Saturday, 20 June 2015

And they're off...

Nominations for the vacant leadership position of Labour in Scotland, with two contenders: Kezia Dugdale (current Deputy Leader and list MSP for the Lothians) and Ken Macintosh (MSP for Eastwood). There are also three contenders for the deputy leadership: Richard Baker (list MSP for the North East), Alex Rowley (MSP for Cowdenbeath) and Gordon Matheson (leader of Glasgow City Council).  And now, of course, they are setting out their cases for being elected prior to the first hustings to be held in Edinburgh on Monday.

Ken Macintosh is a Murphyite who intends to 'change the way the Labour party operates' in order to 'win back voters' trust.'  I recall this very thing being trumpeted by Margaret Curran prior to the recent General Election, and it seems to have become the go-to clarion cry from Labour in Scotland any time they experience a setback.  He also intends to move Labour party HQ from Glasgow to Edinburgh and to have seven regional offices.  Finally he wants to see an autonomous party in Scotland which will still be a member of the UK Labour party.  I have to say that this makes me think of Möbius strips and Escher drawings, but maybe that's just me.

Kezia Dugdale wants to be an anti-establishment leader, and to shake things up.  All very laudable, but it's noticeable that she carefully names the Tory party and the SNP as the 'Establishment' while studiously avoiding any mention of her own party. The interesting thing about this stance is that Ms Dugdale has stated that she doesn't think an independent Scottish Labour party is desirable, but that an autonomous one is.  There's that Möbuis strip again.  Ms Dugdale seems, from her various performances at FMQs, to be pretty conformist in her political views, so I'm not sure just how anti-establishment' she can be, since she pretty much toes the UK party line.

And so we come to the contenders for the deputy leadership.

Richard Baker claims he has more support from parliamentarians than any of the other leadership candidates - that's MPs, MSPs and MEPs.  He does not believe in a separate Scottish Labour party, but since he was a director of 'Better Together' that's not much of a surprise.  He also wants to listen to the members in order to rebuild that party in Scotland (note: not the people of Scotland, the members of the Labour party only).  Should be easy enough - just hire a small hall and you could probably get everyone in.

Gordon Matheson wants to, yes you've guessed it, listen to the people of Scotland.  He thinks that, because he is not an MSP he can bring a new perspective to the deputy's job.  Having said that, if elected he would put himself in top position on the regional list for next year's Scottish General Election, virtually guaranteeing a place in the Scottish Parliament on the basis of the list votes, which kind of undercuts his case.  You can't help feeling that he's anticipating that Labour might not retain control of Glasgow in the 2017 council elections, so he strapping on a parachute now.

Alex Rowley also wants to see an autonomous Labour party in Scotland but again not as a separate entity from the UK Labour party, and wants to listen to the people of Scotland so that change can be exacted to serve their needs.  Honestly, I'm putting myself to sleep just typing this.

It's striking how the same phrases crop up again and again.  'Listen to the people of Scotland/the members.' 'Autonomous within the UK Labour party.'  There appears to be a dearth of original thought amongst them all, which means most likely it will end up being 'business as usual' regardless of who gets the gig.

Meanwhile there is a leadership contest going on at the UK level of the Labour party.  What are their views on an 'autonomous' Scottish Labour party?  Yvette Cooper (aka Mrs Ed Balls) would oppose any move to form a separate Scottish Labour party, as she wants it to be part of a UK Labour party working in unity.  Similarly Andy Burnham, although he says there may be a case to be made for a separate Scottish party, he also wants a single UK Labour party  Liz Kendall shares Ms Cooper's view, while Jeremy Corbyn doesn't appear to have expressed a view as yet.  I think we can make an educated guess as to what that might be however.

This shows that the dearth of original thought extends all  the way through the Labour party, from top to bottom.  It's all about power retained, although lip-service is paid to 'listening to what people want'.  Central control is all.  There's a lesson that the SNP would do well to learn from if they are to avoid falling into the same trap.

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