Friday, 6 May 2016

Where now for Scottish Labour (including Why Rise Failed)

The Westminster election last year could have been a blip, but the evisceration of Scottish Labour in yesterday's General Election shows a pattern. 

Nine years into an SNP government, the Nationalists routed Scottish Labour in their heartlands. Every seat in Glasgow lost. Former leaders and elder statesmen rejected by the electorate (but, of course, rammed in to Parliament against the will of the voters by a party which remains suffused with arrogance). 

Where 20% of the vote would, a mere half-decade ago, have been an unmitigated disaster for Scottish Labour, it is now an aspiration. It now looks like an unreachable aspiration. Scottish Labour, toxic in a way even the Tories of the 1990s didn't quite manage to reach, are despised, dismissed, and defeated. 

With every fresh electoral blow, the structures and power-bases of the party weaken further. Losing all but one of their MPs cost the party millions of pounds in funding, and lost them thousands of hours in researchers' time - people who once would have been paid activists during elections now have day jobs. The destruction of their bases in local authorities has weakened them immensely. 

Their manifesto was, arguably, the most left-wing of any major party in this election. But nobody was listening. They are now anathema to voters in Glasgow, and western Scotland, and central Scotland. Most Scots under the age of 30 would no more consider voting for Scottish Labour than they would for Ukip - a party which now, sickeningly, boasts more parliamentarians than the disintegrating Scottish Labour party.

Sure, Kezia Dugdale will have to resign. A "leader" who takes a party to its worst-ever defeat can't carry on. But replacing a worn-out party apparatchik with another didn't wash with voters when Apartheid fan and war criminal Jim Murphy was forced out, and nor will it wash now. 

Changing the toilet roll doesn't stop the stench when the u-bend is blocked. 

Scottish Labour has never gained a seat in a Scottish Parliament election. Some citizens voted in this election who were 18 months old when Scottish Labour last emerged as the largest party in Holyrood. 

They are becoming, very rapidly, a party of the past. A party your granda voted for, and your mum used to vote for, but for whom you would never consider voting for. 

It's not exactly new to comment that the referendum destroyed Scottish Labour. A generation of voters who only know Scottish Labour as the party which spent years campaigning with the Tories for the right of the Tories to rule Scotland, and whose go-to mental images of Scottish Labour are those photographs of Scottish Labour activists dancing delightedly with Tories across Scotland, are lost to them. 

When Ruth Davidson beat Murdo Fraser for the Tory leadership what seems like a million years ago, Fraser's big idea was to detoxify the Conservatives by budding off from the unpopular British party, and ditching the still-redolent Conservative name. 

Perhaps it's Scottish Labour which needs to do that. 

Now the second-biggest Unionist party, they'll see their voters who regard the Union as their main priority desert them for their Tory friends at subsequent elections. They have abrogated any hope of Yes voters reconnecting with them. They do not appeal to the under-30s with their campaign of imposing tuition fees and charging, at the point of use, for health care. 

The only way Scottish Labour can survive is a new name, a new structure, and a new attitude. 


Another party which needs a serious look at its attitude is Rise, the SWP front which engulfed the Scottish Socialist party and took the Left to a disastrous result, scoring zero MSPs and barely more votes. 

The tone was all wrong. It came across as aggressive and entitled, arrogant and intolerant. Its activists launched streams of abuse at those who didn't join the cult, smearing those who raised concerns about is as misogynist and/or racist. 

It demanded respect, whilst refusing to take action against activists who systematically abused members and supporters of other parties and ordinary voters, and its online engagement seemed almost designed to turn people away from it.

Rise came across as a motley collection of social misfits, thugs and bigots. Its candidates ranged from those who called for the murder of journalists who didn't support the party with sufficient enthusiasm to those who called for gender-based violence, and included middle-class owners of West End pieds รก terre with little record of activism or public service. 

Its supporters, mainly found online, were intolerant, thuggish and hypocritical, and put far more voters off than it attracted. The behaviour of the self-described "Young Team" alienated people. It was unprofessional. 

Much of this could be excused by the youth and inexperience of many activists, some of whom were barely out of school (and at least one of whom had their mother write to people who criticised her to demand voters showed more sensitivity to mummy's special little foul-mouthed flower). But this should have been reigned in early by a party hierarchy which often seemed utterly paralysed in the face of crisis. 

Those in the Scottish Socialist party leadership who lied and cheated to drag Scotland's most successful Left-wing party into this doomed political nursery have blown the Left's best chance in a generation to gain parliamentary representation. 

They should now resign, and allow those who remained loyal to the SSP and warned of the inevitable, crushing failure of Rise, to try and salvage something from the wreckage.

1 comment:

  1. "Rise, the SWP front"

    This is such a bizarre allegation given that RISE demonised the SWP and refused to work alongside them. For the record, SWP had no involvement in the RISE project.