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by Mandy Rhodes
13 January 2020
If Labour has any chance of survival, it needs to stop blaming the SNP for its demise

Scottish Labour

If Labour has any chance of survival, it needs to stop blaming the SNP for its demise

Scottish Labour is finally, maybe, possibly, to trying to play catch up with Scotland.

Seventeen years on from when it last won power in the Scottish Parliament – albeit in a coalition with the Lib Dems – the party is only now seriously rethinking its approach to independence.

In a major U-turn for the leadership of the party – its supporters got this some time ago – the rumour was that it was deciding whether to support a second independence referendum, albeit with a second question on federalism or devo max or something like it.

But, as is the Scottish Labour way, a meeting of the Scots executive meeting at the weekend did not offer any clarification, only a date in the diary for more talks on a possible blueprint for more devolution and then a discussion of another vote. Possibly.

Too little, too late? Maybe but in the face of a catastrophic defeat at the general election, what left is there for it to do?

It only has one MP at Westminster and trails behind the Tories in Scotland, for goodness sake.

Who would ever have thought?

Well, quite a lot of us really but consumed by its visceral hatred of the SNP, Scottish Labour has failed to see beyond its own anger and while it contemplated its own navel with inconsequential reviews, sometimes even conducted by the leader that led them into defeat, the voters went elsewhere.

In the 20 years that Scotland has had its own parliament – a parliament Labour campaigned for and made real - Scottish Labour has had had nine different leaders and taken the electorate and the parliament for granted.

The problem for Labour now isn’t that it needs to change its leader or its internal structures to win back power, Scotland needs to change, and that just ‘aint going to happen without good reason.

Scotland has been on slow trajectory towards independence for many years and Scottish Labour has failed to grasp how to stall that momentum.

I hark back to a fringe event at party conference in Perth in March 2014 chaired by former first minister, Henry McLeish. With two failed Scottish parliamentary elections behind them and the SNP riding high having won both, an unprecedented majority in the Scottish Parliament, and with a first independence referendum date in the offing, I remember watching in disbelief as Margaret Curran, then shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, literally tear into  one of her own members because he was openly campaigning for ‘yes’.

Allan Grogan was leader of a splinter group called ‘Labour for Independence’ and Curran branded him a traitor. McLeish, who at the time had been in secret talks with the first minister, Alex Salmond, over a second question on the ballot paper in support of devo max –déjà vu, anyone? - was aghast at Curran.

"I know nothing about LFI, but we need to be a party that is tolerant of dissident voices”, said McLeish.

"We don't want to be known as a party that cannot brook discussion, however much it makes us uncomfortable or makes us think about things that we don't want to think about.”

Curran responded by taking a sarcastic swipe at her former leader by saying she was “delighted” to hear he would be voting ‘no’.

As if it was ever in any doubt.

I don’t know what happened to Grogan, but Curran lost her seat in 2015 after 16 years of being an elected Labour politician.

And as Scottish Labour ponders its next move, if it has any chance of survival it needs to stop blaming the SNP for its demise and start entering a conversation about the future of Scotland which could mean saying ‘yes’, if only to a second referendum.

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Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - Nicola Sturgeon leaves office with one in four children in poverty

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