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.


  1. Suzanne Wright

    Whilst agreeing wholeheartedly with your analysis of where Labour are at in Scotland I am a little put out by your assertion that it was tough in the Yes movement “with just the Greens to support”. Presumably the contribution of the SSP, RIC, Women for Indy etc and those belonging to no grouping at all didn’t happen? Surely, one of the important lessons for Indy2 is promoting the broad spectrum of the indy movement?

    1. grahamlive

      That statement concerned me also. To give Pete the benefit of the doubt perhaps he was referring to support from parties who have elected MSPs. Though if that’s the case he should have made this clearer. If not, then it’s a disappointing slip from him.

  2. goberre

    “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.” In my opinion Pete, your continued reference to Scottish Labour is misguided, they are constitutionally, British Labour in Scotland or to put it in their own terms “a branch office” and that is the reason they want to stick to the union, British Labour in Westminster need the Scottish votes.

  3. ronald alexander mcdonald

    To answer your question-No.
    The personnel at the Labour branch office would be rather see them disappear, much in the same way as the Libdems, than support Independence.

    We’re going to have to do it ourselves. That will entail proposing an economic argument that is contrary to the London centric position.

  4. Steven Luby

    A realignment appears to be taken place within Scotland and if Labour choose the deminished route then so be it. I would’nt trust Labour because they are in denial and the Party comes first.UK Labour have let slip the trust that Scots had because of financial incentives locally-council and upwards.Its now rotten,the trust has gone.Its not all rotten,but taking for granted access to popular blogs etc has left Labour floundering. Opinions and questions are raised,discussed and people learn. No longer does MSM have manopoly within Scotland. Huge changes have already happened (Tory losses and now Labour) so some things in life are best left to whither and change.Encouraging Labour towards Indy may be a quicker route to the goal of Indy….but I still can’t trust Labour.
    But you have a fine blog here,its healthy.

  5. Kenny

    The answer to the question is: No.

    1. Because then they will have to give up the comforting support of the BBC, which promotes them on a daily basis. They will have to get votes another way, by (1) canvassing voters and (2) producing policies that are not deconstructed on Twitter in ten minutes. They do not have the (1) members or (2) intelligence to do that.

    2. Because you are wrong to call them the “Labour Party”. They are “Project Labour” in Scotland and a simple look at the UK current account and REAL economics figures with regard to Scotland (fantastically, everything from our oil to our gin exports are not accrued to Scotland). Corbyn might even voice support for a united, independent Ireland. But Scotland? Never. He knows which lines cannot be crossed.

    Finally, you make the mistake of thinking logically. It is the biggest mistake logical people make. Thinking that others think and act logically.

  6. Thepnr

    We really don’t need to win over the “Labour party” to the support of Independence to ensure a vote for Yes, we need to win over the ordinary voter that traditionally support Labour.

    That is why the SNP are doing so well now, you have being doing exactly that. No need to change just keep spreading the message that a Labour supporter will be better served by an Independent Scottish government.

    I’d welcome Labour support, can’t really see that happening anytime soon and to be honest I don’t see it making that much difference.

  7. Dave McEwan Hill

    The only problem with this assessment is that I don’t believe Labour in Scotland exists any more in any real sense. It survives only in the media and in the ranks of the remaining vested interest and those immediately around them. It is not being beaten by the SNP. In most places it has been replaced and the serious political element that was in it is now largely in the SNP with a small percentage in the various small radical organisations.

    What little remains is in fact a parcel of rogues – and when they come over and clamber onto the bandwagon we know we have won.

    I believe the establishment has thrown Scottish Labour overboard in the assessment that it cannot save the union and they have been promoting Ruthie for second place for months now in the peculiar notion that the Tories can do the job for them in Scotland.
    How little they understand Scotland.
    In the constitutional battle continuing what we want is Scotland v the Tories.( I say that in the knowledge that there are and have been for many years a significant number of quiet Tory inclined people in Scotland who support independence.)


  9. mealer

    I just don’t think there is enough of anything within the Labour Party in Scotland to make this happen.If they become pro Indy,who will finance them? Also,there would be a split in the party with the staunch unionists forming a party of their own,or just drifting out entirely.Would there be anything much left to carry on.Political parties need members and activists and leaders and money and policies.Labour has none of these.

  10. Ian McGeechan

    I think we need to take it over the finish line ourselves. Labour and the rest will only come round to acceptance once they see the inevitability of independence. That will help to shape the new Scotland, but it won’t happen prior to independence.

