GMB Scottish Regional Secretary Gary Smith was accorded front page coverage in the 3 March 2019 “Herald on Sunday”.
Billed as an “Exclusive”, the article in fact consisted of some extracts from an interview with Smith conducted by one of the pro-independence paper’s resident right-wing journalists, Paul Hutcheon.
Hutcheon is still remembered for his notorious witch-hunting ‘articles’ about the Falkirk Labour selection contest and Grangemouth Ineos dispute of 2013 (although he has written no shortage of articles in a similar vein since then).
Smith used the interview with Hutcheon as an opportunity to denounce Scottish Labour Party leader Richard Leonard for his approach to Brexit and to the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party.
But Smith went a lot further. He criticised Leonard for “riding on the coat-tails” of Corbyn, which was “a recipe for failure.” Scottish Labour had “nothing coherent or clear to say on the big issue of the day.” It did not “look like a government in waiting.”
At first sight it might appear as if some of what Smith said actually makes sense.
Leonard sails close to the ‘Morning Star’ on Brexit. In a second referendum he would prefer a Labour ‘soft Brexit’ to Remain. So do many of those who hold elected or unelected positions around Leonard.
Leonard has also had little to say about antisemitism. (But the available evidence suggests that the dimensions of the problem in Scottish Labour are nowhere near those evident in England – which is not to deny that, beneath the surface, similar ways-of-thinking are apparent).
And Labour cannot be said to have turned the corner in Scotland. Its vote in the 2017 general election increased by just 10,000 in the whole of Scotland, and it stills comes third in the opinion polls, behind the Tories.
But what is Smith’s alternative?
Smith is a former member of the now defunct Militant tendency. Its members, especially its male ones, prided themselves only being the real voice of the real working class – as opposed to those “sects of the fringes of the labour movement” which were full of middle-class liberals.
Smith still operates within the same parameters.
But now, as anyone who knows him can testify, the objects of his proletarian ire are: opponents of fracking; supporters of nuclear disarmament; people who drink lattes; and Labour Party members who live in Islington (a particularly odious sub-category of the former category).
This is apparent from the “Sunday Herald” article itself: “Smith is pro-Trident and supports fracking, both of which he believes could be part of a wider industrial strategy. He is also sceptical of the view that thousands of jobs are tied to the ‘green collar’ economy.”
The article quotes Smith: “Scottish Labour are trying to chase a green vote. That green vote will remain with the Green Party. It’s a middle-class guilt thing. We are rooted in the real world and not in some aspirational ‘jobs in Brigadoon with Scotch mist in the pay packet’ type stuff.”
With unintended irony, the article goes on to quote another of Smith’s criticisms of Scottish Labour: “It doesn’t speak to working people but talks at them.” (Says the man with a penchant for interminable tirades against “middle-class fads” – such as saving the planet from extinction.)
Smith claims to be disappointed with the level of engagement between the GMB and Scottish Labour: “On whether Leonard had engaged with the GMB since becoming leader, Smith said: ‘In truth, I’m disappointed about the quality of engagement.’”
But the truth is that the GMB in Scotland has no political strategy.
It does nothing to encourage GMB members in the Labour Party to become delegates to their CLPs, it provides no support for GMB members who are delegates, and it fails to take its places on Labour Party Local Campaign Forums.
Smith would be better off speaking to the Labour Party, instead of talking at it from the platform of an interview with Paul Hutcheon.
PS: On 12th June 2016 the “Sunday Herald” published an “Exclusive” which consisted of an interview with Gary Smith by Paul Hutcheon.
The June 2016 “Exclusive” bears a remarkable similarity to the 2019 “Exclusive”:
Scottish Labour was “completely out of touch with the concerns of many of our members.” Scottish Labour “doesn’t know what it stands for” and its adoption of anti-Trident position “was a very big mistake (which) alienated a lot of small ‘c’ conservative working-class voters.”
PPS: On 27th November 2016 the “Sunday Herald” published an “Exclusive” which consisted of an interview with Gary Smith by Paul Hutcheon.
The November 2016 “Exclusive” bears a remarkable similarity to the 2019 “Exclusive”:
“I (Smith) said this to the Labour Party – too often they sound like a party of middle-class protest. They certainly don’t sound like a party seeking power. We look at the party’s position on Trident, on building defence ships, on energy. They just don’t sound credible and they don’t sound in touch with working-class people or communities.”
Recycling the same old right-wing Smithsonian soundbites and calling them “Exclusives”?