A battle to liberate Scottish Labour from the old guard

Submitted by cathy n on 13 November, 2017 - 3:59 Author: Dale Street
for real change

The result of the contest for leadership of the Scottish Labour Party will be announced on Saturday, 18th November.

At the core of that contest has been a struggle by the rank-and-file of the Scottish Labour Party and affiliated trade unions in Scotland to liberate the Scottish labour movement from the grip of a right-wing old-guard establishment.

Richard Leonard secured 42 nominations from Constituency Labour Parties (compared with 16 for Anas Sarwar), ten nominations from trade unions (compared with one for Sarwar), and the backing of all affiliated socialist societies which made nominations.

Leonard has won support from all sections of the individual membership of the Labour Party. But the bedrock of his support is younger and newer members (i.e. newer members who have joined since 2015, not new members who joined after the introduction of a cut-price membership scheme).

His campaign slogan – “For Real Change” – has struck a chord with Party members and affiliated trade union supporters. They have been sickened by years of being treated as stage extras by successive leaderships which have led the party to defeat after defeat.

Thanks to their ‘we-know-best-but-you’re-too-thick-to-understand’ elitism, Scottish Labour has been in steady decline since the first Holyrood elections in 1999.

In the 2011 Holyrood elections the SNP won an absolute majority of seats in Holyrood, in an electoral system designed to prevent any party from doing so. In the 2015 general election, Labour was routed, losing 40 of its 41 Westminster seats.

In the 2014 referendum, the Scottish Labour establishment had opted for collaboration with the Tories in the “Better Together” campaign. This, they claimed, was the way to beat the SNP – while support for independence doubled and support for Labour collapsed.

Even the much-vaunted Labour resurgence in this year’s general election turns out, on closer inspection, to amount to an increase of just 10,000 votes in the whole of Scotland. In fact, in two of the seats won by the party in June the Labour vote was lower than in 2015.

That political tradition of failure and defeat has been represented in the leadership contest by Anas Sarwar. His campaign was that of a typical career politician, with politics reduced to empty soundbites, glib promises and contempt for any notion of political consistency.

Sarwar promised to help put a Corbyn-led Labour government into Downing Street. But little more than twelve months ago he was publicly demanding Corbyn’s resignation as Party leader.

He claimed that he was the “unity candidate” who could bring together the different factions (pro-Corbyn and anti-Corbyn). In fact, with the sad exception of Pauline McNeill MSP, his campaign has been a rallying point for the most right-wing and viscerally anti-Corbyn elements in the party.

He claimed that he was a proud member of Unite. But he looked the other way when his supporter Ian Murray MP claimed that the election had been “rigged” in order to ensure that Unite could exercise an unfair influence on the result.

Sarwar promised to stand up “For the Many, Not the Few”. But the Sarwar family firm does not recognise a trade union or pay its employees the living wage. For thirteen years Sarwar himself was paid an annual £20,000 dividend on his shares in the company.

And, unlike Sarwar, not many of “the Many” send their children to a private school (just 5% do so) or have previously held shares in a company registered in an offshore tax haven.

Sarwar denounced the suggestion that he ever supported the “Better Together” campaign (despite photos of him sharing a “Better Together” platform) and yet made great play of his endorsement by ex-MP Alistair Darling, the figurehead of the “Better Together” campaign.

In fact, Sarwar was first and foremost the candidates of the “ex-“s: ex-Chancellor Alistair Darling, ex-leader Johann Lamont, ex-leader Iain Gray, ex-Glasgow City Council leader Frank McAveety, ex-MP Margaret Curran, ex-Home Secretary Alan Johnson, etc., etc, etc.

Johnson’s support for Sarwar merits special mention.

Johnson supported the Tories’ cuts in public spending and their 1% pay cap on public sector pay increases. He has described Corbyn as “totally incompetent and incapable of being the leader of a political party”. And he has been outspoken in his crticisms of trade unions.

But this is the kind of ex-politician from whom Sarwar, the “unity candidate”, welcomed support.

The contrast between Leonard’s promise of change of Sarwar’s promise of business as usual (no pun intended) was not the only contrast to surface in the campaign.

In 2013, Unite members in the Falkirk Westminster constituency were falsely accused of signing up paper members in order to ensure the candidate backed by Unite was selected to be its next Westminster candidate.

The media whipped up a hysterical witch-hunt. The Labour Party leadership willingly joined in. It called in the police to investigate whether criminal offences had been committed. Ineos seized the opportunity to hound or sack Unite activists out of their jobs at the nearby Grangemouth plant.

But in this election campaign there has been little or no interest in concerns raised by CLP secretaries, backed up by hard evidence, of repeated cases of multiple applications for Labour Party membership all sharing the same e-mail address and mobile phone number, especially in Glasgow CLPs.

In contrast to 2013, there has been no outcry and no calls for the police to intervene. Instead, the only action taken seems to have been a decision to send paper ballots (rather than e-ballots) to members who share the same e-mail address.

The figures for nominations of the two candidates by CLPs, trade unions and affiliated socialist societies speak for themselves. They are a statement of support for Leonard by the labour movement. A victory for Leonard will be a victory for the labour movement.

But if Sarwar emerges as the victor on 18th November, it will be a victory for the careerists and the carpetbaggers. It will mark the opening of another chapter in the prolonged and painful demise of Scottish Labour.