  11. Peter A Bell

    There is much merit in Pete Wishart’s analysis. That British Labour in Scotland needs to cut itself free of the electoral millstone of ideological unionism is a fact so obvious that the only wonder is so many supposedly astute politicians have managed to miss it. Or avoid it.

    There are, however, two rather significant flaws in Mr Wishart’s argument. In the first place, what he takes to be promising noises from Kezia Dugdale regarding her ability to ‘conceive’ of a ‘Scottish Labour’ leader who supports independence, should be treated with caution, not to say some scepticism. This is, after all, coming from someone who lately was making noises which gave a rather different impression of her commitment to democracy, far less her amenability to real constitutional change. Kezia Dugdale quite unabashedly declared that she was prepared to defy the democratic will of the people of Scotland. She openly declared that she would oppose any move towards restoring Scotland’s rightful constitutional status. Including a second independence referendum. Even if this was mandated by the Scottish electorate.

    Maybe Dugdale can imagine a ‘Scottish Labour’ leader who supports independence. But she’s made it clear that it isn’t her. She isn’t even prepared to acknowledge our democratic right of self-determination, far less our right to govern ourselves. And we must assume that she speaks with authority. She is, after all, ‘leader’ of the pretendy wee party.

    And that’s the second major flaw in Pete Wishart’s argument. He treats ‘Scottish Labour’ as if it were a real political party, with the capacity to formulate policy. It isn’t. How can anybody be unaware of the fact that British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is no more than a branch operation of the UK party. Kezia Dugdale, like all her disgraced and humiliated predecessors, has precisely zero authority when it comes to matters of party policy. And precious little influence. Even in regard to devolved issues, BLiS branch managers must ultimately submit to authority of their bosses in London.

    There is, therefore, no possibility whatever of BLiS ever becoming a pro-independence party. Because it isn’t even a party. And the party of which it is a mere accounting unit is a party of the British establishment. British Labour is committed to preserving the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. ‘Scottish Labour’ is absolutely bound by that same commitment. It cannot be otherwise.

    Dugdale may be able to imagine a pro-independence BLiS leader. (Hell! She can imagine herself as First Minister!) But I can guarantee that her masters aren’t prepared to countenance such an affront to their Britishness. And, even if they were, this pro-independence stance would be meaningless, as it could never be reflected in policy. British Labour will always be a unionist party. And the Scottish Labour Party that might be pro-independence simply doesn’t exist.

    Pete Wishart is right about one thing, at least. “Nothing is going to save Scottish Labour for this election”. I suspect, however, that he is somewhat optimistic about the implications and ramifications for whatever they have instead of internal thinking. But that’s something I shall pursue later and elsewhere ( For now, I leave you with the following thought.

    British Labour in Scotland is, and always will be, just that – BRITISH Labour in Scotland. The notion that this ugly bug might metamorphose into a beautiful, constitutionally progressive butterfly is… well… let’s be generous and call it wishful thinking.

  12. Pingback: Breaking BLis – Part 1 – Towards Indyref2 …

  13. John Gourlay

    While the arguments for or against Scottish labour go on people appear to dismiss the fact that currently the heart of Scottish Labour is Glasgow City’s councillors. I strongly suspect they have more influence on Labour’s decision making than any other body. They will not be revised until the council elections in 2017 so until then Scottish Labour will be stuck in Limbo.

  14. Johnny

    I just don’t understand why slab don’t just come out and support Indy then when it’s done and dusted (hopefully ) they can get back to being a popular party within Scotland no need to answer to Westminster only to the Scottish electorate . That has been their biggest fault (in my opinion ) in recent years the fact that they can’t pick their nose without asking for permission . Would it not be more fulfilling to run your country rather than your branch office cos if they ever did get elected again in Scotland they would have to ask the boss if it’s OK to do this or that what kind of control is that ?

    1. Peter A Bell

      It has already been explained why it is impossible for “SLAB” to become a party of independence. It’s because “SLAB” isn’t a political party. British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), as it should more appropriately be known, has no authority to formulate policy independently of British Labour.

      I am prepared to persist in repeating this until it finally gets through to everybody who is capable of comprehending. What is known as ‘Scottish Labour’ is NOT a political party. It pretends to be. But it is not. It is an ‘accounting unit’ of British Labour. A branch operation.

      One more time… ‘Scottish Labour’ IS NOT A POLITICAL PARTY.

      1. petewishart Post author

        Hi Peter. I know you’re right but I take the view they can call themselves whatever they want. The most comical is that they call themselves a ‘socialist’ party. I remember when they said that the Scottish ‘executive’ could call themselves whatever they want including the ‘white heather club’ but they will never be a ‘Government’. Maybe see if the ‘Scottish White Heather Club’ is available for them…..

