On Friday night, just for a moment, we got a rare glimpse into some of the thinking that must be going on in the higher echelons of the Scottish Labour Party. Just as we were trying to make sense of it, understand it, respond to it, it was simultaneously being clarified, redefined, debunked then apparently junked. It does, however, remain profoundly significant.
Saying it is ‘not inconceivable’ that a Scottish Labour leader would support independence perhaps marks the start of a necessary journey that could just about save Scottish Labour from itself and ensure that our nation secures the progress it requires. Regardless of how hard SLab might try to avert our gaze from this exotic and exciting new dish it sits squarely there on the table demanding our attention and response.
I don’t believe for a moment that when all those strategists and thinkers get round the Scottish Labour top table there isn’t a real and meaningful debate concerning the reasons why SLab are currently in their precarious and almost catastrophic situation. It would be inconceivable if someone didn’t raise an arm and say loudly and clearly ‘we have to review our approach to independence because being a unionist party is killing us’. They will have all the evidence at their disposal to at least accept that this is a legitimate assessment. They will have seen the charts that show that the Westminster constituencies with the largest Yes votes saw the largest swings away from Labour. They will have commissioned those focus groups which will report back to them telling them that the reason that they are so singularly unpopular is because of their unionism and because they stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in the referendum.They will have heard the response on the doorsteps for themselves from all those former voters who will tell them in no uncertain terms that they’ll never vote Labour again as long as Labour stand in the way of their constitutional ambitions for Scotland.
There will be those at the SLab top table who will totally get it. Who are ambitious for their party, who know what has to be done. I can almost imagine the conversation round that top table when the reassurances that ‘eventually’ former Labour voters will move on from their constitutional concerns being challenged by the ‘reformers’ that the Tories are actually still in decline after being wiped out 20 years ago! All of this must be going on in Scottish Labour and securing that fleeting glimpse of a potential for indy support reveals that this must be some sort of live discussion.
And the reformers have their chance. The old unionist generation have all been wiped out and have more or less disappeared from the political scene. The old generation of paternalistic Scottish Labour MPs brought up and weaned on the Westminster gravy train are no longer a feature of Scottish politics and their unconditional unionism has gone with them. Kezia, in that interview, revealingly informed us that she doesn’t refer to those Westminster dinosaurs anymore, and she shouldn’t. Their agenda was an agenda of decline, of a failure to respond to a quickly changing and evolving political environment. She should lead, recognise what needs to be done to save her party and be prepared to do what might have been unthinkable only a year ago. Nothing else is working so what on earth has she got to lose!
This is important for the wider Yes movement. When Scottish Labour join us (which they eventually at some point will have to) we win. Doing it on our own with only the Greens for support last time round was tough and Labour will bring with them their still significant and important social partnerships and historic constituency. We can fashion a wide ranging and inclusive new constitutional convention encompassing the whole of civic Scotland on the scale of the consensus secured on the Scottish Parliament. The argument then becomes about a future independent Scotland pursuing our left of centre political heritage and consensus versus continued, unwanted Conservative Westminster rule.
For the life of me I can’t understand why Labour would want to stick with a position that is so self evidently not working. Nothing is going to save Scottish Labour for this election, that perhaps needs to just be written off. Following that election, though, it will be the perfect time for that ‘reassessment’ for the reformers to come forward. If Scottish Labour don’t there may be no way back.
For Labour they can join a new consensus that will be working with the grain of our national ambition not always trying to neuter it and hold it back. Being part of a movement that will re-unite them with the people who used to vote for them. They can work with us to help save Scotland from a generation of unwanted Westminster Conservative rule.
This might be about the most important few months in Scottish Labour’s history beyond the now inevitable, soon to pass, electoral calamity. We saw a glimpse of it on Friday. They must now bring it back, develop it for the sake of out nation, and for the sake of their party.