in the light of the SNP having been in partnership with the same Tories as a minority Scottish government as recently as 2011.

In the absence of political logic, the answers may lie elsewhere. One theory is that the SNP effectively built an illusion of the wonderful world which independence would represent, in which voters had invested their emotions heavily. So Labour was punished for our role in (necessarily) destroying that illusion. Another theory is that faced with obdurate questions regarding continuing economic stress, voters are choosing to answer an easier one: “do you believe in Scotland?”

And where all governments get some things right and somethings wrong, we are in the position of allowing ourselves to blamed for all that is wrong while our opponents take credit for all that is right.

For example, during the election campaign, Alex Salmond received an honorary degree from Glasgow University; his citation credited him for having introduced free elderly care in Scotland, which happened while Labour Henry McLeish was First Minister. Alex Salmond was not even an MSP at the time.

The conclusion that we must therefore draw is that the Scottish Labour Party is culpable of a massive and obviously catastrophic political failure.

How that came about, how to remedy it, and indeed whether any remedy is possible requires much more examination. But it is worth describing the situation in which Scottish Labour finds itself for two reasons.

First, we need to recognise that the way back, if there is to be one, will be long and arduous. Certainly the 2016 Holyrood elections look to be too early to make an impression, and it seems we will lose further constituency seats.

Secondly, the Labour Party in the rest of the UK needs to look at what can happen during a referendum, and at the same time look over our shoulder at the number of votes and second places achieved by Ukip. We face an EU referendum in the next two years, and Labour can be very certain that Ukip strategists are very closely examining the SNP surge and its relationship to the pro-independence campaign.

They too will be seeking to encourage voters to fall out of love with Labour.

We have been warned.

Poem for VE Day. (Personal one this)

The Lost Skaters.

Peter A. Russell

When you were teenagers you swept round Richmond
a lonely lost couple:
one with his mother going to illness
the other barely loved by hers
With the air-raid shrapnel fizzling on the ice around your skates

Now you are eighty-six and eighty-seven I come to see you
to hear again and again about the war years and
the bombs and shelters and V1s and V2s and
bringing up a family in the suburbs in the 1950s and 60s and
the grandparents I never knew and those I did and
the aunts and uncles who died too soon and
the fishing trips and the continental holidays in tents and
my brother’s ex-wife and his current wife and
the cousins who don’t talk and their strange wives and
the garden that is too wet to mow the lawn.

I know I will be back in your empty bungalow
on a dead plot and you will be two teenagers once more
not lost, never again lonely but sweeping round the stars
With the meteors fizzling through the skies around your skates.

Brownshirts In St Enoch Square

This is my letter to the Herald following events on Monday. It was not selected for publication.It has since been moderated and included in the online comments, for which I thank Herald.


Your leader on the disruption of free speech on the streets of Glasgow is very welcome.

On Monday morning I went to St Enoch Square expecting to hear Eddie Izzard and Jim Murphy speak at a pro-Labour rally. What I expected was a street event with a popular comedian who would attract a crowd, and probably hecklers, too: all good free speech.

What happened however was that nationalist hooligans turned  up with loudhailers, loud amplified music, and proceeded to chant and drown out any speeches and to ensure that no member of the public could hear Eddie’s or Jim’s messages. Brave men – some in masks – took our photographs and filmed us, and one was kind enough to call me an “English bastard” who should “fuck off home across the border.”

In short, what we saw was the nationalists’ strategy of the use of intimidation and physical force to drive political opponents and their message off the streets. I have never before equated Scottish nationalism with fascism or Nazism, and have warned others off doing so, but these are exactly same tactics used by the Brownshirts in Germany and by Mosley’s Blackshirts.

It is beyond doubt that nationalism attracts fascists, and it cannot be denied that in Glasgow, those who would use fascist tactics are supporting the SNP, whose posters and members were present in St Enoch Square.

Anyone considering voting nationalist should consider that fact, and that they are associating themselves with anti-democratic and violent behaviour.


Peter A. Russell

What is wrong with nationalism (well, one of the things that is wrong…)

This individual has been identified as one of the people responsible for the nationalist “Brownshirt” operation in St Enoch Square:


In contrast, one of the people who was on the receiving end was my Fabian friend David Webster. He is not a debt collector. In fact, he is one of the UK’s leading authorities on benefit sanctions. Here is some of his work: There is also a link on that site to his work for the Child Poverty Action Group.

The message is that a protest might make you feel good, but those who are doing the protesting might not be what they seem.

And likewise, those who you are protesting against might just be some of your best potential allies lost.

Such is the nature of nationalism: blinding people to reason and distorting reality to fit within its own narrow framework: “Scottish Resistance” must be good, and anyone who has come to hear the case for Labour must be “Red Tory”. Or even a “baby murderer” (as another friend was called); or like me “an English bastard” who should “fuck off back home across the border.”

Although to nationalists, of course, not a lot matters beyond the agenda of “nationhood”, and those who disagree are fair game to be confronted, or as in this case, to be mocked, insulted and driven off the streets by force.