If only Scottish Labour could be as right-wing as it used to be, then people would vote for it again. This pretty much sums up the platform of Jackie Baillie MSP in her bid to be elected Scottish Labour Deputy Leader. But as the hustings in Glasgow on 17 February confirmed, this involves a breathtaking ability to deny reality.
Baillie denied that housing legislation passed by the Labour-Lib-Dem Holyrood government (1999-2007) had extended the “right to buy” to Housing Association tenants. But it did.
Baillie boasted that the same Holyrood coalition government had initiated a massive housebuilding programme. But between 2002 and 2006 just 21 new council houses were built in all of Scotland.
She talked of her commitment to “Team Labour” in Holyrood and her support for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard – despite being known for briefing against him.
She denied the possibly irreparable damage done to Scottish Labour by its collaboration with the Tories in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, manifested in the collapse in Scottish Labour support in the 2015 general election. Baillie highlighted the fall in Scottish Labour support between 2015 and 2019 (omitting the marginal increase in 2017). But she made no mention of the linear decline in support for Scottish Labour in every Holyrood election since 1999 – rooted in her own brand of right-wing politics.
Baillie’s “big idea” for reviving Scottish Labour’s electoral fortunes is that the party should wrap itself in a Union Jack – bigging up opposition to independence and a second referendum on independence. Plus support for Trident renewal, and keep those submarines on the Clyde.
Standing against Baillie is Glasgow councillor and former Westminster candidate Matt Kerr:
“We need new approaches, new policies and a new culture that rids ourselves of harmful attacks on each other via briefing or online. We need a Party that challenges the establishment, not one that is seen as part of it.”
His election material has highlighted the need for Scottish Labour to rebuild its roots in local communities and its links with trade unions, and to develop “a new generation of activists who don’t remember 1997 but know full well the struggles of 2020.”
Highlighting the themes of grassroots revival, workers’ rights (including industrial democracy) and fresh ideas, his election platform focuses on the areas crucial to Scottish Labour’s survival.
It is not good that his election as Deputy Leader would mean a male-male Scottish Labour leadership team. But the support of the Scottish Labour right for a Starmer-Murray ticket at national level makes any criticism from their quarter on that count an exercise in hypocrisy.
The Scottish Deputy leadership contest is straightforward. Vote Baillie for political suicide, or Matt Kerr for hope.