      2. Peter A Bell

        I never doubted that you are aware of the true status of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS), Pete. It would be rather odd if you weren’t. But a great deal of effort is being put into portraying BLiS as something more than a pretendy wee party. Although we don’t here the term ‘autonomous’ very much since Murphy melted away, the very fact that the mainstream media treat Dugdale as a real leader with real policy-making powers is enough to deceive many people.

        It has to be repeated as often and as loudly as possible that BLiS is not now, and can never be, a “party of independence”. It can only every be a branch operation of a party of the British establishment. A party totally committed to the preservation of the British state.

        British Labour in Scotland cannot change. It can only cease to exist. Hopefully, to be replaced with something fit to at least challenge for the role of official opposition at Holyrood.

  15. Steve Bowers

    As with all of the posts above, I don’t think they have the brains/balls/permission to support indy.
    Until their London masters realise that at every election for the next 25 years the Tories are going to wheel out the SNP and slap Labour square in the fizzer with them and thus condemn us all to a generation of Tory policies we’re stuck with it, at that point they should come to their senses and fight for indy just to get rid of the SNP
    During that time (and hopefully long before that) the people of Scotland and going to realise the missed opportunity of 2014, things are changing, we need to keep having the conversations, we need more good stuff coming from SNP leadership and we need to convince 187000 people to change their minds…

  16. KurikatKate

    Labour out of all the parties that were in negotiations with the Smith commission, were the ones that denied Scotland more powers, they wanted to give as little as possible to the Scottish Parliament. Had they proved then that they even believed Scotland deserved devolution max.
    Then there might be an argument for saying they COULD be an asset in the next referendum.

    But Labour has lost ALL trust now, only the sheep are sticking with them. And they do seem to lack the intelligence of a real political party. They are just sheep all baying to the same tune & lyrics they have only ever known. Pretending Labour cares for Scotland. No they do not. I do not think they ever did either, they just helped labour win in Westminster through convincing the people of Scotland that they WERE the party of the people.

    Old true socialist labour maybe, never since 1997 has Labour been a party for anyone other than themselves. Scotland must RID itself of them as we did the Conservatives. Scotland also needs a new party, a party that is prepared to put Scotland first last & always, as the SNP are doing now, they might and possibly will differ on many things to the SNP. (No party is perfect)

    But so long as they are fighting FOR Scotland they will make a great opposition to hold the SNP to account too. As we do not need another ONE main party in this country. Happily I can say that I have never voted for a UNIONIST party in my life. Even though I came from a labour family, I learned early on how they looked after their own, who got all the first new house builds, sold the council land for peanuts to family members and went from miners to living in big fancy hooses within months of becoming labour councillors. Or MPs.

    I have voted SNP for over 40yrs, & until they start to take the country & it’s people for granted due to how popular they are now, I will always vote for them. But we still need a good strong opposition, as the SNP was to the Lab/Lib coalition. It keeps the party in power working hard for the people that put them where they are. While holding their feet to the fire & not allowing them to get too carried away with only their own policies.

    I also agree with another poster here, that said it was not just the SNP & GREENS together working for Independence, if it were not for people from RIC, Women for Independence, SSP, visitng towns and villages as well as the big cities, to hold meetings in halls. Then the people that only ever watched or listened or read the Media in Scotland, would never have to got to know as much as they did, because not everyone likes the SNP. But they could relate to those other GROUPS who were not parties. Then we had the BLOGGERS who debunked even more than the SNP did during the referendum. Opening people’s eyes again in a different way. We are building, we will get bigger, &owe will succeed one day, but I sincerely hope we do not have to rely on the LIEBOUR party to get there. I never want to see them in office again in this country.

  17. Pingback: Breaking BLiS – Part 2 – Towards Indyref2 …

  18. noaa

    Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept preaching about this. I most certainly will forward this article
    to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.

    Thank you for sharing!

  19. xsticks

    I wish you were right but I can’t see the Scottish Labour party coming out for indy. I’ve no doubt there are some who would vote Yes in another referendum but not the branch as a whole. I suspect they are utterly dependant on subsidies from London. I doubt they have the vision or the courage to strike out on their own. Would it save Scottish Labour? It might, but they would have to demonstrate some integrity to win back the trust of the voters and that is unlikely to happen overnight. They have painted themselves into a bit of a corner politically and I find it difficult to have any sympathy for their predicament.

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